Kids, adults and anyone in-between seeking some escape from their daily duties will find a variety of interesting options at the multiplex in the coming weeks. From action stars, dinosaurs and poultry trying to avoid certain doom, to Princesses, superheroes and martial arts masters facing down impossible odds, there will be plenty of spectacle and skill on display this fall. Here’s a breakdown of all the animated and visual effects-centered eye-candy headed our way right up until the holidays.
Gravity – October 4th
Anyone who’s longed to see Sandra Bullock hurled off into outer space might be disappointed to learn George Clooney is joining her there in this sci-fi pic about two astronauts adrift with nothing to cling to but each other. Making it all look real – because you knew Hollywood would never put those two stars through a location shoot with a premise like that – are Framestore, Rising Sun Pictures, Peanut FX, 4DMax, Bot & Dolly, The Third Floor, Nvizible and Prime Focus.
Captain Phillips – October 11th
Tom Hanks and Catherine Keener headline this biopic about the harrowing days real-life Captain Richard Phillips spent fighting off Somali pirates who had hijacked his ship, the Maersk Alabama, in the spring of 2009. Double Negative, Nvizible and Peanut FX bring all of the aquatic action to life in this one, which seems poised to earn Hanks an Oscar nom, if the buzz is to be believed. Seeing as how he’s also playing Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, another highly anticipated piece based on a true story and due out in December, it’s a safe bet he’ll be taking the stage in the spring to accept an award for something.
Escape Plan – October 18th
What happens when you lock Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger together inside “the most secure prison ever built”? Well, only San Diego Comic Con audiences know for sure, as they were the first to get a peek at the finished film back in July. What we can say is that the effects in this picture were handled by Hydraulx VFX and that it also features Sam Neill, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, 50 Cent and Jim Caviezel. So brace yourself for a heartwarming, three-hanky affair, essentially.
Ender’s Game – November 1st
Training for a potential alien invasion is the name of the game in this sci-fi thriller starring Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin and Viola Davis. Orson Scott Card, who wrote the original novel back in 1985, called it an “unfilmable book” for reasons we won’t disclose here, but Comen VFX, Digital Domain, The Embassy, Reliance MediaWorks and Method Studios make it their business to turn even the wildest of concepts into reality. Should the film prove a hit at the box office, it may be the start of the next big franchise, with fourteen books – and counting – waiting to be adapted. At the moment, however, that success is anything but a certainty, with many calling for the film’s boycott in light of Card’s history of supporting California’s Prop 8 and speaking out against same-sex marriage.
Free Birds - November 1st
If you thought Chicken Run was an improbable escape story, Free Birds follows two turkeys who want to go back in time and alter history so their kind is no longer considered a must-have menu item every Thanksgiving. Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler and Gargoyles’ own Goliath, Keith David, provide voices in the picture, which was produced by Reel FX, a relative newcomer to the world of animated feature films. Director Jimmy Hayward, meanwhile, previously handled Horton Hears a Who! and animated on everything from Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. to Reboot, so it’s probable this will be some fine feathered fun.
Thor: The Dark World – November 8th
This latest entry in the lucrative Marvel franchise picks up a year after The Avengers to see Chris Hemsworth’s blonde Prince of Asgard square off against an ancient evil named Malekith. Considerably harder? Explaining to Natalie Portman’s Jane why he didn’t make time to hang with her in that aforementioned team flick. Joining them for the fun are Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, Jaimie Alexander, Tom Hiddleston, Benicio Del Toro, Rene Russo and, of course, Stan Lee, as a bus driver. Double Negative, Luma Pictures, The Third Floor, 4DMax, The Base Studio and Gentle Giant Studios, meanwhile, got to play around on the computers creating epic visuals befitting a superhero.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire – November 22nd
Chris’ brother Liam will be taking over silver screens when he reunites with Jennifer Lawrence for the highly anticipated second installment in the Hunger Games series. The 75th Games, however, will bring new challenges to the table, as Katniss Everdeen is forced to fight off previous champions to stay alive. Sounds dicey. Here’s hoping Weta Digital, Gentle Giant Studios, Rhythm & Hues, Double Negative VFX, Hatch, Rodeo FX, Method Studios, Fuel VFX and Proof Inc. had a slightly less scary time collaborating on the effects.
Frozen/Get a Horse – November 27th
Disney’s 53rd animated feature is a musical focusing on a Princess’ coming-of-age journey. It’s also based on a beloved Hans Christian Andersen tale. If that doesn’t sound like classic Disney, we don’t know what does. This reimagining of The Snow Queen stars Kristen Bell (Anna) and Idina Menzel (Elsa) as Scandinavian sisters whose relationship and kingdom are torn apart when one of them loses control of her magical ice powers. And for an added treat, this CG picture is paired with an old-fashioned hand-drawn short starring Mickey Mouse. Get a Horse has earned rave reviews on the festival circuit and is probably worth the price of admission alone.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – December 13th
The second of Peter Jackson’s three Hobbit films relies – like all of the other Lord of the Rings films – on visual effects work done by Weta Digital, which Jackson co-founded exactly twenty years ago. The movie will also be projected at the same 48 frames per second rate that created controversy when last year’s An Unexpected Journey was released. It’s doubtful that will keep audiences from lining up for this one, though. This picture does feature a massive dragon, after all.
Walking with Dinosaurs 3D – December 20th
The 1999 BBC documentary of the same name has evolved into a major motion picture which aims to bring audiences closer to dinosaurs than they’ve ever been before. Animal Logic and Wildfire VFX have teamed up to bring the hefty critters to scientifically-accurate life, though it’s anyone’s guess whether their visuals will manage to rival Jurassic Park’s in the goose bump department. We can tell you the piece is directed by Barry Cook, who lead the charge on Disney’s Mulan and was a special effects animator on a slew of other classic Mouse House titles, including The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and even Michael Jackson’s sci-fi extravaganza, Captain Eo.
47 Ronin – December 25th
Keanu Reeves attempts to resuscitate his career as an action hero by starring in this fantastical retelling of a popular piece of Japanese lore. The 47 Ronin were a group of samurai whose love for their fallen leader prompted them to avenge his death in grand style. Similarly, first-time feature director Carl Erik Rinsch is relying on his own army of FX artists to ensure this picture succeeds, namely The Third Floor, The Moving Picture Company, Baseblack, Framestore, Digital Domain, Mill Film, Stereo D and Soho VFX. Look for Montreal’s own “Zombie Boy” Rick Genest (last seen in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” video) to display his skeleton-tattooed body in a supporting role.
James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.