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VFX Fall Preview 2010: 10 Movies to Watch

Our annual fall sneak peek offers the inside scoop on some of the year's biggest releases.

Check out trailers and clips at AWNtv!

Get ready for another alien invasion. Courtesy of Universal.

Aliens, zombies, vampires, another Hanna-Barbera cartoon icon goes CG, back to Narnia, a bigger Jack Black, a tormented ballet star, Eastwood tackles the supernatural, Harry's final journey and the return of Flynn. And, of course, lots of 3-D.

10) Skyline (Universal, Nov. 12) Four friends return from a night of partying, only to realize they are among the sole survivors of a bizarre alien invasion that lures victims into the light and then sucks them up like a vacuum. Sounds like alien invasion fun from the Brothers Strause (Greg & Colin). The directors' Hydraulx company is doing the vfx, of course, with creature design from Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gills (AVP). However, the situation is complicated by claims from Sony that the Brothers Strause "borrowed" vfx assets from their rival LA invasion movie, Battle: Los Angeles (due March 12, 2011), which Hydraulx worked on. To which, a Strause rep replied: "Any claims of impropriety are completely baseless. This is a blatant attempt by Sony to force these independent filmmakers to move a release date that has long been set by Universal and Relativity and is outside the filmmakers' control."

The zombies are back in 3-D. Courtesy of Sony Pictures.

9) Resident Evil: Afterlife (Sony Pictures, Sept. 10) The fourth entry in the horror franchise directed by Paul W.S. Anderson is the first to be released in 3-D (using Sony F35 and Pace 3-D rigs). Alice (Milla Jovovich) rescues the survivors of the T-virus outbreak in LA, and they combat the head of the Umbrella Corp. (Shawn Roberts). Mr. X (under the supervision of Dennis Berardi) worked on around 300 shots, but, because of the volume of work and tight schedule, called on Montreal's Rodeo Effects, Toronto's Rocket Science and India's Anibrain for the remaining 200. Lots of zombies, of course, though much more detailed in textures and the overall experience they were going for was like the first-person shooter game. The most challenging sequence: the infection spreads throughout Tokyo's famed Shibuya Crossing and the lights go out block by block, pulling out to a cosmic view of Earth in 3-D.

CG fire, an acid eroded face and digital vampire makeup grace this horror remake. Courtesy of Overture Films.

8) Let Me In (Overture Films, Oct. 1) Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) directs the American version of the acclaimed Swedish horror film about a 12-year-old boy that develops a friendship with a vampire child in New Mexico in the early '80s. The film promises to have the same beats as the original but will be a little scarier. According to Bradley Parker, the overall visual effects supervisor, "We worked on roughly 164 shots covering a wide range of techniques and difficulty. There's an impressive car crash assembled as one seamless shot that I am particularly proud of. We also created a number of great-looking CG stunt doubles, CG fire, an acid eroded face, digital vampire makeup, animated CG prosthetic work, digital set extensions, underwater compositing and CG snow." Method, Dive, Ollin and XY &Z all worked on the film.

Ready for Yogi and Boo-Boo in CG? Courtesy of Warner Bros.

7) Yogi Bear (Warner Bros., Dec. 17) Eric Brevig (Journey to the Center of the Earth) directs the CG/live-action version of the famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon series in -- you guessed it: stereoscopic 3-D. Rhythm & Hues (under the supervision of Betsy Paterson) tackles Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and Boo-Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) in their misadventures with a documentary filmmaker in Jellystone Park. In fact, R&H is co-producing for the first time, leveraging its long-standing relationship with Warner Bros. They worked on several hundred shots, featuring its extensive animation, lighting and fur work for Yogi and his pal Boo-Boo. R&H did matte paintings and vfx work (water, fire) and props animation. And the 3-D was fully integrated from the start of production.

Look Effects helps bring menace to the ballet. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

6) Black Swan (Fox Searchlight, Dec. 1) It's not The Fountain, but it's Darren Aronofsky, and, according to Look Effects, the vfx are crucial to the storytelling in this psychological thriller set against the world of ballet starring Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman: Look used a combination of 2D and 3D digital effects to portray Portman's evolution throughout the film. VFX Supervisor Dan Schrecker and the artists at Look produced approximately 220 shots.

Highlights include the film's dream sequence prologue, 2D image animations to illustrate the lead's mental state and show her evolution. The visual effects team worked very closely with the prosthetics crew to enhance the practical effects, while designing and building their own solutions. The narrative demanded a good deal of head and face replacement, which was accomplished through 2D and 3D means.

Gulliver gets a satirical makeover. Courtesy of Fox.

5) Gulliver's Travels (Fox, Dec. 22) Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens) re-imagines the 18th century Jonathan Swift tale as a contemporary satire, with Jack Black as a free-spirited travel writer who gets more than he bargained for during a trip to the Bermuda Triangle that washes him ashore to Lilliput. Helping out with water and miniature people and other vfx/animation wonders (under the overall vfx supervision of Jim Rygiel and Ellen Somers) are Weta Digital, Scanline VFX, Geon Studios, Hydraulx, Nvizage, Pixel Playground and others.

Scanline VFX creates afterlife visions. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

4) Hereafter (Warner Bros., Oct. 22) Clint Eastwood tackles a love story set around death and the vision of the hereafter, in which a psychic (Matt Damon) talks to the dead and catches glimpses of the afterlife; a TV talk show host (Cecille de France) has a near death experience during a tsunami; and a young boy witnesses the death of his twin brother. Scanline VFX collaborated closely with Eastwood and Michael Owens, the overall vfx supervisor. Led by co-VFX Supervisors Stephan Trojansky and Bryan Grill, CG Supervisor Danielle Plantec and Compositing Supervisor Joe Farrell, Scanline provided 169 shots. Given Scanline's expertise with water simulation, it's not surprising that the key sequence was the recreation of the tsunami, which drew upon a wide array of techniques: full CG water shots and CG water extensions to water plates, digital doubles, CG set extensions, matte paintings, digital make-up fx and full CG environments with extensive destruction, from toppling digital palm trees to colliding digital cars. Also central to the film is the "hereafter" effect' sprinkled throughout, which, gives the viewer glimpses into the afterlife. The water evidently raises the bar for Scanline after the stunning work in 2012. And drawing from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Ghost, Owens, Compositing Supervisor Joe Farrell and Editor Mitch Glaser created progressions from consciousness, to near-death, then back again.

A third trip to Narnia. Courtesy of Fox; photo credit: Phil Bray

3) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Fox, Dec. 10) Michael Apted directs the third Narnia movie (the first in 3-D) from C.S. Lewis' popular books. The heroes join Caspian on a sea adventure that involves dragons, dwarfs, merfolk, a band of lost warriors and a reunion with Aslan. Angus Bickerton is overall vfx supervisor with work divided among MPC, The Senate, Framestore, Cinesite, The Mill and others.

Potter hits the road to destroy his nemesis. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Warner Bros., Nov. 19) The first of the two-part finale, directed once again by David Yates, in which Harry and his friends finally confront Voldemort. Vfx is divided between Double Negative, Framestore, MPC, Cinesite, Rising Sun and others. "Part I is a very different Harry Potterfilm," explains Tim Burke, the overall visual effects supervisor. "It's a drama-led road story about three kids -- I don't think you see Hogwarts once in the whole film; it's set around the whole of Great Britain -- and all the effects once again are hopefully designed to enhance the story but not take over, apart from the big chase at the beginning, which is a bit of eye candy. The rest of it is seamless.

"We've punctuated the film with major sequences: some character animation. We see Kreacher and Dobby; and Framestore has taken over the work of Dobby from ILM and we've updated the look; and I think we've done some pretty nice character animation; Kreacher is a fantastic little character. Using actors to the play the characters, shooting reference in HD and then hand-animation (there's no motion capture).

"And then there's the chase where we see six of the characters turn themselves into Harry Potters, so we end up with seven, and leave Privet Drive and end up in a big aerial battle with Death Eaters, which culminates with a motorbike chase through a tunnel and subsequent battle with Voldemort. There's lots of CG environments, CG digi-doubles and a mixture of stunt work and face replacements. It's pretty much everything."

Oh, yes, Burke believes there's a good chance we'll see The Deathly Hallows in IMAX 3-D, too.

Will Tron find Oscar? Courtesy of Disney.

1) Tron Legacy (Disney, Dec. 17) In the 3-D sequel to the ground-breaking Disney film, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) returns to help his son take on an even more dangerous version of the digital world he created, with far more advanced vehicles, weapons, landscapes and a ruthless avatar. Joe Kosinski makes his directorial debut, and Digital Domain has raised the bar beyond its Oscar-winning Benjamin Button work. "The Clu character, right off the bat, because it's a younger version of the Jeff Bridges character, is going to be the most challenging thing we've ever done and certainly having to finish it in 3-D makes it even more challenging," admits Eric Barba, DD's visual effects supervisor. "It means we have to push everything we knew from our Button experience further to try and work as seamlessly."

Indeed, Bridges is the driving emotional force for Clu. But youthening entails fundamental procedural changes at Digital Domain (and no, Bridges did not wear his beard during the capture sessions). "Jeff wanted to act on set with the other actors so we had to come up with a different way to capture his footage," adds Steve Preeg, animation supervisor. "We went with the four cameras on the helmet and had to write internal software on how to convert that information of points moving in space to our rig. The rig is very similar to Button's, with a few modifications, updates and changes."

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.