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Spring 2013 Animation and VFX Film Preview

James Gartler walks us through 11 visually tantalizing films hitting the box office this Spring.

Spring may have finally sprung, but Hollywood is as determined as ever to see us flock to the cinemas.  Here’s a sampling of the plethora of visually tantalizing entertainment options opening at the box office.

Iron Man 3. Image © 2012 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2012 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


Iron Man 3 – May 3rd

As if you hadn’t already heard, the latest (and Robert Downey Junior’s last?) Tony Stark adventure bursts into theatres today with more Iron Men flying around than you can shake a stick at.  Even Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts gets to try on the armor in this one.  Naturally, that means plenty of visual effects work to go around.  Director Shane Black – stepping in for John Favreau, who appears on-screen as Happy Hogan – has divided those duties between Legacy Effects, Weta Digital, Cinesite, The Third Floor, Trixter, Luma Pictures, Framestore, Scanline VFX, Digital Domain, Method Studios and Stereo D.  Anyone care to hazard a guess as to whether Joan Rivers, who cameos as herself, requested a digital touch-up in post?

The Great Gatsby. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures © 2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Limited.


The Great Gatsby – May 10th

Aussie director Baz Luhrmann brings his inimitable style to an American classic set in a period ideally suited to his particular brand of visual splendor: the Roaring Twenties.  Reteaming with Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time since 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, Luhrmann is also relying on help from familiar faces on the technical side of things.  The fine folks at Animal Logic, who helped realize his vision on Moulin Rouge!, and at Rising Sun Pictures, who assisted on Australia, are bringing the world of New York’s wealthy upper class to glossy life.  Prime Focus World, Iloura, Method Studios and ILM also contribute to Gatsby, which marks the director’s first foray into 3D filmmaking.  Looks to be rollicking, riveting fun.

Star Trek Into Darkness. Image © 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek Into Darkness – May 17th

It’s been four long, agonizing years since JJ Abrams reignited interest in the waning Trek feature film franchise.  With Into Darkness, his follow-up and the twelfth picture in the series, he has the unenviable challenge of trying to live up to our understandably high expectations.  Luckily, the even-numbered Trek films have a historical tendency to be better than their odd-numbered counterparts.  And the director also had some solid assistance in his exploration of strange new worlds thanks to VFX pros Pixomondo, Stereo D, ILM and Digital Caliber Inc.  With almost forty minutes of footage having been shot on IMAX cameras, and lengthy sequences set on the Earth of the future, this one is prepped to boldly go where no other Trek adventure has gone before.

Fast and Furious 6. Image © 2013 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Fast and Furious 6 – May 24th

It’s pretty remarkable to note that the Fast and Furious franchise begun in 2001 still hasn’t run out of road.  This new installment sees Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson all return for a script that requires them to fill up and take down an organization of equally reckless road hogs, lead by Luke Evans.  Since even these brave Hollywood tough guys need to keep their bodies intact, however, it falls to Pixomondo, Image Engine, Double Negative, The Moving Picture Company, Level 256, Lola Visual Effects and Proof Inc. to make us think it’s actually them steering those shiny, souped-up vehicles as they soar past the cameras in slow-mo.

Epic. Image TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


Epic – May 24th 2013

The animators behind family fare like Ice Age and Robots are now going in an unexpectedly dramatic direction.  Borrowing concepts and characters from William Joyce’s illustrated book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, the folks at Blue Sky Studios, led by director Chris Wedge, have created a 3D adventure set in a forest with the kind of scale you’d expect from a Lord of the Rings picture.  Cameras race up tree branches on the heels of tiny characters in the midst of pulse-pounding battles and high-speed races.  If the visuals don’t blow you away, the cast list just might, with the combined star wattage of Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried and yes, Beyoncé behind the pint-sized protagonists.  Here’s hoping the comedic relief provided by Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari, as a snail and slug respectively, doesn’t eat away at the otherwise epic atmosphere.

After Earth. Image © 2012 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


After Earth – May 31th

This futuristic father/son sci-fi picture centers on a General named Raige (Will Smith) who decides to take his son (Jaden Smith) back to post-apocalyptic Earth for some good, old-fashioned bonding.  This, like so many fishing trips, ends up being a very, very bad idea.  Their ship and crew get destroyed along the way, leaving them trapped on a planet overrun with species who have “evolved to killed humans”.  Good one, Dad.  Iloura alone worked on some 170 shots of said beasties moving around in herds, and judging by the trailer, there was still enough to keep Tippett Studio, Incessant Rain Studios, The Third Floor, Spin VFX, Svengali FX, Spy, Ollin Studios and Pixomondo occupied.  Curious as we are to see how the ravenous cows of the future look, there are more pressing questions to ponder: will audiences be hungry for another flick set on an abandoned Earth so soon after Oblivion?  Will Mr. Smith succeed in giving his son’s career a boost?  And most intriguingly, can this film possibly manage to restore people’s faith in M. Night Shyamalan?

Now You See Me. Image © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.


Now You See Me – May 31th

Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine and Mark Ruffalo star in this story of a group of magicians who pull a stunt so unbelievable they’d need some CGI to back them up.  Opting to give back to their crowd, they transport a bank vault’s worth of money from Paris to Vegas in three seconds, earning standing ovations and whole lot of heat from the police.  Though much of the cast was reportedly hesitant to get involved with the picture because of its reliance on VFX, it’s a safe bet Rodeo FX, Modus FX, Image Engine, The Garage VFX, ILM, Baked FX, Prologue Films and Persistance of Vision (who did all the previs) made sure they looked good pulling that rabbit out of their hat.

Man of Steel. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.


Man of Steel – June 14th

Could there possibly be more riding on the success of this one?  After a lackluster return to theatres in 2006, Superman has been trapped in a no-fly zone for so long that Marvel heroes have all but eclipsed the memory of his legendary exploits in the minds of moviegoers.  Man of Steel hopes to turn the tide with a complete reboot of the franchise that just might pave the way for the long-stalled Justice League project and bring the expanded DC universe back to the big screen in grand fashion.  Talk about having the weight of the world on your shoulders – no wonder Supes looks so stressed in the trailers!  Helping to lighten his load (and help Henry Cavill take flight) are a veritable JL of VFX: Film Illusions FX, Weta Digital, The Moving Picture Company, Double Negative, Look Effects, Pixel Liberation Front and Scanline VFX.

Monsters University. Image © 2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


Monsters University – June 21st 2013

If Pixar had a fun buddy/kid flick in 2001’s Monsters Inc., with this picture they have something far more compelling.  University is a coming-of-age prequel that explains how Mike and Sully became the colleagues who managed so successfully to scare kids for a living in the original, in spite of having been completely at odds in the classroom.  See, it turns out young Mike Wazowski was the one who had his heart set on being a “scarer” back when he and Sully first met.  As we all well know from Inc., the little green guy doesn’t exactly get his wish.  This is a tale of having to deal with life’s unexpected twists and turns, turning opponents into allies and coming to grips with the idea that you may not be able to accomplish everything you set your mind to.  And yes – the characters are still all fuzzy, funny monsters created by some of the best CG animators in the business.  Frankly, college never looked better.

World War Z. Image © 2012 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


World War Z – June 21st

This horror flick some five years in the making pits Brad Pitt against hordes of decrepit zombies in a face-off for the fate of the planet – hardly a fair fight.  Based on Max Brooks’ novel, which recounts through interviews how humanity survived fighting against flesh-eaters for a decade, this one boasts a script begun by Babylon 5 scribe J. Michael Straczynski and ultimately completed by Matthew Michael Carnahan.  On the effects side of things, Prime Focus World, Legacy Effects, The Moving Picture Company, Cinesite and The Third Floor bring to life seemingly endless seas of zombies as they attack and overrun cities across the globe like roaches.  Warm Bodies, this ain’t.

White House Down. Image © 2013 Columbia Pictures.


White House Down – June 28th

One can only wonder how secure the Obamas are feeling these days, with three films in as many months depicting the destruction of their historic home.  Unlike G.I. Joe: Retaliation or Olympus Has Fallen, however, Down’s villains are apparently homegrown.  While America relies on the skills of Channing Tatum’s policeman John Cale to save the day, director Roland Emmerich – master of disaster spectacles like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 – turns to Method Studios, Scanline VFX, Mokko Studio, Image Engine, Crazy Horse Effects and Prime Focus to keep the explosions a-comin’, just in time for the 4th of July.


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 and