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The most anticipated moment of the year by cinematographers, actors, directors and artists of the industry.


Article by

Gianluca Dentici


As you all might already know, has come that time of the year, really much awaited by cinematographers, actors, directors and artists in general, where all outcomes of their hard work are rewarded with prizes like the Oscar.

There are also many other statuettes the Academy delivers to technical/artistic categories, including obviously the one that is most close to us, visual effects.

Actually (and luckly enough for us) the visual effects industry also has other opportunities to reward its excellences as there are other many other important awards out there such as the Technical Achievement Awards, the British BAFTA Awards and of course, most important, VES awards; the latter are in fact perhaps even more relevant for us since the jury is composed of prominent colleagues from the VFX industry.

Where the Academy has in fact the tendency to reward those shows among those five in the nominees that also had a big buzz at the box office, VES awards are more focused on achievements, techniques and to the quality of accomplished shots.

The Visual Effects Society who every year organize the VES Awards ceremony is an high profile association which lists the most remarkable worldwide visual effects artists, pioneers and seniors among its members.

So far I just mentioned one of the most coveted and internationally renowned prize but there are obviously many others that list visual effects in their winning categories, such as our Italian David di Donatello which unlike the Oscar that has been giving statuettes to vfx artistry since 1929, it has introduced and recognized our art not until the 2003-2004 season! despite the fact that in Italy they have been making films with visual effects for some time now.

I must add, being aware of it as I’m an active member of the Italian Academy too, that unfortunately there are no real committee able to judge our category, so all candidates have been evaluated indiscriminately from all members; This means that either actors, sound engineers or screenwriters for instance  who understandably do not have specific knowledge on our work (as well as we couldn’t be competent to judge them too), they could cast a superficial but still influencing vote that might affect the final rewarding outcome…

However let’s leave it for now and concentrate over VES Awards first.

As I said before they are the most interesting awards for us “nerds” of visual effects 😉

I would  begin by saying that the categories that we members vote are good 24! and are as follows:

Category 1: Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Category 2: Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Category 3: Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

Category 4: Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Category 5: Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Category 6: Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

Category 7: Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

Category 8: Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

Category 9: Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

Category 10: Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature

Category 11: Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project

Category 12: Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial

Category 13: Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Category 14: Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

Category 15: Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

Category 16: Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project

Category 17: Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

Category 18: Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

Category 19: Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature

Category 20: Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

Category 21: Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature

Category 22: Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode

Category 23: Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial

Category 24: Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project


As you can see there are prizes in this list covering many industries like those for best TV commercial, animation, installations and even tech sub-categories such as best compositing, best simulation, best digital cinematography, best animation of a character and best digital environment.

I’m not going to dip into details for each one as I just want to talk on the most significant nominees and winners of the year, however for those of you interested on learning some more, please browse the VES website at www.visualeffectssociety.com.

This year’s VES nominees coincided with those nominated for the Oscars and are:

Blade Runner 2049 
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 
Kong: Skull Island 
Star Wars: The Last Jedi 
War for the Planet of the Apes

The Oscar winner is Blade Runner 2049 that has an overall interesting look; Many companies contributed over this show such as Framestore, MPC, Double Negative, Rodeo, Weta, Atomic Fiction, BUF, UPP.

In order to pay homage to the previous glorious film and get closer to the original look, the VFX crew headed by John Nelson decided to go for miniatures for some of the bird-eye sequences over the futuristic Los Angeles and with the ever-green vehicles designed by Syd Mead.  

The final look we saw in the film in fact has been achieved with a limited use of CG (at least for some shots), but for holograms additions across the buildings.

Yet digital artists who performed the final compositing got the most out of this shooting techniques and they have been given many different passes over the miniatures; it gave them the maximum creative freedom in terms of compositing.

For instance a panoramic car journey over the city has been filmed with motion control, a special computer-controlled camera system able to repeat with millimeter precision the same identical move. This allowed to shoot different passes with just smoke, or just the internal miniature lighting, and other different lighting setup around itself.

All these passes were then merged together at the compositing stage and balanced between them in order to get to the optimal visual result. Really Impressive was the Rachel CG face, masterfully created by MPC that really competed with “War for the planet of the apes” in terms of quality and realism. Another noteworthy scene is the love between the two main characters, where Joi, that is a kind of hologram, “merges” with the character of Mariette. At one point in the film Joi transposes her holographic image over Mariette’s body so that K, Gosling’s character, can touch her.

The look is quite like an appealing transparency effect; The director wanted Joi to look real when she stands still but subtle effects when she moves. In order to do that they basically captured actress Ana de Armas performance from multiple camera angles, then a CG version of her character was built and used by cutting it in half to reveal the back surface.

Finally it has been layered behind the live photography of Joi to create the holographic effect.

attends the press room at the 16th Annual VES Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 13, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.

War for the Planets of the Apes” has won the VES awards and is to me an outstanding VFX masterpiece! No doubts my favourite; Technically speaking, apart from the excellent integration of the CG apes and digital sets that certainly nobody missed out on previous films, the photoreal work accomplished by WETA Digital for the monkeys eyes is stunning. Personally I have been very skeptical until now on CG faces and especially the eyes that were still too vitreous, without a pinch of soul. But this time Weta has hit the goal with an unprecedented richness of  details never seen before, by adding physical elements such a very realistic reddening in the area of the sclera, veins swelling and that humidity look that is typical of real eyeballs. Also worthy of note is the set extension and seamless integration achieved for the final battle sequence and the avalanche that covers up the invading humans at the very end of the film. A simulation of impressive realism. In order to populate the area with realistically-looking green trees a smart technology had been implemented, it made possible to actually grow trees and plants of different kind and characteristics, giving each one an evolutionary history and age. it has allowed WETA to set up an heterogeneous  ecosystem visually very natural and quite believable.

We can’t forget “Kong: Skull Island, a VFX masterpiece signed by ILM. Apart from the well-known big ape that is impressive and at the same time really touching in the film’s most emotional moments, the water simulations during some fighting scenes and the digital nature creation really raised up the bar. I could also mention the scene with the fascinating and gigantic sea buffaloes whose realism is impressive or the one with the fighting with the octopus for which the animators managed to recreate the effect of the sticky tentacles that clung to Kong’s lips whilst he is ripping it a part.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2” will go down as the show with one of the most complex opening sequence ever. It has been successfully accomplished by Framestore who also crafted 260 other big vfx shots led by VFX Supervisor Christopher Townsend ranging from creature work, spaceships and an exhilarating space chase across the Galaxies. For one of the opening shots that never cuts for thousands of frames, a huge simulation were ran by Framestore. The work was split up into 11 parts, and divided up among the shop’s animators. It took them from the end of August 2016 until end of February 2017 to pull it off.

Star Wars: The last Jedi” obviously has remarkable visual effects even though, despite being a great lover of the “Lucasian” genre, to me it doesn’t stand out for any big technology evolution, but it is worth to mention the great look they cooked up for the Crait planet surface where the final confrontation takes place;  all our beloved flying ships scratch the ground making it like bleeding as they fly by, creating red trails, a really good to see invention.

After this long excursion on visual effects for films, I cannot help but mention what has been the most award-winning animated feature of the year, that is Pixar-Disney Coco , which carried off the Oscar, the VES award, the Golden Globe and the Annie Awards.

Apart from the ever increasing visual quality Pixar gets us used each year, the film has a delicate, intimate and at times very moving plot that consecrates it as one of the most successful Disney-Pixar tales.

For this show Pixar had to face the complexity of creating rigs that had to detach themselves and were obviously used for the skeletons characters of the world of the dead.

As mentioned above, in addition to the Oscars and the VES Awards, also Technical Achievement Awards were delivered, ahead before, on February 10th. These awards go to supporting technologies for Visual effects.

This year, among the most significant victories, it is worth mentioning the “BlockParty procedural rigging system” developed by ILM, that is basicallyis a more “user friendly” rigging system able to provide a more intuitive interface that speeds up artists’ productivity.

Rhythm & Hues Construction Kit rigging system has also been awarded as it allows topology independence, a continuous rig editability and a more advanced deformation system that allows the geometry shape to remain unaltered in relaxation mode.

Pixar has not sitting on and carried off a prize for its continuous improvement of its Presto Animation System, their proprietary animation system developed which allows artists to work with full resolution geometry even with complex rigs as well as many other upgrades. Neither Dreamworks Animation missed the podium with the enhancement of its Premo character animation system.

The Foundry Nuke compositing software has also been rewarded once again for its innovative design, architecture, customization and extensibility features.

Last but not least Side Effects Houdini, the amazing simulation software that has brought home a prize for having improved its valuable tools for destruction and natural phenomenas by adding  even more complexity and details.

And that’s all Folks!  

see you next year !