Computer Graphics World

November/December 2013

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When looking back at the movie releases from this past year, there's one thing that's certain: The box office sure is unpredictable. Some highly anticipated films failed to live up to their hype; some features seemingly emerged out of nowhere and took theaters by storm. Just what makes audiences fall in love with a film? Or give it a cold shoulder? If there were a true formula for predicting a film's success – stars versus unknowns, sequels versus original plots, so-called chick flicks versus action movies, visual effects versus dramatic story, real-life tales versus fantasy – Hollywood would have bottled it up for sale long ago. Indeed, certain attributes can help a film's chances with voters and audiences. But then again, there are always exceptions to the rule, and during Oscar time, those exceptions can win gold. The year 2013 started off slow. But by spring, a number of films brought some excitement to theaters, including Oz the Great and Powerful and The Croods. By summer, the box office was heating up with VFX-heavy titles, such as Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6, and the long-awaited World War Z. In fact, May, June, and the first week of July brought the biggest weekends at the box office. Those numbers spiked again in October with the release of Gravity, and will likely do so again during the holiday season. The Visual Effect Throughout the year, superheroes were, well, super with viewers: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and The Wolverine. No doubt Thor: The Dark World (which had not been released as of this writing) will do so, as well. All those characters have enjoyed big-screen stardom before, and obviously audiences never grow tired of their exploits as they save the universe from evildoers. Just recently, Gravity hit theaters, and it is taking the box office by storm. And, there are still a number of highly anticipated films that have not yet been released but are expected to be well received, including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. "Filmmaking is a sophisticated medium for storytellers. This Oscar season, I believe Academy members will reward those films and filmmakers who leveraged every tool at their disposal to service their stories. This includes the clever use of digital visual effects to further the plot and enrich our under- standing of each character's emotional journey, says Chris " Edwards at The Third Floor. "One film accomplished this with such precision that I believe it will not be overlooked on Oscar night: Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity.   " Some of this year's movies in the Oscar hunt contain inyour-face effects, while others take a subtle approach. "In past years, VFX spectacle might have been enough to win the Academy's favor, but this year the real winners should be the actors and filmmakers who made audiences forget that there was any Hollywood trickery at all, Edwards says. " No doubt, the haunting situation immediately before and after the 2013 Oscar ceremonies (and throughout the year) still weighs heavily on those working in the industry. "This year saw the closing of more US VFX facilities, and protests inside and outside the Kodak Theatre during the Academy Award ceremonies where VFX awardees for Life of Pi were orchestrally swept from the stage and neither mentioned nor thanked by the film's director or cinematographer in their own Oscar acceptance speeches. There is an industry-wide dissing of VFX teams, upon which so many movies depend for their existence, VFX Director Rick Sander of HOAX Films reminds us. " That said, there are numerous films in this race, once again, that rely on VFX not just for the flash, but also for the essence of the movie. And, hopefully, the artists responsible will receive their proper recognition. So, who will be "recognized" this year? "You can bet Neill Blomkamp's Elysium and Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity will be on the list, says Sander. "The latter director was asked during his first " presser, 'How did it feel to shoot a movie in space?' (That says it all.) That leaves one more slot. Will it be The Hobbit? Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop team has been nominated six times and won five. The inside joke about the first Hobbit movie was that it should win for 'Most Visual Effects' – never a good sign. With zero percent certainty, the smart money for the third nominee is on either Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion or the great Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. Both featured incredibly visual design choices, fantastically executed in a way that made the storytelling possible and supported the underlying sense of realism. " Sander notes there is a chance of some balancing wild cards in the mix, however. "Traditionally, a film with on-set explosions and well-made physical model-making would make the nomi- C G W N ove mb e r / D e c e mb e r 2 013 ■ 23

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