Curtain Call
Issue: Volume 40 Issue 6: (Nov/Dec 2017)

Curtain Call

This year’s films were big on budget and visual effects spectacle/complex CGI animation. Indeed, the visuals were meant to entertain and transfix audiences with imagery that was over the top. Alas, for all that big bang, the return certainly did not result in big bucks at the box office. 

It’s not surprising that superheroes saved the day – or the year, in this case – with box-office proceeds, as did Jack Sparrow, the ape Caesar, and the Transformer Optimus Prime. In addition to those sequels, the true-life World War II film Dunkirk hit the mark along with the fictional espionage Kingsman sequel. On a scarier note, It frightened up big numbers, as did Kong: Skull Island

And, the live-action Beauty and the Beast enthralled audiences and continues to sit at number one at this time. Yet, there is a Star Wars film on the horizon, and it will be a force to be reckoned with.

 In terms of animated features, the number “three” was a popular one, with Despicable Me 3 and Cars 3 riding high. Also, The Boss Baby made quite an impression, as did Loving Vincent, the unique painterly animated feature. Soon, though, the much-anticipated Coco will be released, as well as Ferdinand and The Star

Here we highlight some titles that have potential for making various award competition short lists for best visual effects and best animation.

Visual Effects

Beauty and the Beast

Walt Disney Pictures

March 17, 2017

This live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic was a risky undertaking: The animated tale was beloved by audiences. The director who took on this project was initially hesitant, calling that animated version “a perfect movie.” However, after much thought, Director/Writer Bill Condon accepted, confident that today’s technology had caught up to the ideas introduced in that 1991 film. That includes the creation of a photoreal talking teacup on a practical set. 

Multiple large-scale practical sets were built for the 2017 live-action film, but there was no option to bringing to life some of the unique characters aside from the use of CGI. This includes a believable Beast as well as a candlestick, wardrobe, clock, teapot, and more. In all, the film contains 1,800 VFX shots. The movie was indeed a grand undertaking across every facet, and its reception was met in kind.

Blade Runner 2049

Alcon, Warner Bros.

October 6, 2017

Some scenes in this sci-fi remake have people talking. Mostly this centers on the stunning sets and amazing CG re-creation of the replicant Rachael, played by actor Sean Young in the original film. The scene where she is reunited with Deckard (Harrison Ford) is packed with emotion – while CG artists have been getting closer to achieving photoreal human characters, the nuances of subtle human performance and emotion have been the missing secret sauce. If the work that MPC did involving Rachael for this sequel is any indication, then the studio has come up with the right recipe.  


Syncopy, Warner Bros.

July 21, 2017

With acclaimed director Christopher Nolan at the helm of this gripping film, it’s easy to see why it has become a crowd favorite. Nolan is known for his use of practical effects, and this continued in Dunkirk. There is, however, CGI, which played an important role – and added to the story to re-create the period and the drama, including CG versions of planes in battle and crashing, as well as crowd scenes and CG water.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

May 5, 2017

The Guardians returned to the big screen in a big way, with its cast of characters – both human and CG. Weta was tasked with creating Ego, Peter Quill’s father (Kurt Russell), who has the ability to create an avatar of himself. Additionally, VFX artists had to de-age Russell for a flashback sequence, thanks to Lola. VFX artists also animated the digital raccoon from the first film, and in this one, there is a baby Groot, a CG version of the adult digital character from the original movie. Moreover, Vol. 2 contains many complex CG environments, including Planet Hollow, a spider web-like environment.

Kong: Skull Island

Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros.

March 10, 2017

Artists created a mythical island, unique creatures, and of course, the monstrous Kong, the star of this film. There were digital helicopters, a digital ship, a digital storm, and more. Two particular mandates set the tone for the VFX work in the film: that the setting would be Vietnam and that Kong was a monster, not a gorilla. That said, artists extended sets, generated all-CG environments, and replaced footage shot in Hawaii. The big scene-stealer, though, was the massive CG Kong.

Pirates of the Caribbean:  Dead Men Tell No Tales

Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films

May 26, 2017

Captain Jack Sparrow made his return in another Pirates visual effects extravaganza, the fifth in the series. Dead Men contains 2,000 VFX shots, with 150 of them full-CG. Half the movie takes place at sea, and CG ships often sailed the digital waters and pirates walked the digital decks. This is no ordinary water, though; it is heavily art-directed. Also, the film features ghostly pirate hunters, who always look as if they are underwater. They are undead, a look achieved through digital augmentation and prosthetic makeup on some, and full-CG for the others.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Pictures

December 15, 2017

The battle to save the universe continues with the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi. In this film, Rey joins Luke on an adventure with Leia, Finn, and Poe that unlocks more mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past. Although the mysteries surrounding the film are being held close to the vest at this time, audiences can expect out-of-this-galaxy visual effects in the form of unique lifeforms, intergalactic beauty, awesome spaceships, and complex space battles.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

EuropaCorp, STX Entertainment

July 21, 2017

For Valerian, Luc Besson’s unique vision was brought to life by VFX artists, who created amazing digital environments and CG creatures. In fact, most of the film is computer-generated. And the film’s title hints at the scope of the work. There is a space station big enough to contain a thousand worlds. All the creatures had to look like they came from different worlds and different environments; and they had to behave differently. Yet, they all had to be part of the same cinematic world. 

War for the Planet of the Apes

Twentieth Century Fox

July 14, 2017

Weta once again upped the ante for this last installment of the Apes rebooted series, which features a more expressive cast of characters; more detailed fur grooms; more complex performance capture in even more extreme weather conditions, including snow, as it interacts with the digital fur; more complicated environments; and more simulation and effects.

Wonder Woman

Warner Bros., DC Entertainment

June 2, 2017

The goal was to keep the film grounded when it came to the visual effects, of which there are 1,800. They center on Wonder Woman’s powers, bracelets, and lasso. There are plenty of face replacements and then, later, digital takeovers on some of the extreme stunts and action. Effects artists also crafted wonderful environments, including Wonder Woman’s home island. In addition, artists augmented a number of other landscapes. The third act contains fully digital locations and greenscreen shots for a big battle scene.


Cars 3

Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

June 16, 2017

Lightening McQueen is back in this third installment that finds the race car trying to regain his edge. The movie takes McQueen on a road trip back to the past, but the film is all about the future – for Lightening McQueen and of lighting and effects at Pixar. Here, lighting and VFX artists worked with Pixar’s RenderMan RIS to create compelling scenes in this colorful, fast-moving film.


Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

November 22, 2017

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector, and together they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. The animation is absolutely stunning and breathtaking, detailed in the feature on page 4.

Despicable Me 3

Illumination, Universal Pictures

June 30, 2017

In this sequel to the popular series, reformed villain Gru meets his long-lost brother Dru, and they embark on some villainous activity albeit with good intentions. Gru uses some of his father’s cool inventions while he shows Dru the mastery of villainy, as he tries to capture the latest bad guy, the former child star Balthazar Bratt. For the animation, Illumination stepped up its game, delivering a film that has improved characters that remain visually familiar to fans.


Illumination, Universal Pictures

December 15, 2017

Under the direction of Director Carlos Saldanha, Blue Sky artists stepped into the ring to deliver a rich animation that captures the look and feel of Spain, with a character whose performance is outstanding. The studio revamped its Studio tool and performed full radiosity, resulting in a painterly feel that retains all important detail. 

Loving Vincent

BreakThru Productions, 

Good Deed Entertainment

September 22, 2017

There is no question. This is a unique film. It’s an animated exploration of Vincent van Gogh’s last days using the artist’s own paintings. To create the 90-minute film, painters produced 65,000 oil paintings on canvas, representations of landscapes and portraits van Gogh created during his last years. Artists repositioned brushstrokes in one painting when creating the next; they were then photographed and retouched using CG software. That is the simple explanation; the process was far more involved and complicated.

• • •

Two animated films from Gkids are getting some buzz, too. One is Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, a Spanish film directed by Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero, based on Vazquez’s post-apocalyptic graphic novel and 2011 short film. The feature, set for a December 2017 release in the US, tells the dismal story of some children living on an isolated island in the middle of the sea, ruined after a nuclear power plant disaster. The other is The Breadwinner, from Nora Twomey. It is an Irish-Canadian co-production about an Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. It is set for release November 17, 2017.

Other animated features that could find their way onto various initial lists: Smurfs: The Lost Village (Sony Pictures Animation, Columbia Pictures), The Boss Baby (DreamWorks Animation, Twentieth Century Fox), The Emoji Movie (Sony Pictures Animation, Columbia Pictures), and The LEGO Batman Movie (DC Entertainment, Warner Bros.).′