Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The VFX Predictinator, 87th Academy Awards Edition

 Huh. Ummm, okay. Didn't see that coming.

The VFX Predictinator is a formula my wife and I developed to correctly predict the winner of the visual effects Academy Award. We developed the formula in 2010, using historical data from 1989-2008 Academy Award nominees and winners for Best Visual Effects. The formula uses quantifiable data to predict a winner. Since then, The VFX Predictinator has correctly predicted the winners of the subsequent VFX Academy Award Winners (“Avatar”, “Inception”, “Hugo”, “Life of Pi” and "Gravity”).  Read all about the Predictinator here: What is The VFX Predictinator?

Let's see what the formula says about the 87th Academy Award nominees for Achievement in Visual Effects.


You read that correctly. The VFX Predictinator predicts “Guardians of the Galaxy” to win the Academy Award for visual effects. To say we were surprised would be an understatement.

“Guardians” certainly earned its VFX Oscar nomination, and is a worthy contender.  But leading up to the bake-off, the conventional wisdom thought the VFX Oscar race was between the exceptional work of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and "Interstellar". "Apes 2" advanced upon its predecessor with even more convincing apes made entirely with computer graphics (driven by motion capture and keyframe animation) featured in beautiful effects shots with nuanced and clever shot design. "Interstellar" and its director Christopher Nolan pushed visual storytelling boundaries by insisting on as much practical, real-world techniques as possible. Intense, gorgeous visual design infused the film's wormhole, black hole and tesseract sequences with bold, innovative energy.

Both films were big hits, both films were critically acclaimed ("Apes 2" was more of a crowd-pleaser, while "Interstellar" earned praise for its audaciousness and scorn for its, well, Nolan-ness.)

Personally, I thought “Interstellar” had a slight edge in the race. “Gravity”, like “Interstellar”, also featured large-scale, impressive space visual effects. Like “Gravity” (which was up against big superhero, sci-fi and fantasy blockbusters), “Interstellar” is arguably the most ‘important’, least spectacle-based, thought-provoking film of the nominees, and the film most likely to garner additional Academy Award nominations. “Interstellar” is a vote that would make Academy voters feel ‘good’. It’s the classy choice, versus choosing comic book films or sequels.

Of the ten films nominated for VFX over the last two years, the only films that are not based on other material are “Gravity” and “Interstellar”. Finally, “Interstellar”’s ace-in-the-hole is Matthew McConaughey; a key Predictinator data point is ‘Actor Prestige’, which rewards a film an entire point if its lead actor has won an acting Academy Award. (McConaughey won last year’s Best Actor trophy for “Dallas Buyer’s Club”.) Remember, “Gravity” starred Sandra Bullock, who won an Oscar for “The Blind Side” which earned the film a valuable Predictinator point.

The digital character work in “Apes 2” was beyond magnificent. The filmmakers made a sequel that was even more warmly received than its crowd-pleasing predecessor, and the visual effects work kept pace by adding more characters, more environments, with the apes delivering even more dramatic performances. Even though “Apes 2” would win Predictinator points for organic creatures and facial acting work, it would get dinged for its earlier release date, and for being a sequel.

For weeks, I thought it would be between these two films, and until I could run The Predictinator numbers, I was sweating, since I didn’t know which film the formula would pick. This is why my pre-Predictinator anxiety was so high.

From November 2014, before even the bake-off films were announced

So, if the race was really between “Interstellar” and “Apes 2”, why the heck did the The VFX Predictinator choose "Guardians of the Galaxy"?

When running the numbers each year for The Predictinator, my wife and I have our little ritual. I prep all the data (box office tallies, months of release, etc.), and she preps the Excel spreadsheet that contains the formula. I read off each film's data points-- she plugs them into the spreadsheet. She sees each film's score updated in real time, but doesn't give me any hint of the updating point values.

We enter the data for each film in alphabetical order: first "Captain America 2", then "Apes 2", then "Guardians". I noticed after I read through "Guardians" data points, she grunted quietly. I immediately began to sweat. We continued with the data points, without any commentary. "Interstellar" and "X-Men: DOFP" finished up our list. The predicted winner was revealed on her screen.

"Whoa," she said.

"What?" I responded.

“We've got a problem here,” she said.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was staring us in the face, winning with 6.18 points. It’s not a runaway leader; “Interstellar” is close behind at 5.43 points, and “Apes 2” is at 5.23 points. So at least we were right to think that “Interstellar” and “Apes 2” would be evenly matched.

In terms of Predictinator scores, this year’s race is the closest since 2007, when “The Golden Compass” (4.98 points) beat “Transformers (4.91 points).

One thing sets apart this year’s visual effects Oscar race from previous races: all five films were giant box office hits and were critically acclaimed.

In fact, to illustrate how competitive the five films were, the stunning “Interstellar” was the least critically acclaimed film of the five VFX nominees with an extremely respectable 72% on the Tomatometer; the other four nominees scored at least 89% on the Tomatometer. At the box office, it earned an also respectable $189M, but it was the lowest grossing film amongst the five VFX nominees.

Making matters worse for “Interstellar”, the Predictinator treats box office and critical acclaim as relative to one another. So even though its box office and Tomatometer rating were quite respectable, the forumula heavily penalized the film for being the outlier in both categories.

I also thought “Interstellar” would earn far more than five total Academy Award nominations.

What gave “Guardians of the Galaxy” the advantage this year? The film faired well in several pieces of criteria: 

  • "Guardians" tied with “X-Men: DOFP” with the highest critical acclaim (91% Tomatometer score).
  • The film had the top box office of the five nominees at $333M— that’s a whopping $73M more than the next film, “Captain America 2”.
  • It was not a sequel (unlike “Apes 2” and “X-Men: DOFP”, which both lost points for their sequelness).
  • Finally, and most importantly, it earned both sets of points for being a film whose primary visual effects are organic creatures (Rocket Raccoon and Groot) as well for having creatures that performed facial acting.

Confused and frightened, my wife and I walked around the house like zombies. We were stunned by this upset. Dejected, she finally said, “Well, I guess this time The Predictinator will be wrong.”

But I’m not giving up on The Predictinator just yet. And that’s why I’m going to finish this analysis two ways: first, admitting that The Predictinator will be wrong, and the second, arguing that The Predictinator will be right.

My wife and I always wondered when our little formula turn up with the wrong VFX Oscar winner. We are very proud that the numbers correctly predicted “Avatar”, “Inception”, “Hugo”, “Life of Pi” and "Gravity”. (“Hugo”! No one was predicting “Hugo”!)

For a brief moment, we thought about creating an all-new formula - one that tinkers with the percentages, or adding a new criteria that helps ‘correct’ for what appears to be an unlikely winner.

For example, historically, we know the Academy virtually ignores the entire comedy genre, for whatever reason. Academy voters seemingly want their vote to be ‘classy and important’, rather than rewarding films that simply made them laugh. 

The rare honor of an Oscar for a funny film comes infrequently; Kevin Kline won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor back in 1988 for “A Fish Called Wanda”. And comedic films are rarely represented among the VFX Oscar nominees. However, any points we remove from “Guardians” for being a comedy would also negatively affect the Oscar win for 1992’s “Death Becomes Her”, which was one of the most difficult films in which we had to ‘make’ win, using our formula. The formula change that would help us in 2014 would hurt us in 1992.

(In fact, since 1989, the only VFX Oscar nominees that can remotely be deemed a comedy are “Guardians”, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and “Death Becomes Her”.)

But completely revamping the formula to avoid incorrectly predicting this year’s winner seems obtuse and unsportsmanlike. The endeavor would turn into a math problem rather than a philosophy. We gave it our best shot, and revisiting it each year seems like cheating. If we do, in fact, predict incorrectly this year, perhaps it indicates some sort of paradigm shift in Academy voting for which we are not accounting. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a crowd-pleasing super blockbuster that critics adored. It was the #1 movie at the U.S. box office by a longshot (the #2 film was $73M away), and it earned $773M worldwide. Its worldwide gross was only behind “Transformers 4” and “Hobbit 3”. Its Tomatometer score was an astonishing 91%.

“Guardians” was, by most Hollywood measures, a genuine risk taken by Marvel Studios. The film is a sci-fi comedy with relatively unknown, non-mainstream characters. It was Marvel’s first film to take place almost entirely off the Earth, featuring a talking raccoon and a talking tree as prominent characters. And, it was the savior of Hollywood’s summer; released in August, Hollywood exhaled after an extremely modest summer at the box office, relieved that James Gunn’s movie became a monster hit. Hollywood might want to reward “Guardians of the Galaxy” in a big way; by giving it a visual effects Oscar.

Most paramount, “Guardians” had two prominent characters in an ensemble cast that were entirely computer generated creatures. Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was realized by Framestore as a wacky, genetically modified talking raccoon. Rocket cracked jokes, hurled insults, piloted spaceships, right alongside his human castmates. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a walking tree with arms, legs and a face. Like Rocket, Groot (realized by MPC) interacted fully with the people around him. These are two completely synthetic characters sinking into the narrative. Audiences were completely convinced by the authenticity of these beings. The synthetic nature of their existences were not questioned.  Just like the brilliant creatures in Oscar winning films like “Life of Pi”, “Avatar”, “Pirates 2”, “King Kong” and “The Two Towers”, “Guardians” will take the Oscar because of its ability to create fully realized synthetic creatures that help tell the story.

Many might argue that “Apes 2” and “Interstellar” are much more significant films when it comes to the technical and creative innovation that the Academy typically wishes to reward. “Guardians”, however, is similar to 1996’s “Independence Day”, a film whose visual effects were extremely well executed but not necessarily groundbreaking or exceptional. That same year, “Dragonheart” and “Twister”, arguably were far more advanced and risky projects. In addition, back in 2000, “Gladiator” (a crowd-pleasing, critically-lauded film with beautiful matte painting environments and set extensions) defeated two films that were much riskier and forward-thinking, “The Perfect Storm” and “Hollow Man”.

Groot and Rocket Raccoon were animated and rendered so well that audiences completely accepted them as living, breathing characters right alongside Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista). And the Academy will want to reward the film for achieving this amazing accomplishment.

We will see what happens when the Academy Award winners are announced on February 22.

What is The VFX Predictinator?

updated January 23, 2015

The VFX Predictinator is a formula my wife and I developed to correctly predict the winner of the visual effects Academy Award.

We developed the formula in 2010, using historical data from 1989-2008 Academy Award nominees and winners for Best Visual Effects. The formula uses quantifiable data to predict a winner. Since then, The VFX Predictinator has correctly predicted the winners of the subsequent VFX Academy Award Winners (“Avatar”, “Inception”, “Hugo”, “Life of Pi” and "Gravity”).

The Predictinator does not make artistic or technical judgements. The discussion isn’t about who ‘deserves’ to win due to aesthetic achievement, technical prowess, or cultural significance; the whole point of the exercise is to prove that Academy voters are remarkably predictable when it comes to determining how they will vote for the visual effects Oscar since 1989. As a reminder, while the visual effects branch of the Academy determines the nominees in a bake-off, the full Academy membership of nearly 6,000 members votes on the winners.

Academy voters ride waves of popularity, acclaim, perceived challenges and their own short memory spans when voting for winners of Academy Awards. Many admit they haven't seen even a majority of nominated films. We designed The Predictinator to account for these things: for example, popularity (box office), acclaim (Rotten Tomatoes score), memory span (month of release), plus other criteria which can affect voters' emotional choices.

With the formula, we break down the way most Academy voters think.  “Is the nominee a sequel? Blech. Has its lead actor won an Oscar before? Oh, well, it’s got my vote! Is the movie filled with robots that destroy things? Meh, no thank you. I just saw this movie two months ago! I remember it!”

The formula uses the following criteria:

  • Critical Acclaim - as measured by Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer percentage), the higher the better
  • Domestic Box Office - measured at the time of Academy voting, the higher the better
  • Academy Award Nominations - to gauge Academy acclaim, the higher the better
  • Month of Release - the later the film’s release, the greater chance of winning
  • Sequel Score - sequels are penalized
  • Previous Sequel Was Oscar Winner - previous films that won 
  • Primary VFX Are Organic Creatures - organic creature films win more frequently
  • Facial Animation Acting - creatures that talk win frequently
  • Lead Actor Prestige - If the lead actor has won an Oscar, film usually wins VFX Oscar

The formula, itself:
(((RT Score/ Sum of all noms' RT Score) X 5)^2) + (BO (millions)/ BO Total of all noms) + (Academy Noms (only if 4 or more) X .25) + (((Month of Release / Total Month of Release) X 2.5)^2)* + (Sequel = -.5) + (Prior Sequel won Oscar = -1) + (Primary FX organic creatures = 1) + (Primary organic creatures include facial acting = .75) + (Lead Actor an Academy Award Winner = 1) = Final VFX Predictinator Score
*value has an upper limit of 1

For more detailed information, visit these links.

The VFX Predictinator, 87th Academy Awards Edition ("Guardians of the Galaxy") 
Cinefex - Predictinating the Oscars with Todd Vaziri
The VFX Predictinator, 86th Academy Awards Edition ("Gravity")
The VFX Predictinator, 85th Academy Awards Edition ("Life of Pi")
The VFX Show Oscar Preview Podcast ("Life of Pi")
The VFX Predictinator, 84th Academy Awards Edition ("Hugo")
Podcast: The VFX Show - The VFX Predictinator ("Hugo")
The VFX Predictinator, 83rd Academy Awards Edition ("Inception")
The VFX Predictinator, 82nd Academy Awards Edition ("Avatar")
The VFX Predictinator, Part 1, The beginning of the formula

Thursday, January 15, 2015

87th Academy Award Nominees for Visual Effects

The nominees for the 87th Academy Awards have been announced. As always, the nominees were determined by the visual effects branch of the Academy after attending a bake-off of 10 films.  The full Academy membership will vote on the winners of each category.  The awards ceremony will take place on February 22, 2015.

Here are the nominees for Achievement in Visual Effects for the 87th Academy Awards. Congratulations to all who helped bring these images to the screen.  Of course, we will run The VFX Predictinator soon... stay tuned.

Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick

Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barret and Erik Winquist

Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corobould

Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

VES Announces Nominations for 13th VES Awards

The Visual Effects Society has announced the nominees for the 13th VES Awards. The nominees were determined by VES members who participated in the nomination judging process.

Of live-action films, the top nomination earner was "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" with five nominations.  "Interstellar" and "The Hobbit 3" earned four nominations each, while "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Edge of Tomorrow" earned three nominations each.

Earning two nominations were "Guardians of the Galaxy", "Captain America 2" and "Maleficent".  Earning a single nomination were "Birdman", "Divergent", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "The Imitation Game", "Unbroken", "Lucy", "Noah" and "Transformers 4".

The films that were invited to the Academy Bake-Off that didn't receive any VES Awards nominations are "Godzilla" and "Night at the Museum 3". In contrast, "Edge of Tomorrow", which was not invited to the bake-off, earned two VES Awards nominations.

Listed below are all of the live-action feature film categories, including two categories which, starting this year, are mixed with animated features. To see all of the nominees, visit FXGuide's coverage. The entire VES membership votes for the winners of the awards, which will be announced at a banquet on February 4, 2015.  To learn more about the Visual Effects Society, visit their web site.

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Joe Letteri, Ryan Stafford, Matt Kutcher, Dan Lemmon, Hannah Blanchini

Stephane Ceretti, Susan Pickett, Jonathan Fawkner, Nicolas Aithadi, Paul Corobould

Paul Franklin, Kevin Elam, Ann Podlozny, Andrew Lockley, Scott Fisher

Carey Villegas, Barrie Hemsley, Adam Valdez, Kelly Port, Michael Dawson

Joe Letteri, David Conley, Eric Saindon, Kevin Sherwood, Steve Ingram

Richard Stammers, Blondel Aidoo, Lou Pecora, Anders Langlands, Cameron Waldbauer

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Ara Khanikian, Ivy AgreganSebastien MoreauIsabelle Langlois

Jim BerneyGreg BaxterMatt Dessero

Gabriel SanchezJenny FosterSimon WeisseJan Burda

Stuart BullenLucy Ainsworth-TaylorSimon Rowe

Bill GeorgeSteve GaubErin DusseaultDave MorleyBrian Cox

Outstanding Performance of an Animated Character in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Paul StoryEteuati TemaAndrea MerloEmiliano Padovani

Daniel BarrettAlessandro BonoraMark Edward AllenMasaya Suzuki

Kevin SpruceRachel WilliamsLaurie BruggerMark Wilson

MALEFICENT; Thistlewit
Darren HendlerMatthias WittmannJeremy ButtellElliot Rosenstein

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Johan ThorngrenGreg KegelQuentin MarmierLuis Calero

Tom BrachtGraham PageThomas DøhlenKirsty Clark

LUCY; Times Square
Richard BluffSteve BevinsSteve DeLucaTiffany Yung

NOAH; Antediluvian Earth
Grady CoferDan WheatonSusumu YukuhiroBen O'Brien

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Media Project (mixed formats)
Keith MillerJonathan PaquinAlessandro SaponiDavid Houghton Williams

EDGE OF TOMORROW; Beach and Paris Attacks
Albert ChengJose Enrique Astacio Jr.Michael HavartDion Beebe

Faraz HameedStephen PainterHoyte van HoytemaDorian Knapp

Austin BonangCasey SchatzDennis JonesNewton Thomas Sigel

Outstanding Models in any Motion Media Project (mixed formats)
BIG HERO 6; City of San Fransokyo
Brett AchornMinh DuongScott WatanabeLarry Wu

Tom McClureOliver JonesRaul Martinez

Leslie ChanAlastair MayerNiklas PrestonJustin Stockton

Landis FieldsJohn GoodsonAnthony RispoliDae Han

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER; Helicarrier Broadside and Crash
Dan PearsonSheldon SerraoJose BurgosEric Jennings

EDGE OF TOMORROW; Destruction and Sand
Steve AvoujageliPawel GrocholaAtsushi IkarashiPaul Waggoner

Jon AllittDavid CaeiroRonnie Menahem

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST; Quicksilver Pentagon Kitchen
Adam PaschkePremamurti PaetschSam HancockTimmy Lundin

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Christoph SalzmannFlorian SchroederQuentin HemaSimone Riginelli

Craig WentworthMatthew WelfordMarie Victoria DenogaFrank Fieser

Raphael HammIsaac LayishSebastian Von OverheidtTristan Myles

Simon JungBen RobertsMatthew AdamsJordan Schilling

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Mini-Predictinator?

GLADIATOR, VFX Oscar Winner (and Best Picture nominee)

To newcomers: The VFX Predictinator is a formula my wife and I developed that correctly predicts the winner of the visual effects Academy Award. Here’s last year’s Predictinator article, in which we predicted “Gravity” to win the visual effects Oscar, and here is a primer, written by Cinefex.

Now that awards season is upon us, I feel it’s a good time to address an issue some FXRant readers and Twitter followers have pointed out over the past few years, concerning The VFX Predictinator: the strong correlation between the winner of the visual effects Academy Award and a specific piece of criteria that is not a factor in the Predictinator formula.

For the past six years (2008 to 2013) the winner of the visual effects Oscar was also nominated for Best Picture. Many have jumped to the conclusion that this, in and of itself, is a mini-Predictinator.  Unfortunately, one cannot jump to the conclusion that a vfx film with a Best Picture nomination is a lock for a Best Visual Effects win.  The historical data indicates that this piece of criteria is an indicator of potential victory, not a predictor of victory. Let’s dive into the data.


The VFX Oscar winning film was also nominated for Best Picture for the last six straight years. But in 2009, two films with VFX nominations also earned Best Picture nominations, “Avatar” and “District 9”. Then, for the four years before 2008, a grand total of zero visual effects nominees also earned a Best Picture nomination. 

From 1994 to 2003, only 7 out of 10 years saw a visual effects nominee also earn a Best Picture nomination.  Going back to 1989 (the first year of our Predictinator data), one sees another five year stretch of no visual effects films with Best Picture nominations.

With 25 years of data, only 13 years saw at least one visual effects nominee earn a Best Picture nomination. In those 13 years, a visual effects film that also was a Best Picture nominee won all 13 times. That’s pretty solid data (as long as you ignore the fact that 3 out of 13 years had *two* visual effects nominees with Best Picture nominations. How does one predict the winner in those cases?).

The data also shows that 12 out of 25 years, (the years without a Best Picture nominee) you cannot make any educated prediction using this criteria alone.

TITANIC, VFX Oscar Winner (and Best Picture nominee)

So, speaking as generously as possible, here’s the best mini-Predictinator statement one can make, for years 1985-2013:

The winner of the VFX Academy Award is a movie that also earned a Best Picture nomination, unless:
  • ...more than one film is also nominated for Best Picture
  • ...no visual effects films are nominated for Best Picture

The strength behind this indicator is, in general terms, ‘prestigious acclaim’, for which The VFX Predictinator accounts in two key ways: critical acclaim (as quantified by the film’s Tomatometer score) and additional Academy Award nominations. In each case, the stronger ‘prestigious acclaim’ a film earns, the stronger chance it has for winning the visual effects Oscar.

If a visual effects nominee is also a Best Picture nominee, it means that the film already has built-in prestigious acclaim and probably earned a slew of additional Oscar nominations and has a strong Tomatometer rating, unlike its competition. This is what lifts that film’s Predictinator score above its competitors, typically action/sci-fi franchise films that underwhelm critics and are frequently ignored by Academy voters.

HUGO, VFX Oscar Winner (and Best Picture nominee)

In 2010, in an attempt to expand the variety of films the Academy endorses with its nominations, the Best Picture category was significantly expanded from a maximum of five nominees to (up to) ten nominees. Ironically, as reported by Grantland’s Mark Harris, the total number of films nominated by the Academy has actually shrunk. As Harris says, this is a “deeply disappointing trend”. Go read the article; it’s fascinating.

On the positive side, it has been a boon for this indicator (and for The Predictinator itself). The expanded Best Picture category helps shine a light on visual effects films that have the general momentum of an ‘award winner’. If the Best Picture category still had only five nominees, do you think films like “Inception”, “Hugo”, and “Gravity” would have earned Best Picture nominations? Probably not.

These visual effects films that also earn Best Picture nominations merely highlight and confirm The Predictinator’s ‘critical acclaim’ and ‘additional Oscar nominations’ criteria, which can clinch a visual effects Oscar win.

The nominations for the 87th Academy Awards will be announced on January 15, 2015. Once they are announced, I will run the The VFX Predictinator and announce which visual effects nominee is predicted to win the Oscar.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Films Going to the Bake-Off

2:15pm: updated with commentary below

Today, The Academy announced the names of the 10 films that will be competing for this year's Visual Effects Academy Award.  Congratulations to all the people involved with these films. Here is the Academy's statement.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 10 films remain in the running in the Visual Effects category for the 87th Oscars®.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Godzilla
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Interstellar
  • Maleficent
  • Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Academy’s Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee determined the shortlist.  All members of the Visual Effects Branch will now be invited to view 10-minute excerpts from each of the shortlisted films on Saturday, January 10, 2015.  Following the screenings, the members will vote to nominate five films for final Oscar consideration.

The 87th Academy Awards® nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 15, 2015, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network.  The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Today's visual effects landscape is staggeringly competitive. The quality (and quantity) of work being executed by the world's visual effects facilities is top notch. Not convinced? Just look at the films that didn't make it into the bake-off: "Exodus", "Amazing Spider-Man 2", "Lucy", "Edge of Tomorrow", "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Noah".

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pre-Oscars Predictinator Anxiety

Yeah, this is totally scientific. Just like The Predictinator. (cough)

(What is The VFX Predictinator, you ask? Well, here's last year's prediction. And here's a primer.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Apple TV, "Chef" and Aspect Ratios


When it comes to issues regarding proper aspect ratio projection of movies and television shows, I am a bit of a stickler. Just ask anyone who witnessed my Twitter tirades over “The Simpsons” being broadcast on FXX in the incorrect aspect ratio.

I recently rented Jon Favreau’s terrific film “Chef” on my Apple TV and was surprised to see the film presented in the wrong aspect ratio (the left side of the image was missing), and the 2.35 anamorphic film top justified (instead of center justified). So I’m documenting it here, to help Apple engineers figure out the problem, and to help make sure it doesn’t happen on future titles. I also filed a bug report, and submitted the issue to Apple’s support boards.

On 10/10/2014, I rented the HD version of “Chef” (2014) on my Apple TV. The widescreen film was presented in the wrong aspect ratio (the left side of the image is cut off), and also was top justified (leaving a black band at the bottom of the screen, instead of black bands at the top and bottom of the image).

After seeing the image like this, I restarted the AppleTV and tried again, and the image was still incorrect. My television settings were correct (I am a digital film professional); my Apple TV model is MD199LL/A, and we are using Apple TV Software 7.0 (6897.5); 1080p HD - 60Hz.


I got a response from Apple.

To inform Apple about the issue, I used the "Report a Problem" link that appears in all e-mail receipts from Apple TV/iTunes purchases. (Use it, folks, if you ever see anomalies like this.) I received a personalized response within 24 hours along with a refund. After a brief exchange, the Apple representative, with a complete understanding of the issue, kindly let me know that, from Apple's perspective, this appears to be an issue with the source material as provided by the content provider to Apple. As I suspected, the incorrect crop and justification of the image has been authored into the 16:9 source that Universal/Open Road Films has provided to Apple. If true, there's nothing Apple can do to resolve the issue. Universal must provide a new, correctly formatted version of the film to Apple.

Kudos to Apple for responding so quickly, as well as so personally. The support person I traded emails clearly understood my passion on this issue and, for that, we cinephiles are grateful.

Jon Favreau, Open Road Films and Universal - please look into this. Your terrific film is being seen the wrong way by everyone who rents (and, I'm guessing, purchases) this film from Apple's iTunes and Apple TV, and you guys can fix this by providing Apple a new, correct source file. More people are noticing the problem, too.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Movie Marketing is Hard! Futura and Hollywood

Many distinguished Hollywood directors have embraced the Futura font over the years, most notably Stanley Kubrick, J.J. Abrams (here and here) and Wes Anderson. In fact, Futura has the honor of being the first typeface to appear on the moon.

But, remember, Hollywood. If everything is in Futura, nothing is in Futura. Let's not overdo it.

Trailer stills from David Fincher's GONE GIRL,
and Alfonso Cuaron's GRAVITY

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rian Johnson and "A Niche Tweet"

Yeah, I know. There haven't been any FXRant posts recently. I have a few half-written pieces in the pipeline, so there's that. The 'day job' has been taking up a lot of my time, lately.

However, I have been having fun on Twitter. This made me chuckle; I'm thrilled that Rian Johnson, writer/director of the forthcoming "Star Wars: Episode VIII" got a laugh from my tweet.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Movie Marketing is Hard! "From The Director of TRAINING DAY", updated!

This is an update to a previous post.

Since directing the magnificent "Training Day" thirteen years ago, Antoine Fuqua has directed six more feature films. Every single film predominately featured the exact same card in its trailer: "From the director of TRAINING DAY". This year, however, with the release of the first trailer for "The Equalizer", the filmmakers have added "and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN", which earned over $161M worldwide at the box office to the card.

Showing my work-- feel free to click on these links: Tears of the SunKing ArthurShooterBrooklyn's FinestOlympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Movie Marketing Is Hard! Trailer Edition

Since it's been a while since I did one of these things...

view larger


Let's go down the checklist...
  Font - CHECK
  Black text with white outline - CHECK
  3D text - CHECK
  Cyan color palette - CHECK
  Superfluous flares - CHECK
  Giant number behind title basename - CHECK

Sunday, March 02, 2014

"Gravity" Wins The Oscar

Congratulations to the entire visual effects team behind "Gravity", the winner of the visual effects Oscar in the 86th Academy Awards.

Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould

And, yes, The VFX Predictinator was right again.

Visual Effects Oscar Nominees Without Visual Effects

Your 2013 visual effects Academy Award nominees... without visual effects.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Pre-Oscars Predictinator Round Up

illustration by Graham Edwards

Tomorrow is the big Oscar telecast, so let's do a quick roundup of pre-Oscar Predictinator-related news and links.

Cinefex Blog: Predictinating the Oscars with Todd Vaziri
Graham Edwards talked with me about the origin of The VFX Predictinator and this year's prediction. The article serves as a terrific introduction to our complicated (yet simple) formula for predicting the visual effects Oscar. We also talk a little bit about my work on "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "The Lone Ranger". Cinefex is an institution; the magazine of record for visual effects, so it was a great thrill to speak with them about my work.

FXGuide: The VFX Show #179: 2014 Oscar Preview Show
Mike Seymour, Jason Diamond and Mark Christiansen have a lively discussion about this year's Academy Awards, and bring up The VFX Predictinator. One minor note: at one point in the podcast, they mistakenly say that when accepting his Golden Globe for directing "Gravity", Alfonso Cuaron made the same grievous error that Ang Lee did at the Oscars: he didn't mention the visual effects team in his acceptance speech, when, in fact, Cuaron did. (Also covered by Cartoon Brew.)

Wired: Sorry, "Gravity", But "The Lone Ranger" Is Going to Win Your Oscar
This bizarre, not-nearly-tongue-in-cheek-enough 'article' in Wired magazine posits that "The Lone Ranger" will win the visual effects Oscar.

To give you a sense of how obtuse and goofy is this article by Graeme McMillan: the published piece has Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee's last names misspelled ("Scorcese" and "Le"). It also incorrectly states that "[Industrial Light and Magic] has won three times in the last decade", within a discussion of ILM being 'snubbed' for Oscars recently. This isn't really accurate; ILM was the lead house on the Oscar-winning "Pirates 2", but was one of the many supporting visual effects vendors on the Oscar-winning "Avatar" and "Hugo".  I talked about this way back in 2007, addressing the ILM 'drought' of Academy Awards.

To sum up McMillan's theory, in 2009 and 2011 (odd numbered years) ILM contributed visual effects to the winner of the Oscar. And 2013 is an odd numbered year. So, yeah. There you go. (cough)
On Twitter, some folks are starting to understand the underlying meta-commentary about The VFX Predictinator: the Academy is relatively homogeneous and prefers to vote for safe choices. This was illustrated in The L.A. Times' reporting from 2012, Who's Who In The Academy, which features some startling statistics about the nearly 6,000 strong Academy. For example, it's 94% white.

Create on your own white, male, interactive charts at the L.A. Times.

More recently, Lee and Low Books made an infographic called "The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards", which dives deeper into the demographics of the Academy and the voting choices it has made over its history.

Infographic by Lee and Low Books

The complete lack of diversity within the ranks of the Academy membership contributes to the predictability of their choices.

Considering the complete accuracy of our VFX Predictinator from 1989-2012, I was thrilled to read this quote from Nate Silver, renowned statistician and famous for accurately predicting elections over at FiveThirtyEight.

"There's not a great statistical way to predict the Oscars." - Nate Silver