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
  • 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!

UPDATE 2: This post has been updated with an additional film. Click here to read.

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


Monday, February 24, 2014

Oscar Pool Ballot, 86th Academy Awards

It's time for the Awesomest Oscar Pool Ballot In The History Of Oscar Pool Ballots.

Every year I create a special ballot based on the printable ballot -- but on my ballot, each category has a different point value. The highest valued category is "Best Picture," while the mainstream films' categories are valued at two points. The non-mainstream categories (like the documentary and short film categories) are valued at one point.

This way, in a tight race for the winner, the winner most likely would not be determined by the non-mainstream films (i.e., blind guesses).

Download the ballot here for the 86th Academy Awards and use it at your Oscar party.

And if you're wondering why Tom Cruise is on my ballot... he's been on every one of my Oscar ballots. Because he's soooooooooo cool.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Gravity" Wins Big at VES Awards

"Gravity" vfx supervisor Tim Webber. Photo by Jeff Heusser

"Gravity" was the big winner at the 12th VES Awards, hosted by Patton Oswalt, earning six awards from its eight nominations.  "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" bested "Gravity" (in its only loss of the night) in the category Outstanding Animated Character, for its work on the dragon Smaug.

"The Lone Ranger" won the VES Award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Film.

Also that night, VES gave its Visionary Award to "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron (presented by Sandra Bullock), and presented a Lifetime Achievement award to vfx pioneer John Dykstra.

Listed below are all of the live-action feature film category winners. To see all of the winners and to view Jeff Heusser's photos of the night, visit FXGuide's coverage here.  To learn more about the Visual Effects Society, visit their web site.

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture
Tim Webber, Nikki Penny, Chris Lawrence, Richard Mcbride

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture
The Lone Ranger
Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Shari Hanson, Kevin Martel

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Smaug
Eric Reynolds, David Clayton, Myriam Catrin, Guillaume Francois

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: Exterior
Paul Beilby, Kyle Mcculloch, Stuart Penn, Ian Comley

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Tim Webber, Emmanuel Lubezki, Richard Mcbride, Dale Newton

Outstanding Models in a Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: ISS Exterior
Ben Lambert, Paul Beilby, Chris Lawrence, Andy Nicholson

Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: Parachute and ISS Destruction
Alexis Wajsbrot, Sylvain Degrotte, Horacio Mendoza, Juan-Luis Sanchez

Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
Mark Bakowski, Anthony Smith, Theodor Groeneboom, Adrian Metzelaar

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Visual Effects, Oscars and the Box Office in 2013

Just as I did for 2012 films and 2011 films, I thought it would be interesting to track the average global box office grosses from this year's Academy Award nominees, per category.

This year's numbers, compared to the last two years, were heavily skewed by the box office behemoth "Gravity" which, tied with "American Hustle", earned more nominations than any other film. With a worldwide gross of nearly $700M, "Gravity" radically boosted the average box office of all 10 categories it was featured; compared to the last two years, this is anomalous.

For context, here are the top two nomination earners and their global box office take over the last three years:

86th Academy Awards
Gravity (10 noms, $695M), American Hustle (10 noms, $188M)

85th Academy Awards
Lincoln (12 noms, $204M), Life of Pi (11 noms, $548M)

84th Academy Awards
Hugo (11 noms, $83M) The Artist (10, $34M)

As a result, nearly all categories got a major boost from "Gravity"'s box office.  Even so, Best Picture's average went down a bit to $177M average (as opposed to 2012's $203M).

The Best Animated Feature's average box office was boosted by three megahits ("Despicable Me 2" ($970M), "Frozen" ($867M) and "The Croods" ($587M)), giving the category an average box office earning of $506M.

But at the top of the heap, yet again, is the visual effects category. Buoyed by "Gravity"'s giant earnings, the average visual effects Academy Award nominee earned $698M globally.  Even with earning nearly $700M, "Gravity" is actually the third highest grossing film of the category, after "Iron Man 3" ($1.2B) and "The Hobbit 2" ($855M).

The five nominees for visual effects earned a total global box office gross of $3.5 billion.

Repeating what I've said in the past, this chart should surprise no one.  I wrote all my caveats and explanations in previous articles, so I won't rehash them here.  Put simply, the average box office earnings from 'the best' visual effects films films far exceeds any other discipline's 'best' work.

I wrote this concerning the 2011 box office when I charted the box office averages for the 84th Academy Awards, and unfortunately, this still is true.

It also illustrates the sad state of the visual effects community. The average Oscar nominee for visual effects made over $662 million globally, and yet our industry has relatively little power in Hollywood.

Showing my work, CSV of this year's data.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Dolly Zoom in "Ratatouille"

The subtle dolly zoom in "Ratatouille". Scroll down for a large, annotated film clip.

Vashi Nedomansky has edited a brilliant 8 1/2 minute montage called "Evolution of the Dolly Zoom", which is a big hit on the internets. Thankfully, Nedomansky did not feel the need to add every single dolly zoom used in the history of cinema, especially since the 1990's the trick shot technique has long since turned into a visual cliche -- a crutch to crudely jackhammer an emotional reaction from the audience. Nedomansky's montage flows extremely well, especially with his soundtrack choice: Bernard Herrmann's haunting music from "Vertigo".

My first exposure to the dolly zoom was Steven Spielberg's "Jaws". I nearly burned out my VHS copy of the film, rewinding its dolly zoom shot over and over again to study the effect. Many years later I saw Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo", which many regard as the origin of the technique in popular cinema.

To sum up the effect of a dolly zoom: the camera moves closer to a subject while at the same time zooming out its field of view. The effect could also be achieved in reverse: the camera dollies away from the subject while zooming in its field of view. The effect is jarring - the world seems to become a foldable accordion; we rarely see these two processes happening at the same time in cinema. One can dive deeper into the mechanics of the dolly zoom here.

The camera move is most often used by directors who want to visually punctuate a dramatic emotional turn; a character's world is being turned upside down, and their relationship with the world has dramatically changed in a single moment. In "Jaws", Spielberg used it at the precise moment Chief Brody's deepest fears came true, as he witnesses a brutal shark attack at the beach. (For "Jaws", Spielberg began the shot with a long lens and the camera far away, then dollied close to Roy Scheider while zooming out.) In "Quiz Show" director Robert Redford applies the technique as Charles Van Doren takes his first step into a world of deceit and fraud inside the game show booth, betraying his values by cheating on a television game show.

In contrast, in"Goodfellas" Martin Scorsese uses the technique to illustrate Henry Hill's increasing pressure and paranoia.. Hill meets with Jimmy Conway, but is fearful that Conway is setting him up for a fall. As they sit down at a restaurant for their discussion, tension fills the screen as the background dramatically increases in size while Conway and Hill remain consistent, visually mirroring the intense, increasing stress these characters are under. (For "Goodfellas", Scorsese does the opposite of Spielberg's "Jaws" example: he begins the shot with the camera close to the actors, slowly dollies backwards while zooming in during the move, collapsing visual depth during the shot.)

Evolution of the Dolly Zoom by Vashi Nedomansky

And, most dramatically, its use in Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist" is terrifying. Simulating the awful dream-like feeling of running without getting anywhere, with your goal receding into the distance, Hooper (and Spielberg) designed a shot where Diane Freeling, desperately running down a hallway to rescue her children from ghosts, sees her children's bedroom drift into the distance, putting them out of reach. It's a truly nightmarish sequence, visually portraying a loss of control.

In his video edit, Nedomansky also smartly includes context for these dolly zoom moments, rather than simply creating a supercut of dolly zooms cut together. This way, students of film can catch a glimpse of the surrounding shots, giving a bit of context as to how and why the dolly zoom was used by the filmmaker.

However, not included in Nedomansky's cut is the subtle dolly zoom in Brad Bird's "Ratatouille", one of my favorite uses of the technique in the last decade.

Why do I find this use of the dolly zoom in "Ratatouille" so brilliant?  For one, most audiences did not even consciously realize the effect was occurring because a critical piece of the emotional core of the film was being delivered to the audience. In the shot, the camera is focused on the television in the background, giving the audience important information about Remy's culinary hero, Chef Gusteau. The chef gives our hero an inspirational speech across space and time (through the television), and reminds Remy of the all-important notion that "Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great." The shot begins with a conventional move; the camera dollies towards Remy, with the television in focus. In the middle of the shot, the camera slows to a stop, and begins to dolly backward just as a zoom-in begins. Remy remains the same size in screen space, but the television screen blows up dramatically. A lovely feature of this effect is not only the collapsing depth (which focuses our attention), but also the ever decreasing depth of field. Remy becomes more out of focus as the shot progresses (since the focal length is getting larger), which is exactly what would happen with real-life camera systems.

(I've written about "Ratatouille" and its thoughtful camera work before; if you're interested, click here and scroll down for other "Ratatouille" articles.)

Director Bird could have simply dollied in toward the television as Gusteau gives his speech, but he chose to execute a dolly zoom. The scene lays groundwork for the emotional themes of the film. The dolly zoom underscores this important, emotional moment.

The dolly zoom from "Ratatouille" in context with annotations, by Todd Vaziri. Direct YouTube link.

The effect is used in "Ratatouille" with confidence and elegant subtlety; like previously stated, most viewers do not even realize the perspective is flattening out*, which is antithetical to the modern, in-your-face cliche use of the dolly zoom. The technique is generally used as punctuation (usually an exclamation point), screaming "The characters are going through something significant RIGHT NOW!" In this scene from "Ratatouille", the dolly zoom is simply part of the mise-en-scène  and not the focus of the shot. Like the editing, costumes, and the lighting, the dolly zoom is not meant to be seen, but felt.

Although the effect has been done in animated projects before, it is extremely rare to see the technique outside of live-action. Pulling off a flawless dolly zoom in live-action takes repeated rehearsals and intense, precision choreography between the camera operator, camera assistant, grips and actors.  The zoom and dolly need to ramp in and out of their curves with grace, and requires the crew to execute the move with nearly a hive-mind. (Just look at all those dolly zooms in Sam Raimi's "The Quick and The Dead" in Nedomansky's supercut. For the most part, the initial starts and ultimate ends of the moves are left on the cutting room floor, but the shots add an additional variable - the animated dutch angle, where the camera rolls during the dolly zoom. Just the thought of the intense choreography that was required to pull off those complicated moves makes my head spin.)

In computer animation, the intense precision required to pull off a flawless dolly zoom in live-action is greatly simplified with curve editors plotted on a computer screen. In the digital realm, where pretty much any camera move is possible, the filmmaker is allowed to express himself with precision nearly impossible within the confines of the real world.

The bonus, super-quick dolly zoom from Ego's bite of Remy's food. For the animated GIF above, I've edited out the flashback, retaining only the start and end of the flashback, which reveals the extremely subtle dolly zoom effect.  As a bonus, notice how the lighting on Ego's face is neutral/cool before the flashback, but after the flashback he's bathed in a warmer light on his face, visually underlining his new, warmer perspective.

In fact, Bird sneaked an additional dolly zoom into "Ratatouille", albeit a brief one. In the film's single most dramatic and memorable shot, Anton Ego's first taste of Remy's ratatouille dish throws him into a childhood flashback. The first frames of that flashback, depicted as an extremely fast whoosh with the camera traveling backwards in space (and time), settling on a young Anton Ego at his childhood doorstep, begins with a smash dolly backwards that actually ends up moving through young Ego's pupil and settling on the final composition. The flashback whooshes away, revealing the present, and the camera inverts the action with the reverse of the initial dolly zoom. The effect is disorienting and barely visible, introducing this radical and unexpected flashback, and ultimately enhances the emotional impact of the brilliant shot.

*Before publishing this article, a Google search for "dolly zoom Ratatouille" came up with zero results discussing the Gusteau dolly zoom, which I found quite remarkable.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The VFX Predictinator, 86th Academy Awards Edition


Now that the Academy Award nominations have been announced, it’s time to fire up The VFX Predictinator.  This year’s predicted winner may not surprise you. But first, here's some background for those of you just joining us.

The VFX Predictinator is a formula my wife and I created to predict the winner of the visual effects Oscar. We designed the formula before the 82nd Academy Awards based on 20 years of data (1989-2008); it assigns point values to certain criteria of each nominee. Part 1 of the series.

Using the same formula, we have correctly predicted the last four years of Oscar winners (“Avatar”, “Inception”, “Hugo” and “Life of Pi”). For 24 years, this single formula has correctly predicted the winner of the visual effects Oscar.

Allow me to reiterate that this discussion is not about artistic or technical achievements. This isn’t about who ‘deserves’ to win due to aesthetic achievement, technical prowess, or cultural significance; the whole point of this exercise is to prove that Academy voters are simply predictable when it comes to determining how they will vote. As a reminder, the visual effects branch of the Academy determines the nominees in a bake-off, while 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.

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!

Let’s see what the formula says about the 86th Academy Awards:

“Gravity” is the predicted winner, with 9.67 points. Its margin of victory is quite similar to last year’s winner, “Life of Pi” over its next closest competitor.

Alfonso Cuaron’s film excelled in nearly every piece of criteria; it was a critical darling (it had the highest RT score of all the nominees at a whopping 97%), earned a lot of money (the third top grosser), and was released late in the year. The film was one of two non-sequels nominated, which helped as well. Nominees that are sequels have their scores reduced by 0.5 points.

But most importantly, “Gravity” earned 10 total Oscar nominations, blowing all of the other films away. Previous winners “Life of Pi”, “Hugo” and "Return of the King" earned 11 total Oscar nominations. And over the last 24 years, the film that earned the most Oscar nominations among the visual effects nominees won the visual effects award 20 times.

Putting the final nail in the coffin, “Gravity” stars Sandra Bullock, who is an Oscar winner herself, giving the film another point.

Last year, “Hobbit 1” had the third highest Predictinator score; this year “Hobbit 2” earned enough to be in second place. Strengths for “Hobbit 2” included its month of release (December) and its respectable Tomatometer and box office scores.  It was the only film that qualified for the extremely important “Primary FX are organic creatures” criteria, plus the subsequent “facial acting” criteria, for its creation of Smaug, the talking dragon. However, these positives weren't enough to overtake the juggernaut that is “Gravity”.

The relative lack of organic creatures in 2013 mimics 2011 and 2010; like those years, only one film had organic creatures as their primary visual effects. In both of those years, the creature film was not the predicted (nor actual) winner. If our 2013 prediction is true, it will continue this bizarre pattern.

At third and fourth place was “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Iron Man 3”, two sequels that were well-reviewed and earned lots of money at the box office, but were penalized for being sequels, and without primary creature work. Plus, they were released earlier in the year, and didn’t earn enough additional Oscar nominations to earn any points.

“The Lone Ranger” earned a dismal score of 1.17 points; it was destroyed by its low Tomatometer rating and its relatively minuscule box office. But its low score was not record-breaking. At 1.04 points, “Transformers 3” has the lowest score of The Predictinator’s history. “Ranger” has the second lowest, with “Alien 3” as the third lowest.

Stepping away from the statistics for a moment; there’s no denying that “Gravity” has captured the imagination of the public and of Academy voters.  The innovative techniques used in the creation of the effects, along with its flawless execution and gorgeous aesthetics (combined with the fact that it is a nearly universally-loved film) give this prediction emotional support. The Predictinator numbers quantify the wave of popularity and acclaim for the film.

You might respond to this prediction with Um, well, duh, of course ‘Gravity’ will win the Oscar. I don’t need a formula to tell me that.

I would be the first to admit that it would be truly surprising if "Gravity" didn't take home the Oscar.  Lucky for us, The Predictinator seems just as accurate predicting the obvious winners as the nail-biters.  How many people were predicting “Hugo” to win over “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and the final “Harry Potter” film?  Or "The Golden Compass" winning over "Transformers"? Or "Babe" over "Apollo 13"? The Predictinator nailed these winners, plus also correctly predicted the lopsided victories of “Avatar” and “Inception”.

We'll see what happens when the Academy Award winners are announced on March 2.  UPDATE: Yep.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

86th Academy Award Nominees for Visual Effects

The nominees for the 86th 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 March 2, 2014.

Here are the nominees for Achievement in Visual Effects for the 86th Academy Awards. Congratulations to all who helped bring these images to the screen.

Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould

Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick

Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds

Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier

Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

And, yes, I will run The Predictinator on this year's group of nominees. Stay tuned.  And here it is.

Friday, January 17, 2014

VES Announces Nominations for 12th VES Awards

The Visual Effects Society has announced the nominees for the 12th VES Awards. The nominees were determined by VES members who participated in the nomination judging process.

Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" earned the most nominations, totaling eight, including Best Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Film.  "Pacific Rim" earned six noms, while "Iron Man 3" and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" earned five each.  "Star Trek Into Darkness", "The Lone Ranger" and "Man of Steel" each earned two nominations.

Earning one nomination was "The Great Gatsby", "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", "The Wolf of Wall Street", "White House Down", "Oz: The Great and Powerful" and "Elysium".

Some interesting tidbits from this year's nominees: films that are in this year's Academy Bake-Off that didn't earn any VES nominations include "Oblivion", "Thor: The Dark World" and "World War Z".  In contrast, "The Great Gatsby", "Man of Steel", "Mitty", "The Wolf of Wall Street", "White House Down", and "Oz: The Great and Powerful" earned VES nominations while not being invited to the Academy Bake-Off.

Listed below are all of the live-action feature film categories. To see all of the nominees, visit FXGuide's coverage.  To learn more about the Visual Effects Society, visit their web site.

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture
Tim Webber, Nikki Penny, Chris Lawrence, Richard Mcbride

Iron Man 3
Christopher Townsend, Mark Soper, Guy Williams, Bryan Grill

Pacific Rim
John Knoll, Susan Greenhow, Chris Raimo, Hal Hickel

Star Trek: Into Darkness
Roger Guyett, Luke O’Byrne, Ron Ames, Ben Grossman

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, Kevin Sherwood, David Clayton

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture
Jody Johnson, Moriah Etherington-Sparks, Mark Hodgkins, Antoine Moulineau

The Great Gatsby
Chris Godfrey, Prue Fletcher, Joyce Cox

The Lone Ranger
Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Shari Hanson, Kevin Martel

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Guillaume Rocheron, Kurt Williams, Monette Dubin, Ivan Moran

The Wolf of Wall Street
Robert Legato, Mark Russell, Joseph Farrell, Lisa Spence

White House Down
Marc Weigert, Volker Engel, Julia Frey, Ollie Rankin

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: Ryan
Max Solomon, Mathieu Vig, Michael Brunet, David Shirk

Oz the Great and Powerful: China Girl
Troy Saliba, In-Ah Roediger, Carolyn Vale, Kevin Souls

Pacific Rim: Kaiju – Leatherback
Jakub Pistecky, Frank Gravatt, Cyrus Jam, Chris Havreberg

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Smaug
Eric Reynolds, David Clayton, Myriam Catrin, Guillaume Francois

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Elysium: Torus
Votch Levi, Joshua Ong, Barry Poon

Gravity: Interior
Harry Bardak, Nathan Walster, Jonathan Fawkner, Claire Michaud

Gravity: Exterior
Paul Beilby, Kyle Mcculloch, Stuart Penn, Ian Comley

Iron Man 3: Shipyard
John Stevenson-Galvin, Greg Notzelman, Paul Harris, Justin Stockton

Pacific Rim: Virtual Hong Kong
Johan Thorngren, Jeremy Bloch, David Meny, Polly Ing

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Tim Webber, Emmanuel Lubezki, Richard Mcbride, Dale Newton

Iron Man 3
Mark Smith, Aaron Gilman, Thelvin Cabezas, Gerardo Ramirez

Man of Steel
Daniel Paulsson, Edmund Kolloen, Joel Prager, David Stripinis

Pacific Rim: Hong Kong Ocean Brawl
Colin Benoit, Nick Walker, Adam Schnitzer, Victor Schutz

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Christian Rivers, Phil Barrenger, Mark Gee, Thelvin Tico Cabezas

Outstanding Models in a Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: ISS Exterior
Ben Lambert, Paul Beilby, Chris Lawrence, Andy Nicholson

Pacific Rim
David Fogler, Alex Jaeger, Aaron Wilson, David Behrens

Star Trek: Into Darkness
Bruce Holcomb, Ron Woodall, John Goodson, Thomas Fejes

The Lone Ranger: Colby Locomotive
Rene Garcia, Steve Walton, Brian Paik, Gerald Gutschmidt

Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: Parachute and ISS Destruction
Alexis Wajsbrot, Sylvain Degrotte, Horacio Mendoza, Juan-Luis Sanchez

Man of Steel
Brian Goodwin, Gray Horsfield, Mathieu Chardonnet, Adrien Toupet

Pacific Rim: Fluid Simulation & Destruction
Ryan Hopkins, Michael Balog, Patrick Conran, Rick Hankins

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Areito Echevarria, Andreas Soderstrom, Ronnie Menahem, Christoph Sprenger

Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
Jean Lapointe, Jordan Benwick, Robin Hackl, Janeen Elliott

Mark Bakowski, Anthony Smith, Theodor Groeneboom, Adrian Metzelaar

Iron Man 3: Barrel of Monkeys
Michael Maloney, Francis Puthanangadi, Justin Van Der Lek, Howard Cabalfin

Iron Man 3: House Attack
Darren Poe, Stefano Trivelli, Josiah Howison, Zach Zaubi

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Charles Tait, Robin Hollander, Giuseppe Tagliavini, Sean Heuston