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

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Movie Marketing is Hard! "WTF Happened to Movie Posters"

A brilliant, comprehensive look at today's bland and lazy modern movie posters, created by Good Bad Flicks.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

"Grown Ups 2" Trailer with Music from "2001"

The teaser for Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” was given high praise from moviegoers for its beautiful, evocative imagery. The rhythm and pacing of the teaser, combined with the gorgeous visual effects work of a group of paratroopers gliding their way into the ravaged San Francisco skyline, made it one of the most memorable teasers of the year.

Most importantly, the “Godzilla” teaser succeeded because it teased; it didn’t reveal a shred of the film's plot or character, or show audiences exactly what the movie is about, which is refreshing.

One of the reasons the “Godzilla” teaser works so well is the music -- in fact, the first time I watched the trailer, I shouted at my computer screen, “Hey, that’s cheating!” The filmmakers used the music from a sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the famous Jupiter And Beyond The Infinite scene, which features the dazzling slit screen photography, shot by the visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull.

“Any trailer that uses that music would look cool!” I joked. And then, I wondered if that’s really true? Can any trailer with the music from the “2001” stargate sequence look cool?  Challenge accepted!

So I put the Lux Aeterna orchestration from “2001” (by Gyoergy Ligeti) underneath the “Grown Ups 2” trailer, starring Adam Sandler, the least-cool trailer I could think of.  I did some minor picture editing to make the edit work, sweetened the audio and added some stingers.

Now that looks like a terrifying movie. Maybe even more terrifying than the original.