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.


David Bjerre said...

Highlight of the Oscar season is here! I'm not even kidding.

Unknown said...

Gravity ehhh?


gravity ..

TylerMirage said...

I might be the odd man out here, but I think "Gravity" might just take it. :p

Visitken said...

You called it, Todd!