Monday, December 21, 2015

Academy Announces the List of 10

The executive Committee of the visual effects branch of the Academy has announced the list of ten films that will be going to the bake off.


Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ex Machina
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

Back in December, the executive committee announced the list of 20 eligible films. This two-step process allows the committee to see all the films and make a better determination as to which films make it to the bake off. 

If you are keeping track, that means the following films have been knocked out of the competition: Bridge of Spies, Everest, Furious Seven, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, In the Heart of the Sea, Jupiter Ascending, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Spectre, and Terminator Genisys.

In January, the visual effects branch will hold the bake off; each of the ten films presents a ten minute reel of finished work (no breakdowns or before/after reels) to the entire branch, along with a short question and answer session. Then, after all of the films have been presented, the branch votes for their top five choices. The five films with the most votes become the Oscar nominees. The nominations for the 88th Academy Awards will be announced on January 14, 2016.

The full Academy membership votes for the winner of the visual effects Academy Award, which will be presented at the full awards ceremony on February 28, 2016.

Friday, December 18, 2015

My Pre-Release "Force Awakens" Thoughts

For nearly a year, I helped create visual effects for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". I feel honored and grateful for the experience. I tried to summarize my feelings before the release of the film in a series of tweets, Storify'd below.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Academy Announces the List of 20

The Academy announced the twenty films of 2015 that will be eligible to attend the visual effects bake-off. The list of twenty was determined by the Executive Committee of the visual effects branch.


Avengers: Age of Ultron
Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Furious Seven
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
In the Heart of the Sea
Jupiter Ascending
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Terminator Genisys
The Walk

Later this month, the Executive Committee will narrow this list down to the ten films that will participate in the bake-off.  At the bake-off, the ten films present their ten minute reels, and the visual effects branch of the Academy votes that night, determining the final five nominees for Best Visual Effects. The nominations will be announced on January 14, 2016.

The full Academy membership votes for the winner of the visual effects Academy Award, which will be presented at the full awards ceremony on February 28, 2016.

Monday, September 07, 2015

My Visual Effects Twitter Q&A

A few weeks ago, I did an impromptu question and answer session on Twitter. I've collected all the tweets into a Storify, and am reposting it below. Enjoy.

Monday, August 31, 2015

"Be Prepared for Dailies", Restored

Many moons ago, a valuable blog post by “Vizy Acky” was circulated in online visual effects communities, simply titled “Be Prepared For Dailies”. The post was a concise, laser-focused white paper on how visual effects artists should approach “dailies”, the morning ritual of visual effects artists, supervisors and producers sitting in a dark screening room and reviewing the previous day’s work. Every visual effects shop runs differently, and every visual effects and animation supervisor has his or her preferences as to how dailies should be run.

For example, sometimes animation and lighting have combined dailies. Others invite roto and paint artists. Some run dailies just with only top-level supervisors, and rely on coordinators to disseminate the notes. However, there exist certain universal commonalities of decorum, etiquette, and plain common sense when communicating in dailies.

Generally speaking, dailies should be run as efficiently as possible. No one wants dailies to run endlessly for hours and hours-- that’s valuable time wasted, which frustrates everyone in the pipeline. My personal pet peeve is dailies that never start on time… but I digress.

Unfortunately, the original source of the terrific blog post about dailies has vanished from the internet. I did some poking around on Internet Archive, and was able to resurrect the text. This is a lovely document which should continue to live on. The author was specifically commenting on ‘effects’ dailies, which involve particle effects and simulations (like water, dust, smoke, etc.), but the essay is applicable to nearly all types of animation and visual effects dailies.

I’m printing it below with some slight typo and clarification corrections, and occasional annotations. Enjoy.

(Plus, if you like this kind of thing, head over to Scott Squires’ blog, where he writes thoughtful posts like this one, “What Makes a Good Visual Effects Artist?”, which touches on the dailies process.)

Be Prepared for Dailies
from Vizy Acky Blog, Garman Visual Effects Academy
Resurrected from

Here are four things you should always be prepared to discuss during dailies.
1) what to look at and what not to look at
2) what changed from the previous version
3) what the artist thinks should be done to improve their shot
4) any questions or concerns about this shot

Visual effects iterations sent to dailies often look abstract and can be difficult to comment on. Dailies can become a huge waste of time and I’ve noticed when studios followed this kind of format often each shot can be covered in as little as 20-40 seconds. The submission might be a work in progress, a technical proof-of-concept test or a rough comp not refined by the final compositor.

Here are four questions I had asked my visual effects team to prepare for me each day for each shot.  These questions came out of my years of working at studios in Los Angeles, a composite of the things I learned from my supervisors about how to speed the dailies process. I started using these questions when dealing with a Chinese team in Beijing.  This gave time for the crew to write out their comments and allow time for the translator to prepare.

This method also works well for regular dailies where the artist is prepared beforehand.  This also helps the vfx supervisor to know what they are looking at and what to comment about.

Garman’s Four “Questions” for dailies.
Each of these four questions should be answered by the artist before dailies. The coordinator playing shots should state the shot name and the artists’ names, play the shot and ask the artists for their comments. The artist should be go through these “questions” as the shot is being looped, before any comments are expected.

Don’t wait in silence for the VFX Supervisor to guess what they are looking at. [Todd: This is super important. Don’t think the vfx supervisor is a mind-reader. Speak up!] Tell the supervisor what to look for.

1) What to look at and what not to look at.
-Tell what you need comments on and what to ignore.  This helps the vfx sup to not waste his time trying to figure out what he is looking at.
-An example would be, “Look at the speed of the particle motion but not the color or size.”

2) What changed from the previous version.
-Tell what  you changed or what you were asked to change.  If this is the first time the effect is show, state what you are trying to demonstrate.
-An example would be, “This motion is 2x faster than the previous version and the particles now live 1.2x longer.”

3) What the artist thinks should be done to improve their shot.
-Tell what you think you should do next.  This helps the vfx supervisor know if you are on the right track and perhaps they will say “fine, continue” and will avoid him having to think for you.
-An example would be, “In this version the particles would cover the hero in the background so I feel we should have the particles move a bit faster and have a shorter lifespan so we can see the actors.”

4) Any questions or concerns about this shot.
-Now is the time to ask for specific guidance.
-Examples would be, “Does the smoke linger in the following shot because this is a closeup of the hero and we should see smoke from that camera view but  it’s not assigned.”  Or, “I noticed a bump in the camera track where the smoke goes around the car.  Can we look into that.”

Getting Comments Back
Now we can get the comments from the VFX supervisor or others.   Since you already stated what you think should be done next, then it can make it easier to say, “OK to continue.”  Or to get more specific guidance.

Take Notes
I’ve always been a good note taker since I was in high school.  Perhaps because I was good at taking notes made it easier for me to study less after class.  Taking notes made me pay more attention to what was being said while it was being said. I’m always amazed to be in meetings where people are discussing actions which involve tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work, yet not many people are taking notes.   [Todd: I always take notes in dailies, then after I return to my desk, I immediately transcribe the notes with clearer language and specific frame numbers or screen coordinates (screen right fire on frame 1024 looks pinkish)]

Don’t depend on the coordinator to take notes for you.  They may be a professional note taker as part of their job but they don’t understand effects like you are supposed to and often don’t get it as accurate as you need it. Take notes about what you are supposed to do.  Then take notes about what others are talking about even if you don't understand it.  Use your notes to help you find out what you need to understand later.  If you want to be the VFX Supervisor someday, you’ll need to know a lot, and taking notes at dailies is a great way to start.

Take It Offline
Dailies is the time for quick review of work in progress.  It helps production know it is staying on schedule, and helps the supervisors see all the work being done each day. It’s supposed to be quick.  Most shots can be covered in 15-30 seconds.  [Todd: If you spend over two minutes on a single shot in dailies, something is wrong.] Dailies is not the time to determine deep technical solutions while wasting everyone else’s time.  Dailies is to help find problems and solve them later.

2012.01.07  Vancouver BC

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Monday, July 06, 2015

Monday, June 01, 2015

Super Speed End Credits

The other night, I happen to watch the final act of “Alien vs. Predator”, a questionable piece of ‘entertainment’ in Fox-owned synergistic franchises. I was watching the film on the Esquire Network, a basic cable channel branded as “an upscale Bravo Network for men”, whatever that means.

As final scene began (spoiler warning for an incredibly stupid eleven year-old film), I paid close attention to the stunning live-action creature effects in this film. Tom Woodruff and Alec Gills supervised the creature work, which holds up astonishingly well.

The movie ended... and then this happened:

This was recorded in real time on my iPhone. View on YouTube

Nearly every single film and television show presented on cable is presented with its end crawl sped up, or scaled down to a tiny portion of the frame, or, in most cases, both. Networks speed up content to fit more commercials in standard blocks of time. In fact, the actual content of nearly every single show you see on cable is sped up a certain amount for this same reason, sometimes up to 8% faster. Occasionally, the studio provides a 'reprint' of the end credits, which are clearly (but quickly) printed at the bottom of the screen, making the credits technically legible, without bizarre scale-downs or speed-ups. But in most cases, the end crawl is destroyed with a speed change and/or scale change.

An example of 'reprinted' end credits, and allow the cable network to show larger-screen promos to fill the frame.

The typical treatment of end credits, scaled down and sped up.

Nearly all cable presentations preserve the opening titles of a film, which feature the ‘above the line’ credits, like production companies, lead actors, all the way to producers, writers and directors.  These opening titles are usually treated the same as the body of the film, without egregious speed changes. The end crawls (usually starting with Unit Production Manager and the First Assistant Directors are frequently run anywhere from 2x to 5x on television.

Many modern films, however, present their 'above the line' title sequence at the end of the picture. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the ‘above the line’ end credits run at an incredibly high rate of speed. And this isn’t a typical white titles against black sequence; “Alien vs. Predator” has an elaborate, expensive animated end title sequence. Then comes the final indignity--midway through the 'below the line' credits, the entire screen gets squished into the left third of the screen. Pretty much the entire end credit sequence is illegible, disrespecting the hundreds of individuals that worked on the picture, not to mention the animators who designed the end titles, and the music composer and artists that created the score.

I wonder if this violates any union or guild agreements with studios.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Diopter Tweets

The other day, I unleashed a mini-tweetstorm about diopter shots. It all started with a visual effects shot from "Star Wars: Episode III", which I proposed to include synthetic diopter artifacts, to simulate the use of a diopter. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

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

This is an update to a previous post.

Since directing the magnificent "Training Day" in 2001, Antoine Fuqua has directed seven more feature films. Every single film predominately featured nearly exact same title card in its trailer: "From the director of TRAINING DAY". With the release of the first trailer for "The Equalizer", the filmmakers added "and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN", which earned over $161M worldwide at the box office to the card. Now, with the trailer for "Southpaw", they switched out "Olympus Has Fallen" with "The Equalizer" (which earned $192M worldwide).

Saturday, March 14, 2015

New "Tomorrowland" Trailers

Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland", which hits theaters on May 22, 2015, has a couple of new trailers.  First, here is the new U.S. trailer.

YouTube link - iTunes link

And now, the new Japanese trailer, which has additional visual effects shots created by Industrial Light & Magic.

Watch the Japanese "Tomorrowland" Trailer on Vimeo

And, look, the Randomizer found some new images from the trailers that it hopes you like.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Interstellar" Wins The Oscar

Congratulations to the entire visual effects team behind "Interstellar", the winner of the visual effects Oscar in the 87th Academy Awards.

Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

And, as for The VFX Predictinator... well, we got this one wrong. I'll be writing an article in the coming days about how and, perhaps, why we got it wrong.  And here it is.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscar Pool Ballot, 87th 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 a typical Academy Awards 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 of the pool, the winner most likely would not be determined by the non-mainstream films (in other words, blind guesses).  This year, I started with a ballot from The Gold Knight, since didn't make a pretty, printable ballot this year.

Download the ballot here for the 87th 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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An Unfinished Graphic Comparing VES, BAFTA and Oscar Nominees

Many months ago I began creating a graphic that compared all of the visual effects award nominees from the VES Awards, The British Academy Awards (BAFTAs), and the Academy Awards, to look for commonalities and patterns. The graphic tracked nominees and winners from 2002-2013, since 2002 was the first year of the VES Awards.

I never was happy with how the graphic turned out, so I abandoned the project. Rifling through my files the other day, I came across it again, and although I'm still not happy with it, I decided to post it in its unfinished state, just in case anyone else would be interested in this kind of data.

I was trying to visually illustrate years in which commonalities exist amongst the three awards show nominees and winners. For example, 2012 showed a great deal of commonalities within the nominees and winners, while 2006 had an extremely diverse group of nominees (although "Pirates 2" won each award).

Friday, February 06, 2015

Visual Effects, Oscars and the Box Office in 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy" is the top earner of this year's visual effects Oscar nominees, at $774M global box office.

Just as I did for 2013 films, 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.

 The five nominees for this year's visual effects earned a total global box office gross of over $3.6B. All of this year's films were huge hits, unlike other years which usually include at least one monster hit, and a few sub-$200M earners. Unlike the three previous years, no single 2014 visual effects nominee grossed over $1B.

The last four years at a glance:

Average global box office of Best Visual Effects films:
2014 (87th Academy Awards) - $723M
Top Grosser: Guardians of the Galaxy, $774M

2013 (86th Academy Awards) - $698M
Top Grosser: Iron Man 3, $1.2B

2012 (85th Academy Awards) - $763M
Top Grosser: The Avengers, $1.5B

2011 (84th Academy Awards) - $662M
Top Grosser: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, 1.35B

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, according to the Academy Awards.

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.

All data from .

Thursday, February 05, 2015

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" Wins Big at VES Awards

The big winner at the 13th VES Awards was "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", taking home three awards out of its four nominations. (See all of the VES Awards nominees here.)  Earning two wins was the Quicksilver sequence from "X-Men: Days of Future Past". "Interstellar" took home a trophy for its Tesseract sequence, and "Birdman" won the award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects.

Listed below are all of the live-action feature film category winners. To see all of the winners visit FXGuide's coverage here.  To learn more about the Visual Effects Society, visit their web site, which now has photos of the event online.

Congratulations to all the winners!

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

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

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

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Tom BrachtGraham PageThomas DøhlenKirsty Clark

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Media Project (mixed formats)
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

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture
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

Monday, February 02, 2015

"Tomorrowland" Superbowl Trailer

The Superbowl spot for Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland" hit the internet yesterday. The Walt Disney picture stars George Clooney, Britt Robertson, and Hugh Laurie, and hits theaters May 22.

The film features nifty visual effects by Industrial Light and Magic. The frame above is from the Superbowl commercial, and was chosen by the Randomizer 2015 Edition.

YouTube link - iTunes link
And if you visit, you'll find some crazy high resolution images of (what looks like) Tomorrowland itself.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The VFX Show Podcast, Predicting The VFX Oscar Winner

I had the honor of being a guest on FXGuide's podcast, The VFX Show, along with hosts Mike Seymour and Matt Wallin. We talked about (surprise!) the Academy Awards and our attempts to predict the winner of the visual effects Oscar with The VFX Predictinator.

The VFX Show #194: Predicting the VFX Oscar Winner
Mike Seymour, Matt Wallin and Todd Vaziri discuss the nominees and their picks for the 87th Academy Award for achievement in visual effects.

Show notes and link:

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 Jan 3, 2019

The VFX Predictinator is a formula my wife and I developed to correctly predict the winner of the visual effects Academy Award. Cinefex covered The Predictinator in this nice article in 2014.

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”). In 2014, The Predictinator incorrectly predicted "Guardians of the Galaxy" to win, the first year it was wrong. But we updated the formula, which fixed that bad prediction. We got it completely wrong when we predicted "The Revenant"; "Ex Machina" won the award. We bounced back, correctly predicting "The Jungle Book". In our final effort, we incorrectly predicted "War for the Planet of the Apes", which was bested by "Blade Runner 2049".

The Predictinator does not make artistic or technical judgments. 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 used 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
  • Film Based on Comic Book - If the film is based on a comic book
  • Lead Actor Prestige - If the lead actor has won an Oscar, film usually wins VFX Oscar
The 90th Academy Awards prediction represented the last time we ran The VFX Predictinator. There are two main reasons why we retired the formula and this effort. One, that we are clearly living in a post-digital era; the world has changed, and the newness of digital characters is no longer shiny and exciting, which means the assumptions are no longer accurate. I wrote extensively about the post-digital era here. And two.

The full formulas are printed below:

Predictinator 1.0:
(((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

Predictinator 2.0 (created in January 2016):
(((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) + (Film based on comic book = X (-1)) = Final VFX Predictinator Score
*value has an upper limit of 1

For more detailed information, visit these links.

The VFX Predictinator, 90th Academy Awards Edition ("War for the Planet of the Apes")
The VFX Predictinator, 89th Academy Awards Edition ("The Jungle Book")
The VFX Predictinator Was Completely wrong,  ("Ex Machina") and Part 2 ("post-digital")
The VFX Predictinator, 88th Academy Awards Edition ("The Revenant")
Making The Predictinator Right, "Making Predictinator 2.0"
The Predictinator Got It Wrong, "Interstellar" Wins over "Guardians" 
Podcast: The VFX Show - The VFX Precitinator ("Guardians")
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