Now Showing – Cinefex 151

Cinefex 151 featuring "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

Rebellions may be built on hope, but the latest issue of Cinefex is built on five massive articles exploring the state of the art in visual effects and virtual reality.

First up in Cinefex 151 is Joe Fordham’s in-depth story on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, featuring a wealth of behind-the-scenes details and interviews with director Gareth Edwards and the visual effects team supervised by Industrial Light & Magic’s John Knoll. Add to that our articles on Westworld, A Monster Calls and Passengers – plus a special look at the VR industry – and we think you’ll agree that Cinefex 151 is one heck of a way to start 2017!

Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan with more details about our February 2017 edition:

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

I am not the first – or even the 1000th – to observe that some of the most impressive ‘film’ work is now being done for television. (I agree with Stephen King’s assertion that Breaking Bad was the finest piece of fiction ever broadcast, and I can think of only a few films of the past two decades that come close to rivaling it.)

No surprise, then, that Cinefex has started to look toward television for content. We did a piece on Game of Thrones a couple of years ago, and hope to do another when the series comes to an end. And our new issue Cinefex 151 has a story about HBO’s Westworld. What I found most fun about covering this high-buzz series was creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s commitment to live, in-camera, old-school effects.

The issue also features Joe Fordham’s coverage of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which includes particularly personal and interesting insights from John Knoll), and A Monster Calls, a smaller cinematic offering that won a lot of hearts in the movie theaters.

And now for something completely different – Graham Edwards’ exploration of virtual reality and its intersection with filmmaking. This is our first virtual reality story, but given where the technology is going, it is probably not our last. Stay tuned.

We round out the issue with my article on Passengers, which includes a lot of commentary from production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, along with visual effects supervisor Erik Nordby and others.

You’ve counted correctly – five articles in this issue, rather than our customary four, a trend we’re hoping to continue. In an age when candy bars and boxes of cereal are shrinking, giving you less for your money, Cinefex is aiming to give you more!

Cinefex 151 is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, your copy should emerge from hyperspace into your galaxy very soon. And don’t forget our enhanced iPad edition, featuring tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.

What’s New in VFX?

What's New in VFX?

They say there’s nothing new under the sun. It isn’t true, of course – just ask a crowd of visual effects professionals how their tools and methods have changed recently and they’ll soon tell you how fast things are developing in the field.

So that’s precisely what we did. In one of our regular straw polls, we asked a range of people from the technical and creative sides of the industry this simple question:

What’s New in Visual Effects?

To find out what our contributors had to say, read on …


The Rise of the Machines

Visual effects have contributed to countless sci-fi films about the rise of the machine, from The Terminator to The Matrix and beyond. Now it seems life is imitating art, as automation begins to make its presence felt in the world of movie magic.

The Matrix

“In recent years, machine learning algorithms have already been surprising visual effects practitioners with the quality of the image results. The barriers have been practicalities of scale and control. The algo guesses correctly remarkably well if you can build a huge dataset and train it cleverly, but the sacrifice is artist control. These are black boxes, churning out the trained result, and they can’t be reasoned with. I think the forthcoming generation of algos will focus not on jumping directly to a result, but rather on building control assets along the way to enable artists to choreograph the performance. Development we’re seeing supports this as the way forward – producing an early version very quickly, with tweakable controls if it’s not exactly what you wanted off the bat. Early results are exciting.”
Rajat Roy, global technical supervisor, Prime Focus World

“We’re currently doing a lot of research on how to use machine learning to accelerate processes that take a long time to calculate, such as simulations, rendering and so on. We’re still experimenting, and have not yet applied it in production, but our goal is to get to a stage where it can be applicable to our pipeline. I think machine learning will truly revolutionize the way we work in the future.”
Mathieu Leclaire, Head of R&D, Hybride Technologies

One clever algorithm that’s caught the eye of artists recently is the Smart Vector toolset in The Foundry Nuke. Working on just a single frame, artists isolate part of a moving object with motion vectors. The Smart Vector process then automatically propagates that work throughout the rest of the sequence.

“One of the best tools that appeared these last few months is the new Smart Vector feature in Nuke 10. It has saved us an incredible amount of time and resources in production and allowed us to work on dozens of tricky shots without having to rely extensively on matchmove geometry or camera tracking.”
Bruno Leveque, Environment TD, Image Engine

“In the latest version of Nuke 10, Smart Vectors can be generated which analyze the pixel movement in the shot. This has meant the matte painting team has been able to pick up shots which would normally go to effects – blood and wound work on Logan, for example. Not only that, but for these shots we also don’t require a camera, as everything is frame-related. No distortion, no camera, no match move. No fuss!”
Conrad Allan, Matte Painter, Image Engine

Visual effects has always relied on accurate keying – the separation of a foreground element from a background. A recent paper by Yagiz Aksoy, Tunç Ozan Aydin, Marc Pollefeys and Aljosa Smoliç of ETH Zürich and Disney Research Zürich describes a ‘color unmixing’ algorithm that addresses what the authors describe as ‘difficulties dealing with image regions where the colors of multiple objects mix, either due to motion blur, intricate object boundaries or color spill from greenscreen.’

“Keying is one of the oldest tricks in the business and not much has changed since the early days, so this paper from Disney may be a game-changer. Allowing high quality mattes to be extracted with very fast turnaround and virtually no artist time is an important milestone in our industry. No matter how good the CG you put in your shots, if it’s ruined by edge issue it will take the viewer out of the story.”
Lucien Fostier, compositing TD, Image Engine


Heads in the Cloud

Nowadays we can store almost anything in the cloud – and frequently do, often without even realizing it. The cloud storage challenges for visual effects companies – not least huge file sizes and the need for high security – are considerable. But one by one they are being overcome.

“Expansion into the cloud looks to grow this year, with more visual effects providers adopting a global presence and the security implications having undergone further discussion with the major film studios. Initially the demand will be for extra on-demand computing resource, but the appeal of cloud storage is hard to ignore. This will inspire a lot of investment and brainstorming into pipeline design or redesign that model the cost of data transfers in sophisticated ways.”
Rob Pieke, Head of Software, MPC

Off-site capabilites open up new possibilities for everyone involved in visual effects, not least smaller companies eager to make the most of the current boom in television drama, and the associated requirement for high quality visual effects.

“For the past couple of years there has been much talk of mainstream VR, 6K, on-demand offsite resources – I’m not sure where stereo went – but technology aside, the growth of quality television drama has had a massive impact on the visual effects industry, and on the industry as a whole. The ambition and scale of shows for HBO, Netflix, Amazon and others has led to some interesting co-productions. and channels in the UK are upping their game – it’s very busy out there. On these larger projects, the availability of on-demand rendering and storage can really help the smaller companies compete with the bigger houses.”
Rob Harvey, owner/creative director, Lola Post Production Ltd


Gut Level

Once upon a time, an animated CG character was little more than a lump of virtual clay hanging off a few digital bones. These days, characters boast complex internal structures, with effects simulations driving nested layers of CG flesh to flex and jiggle just like real anatomy. Ziva Dynamics’ ZIVA VFX is a plugin for Autodesk Maya that takes things a stage further.

“Most character tools for visual effects focus on what the outside of an object looks like. Ziva uses FEM (Finite Element Method) which accounts for the various layers of bone, fat, skin, and muscle inside a character. Until recently, tools that included a complete interior simulation were in the realm of automobile and aerospace companies. That technology is now finding its way into the fast-paced visual effects pipeline.”
Michael Levine, senior creature effects TD, Image Engine


Changing the Game

The line between the film and gaming industries continues to blur, with games beginning to achieve near-cinematic levels of fidelity, and film adaptations of popular games attracting enormous budgets and top-drawer filmmakers. As a discipline that readily spans both areas of entertainment, visual effects is eager to keep its feet in both camps.

“The convergence of games and visual effects has been slowly taking place for many years, but this year it feels like it’s reached a turning point, with the visual effects industry reaching for a lot of technology previously only used by games. This has largely been driven by the huge growth of demand for ‘game-like’ VR experiences – often to complement major film releases – but it has also highlighted the rich authoring tools that many visual effects productions could benefit from.”
Rob Pieke, head of software, MPC

Gaming engines traditionally rely on powerful GPUs – graphics processing units – to render fast-moving imagery in real time. Now, the speed benefit of GPU hardware is making its presence felt in the world of cinema visual effects.

“GPU accelerated rendering is finally production ready. We have finished numerous projects over the last year and all of them utilized the GPU for final image rendering. Until now, we have found that GPU renderers had a hardware render signature or feel to them. Recent advances now offer a solution that rivals software quality renderers while maintaining the hardware speed advantage. We are seeing at least three or four times speed increases which allows for more iterations, in turn giving us better images, happier clients and happier artists. The speed, combined with new in-house techniques allow us to avoid the need to compromise on scene complexity. This freedom convinced the studio to fully integrate GPU throughout its entire pipeline for the upcoming feature film Colossal, from assets to simulation to final comp. We also recently completed a sequence for Journey To The West 2 which required a large creature simulation – previously, we would have been concerned that it would be impossible due to the traditional hardware limitations of previous GPU renderers, but issues like texture size limits are not a concern any more.”
Will Garrett, VFX Supervisor, Intelligent Creatures


Casting the Net Wide

As many companies are discovering, visual effects has applications beyond just film and gaming. From virtual reality to art installations to theme parks and beyond, artists are constantly finding new ways to explore the boundaries of the business.

"Artes Mundi" image courtesy of the artist, Bedwyr Williams, Limoncello Gallery, and, Bait Studio.

“Artes Mundi” image courtesy of the artist, Bedwyr Williams, Limoncello Gallery, and, Bait Studio.

“Using visual effects outside of the norm has been something interesting for us in the past twelve months. Alongside our TV, film and advertising work we’ve taken on some contemporary arts projects which show how visual effects can be used in any visual medium. We worked on content for Cardiff Contemporary Visual Arts Festival, creating a fake meteor landing for Mark James Studio, which went viral. We also created a 4K, 20-minute matte painting for artist Bedwyr Williams as part of the Artes Mundi prize exhibition. It’s been good to look sideways at other types of content that VFX can play a key role in.”
Pete Rogers, visual effects producer, Bait Studio

“What makes the Artes Mundi project different to the typical type of visual effects work is that it was made to be viewed and experienced rather than just being part of a larger narrative. This kind of work is something that more and more visual effects studios are taking on with the recent developments in VR technology. It’s about creating an immersive environment where the viewer has more control.”
Llyr Williams, lead visual effects artist, Bait Studio

Dream of Anhui

“Dream of Anhui” image courtesy of Tippett Studio.

“In the past few years we’ve seen a boom in new forms of media available for public consumption. In 2016, we worked on a huge 6K theme park ride called Dream of Anhui, completely in CG and rendered in Clarisse, that we directed and produced from start to finish. The finished renders had over 1,000 assets and some shots contained well over a trillion polygons, which really shows how things are changing to make incredible things possible. We even worked with the motion control company to sync our digital cameras to the movement of the seats.”
Niketa Roman, PR manager, Tippett Studio

“As we’ve branched into large scale environments – specifically for high resolution theme park rides – we’ve had to extensively invest in our production pipeline. Not only are we creating orders of magnitude more assets, we’re having to render more and more of them in a single pass at higher resolutions. A combination of new asset management systems, and the introduction of Clarisse has given us a workflow that scales above what would have been possible even a couple of years ago. On the capture front, we’re now using drones and photogrametry to do large surveys of outdoor spaces – this has given us accuracy and information about locations which traditional photo scouts lacked. In terms of visualization, we aren’t just making images for flat screens. From 180 degree domes to bespoke horseshoe shaped screens, we use VR headsets to preview content and make editorial decisions.”
Alex Hessler, CG supervisor, Tippett Studio


Powering Up

Moore’s Law – the observation that computing power doubles roughly every two years – has recently been called into question. However, one thing remains certain – the speed and power of computers will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. While this steady advance can only benefit professionals working in the visual effects industry, one truth remains the same – a computer is only as powerful as the human being who uses it.

“For me, instead of using the word ‘new’ I prefer to summarize everything in power and speed – those are the keys. When I started with 3D software back in 1995 or 1996, to render a 320-pixel image with just a few geos was a nightmare. Nowadays I can create entire worlds, scatter millions of objects, render huge images with photorealistic quality, do photogrammetry with my phone, sculpt billions of polygons. So we have speed and power, but for sure there’s something that is not new – the magic behind this.”
Pablo Del Molino Izquierdo, matte painter, Image Engine


Please Can We Have …?

Visual effects technology and techniques may keep progressing, but there’s always room for more innovation. What better way to end this roundup than with a request for what may turn out to be next year’s “what’s new in visual effects?”

“There’s one thing that does need inventing – a harness for wire work that doesn’t make the actor resemble a bluebottle in spider’s web. Invisible wires? Opposing magnets? A low-powered jet pack? Come on, guys – put those VR headsets down and do something useful. Oh, and a self-matting camera please. It’s the 21st century and we’re still drawing around things!”
Rob Harvey, owner/creative director, Lola Post Production Ltd


Thanks to all the visual effects professionals who contributed to this article, from the following companies:

Related articles:

Special thanks to Jake Basford, Anne Tremblay, Sepi Motamedi, Che Spencer, Jonny Vale, Tony Bradley, Niketa Roman and Alexandra Coxon. “The Matrix” photograph copyright © by Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow Pictures.

Jungle Law at 15th Annual VES Awards

Disney's The Jungle BookThe law of the jungle prevailed at the 15th Annual VES Awards last night, Tuesday 7 February, with Disney’s The Jungle Book gathering up five awards. HBO’s Game of Thrones dominated the television category, while Buster the Boxer – a Christmas advertisement from UK department store chain John Lewis – warmed hearts in the commercials category.

In a lavish awards ceremony hosted by comedian Patton Oswalt at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the Visual Effects Society handed out awards in a wide range of categories, recognizing outstanding visual effects in photoreal features and television, animated features and other fields. Also during the evening, Victoria Alonso – Marvel Studios Executive VP of Physical Production – received the VES Visionary Award, and Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston picked up the VES Lifetime Achievement Award.

Here’s the complete list of winners, arranged by category:

Photoreal Feature Film

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature
The Jungle Book

  • Robert Legato
  • Joyce Cox
  • Andrew R. Jones
  • Adam Valdez
  • JD Schwalm

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature
Deepwater Horizon

  • Craig Hammack
  • Petra Holtorf-Stratton
  • Jason Snell
  • John Galloway
  • Burt Dalton

Outstanding Animated Performance in a Photoreal Feature
The Jungle Book — King Louie

  • Paul Story
  • Dennis Yoo
  • Jack Tema
  • Andrei Coval

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Doctor Strange — New York City

  • Adam Watkins
  • Martijn van Herk
  • Tim Belsher
  • Jon Mitchell

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project
The Jungle Book

  • Bill Pope
  • Robert Legato
  • Gary Roberts
  • John Brennan

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project
Deepwater Horizon — Deepwater Horizon Rig

  • Kelvin Lau
  • Jean Bolte
  • Kevin Sprout
  • Kim Vongbunyong

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature
The Jungle Book — Nature Effects

  • Oliver Winwood
  • Fabian Nowak
  • David Schneider
  • Ludovic Ramisandraina

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature
The Jungle Book

  • Christoph Salzmann
  • Masaki Mitchell
  • Matthew Adams
  • Max Stummer

Television

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode
Game of Thrones — Battle of the Bastards

  • Joe Bauer
  • Steve Kullback
  • Glenn Melenhorst
  • Matthew Rouleau
  • Sam Conway

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode
Black Sails — XX

  • Erik Henry
  • Terron Pratt
  • Aladino Debert
  • Yafei Wu
  • Paul Stephenson

Outstanding Animated Performance in an Episode or Real-Time Project
Game of Thrones — Battle of the Bastards — Drogon

  • James Kinnings
  • Michael Holzl
  • Matt Derksen
  • Joseph Hoback

Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project
Game of Thrones — Battle of the Bastards — Meereen City

  • Deak Ferrand
  • Dominic Daigle
  • François Croteau
  • Alexandru Banuta

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project
Game of Thrones — Battle of the Bastards — Meereen City

  • Thomas Hullin
  • Dominik Kirouac
  • James Dong
  • Xavier Fourmond

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode
Game of Thrones — Battle of the Bastards — Retaking Winterfell

  • Dominic Hellier
  • Morgan Jones
  • Thijs Noij
  • Caleb Thompson

Animated Feature Film

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings

  • Travis Knight
  • Arianne Sutner
  • Steve Emerson
  • Brad Schiff

Outstanding Animated Performance in an Animated Feature
Finding Dory — Hank

  • Jonathan Hoffman
  • Steven Clay Hunter
  • Mark Piretti
  • Audrey Wong

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature
Moana — Motunui Island

  • Rob Dressel
  • Andy Harkness
  • Brien Hindman
  • Larry Wu

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature
Moana

  • Marc Henry Bryant
  • David Hutchins
  • Ben Frost
  • Dale Mayeda

Other

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

  • Bruce Straley
  • Eben Cook
  • Iki Ikram

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure

  • Bill George
  • Amy Jupiter
  • Hayden Landis
  • David Lester

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial
John Lewis — Buster the Boxer

  • Diarmid Harrison-Murray
  • Hannah Ruddleston
  • Fabian Frank
  • William Laban

Outstanding Animated Performance in a Commercial
John Lewis — Buster the Boxer

  • Tim van Hussen
  • David Bryan
  • Chloe Dawe
  • Maximilian Mallmann

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial
John Lewis — Buster the Boxer

  • Tom Harding
  • Alex Snookes
  • David Filipe
  • Andreas Feix

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project
Breaking Point

  • Johannes Franz
  • Nicole Rothermel
  • Thomas Sali
  • Alexander Richter

Now Showing – Cinefex 150

Cinefex 150 - From the Editor's Desk with Jody Duncan

If you’re looking for some extra-special reading material this holiday season, treat yourself to a copy of Cinefex 150, packed with in-depth stories on mystical mirror dimensions, inscrutable aliens, magical creatures and wartime wonders.

With Doctor Strange casting a spell over the box office this fall, you won’t be surprised to see that we’ve chosen Marvel’s sorceror supreme as the cover boy for our December issue. The magic ramps up as we explore the visual effects of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the latest excursion into J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. We delve into some thought-provoking sci-fi in our detailed analysis of the critically acclaimed Arrival, while rounding out Cinefex 150 is Allied, Robert Zemeckis’ romantic drama of hidden secrets and secret missions set at the height of World War II.

Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan to reflect on the contents of our latest issue, and on some of the other coverage we’ve offered through 2016 …

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

I was heartened to see that of the 20 films initially announced as candidates for Best Visual Effects Oscar contention – now pared down to 10 – Cinefex has covered all but three (Kubo and the Two Strings, Sully and Deepwater Horizon.)

This may seem unremarkable: “These were the best visual effects films of 2016! Of course they were covered in Cinefex!”

Not so fast. What makes our hitting 17 out of 20 noteworthy is that, for each of the six issues we produced in 2016, we made the decisions as to what to cover for that issue at least six months prior to the release of the prospective film projects. We are the longest of ‘long lead’ publications, our editorial and production processes consuming months, rather than weeks or days. (You think 30-page articles and glossy image reproductions happen quickly?)

So we chose to cover The Jungle Book, for example, well before the film was released – heck, well before it was even finished! When The Jungle Book’s Baloo was still just a twinkle in director Jon Favreau’s eye, we had to guess that the film would be as successful as it was, and that its effects would be as stunning as they were. (But, hey, it was Jon Favreau – this one wasn’t exactly a long shot.)

There’s a whole lot of prognosticating going on in the halls of Cinefex – and I was gratified (and greatly relieved) that, for the most part, we got it right in 2016.

Three of the Best Visual Effects Oscar contenders are to be found in the pages of our new issue 150: Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Doctor Strange. Our fourth story covers Allied – because, occasionally, we like to explore films that involve muggles and non-aliens living in our own dimension.

I hope you enjoy the issue. As for 2017: What do you think? War for the Planet of the Apes or Woody Allen’s untitled project? Yeah … that’s what we thought, too.

Cinefex 150 is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, your copy should materialize through a sizzling magical portal very soon. And don’t forget our enhanced iPad edition, featuring tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.

Happy holidays!

Vote for Your Favorite VFX Bake-Off Movie

On December 16, 2016, the 89th Academy Awards came a step closer as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences whittled down the candidates for the Visual Effects Oscar from 20 to 10.

The next stage is what’s become known as the ‘bake-off,’ in which members of the Academy’s Visual Effects Branch will view 10-minute reels showcasing effects work from each of the shortlisted films. This takes place on January 7, 2017. Afterwards, members will vote to nominate five movies for final consideration for the award itself, to be presented at the ceremony on February 26, 2017.

Scroll down to vote for your favorite movie in our fun poll. And if you fancy reading up on the candidates, we’re pleased to report that Cinefex has covered eight out of the 10 films under consideration. Here’s a quick round-up of our in-depth articles, all lavishly illustrated with visual effects breakdowns and behind the scenes photos, many of them exclusive to Cinefex.

Cinefex 147 - Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book

In our June 2016 edition, Cinefex 147, you’ll find A Family Affair, Jody Duncan’s superheroic story on Captain America: Civil War, alongside Law of the Jungle, a lusciously detailed article by Joe Fordham on The Jungle Book.

Cinefex 148 - The BFG

In October 2016, Cinefex 149 led with Joe Fordham’s fizzpopping coverage of The BFG, in an article aptly titled A Melancholy Joy.

Cinefex - Arrival, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

You’ll find no less than three Oscar hopefuls in our December 2016 issue, Cinefex 150. First up is Arrival, translated to the page by Graham Edwards in his story Persistence of Vision. Next comes In a Mirror, Darkly, Jody Duncan’s magical article on Doctor Strange, followed by Joe Fordham’s spellbinding analysis of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, in a feature entitled The Magical Congress.

Cinefex - Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

You’ll have to wait until 2017 to read these last two articles. The good news is that isn’t very far away! Cinefex 151 is due out mid-February, 2017, which means you should have time to pore over its contents before you settle down to watch the 89th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday 26. The two stories you won’t want to miss are Jody Duncan’s spacefaring feature on Passengers, and Joe Fordham’s starblasting coverage of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Deepwater Horizon / Kubo and the Two StringsThe only two films on the bake-off shortlist that we didn’t get around to covering this year are Deepwater Horizon and Kubo and the Two Strings. Both movies contain fabulous effects work that we’d love to have written about, but even Cinefex has only so many pages to go around. And we reckon an 80 percent record is something to be proud of.

Raw Steak and The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as trapper Hugh Glass in "The Revenant."

One year ago, on December 16, 2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant enjoyed its U.S. premiere at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre. Based on true events, and on the novel by Michael Punke, the film tells the harrowing story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who, after being mauled by a bear, seeks revenge against those who left him for dead.

In this exclusive Q&A with Cinefex editor Jody Duncan, makeup supervisor Adrien Morot reveals the secrets behind some of the scenes which didn’t make the final cut. Like the film itself, his is a tale of ingenuity, endurance, and raw steak.

Yes, that’s right. Steak.

On location, DiCaprio grappled with bear performers. Industrial Light & Magic replaced them with a meticulously rendered and animated bear in postproduction.

On location, DiCaprio grappled with bear performers. Industrial Light & Magic replaced them with a meticulously rendered and animated bear in postproduction.

Cinefex: As we understand it, there were quite a few graphic and violent shots of characters being scalped, but those appear to have been cut from the final film. The director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, wanted to capture those effects in camera – and that’s where you came in. Tell us how you realized some of the scalping effects, and where they appeared in the film, originally.

Morot: There were many scalping scenes throughout the movie, including a dream sequence in which Tom Hardy’s character, John Fitzgerald, is scalped. It’s a very weird dream sequence, all done in one shot, where he sees a skinned bear creature walking through an icy pool of blood. The camera turns towards Fitzgerald, who is looking at the creature, and behind him stands Hugh Glass. As Fitzgerald tries to reload his gun, Glass suddenly scalps him. All of that had to be done as one single action – which meant that the bear creature and the scalping all had to be there, self-contained, within that single shot.

Cinefex:  How did you achieve that?

Morot: We had a bald cap, into which we incorporated a network of tubing, and we applied that to Tom Hardy. Once that was secured, we glued on top of it a silicone prosthetic appliance that looked like Tom’s forehead, complete with the scar his character had from being partially scalped as a kid. The prosthetic was pre-cut at the place where the scalping was to be done, and then lightly glued back in place. We concealed the cut line with Ultra Ice that was colored to look like skin tone.

When they shot it, Leo would run a dull blade along that pre-cut line, and then the blood from the tubing would start to pour down. We had a remote-controlled, battery-operated blood pump that was hooked up to Tom’s waist. So, we could be standing 20 feet away, and as Leo started cutting we’d activate the blood. Leo was fantastic – there’s a reason he gets the big bucks! We just had to explain it to him once, briefly, and he did it perfectly every take.

Makeup effects artist Adrien Morot created a head scar appliance worn by Tom Hardy, playing partially scalped trapper John Fitzgerald. The whitish, hairless prosthetic started at Hardy's forehead and continued to the back of one side of his head.

Makeup effects artist Adrien Morot created a head scar appliance worn by Tom Hardy, playing partially scalped trapper John Fitzgerald. The whitish, hairless prosthetic started at Hardy’s forehead and continued to the back of one side of his head.

Cinefex: You mentioned that there is a “bear creature” in this dream sequence.

Morot: Alejandro was always getting inspired and coming up with these kinds of ideas. One day, he came to me on set, and said, “Adrien, I have this idea! How about we have this skinned man-bear creature crawling around in a pool of blood?” And I said, “Okay, sure. When do you want to do that?” His answer was, “Next week!”

I explained to him that it would take more than a week to come up with a skinned bear creature, and his response was that maybe we could just take a suit and stitch some raw steaks onto it.

Cinefex: Steaks? You mean, T-bones, rib-eyes, the things you eat with A-1 sauce?

Morot: Yes! Steaks! And I said, “Okay, yeah, no – I don’t think we can do that.” So I did a bunch of concept drawings on my MacPro in my hotel room, and then showed them to Alejandro to see if he liked any of them. Once he’d agreed on one of those concepts, I had my shop build bear feet that would be worn by Javier Botet, the suit performer. We were lucky to have all of his measurements because we were already doing another movie with him, and he was coming to the shop that week anyway.

Cinefex: You started with the feet – wasn’t the bear head a bigger problem?

Morot: Well, luckily, Legacy Effects had built a skinned bear for the movie, for another scene. I asked John Rosengrant if we could get that skinned bear head for our creature – which would save us a lot of time – and they very nicely sent it to us. It was great, but it was a bit too heavy and cumbersome for our purposes – it hadn’t been built with the idea of a performer wearing it. But it was still a great reference, because I had it right there in front of me as I worked.

I sculpted a new bear head in clay, with kind of a zombie, ripped-flesh texture. I sculpted it very quickly, using Legacy’s head as reference for the shape, but scaled down so it would fit on a performer. I did the mold right there on set, in the makeup trailer, in the mountains, and poured it out of lightweight polyfoam. We did some silicone detailing on top, painted it, and put in glass eyes, and teeth.

Cinefex: What did you do for the body?

Morot: First, I bought the tallest, leanest store mannequin I could find in Calgary, as reference for Javier’s body. Then, using cotton fill, we sculpted the bear shape onto that, with a sculpted ribcage and a neck that jutted forward a bit. Then we did some silicone detailing on top of everything, and painted it. The costume department provided us with a long, shredded cape for the creature to wear. He almost looked like the zombie version of a Civil War soldier. And that’s how we made the suit within a week, inside my makeup trailer.

Cinefex: And no Porterhouses were used in the making of this suit?

Morot: No, no steaks. Given how quickly it was done, you’d think it would have looked like garbage. But, it turned out pretty good. The whole movie was like that – Alejandro suddenly coming up with an idea, very excited, and asking, “Can we have it tomorrow?” Throughout, I was always playing catch-up, always three months behind where I would have been normally. And I was basically working alone at the location, because my crew back at my shop in Montreal was working on other movies. I’d be on set during the day, applying makeup, and I’d work at night producing wounds and dummies and other things needed for the next day. Then I’d drive to the set the next morning, having had very little sleep.

Cast and crew spent several months shooting in the Canadian Rockies. Snow machines added a wintry ambience to those locations lacking the real thing. Visual effects further extended the desolate snowscapes, as in this shot by Cinesite.

Cast and crew spent several months shooting in the Canadian Rockies. Snow machines added a wintry ambience to those locations lacking the real thing. Visual effects further extended the desolate snowscapes, as in this shot by Cinesite.

Cinefex: A trailer in the middle of the Canadian Rockies – that can’t have been a very good place to produce makeup effects.

Morot: I had to set up a little shop in the production office. Once I was there and saw the urgency, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to rely on my shop in Montreal to make things and ship them to me – and, as I said, they were busy on other shows, anyway. So, I told the producers, “I need to make a shop here. Can you get me some shelves? Can you build two 4-by-8 wooden shop tables?” I gave them a list of materials to order, or had one of my on-set assistants get them in Calgary. We did that very quickly. In the end, I had right there in the production office the equivalent of the shop that I had in my dad’s basement when I was 16 years old. That was kind of cool, actually.

Cinefex: “Have silicone, will travel.”

Morot: Basically, yeah. I had a little bit of everything so I could whip out anything we needed. Except a steak suit.


Cinefex 145 CoverYou’ll find our complete, in-depth article on The Revenant in Cinefex 145. The story features more of Adrien Morot’s insights and detailed coverage of the rest of the film’s effects, courtesy of visual effects supervisor Richard McBride and the pioneering teams of artists at ILM, MPC, Cinesite, One of Us, Secret Lab and Legacy Effects.

The Visual Effects Oscar Race Begins

VFX Oscar Longlist 2016

On 2 December, 2016, the latest visual effects Oscar race began in earnest, when The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 20 films up for consideration by the Academy’s Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee. Later this month, that list will be halved when committee members decide on the 10 films that will be eligible for nominations voting. Everything comes to a head on 26 February, 2017, at the trophy ceremony for the 89th Annual Academy Awards.

Here’s the list in alphabetical order:

Alice Through the Looking Glass, Arrival, The BFG, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad, Sully, Warcraft, X-Men: Apocalypse.

Once again, science fiction and fantasy makes a strong showing, with 90 percent of the movies sitting squarely in that ever-popular genre. Of these, one third feature the antics of superheroes ranging from Marvel’s squeaky-clean Captain America to the down-and-dirty reprobates of DC’s Suicide Squad.

Mind you, not since 2004 has a superhero actually won the battle for the visual effects Oscar, when John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, and John Frazier picked up awards for their work on Spider-Man 2. Will the 89th Awards mark the moment when the famous gold statuette sports spandex once more?

Squaring their shoulders against the sci-fi onslaught are Sully and Deepwater Horizon, a pair of true-life tales that are themselves as different as chalk and cheese. Then there’s the wild card that is Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika’s fantasy adventure that relies as heavily on cutting edge visual effects as it does on its devotion to stop-motion.

Some might think that the overwhelming presence of science fiction and fantasy movies in this awards category is just a sign of the times. Not so. Every film that won a visual effects Oscar during the 1980s was either solid genre fare, or was at least coated with a dusting of fantasy — and if you disagree that Raiders of the Lost Ark counts in that regard, I’ll gladly debate the point. During the 1990s, the only award-winning movie to break the mold was Titanic, a feat matched in the 2000s only by Gladiator. Like it or not, robots rule, wizardry wins, and spaceships score bigtime.

Of course, there’s sci-fi and there’s sci-fi. Last year’s visual effects Academy Award winner was Ex Machina, an absorbing character piece in which the on-screen magic was subordinate to the story. Will this year’s Academy voters be similarly wooed by slow-burning Arrival, or will they give their blessing to a bells-and-whistles spectacular like Doctor Strange or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? And what of the movies that relied heavily on state of the art virtual production techniques, notably The Jungle Book, The BFG and Warcraft?

Just like you, we don’t have a crystal ball. But we do pride ourselves on the fact that since Cinefex was first published in 1980, every single visual effects Oscar-winner has featured in the magazine. As for this latest crop of contenders — you’ll find in-depth articles covering no less than 17 of the movies on the Academy’s longlist in our recent and upcoming issues.

None of us in the Cinefex office knows who is going to walk away with the next Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but we’re having a lot of fun guessing. What’s your prediction?


Related articles:

The Cinefex Quiz 2016

Can’t face Black Friday? Still stuffed with Thanksgiving turkey? Here’s the perfect way to ease into the holiday weekend. Yes, it’s the annual Cinefex Quiz!

There’s one question for every article we’ve published this year. So, if you’ve been diligently reading your copies of Cinefex throughout 2016, you’ll have no trouble at all. Except wait — our final issue of the year won’t be published until December! Can we really be sneaky enough to ask you about articles we haven’t even published yet? You’ll have to do the quiz to find out …

Ron Thornton’s Model-maker Mantra

An Earthforce Starfury starfighter, from "Babylon 5" -- Ron Thornton's original 22,840-polygon digital model, lit and composited as a high-rez rendering by the ship's original designer, Steve Burg.

Visual effects designer Ron Thornton’s original 22,840-polygon Starfury star fighter, built for the Emmy-award-winning television series “Babylon 5”, lit and composited as a high-rez rendering by the ship’s original designer, Steve Burg. Photo © Steve Burg, 2016.

‘Slap a few nurnies on it, coat of paint, walk away.’ Those were the words that miniature effects maven Ron Thornton used to prod aspiring model-makers who were perhaps being too precious with their projects and, more importantly, our budget.

Ron Thornton builds the Wanderer-class cargo ship, Scorpio, for BBC TV's "Blake's 7," circa 1980.

Ron Thornton builds the Wanderer-class cargo ship, Scorpio, for “Blake’s 7” © BBC TV, 1980.

Ron was a bit of a legend when I met him in the late 1980s, fresh off the boat from England. Ron was the man that built the Scorpio spaceship for Blake’s 7, the Robin-Hood-in-space BBC TV series created by Doctor Who writer Terry Nation. And Ron had also forged his own little niche in Hollywood as a bit of a bad boy model-maker from across the pond, with credits at Apogee’s model shop for the impossibly long spaceship in Spaceballs, the Canadian TV series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, and David Allen’s model crew on Robot Jox which achieved jaeger spectacle with car-sized model robots in the Southern Californian desert.

Ron and his Yakovlev Yak-52 Soviet trainer aircraft. As well as animating ships in flight, Ron was a passionate aviation enthusiast. His Yak was his second love. Photo © NewTek.

Ron and his Yakovlev Yak-52 Soviet trainer aircraft. As well as animating ships in flight, Ron was a passionate aviation enthusiast. His Yak was his second love. Photo © Robert Cazzell.

When I joined Ron’s team as production assistant, Ron put me to work doing bits and pieces of model-making work. I was hopeless at it. But I had a big truck, which was useful for hauling things around, I was willing to learn, plus I’d made a few short films of my own and knew my way around a camera, so we hit it off, and we shared a similar love of movies. Ron was also a fabulous chef, with a bawdy sense of humor, and a rich vocabulary of Monty Python references.

After some time running around for Ron’s company, Foundation Imaging, which grew from his garage into a small industrial unit in North Hollywood, Ron sent me on an errand to go fetch his latest toy. I drove to a computer store on Colorado Boulevard in Santa Monica and handed over a check for an Amiga Video Toaster.

Ron greeted this with glee and he soon took to noodling in an early version of Lightwave’s 3D modeling program. His first project, I remember, was a British-racing-green Flash Gordon style space vehicle, a 3D reconstruction of one of his old Blake’s 7 vehicles. He built out all the nurnies, slapped it all together, gave it a coat of paint very reminiscent of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbird 2, and animated it trundling through space. He asked me what I thought. As a card-carrying Spielberg fan, I told him it looked good, but as the shot was panning past a sun, shouldn’t there be a bit of a lens flare? Ron said, ‘Great idea!’ and he got on the phone to the Toaster makers at NewTek. Little did I know I had just suggested one of the biggest clichés in computer modeling, foreshadowing the Knoll Light Factory lens flare plug-in — at least, that was my memory.

The space station at he heart of "Babylon 5," modeled and animated at Foundation Imaging as a five-mile-long rotating cylinder, housing 250,000 intergalactic souls as the 'last, best hope for peace.' Photo © NewTek.

The space station at the heart of “Babylon 5”, modeled and animated at Foundation Imaging as a five-mile-long rotating cylinder, housing 250,000 intergalactic souls as the ‘last, best hope for peace.’ Photo © Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc.

Ron’s 3D experiments, and his collaborations with NewTek eventually won him an Emmy award for the visual effects he created for Babylon 5, Joe Straczynski’s Casablanca in space, a hotbed of intergalactic intrigue set on board a five-mile-long rotating space cylinder. Ron made all the space ships on NewTek’s software and blew everybody’s minds. In 1993, no one had done anything on that scale for television. We built a few miniatures, too, and John Criswell and Greg Aronowitz and their creature effects teams made many crazy aliens, but pretty much everything else was done with off the shelf PC software.

What Ron brought to that format was not only a nerdy love of tech. He still had the same hands-on approach, using CG tools as building blocks, with a three-dimensional sensibility to lighting, texture and camera blocking. It served him well, and years after I stopped working for Ron I saw his face looming out of the pages of Cinefex magazine, in advertisements for the DAVE computer graphics school where he mentored students as ‘The Godfather of CG Visual Effects.’

"The Godfather" in Cinefex 107, October 2006

“The Godfather” in Cinefex 107, October 2006.

I last saw Ron at a memorial service, and he gave me a hard time for not answering his emails. We had gone our separate ways. Ron founded another studio in New Mexico, and worked as a freelance visual effects supervisor. I’d been working for Cinefex for years and never got around to covering one of Ron’s numerous shows.

Foundation had become a staple of the Star Trek universe, revamping The Motion Picture effects for director Robert Wise’s video re-release, as well as providing animation and effects for Nemesis, Deep Space NineVoyager and Enterprise. Ron also produced his own Saturday morning TV fare, with Hypernauts – I wrote a script, which never saw the light of day – and Roughnecks, an animated spinoff of one of Ron’s favorite sci-fi novels, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

Ron Thornton. Photo © NewTek.

Ron Thornton at 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, Van Nuys, California. Photo © Kevin Quattro.

Ron’s final credits included a remake of George Romero’s The Crazies and a handful of television shows. We last spoke in person about five years ago, when I happened to be in town for Christmas. Ron called out of the blue, wanting to go for a drink. Sadly, I was working that evening and when I got clear of my deadline, he was not around. But that was Ron’s style. He went where the wind took him, so I didn’t think anything of it. Ron was probably out carousing.

A few months ago, I heard that Ron was not doing well health-wise, and one of Ron’s NewTek colleagues, Chuck Baker, confirmed he was raising money to help cover Ron’s medical expenses. I was glad to be able to offer some help by posting a link to Chuck’s fundraising page, assisting Ron’s medical expenses, on the Cinefex Facebook page (see below). The Internet responded with a huge outpouring of sympathy, all those lives he touched, from fans to industry insiders.

Sadly, Ron passed away November 21. I’ll miss him. He was a larger than life character, but I am grateful to him for giving me my first safe harbor in the LA film community. And all the knowledge that I’ve accumulated since then has served me well in the multifarious disciplines that I cover every day writing for Cinefex. He taught me not to be too precious. Get your hands dirty. Slap a few nurnies on it, coat of paint, walk away.

The Thornton Design model-making crew poses in front of the "Highlander II" Shield Corporation pyramid, North Hollywood, 1990. L to R: Tom Gleason, Joe Fordham (with puppy Flash), Mike McFarlane, James Belohovek, Karen Mutter, Ron Thornton, Mark Ellis.

The Thornton Design model-making crew poses in front of the “Highlander II” Shield Corporation pyramid, North Hollywood, 1990. L to R: Tom Gleason, Joe Fordham (with puppy Flash), Mike McFarlane, James Belohovek, Karen Mutter, Ron Thornton, Mark Ellis. Photo © James Belohovek.


Ron remembered:

“Many of you are finding out that Ron Thornton passed away. The Babylon 5 ranks keep thinning. We had a rolling coaster ride of a friendship, lots of laughs, many many great dinners, a few tears and thank god, memories that no one can take away.

“I first met Ronnie in Toronto on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. He’d been brought in to run the model shop and serve as the art director, along with Dale Fay, of the miniature shoots. We became good friends on that show. He was a mad visionary and brought a special perspective to everything he worked on. After Captain Power, we worked on a couple of ‘industrials’ for Lockheed and the Air Force. Ron and I shared a love for all things aviation. You may or may not know that Ronnie’s 56 seconds of animation that was essentially a shot that could not have been done with models, was what finally pushed the executives to give Babylon 5 a shot with a pilot.

“Ron continually pushed the envelope to visually enhance the storytelling on the projects he worked on in new and exciting ways. And he was a gentle soul as well. As I think back on the years, Ron and I went from a post apocalyptic Earth to aerial combat over the Fulda Gap in Europe, to the far reaches of space and finally winding up with wooly mammoths in the last ice age. Quite a span.

“Ronnie, you were such a mad visionary and hopefully a little rubbed off on the rest of us. Godspeed ol’ friend.”

— John Copeland, producer/director


“Ron always saw the potential. He could look at a solid wall and see the door that ought to be there, and if there wasn’t a door he’d make one. He was like that with people, too. I never met anyone with a better knack for hiring unknown, untried talent and really letting people shine.”

— Steve Burg, conceptual designer


“I had the honor of being Foundation Imaging’s first employee; Ron took a chance and hired a 3D novice because he saw in me the most important characteristic for the job: enthusiasm. ‘You can teach anyone the software,’ Ron told me a few years later, ‘but you can’t teach them to love their job.’ And love it I did. I — and so many others in the business right now — wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for this gentle, genius of a man who contributed so much and asked for nothing in return.”

— Adam ‘Mojo’ Lebowitz, digital artist


It’s so heartbreaking that the visual effects community has lost a great pioneer of VFX. Ron, you had a vision, and saw the potential for desktop VFX to be used for television way back on Babylon 5. To hundreds upon hundreds (including me), you were a mentor, a teacher and a good friend. Thank you for believing in me and allowing me to start compositing on the second season of Babylon 5. You were so generous with your knowledge and shared so much of it on a bunch of kids who were learning the ropes of visual effects back then. Thanks for teaching me so many things, from how to paint in Photoshop (version 1.0!) to rendering in Lightwave, to how to shoot a proper blue/green screen, to how to make a great roux (you were such a great cook)!! As so many have said before me, we were all a family at Foundation… from the BBQs, the parties, to developing creative content for television together. Thanks for believing in all of us you mentored, thank you for encouraging so many of us to pursue our dreams and help create visual effects all around the world.

— Sherry Hitch, digital artist


Modelmaking at Thornton Design, circa 1990, featuring detail of the hydrogen miner from the ABC TV pilot "Plymouth" and the Shield Corporation pyramid from "Highlander II: The Quickening". Photos © James Belohovek.

Nurnies galore, featuring detail of the Thornton Design hydrogen miner from the ABC TV pilot “Plymouth” and the Shield Corporation pyramid from “Highlander II: The Quickening”. Photos © James Belohovek.

I never considered myself a ‘star’ model-maker, I was always learning from others. Ron gave me the job of detailing out some of the miniatures for Plymouth (the 1991 ABC TV moon colony drama). I had never done that before and told him so. He gave me a few pointers and then let me go at it. It was a fun time. Best of all, he liked what I did, God bless him.

— James Belohovek, model-maker


“I met Ron through Steve Burg, a fellow New Jersey-ite who went to Cal Arts with my wife, Kathy Zielinski. Steve was working on the Stuart Gordon film Robot Jox, taking over the design task from Ron Cobb to build robots and sets. It was while visiting Steve in a small Burbank shop space that I met Ron Thornton who was fabricating the rather large miniatures for the film. It was really cool stuff to see in person, and Ron and I hit it off immediately. I mean, come on! Building giant robots?

“Soon after, I went to Ron’s apartment where he showed me something on a small Amiga computer he had been working on. If I remember correctly, it was a TIE fighter flying through some asteroids. The thought I kept to myself was, ‘This poor guy… This is never going to look good enough for film or TV!’ Well, I guess, I was wrong about that. You think? Ron had faith.

Visual effects supervisor Kevin Kutchaver and his wife Kathy celebrate Ron's birthday. Photo © Kevin Kutchaver.

Visual effects supervisor Kevin Kutchaver and his wife Kathy celebrate Ron’s birthday. Photo © Kevin Kutchaver.

“Ron kept pushing the new technology, while never forgetting his love of physically building models, and I was excited to see what he was up to on a new television series called Babylon 5. He showed me some of his work, which knowing the desktop computer solution was pretty groundbreaking! He also showed me a sequence done on a Paintbox system in the edit bay of some glowing orb animation that cost a small fortune to do, and Ron asked me, ‘You could do this, couldn’t you?’ With Ron’s blessing I was compositing a national TV show at home surrounded by seven Macintosh computers. Ron had faith in thy ability to figure it out. And just in time, I did. And Ron’s invitation forever changed the path of my career.

“When Ron was pitching his Hypernauts series, he asked me if I wanted to do the music for the reel. He had heard some of the music I had done (just playing around) and I thought it would be really fun to do something out of my comfort zone like that. Once the series sold, Ron then asked me to do the music for the series. I kind of freaked out. I told him ‘I pretty much gave you everything I have in he demo.’ I was pretty sure I would run out of ideas halfway through the first episode. Ron was actually disappointed, but I thanked him for letting me do the pitch reel and explained to him I didn’t want him to hate me once I failed to deliver. The point is, he was the type of person that was willing to give a novice, ‘musician’ the keys to his series kingdom because one of his talents was he was able to persuade people to do their best work.

“I only worked at Foundation Imaging for a brief time, but I know he and his partner, Paul, had built what is now a rarity in this business: A small group of talented, enthusiastic people that were more a family than they were employees. And the number of people that were brought into the business for the first time by Ron is pretty impressive, as well.

“Ron was a person who could always see what was possible, and worked constantly to make it happen. He did it not out of any ego, or personal gain, or hidden agenda, but for the reason most of us got into VFX. It was what we do, and it was fun and Ron really loved doing it, and through osmosis, we loved working with him. He was a tireless source of ideas and enthusiasm, and he was a loyal partner in any project. I’ll miss that dialogue with him as he runs a new idea or project by you, and the infectious feeling of thinking, ‘I have to do this with him!’

“Ron Thornton was a good friend, and to everyone who knew him, a truly good person. Gifted, willing to share and, in the best way, a big kid at heart. To realize I’ll never hear him call and tell me about his next adventure is the saddest thing imaginable. To say Ron Thornton was a visionary would be an understatement. To say I really miss him is another…”

— Kevin Kutchaver, visual effects supervisor


Thanks to Tim Scannell, Tom Gleason, Steve Burg, Chuck Baker, John Copeland, Sherry Hitch, Mojo, James Belohovek, Kevin Kutchaver, Robin and Ron Cobb for contributing to this article.

On Seeing “Arrival”

Arrival PosterLast month, I finished my Cinefex article on Arrival, which you’ll be able to read in our upcoming December 2016 issue. As so often happens, I didn’t actually get to see the movie until this weekend, long after submitting my final draft. This happens a lot in this job, thanks to a complex dance of release dates, studio embargoes, and our magazine’s long lead time.

On top of that, as part of my research I’d also read the story on which Arrival is based – Ted Chiang’s rather marvellous Story of Your Life. So, by the time I found myself seated in my local multiplex waiting for the titles to roll, I knew an awful lot about the movie.

Sometimes it’s no fun knowing what’s coming next (believe me, when you’re interviewing for a Cinefex article you hear a lot of spoilers). In the case of Arrival, I was delighted to discover it didn’t spoil my enjoyment one bit.

The reason is simple, I think. Arrival is a class act. It’s that most delicate of creatures – a science fiction film that actually makes you think. The questions it raises are challenging, profound and moving, and yet somehow it manages to wrap them up neatly in an entirely accessible story about humans reacting to first contact with an alien species.

The movie looks gorgeous, by the way. Director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Bradford Young constantly manipulate the camera’s depth of field to keep intimacy and tension in constant balance, and find beauty in the overcast light of what would be just another damp and ordinary day, if not for the strange vessels found suddenly hanging over twelve locations around the world.

The ships themselves – not to mention their shadowy occupants – are iconic and enigmatic. The alien aspects of Arrival are adroitly handled by a team of visual effects facilities including Hybride Technologies, Rodeo FX, Oblique FX, Raynault FX, Framestore, MELS VFX and Fly Studio, all under the expert eye of visual effects supervisor Louis Morin. What’s more, Villeneuve allows the camera to linger on their work, giving folk like you and me ample opportunity to spot the imperfections. Except there are no imperfections. There is only a stark, alien beauty. The work is that good.

We don’t often review films here at Cinefex. It’s not the Cinefex way, you see. We treat every film as equal – it’s our job to tell you how it was done, not how it made us feel. Occasionally, however, something exceptional comes along.

Something like Arrival.


Have you seen Arrival yet? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments box.