About Graham Edwards

I'm senior staff writer at Cinefex magazine. I also write novels. In a former life, I produced animated films for theme park rides and science centres. If you offer me a cold beer, I won't say no.

Cinefex 152 Preview

Cinefex 152 - coming soon

March is here! Which means the April issue of Cinefex is just around the corner. To whet your appetite, here’s a sneak preview of each of the four films we’re covering in Cinefex 152.

Kong: Skull Island

It’s an incredible 84 years since Hollywood’s favorite big ape first hit the screens in Merian C. Cooper’s and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1933 film King Kong. In the action-packed Kong: Skull Island, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts transports the giant primate to the 1970s, with visual effects supervisor Jeff White and Industrial Light & Magic serving up a supersized portion of visual effects, supported by Hybride Technologies and Rodeo FX. Production designer Stefan Dechant visualizes the perilous realm of Skull Island, with practical illusions handled by special effects supervisor Mike Meinardus and makeup head Bill Corso.

A Cure for Wellness

In this dark tale about a sinister sanitarium in the Swiss Alps, director Gore Verbinski works with visual effects supervisor Thomas Proctor, special effects supervisor Gerd Nefzer and makeup effects supervisor Barrie Gower. Visual effects come courtest of Double Negative, RISE Visual Effects Studios, Lola Visual Effects, One of Us and Prime Focus World.

The Great Wall

Yimou Zhang directs this epic story about a monstrous mystery surrounding the building of the Great Wall of China, with visual effects overseen by Phil Brennan and delivered by Industrial Light & Magic, Base FX, Hybride Technologies, and Animal Logic. Weta Workshop. Quantum Creation FX provided practical and makeup effects, while Halon Entertainment prevised the film’s complex action sequences.

Logan

Currently riding high with a score of 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the latest outing for the X-Men’s Wolverine is directed by James Mangold, with Chas Jarrett supervising visual effects by Soho VFX, Image Engine, Rising Sun Pictures and Lola VFX. Special effects supervisor Garry Elmendorf and makeup head Joel Harlow bring the gritty near-future world to blood-soaked life.

So there you have it. Four big movies, four big articles coming soon. The tough part is choosing which one to read first. So which will it be?

VFX Oscar Win for “The Jungle Book”

Adam Valdez, Robert Legato, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon accept the Oscar® for Achievement in visual effects, for work on “The Jungle Book” during the live ABC Telecast of The 89th Oscars® at the Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo: Aaron Poole / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Adam Valdez, Robert Legato, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon accept the Oscar® for Achievement in visual effects, for work on “The Jungle Book” during the live ABC Telecast of The 89th Oscars® at the Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, February 26, 2017. Photo: Aaron Poole / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Walt Disney Pictures’ The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau, has won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the 89th Academy Awards, held at the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood & Highland Center on Sunday, February 26, 2017.

Collecting the award were visual effects supervisor Robert Legato, MPC visual effects supervisor Adam Valdez, animation supervisor Andrew R. Jones and Weta Digital visual effects supervisor Dan Lemmon.

Working with Disney senior vice president of visual effects production Dave Teritero, Legato developed the concept of shooting a live performer (Neel Sethi) as Mowgli and immersing him alongside animated creatures into a digital jungle environment.

In an interview for Cinefex 147, Legato remarked:

“We have tools now to do pretty much anything a filmmaker can imagine. But those tools aren’t always user-friendly … Jon [Favreau] had a tremendous interest in technique, but I knew from his background as a performer that he was used to making decisions more as a live, chemical reaction. I wanted to provide him with tools that felt analog, and that were as intuitive as they could be.”

During a preshoot, Digital Domain explored the interaction between the real and virtual realms. On set, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop created animal puppets for use on a bluescreen set and special effects supervisor J.D. Schwalm rigged a range of practical gags. A team including Animatrik and Magnopus configured the motion capture system and streamlined the complex virtual production process.

 As lead VFX studio, MPC artists blended Mowgli (Neel Sethi) into a photoreal digital jungle populated by 54 species of animals including lead characters Bagheera, Baloo and Shere Khan. Photo: MPC.


As lead VFX studio, MPC artists blended Mowgli (Neel Sethi) into a photoreal digital jungle populated by 54 species of animals including lead characters Bagheera, Baloo and Shere Khan. Photo: MPC.

Leading the visual effects drive, MPC undertook three jungle expeditions before constructing a digital environment covering around 30 square kilometers, populated with intricately detailed flora and fauna including such classic characters as Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Baloo (Bill Murray) and the dreaded Shere Khan (Idris Elba). Weta Digital entered the fray for a sequence set in the temple stronghold of the treacherous Gigantopithecus, King Louie (Christopher Walken).

Commenting on the Oscar win, MPC visual effects supervisor Adam Valdez said:

“This is a very proud day for me and my crew at MPC. I speak for everyone who was lucky enough to work with Jon Favreau and the great team at Disney when I say how grateful we are for this honor from the Academy. Taking part in making a great film is a rare gift. Being recognized for our craft is deeply gratifying.”

Cinefex 147 Cover - The Jungle BookRead our in-depth story on the visual effects and virtual production of The Jungle Book in Cinefex 147.

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 …