The Cinefex Awards 2014

by Graham Edwards

The Cinefex Awards 2014

Never mind the Oscars. In the world of visual effects, there’s only one awards ceremony that counts: the Cinefex Awards.

Yes, the time has come once more for us Cinefex staffers to set aside our famed objectivity, take off our research journalist hats, and tell the world not what’s in our heads, but in our hearts.

Votes have been cast in a number of cunningly devised VFX categories. So, without further ado, here are the results of the 2nd Annual Cinefex Awards!

Cinefex Awards - Jaw on the Floor

The “Jaw On The Floor” Award … goes to the VFX that left us totally amazed

WINNER – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Jody Duncan – “Not being an inherently ‘techie’ person, the effects that always amaze me most are those that hit me in the gut, that affect me emotionally. So my Jaw on the Floor Award has to go to the closeups on Caesar and his son, Blue Eyes, in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which were so expressive and pain-filled, I totally forgot that I was looking at computer generated characters.”

Don Shay – “First Gollum. Then Kong. Now Caesar. For more than a decade, Weta has been advancing the art of character creation via the merger of motion capture technology and computer animation. Each project has been wondrous to behold, culminating with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in which brain-boosted apes give performances as moving and powerful as their human counterparts. Maybe more. Forget the debate over who’s most responsible for these performances – Andy Serkis and his mocap army or the artists at Weta Digital – this is an awesome blend of art and technology that invites one to look past the artifice of these characters and into their souls.”

Joe Fordham – “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a film that exceeded my expectations in just about every way. Despite a preview screening of some early scenes at Fox – and the amazing experience of attending a scoring session for the movie – I was not prepared for the emotional wallop that the film delivered. Damn, was it gorgeous to look at, with its bedraggled rainforest and ruined San Francisco. Most importantly, it worked as a character piece. I cared for those apes, and ceased to think of them as anything but empathic, conflicted and emotional creatures. The visual effects were an organic part of all the film, and that’s really what it’s all about.”

Gregg Shay – “My winner is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Weta Digital (with Standard Deviation) has absolutely figured out how to transform a human actor into a CG character. I totally bought into the apes being apes, and Andy Serkis and Toby Kebell gave wonderful performances. Oh, and I loved the movie too!”

Graham Edwards – “They talk about how hard it is to cross the uncanny valley. Well, in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar and his simian sidekicks swung clear to the other side on rainforest vines. The apes in this movie are a true quantum leap in digital character creation – and deliver emotional performances to boot. Disbelief suspended. An out-and-out VFX win.”

Cinefex Awards - What Did I Just See?

The “What Did I Just See?” Award … goes to the invisible VFX we didn’t even spot

WINNER – Birdman

Joe Fordham – “For reasons too complicated to explain, we had a revolving door on the editorial lineup for Cinefex 140, so at one point I was excited to be covering Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman. Without telling tales out of school, I can say with some authority that the visual effects are some of the most cunningly devised I’ve seen (or not seen) in a while. However, despite one sequence where the film delves into full-bore fantasy – terrific work by Rodeo FX and Spectral Motion – the real pyrotechnics in this film are in the performances. I found the unsavory nature of these self-possessed theatre folk very funny … and astonishingly we witness these damaged people backbiting, weeping and clawing at each other for what appears to be one unbroken 85-minute take. I thought it was a masterpiece.”

Gregg Shay – “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier featured an unbelievable 2,500 effects shots. That’s more than Avengers Assemble. I think I must have missed at least 500 of them!”

Graham Edwards – “LAIKA’s latest animated feature may not seem like an obvious candidate for this award, but for the entire time I was watching The Boxtrolls, I completely failed to spot the places where the practical stagework of the stop-motion animation ended, and the seamlessly integrated CG effects began.”

Cinefex Awards - Hmm, That's New

The “Hmm, That’s New” Award … goes to the most innovative VFX

WINNER – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Gregg Shay – “Lola VFX had to get creative for the ‘Old Peggy’ shots in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. After shooting scenes with actress Hayley Atwell without old age makeup, they shot an elderly lookalike’s face in their face-projection rig, and projected parts of it on to the original photography.”

Joe Fordham – “Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin haunted me. The moment that the alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, takes her human victims back to ‘her place’ and has her way with them ranks as some of the most disturbing imagery I’ve seen in a science fiction film. But it’s kind of beautiful at the same time. Hats off to production designer Chris Oddy, Asylum Models and Effects and visual effects supervisors Tom Debenham and Dominic Parker at One of Us. You truly freaked me out.”

Graham Edwards – “It’s hard to come up with a new design for a movie alien. Edge of Tomorrow did a pretty terrific job, so I’ve no hesitation in voting for it here. The fluid, unpredictable forms of the Mimics – the result of extensive development work by production designer Oliver Scholl and a bunch of artists including Kevin Jenkins, Steve Burg, Ed Natividad and Tani Kunitake, interpreted and realised by the VFX teams at Framestore and MPC – were startling to look at, unpredictable in their behaviour and like nothing I’d seen before.”

Cinefex Awards - Olide But Goodie

The “Oldie But Goodie” Award … goes to the best use of old-school visual effects

WINNER – Interstellar

Don Shay – “Old-school visual effects were in short supply this year, so let’s raise a toast to Christopher Nolan, whose Interstellar – sprawling in scope and theme – would almost certainly have been an orgy of digital excess in the hands of most other directors. Not to belittle the significant digital accomplishments of the film, but Nolan kept his pixels in a supporting role, enhancing his preferred use of practical effects, full-size spacecraft and robots, elegant miniatures and exotic ‘alien’ locations. On film, no less. And in doing so, he created an epic space adventure, rooted in physical and scientific reality, that speaks to both the heart and the mind.”

Gregg Shay – “The physical models built by New Deal Studios for Interstellar dovetailed seamlessly with Double Negative’s digital work. It’s wonderful to see effective – and believable – practical work on today’s big budget films.”

Jody Duncan – “When Paul Franklin and Ian Hunter told me how they did the shots of a spaceship traveling through a black hole in Interstellar, I felt as if I’d been transported back to the early days of Cinefex magazine. They planted an honest-to-goodness practical miniature spaceship on the ground, nose up, and photographed it as they dropped honest-to-goodness STUFF on it! Was this Gene Warren of Fantasy II talking circa 1981? Could it be that someone actually created such imagery without a particle system in 2014? Fantastic!”

Joe Fordham – “ My vote goes to Interstellar. Bless them for doing so much for real, and kudos to all for making such impressive use of those practical elements.”

Graham Edwards – “Tempting though it is to honour the charming models and matte paintings seen in The Grand Budapest Hotel, I’m siding with Interstellar, for two reasons. One: it’s heart-warming to see traditional spacecraft miniatures holding their own in this digital age. Two: while I was watching the movie, I didn’t give two hoots what I was looking at – all I knew was that the story was sweeping me along and the whole thing looked breathtakingly good!”

Cinefex Awards - Eye Candy

The “Eye Candy” Award … goes to the VFX that looked plain gorgeous

WINNER – Guardians of the Galaxy

Graham Edwards – “Ever since I bought my first book of paintings by artist Chris Foss, I’ve been a sucker for big, gaudy spaceships. That’s why my winner in this category is the big, gaudy Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Gregg Shay – “The visuals throughout the whole of Guardians of the Galaxy were stunning. I was impressed by the look of all of the characters and creatures, the environments and the spaceships. The film also featured some amazing makeup work.”

Don Shay – “Does the world need another ‘reimagined’ fairy tale in which the original villain is now the misunderstood hero – or heroine? Not in my view. So, though I was less than enthralled with the character motivation and logic-defying storyline of Maleficent, I was nonetheless enchanted by the imaginative visuals and look of the film. Every frame looks like the most beautifully rendered storybook you’ve ever seen. High marks to Robert Stromberg – former matte artist, visual effects supervisor, Oscar-winning production designer and now first-time director. Happily, his debut feature was a home run at the box office, surely guaranteeing him another time at bat. I want to see what he does next.”

Joe Fordham – “I’m going with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for this award. I loved those soggy apes.”

Cinefex Awards - Big Cheesy Grin

The “Big Cheesy Grin” Award … goes to the VFX moment that made us feel like kids again

WINNER – Guardians of the Galaxy

Jody Duncan – “My vote goes to Rocket, the genetically engineered raccoon, in Guardians of the Galaxy. Whether it was Rocket himself or the fantastic soundtrack (which was essentially the soundtrack of my teen years) that made me feel like a kid again, I’m not sure, but that furry ball of Ones and Zeroes had more personality, heart and humor than many of the human performances I’ve seen this year!”

Graham Edwards – “From Peter Quill’s enterprising employment of an alien rodent as a microphone, to the brilliant interplay between Rocket Raccoon and Groot, to the crowd-pleasing moment when umpty-thousand Nova Corps Starblasters hook up to form a gigantic protective net over their beleagured planet … Guardians of the Galaxy delivered big-screen space opera hokum on a scale both epic and human, supported throughout by colourful and perfectly pitched visual effects.”

Joe Fordham – “The docking sequence in Interstellar was, for me, the most thrilling moment of visual effects cinema last year. I loved how Nolan staged the preceding turning point in the narrative in a very matter-of-fact manner – making it all the more shocking. The subsequent mating of the Ranger and Endurance spacecraft was, to me, electrifying. In fact, there were many moments in the film that held me in their thrall: the first journey into the wormhole, the discovery of the ice planet, the Tesseract and the moment of the hand reaching out to Brand … *sniffle*”

Don Shay – “This is an easy one. At a critical juncture in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the labyrinthine plot calls for Wolverine and the X-Men to free their old rival, Magneto, from confinement in an iron-free, impregnable vault deep beneath the Pentagon. What’s a mutant to do? Why, bring in Quicksilver to penetrate the fortress and – quite literally – run circles around Magneto’s helpless-to-stop-him security detail. Real-time slows to a virtual stop as the camera follows the hyper-fast Quicksilver, who scampers about like Road Runner on steroids, playfully art-directing and tweaking the mayhem he’s creating. Audaciously conceived and executed – and pretty darn funny.”

Janine Pourroy – “I thought Edge of Tomorrow was terrific. I actually forgot about the effects and fell into the story, which is always a blessing these days.”

Gregg Shay – “Who doesn’t love watching Godzilla destroy cities around the world? And in this year’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, the iconic lizard was bigger and better than ever.”

Cinefex Awards - The One That Got Away

The “One That Got Away” Award … goes to the best VFX in a film we didn’t cover

WINNER – Birdman

Joe Fordham – “For the reasons I’ve already explained, my vote goes to Birdman.”

Graham Edwards – “Controversially, I’m casting my vote for a film which, at the time of writing, I confess I haven’t seen, since they only just saw fit to release it in the UK. Birdman is a film that everyone’s talking about, and I’ve listened to enough of the chatter to know that if there’s one film I really wish I could have read about in Cinefex during 2014, it’s this one.”

Don Shay – “The film I most regret our not having covered recently is Kon Tiki, a criminally underseen gem that I caught up with only recently on video. In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and five colleagues set out to prove that people from South America first inhabited Polynesia – 5,000 miles away and 1,500 years ago – by casting themselves onto the high seas on a raft of the sort that these primitive explorers could have built. Kon-Tiki, a gripping re-enactment of the Heyerdahl expedition, features some of the best ocean-based visual effects I’ve seen – including tumultuous storms and thrilling encounters with whales and sharks. And they were done, not by one of the big-name visual effects companies, as one might expect from the quality of the work, but by a handful of small Scandinavian companies that proved themselves fully capable – if you’ll pardon the expression – of blowing the big guys out of the water.”

Cinefex Awards - Never Mind the VFX

And finally … The “Never Mind The VFX” Award … goes to simply the best movie of the year

WINNER – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Janine Pourroy – “I fell in love with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I continue to watch again and again, almost compulsively, finding new things to admire about it each time: its delightful color palette, its wonderful Wes Anderson-y setups, its perfect use of miniatures, its marvelous script, as delivered by Ralph Fiennes. Capturing the zeitgeist of a very specific time and place is something that Wes Anderson does better than anybody else. It’s like magic to me.”

Joe Fordham – “Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel were the films that gave me the biggest charge in the cinema last year. But Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Interstellar also linger in my imagination.”

Graham Edwards – “I’m tempted to vote for Under the Skin, a dark and disturbing sci-fi film with a riveting – and heavily improvised – central performance from Scarlett Johansson. It mesmerised me from start to finish, and creeped me out more than any other film I can remember in recent years. Instead, I’m going for the opposite extreme and backing the frothy delight that is The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think I grinned from start to finish, and thinking about the film now I’m grinning all over again.”

Don Shay – “Easily topping my list of the best films of the year is Birdman. The film – co-written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and with an exhilarating performance by Michael Keaton – defies description in a mere sentence or two, but richly deserves the accolades it has garnered. Technically virtuosic, it is staged and photographed, via fine-tuned choreography and artful digital stitching of long-take scenes, to seem as though all but one brief segment has been captured in a single continuous take. Brilliant on all accounts.”

Jody Duncan – “I have to confess that my REAL favorite movie of the year was Begin Again … with not an effects shot to be found.”

That concludes the Cinefex Awards 2014. Now it’s over to you. Tell us which movie moment put your jaw on the floor, which film you wish we’d covered, and which movie showed you something you’d never seen before. Oh, and while you’re at it, just how big was that cheesy grin of yours?

Write a comment below, or vote for your favourite film from the following list of the collective winners of the 2nd Annual Cinefex Awards.

Special thanks to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

One thought on “The Cinefex Awards 2014

  1. I agree with most of these, but I’d definitely have voted for the Quicksilver sequence in X-Men for the Big Cheesy Grin award.

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