Visual effects artists may have their own Oscar category, yet they often remain the unsung heroes of the movies the work so hard on. They tirelessly edit out the apparatus that makes stunts possible, ensure that the body flipping through the air ragdolls just right, and create entire worlds out of a humble green screen.
VFX and animation as a whole is an industry that’s advancing faster than most. To pay respect to the phenomenal recent developments made by VFX artists, this week I’m running through the best examples of visual effects in film over the last decade.
Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens (2015) / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Might seem a little obvious but Star Wars has come back with a vengeance these past couple of years and the VFX is as accomplished as ever.
Check out this jaw-dropping VFX breakdown video by ILM Visual FX, the studio behind much of the visuals on display in the newest entries to the series. Not only can you can see how masterfully they create atmosphere out of a green screen but the old school fans amongst you will be pleased to see a few props still being used, too!
Doctor Strange (2016)
When you have the challenge of representing a concept as hacky as magic for a modern audience, why not make it look completely unique and exciting? The VFX in Doctor Strange are one of a kind, with hypnotic, fractal, visuals, cascading and transforming in front of your eyes. Turns out that this effect is known as ‘Mandelbrotting’ and it’s pretty tough to pull off.
I’m super thankful that this is the way Framestore chose to handle this Marvel hero’s signature abilities and I’m even more thankful that they show us their process during this VFX breakdown.
When you want to recreate a black hole as faithfully as possible for the first time in film, it helps your VFX team out a bunch if you have a theoretical physicist hanging around. Luckily, Kip Thorne was on board during Interstellar’s production for that very reason.
There's a wealth of great spacey, sci-fi visuals here, but that black hole really steals the show. It's beautiful, bizarre and fear inducing all in equal measure. All I know is that it makes me sweat just looking at it, so Double Negative did a great job. Get a peek at their process here.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Studio LAIKA, back at it again and making the majority of the stop-motion studios out there look like students poking around with an old bit of clay. Every time they come out with something new, it redefines what’s possible with stop motion and visual effects.
Their latest and most beautiful offering, Kubo is so vibrant and alive, at times you can barely even tell it’s stop motion at all. For more info and some incredible behind the scenes footage from the studio themselves, check out their ‘making of’ video.
Planet of the Apes (Rise (2011), Dawn (2014) and War (2017)
Andy Serkis who donned a mo-cap suit to become Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, King Kong from… well, King Kong, and a host of other creatures, did the same for his excellent portrayal of Caesar for the reboots of this series.
In a wise move, the production avoided animal actors and practical effects in favour of performance capture acting and visual effects, partnering with New Zealand studio Weta Digital. You can find some of their VXF breakdowns for the films on YouTube.
It may be less ‘in your face’ as some of the others that I've mentioned, but Arrival’s eerie, looming depiction of alien contact was definitely some of the most striking VFX produced in recent years.
Rodeo Visual Effects Company did the honours this time as you can see in their VFX breakdown. The completely computer generated hazard suits are very impressive and very convincing. Hats off to the texture artists!
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Iloura’s work on this reboot of Mad Max shows that the post apocalypse doesn't have to be dark, gloomy and dull. They’ve treated us to Frankenstein's monster cars, freak sandstorms and fire, so much fire.
The sandstorm in question was apparently designed by the VFX team from scratch. They were given no concept art or references, all they had was the descriptions from the script and they managed to create the most terrifying storm since Twister.
Iloura's VFX breakdown for the film can be seen here.
Life of Pi (2012)
Ang Lee’s dreamy retelling of a castaway epic is iconic for 2 reasons: the stunning ocean effects, and that beautiful cg tiger.
We’ve banged on about how groundbreaking Sully’s fur was in 2001’s Monster’s Inc., well this tiger blows him out of the water just 9 years later. Every strand of hair on this thing has been meticulously modelled and manipulated, and when paired with such incredible the light and moisture effects, it looks real enough to jump through my telly.
This movie is an incredible VFX spectacle for animation geeks like us and regular moviegoers alike, so send your thanks to Rhythm and Hues Studios, whose VFX breakdown really deserves a watch.
Ex Machina (2015)
This near future, science fiction film takes a dive into the uncanny valley of artificial intelligence and robotics, netting a much deserved visual effects Oscar for esteemed studio Double Negative in 2016. This is an especially impressive feat considering how stacked the category was that year, having to beat Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens (2015), The Martian (2015) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) away with a stick.
Ava, the robotic star of the movie, is a completely captivating piece of visual work, supported in no small part by the performance of Alicia Vikander. Here’s a VFX breakdown for some of Ava’s scenes.
The Jungle Book (2016)
It may be hard to believe that Life of Pi has been ousted from its top spot as VFX darling so quickly, but this is one movie that managed to do just that. None of it was shot on location, it was done on blue screen with just one live action actor.
Let that sink in: it was all indoors in a studio. All that lush vegetation, the babbling water, Bagheera and Baloo’s soft fur. All of it. This not only makes young Neel Sethi’s performance as Mowgli even more impressive, it raises the bar for what’s possible for realistic cgi in film. A bar that’s been raised more often than the price of a Freddo (I’m a millennial, that’s the best reference I’ve got).
Here’s one last VFX breakdown of MPC’s work on this movie, I think it’s the most impressive of the lot.
Perhaps in a few weeks I’ll venture back into the history of VFX in movies to bring you the most iconic and groundbreaking VFX moments, so stick around! In the meantime, let me know which VFX scenes blew your mind when you first saw them by dropping us a message on facebook.com/fudgeanimation or @fudgeanimation