The Top 5 VFX Breakdowns From the Oscars | 2019

The Top 5 VFX Breakdowns From the Oscars | 2019

February 7, 2019
Logan Leavitt

Take a look at how these 5 breakdowns landed in the Visual Effects Category for the 91st Academy Awards.

It's that time of year again. The Oscars deliver the best VFX breakdowns, screeners are delivered, and theaters are filled with exclusive and limited showings. VFX in the last year offered a lot of the same, but also a couple of great implementations and new trends. At the top of the heap, and earning the academy’s praises, are some familiar faces and fewer apes in the mix than year’s past. 

There is never a perfect nomination list and the achievements of the past 365+ days of renders and releases go far beyond just five films. Nonetheless, the following breakdowns show once again that VFX is the nexus point of technology, art, and creative problem-solving. 

Avengers: Infinity War

It wouldn’t be an Oscars VFX list without superheroes. Infinity War is the penultimate film in the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and when it comes to visual effects, the scale matches the tremendous roster of heroes. 

The crowning achievement of the film’s VFX is managing all this at once. As shown in the breakdown, Infinity War features full-on army vs. army combat. Rather than letting our heroes get lost in the mess, VFX artists relied on distinct markers of each power—the Mace Windu effect as I like to call it. Whether it’s Thor’s blue lightning or Black Panther’s purple kinetic blasts, the audience doesn’t miss a beat.  

Christopher Robin

Christopher Robin doesn’t have a breakdown available yet online, but it stands out in this list for obvious reasons. Nearly every year, there’s one film like Christopher Robin which expands the scope of award-winning visual effects beyond the classic epic Hollywood action flick.

In Christopher Robin, Framestore once again shows they’re the team to beat when it comes to love and attention in digital characters. This film, an easy bid after their work on Paddington, finds a wonderful balance of delicacy and realism with pseudo-practical stuffed animals. As the breakdown article points out, it was the careful approach in preparation that led to such success. They needed to consider the way their creatures would move not in a real anatomical world, but as true stuffed animals come to life. 

First Man

First Man stands tall on this list for multiple reasons. Firstly, it entirely subverts expectations. This is not a moon landing film, it is a Neil Armstrong biopic. As such, every frame is meticulously crafted to connect with Neil’s experience as it unfolds. The shots are claustrophobic, intense, and disorienting. 

The second achievement of First Man is the implementation of an immense 35x60 foot 180 degree curved LED panel. This is a trend we’ve seen pushed further and further since it was popularized by fellow space flick Gravity. The panel, along with other “practical” elements brought a staggering realism to the ship exteriors, reflections, and most importantly the lighting from within the cockpit. If you wanted to fake a moon landing, this breakdown is the first step!

Ready Player One

Ready Player One is probably the film on this list with the most VFX. In terms of on-screen time, nearly the entire film takes place in CG as the characters explore the virtual world of The Oasis. As such, world building is where the film’s visual effects really shine. 

Every area of The Oasis is as visually distinguished as real video game levels. Moreover, a combination of both original and borrowed elements from pop culture showed the ILM VFX artist's ability to expertly dance the line between inspiration and imitation. Standouts featured in the breakdown are a complete rebuild of the blood scene from The Shining as well as recreations of iconic characters. From Gundam to the Iron Giant, Ready Player One is almost a flashing showcase of what could be with some of our favorite properties.  

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Just as it wouldn’t be a VFX Oscar list without a superhero movie, it could not be one without a Star Wars film either. In this breakdown from Solo: A Star Wars Story, the infamous Kessel Run is specifically addressed as one of the more intense visual effects sequences in the film. It really is a one-stop shot for effects, featuring a collapsing cloud nebula, whirring debris, a giant creature, and the Falcon being slowly torn apart. 

Though the shot is very grandiose, there are some great subtleties shown in other featurettes around the creative team at ILM. Namely is the use of a massive LED panel similar to that of First Man. Not only did this bring greater realism to the in-cockpit shots, but it also put the actors right in the moment. With two films making generous use of this approach and LEDs constantly lowering in price and energy use, we’ll definitely be seeing more of this in 2019.   

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