Magazine article Variety

Unwrapping the Treats in the Season's VFX

Magazine article Variety

Unwrapping the Treats in the Season's VFX

Article excerpt

Visual effects are the shiniest attractions of holiday blockbusters, and 2016 offers glittering examples. From the sorcery of "Doctor Strange" and the wizardry of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," to the space odyssey "Passengers" and the Star Wars spinoff "Rogue One," this year wraps up with breakthrough work from top shops.

"Rogue One" is the latest tour de force from VFX shop ILM, with effects supervised by Oscar-winner John Knoll. Expectations are high because, as animation supervisor Hal Hickel explains, "This takes place immediately before the original 'Star Wars,'" to which it links. So Darth Vader and the giant Walkers are back, along with sets and costumes evoking that period. We got to geek out in a way that 'Star Wars' fans haven't seen before."

While the movie teems with CGI, Hickel notes, "There was a desire to skew things back to building real sets and shooting on location. Those of us in digital effects like having a foundation of reality to build upon." As a result, many "Rogue One" denizens are animatronics, polished with digital tweaks.

Hickel, an Oscar-winner for "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean Man's Chest," oversaw several new animated creatures, including a "space monkey" and a "space camel." He supervised ILM animators in San Francisco, London, and Singapore (modern VFX production never sleeps).

The global nature of today's VFX is especially evident in "Fantastic Beasts," which utilized such U.K. shops as Framestore, Double Negative, and MPC, as well as Canada's Rodeo Effects and Image Engine.

"Next time we'll include Australia and fully encompass the world," laughs Christian Manz, the VFX co-supervisor with Tim Burke. The pair was Oscar-nominated for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," so they were already fully familiar with the magical touch of J.K. Rowling that foreshadowed "Fantastic Beasts."

They also knew the strengths of the VFX legions that worked on the "Potter" franchise, Burke says. "Framestore was our principal animation vendor, and we figured out which facilities around the world could give each character a flavor and personality."

Because "Fantastic Beasts" is packed with stunts, digital doubles were made for every actor. "We created a library of digi-doubles," Manz says. "It's the norm today. …

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