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July 09
2017

SUMMER VFX BLOCKBUSTERS

By IAN FAILES

The traditional summer blockbuster period of movie releases is well underway, with the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Alien: Covenant and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales already demonstrating their wares – and a multitude of visual effects shots – to the cinema-going public. Here is a breakdown of the other major effects-driven films this summer, and what to look out for from the visual effects teams involved.

Cars 3 (Photo copyright © 2016 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Cars 3. Certainly, Cars 3 is unlike the other live-action films listed here, being a fully animated feature, but the technology behind Pixar’s latest movie in the Cars franchise is one that has an important place among other VFX releases. Cars 3 fully adopted the studio’s new physically-based, path-tracing rendering architecture known as RIS inside of its industry standard renderer, RenderMan. The result is more adrenaline pumping – and realistic –action on screen. Director: Brian Fee.

Wonder Woman (Photo credit: Clay Enos. Copyright © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.)

Wonder Woman. Amazon princess Diana Prince’s (Gal Gadot) chance meeting with a American military pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) during World War I ensures that visual effects are necessary to depict period locations (London and elsewhere). There’s also the effects relating to Wonder Woman’s fighting abilities, her bracelets, powerful shield and magical lasso.

All this ties into Justice League coming out later this year. Studios such as MPC and Double Negative are leading the charge. Director: Patty Jenkins. Visual Effects Supervisors: Bill Westenhofer and Frazer Churchill.

The Mummy (Photo copyright © 2016 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

The Mummy. Universal kickstarts its Mummy franchise again, after a run of earlier films that had been at the forefront of digital characters combined make-up and creature effects, sand and effects simulations, and crowd work. In this new film, starring Tom Cruise, the producers have also made heavy use of in-camera stunts and practical work, including filming in the ‘Vomit Comet’ for an aircraft crash sequence. The crash looks to be a signature visual effects shot, as does a bus sequence and plenty of world-ending, mummy-like magical destruction scenes, and some close encounters with the Mummy herself. Principal VFX houses are MPC, Double Negative and Industrial Light & Magic. Director: Alex Kurtzman. Visual Effects Supervisor: Erik Nash.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Photo credit: Chuck Zlotnick. Copyright © 2016 Sony Pictures Entertainment/CTMG Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Spider-Man: Homecoming. A younger Spider-Man (Tom Holland) with a more gadget-filled suit joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe and takes on a new bad guy in Vulture, played by Michael Keaton. Oh, and Iron Man makes an appearance, too. The visual effects accomplishments in the previous webbed-avenger films are well known, and this looks to up the ante. Huge New York set pieces, a dramatic airplane fight, a splitting ferry sequence and significant blending between an on-set and digital swinging Spidey suit are key attractions. Plenty of VFX studios get involved, including Industrial Light & Magic, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Digital Domain and Luma Pictures. Director: Jon Watts. Visual Effects Supervisor: Janek Sirrs. Method VFX Supervisor: Matt Dessero was also Assistant VFX Supervisor for production.

Transformers: The Last Knight (Photo credit: Paramount Pictures/Bay Films. Copyright © 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

Transformers: The Last Knight. Since the first Transformers film in 2007, Industrial Light & Magic has continued to innovate in bringing to life giant metallic robots on the screen, both in terms of animating, transforming and rendering them amid the frenetic, almost chaotic, style of Michael Bay’s franchise. The Last Knight goes into the past and present this time around, reformatting our memories of the role of Transformers in history. It also goes into space. There is more over-the-top action, of course, while the director also plays with the use of IMAX 3D cameras for stereo. Among other studios, Industrial Light & Magic, MPC, Atomic Fiction and Scanline VFX are making the images happen. Director: Michael Bay. Visual Effects Supervisor: Scott Farrar.

War for the Planet of the Apes (Photo copyright © 2016 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.)

War for the Planet of the Apes. Over the past two Apes films, Weta Digital has managed to deliver stunningly real performances – with War looking even more brutal in nature. As in the previous outings, the filmmakers have been able to rely on the digital characters without any fear of going for extreme close-ups or worrying about fur interaction. The apes even appear on horseback. Credit must also go to the motion-capture acting carried out by Andy Serkis (Caesar) and his contemporaries, along with a crew that has enabled wireless capture in some incredibly challenging locations. The result is an environment that lets actors simply act, and a workflow that brings the apes to the screen as living, breathing and emoting characters. Director: Matt Reeves. Visual Effects Supervisors: Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Photo copyright © 2016 EuropaCorp. Valerian SAS – TF1 Films Production. All Rights Reserved.)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Director Luc Besson has said of his 1997 sci-fi classic The Fifth Element that he was frustrated with the visual effects challenges at the time (both miniatures and relatively early digital approaches were used). Twenty years later, he has been able to rely on performance capture, vast bluescreen sets, and photoreal digital environments and characters to make his latest space adventure Valerian possible.

Plenty of practical creature and set work are in there, too. The film, based on the comic books by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and one that Besson has reportedly wanted to make since he was 10 years old, has several visual effects vendors. The bulk of the work is being handled by Industrial Light & Magic, Weta Digital and Rodeo FX. Director: Luc Besson. Visual Effects Supervisor: Scott Stokdyk.

The Dark Tower. Based on Stephen King’s epic fantasy novel, The Dark Tower is set in an alternative universe where gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) searches for a way to save his own world. Expect an array of unusual dystopian imagery, creature effects and portal transportations, thanks to several studios, including MPC. Director: Nikolaj Arcel. Visual Effects Supervisor: Nicolas Aithadi.

The Dark Tower Photo credit: Ilze Kitshoff Copyright © 2016 Sony Pictures Entertainment/CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Dunkirk (Photo copyright © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Village Roadshow (BVI) Limited and RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Dunkirk. Much is often made of director Christopher Nolan’s desire to shoot everything ‘for real’, but it is probably more correct to credit Nolan with using all the tools that are available to him. If full-scale boats or aircraft work for a shot, he’ll use them; if miniatures are more appropriate then these will be adopted; and if computer-generated imagery gives results, then that’s what will appear on screen. All three techniques appear to be part of the mix for Dunkirk, the story of the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of allied troops from northern France during World War II. Footage so far includes ships at sea, ships being destroyed and planes making bombing runs. On-set photographs even show cardboard cut-outs standing in for hundreds of soldiers on the beach. Double Negative is handling the visual effects, made all the more challenging by the use of IMAX 65mm and 65mm large-format film stock for maximum impact. Director: Christopher Nolan. Visual Effects Supervisor: Andrew Jackson.



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