The Academy Award for best Visual Effects is a strange one. Not because it represents the outstanding creativity, visionary ideas and groundbreaking changes that helps drive the entertainment industry, but because all the nominees are from the fantasy genre (which, until recent years, have been largely ignored for the MAJOR awards like Best Picture which favor dramas). It makes sense given the fact that Movies are first, last and always a visual medium (there is a reason we still flock to theaters instead of staying home to watch them) and that well executed fantasy films are lost without them, so this years films in this category are no different. It is interesting to point out that 80% of them are from source material written for children, and in the case of more than one of them, could not have made a successful transition from their various pages to modern cinema without the visual effects talents of today.

Life of Pi – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan de Boer and Donald R. Elliot
Life-of-PiThe tale of a boy’s journey across the Pacific Ocean after a shipwreck in a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger. That’s right, a Bengal Freaking Tiger. The effects used by the Life of Pi visual team almost have an animated feel to them, but this serves to up the dreamlike quality of the story and isn’t that what special effects are supposed to do? Enhance the movie, not drive it. Too often producers think amazing effects will mask a sub-par film. This is certainly NOT the case with Pi (it is also nominated for Best Picture).

Snow White and the Huntsman – Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson
Snow-White-and-the-HuntsmanSpeaking of movies that use SFX to cover up their own mess (we’re supposed to believe that Kristen Stewart is hotter than Charlize Theron? There’s a SFX I’d like to see), Snow White and the Huntsman, while not unappealing, is by no means groundbreaking. Repetitive and adequate is more like it. If this one wins I will have a poisoned apple nearby to eat.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, Kevin L. Sherwood and David Clayton
The-Hobbit-GollumWhat can you say about Peter Jackson and his team that countless academy nods haven’t already. Sweeping, stunning wide shots showing middle earth as it was 60 years before the rise of Sauron compliment the intricate, desperate labyrinth of the underground Goblin Kingdom, not to mention the incredible use of motion capture for Gollum. The only thing working against it is the fact that we have seen it before.

Marvel’s The Avengers – Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick
The-AvengersHow the hell do you bring a comic book to life? By getting Joss Whedon and the above mentioned team to kick some SFX ass, that’s how! While some comic book based movies are too busy being grim to worry about spectacular (Batman) and way to heavy on CG to truly allow suspension of disbelief (Spiderman), the Avengers manages to find a distinct balance between the epic and the sublime, which is exactly as the world appears in the classic comics. Every effect is appropriate for its designated scene, be it demonstrating the various superpowers of the characters to the myriad of almost futuristic technology that permeates this fantastic world.

Prometheus – Charley Henley, Trevor Wood, Richard Stammers and Martin Hill
PrometheusWhatever you say about Prometheus, you have to say this. In the sprawling, vast and terrifying exoticness that is space (occupied or not), this movie makes use of SFX with a fierce purpose. Unlike The Hobbit, which can feel claustrophobic at times, even during the outdoor shots, the effects team on Prometheus presents a universe that is beautiful and empty and conveys a real feeling of hopeful despair.

PREDICTION: While I would love to see Marvel’s The Avengers get the nod (sorry, I am a fanboy at heart) I have to predict that Life of Pi will ultimately win. It’s a long shot for Best Picture and Best Director, and part of this is because “More were impressed by his (Ang Lee’s) visual work than the storytelling.” (USA TODAY). That statement, along with the phenomenal work of the artists involved, should have this award as a lock for Life of Pi.

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 6: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 8: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards