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Before the Gold: Best Visual Effects

This month we’re taking a look at this year’s Oscar nominees and digging into their past work to find hidden gems that you may have overlooked, or specific credits that may have influenced their Oscar-nominated work this year.

This year’s Best Achievement in Visual Effects nominees have a wide range of credits, from Game of Thrones to The Dark Knight. Of the twenty nominees, only three have won previously, which indicates the plethora of young artists in this category that is becoming more and more competitive and exciting every year. We’ll look at one nominee for each film:

Matt Sloan

Nominated for: Love and Monsters (shared with Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox)

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: District 9 (2009)

There may not seem to be much in common between director Michael Matthews’ PG-13 fantasy adventure comedy Love and Monsters and Neil Blomkamp’s dark and political sci-fi classic District 9, but you can most definitely see the influences in the visual effects, and Sloan made the most of his work on the Peter Jackson-produced Best Picture nominee.

Sloan was an onset visual effects surveyer for District 9, having contributed to the work that earned the film its 4 Oscar nominations, including Best Visual Effects. At the time, District 9 was considered groundbreaking in its use of immersive effects and the creation of “monsters” who were fully interactive with the human characters. Sloan clearly parlayed everything he learned on that groundbreaking film into his exquisite work on Love and Monsters.

Recommended viewing for other nominees from Love and Monsters:

Genevieve Camilleri: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

Matt Everitt: The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Brian Cox: The Matrix (1999)

Matthew Kasmir

Nominated for: The Midnight Sky (shared with Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins)

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: Gravity (2014)

There is no denying the visual effects wonder that director Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece, Gravity, was. The film was completely created on a soundstage, and the visual effects literally took the audience into outer space, earning the visual effects team a well-deserved Oscar for their groundbreaking work. 

Although Kasmir wasn’t a named Oscar-winner–he wasn’t even credited for his work as a visual effects supervisor–Gravity had to have influenced his work six years later, as he served as visual effects supervisor for director George Clooney’s futuristic, post-apocalyptic space-themed drama, The Midnight Sky. Clooney was one of the two stars of Gravity, so he obviously learned to trust Kasmir enough to hand him the reins to his personal but ambitious film that relies heavily on the audience believing they are in space and traveling across the desolate remains of Earth. Looks like, as usual, Clooney was right.

Recommended viewing for other nominees from The Midnight Sky:

Christopher Lawrence: Edge of Tomorrow (2014) (Lawrence is a 4-time Oscar nominee, winning for Gravity)

Max Solomon: The Golden Compass (2007)

David Watkins: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Seth Maury

Nominated for: Mulan (shared with Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, and Steve Ingram)

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: Maleficent (2014)

There aren’t many Disney stories that feature women in the lead, even fewer where the film is a full-scale historical epic, complete with massive battle scenes, wide vistas and detailed intricacy. Maury’s work as visual effects supervisor on Disney’s Maleficent surely prepared him to tackle Mulan, Disney’s live-action remake of their 1998 animated feature. 

Recommended viewing for other nominees from Mulan:

Sean Faden: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Anders Langlands: The Martian (2015) (Oscar nomination)

Steve Ingram: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Greg Fisher (our interview with him and his team can be found here)

Nominated for: The One and Only Ivan (shared with Nick Davis, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez)

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: The Jungle Book (2016)

There could possibly be no better preparation for the visual effects on The One and Only Ivan than having worked on director Jon Favreau’s inventive and brilliant The Jungle Book, Disney’s most ambitious and most successful live-action remake of one of their animated classics. 

Fisher’s work on The Jungle Book, as a head of animation, which contributed to the film’s visual effects win at the Oscars, clearly influenced the look and feel of The One and Only Ivan, which is filled with life-like animated animals. As Animation Director, Fisher was responsible for the insanely realistic yet gloriously artistic renderings, bringing all the animals to life, making Ivan one of the most beloved characters in film last year.

Recommended viewing for other nominees from The One and Only Ivan:

Nick Davis: The Dark Knight (2009) (Oscar nomination)

Ben Jones: World War Z (2013)

Santiago Colomo Martinez: Sherlock Gnomes (2018)

Scott R. Fisher

Nominated for: Tenet (shared with Andrew Jackson, David Lee and Andrew Lockley)

Previous nominations: Interstellar (2015) (Winner)

Hidden gem: Inception (2011)

Although Fisher won an Oscar in 2015 for his VFX work on Interstellar (along with co-nominee Andrew Lockley), it is probably his work on another Christopher Nolan film, Inception, that allowed Fisher to grasp exactly what Nolan was looking for with Tenet. While Fisher wasn’t one of the named recipients of the Oscar that Inception won for its Visual Effects in 2011, Fisher did serve as special effects coordinator, a significant contributor to the feast of effects featured in the groundbreaking Nolan film that stands as one of the most iconic effects movies in modern film history.

Tenet requires a unique blend of effects to propel the story forward, unlike other films, where the visual effects may be part of the background or simply designed to create atmosphere.  Like Inception, Tenet relies on the effects to set the stage and tell the story. Tenet could not exist without Inception, both for Nolan or for the special effects teams who worked on both. Just when you thought the effects couldn’t get any better than Inception, you get Tenet, proof that artists continue to get better and find ways to improve on perfection.

Recommended viewing for other nominees from Tenet:

Andrew Jackson: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) (Oscar nomination)

David Lee: The World’s End (2013)

Andrew Lockley: Rush (2013)

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