Watch VFX breakdowns of the 2017 VES Award winners
MPC’s creature work on The Jungle Book won the studio two of its five awards at the Visual Effects Society’s 15th annual celebration of the world’s best VFX projects. See all of the 2017 VES Award winners below.
The Oscars and the Emmy Awards may capture more column inches, but when it comes to a detailed, informed celebration of the amazing work of visual effects artists, nothing quite beats the VES Awards.
Held last night at The Beverly Hilton hotel, the Visual Effects Society’s 15th annual awards ceremony featured the very best in effects work, from movies like The Jungle Book and Deepwater Horizon to TV series Game of Thrones and Black Sails, and animated features Kubo and the Two Strings, Finding Dory and Moana.
Other projects ranged from MPC’s charming ‘Buster the Boxer’ ad to amazing student short BreakingPoint.
Below, we’ve put together a full run-down of the winners, complete with breakdown videos of the CG work and links to articles providing further technical information. Dig in and enjoy.
The Jungle Book
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature
Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature
Outstanding Animated Performance in a Photoreal Feature
Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project
Jon Favreau’s VFX remake of The Jungle book was one of the night’s big winners, taking home five awards.
MPC handled digital environments and most of the creature work, with MPC VFX supervisor Adam Valdez sharing the award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature with overall VFX sup Rob Legato, VFX producer Joyce Cox, animation supervisor Andy Jones and special effects supervisor JD Schwalm.
In total, MPC created 54 species of CG animals, totalling 224 individual creatures, along with a huge library of plants, trees and rocks developed from over 100,000 source photographs shot by its Bangalore studio.
MPC’s team – FX supervisor Oliver Winwood and lead FX TDs Fabian Nowak, David Schneider and Ludovic Ramisandraina – also took home the award for Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature.
You can see some of the key effects, which include mudslides and floods simulated in Scanline VFX’s Flowline, and smaller elements created in Maya, in MPC TD Tommi Saaristoranta’s demo reel above.
Updated 18 February: MPC has just released an official breakdown reel of the simulations, showing a range of other FX types, including fire, debris, and even honey.
Weta Digital – in the shape of animation supervisor Paul Story, previs lead Dennis Yoo, lead facial motion editor Jack Tema, and facial modeller Andrei Coval – took home the award for Outstanding Animated Performance in a Photoreal Feature for its work on Christopher Walken-voiced Gigantopithecus King Louie.
The 11-foot digital creature was groomed in Barbershop, Weta’s in-house tool, and rendered in its Manuka renderer. Animation was keyframed based on reference footage of Walken’s facial performance and mocap reference recorded by director Jon Favreau himself.
Weta’s compositing team – Christoph Salzmann, Masaki Mitchell, Matthew Adams and Max Stummer – also won the award for Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature.
The Jungle Book’s final award was for the virtual cinematography, and was shared by cinematographer Bill Pope, Rob Legato, John Brennan, and Digital Domain‘s virtual production supervisor Gary Roberts.
The simulcam set-up used on the bluescreen stage generated a real-time composite of live elements, motion capture and previs. According to fxguide, the system was orchestrated by Technoprops, with mocap cameras from Animatrik and a virtual camera system controlled by Digital Domain.
Game of Thrones: Season 6
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode
Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project
Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project
Outstanding Animated Performance in an Episode or Real-Time Project
Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode
Game of Thrones was the night’s other big winner, generating five awards, including the overall award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode for episode 9: ‘Battle of the Bastards’.
Described by GQ as a true ‘holy fuck’ moment, the epic clash between the armies commanded by Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton was recreated digitally by Iloura, while Rodeo FX handled earlier shots of the city of Mereen under attack. Rhythm & Hues and The Third Floor also worked on the episode.
Iloura VFX supervisor Glenn Melenhorst and Rodeo FX VFX supervisor Matthew Rouleau shared the award with overall VFX sup Joe Bauer, VFX producer Steve Kullback and special effects supervisor Sam Conway.
Rodeo FX also took home the awards for Outstanding Created Environment and Outstanding Effects Simulations for its work on Mereen City. The studio created 65 shots showing the city under attack from a fleet of ships, simulating the flaming cannon balls and the destruction they wreak, along with sails and water.
Environment department supervisor Dominic Daigle, CG artist Alexandru Banuta and digital matte painters Deak Ferrand and François Croteau won the award for the digtal environment itself, while former studio FX supervisor Thomas Hullin, FX TDs Dominik Kirouac and James Dong, and Flame operator Xavier Fourmond won the award for the simulations.
Rhythm & Hues created the dragons seen in the shots, with animation director James Kinnings, animation supervisor Michael Holzl, rigging supervisor Matt Derksen and animator Joseph Hoback winning the award for Outstanding Animated Performance in an Episode or Real-Time Project for their work on Drogon.
Iloura also won a further award for Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode, with compositors Dominic Hellier, Morgan Jones and Thijs Noij sharing the prize with VFX artist Caleb Thompson.
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature
Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project
Industrial Light and Magic won two awards for its VFX in Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg’s dramatisation of the explosion of the eponymous offshore drilling rig, responsible for the worst oil spill in US history.
VFX supervisors Craig Hammack and Jason Snell and compositing supervisor John Galloway shared the award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature with VFX producer Petra Holtorf-Stratton and VFX supervisor Burt Dalton; while modeler Kelvin Lau, painter Jean Bolte, CG supervisor Kevin Sprout and texture artist Kim Vongbunyong won the award for Outstanding Model.
ILM’s breakdown video (above) gives a sense of the complexity of recreating the rig digitally.
“The derrick was the most complicated [part of the work],” Craig Hammack told Art of VFX. “It has to appear clean, covered in mud, on fire, melted and finally we see it collapse [sometimes in] extreme close-ups. That, and it’s basically full of flat surfaces [which] are often the hardest to make look real and non-CG.”
Black Sails: Season 3
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode
Black Sails, Starz’ prequel to Treasure Island, took the award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode. Both Digital Domain and Important Looking Pirates contributed shots to Season 3, Episode 2, with Digital Domain creative director Aladino Debert and ILP head of 3D Yafei Wu sharing the award with producer Erik Henry, VFX producer Terron Pratt and special effects supervisor Paul Stephenson.
The ships were handled in Maya and the simulation in Houdini. “We developed a way to bring basic Houdini water controls into Maya so our animators could work with the ships in a more realistic manner,” says Debert. “After we were happy with the overall animation, both of ships and waves, we would export the ocean surface settings (the stuff we could control in Maya, anyway) and bring it into Houdini for finish[ing].”
John Lewis – ‘Buster the Boxer’
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial
Outstanding Animated Performance in a Commercial
Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial
As The Jungle Book wasn’t enough, MPC took home a further three awards for its work on the Christmas ad for UK department store chain John Lewis. The charming ‘Buster the Boxer’ shows a family dog distressed to discover that the local wildlife is making creative use of the new trampoline in his owners’ back garden.
The spot features six CG animals, many seen in extreme close-ups and slo-mo shots, with MPC buidling its “most advanced rigs yet” for the work, along with proprietary software to handle skin sliding.
VFX supervisor Diarmid Harrison-Murray shared the overall award with CG supervisor Fabian Frank, producer Hannah Ruddleston and 3D artist William Laban, while animation supervisor Tim van Hussen, animator David Bryan, 3D artist Chloe Dawe and lead character TD Maximilian Mallman won the animation award.
According to van Hussen, the trampoline itself was a “seventh character” in the ad, and provided almost as big a technical challenge as the CG creatures themselves. “A trampoline surface is very fluid: it moves around and completely changes shape and height depending on the weight of each animal,” he pointed out.
MPC also won the award for Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial for the work, with VFX supervisor Tom Harding and compositors Alex Snookes, David Filipe and Andreas Feix sharing the honours.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature
LAIKA‘s dazzling Japanese-themed fantasy adventure was a worthy winner in the animated feature category. Director and studio CEO Travis Knight took home the award with VFX supervisor Steve Emerson, animation supervsior Brad Schiff, and development producer Arianne Sutner.
The bulk of the work is stop-motion – you can see an amazing timelapse here – using LAIKA’s signature approach of 3D printing blendshapes (“tens of thousands”, according to The Verge) for the facial animation.
However, shots that couldn’t be completed practically still required digital effects, as revealed in the breakdown above posted by former LAIKA rigging and asset creation lead Grant Laker.
Outstanding Animated Performance in an Animated Feature
An undoubted highlight of Pixar‘s latest animated feature, Finding Dory’s curmudgeonly octopus Hank won the award for Outstanding Animated Performance in an Animated Feature for his creators: shading TD Jonathan Hoffman, animator Steven Clay Hunter, character TD Mark Piretti and simulation TD Audrey Wong.
Character supervisor Jeremie Talbot told CNET that one engineer worked on Hank for six months “figuring out a new type of curve that the tentacles could use”.
“To make an octopus squish and squash yet [have something] that animators can grab any part of … was a matter of breaking [the rig] into individual pieces and putting it together again,” he said.
Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature
Industrial Light & Magic‘s work on mind-bending Marvel superhero flick Doctor Strange won the studio its third award of the night, for Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature.
Environments supervisor Adam Watkins shared the honours with CG supervisor Tim Belsher and generalist supervisors Martijn van Herk and Jon Mitchell for their work on the digital recreation of New York.
Sadly, the only making-of video we can find shows the movie’s Hong Kong sequences – also created by ILM – but fxguide has a great article on the effects.
Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature
Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature
Walt Disney Animation Studios won two awards for Polynesian-set fantasy comedy Moana: one for the environments, shared by head of environments Larry Wu, layout supervisor Rob Dressel, environmental modeling supervisor Brien Windman and art director Andy Harkness; and one for its simulation work, shared by effects supervisor Dale Mayeda and effects artists Marc Bryant, David Hutchins and Ben Frost.
Along with off-the-shelf tools like Maya and ZBrush – shown in this general making-of footage – the studio made use of its Matterhorn physics solver and Hyperion renderer on the movie. CNET has nice mini-documentaries on the creation of living volcano Te Ká (above) and on Disney’s water effects.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
Through its Imagineering arm, Disney also won a third award, for the live attraction Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, installed at Disneyland Shanghai. Executive producer Amy Jupiter and show programmer David Lester shared the award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project with Bill George and Hayden Landis, VFX supervisors at Industrial Light and Magic.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project
Naughty Dog won the sole games-related award for its critically acclaimed action adventure Uncharted 4, with game director Bruce Straley sharing the prize with VFX artists Eben Cook and Iki Ikram.
The video above, posted by former Naughty Dog senior FX artist Matt Radford, gives some idea of the scope of the visual effects, which include extensive fire, liquids and destruction work.
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project
Last, but not least, incredible thesis project BreakingPoint won its creators the award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project. Directed by Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg student Martin Lapp, the VFX short uses a series of incredible slow-motion sims to depict a street exploding around its lead actress.
Lead TD Johannes Franz, TD Nicole Rothermel, art director Thomas Sali and pipeline developer Alexander Richter shared the award for the effects, which took the small student team eight months to create.