The 95th Academy Awards are almost here (March 12th), and the nominations are in. Of course, there are the usual shocks and surprises. One of the biggest surprises was the Oscar love for multiverse adventure Everything Everywhere All at Once, which scored a whopping 11 nominations, including Best Picture, where it’s up against a diverse list of strong competitors that includes
All Quiet on the Western Front,
Avatar: The Way of Water,
The Banshees of Inisherin,
Top Gun: Maverick,
Triangle of Sadness and
It also racked up a Best Directing nomination for The Daniels — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — who join nominees The Banshees of Inisherin’s Martin McDonagh, The Fabelmans’ Steven Spielberg, Tár’s Todd Field and Triangle of Sadness’ Ruben Östlund — the latter another big surprise, as Avatar: The Way of Water’s James Cameron and Elvis’ Baz Luhrmann were left out, along with Top Gun’s Joe Kosinski.
The other big surprise? Streamers have lost steam. Last year they scored nearly 40 nominations and CODA became the first streamer to win Best Picture. This year, it was half that number and Netflix’s All Quiet On The Western Front is the only streamer nominee in the top category.
With all that in mind, we now present our annual look at some of the nominees.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
BEST PICTURE/ BEST DIRECTOR
Inspired by films like The Matrix and Fight Club, the Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once is a head-turning sci-fi action adventure ostensibly about an exhausted Chinese-American woman (Michelle Yeoh) who can’t seem to finish her taxes. Full of maximalist gonzo energy and mind-bending visuals, thanks to the work of DP Larkin Seiple and VFX supervisor Zak Stoltz, the result is a wild and entertaining genre-defying ride. Even the directors have a hard time defining exactly what it's about.
“There’s the family drama answer and the sci-fi answer and the philosophy answer,” Scheinert says. Or, you could say it’s a kung-fu flick that hops around multidimensional universes, with Michelle Yeoh as a reluctant savior figure at its center. The post team included supervising sound editor Brent Kiser, MPSE, sound designer Andrew Twite, and sound services were by Unbridled Sound. The extensive roto and paint work was done by Rotomaker and Noa Graphics Studios. VFX and animation were handled by Danny Madden, and the DI was performed by colorist Alex Bickel at Picture Shop.
The Banshees of Iinisherin
Set in 1923 on a mythical and remote island off the west coast of Ireland, The Banshees of Iinisherin follows lifelong friends Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship, leading to disastrous, anarchic consequences. The film, another darkly-comedic drama from Martin McDonagh, who previously received the Best Director Oscar nomination for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, was shot on location on Inishmore and Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland. The writer/director’s key crew included DP and regular collaborator Ben Davis, production designer Mark Tildesley and editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen. Carter Burwell composed the score.
Steven Spielberg, a two-time Best Director Oscar-winner (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan), has always been drawn to projects about family and childhood. And although the veteran filmmaker is in the twilight of his long, storied career, he’s currently on a roll, earning his ninth Best Director nom for his latest film, The Fabelmans, which explores the often difficult dynamics of family and parent/child relationships. The deeply personal and semi-autobiographical film is also a love letter to the power of movies, as it tells the coming-of-age story of Sammy Fabelman (Spielberg’s alter ego) and his filmmaking dreams.
To make the heartfelt film, Spielberg reteamed with key longtime collaborators, including DP and two-time Academy Award winner Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan); editor and three-time Academy Award winner Michael Kahn (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List); editor Sarah Broshar (West Side Story, The Post); and composer and five-time Academy Award winner John Williams (Schindler’s List, Jaws).
Both intimate and epic in its scope, the film charts how young Sammy’s first amateurish teenage films gradually morph into more ambitious and grander spectacles. To capture the former, Spielberg had his alter ego shoot with 8mm turret cameras of the period — a Kodak Brownie, a Eumig and a Bolex. Spielberg admits the quality of Sammy’s films is much better than the ones he himself made.
“I wish I could’ve recreated my 8mm films to the amateurish degree I shot them at when I was a kid,” he says, “but I wasn’t able to resist finding a better place to put the camera in 2021, when I made the movie, than where I put the camera in 1961.”
In the end, to make the footage work, Spielberg and his DP actually shot with both 8mm and 16mm, and in post degraded the 16mm footage to resemble 8mm film. The result is movies that look homemade, but which have a higher quality of film emulsion that hints at Sammy’s innate talent.
By contrast, the tornado sequence, in which Sammy’s mother, Mitzi, piles Sammy and his sisters in a car to chase a tornado ripping through their neighborhood, was the most technically-tricky challenge of the film. After shooting the sequence with practical effects, the footage was enhanced by ILM, which augmented the bad weather. To complete the VFX, Spielberg and Kaminski then shot the actors and car on ILM’s StageCraft virtual soundstages in Manhattan Beach, CA, surrounded by the vehicle’s POV footage projected on massive LED screens.
Joining the uber-prolific Spielberg is a director at the opposite end of the spectrum, writer/director Todd Field. It’s been 16 long years since his last film, the Oscar-nominated Little Children, but the wait has been worth it. His new film, Tár, another highly-polished, multi-faceted gem, which he also produced, is an immersive and gripping drama about erotic obsession, the beauty of art, as well as the ugliness of abusive behavior, all set in the highbrow world of classical music. It stars Cate Blanchett, Oscar-nominated for her powerful turn as the titular character, Lydia Tár, a superstar conductor and musician who’s also something of an obsessive dictator who carefully micro-manages her famed career and public image, while off-stage her messy private life begins to spiral out of control.
Behind the scenes, Field collaborated with DP Florian Hoffmeister, also Oscar-nominated, who worked closely with colorist Tim Masick at Company 3 on the film’s distinctive dramatic look. The 65-day shoot was “especially challenging, as we shot in so many locations, ranging from New York and Berlin to Southeast Asia,” reports Field.
Post was equally challenging.
“We began editing and all the post at the start of 2022, and were supposed to do it in Vienna and London, but both had COVID lockdowns. So, we came up with another plan, which was to move to this 15th century nunnery outside Edinburgh, Scotland, and we were just surrounded by sheep and nature, and no distractions. It was amazing, as we had nothing to do except edit seven days a week.”
Monika Willi, the Austrian editor known for her longtime collaboration with Michael Haneke on such films as The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf, The White Ribbon and Amour, cut it, and the post team were able to do a lot of ADR sound work and Foley because of the quiet setting. Files were sent back to Stephen Griffiths, the sound designer in London. After finishing this first part of post, the team headed down to London and Abbey Road for the first temp mix, and to work with colorist Tim Masick and VFX super Jake Nelson on the 300 VFX shots. Nelson and his crew at Residence Pictures did the bulk of them. Framestore was involved in stitching plates shot in New York for LED stage work shot in Berlin. Alchemy 24 did some cleanup, and Syndicate did some compositing work. The final mix was done with Deb Adair at Abbey Road.
Director Baz Luhrmann is well-known for his flamboyant style, and Elvis is an epic and larger-than-life tale well-suited to his sensibilities. It conjures up the life and times of the greatest and most influential performer to ever grace a rock ‘n’ roll stage. Starring Austin Butler as the poor white kid from Tupelo, MS, who forever changed American music and culture, the film is told from the POV of his Svengali manager, Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), and takes audiences on a wild hayride — from the singer’s then-shocking hip-swiveling moves of the ‘50s to the karate chops and bloated excesses of Vegas in the ‘70s.
It was shot by Aussie cinematographer Mandy Walker, also Oscar-nominated, who has collaborated with Luhrmann on several projects, most notably his 2008 historical epic Australia. The team divided the story into two parts and used different lenses to tell the story. For the first part, where Elvis is growing up in Tupelo, the DP shot spherical, and used a desaturated look with pushed blacks. Once the story moved to Las Vegas, they used anamorphic lenses, with old glass from the period. Because the real locations in the US have changed so much since the Elvis era, the film was shot on the biggest stages at Village Roadshow in Australia, and on three backlots for the carnival and Beale Street scenes.
The filmmakers built all the stages and auditoriums for the concerts and shows, and didn’t use any real theaters. This meant using a lot of blue screen and set extensions, especially for the big concert scenes.
“The film’s full of big sequences, like the famous ’68 Comeback Special set piece,” notes Walker. “That was huge, as it was the high stage and backstage area, along with about a third of the audience, and all that was built, along with the whole studio and control room. So we used bluescreen for the rest of the audience and extending the auditorium. It was the same for the 'hayride,' the early concert sequence. We had about a third of the audience and built the whole stage and backstage again. And we used a lot of set extensions for stuff like Beale Street. We built four blocks, but just one level. So the second story and rest of the street was all added in post.
“Everything was very carefully planned out, and we did a lot of tests in prep so we all knew exactly what was in-frame and what would be added later in post,” she adds. “The Russwood Park concert is another good example. We shot all that on a black stage, and I put up stadium lights and that sequence was all extended as well. All the split-screen stuff was all pre-planned too, and the VFX team worked closely with us and did a great job of integrating with our in-camera work. So I was quite involved in integrating all the VFX and post work with them, and we had a lot of VFX companies, like MPC and Luma, working on it.”
Other VFX companies included Method, Slate, Mr. X, Rising Sun Pictures and Cumulus VFX.
The DI was done at The Post House in Brisbane, who also handled all dailies and processing, with dailies colorist Kim Bjorge, who ended up becoming the DI colorist. Walker did all the sessions remotely, as she was in LA at Warner Bros. on the lot in their DI suite and could see all the images from The Post House in realtime.
“We did quite a lot of work, especially adding some LiveGrain, to match the older film stocks, and for when we intercut with archival footage, and for stuff like all the 8mm home footage sequences,” she reports. “And VFX also added a lot of artifacts to those scenes. The finished film you see is very close to how our dailies looked. It really did turn out the way we first pictured it.”
Women Talking, about a repressive religious community, and Triangle of Sadness, a satire about the mega-rich, are also in the running.
VISUAL EFFECTS & POST WORKFLOWS
“Go big or go home” could be Oscar’s VFX mantra, and this year’s contenders — All Quiet on the Western Front (Frank Petzold, Viktor Müller, Markus Frank and Kamil Jafar); Avatar: The Way of Water (Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett); The Batman (Dan Lemmon, Russell Earl, Anders Langlands and Dominic Tuohy); Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Geoffrey Baumann, Craig Hammack, R. Christopher White and Dan Sudick); and Top Gun: Maverick (Ryan Tudhope, Seth Hill, Bryan Litson and Scott R. Fisher) all went big. But none went bigger than James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, the de facto frontrunner.
All Quiet on the Western Front
To create the alien world of Pandora, Cameron reteamed with Weta’s VFX supervisor Joe Letteri, whose work on Avatar won him the Oscar. But the project was so challenging that it also needed a team of ten additional VFX supervisors and nine animation supervisors, including Baneham (Lightstorm visual effects supervisor/virtual second unit director); Pavani Boddapati (VFX supervisor for Metkayina Village and the reefs); Jonathan Nixon (FX supervisor for water and fire VFX); Wayne Stables (VFX supervisor on the jungle scenes); and Dan Barrett and Eric Saindon (senior VFX supervisors, Weta FX) — all supervising and coordinating an army of over 2,000 artists and VFX technicians.
No wonder that Letteri, who also won Oscars for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and King Kong, reports that the film is “the largest and most complex VFX film Weta FX has ever worked on, and the biggest I’ve ever done.”
The team ultimately worked on a total of over 4,000 shots and there were 3,289 shots in the final film, 2,225 of which were water shots.
“There were only two shots in the whole film that didn’t have any VFX in them,” he notes. To deal with the challenges, the team began working on motion capture in 2017, and also started on all the VFX work and prep, including building the models and doing character and facial studies. The team also developed breakthrough facial performance software called APFS, which allowed them to do facial performance, either from capture or animation, or a combination, at a detailed, granular level.
Avatar: The Way of Water
Another big challenge was that while the first film was largely set in the rain forest. This new release is largely set underwater, and the team had to develop the technology needed for underwater performance capture.
“We rebuilt our entire simulation approach and used a global simulation methodology within our new in-house Loki framework, which allowed us to deal not just with all the water, but also textures, like skin and cloth and hair,” Letteri explains.
The team also developed a new ‘depth compositing’ system that gave a realtime composite in-camera without using any green or blue screen.
“That let us blend live action and CG elements so we could get a very close version of the final shot, even while we were on-set shooting a scene,” he adds.
The team relied heavily on their Manuka rendering technology, which provides realistic renders of environments and characters. It was developed for the third Hobbit film, “and it’s that framework that allowed us to build towards what we really needed for this film,” he says. “Unlike the renderers we’ve worked with in the past, which could only handle primaries — red, green and blue, Manuka allows you to work with light at all wavelengths. That really helps when you’re doing underwater stuff and was really critical to getting the look correct on key sequences, such as the Tulkun chase. That was very complex, as we also had half-a-dozen boats in the water and they’re all interacting, and everything’s interacting with the water, and you have the creatures breaching and swimming and diving. So that was a huge amount of water interaction on a vast scale, and incredibly demanding to pull off.”
With its own ambitious underwater sequences Black Panther: Wakanda Forever likewise needed an army of VFX artists and technicians from a raft of companies, including Digital Domain, Weta, ILM and Cinesite, all overseen by VFX super Geoff Baumann (Doctor Strange, Avengers: Age of Ultron). He reports that “the biggest challenge” was the world-building of the underwater city of Talokan.
“That encompassed the world itself, but the fact that it’s underwater created a whole other set of problems, both from a VFX standpoint and a practical one,” says Baumann. “Of course, creating Wakanda itself was also a huge challenge because of its sheer scale, but even though it was so complex in terms of the CG work, we’d already established it in the first film, so it was a known entity.”
The team worked closely with DP Autumn Durald in order to make the CG work match the practical, and did a lot of previs, overseen by the DP and Scott Meadows, the previs super at Digital Domain.
“But previs wasn’t as much of a bible on this as it usually is on other big, complex VFX films like this,” Baumann notes. “The director and DP had freedom to explore any ideas on the day of the shoot, and there were days when we didn’t shoot the previs at all.”
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Ultimately the film had over 2,400 VFX shots, and an extremely short post schedule. ILM did the bulk of the work — nearly 500 shots — and was responsible for Wakanda and the Golden City. Digital Domain did some 450 shots, and was mainly responsible for the third act and the battle on the ship at the end, and the desert battle, along with some underwater VFX. Cinesite in London and Montreal did about 300 shots. Weta did nearly 200 shots and most of the underwater sequences, including the journey to Talokan and the mining mission at the start of the film.
“We also had some shared shots in the third act, and various other vendors, including Rise, who had the third most shots,” adds Baumann. “In the end, we had over 17 vendors doing additional VFX, including Storm, Perception, SDFX, Luma, Base, Barnstorm, Basilic Fly, Digikore, Mist and Studio8. I’ve worked on many big movies, but this has to be one of the most complex and challenging ever in terms of what we did.”
To create the heart-pounding aerial maneuvers in Top Gun: Maverick, director Joseph Kosinski assembled a top-flight team behind the scenes that included VFX supervisor Ryan Tudhope (Blade Runner 2049), editor Eddie Hamilton (Mission: Impossible — Fallout) and his go-to cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Oscar-winner for his work on Life of Pi.
Top Gun: Maverick
“We integrated post and all the VFX right from the start, and did a fair amount of previz, especially for all the really tricky aerial sequences that had to be carefully choreographed,” reports Kosinski.
The grueling 130-day shoot included shooting on aircraft carriers and naval bases in California using dozens of cameras to capture the action, including such firsts as Tom Cruise actually launching off the carrier in an F18 jet. Post was based at producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s offices. Most of the VFX were done by Method in Montreal, supervised by Tudhope.
“He had an amazing team at Method, who did all the big, complex sequences, but there was so much to do that we also had a few other companies, including Lola, MPC, Gentle Giant and Blind Ltd. work on smaller stuff, clean up and cosmetic,” he adds.
All the sound design and temp mixing was done at Skywalker, and the final mix at Twickenham Studios in London.
VFX for the new German film of the classic war book “All Quiet on the Western Front” were overseen by VFX super Frank Petzold, a Tippett Studios alumnus whose credits include The Legend of Tarzan, The Ring and The Stepford Wives.
“We had about 500 VFX shots, but some of them were extremely long shots, such as the opening sequence, which goes on for nearly four minutes,” says Petzold.
The rotoscoping alone for some of those shots took three months to do, and many of the background shots had many layers, with smoke and different explosions. Petzold divided the work up between two shops: Prague-based UPP, with supervisor Victor Muller, who did most of the shots, and Cine Chromatix in Berlin, with supervisor Markus Frank. Tools included Maya for all the tank animation and elements breaking apart, Houdini and Nuke for shot layouts. Petzold with UPP 3D-scanned all the locations and sets, including the huge battlefield set and tanks.
“Having the scans allowed us to be able to apply texture quickly,” he says.
In the end, it took about eight months to complete all the VFX work.
The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves (The Planet of the Apes franchise), is a gritty, kinetic, intense take on the iconic character, and visually spectacular thanks to the work of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune) and VFX supervisor Dan Lemmon, who worked with Reeves on the Apes movies. The team shot as much as possible in-camera, and there was “very little blue-screen work,” reports Fraser.
“For instance, the amazing car chase and crash, where the Batmobile, which is chasing the Penguin, suddenly comes through this huge wall of flames before ramming the Penguin’s car, was all practical.”
But the film also made good use of VFX done by Weta and ILM to enhance such sequences.
“That car chase was a great combination of 1st and 2nd unit, VFX and special effects — a real grab bag of everything at our disposal,” notes the DP. “We shot it over three months, and we also used some disposable old Alexa cameras instead of the normal crash cams, and used some re-housed special lenses.”
For the DI, Reeves and Fraser worked with colorist David Cole at Fotokem.
“He did Dune and Vice with me,” says Fraser, “and we developed the look over several months of pre-production, and it was tricky, as we were in London and he was in LA, where we were going to post and do the DI. We had to create a LUT, and I love working with FotoKem because any LUT created for a digital sensor is created through film, with that film purity look. So the look was film-based, and we were able to do a skip bleach bypass and get exactly the look we were after.”