An Early Look at Some of the Titles That May Be in the Running As Awards Judging Begins

We have about a month left to go before the Academy reveals the slate of films on the shortlist to be considered for the Best Visual Effects Oscar. The race can be hard to predict — witness last year's results, when the modestly budgeted Ex Machina surprised everyone by not only finding its way onto the list but by winning the big prize.

So who is likely to be up for the award this year? As usual, it's hard to say. An executive committee in the Academy's VFX branch will review a list of all eligible motion pictures and select the shortlist of films — 20 at the most — that will be considered for the Oscar. Members are asked to judge films based on the contribution the VFX make to the film as a whole, as well as the "artistry, skill and fidelity" of the VFX work itself. That shortlist is next whittled down to a shorter list of 10 films to be considered for nomination. The producers of those films will be asked to provide clips from the film and background information on the techniques used for consideration at the annual "VFX bakeoff" where the VFX branch gathers and votes on the final slate of nominees.

What follows is by no means an exhaustive list. But it is StudioDaily's best guess at which films are likely to make the cut — and which films might just sneak into the race. Let us know who and what we missed in the comments.

Sure Things

Listen to StudioDaily's extended interview with VFX supervisor Robert Legato about The Jungle Book.

The Jungle Book
VFX Supervisor: Robert Legato

The Jungle Book is not only a lock on a VFX nomination, but it's also likely to take the trophy home. Building on the kind of CG creature animation pioneered in Life of PiThe Jungle Book goes a big step farther by generating a photoreal digital environment with equally convincing animal characters for its live-action protagonist to interact with. It's one of those boundary pushing achievements that all but demands industry kudos.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
VFX Supervisor: John Knoll

Never underestimate John Knoll, ILM or Star Wars. Unless there is something badly underwhelming about this highly anticipated prequel, Rogue One is almost certain to be a contender if only for the sheer quantity of top-notch effects work required to tell a Star Wars story.

Solid Prospects

VFX Supervisor: Joe Letteri

Some viewers have never quite warmed up to motion-captured performances, feeling that the animation that results can feel oddly cold. But even some of the naysayers gushed over Mark Rylance's performance as the BFG, the 24-foot tall Big Friendly Giant from Roald Dahl's children's novel. And some viewers went as far as suggesting Rylance could receive awards attention for the role. The movie earned good reviews from critics but paying audiences weren't quite as friendly — and that could hold The BFG back at the Oscars.

Captain America: Civil War ​VFX breakdown from Cinesite

Captain America: Civil War
VFX Supervisor: Dan Deleeuw

Marvel movies are always VFX heavy, though they are not necessarily a ticket to an Oscar nomination. But this one's getting some extra attention for its centerpiece 20-minute-long airport fight scene — which takes place in a mostly digital, V-Ray-rendered environment — as well as Spider-Man's redesigned and much remarked upon all-CG garb.

Doctor Strange
VFX Supervisor: Stéphane Ceretti

While we're on the subject of Marvel movies, viewers have been entranced by Doctor Strange, with its trippy cityscapes, time-bending spells and alternate dimensions. Not only does the VFX work deviate widely from typical superhero movie visuals, it also stands out when compared to anything else at the multiplex. That is likely to generate goodwill among VFX artists who recognize that ingenuity behind the scenes drives that kind of creativity on screen.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
VFX Supervisors: Tim Burke and Christian Manz

The return to the Harry Potter universe has "VFX spectacle" written all over it — and the buzz out of early screenings is positive. (That's good news for Warner Bros., which plans to make four more of these.) If great VFX work is part of a winning formula, Fantastic Beasts could earn favor with the VFX branch.

Could-Be Contenders

​Deadpool VFX breakdown from Atomic Fiction

VFX Supervisor: Jonathan Rothbart

The most wildly profitable superhero movie of the year was Deadpool, which earned more than $750 million despite an R rating and a budget of just $58 million. A nod from the VFX branch would acknowledge the movie's origins in a widely circulated VFX test reel, as well as the vision of the movie's VFX-artist-turned-director, Blur Studio co-founder Tim Miller — who recently departed the sequel over "creative differences" with his star, Ryan Reynolds.

Deepwater Horizon
VFX Supervisor: Mark Russell

If Deepwater Horizon was going to work, its depiction of an explosion on board an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico had to feature CG that merged seamlessly with practical effects to convey the urgency of a tragedy in the making. That meant VFX had to match perfectly with in-camera elements, and set extensions had to make the physical environments look believably massive without drawing attention to themselves as visual effects. The film isn't completely reliant on VFX for its overall impact — but it wouldn't be the same without them, either.

Listen to StudioDaily's extended interview with VFX supervisor Peter Chiang about Star Trek Beyond.

Star Trek Beyond
VFX Supervisor: Peter Chiang

Director Justin Lin wanted to make a Star Trek movie that would boldly go into the future while still honoring the legacy the series established through the decades. That was the brief for a VFX team that gently redesigned the starship Enterprise while developing the ominous geometric "swarm ship" attacks that would rip her into pieces. Even transporter beams and the jump to warp speed got a rethink. The result was a film that looked great, and serves as a signature moment in the ongoing rebirth of the franchise.  

X-Men: Apocalypse featurette from 20th Century Fox

X-Men: Apocalypse
VFX Supervisor: John Dykstra

VFX buzz for X-Men: Apocalypse has centered around "The Extraction," an elaborate, show-stopping action set piece starring fan-favorite mutant Quicksilver in a slow-motion rescue scenario that culminates in a huge explosion. 

Long Shots

Hardcore Henry VFX breakdown from Zero VFX

Hardcore Henry
VFX Supervisor: Dan Cayer (Zero VFX)

It's probably an understatement to say that Hardcore Henry is not your typical Oscar movie, and its budget makes the $15 million 2016 winner Ex Machina look downright profligate. But as long as we're spitballing, it's tempting to wonder how much other VFX artists might admire the work — much of it invisible — that went into making this a crazy first-person ride.

Voyage of Time
VFX Supervisor: Dan Glass

You wouldn't ordinarily consider an IMAX documentary an Oscar contender for VFX, but this is no ordinary IMAX documentary. It's directed by Terrence Malick, meaning awareness is high among Academy members, and its subject is the birth of the cosmos, meaning VFX plays a key role in the imagery, along with live-action footage, scientific simulations, and more. It has an outside chance of making the cut.

VFX Supervisor: Bill Westenhofer

Earning less than $50 million at the U.S. box office on a reported budget of $160 million, Warcraft was not a hit, and that will likely hurt its chances with the Academy. But it was a labor of love on the part of director Duncan Jones, who gave it his all. ILM brought a new facial-capture system to the production to help bolster Jones' confidence that the orcs who were an important part of the story would register as real characters, and not just CG creations. And to make sure the performances of the actors playing the orcs would still work after they were scaled up in VFX, motion-capture technology was used on set to let Jones see what the finished shots involving both orcs and humans would look like as he captured them.