February 7, 2014

Check Out the History of Academy Award-Winning VFX in This Incredible Retrospective

SupermanOne of the Academy Award categories that is fast becoming not only an industry favorite, but a fan favorite, is Best Visual Effects -- and for good reason. VFX have made it possible to tell impossible stories, ever more adeptly selling the illusion that what's up on-screen, be it Ryan Stone adrift in space or Tony Stark's exoskeleton, is absolutely real. With this year's Oscars is proving to be another big year for visual effects, with the nominations of Gravity and Iron Man 3 to name a couple, let's take a look at the last 37 years of Academy Award-winning VFX in this great retrospective by Nelson Carvajal.

The use of illusion, whether through special, visual, or other effects, has been employed since the days of Georges Méliès. Films like MetropolisThe Wizard of Ozand Jason and the Argonauts, displayed some of the most advanced and impressive special and visual effects of their time, but we've come a long way since the use of miniature models and matte paintings. CGI has taken effects from the top of the Empire State Building with King Kong to the deepest reaches of the universe (and beyond), but Visual Effects only solidly became a legitimate Academy Award category in 1995. (Special awards were given as early as 1938.)

It's absolutely incredible to see the evolution and growth of the art in this video by Carvajal (who also did that beautiful tribute to the career of Philip Seymour Hoffman). He includes films like Star WarsAlien, Terminator 2, and Spiderman -- which employ not only visual effects like CGI, but special effects like puppets and models. It makes one wonder what the future will hold for the art form.

Take a look at Carvajal's retrospective below:

In which ways do you predict visual effects with evolve -- what will be the next big thing? Who do you think deserves this year's Oscar for Best Visual Effects? Let us know in the comments below.

[via Nelson Carvajal & Studio Daily]

Your Comment

24 Comments

Great video, and some wonderful work there. What is quite heartening about this video is that despite the technology available at the time, you can tell that the artists behind it really tried to push the envelope with what was available to them. Some of the old stuff holds up really well. What will be the next big thing?

Modern visual effects is pretty much a factory production line now. A lot of the artistic 'holy grails' have already been mastered, and pretty much everything is achievable now. The future/now is all about just making it for quicker, and cheaper. Pipeline efficiencies as it's known.

February 7, 2014 at 8:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

6
Reply
Nick

>Modern visual effects is pretty much a factory production line now.

Bullshit Nick. It's the same now as it was back then but the tools are more sophisticated. I'm just finishing vfx on a tentpole film coming out in March and it's been down the wire a fight for creativity in the face of a lack of resources. The work is incredibly esoteric and requires many very specific skill sets to come together as well as a strong aesthetic eye. At this level, it requires an insane leap of faith to think we can pull off an ambitious shot and that the art direction will all come together.

It's opinions like yours that undervalue our profession.

February 7, 2014 at 9:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
koolaid

Agreed, Probably that came from someone who never worked in the industry. Every movie has its own challenges, you never know enough, your shot is never good enough, people never stop developing new tools. There are tons of super talented and creative people producing stellar work in this industry, for sure there's the factory part, but there's tons of creative and innovation before.
What has changed is the audience expectations towards effects, they don't forgive cheap effects anymore, the bar has been raised very high. Every year I can cite at least 1 big movie with never done before level of VFX.
2013- Gravity
2012- Life of Pi
2011- Rise of The Planet of The Apes
2010- Inception
2009- Avatar
and the list goes on

February 7, 2014 at 9:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Marcus

Agreed Marcus, every year one of the major shops does push the artistic envelope and does a really nice job. Contrary to what you may think I do actually work in the industry, and have been working on big tentpole films for near on 14 years. The reason why I cite pipeline efficiency as one of the future concerns of most big vfx studios, is that is it's a really tough business right now. The real benefit of pipe efficiency (or simplicity) is to free people up so they are actually focused on making nice looking work.

But I stand by what I said, big vfx houses are very factory like now (I work in one of the biggest I should know). It's actually a necessity. Complexity is higher, shot counts are bigger. More artists to manage.

February 8, 2014 at 3:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Nick

Are you a producer?

February 8, 2014 at 12:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

2
Reply
koolaid

@Nick As much as I agree with the factory part in some instances, you can't just summarize the whole industry to this. Of course when you're dealing with 1500+ shots you gotta streamline that somehow, otherwise you don't deliver.
Back in the day, effects teams were only 20 to 30 guys per company, now they can reach 1000 or more, of course not all the people are talented. But like I said, before the work get down to be streamlined it has to be thought out in advance, concept artists have to create fictitious worlds, story boarders and previs artists crafting sequences, talented sculptors building outstanding models, key animators developing new mechanics and style for movements, look development artists creating amazing digital cinematography, and the list goes on.
And then just after all this amazing process of creating this unique look that each movie will have, it goes down the pipe so they can propagate through a hell load of shots ( that's the factory you're talking about).
They are giving Oscars and nominations to digital cinematography these days, don't tell me it's the DOP, you know better they are never on our studio's floor, they are probably in the other side of the world looking at outstanding images saying yes or no.
It all comes down to which position you're holding in the studio, you may feel like an ant or you may feel like you actually can make a difference in the project.

February 8, 2014 at 12:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
Marcus

Watching it like this, 1993 was a benchmark year for VFX and that's exactly how I remember it. Jurassic Park was, and always will be, movie magic.

February 7, 2014 at 11:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

Only 2 movies in the last 25 years with visual effects/CGI that seemed to be way, way ahead of their time for me - Jurassic Park, and Terminator 2

February 8, 2014 at 1:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
South of JHB

Titanic, Avatar? you may have not liked the movies but you gotta give props to the vfx, they were definitely ahead of their time.

February 8, 2014 at 12:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Marcus

I'm just talking about a movie that had a clear leap from year to year. No doubt those were benchmark movies.

February 8, 2014 at 12:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

True, I was replying to South of JHB.

February 8, 2014 at 1:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Marcus

So apparently I am much more likely to see and enjoy films that win technical awards than films that win best picture.

February 7, 2014 at 11:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Dan

Hi guys, does anyone know who won in 1996, after forrest gump (95') and before titanic (97') ?

February 8, 2014 at 1:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Theo

apologies, I just watched the video to the end and have the answer :)

February 8, 2014 at 1:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

2
Reply
Theo

Given that this article has just followed the Red Dragon article, could someone comment on where resolution is going with VFX. Does the software presently render in 4K ?

February 8, 2014 at 3:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

1
Reply
Saied

Computer animation software resolution is only limited by your rendering hardware capabilities ... and/or how long you are willing to wait for renders. I could render 8k graphics with a free program like Blender 3D, IF I also had access to a sufficently powerful render farm. To expand on the old adage... Resolution = Time = Money.

February 8, 2014 at 7:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

5
Reply
Gene Locke

It's a travesty that Doug Trumbull didn't win for "Blade Runner" in 1982. That is a MAJOR oversight, if not the most glaring one.

February 8, 2014 at 6:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Jerome

It seems that Lucas' Industrial light and magic team has take over 50% of these.

February 8, 2014 at 9:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

4
Reply

CGI or practical effects and miniatures in workshop or healthy mix of everything - it brings magic to the screen. For that I'm thankful, especially looking back.

February 9, 2014 at 7:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Natt

I think Gravity is the clear winner this year.

February 9, 2014 at 10:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

+1

February 10, 2014 at 1:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
rob

Jurassic Park is monumental of course, but man! I always am amazed at how ahead of the game "Alien" was!

February 15, 2014 at 4:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Beebeedeedop

Pretty cool video, but I think it's pretty obvious that Gravity is going to win VFX this year, while the other films might have pretty decent CGI and a lot of it too, Gravity used the visual effects in the most effective way, which is the most important thing, to me anyway, but also to the academy it would seem if history is anything to go by.

On a side note it would be pretty cool to see a montage like this of all the academy award winning films, just to see how Cinema has grown.

February 16, 2014 at 8:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Snail

Nevermind I found a pretty awesome one on the same guy who made this video's vimeo channel. I'm guessing there's a bunch more out there too

February 16, 2014 at 8:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Snail