Sci-fi requires special effects, but 'Arrival' treats them with more restraint than you might expect.
When we spoke to Bradford Young, the DP of Arrival, earlier this year, he revealed how he and director Denis Villeneuve worked to unshackle themselves from the conventions of science fiction to create a more delicate—even mundane—visual approach. This subtlety permeated the entire production, including visual effects—an atypical choice for contemporary alien movies.
Oblique FX, which created this video showcasing some of their work on the film's effects, also worked on Denis Villeneuve's last film, the Oscar-nominated Sicario, in 2015. Under the supervision of Louis Morin, other effects houses on this project included Hybride, Rodeo FX, Framestore, Raynault VFX, Folks FX and Alchemy FX. You might never suspect the VFX army behind the film when you witness its seemingly organic visuals.
The team used standard tricks of the trade, including live element compositing, set extensions, and matte paintings, but not for the explosions or laser beams that we've come to expect from such films. Rather, we see CG vehicles, mountains, grass, light tweaks, and even an artificial sunrise behind the mountain range beside the ship—all of which are indistinguishable as manufactured elements.
While some of the VFX overlays (mostly featuring the alien ship) won’t surprise you, there’s a lot of seamless VFX work in Arrival, including military vehicles and compounds, backgrounds, and more. Morin told VFXblog, "All the helicopters, all the tanks, everything that’s got to do with the army is CG."
As for the some of the most arresting imagery in the film—the rolling fog—that’s 100% real.