2014 VFX Sneaks: Rise of the Anti-Hero

Anti-heroes join superheroes this year with the return of Captain America, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Transformers, Apes, Godzilla, and The Hobbit along with such newcomers as Guardians of the Galaxy, Noah, Jupiter Ascending, and Interstellar.

RoboCop (Columbia Pictures, Feb. 12)

Brazilian director Jose Padilha takes a crack at updating the ’80s classic. As he told me at  Comic-Con, it’s perfect storm of politics and robotics, recasting Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy. The timely actioner co-stars Gary Oldman as the scientist who rebuilds him, Michael Keaton as the OmniCorp head who exploits him, Samuel L. Jackson as the skeptical TV commentator, and Abbie Cornish as his concerned wife. Going more practical whenever possible, there’s still plenty of VFX support from Framestore, Mr. X, Peanut FX, Method Studios, Modus FX, Perception NYC, Soho VFX, and Cinesite.

300: Rise of an Empire (Warner Bros., March 7)

Director Noam Murro picks up where Zack Snyder left off, jumping back and forth, to tell the story of King Xerxes’ rise to power in fifth-century-BC Persia. Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, and David Wenham return to action. Rhythm & Hues, MPC Vancouver, Cinesite, and Scanline VFX add the stylistic touch aided by IMAX 3D.

Divergent (Summit, March 21)

Neil Burger adapts Veronica Roth’s popular novel about a dystopian Chicago where people are forced into five categories based on their personalities, until Tris (Shailene Woodley) defies categorization. Look for VFX augmentation from Method Studios and Scanline VFX.

Noah (Paramount, March 28)

Darren Aronofsky gets celestial once again with his take on the first Biblical environmentalist (Russell Crowe), who suffers “survivor’s guilt” after building the Ark and starting anew. ILM’s VFX looks extraordinary, from the wonderfully art directed fluid simulation to the menagerie of animals (the most complicated rendering in its history considering the variety of furs and colors). Can’t wait to see the giant six-armed angels. Overall, the production design and cinematography by Mark Friedberg and Matthew Libatique are exquisite.

Captain America: Winter Soldier (Disney, April 4)

Anthony and Joe Russo direct and Oscar-contending Robert Redford helps turn up the heat in this fish-out-of-water story about Cap (Chris Evans) trying to survive in the confusing modern world. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) join forces to fight the mysterious Winter Soldier. ILM returns for the VFX mayhem aided by Scanline VFX, Quantum, Luma, and Legacy.

Transcendence (Warner Bros., April 18)

An AI researcher (Johnny Depp) downloads his mind into a computer to achieve technological singularity. Wonder if he’s seen Her. Cinematographer Wally Pfister steps away from mentor Chris Nolan to direct his first feature with VFX help from Double Negative.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Columbia Pictures, May 2) 

Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker encounters Electro (Jamie Foxx) in Marc Webb’s sequel to the Spidey reboot. “I kept on going back to the single moment where Peter Parker was left by his parents,” Webb told me at Comic-Con. “Realistically, anybody’s whose parents disappeared in a very urgent or chaotic manner when he was six or seven-years-old, that’s going to have a huge emotional impact. And that moment is more definitive than even the spider bite. It defined the character and the movie in a very specific way for me.” Sony Pictures Imageworks takes the VFX lead once again, with more emphasis on practical stunts enforcing the physical language and informing the animation that takes over the second-half.

Godzilla (Warner Bros., May 16) 

Gareth Edwards (Monsters) attempts a Toho-inspired reimagining of the beloved Kaiju that’s organic and melancholy. The cast is led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Juliette Binoche. Jim Rygiel is the production VFX supervisor and MPC is the lead VFX studio.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Fox, May 23)

Bryan Singer returns to unite the casts of the original and prequel for a trippy time-travel thriller in 3-D. To prevent the annihilation of mutants and humans alike in a dystopian future after a political assassination, Hugh Jackman’s conflicted Wolverine is recruited by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) to recruit their earlier incarnations (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) for the ultimate battle. They are joined by Halle Barry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and newcomers Booboo Stewart (Warpath) and Omar Sy (Bishop). Digital Domain and MPC share VFX duties on this one.

Maleficent (Disney, May 30)

Rob Stromberg, the two-time Oscar-winning production designer (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland), makes his directorial debut, and infuses the look with a grim, fairy tale stylization (legendary Rick Baker provides makeup). Told from Maleficent’s point of view, Angelina Jolie provides menace and pathos. Digital Domain, Framestore, and MPC combine on the VFX.

Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros., June 6) 

More time-tripping with Tom Cruise as a futuristic soldier trying to thwart an alien invasion while caught in a Ground Hog Day-like loop. Doug Liman directs and Cinesite, Framestore, Nvizible, and Sony Pictures Imageworks, among others, create the VFX.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount, June 27)

A mechanic (Mark Wahlberg) and his daughter (Nicola Peltz) make a discovery that brings down Autobots and Decepticons. This time Michael Bay introduces the Dinobots, and is co-produced by China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises, with filming in Hong Kong and China. ILM raises the bar once more with bigger and better bots.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Fox, July 11)

Matt Reeves takes over as director of the next two sequels, and Andy Serkis returns as the revolutionary Caesar in a battle for the planet of the apes. Reeves expands on the emotional connection with Caesar while upping the realism of Weta’s performance capture, shooting more of the ape stunts on location for more believable physicality. The cast includes Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smith-Mcphee, Enrique Muriciano, and Kirk Acevedo.

Jupiter Ascending (Warner Bros., July 18) 

The Watchowskis are back with a more commercial adventure than the underrated Cloud Atlas but still offering plenty of social commentary. Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a Russian immigrant who cleans toilets but who shares the same “perfect” genetic makeup as the Queen of the Universe. Since Jupiter poses a threat to the Queen’s rule, she hires Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically-engineered interplanetary warrior, to kill her. But he turns protector when learning of her heritage. Dan Glass (Cloud Atlas) is the production VFX supervisor and John Gaeta (Speed Racer, The Matrix trilogy) the VFX designer with Method Studios, Framestore, and Double Negative sharing duties.

Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney, Aug. 1)

James Gunn directs one of Marvel’s more off-beat properties. These social misfits are the anti-Avengers.  Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, who finds himself the target of a manhunt after stealing a mysterious orb. He is pursued by villainous Ronan and must join forces with four unlikely teammates: Rocket Raccoon, a gun slinging raccoon (Bradley Cooper); a sentient tree named Groot (Vin Diesel); the enigmatic, green warrior Gamora (Zoë Saldana); and the vengeful Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). MPC and Framestore provide VFX.

Interstellar (Paramount, Nov. 7)

Chris Nolan gets celestial in this “heroic interstellar voyage to the furthest reaches of our scientific understanding.” Shot partially with IMAX cameras, Matthew McGonaughey leads the expedition, which co-stars Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Mackenzie Foy, Timothée Chalamet, Topher Grace, David Oyelowo, Ellen Burstyn, and Michael Caine. Paul Franklin (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception) serves as VFX supervisor and Double Negative does the honors.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I (Lionsgate, Nov. 21)

Of course, Lionsgate decided to split Suzanne Collins’ final book into two movies.  Director Francis Lawrence turned the grittier Catching Fire into a bigger blockbuster than the original ($846.7 million globally so far).  Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) reluctantly leads the districts of Panem in a rebellion against the tyrannical and corrupt Capitol, with war leading to all-out destruction. Lawrence was after a very naturalistic visual style and seeing the world through Katniss’ eyes will continue to inform the VFX.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again (Warner Bros., Dec. 17)

In Peter Jackson’s third and final Hobbit movie begins with Smaug’s attack on Lake-Town, the confrontation with the dragon, the Battle of Dol Guldur, the Battle of Five Armies, and the return journey. Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug and the Necromancer, and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. Weta Digital, of course, puts the finishing VFX touches.


Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Clips, Movies, performance capture, previs, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production

Add a Comment