headThis past Thursday night, the Visual Effects branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences met to vote for the five VFX nominees at this year’s Oscars. As expected, voters were highly impressed by the frontrunners Gravity and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But the fellow potential nominees were no slouches either. Presentations of the special effects work behind Pacific Rim, World War Z, and others left quite an impression as well.

According to Indiewire’s Bill Desowitz, Academy Award winner Joe
Letteri was on hand to present the multitude of work that went into crafting the magical wonders brought to the screen in The Desolation of Smaug.

…Letteri explained that “Smaug” upped its digital character count to 60 (including every Orc) and that director Peter Jackson wanted to shoot the spider fight dimensionally to take advantage of stereo. The barrel flume chase set piece was both live-action and CG, containing real rapids, a circular track, and 20 tons of digital water. But naturally the CG Smaug was the centerpiece (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), totally keyframed and requiring complexity in facial animation, focusing on tongue, eyes, and lips. However, the addition of two forefingers and thumb on his wings effectively gave him hands to gesture with.

Click here to read the full Indiewire article, which details the presentations of the rest of the potential VFX nominees.

I think it’s no great secret that Gravity is this year’s presumptive winner (especially if the film is nominated for Best Picture), but it is nice to see Smaug so warmly received in the nomination period. Last year, so much talk was centered around the 48 frames per second controversy that is seemed the actual visual effects work might be consumed by it. This year, the focus seems correctly placed upon the work itself, and I’m happy to see that. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see our film on the nominations list for this category next week (along with, hopefully, a few more).

Nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 16, and the Oscar ceremony will be held on Sunday, March 2.