Oscars Season: 'Star Wars' vs. 'Mad Max' in the Race for Best Visual Effects

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The Academy Awards are on February 28th, and over the next month I’ll be providing a series of articles adding context to some of the Oscar races and controversies of this, a roller-coaster year in film. I’ll keep it light to start, holding back some of the more serious debates until we get closer to the actual awards ceremony.

With 2015 marking the 40th anniversary of special effects powerhouse Industrial Light and Magic, a good place to start is the visual effects category. All five of the films nominated deserve the recognition. Ex Machina created new thresholds between real and synthetic skin textures. The Martian took us into space in the most photorealistic depiction of Mars I’ve seen. The Revenant had that bear. But when it really comes down to it, nothing this year can compare to the sheer intensity and visual beauty on display in both Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Choosing which of these two films will take home the coveted visual effects Oscar is a task tantamount to choosing a favorite child.

First we have the ILM team going back to where the company started: Star Wars. The blending of practical and computer effects in The Force Awakens was a relief. Where George Lucas shot his prequels on cavernous green sound stages, asking his actors to act almost entirely without tangible elements to react to, J.J. Abrams took Lucas’ original approach, combining creature makeup, costuming, set design, stunt work, and puppets with top notch digital effects from ILM. The Oscar nominations lists Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Chris Corbould, and Neal Scanlan (who previously won an effects Oscar for his work on Mad Max director George Miller’s Babe) for the award, but there’s no doubt that an entire army of designers, engineers, animators, and artists was responsible for the film’s onslaught of seamless effects. Just take a look at this demo reel highlighting the execution of those effects…

Then there’s Fury Road, and George Miller’s even greater insistence on using practical effects and stuntwork. The CGI Miller does choose to employ throughout the film is minimalist and effective, but the action and the relentless motion of the design and dynamic of the film is truly something to behold. Listed on the nomination for Fury Road is Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, and Andy Williams who represent the Australian effects house Iloura. Take a look at the demo reel of the effects, both practical and digital, from Fury Road

Now back to the tough question; which film would you pick if you were an Academy voter?

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