Nominations voting is from January 11–16, 2024, with official Oscar nominations announced on January 23, 2024. Final voting is February 22–27, 2024. And finally, the 96th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 10, and air live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT. We update predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2024 Oscar picks.
The State of the Race
“Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros.), the sequel to the VFX Oscar winner, is the early favorite. It has the design and tech advantages that DNEG brought to “Dune” but on a much grander scale. Its strongest competition from the first half of the year comes from “Oppenheimer” (Universal), “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Lucasfilm/Disney), “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Marvel/Disney), and “The Little Mermaid” (Disney).
Meanwhile, the rest of the contenders include “Wonka” (Warner Bros.), “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” (Paramount), “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” (Paramount), “Barbie” (Warner Bros.), “Blue Beetle” (DC/Warner Bros.), “John Wick: Chapter 4” (Lionsgate), “The Creator” (20th Century Studios), “Napoleon” (Apple), and “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures).
In Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part Two,” Timothée Chalamet returns as Paul to fulfill his messianic destiny by leading the nomadic Fremen of Arrakis to war. According to the trailer, “Part Two” contains explosive, large-scale battle sequences on land and in the air with the flying dragonfly ornithopters; Paul pitted against Austin Butler’s Feyd-Rautha, the bald, sword-wielding, psychotic assassin; Paul riding the sandworm; and Paul witnessing a massive explosion. Thus, we can anticipate more complex work from DNEG (production supervised by Paul Lambert), improving on the previously established VFX techniques. This includes the innovative sand screens for composited, layered background desert shots, the naturalistic-looking exterior and interior ornithopter shots, and the CG elements that go into the look and movement of the prehistoric-looking sandworms.
The most serious challenger is “Oppenheimer.” Christopher Nolan’s biopic thriller about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) utilizes elaborate VFX from DNEG for the explosive Trinity test and to visualize the look of quantum physics inside Oppenheimer’s mind. Production VFX supervisor Andrew Jackson collaborated closely with SFX supervisor Scott Fisher to shoot lab experiments in aquarium tanks for the simulated liquids and other materials for the quantum physics sequences. Everything was shot in camera (including 65mm IMAX) and then manipulated, layered, and composited in the computer. Same for the atomic blast, which was a series of large and small practical explosions treated and composited in the computer. The reason that Nolan can claim that there was no CGI in the film is because there was not a single shot derived from CG simulation. The fact that less than 20 percent of the DNEG artists were listed on the end credits is an unfortunate oversight that does not detract from the excellence of their mostly compositing work.
The de-aging of Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” was an impressive tech breakthrough by ILM that should get strong Oscar consideration, despite the film’s disastrous box office performance. What’s more, the “ILM FaceSwap” utilized every tool in their VFX arsenal and was achieved with the help of more than 100 artists. This was no AI-dependent solution (though machine learning compiled and analyzed the hundreds of hours of footage of Ford from the first three “Indiana Jones” movies). The key was the actor’s on-set performance and his agility, coupled with the successful implementation of the light-based capture system called FLUX and the shot-specific remedy to complete the work, including lots of keyframe animation.
James Gunn’s “Guardians” finale became a touching Rocket story (including his painful origin story as a cruel lab experiment), and Framestore was integral in pulling off the animation with complicated fur interaction. In addition, Framestore made use of an expanded Groot design to make him a stronger and more powerful character. Wētā FX returned as well to principally create the colossal, ruby-covered spaceship, the Arête, and an entire city surrounding the Arête that was loosely based on Seattle.
For Rob Marshall’s live-action reworking of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” Framestore did the impressive “Blue Planet”-inspired undersea animation, including the CG versions of Sebastian (voiced by Daveed Diggs), Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina). It all came together in a reinvention of the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea” number. Additionally, MPC created sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) in layers for her “Poor Unfortunate Souls” musical number and destructive finale.
Paul King’s (“Paddington”) “Wonka” musical origin story, starring Chalamet as Willy Wonka, contains VFX by Framestore. From the trailer, it has a Victorian “Harry Potter” meets “Oliver! vibe. There’s flying for joy over his magical candy and all sorts of other whimsical confections and animal creatures. There’s also the old-fashioned trick of forced perspective with Hugh Grant’s tiny Oompa Loompa. But the simulated chocolate is a character all its own.
The “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” prequel offers a new wrinkle worth considering. It features the first-time team-up between the Autobots and the Maximals. MPC and Wētā took over from ILM, with the former doing the design and both sharing the robot animation. The beast-like Maximals, which mix fur and flesh with their metal parts, offered some new challenges, while Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) was made more human-like in keeping with a character arc as part of his origin story.
“Dead Reckoning,” which got caught in the box office crossfire between “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” upped its VFX game for Tom Cruise’s spy franchise. ILM provided a CG version of the Fiat 500 for the Rome car chase, vast background terrain builds for the sky diving sequence, and a combination of techniques for the spectacular Orient Express train sequence. This is where the train plummeted from the high, exploding bridge, one carriage at a time. The FX team split the full digital bridge into the individual bricks and ballast that would be created in the construction of an actual bridge of that period and design and used that as the basis for full rigid body destruction simulations. Dust, smoke, and water simulations were then used to enhance the atmospherics and water splashes that were in the photography.
As for the rest: Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster “Barbie” has 750 invisible CG shots from Framestore, including backgrounds for Barbie Land, blue screen for set pieces, and wire removal; “Blue Beetle,” in which Xolo Maridueña’s superhero is a symbiotic host to an alien biotech relic, sports nano tech-looking VFX and other explosive action from Digital Domain and ILM; “John Wick: Chapter 4” boasts 1,523 digital shots from several VFX companies to create incendiary shotgun shells, a blind assassin’s eyeballs, a CG dog, and hundreds of ring finger removals; Gareth Edwards’ “The Creator,” about a futuristic war between humans and AI, contains bots, CG environments, and explosive action from ILM; Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” starring Joaquin Phoenix as the legendary French emperor, touts epic battles, massive crowds, and background enhancement (including Egyptian pyramids used for target practice) from MPC and ILM; Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” a wild, Victorian “Frankenstein” gender-bender, touts electrical lab experiments, background enhancement and assistance with cross-bred animals from Union VFX.
Potential nominees are listed in alphabetical order; no film will be deemed a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” “Oppenheimer” “The Little Mermaid” “Transformers: Rise of the Beast”
“Barbie” “Blue Beetle” “Dune: Part Two” “John Wick: Chapter 4″ “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” “Napoleon” “Poor Things” “The Creator” “Wonka”