Top Gun: Maverick, which grossed more at the box office last year than any other film, enjoyed an extensive press tour in which the film’s efforts to faithfully capture aerial combat were chronicled in news outlets around the world. One thing was hardly discussed: the visual effects that helped bring it all home, but which might undercut the idea that everything seen on the screen was real.
That changed at Saturday’s visual effects branch bakeoff for Oscar nomination voting, which offered a look inside the visual effects for Maverick.
Presenting to branch voters, Top Gun: Maverick‘s VFX team described how Tom Cruise’s hit movie was made with real flying and inventive cinematography by cinematographer Claudio Miranda, which was then augmented by visual effects in some 2,400 shots. (To give this number some context, 2022 VFX Oscar nominee Spider-Man: No Way Home included 2,500 VFX shots, though the type of work in the shots of course varies greatly by the needs of the film.)
The goal of Maverick was to actually film as much as possible, practically, and complete the rest with photoreal VFX. As explained during the bakeoff, this included creating and adding some CG planes, some gimbal work for select needs, as well as adding missiles, plumes of smoke, and explosions in the aerial action scenes.
In some shots, the actors could not be filmed in the correct aircrafts and so these jets were digitally augmented or replaced in postproduction; this included shots that involved the fictional prototype aircraft at which Maverick reaches Mach 10, as well as shots that involved the Navy’s F14, a model that was retired in 2006. The VFX presentation also revealed that there were many digitally-enhanced environments as background in aerial sequences.
The Maverick presentation began with VFX supervisor Ryan Tudhope, who described the work of the team, led by VFX house Method (which is now a part of Framestore), as branch members viewed a making of clip reel that included select before-and-after shots. Per the bakeoff format, this overview was followed by a 10-minute reel featuring the work on the film. The team of potential nominees then came to the stage for a short Q&A with branch Governors.
The event, held at the David Geffen Theater at the Academy Museum, repeated this format for all 10 movies that are shortlisted for the Oscar in visual effects.
In addition to Maverick, the shortlisted movies include presumed frontrunner Avatar: The Way of Water, as well as impressive work on All Quiet On The Western Front, The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Jurassic World Dominion, Nope and Thirteen Lives.
The Way of Water presentation highlighted new tools and techniques including underwater performance capture and new facial and water simulation systems that were developed for the making of the movie, which was screened in 3D during the bakeoff. The work across the shortlisted movies involved a wide range of challenges. That included “invisible” effects to tell stories, such as those featured to create WWI battles in All Quiet or the Thai cave rescue in Thirteen Lives; and creature work, such as the dinosaurs of Jurassic World Dominion or the beasts of the Secrets of Dumbledore.
The range of work involved in the shortlisted movies included underwater cinematography and effects work in Wakanda Forever, sending Doctor Strange through the multiverse, supporting the visual style of DP Greig Fraser’s gritty Gotham City, and creating Nope’s skies and UFO.
Branch members will now vote on which five movies will earn Oscar nominations. Voting runs through Feb. 17 and nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced on Jan. 24.
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