January 24, 2008 4:00 AM PST
Newsmaker: Oscar nominee reflects on making movie magicSee all Newsmakers
Lucasfilm's Nicasio, Calif., Skywalker Sound division received four nominations, including three for best sound editing for its work on Transformers, Ratatouille, and There Will be Blood, as well as an additional nomination for sound mixing for Ratatouille.
Over in San Francisco, Industrial Light & Magic also got in on the game. As happened last year, ILM received two of the three best visual effects nominations, this time around for Transformers and for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
For Pirates, the third film in the franchise's sequence, the Academy gave the third-straight nomination to John Knoll and Hal Hickel, who won the Oscar last year for their work on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
But also at ILM, Transformers drew Oscar nominations for visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar, a four-time nominee and one-time winner, and for animation supervisor Scott Benza and associate visual effects supervisor Russell Earl, both first-time nominees.
At ILM, which in many ways laid the groundwork for the current visual effects industry, last year's win was its first in 13 years. It is clearly hoping that its double nomination this year will mean it doesn't have to wait another 13 to win again.
For Benza, the nomination came just days after his 10th anniversary at ILM, and Transformers is just the latest in a string of projects he's worked on with director Michael Bay.CNET News.com caught up with Benza on Tuesday morning--his first press call since finding out he'd been nominated--to ask him about the honor and about the experience of working on Transformers.
Q: Tell me a little bit about what it's like to get your first nomination.
Scott Benza: I couldn't sleep very much last night. I got up really early and logged on to the Oscar Web site. CNN had a more up-to-date broadcast of what was going on. It just feels great. You look forward to this, from the beginning of (your) career. A couple of years ago, a supervisor asked me what I hoped to achieve in the next five years, and I just boiled it down to getting an Academy Award nomination.
Tell me a little about your background.
Benza: I've worked at ILM for 10 years now. I've worked on quite a few films, including many of Michael Bay's films, starting with Pearl Harbor. And before Transformers, I worked on The Island. I also worked on two Star Wars films, episodes II and III, and a few others. I've been lucky to work on movies I've been excited about and the most excited I've been about a project was Transformers.
Why is that?
Benza: I specialize in big, heavy things--mechanical things--and really emphasize realism. So it was a good mix of all the things that I find I'm good at. Bringing characters to life that were also robots was right up my alley.
Can you explain the visual-effects process?
Benza: Everything starts with artwork, the look of the film. The designs of the characters are all defined on paper with a team of artists ahead of time. Sometimes productions will hire ILM to do the artwork ourselves, as we've got a team of talented artists. Or they'll hire an outside art department. Everything we do is based on that art as far as effects are concerned, from the way the plates are shot, the pre-visualization sequences are done--all based on the artwork.
The next step is usually the pre-viz, which is animatics for the effect sequences. That's basically a cartoon version of how the action beats in the film are going to play out. It gives us a kind of a guideline to go from. The people on locations will shoot background plates and the action scenes based on these. Once those background plates are shot, we get a copy of the animatics and the background plates, and we combine the two.
Once we've done our thing it gets passed along the line to the people who make it look real, apply lighting, and match the lighting that was on the set that day--as well as natural phenomena like smoke, water, fire, all the type of things that makes photography totally integrated and feel real. We do that process maybe 20 times on any given shot. It takes us several weeks of time to produce just a couple of seconds of screen time.
How long does this whole process take?
Benza: I was on Transformers for over two years, and finished just about a month before the film released. They pushed us right to the very end.
What raised Transformers to the level of an Academy Award nomination?
Benza: The level of realism that the artists were able to achieve. If the audience doesn't believe that what they were seeing was real, then we have a hard time keeping them interested. So the advances in lighting and rendering are very important as well.
If the characters moved in a way that immediately told the audience that something was fishy or fake about their movement, they would question it and it would take them out of (the film viewing experience). So we paid extra special attention to make sure that the robots had a sense of weight and a believable performance when they had to act. We took what we've learned on other movies and took it to the next level.
Were you very familiar with Transformers as a franchise before you worked on this?
Benza: Yes, definitely. I was a fan of the cartoon and the toys when I was a kid. I didn't follow it as closely as a lot of people here. I found out soon after starting on the movie that there were people here who followed this franchise unbelievably closely, which was a great resource to have, to be in some of these early meetings where they were talking about some of the things that happened in the Transformers franchise. Just being able to ask the experts about those things, was so invaluable.
And how helpful was your own familiarity with the franchise?
Benza: It's helpful knowing what the characters are about, what their attitudes are, and what their personalities are. It's important for those personalities to come across in the film, and to know where they came from helped us out a lot. I think (director) Michael (Bay) appreciated it. He was a fan, but not one of those hard-core fans, so to be able to tell him that this particular character probably wouldn't do that in this situation but he would do this...he was open to those types of suggestions.
1 commentJoin the conversation! Add your comment