​Oscars 2016: Take our Best Visual Effects poll

A scene from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."


Which of this year's candidates for the Best Visual Effects Academy Award do you think should take home the Oscar?

Watch behind-the-scenes footage revealing the secrets of the FX artists by clicking on the video players below; then, vote in our poll at the end of this article!

"Ex Machina"
(Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett)

The FX house Double Negative created the semi-transparent humanoid Ava, erasing part of actress Alicia Vikander without distracting from her touching performance. Live action photography was tracked and replaced with CGI body parts (rather than created wholesale with motion capture), which were referenced from human musculature but with a mechanistic movement.

"Mad Max: Fury Road"
(Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver and Andy Williams)

Much has been made of the terrific practical effects of the post-apocalyptic adventure "Mad Max: Fury Road," shot on location in the Namibian desert, with a hundred specially-designed vehicles and some of the most thrilling stunt work ever put on film. But digital composition of various FX elements (melding vehicles together, adding CGI stand-ins, and replacing environments), day-for-night photography and coloring, and replacing Charlize Theron's arm with a prosthetic were key to making the film's extended chase fluid and believable.

Many of the approximately 2,000 FX shots don't even look like they've been touched by an FX artist, which is how it should be.

"The Martian"
(Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence and Steven Warner)

Like "Mad Max," "The Martian" made use of extensive location shooting, in the deserts of Jordan, to evoke the barren surface of Mars. But environments were extended digitally, blue skies replaced, and various weather elements added by MPC, to make the Martian surface appear even more brutal and threatening to Matt Damon's stranded astronaut.

Unlike "Mad Max," which was converted to 3D in post-production, all of "The Martian" and its effects were shot native in stereo with 5K RED cameras. (Go Pro camera footage had to be up-converted.)

One interesting touch an audience might not even think of as effects works was the helmet visors for the astronauts on the Martian surface: Since glass would reflect the camera and crew, the visors (and the proper reflections) were added in digitally afterwards.

The effects house Framestore created the Hermes spaceship and the zero-gravity performances for the actors aboard.

"The Revenant"
(Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer)

20th Century Fox

The vicious attack on Leonardo DiCaprio by a grizzly bear in "The Revenant" was achieved entirely with a CGI bear replacing a stunt performer. With footage of a real bear attack as a guide, the crew shot footage of both DiCaprio and a stunt man replacement - the camera hovering as close to the action as possible - and edited together various shots into one long take with Zeno, Maya and Renderman software. Details such as the fur of the bear and the menace of its face, breath, drool and blood added to the dramatic textures of the imagery.

Neither 20th Century Fox nor ILM has released behind-the-scenes footage of the bear attack FX, or even the clip itself (there are only about four seconds of the scene in the trailer), but there is a featurette about the film's Oscar-nominated makeup effects showing the gruesome result of the bear vs. DiCaprio matchup. Don't eat first!

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
(Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould)

Industrial Light & Magic outdid themselves in the latest "Star Wars" adventure, using every trick in the book - from on-stage effects work, practical explosions, animatronics and models, to animation, motion-capture performances, CGI ships and digital environments. They are blended seamlessly, and with so many effects shot on set with the actors, their performances are much richer than in many CGI-heavy effects films.

This terrific 10-minute reel from ILM (with commercial interruptions, unfortunately) shows before-and-after FX elements and final compositions for scenes from throughout the film (spoilers yada yada yada). Headphones - loud - are required.

Take our poll: Which should win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects?

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Winners of this year's Academy Awards will be announced on Sunday, February 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. The show will be hosted by Chris Rock.

For more info:

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.