First man

Did First Man deserve an Oscar for the best visual effects?

Universal studios on 12th November gifted us with a space epic movie – First Man. Directed by Damien Chazelle, this movie dramatises the ‘Giant Leap for Mankind’- the moon landing and the biopic of Neil Armstrong. The film was awarded an Oscar in the Best Visual Effects category at the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, defeating fellow nominees – Avengers: Infinity War, Christopher Robin, Ready Player One and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The Oscar was accepted by VFX supervisor Paul Lambert of the DNEG team who had also won an Oscar the previous year in the same category for Blade Runner 2049.

Was First Man’s Oscar a deserving one? Do you think Ready Player One was more rightful or any of the rest were more worthy?  Well, we leave that to you, but let’s talk about First Man. It deserved the Oscar not for the CGI-ed moon landing or the intense eye-popping space travel rather for relying more on in-camera effects than Visual Effects. Let us explain it.

Visual Effects
Image credits: ©DNEG.com

Damien Chazelle wished to work with practical sets and archival footage that would be able to capture the authenticity of this historical event. For this, they used the original never-seen footages of the Apollo mission which were in square format. Additional CG and matte paintings were then added to extend the square footage on either side to match the IMAX format.

IMAX format
Image credits: ©Universal studios 

Rather than counting on CGI, the First Man VFX crew filmed docking scenes using miniature models of various space shuttles, including the Saturn V rocket. Also for the launch sequence there wasn’t any green screen. How did they achieve it then? DNEG developed a 60 foot wide by 35 foot tall curved 180 degrees LED screen. The LED wall was the best option to get the clarity and brightness and capture as much in-camera as possible. As for the CG part, DNEG delivered around 430 VFX shots supervised by Paul who oversaw all the on-set VFX work as well as the VFX process in post-production.

post-production
Image credits: ©DNEG.com

The old-school technique of using miniatures and avoiding green or blue screen for live-action shots depicts the brilliancy of the VFX crew. As a general audience we have always stated that CGI is pleasing only when used in the right amount. Had it been over used, it would have distracted the viewers from immersing into the story.

VFX
Image credits: ©DNEG.com

DNEG CEO Namit Malhotra said: “It is a huge honour for the team’s work on First Man to be recognised with an Oscar.”

Apart from First Man and the other nominees, we would also like to appreciate another movie- Aquaman.  The visual effects used were truly artistic and absolutely outstanding. Achieving the floating effect and under water movements seem a bit more difficult than two people stranded in zero gravity. Unfortunately Aquaman wasn’t able to secure a nomination which it rightfully deserved.

Do you believe it to be an Oscar snub? Does First Man deserve this? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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