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‘We tried a million things’ – the oral history of Sphere’s sphere

Illustration by Aidan Roberts.

Barry Levinson’s 1998 film Sphere, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, brought with it a diverse array of visual effects straddling both the practical and digital worlds. Its central ‘character’, the sphere itself, was a CG creation by Cinesite, and proved to be one of the toughest design challenges on the movie.

Overall visual effects supervisor Jeff Okun and Cinesite laboured for months over the appearance and textural qualities of the sphere, which needed to be other-worldly, ‘perfect’ and non-reflective – all at the same time. In this oral history of the sphere, vfxblog looks back with members of the visual effects team on the film at how the CG creation was realised – even actor Samuel L. Jackson hilariously weighs in.

Note: Okun’s comments are taken from the fantastic documentary appearing on the Sphere DVD called ‘Shaping the Sphere: The Art of the Visual Effects Supervisor’, while Jackson’s words are from those he made during the audio commentary on the Sphere DVD.

Industry news: Iloura merges with Method Studios, and the lost Pirates 3 interview


Sister visual effects studios Iloura and Method, both owned by Deluxe, are combining under a single brand – Method Studios.

Iloura, an Australian VFX studio with a 30 year history in Melbourne and Sydney, had in particular been knocking it out of the park recently with killer work on projects such as Game of Thrones, Fury Road, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and many other feature films and TV shows. And Method, itself a studio with a rich 20 year history, continues to be a major contributor to big visual effects films, including Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

You can read more about Iloura and Method’s long histories in VFX and about their new combined pipelines at, but after hearing about them coming together into one brand, I wanted to share a fun story about one of my first interactions with Method from more than a decade ago.

The first time I tried to cover a project by Method Studios, it actually didn’t work out. Well, an interview happened, but I never published it. This was in 2007 for the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, in which Method Studios contributed 13 shots of miniature Jack Sparrows (Johnny Depp) hanging around the dreadlocks of the larger Jack.


It was a cool sequence – dubbed ‘Little Jacks’ – and one that involved, I thought, some nice compositing to integrate live action miniature Depps into the plates. I was publishing occasional interviews on vfxblog back then, and after some Method employees answered my questions, I looked to put the piece online.

Except, there was a problem.

I wasn’t able to get any images from that scene (this was a Disney issue, nothing to do with Method). Without any visual aids to go with the story, I never published it. Back then, it was hard to source images (sometimes it still is). And although YouTube had been around for a couple of years, it was extremely rare for specific clips to be available at the time.

Ten years later, that’s all changed. So now, here, only a decade late, is my first ever vfxblog interview with Method, with plenty to illustrate it from At World’s End. And I hope to continue to cover the great work of Method, including by the teams in Sydney and Melbourne from the former Iloura offices, into the future.

5 visual stories from 5 VFX Oscar nominees


Over the past year I’ve been able to cover the visual effects in all of the films nominated for the VFX Oscar – Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes. Now in this special series of visual stories, I’m pin-pointing a specific scene or character from each nominated film with just one of the nominees from that movie. Find the stories below:

How the orange haze of Blade Runner 2049’s Las Vegas meant 13 hour renders

The story behind those crazy dioramas in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Inside Kong: Skull Island’s final battle

The making of The Last Jedi’s crystal foxes

The art of translating humans to apes

Inside Kong: Skull Island’s final battle


There are a number of fierce fight scenes in Kong: Skull Island – one of the most intense is the final battle between Kong and a giant Skullcrawler. ILM handled the complex sequence, which included not only extensive character animation, but also a photoreal jungle and water environment and plenty of effects simulations.

Academy Award nominee Scott Benza was ILM’s animation supervisor on Kong: Skull Island. The other Oscar nominees for this film in the VFX category are Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White and Michael Meinardus. Here Benza details how that final fight came together.