Let’s celebrate the 20th anniversary of this amazing First Contact vfx shot


It was the end of 1996, I had just finished high school and was discovering visual effects – in particular, the coverage of vfx in Cinefex – and then, Star Trek: First Contact came out.

There are some incredible vfx shots in the film. The opening pull-back from Captain Picard. The ship to ship battles. The Borg cube. But there is one single stunner of a shot by ILM – the assembly of the Borg queen – that blew me away. It wasn’t until reading more about ILM’s work on the shot on Todd Vaziri’s VFX HQ and then in Cinefex that I could really appreciate just how much work went into it, but in the cinema I knew the sequence was something special from a vfx perspective.

Why, though? In some ways it was not groundbreaking character animation/rendering, or any other kind of brand new tech. The reason, I think, is that the shot is just such a classic trick shot and a brilliant combination of clever practical photography, some CG and plenty of paint/clean-up and compositing – but without being over the top. It was exactly what the new digital tools and techniques just gaining prominence should have been used for at the time (and not always were).

On one of the DVD releases, visual effects supervisor John Knoll describes in detail how the scene was film and how the vfx was achieved. Check it out below.

Happy 20th anniversary, Star Trek: First Contact.

The best Harry Potter vfx…so far


With Fantastic Beasts out, Inverse asked me to write a retrospective on the best Harry Potter vfx scenes from the franchise so far. It was HARD to choose, but here they are.

I also managed to grab some extra info from Jim Mitchell, the vfx supe for Goblet of Fire about the creation of the Hungarian Horntail dragon in particular:

What I remember most about the dragon sequence or rather the 1st task of the Tri-wizard tournament was how much it evolved from the book and script which were very brief descriptions of the fire-breathing dragon guarding the golden egg from Harry in this confined rocky arena.

There never was any of the chase around Hogwarts castle but one day when I was checking out the huge physical model of the castle for some establishing shots, I thought how cool would it be see Harry and the dragon flying through its deep ravines, under bridges and past these giant, stoned structures. 

I imagined the dragon landing on one of the steep towers and roaring like King Kong on the Empire state building.  Mike Newell and the producers liked the idea and so the sequence grew to include the chase.  I think it opened the sequence up and made it more perilous and exciting than it originally was.  ILM did a great job with the animation and look of the bat-like dragon making it as real as any dragon I’ve seen.

How’d they do that Hong Kong reverse destruction in Doctor Strange?


Near the end of Doctor Strange, the characters rush to Hong Kong to save the precious Sanctum there from the Dark Dimension. But the Sanctum is already destroyed. In order to stop the whole world being swallowed up into the Dark Dimension, Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to reverse time. The entire street that had been destroyed now reconstructs itself in front of the audiences’ eyes. At the same time, the heroes take on the group of zealots – in normal time. Here’s overall vfx supervisor Stephane Ceretti, previs and postvis supervisor Faraz Hameed from The Third Floor and ILM’s Richard Bluff and how that sequence was achieved. Continue reading How’d they do that Hong Kong reverse destruction in Doctor Strange?

A visual guide to Doctor Strange’s magical mystery tour


When Doctor Strange first gets plunged into multiple dimensions by the Ancient One, we see him travel through several psychedelic realms. It was a sequence dubbed the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ by the filmmakers, and in this vfxblog article we look at how specific pieces of the incredible imagery were produced, thanks to overall vfx supervisor Stephane Ceretti, The Third Floor previs and postvis supe Faraz Hameed and Method Studios vfx supervisor Olivier Dumont. Continue reading A visual guide to Doctor Strange’s magical mystery tour



It’s 20 years since Space Jam, which captured a lot of people’s attention via its hybrid animation and vfx process thanks to Warner Bros., Cinesite and a lot of external studios and artists. Read part 1 of my oral history at Cartoon Brew.

Arrival effects supe on holding back on vfx


Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is almost an anti-alien invasion film. It’s subtle and purposeful use of visual effects was orchestrated by vfx supe Louis Morin, who enlisted vendors including Hybride, Oblique FX, Rodeo FX, Framestore, Raynault VFX, Folks FX and Alchemy FX to render everything from odd-shaped spacecraft to even odder-shaped aliens. In this interview with vfxblog, Morin discusses the invisible nature of the effects work and some of the harder shots to pull off. Continue reading Arrival effects supe on holding back on vfx

Why Creating Doctor Strange’s Dark Dimension Was So Damn Hard


The thrilling climax of Doctor Strange sees the titular character travel into the Dark Dimension to confront the evil Dormammu. Crafting a CG creature and a suitably alien-like dimension was challenging enough for the vfx team, but director Scott Derrickson also wanted the shots to reflect the surrealist and psychedelic blacklight look by famed comic book artist Steve Ditko. As I discovered from overall vfx supervisor Stephane Ceretti and Luma’s Vince Cirelli, this was not the easiest brief to pull off. Continue reading Why Creating Doctor Strange’s Dark Dimension Was So Damn Hard