The Tree of Life for Best Visual Effects
The Tree of Life is, hands down, one of the best films of recent times. If not the best. After several years in development and missing 2009 and 2010 release dates, it was released in 2011 to widespread critical acclaim and modest commercial success. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. It was also criminally left out the Best Visual Effects race.
The story behind The Tree of Life‘s visual effects is pretty interesting: director Terrence Malick disliked the look of computer-generated imagery, so he went old-school with the help of famed special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, who had been retired for nearly thirty years at the time (note: it really shouldn’t come as a surprise since everything in 2011 was kinda throwback-y, also confirmed by the success of The Artist). In an interview, Trumbull said that he and fellow visual effects supervisor Dan Glass “worked with chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids, CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high-speed photography to see how effective they might be”. Fluid-based effects were also developed by Peter and Chris Parks, and additional effects were provided by Double Negative in London. The film also credited Thomas Wilfred’s lumia composition Opus 161 as the source of the “shifting flame of red-yellow light” at the beginning and the end.
The final product definitely benefits from the back-to-basics route: the effects have a very distinctive, natural look, bewitching quality, boldness and fluidity that’s hard to find and draws you in. They add another dimension to the narrative. They can be breathtaking and somewhat mystical, and in their old-schoolness, they perfectly fit with the movie’s settings in the past. They contribute greatly to The Tree of Life‘s singularity and should be held in high regard for being very imaginative in a way that few are in a period where the most common special effects involve mindlessly blowing up stuff…