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Which CG character will win the 2018 visual effects Oscar?

Will Snoke steal the show? Can Caesar seize the day? Are you rooting for Groot? Digital characters are vying for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Last year we saw some gobsmackingly gorgeous blockbusters explode into movie theaters. This weekend, the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects will recognize the movie magic that created these stunning scenes -- and this year it's the battle of the digital characters, as every film features a major role that was conjured by computer-generated imagery.

Rachael in "Blade Runner 2049". Groot and Rocket in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2". Kong in "Skull Island". Snoke in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi". Caesar and chums in "War for the Planet of the Apes". Which of these CG creations will bag the Oscar?  

The 90th annual Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles this Sunday, March 4 (while you're waiting, you can watch some of the nominated pictures on Netflix). And the 2018 nominees are...


'Blade Runner 2049'

Nominees: John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover

Also up for best cinematography, best production design and two sound gongs, the hauntingly beautiful "Blade Runner 2049" takes us to a future of flying cars and androids. Like most of today's blockbusters, it's a team effort among various effects companies, including Framestore, Double Negative and MPC.

Several dazzling sequences have visual effects front and center, like the eerie scene in which a human and a hologram overlap and merge. But perhaps the most impressive effects work is meant to be invisible, as MPC digitally recreates Sean Young's character of Rachael exactly as she appeared in the original film

What are the chances?

"2049" has already won Bafta and Visual Effects Society awards. The digitally created characters are incredible, but perhaps even more impressive are the immersive environments. Of all the films on the shortlist, it's this one that builds the most complete world.

Marvel Studios

'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2'

Nominees: Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick

Multiple Marvel movies have been nominated for this award, but none has won so far. By venturing beyond Earth for most of its run-time, "Guardians" takes the Marvel cinematic universe into full-on fantasy worlds. From epic space battles to a climactic punch-up between two shape-shifting living gods, "Guardians" is easily the most colorful and riotously imaginative of the films nominated. 

What are the chances?

The Visual Effects Society recognized the swooping cinematography of the virtuoso opening scene, which combines a space battle with some cute dance movies from adorable arboreal Baby Groot. The question is whether the Academy will decide the sci-fi silliness serves a strong-enough story.

'Kong: Skull Island'

Nominees: Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus

The flamboyant visual styling, period music and over-the-top acting made this Vietnam War-era creature feature way more fun than it had any right to be, even if the story was monstrously bad. You can't beat the sight of a giant ape fistfighting helicopter gunships, especially when the inventive cinematography puts you right in the crashing choppers. And it's a mark of good visual effects when your entirely digital monkey has more personality than your star -- I'm looking at you, Tom Hiddleston. 

What are the chances?

He might be 100 feet tall, but in this battle of the apes, Kong is something of an underdog. Smashing up helicopters and fanged beasties is one thing, but when it comes to soul and personality, he's no match for his "Planet of the Apes" cousins. 


'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

Nominees: Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

Rian Johnson's galactic opus divided fans, but if there's one thing we can agree on, it's that it looked amazing. From the opening space battle to the fabulously opulent casino on Canto Bight to the lumbering walkers of the climactic battle, "Last Jedi" is visually stunning. The effects work of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), founded by George Lucas for the original "Star Wars", is a huge part of that. 

What are the chances?

Almost all the films in the saga have been nominated for this award, but none of them has won since the effects wizards of the original trilogy took home special awards for their contributions to the craft more than 30 years ago. Will the cutesy porgs, glittering crystal wolves and crusty Supreme Leader Snoke be enough to change that?

Steve Zahn as a child-like chimp in "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Twentieth Century Fox

'War for the Planet of the Apes'

Nominees: Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist

This film has an ape up its sleeve -- or rather, several apes. The intricately animated characters were conjured to life with heartfelt motion-capture performances by Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn and others. Animators from effects house Weta meticulously created the ape characters down to the most infinitesimal detail of hair, skin and eyelashes. Then they put them in various environments including snow and rain slicking their fur. But the real triumph is in the personality of sympathetic and soulful characters such as Caesar and Bad Ape. 

It's also worth noting that this is the last chapter in this "Planet of the Apes" trilogy, which might see the Academy's voters reward the series as a whole. Something similar occurred with the "Lord of the Rings" films, which were of course the starting point for Andy Serkis' motion-capture journey. Could we see Weta and Serkis come full circle? And what does Andy Serkis have to do win a darn Oscar? 

What are the chances?

"Apes" already claimed four awards from the Visual Effects Society, which named Caesar as the outstanding animated character in a live-action movie. If these incredibly soulful CG apes don't get their hairy hands on the 2018 Oscar, I'll be a monkey's uncle.

Hail Caesar!

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