High Five in association withThe Immortal Awards

High Five: Top VFX Picks Not to Be Missed

Post Production
Los Angeles, USA
Michael Ralla, VFX supervisor at Framestore Los Angeles, dives deep into some of the visually stunning projects he's seen more recently in his international career

As a VFX supervisor working on advertising and feature film projects at Framestore in Los Angeles, I’ve been fortunate to have a career that has taken me across the globe, with 55 films in my IMDB credits and a shelf holding a couple of pencils in different colours and other blingy industry trophies to show for it. This year will be my 18th in this business, and I’m currently spending it working on a Marvel film on the studio side. I have two kids, a wife, and eight surfboards that I am not surfing nearly enough to justify the space they need in the garage. Here are five of the projects I couldn’t wait to punch the names of into Google just so I could learn about who had worked on the VFX and how the work was done...

B&Q - 'Flip'

Director: Oscar Hudson
VFX: Electric Theatre Collective

Immediately upon just seeing the spot thumbnail on YouTube, I knew I had to dig in a little deeper. Oscar is an incredible director, someone who truly understands his craft - a newcomer who grew up digitally and knows how to use the full spectrum of all available tools, but also when to keep things analogue. We worked together on the Apple 'Bounce' project that we shot in the Ukraine in 2019, and if I wasn’t currently working on a feature, 'Flip' was a spot I would have liked to get my hands on. It shows a heavy-handed focus on capturing as much in-camera as possible, and cleverly executing the concept without trying to force things beyond breaking point. This director understands which things are better executed as a digital effect. It’s clear the VFX team was part of the plan from the beginning, as Oscar is highly collaborative and knows how to orchestrate the handshakes between departments so everyone is doing what they are best at.

Burberry - 'Open Spaces'

Production: Riff Raff Films
Director: Megaforce
Editorial: Final Cut London
VFX: Moving Picture Company x The Mill London

I came across this spot as I was curious about the current state of the art in stunt wirework and making people 'fly'. The result is truly mesmerising. And no - this was most likely not just a wire removal job. VFX was collaboratively involved from the very beginning, helping to figure things out and advise with pre-viz, eventually going all the way to set extensions and environment enhancements. There was clearly an emphasis on overlapping stunts, SFX and VFX invisibly, with the camera being a very integral part of that. Anytime we are cinematically leaving stable ground (as in, going airborne or underwater), the camera usually needs to become a part of that - and it’s incredibly successful in this spot. As much as was achieved practically and in-camera, this spot would not work without VFX providing the final glue to bring it all together - and the execution is seamless!

Sheba - 'Hope Reef'

Agency: AMV BBDO
Production: Framestore x weareseveteen x The Glue Society x makemepulse x W3 x King Henry
Director: Murray Butler
VFX: Framestore x Flare

The first time I noticed this spot was when it got in the running for a VES Award. Once I saw the breakdown, it was crystal clear to me that it would win every category it was up for...and it did. While the message behind the creative is what really matters, it is the VFX department that shouldered the storytelling here. Despite massive improvements, real-time processing and AI/ML aided workflows, water is still one of the two big challenges in VFX (in addition to digital humans), that can go wrong more often than not. This spot sailed the stormy seas above the Uncanny Valley of hydro fluids with grace; incredible simulation work, flawless assets, beautiful lighting and very successful virtual cinematography (camera work underwater is a huge part of achieving photorealism). It definitely looks like it’s shot in-camera, but it is all CG!

Netflix - 'Love Death + Robots - Volume 3'

VFX: Blur Studios

The 'Love, Death + Robots' series is now in its third season, and with David Fincher as one of the directors, there’s no doubt that all CG animated short films have manifested themselves into a solid place in today’s media landscape. Whilst all episodes are full CG, they are actually very grounded in reality with believable character animation (probably via Mocap) and fantastic cinematography, but at the same time hyper realistic with a heightened sense of stylisation that results in a very unique style which is hard to achieve. What is groundbreaking is the variety of different genres, looks and styles. With the success of the streaming platforms, short films have become what commercials used to be for many top directors: a playground to experiment with lowered stakes and the ability to leverage all aspects of an animated feature workflow, such as virtual production.

A24 - 'Everything Everywhere All at Once'

VFX: Benjamin Brewer x Jeff Desom x Ethan Feldbau x Evan Halleck x Kirsten Lepore x Zack Stoltz x Matthew Waukohnen

Out of all the multiverse films, this is the one that blew my mind. Not only because all the VFX work has a beautiful analogue feel to them, but especially because all shots in the movie were completed by only FIVE artists! The end result remotely reminds me of our work on Apple’s ‘Welcome Home’ spot which I supervised in 2018, but at the same time, it is refreshingly different, unique and original. The film is a spectacular action-comedy channelling aspects of the The Matrix, but with the style of Douglas Adams' 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' and momentum similar to James Cameron's 'The Terminator'. The limited resources helped shape the unique visual style of this film, which cleverly combines an ’80s effects aesthetic with contemporary motion graphics. The VFX team didn’t attempt to emulate the look of contemporary, VFX-laden blockbuster films but instead relied on simple tricks, practical gags augmented with CG, and a good sense for light, shadow and exploratory aesthetics, which lead to a very textured, hands-on, DIY effects style. While somewhat raw, the VFX are authentic and fitting - which is rare these days!

Work from Framestore - LA
Present from the Past