Yet Another List of Cool Things from 2008

It is that time of year when all media organizations like to produce lists. Lists of top 10, lists of best of the year, a look back with a Year in Review, or 2008: The Year That Just Was. So not to be out done – and just for fun – we jumped on the bandwagon and compiled our own special ‘fxguide Completely Unscientific List of Cool Things from 2008’.

It was a mixed year, some amazing inspiring moments and some truly dismal ones, (especially in the area of film comedies). Still we have compiled our own list of the best and worse of 2008, see if you agree:


Best VFX Film: The Dark Knight in IMAX

Non-invasive, transparent visual effects to help tell a story. What a concept. Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent are forced to deal with the chaos unleashed by an anarchist mastermind known only as the Joker, wonderfully played by the late Heath Ledger. Visual effects by DNeg and New Deal Studios.

08Dec/2008/healsBest visual effects of the year: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This may not get our vote for best vfx film of the year, but it wins for most impressive vfx. It is one of those moments in visual effects when the craft takes the next step, they come along only once ever few years, but signals the entire industry rising to the next level. Digital Domain, Asylum, Hydraulx and sister company Lola & others are to be praised for this landmark film. It should win the Oscar. It takes the opening part of Xmen – anti-aging to new levels, and the CGI faces are brilliant.

A close second CGI in Live Action Film: Iron Man, digital suit from ILM
Within a single shot sometimes half the suit was real and half was CGI. The seamless integration and perfect rendering made this effort by the crew at ILM exceptional.

Best Animated film: Wall E, Pixar, Director Andrew Stanton

This film was predicted to be good, but that should take nothing away from Pixar once again delivering amazing animation with real emotion, especially in the first third of the film when there was no dialogue, no human characters, and yet some of the most heartfelt performances.

In many respects, Wall E was a linear line from the original Luxo Jr. – Pixar seldom relies on sequels, instead it comes up with funny original scripts and memorable characters that immediately become cherished animated classics. Not to mention trying new things with each release — including this film’s use of particles and atmospheric depth cues.

The only thing that upstaged the film slightly this year was the Pixar short before the film: Presto. A real gem and an instant classic.


Special Mention Animated Film: Waltz with Bashir, Director Ari Folman

Showing that animation can be powerful and not just for kids, this Israeli animated film is rich and complex. The film covers the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and is based on real world experiences.

Andrew Stanton, Ben Burtt and WallE on the Red Carpet for the WallE premier

Best Sound Design: Wall E, Ben Burtt of Pixar

Ok so we know he can do robots – it doesn’t matter – the sound design in Wall E was brilliant. From the first time we heard the computerised Wall E voice saying his own name in the trailers, there was no doubt that the genius behind such amazing sound designs as R2D2 had one again achieved ‘movie magic’.


Best VFX TV Show: Heroes, Stargate Digital

An incredible effort for episodic television, week in week out the show delivers world class visual effects. Even if the show takes off turns, the visual effects team do an outstanding job. (Battlestar Galactica came a close second and won the Emmy this year for SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS FOR A SERIES).

Best Mini Series: John Adams

This historical HBO drama was both fascinating and very well made. Visual Effects were by CafeFX . The series John Adams received 23 Emmy Award nominations, the most of any program this year. Among those it won the Emmy for SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR SPECIAL.


Foreign Language Film: Se, Jie (Lust, Caution), Director Ang Lee

This spy film set in occupied Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of the second World War. With films like this and Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it shows why Ang Lee has become one of today’s greatest contemporary filmmakers. Heck we have just about forgiven him for The Hulk. Visual effects by Mr X, which included some great matte paintings, and compositing work.

3D Software Release: Maya 2009 and XSI (Tie)

There is no doubt that Duncan Brinsmead delivers with his new Nparticles. They allow for a whole new range of interactive simulations, vastly improving Maya’s previous particles. Also, Maya’s implementation of a new 3D stereo camera shows the dev team did their research in how to best add this functionality.

XSI last release is also exceptional strong and ties for first place. ICE is really an interesting addition to the craft and along with Face Robot, made great additions to the Autodesk family. XSI would have won but without Renderman support, it still will not be adopted as widely as it could be.

Compositing Software Release: Flame 2009, 2009X1

Finally Autodesk is making a concerted effort to improve flame, after years of falling behind other software apps (and seemingly giving more love to Toxik). Sure, Flame played catch up in many respects with things like floating point and OpenEXR implementation. But its HDR exposure tools, new approaches to working, and an incredibly fast development schedule gave the old girl new life. They were truly stellar releases. While many people run their Flame stations as Flame/Smoke now, the only question left is … why the huge price gap still between Flame and Flint?

Ironically, considering our comments above, a close second, if not tie, was Autodesk’s Toxik 2009 release. Finally coming onto its own as a piece of compositing software as opposed to just promises of what to come, this release was incredibly strong. With new Maya hooks, stereo viewing, and improved compositing tools, the question is: “Why then, now that it finally works, has it all but disappeared from trade shows and PR?” And is the product going to survive its own false starts? Will people ever reconsider the software after so many earlier premature launches and inadequate earlier releases?

Eruption by Kresimir Tkalcec using FumeFx now in version 1.2

Plugin (3D): Fume Fx

This is one of those plugins that quickly starts appearing everywhere, much like Trapcode did for AE design. If you wanted to do smoke or clouds of dust in Max, there is no other choice, plus it now works in Mental Ray.

Plugin (2D): Ocula

Yet another example of The Foundry’s brilliant work using image processing research, this time using new disparity-mapping algorithms. While one can argue the need for stereoscopic films, it’s great to see a manufacturer using technology to make things better for the artist.

Product Surprise: Avid sells XSI to Autodesk

Few saw this one coming, Autodesk moved from “powerhouse” to “dominant” in 3D applications.

Best Trailer for a Game: WarHammer : Age of Reckoning

Done with full sun and sky global illumination techniques in Mental Ray, the Blur trailer for WarHammer is a remarkable cinematic.

Most Unnecessary Use of Technology: “Hologram” effect, CNN Election Coverage

Around the tech penthouse some of us thought the technology was cool, but we all agreed it was completely and remarkably unnecessary. The effect worked so well that a fake glow had to be added to the talent to underscore that anything at all was being done.

Worst decision of the Year: Siggraph Stopping the Electronic Theatre

But you can help reverse the decision. Go to and sign our petition to bring back the ET

Worst Trend of the Year: Not Paying VFX Artists for their Work

Are companies such as Meteor Studios and damnfx starting a trend of not following their obligations to pay artists? If so, it’s incredibly disturbing for the industry. Times are difficult economically, but if you’re a vfx artist and aren’t getting paid during a project — beware.

The conference room at the former Stan Winston Studios

Greatest loss this year: The passing of Stan Winston

Stan Winston, one of the great names in special effects, died at age 62 in June. His tribute at Siggraph a few months later was packed out, and was attended by people such as James Cameron.

Best wishes for 2009 from the crew at