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The Year in 3D: Highlights of 2012


Twenty-twelve was a pretty great year for computer graphics. Disney is back at the top of their game, Pixologic keeps releasing revolutionary new features for ZBrush, and the 3D box office remained solid.

We thought it would be fun to go back through the year and highlight some of our favorite things to come out of the computer graphics industry in the past 12 months.

Without further delay:

1. Best Visual Effects:

Let's start with the big one—best visual effects. I failed to predict last year's Oscar winner, thinking that Planet of the Apes would take the cake, when in fact Hugo was destined for the top prize. Here are my favorites from this year's race—I'll go with a top 3, in no particular order:

First, Prometheus. It was a letdown as a film, but it was stunning to look at. After seeing it, I immediately downloaded about a hundred screenshots from the film and just sat and marveled. The production design was stellar, the color palettes were spot on, and everything was perfectly realized.

My second and third choices are The Hobbit and John Carter because they both had excellent, imaginative, character design. Carter's Tars Tarkan was fantastic—one of the most lifelike digital characters of the year—and the Goblin King in the Hobbit was just as good. With the Hobbit there were also a number of sets I was incredibly impressed by. Rivendell got a makeover, the Goblin cave was fantastic (if perhaps a bit derivative), and the relatively brief glimpses of Erebor and Dale at the beginning were just wonderful.

Life of Pie has gotten a lot of attention, because successfully bringing a realistic CG animal to the big screen always gets a lot of attention, but at the end of the day it sits just outside my top three.

2. Best Digital Character:

In keeping with my comments above, I'm going with the Martian race of Tharks from John Carte, specifically Tars Tarkas. I actually liked John Carter quite a bit and thought the film was thrashed a bit too harshly by the media. The character design for the Tharks was decidedly alien, but managed to stay well within the realm of believability, and Tars just had style.

Some honorable mentions: The Great Goblin from The Hobbit, Ted from Ted, Hulk from The Avengers (best version yet), Merida from Brave (did you see that hair?!)

3. Best New Software - nDo2

Has anyone introduced a more widely adopted piece of software in the past year? Quixel's Photoshop based normal mapping plugin has been warmly received by the game development community where speed and efficiency are critical.

4. Best New Feature - Dynamesh

ZBrush's six month old dynamesh workflow has revolutionized the way we make character art. Digital sculpting has never been so much like clay sculpting.

5. Best Animated Film - Wreck It Ralph

Twenty-twelve may end up going down as a relatively weak year for animation. Neither Pixar or Dreamworks delivered the way they have in the past, and Pirates was funny but ultimately lacked the emotional depth of other efforts from the studio like Chicken Run and Arthur Christmas.

But, Disney was the year's saving grace. Wreck-It-Ralph was fun and fresh, both original and nostalgic at the same time, and hands down the best animated film of the year. I liked ParaNorman for it's mind-blowing craftsmanship, but Disney had the better film.

6. Best Animated Short - Paperman

Disney again. If you haven't seen this yet, wait until you do. It's just a wonderful bit of film-making.

7. Best 3D Film - The Avengers

Pure entertainment.

8. Best Short Form CG Production (Trailers, Cinematics, Commercials)

I'm almost certainly going to forget or miss something here, because so much stuff comes out in this category that it's nearly impossible to keep track of it all. Off the top of my head, I'm going to go with this cinematic trailer from the Witcher 2 from Plastige Image. The storytelling is great, the level of realism is great, the visual effects are great—what can I say, this is a triumph across the board. A few others that come to mind—Mass Effect 3: Take Back Earth Trailer (Digic Pictures), and the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria trailer (from Blizzard).

9. Best Visual Effects - Television

You've got to give this one to Game of Thrones.

I though HBO's flagship fantasy program actually suffered a slight step down in quality from its first season, however visually, the series has taken things up a notch. All the new sets that were introduced this year were fantastic, from the Iron Isles of Pike, to the new locations north of the Wall, and especially the dark, cursed castle of Harrenhal.

But all of that is child's play compared to the season's penultimate episode, Blackwater, which featured the series' most significant battle to date, and probably one of the most extravagant battle sequences ever produced for television.

10. Best Visual Effects - Web

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. If you're a fan of the series, you should get over to Machinima Prime and watch this if you haven't already done so. It may not have the nuance or depth of BSG 2004, but it's certainly nice to revisit the universe.

I admit that some of the visuals are a bit rough around the edges, but this was completed in five months with a miniscule budget and a very small team. It's really too bad SyFy passed on picking up the series, because it really would have been a fun ride.

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