Australia might just be in for an Academy Award win come Monday, with Love and Monsters tipped as a dark horse in this year’s race for the Visual Effects Oscar.
Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox are on the ballot for their work crafting giant, mutated creatures for the Brisbane-shot post-apocalyptic film, each imbued with its own individual characteristics and unique personality.
But while it might be easy to assume Love and Monsters is a creature feature at first glance, VFX supervisor Sloan says director Michael Matthews made it clear at the outset the film was “not about monsters.”
A comedy adventure, Love and Monsters is set in a world where humans have been forced underground after giant creatures took control of the land.
Dylan O’Brien stars as Joel, who reconnects over the radio with his high school girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick). Aiming to rekindle their romance, he ventures out to find her, battling all the dangerous monsters that stand in his way.
Those CG monsters, each based on real animals like snails, frogs, crab and centipedes, were crafted out of Mr. X’s Adelaide and Bangalore studios, with the team delivering 463 shots.
“It was an interesting project because it doesn’t take it very seriously, but there are serious moments in it, and it was finding that line to skate,” Sloan tells IF.
“The creatures had to be scary, but too scary, and ultimately, sympathetic.”
So how exactly do you craft a giant monster you can relate to?
In achieving that, Sloan sings the praises of Everitt, Mr. X animation supervisor, who added small details to the creatures’ eyes, such as tears, to bring out the emotion.
Reference points for the creatures were varied, including a video of dead whales exploding under their own internal pressure. Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life was an inspiration for what Everitt calls a “joyously grotesque” giant frog (the Pool Frog), and some pay homage to fellow monster lovers including Ridley Scott and Ray Harryhausen.
Mr. X VFX supervisor Camilleri also ventured out to the fish market to bring the team back inspiration.
“We actually went and bought a real crab, just to study its colours and texture, how it reacts to light. We bought an eel as well, we studied the way it bends, how its skin wrinkles and things like that just to get realistic fine details,” she tells IF.
“Then we had to build on top of that, adding mutations and all sorts of other gross stuff.”
As the film didn’t take itself too seriously, Sloan says they were able to be a little bit absurd. Take the Pool Frog, for instance. “It was like: ‘How fat should he be?’ Think of the fattest thing you can, and make it four two times fatter. Then add in boils.”
Camilleri adds: “We had sessions just discussing: How should fat jiggle? Is it jiggling in a big chunk, or has it got little ripples through it?”
With a relatively small budget for a VFX-heavy film, Love and Monsters is arguably the underdog in Oscar category, with competition including The Midnight Sky, Mulan, The One and Only Ivan, and the favourite, Tenet, for which another Aussie, Andrew Jackson, is nominated.
Sloan was alone in a New York hotel room, in quarantine, when he heard the nomination news. He felt the urge to turn around to celebrate, but of course, there was no one there.
“[I thought] I could call room call room service, I suppose, and tell them. It was weird,” he says.
“It was great, but it was unexpected.”
At home in Sydney, Camilleri couldn’t sleep after learning of the nomination at around 11pm. She is just the fourth woman to be nominated for the VFX Oscar in history.
She sees the landscape for women in VFX as having come along way since she began her career over a decade ago, when she was just one of two women in a studio.
“The number of females has certainly grown in terms of the artist pool in all the different departments. However, there still aren’t very many female supervisors around. I’ve never actually worked with one myself,” she says.
“I really want to take this opportunity to really encourage other females out there to step up and have the confidence to put their hand up for supervisor roles.”
Camilleri started her career in Melbourne – she is a VCA grad – but eventually moved over to Canada for opportunities before returning to Australia a few years ago. Currently working at Fin Design on Del Kathryn Barton’s Blaze, she is gratified to see the local VFX industry booming of late.
“There are a lot of people like myself that were living in Canada that are now moving back to Australia just because there are so many options now.”
Similarly, one of the joys of the project for Sloan was returning to Queensland, where he started his career, after 17 years of working overseas.
He will represent the team in LA, with the others to celebrate via live feed from Seven’s studios in Sydney.
Sloan and Camilleri pay tribute to the whole VFX team, and are genuinely just happy to be nominated.
As Sloan says: “It’s the visual effects branch that choose the nominees and it’s the general population of the Academy that chooses the winner. So being nominated is the ice cream sundae and winning is just the cherry on top. We’ve already got a sundae, so that’s pretty amazing.”
Camilleri: “I’m fine with just the sundae.”
Sloan: “But imagine if you got the cherry!”
Love and Monsters is on Netflix in Australia.