Digital Domain – The Ascending Tale of VFX

1 August 2017

In the most modern era of globalisation it is not entirely difficult for a well made film from any corner of the world to gain International attention. We have seen several regional films from many countries scoring big at International stages. But still, only very few filmmakers have made films that have become a global phenomenon. Films that were literally celebrated all around the world regardless of age, gender or nationality. James Cameron is definitely one of those filmmakers. Most of his high profile films also saw the use of captivating visual effects. The man himself founded Digital Domain, a visual effects and digital production company along with Stan Winston and Scott Ross. The establishment went on to create some of the admirable visual effects projects ever. 

digital domain, srushti vfx

Founded in 1993, it first broke into the arena through the films True Lies, Interview with the Vampire and Color of Night, all of which that released in 1994. It was a launch that announced their arrival as True Lies immediately won an Oscar Nomination for Best Visual Effects. In the next year, they bettered their achievements and expanded their territory. The ‘Ants’ commercial for Budweiser Beer and the automobile ‘Snow Covered’ ad won Bronze and Grand Prix Awards respectively at the Cannes Lion Awards. Their science fiction feature film of that year, Apollo 13 which had Tom Hanks in the lead role and was directed by Ron Howard went on to win BAFTA Awards for achievement in Visual Effects and was also nominated for the Academy Awards. They arrived at Cannes Lion Awards next year too and this time, two of their commercials, ‘Rhinos’ for Mercedes Benz and ‘Clydesdales’ for Budweiser secured the Gold. 1997 was their most formidable year. One might wonder if they had a grudge on themselves for appearing at Academy Awards twice but not winning it and wanted to make it even. Well, they eventually did tally it out in terms of visual effects but the film went on to do something far more superior.

Titanic Movie VFX, visual effects, technology

The iconic Titanic bagged eleven oscars of their fourteen nominations and digital domain caught the entire world’s attention. There will hardly be any human being alive on any part of the Earth who hasn’t heard about Titanic the Movie. Titanic is in a distinctive league along with Ben Hur and Lord of the Rings – Return of the King as the films to secure most number of Academy Awards. It took two decades for another film to arrive at Academy Awards with fourteen nominations! But Titanic was not their only achievement in 1997. Cannes Lion honoured them with another Gold for their commercial ‘Bicycle’ for Guinness and they also won BAFTA Awards for Visual Effects with the Film The Fifth Element. It must have been a year where they never stopped! The very next year was no different. They again arrived at Academy Awards and they again won for the Best Visual Effects category with What Dreams May Come! From then, there is hardly a stage where Digital Domain haven’t made their impact. Visual Effects Society Awards, Association of Independent Commercial Producers Awards, CLIO Awards, New York Fest International, London International…They have been everywhere one can think of!

The ‘Biomorph’ commercial for the brand Nike is one of their most famous work among commercials. They made use of an anatomical view of the human foot and shoe to describe how technology makes the shoe a perfect wear. For the commercial, the team visited the Portland Facility of Nike to get a real feel of the production of shoes. The ad featured the racing legs of a professional runner and through their research Digital Domain came to observe that professional runners landed the ball of the foot first instead of heel and thus for the commercial they kept a unique frame beneath the view of foot landing. The commercial bagged awards at CLIO, AICP and VES in 2013. 

For Basketball fans, watching Michael Jordan blaze the court is one of the best sights there ever is. What if there were two Jordans? A younger and an older self?  NBA Fans will struggle to control their goosebumps! And that is what exactly Digital Domain gave them in 2003 with their ‘23 vs 39’ spot for the sports health drink Gatorade. The commercial featured a 23 year old Jordan playing one on one with a 39 year old Jordan and for the spot, Digital Domain completely recreated a CG double of Jordan’s head. Digital Domain didn’t want to limit the player to any level and hence they started off with a cyberscan which is a laser scan of Jordan’s head that gave them a modular sculpture. They then took detailed photographs of his head, focusing on eyes, nose, ears and applied it onto the surface of the 3d model. 

You have cheered for Neymar Jr scoring that magnificent goal. Now what if you could really watch his goal from his own perspective! Staying updated is the best way not to get outdated. Digital Domain knows it and hence they stepped into Virtual Reality immersive experience too with the commercial ‘The Neymar Jr Effect’ for Nike. The 90 second commercial, gives an on field experience from Neymar’s view point along with his fellow team player Coutinho while scoring an exhilarating goal. Brazil and Neymar Fans would have rushed to get their VR headsets. Wonder if there was a VR sell out in Brazil! The entire commercial was shot within a small area with minimum players surrounded by green screens. The entire stadium, lights, vastness of the ground were all CG created!

Digital Domain did win another Academy Award for Visual Effects through ‘Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ in 2008 and they got nominated for the works in I Robot, Real Steel and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. They have also won four other Academy Awards for Scientific and Technical Achievement for their proprietary technologies such as Track, Nuke, Storm and Fluid Simulation System. Till date they have won 37 CLIO Awards, 22 AICP Awards and 9 Cannes Lion Awards. One might wonder how big their shelf is! 

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