A partially rendered Paris from the VFX department working on Edge Of Tomorrow

Edge Of Tomorrow pleased many critics and audiences, almost to a surprising degree. People were expecting another “Tom Cruise general athletics clinic,” and they got that, but the movie delivered a lot more, blending Starship Troopers with Groundhog Day. Cruise plays against type as a cowardly, combat-averse Major, and he tries to hot-wire and jockey an alien-controlled time stream with the same amusing trial-and-error process he uses trying to control his powered battlesuit. Edge Of Tomorrow isn’t perfect, but it’s a big-budget, effects-heavy movie that’s actually fun to sit through, and that’s increasingly infrequent.

Of course, none of it would have worked if the visual effects weren’t convincing. Highly intricate alien physiology interacts with fleets of military vehicles against backdrops that were sometimes completely rendered. And those types of uphill challenges could have made Edge Of Tomorrow’s battlefield look less like Saving Private Ryan and more like the Gungan-Battledroid Naboo showdown in The Phantom Menace.

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Fortunately, the VFX team succeeded, with an effects-heavy adventure that is impressive and convincing without trying to upstage the story. Academy Originals, the web series from the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, sat down with Edge Of Tomorrow’s VFX Supervisor Nick Davis as he walked through a few of the challenges posed by creating a virtual Paris made from digital whole cloth.

While it may be mildly depressing to know that the director Doug Liman didn’t insist on actually smashing the real Tom Cruise repeatedly off the edge of an improvised hover-boat, it’s worth appreciating how seamlessly the VFX team blended together animated-digital-model Cruise with physical-Scientologist-actor Cruise. Also, the navigable freeze-frame footage of fully rendered battle scenes are really cool.

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