Visual effects supervisor Nick Davis (‘The One and Only Ivan’) on creating Ivan, the ‘beautiful, soulful, strong, passionate’ star of the show [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“Ivan is a beautiful, soulful, strong, passionate character. He had to carry the whole movie,” declares Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Nick Davis on the main attraction in the Disney live action family drama “The One and Only Ivan.”

“A lot of the work is just right here,” he says while framing his hands around his face, “looking into his eyes and the expression and emotion and all the feelings that he had to convey to the audience.” Davis is back at the Oscars with his second nomination (after his first for “The Dark Knight” in 2009), alongside his colleagues Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez. Watch our exclusive video interview with Davis above.

SEE 2021 Oscar Winners: Predictions In All 23 Categories

In “The One and Only Ivan,” a gorilla named Ivan tries to piece together his past with the help of an elephant named Ruby as they hatch a plan to escape from captivity. The fantasy drama was directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Mike White, who adapted the children’s novel of the same name by K. A. Applegate. It stars the voices of Oscar winners Sam Rockwell and Angelina Jolie and an endearing performance by multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston.

Davis is not only thrilled to be back at the Oscars, but is over the moon about the film’s recent win at the Visual Effects Society Awards on April 6, where the film’s animation team won the prestigious Best Animated Character in a Photoreal Film for the Ivan character.

Davis says the creature work on the film stands out because it is nothing like audiences have seen before in other films that feature life-like animals. “Our challenge to overcome was that this is a live action movie and the animals had to be photoreal,” he explains, noting how they had to avoid the animals at the center of the story being “anthropomorphically cartoonish or pushed too far down one route,” he says. “We had to walk a very delicate tightrope to convey the humor, the love, the fun, the sarcasm, the cynicism, whatever the emotion was, but never break the mold of being a photorealistic animal.”

SEE Complete list of 2021 Oscar nominations in all 23 categories

Notwithstanding that the film has scored with the VFX guild, and has nominations at both the Oscars and the BAFTAs, Davis admits that he was anxious about whether his team’s work would be noticed by his peers.

“I was actually worried we wouldn’t even make it to the bakeoff, because it is strange year and our movie never got its theatrical release, so it was quite hard to get noticed as we are quite a small movie,” he says. “I was very pleasantly surprised when we made it to the longlist and then to the shortlist and the bakeoff,” he declares, referring to the rigorous VFX “bakeoff” process earlier this month, where all members of the motion picture academy’s visual effects branch are invited to view video presentations for the ten films shortlisted by that branch’s executive committee

“Once at the bakeoff, I felt quite confident about it because from my whole career I think it is some of the best work I’ve ever done,” Davis reveals. “The team have done an absolutely fantastic job at MPC of producing some really beautiful animation and incredible creature work and fantastic virtual environments.”

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