Milk Visual Effects co-founder is second-ever VFX female Oscar winner, and only third-ever nominee

Last Updated: February 29, 2016 2:13 pm GMT
(London, UK--February 29, 2016) Independent VFX studio Milk Visual Effects’ Co-Founder Sara Bennett has won an Academy Award® for Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina, alongside the VFX team from Double Negative – Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris and Mark Ardington.

The four received the Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the 88th Academy Awards® ceremony held last night at the Dolby Theatre® Hollywood, Los Angeles.

Sara is the second female ever to win an Oscar® in the Best VFX category.

Sara Bennett, VFX Supervisor and Co-Founder of Milk Visual Effects said: “I am beyond excited!! We are thrilled and honoured to be recognised by The Academy for our work on Ex-Machina. It was a privilege to work with Alex Garland, to bring his incredible vision to life, alongside Andrew Whitehurst and the Dneg team. I would love to see more women in prominent creative roles in our Industry – I was a little shocked to find out I was the third ever female VFX Oscar nominee.”

Milk's specific brief was to create a CG brain for AI robot protagonist Ava; a ‘look’ for Ava’s point of view and a range of 2D shots for Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina, working closely with Double Negative. They created a total of 100 shots with a crew of 28.

Their biggest scene was the design and creation of a CG Ava brain, which is seen during the conversation between Nathan and Caleb in the construction lab. Milk was also tasked with devising a look for AI robot Ava’s point of view – seen at the start of the film when lead character Caleb wins the office lottery and in the bathroom scene. A range of 2d shots also included simple clean ups and monitor inserts.

For the design of Ava’s brain, Milk was briefed to use jelly fish references while incorporating a computerized ‘tech’ feel in its design. Using Houdini, the build was fully procedural with strong emphasis on the ability to quickly choreograph and combine major features to reduce the turnaround of versions during lookdev.

Starting from a sculpted core mesh, a complex set up was built to create the main features of the brain – including frills, tentacles, pores, antennas, wireframe cages and air bubbles. The Milk team opted for a noise driven animation over simulations in order to avoid having to rig and animate each shot separately. Collisions were solved by post deforming wires and meshes using volume collision approaches where necessary. The resulting brain asset was then brought into Maya for shading and lighting using Arnold and finally composited in nuke.

Sara Bennett and the Double Negative team were also nominated for a 2016 BAFTA Film Award for their work on Ex-Machina

Milk is an independent visual effects company with studios in London and Cardiff, focused on creating innovative sequences for high-end television and feature films. Milk’s credits include Ben Wheatley’s forthcoming High Rise, Everest (Universal), The Martian (20th Century Fox), The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Poltergeist (Fox/MGM), Alex Garland/DNA Film’s Ex-Machina, Brett Ratner’s Hercules (Paramount/MGM), Dredd 3D (Entertainment Films), 47 Ronin (Universal), Dracula Untold (Universal) and Sherlock (Hartswood Films), Doctor Who (BBC),Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (BBC),Thunderbirds are Go (ITV), Beowulf (ITV Studios) and 24: Live Another Day (Fox) for television.

Milk is currently in production on Ben Wheatley’s new feature Free-Fire and Warner Bros’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.


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