Dan Oliver and ‘Shang-Chi’ VFX team have their eyes on the Oscar

'Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021.)

The past three projects special effects supervisor Dan Oliver has worked on have included two Marvel titles, two collaborations with Chris Hemsworth, and earned him his second Oscar nomination.

Oliver flies to LA this week from Prague, where he is finishing up on Extraction 2, to attend this year’s Academy Awards as part of the VFX team for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which also includes fellow Australian Joe Farrell, New Zealander Sean Walker and Brit Christopher Townsend.

It comes six years after his first Oscar nomination for Mad Max: Fury Road, alongside Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, and Andy Williams.

Speaking to IF, he said the old adage of “you’re only as good as your team” rang true.

“It’s great to be recognised by your peers for the work that you do,” he said.

“I feel like when I get nominated for something like this, I feel like I’m doing it on behalf of my whole team.

“You can have ideas and try to pull it together but without the people to help actually do the work, you’re really nowhere.”

Filmed predominately at Sydney’s Fox Studios Australia, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings details the origin story of the titular character, who is forced to confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organisation.

Not only was it Oliver’s first Marvel film, but the first project from the studio to be shot in NSW.

He and Farrell were part of an Australian contingent of HODs that also included supervising art director Richard Hobbs, costume designer Kym Barrett, hair and makeup designer Rick Findlater, and the late Bradley James Allan, who was the supervising stunt coordinator and second unit director.

The pair also collaborated with Australian VFX companies, such as Fin Design + Effects, Luma Pictures, Method Studios Melbourne, and Rising Sun Pictures.

Dan Oliver

The industry veteran said all the crew worked together as “one big happy team”, while noting that being part of a MCU project “didn’t really differ that much” from his previous credits, which include The Matrix sequels, Superman Returns, and The Great Gatsby.

“It turned out to be a really fun film to work on and great for special effects because there was lots of action and lots of fighting,” he said.  

“Big films are a big machine and you are doing a studio picture, so there’s information always coming from the studio and sometimes things change a bit.

“That’s just part of the process, especially on a big studio picture, and it was no different on this one.

“We had a great director in Destin Daniel Cretton, who was really easy to work with. He hadn’t done anything quite this big before but he had a really good crew around him,  including visual effects, special effects, and electric and DOP.”

Despite their box office domination, only one MCU film has triumphed at the Academy Awards, with Black Panther taking out the original score, costume design, and production design categories in 2019.

Shang-Chi is one of two Marvel titles nominated for visual effects this year, joining Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Oliver said the double recognition was well deserved.

“A lot of energy and a lot of talent goes into making these films, so when they get recognised, it’s because the work is good,” he said.

“They spend a lot of money and they get the best in every department, and in our case, they put a lot of money into doing the absolute best visual effects

“These days, you can’t get away with doing mediocre visual effects because everyone else is doing great work and is always trying to push the boundaries.”

The special effects supervisor now has two Marvel films under his belt, having gone from Shang-Chi to Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder, starring Hemsworth, which also shot at Fox Studios.

After that film wrapped in the middle of last year, he followed the Australian star to Prague for the sequel Netflix action film Extraction, a production that was initially meant to be shot in Sydney before relocating to Europe as a result of logistical concerns stemming from the 2021 lockdowns.

With his next job yet to be confirmed, Oliver expressed a desire to keep working in Sydney, describing Extraction 2 as a “special circumstance”.

“My kids are both still at high school, so I would like to do jobs at home,” he said.

“I had already attached myself to [Extraction 2] and formed a relationship with director Sam Hargrave, with whom I’d talked about the stunts and effects we would be doing,” he said.

“When the film moved very quickly to Prague, it was pretty crucial to the film that the special effects team was able to go because we had started a lot of the work and knew what was required. We wanted to see it through and we knew it was going to be a fun film.”

While Australia no longer carries the COVID-free advantage that attracted international productions at the beginning of the pandemic period, Oliver was “pretty confident” Hollywood would keep bringing money to Australia.

“The incentives that the Australian Government is offering to films are very similar to what’s being offered in the UK, and different states of the US, so we have a pretty level playing field with other countries, but there is no reason not to come to Australia to make a film,” he said.

“We have arguably as good or the best crews you’ll find and it’s a safe country that’s easy to work in.”

The 94th annual Academy Awards will be held March 27 in Los Angeles at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre (March 28 Australian time).