Topangan is Oscar Nominee for Best Visual Effects

For the film Ready Player One, Matthew Butler and his visual effects team at Digital Domain created an incredibly detailed city of towering cargo containers and then “blew up” the digital set. Butler applies his background in aeronautical engineering to the art of visual effects, working to realistically recreate real-world phenomena like these explosions in a digital environment. Photo courtesy of Digital Domain

This is visual effects veteran Matthew E. Butler’s second nomination since he was recognized for his work in Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, in 2012. This time, Butler and his VFX team have been nominated for a Steven Spielberg film, Ready Player One.

When director Steven Spielberg wanted to create the gritty reality of the 2045 Ohio environment in his 2018 science-fiction-adventure film, Ready Player One, Topanga resident and movie industry veteran, Matthew E. Butler was tasked with the job, and has received Oscar, BAFTA, and VES nominations for the work.

Butler and his team were nominated for Best Visual Effects in a Feature Film. It’s the second time Butler, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor for the special effects house Digital Domain, has been nominated for an Academy Award. His first nomination came in 2012, when Butler was recognized for his work in Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.

Butler is a well-rounded VFX Supervisor with extensive experience in post-production, who has brought his technical and artistic expertise to 22 full-length feature films, including Titanic, Apollo 13, Fight Club, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, xXx, and The Day After Tomorrow.

Special effects may seem like wizardry but Butler is an aeronautical engineer as well as an artist. The work he does for Digital Domain involves realistically replicating and rendering complex natural phenomena in a digital environment.

“Matt has been working in Visual Effects for 25 years and at Digital Domain for 23 years,” his wife, Michelle Butler, told the Messenger Mountain News. “He was awarded a government scholarship from the UK (where he grew up) to study in the U.S. and graduated MIT with a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering.”

According to Digital Domain, “Matthew, one of the original staffers, consistently fosters a level of quality and creativity that makes everyone around him strive for perfection and innovation.”

Butler’s background in engineering and coding is an important skill set. He has applied his work on computational fluid dynamics and computer coding to realistically replicate real-world physical dynamics, like water and fire.

“One of Matt’s first movies was Titanic, working with [Director] James Cameron on set in Rosarita, Mexico, and developing the sinking simulation and “cavitation” (bubbles) from the propellor amongst other things,” Michelle Butler said.

Matthew Butler has worked with directors Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima), Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game); and Chris Columbus (Pixels). Ready Player One is his first film with Steven Spielberg.

For Ready Player One, Butler and his team were tasked with digitally recreating the film’s main character as a holograph in a hyper-real video-game simulation called “The Oasis.” They also created a number of key  “real world” environments, including a complex city environment set in a future dystopian Columbus, Ohio, that is later blown up.

The film is an homage to the 1980s science fiction genre Spielberg is largely responsible for shaping, but those elements are deconstructed and transposed into a hyper-real, futuristic video-game setting.

Butler, and his colleagues Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, and David Shirk, on Ready Player One are in the running for Best Visual Effects award against special effects teams who worked on Christopher Robin; The Avengers: Infinity War; Solo: A Star Wars Story; and First Man.

“We go to Oscars on February 24, fingers crossed!” Michelle Butler said.  

Meanwhile, Matthew Butler isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s already at work on a new project for Sony Pictures called Plasma, starring Jared Leto.

Michelle and Michael Butler moved to Topanga in 2000. “During these early days, Matt worked with his good friend, Judith Crow, who lives in Topanga with her husband Ryan Ulyate,” Michelle Butler recalled. “We used to come up to visit and go hiking and grew to love the Canyon life.”

Their Topanga neighbors will be rooting for them on February 24.


Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at

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