Author Archives: Randi Altman

VFX house Jamm adds Flame artist Mark Holden

Santa Monica-based visual effects boutique Jamm has added veteran Flame artist Mark Holden to its roster. Holden comes to Jamm with over 20 years of experience in post production, including stints in London and Los Angeles.

It didn’t take long for Holden to dive right in at Jamm; he worked on Space 150’s Buffalo Wild Wings Super Bowl campaign directed by the Snorri Bros. and starring Brett Favre. The Super Bowl teaser kicked off the pre-game.

Holden is known not only for his visual effects talent, but also for turning projects around under tight deadlines and offering his clients as many possible solutions within the post process. This has earned him work with leading agencies such as Fallon, Mother, Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, 180, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Deutsch, David & Goliath, and Team One. He has worked with brands including Lexus, Activision, Adidas, Chevy, Geico, Grammys, Kia, Lyft, Pepsi, Southwest Airlines, StubHub, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Stella Artois, Silk, Heineken and Olay.

 

The A-List: The sound of La La Land

By Jennifer Walden

Director/writer Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land has landed an incredible 14 Oscar nominations — not to mention fresh BAFTA wins for Best Film, Best Cinematography, Original Music and Best Leading Actress, in addition to many, many other accolades.

The story follows aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) who meets the talented-but-struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) at a dinner club, where he’s just been fired from his gig of plinking out classic Christmas tunes for indifferent diners. Mia throws out a compliment as Sebastian approaches, but he just breezes right past, ignoring her completely. Their paths cross again at a Los Angeles pool party, and this time Mia makes a lasting impression on Sebastian. They eventually fall in love, but their life together is complicated by the realities of making their own dreams happen.

Sounds of the City
La La Land is a love story but it’s also a love letter to Los Angeles, says supervising sound editor Ai-Ling Lee, who shares an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing on the film with co-supervising sound editor Mildred Iatrou Morgan. One of Chazelle’s initial directives was to have the cityscape sound active and full of life. “He gave me film references, like Boogie Nights and Mean Streets, even though the latter was a New York film. He liked the amount of sound coming out from the city, but wanted a more romantic approach to the soundscape on La La Land. He likes the idea of the city always being bustling,” says Lee.

Mildred Iatrou Morgan and Ai-Ling Lee. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Harlacker

In addition to La La Land’s musical numbers, director Chazelle wanted to add musical moments throughout the film, some obvious, like the car radios in the opening traffic jam, and some more subtle. Lee explains, “You always hear music coming from different sources in the city, like music coming out of a car going by or mariachi music coming from down the hallway of Sebastian’s apartment building.” The culturally diverse incidental music, traffic sounds, helicopters, and local LA birds, like mourning doves, populate the city soundscape and create a distinct Los Angeles vibe.

For Lee’s sound editorial and sound design, she worked in a suite at EPS-Cineworks in Burbank — the same facility where the picture editor and composer were working. “Damien and Tom Cross [film editor] were cutting the picture there, and Justin Hurwitz the composer was right next door to them, and I was right across the hall from them. It was a very collaborative environment so it was easy to bring someone over to review a scene or sounds. I could pop over there to see them if I had any questions,” says Lee, who was able to design sound against the final music tracks. That was key to helping those two sound elements gel into one cohesive soundtrack.

Bursting Into Song
Director Chazelle’s other initial concern for sound was the music, particularly how the spoken dialogue would transitions into the studio recorded songs. That’s where supervising sound editor Morgan got to flex her dialogue editing muscles. “Milly [Morgan] knows this style of ADR, having worked on musicals before,” says Lee. “Damien wanted the dialogue to seamlessly transition into a musical moment. He didn’t want it to feel like suddenly we’re playing a pre-recorded song. He liked to have things sound more natural, with realistic grounded sounds, to help blend the music into the scene,” says Lee.

To achieve a smooth dialogue transition, Morgan recorded ADR for every line that led into a song to ensure she had a good transition between production dialogue and studio recorded dialogue, which would transition more cleanly into the studio-recorded music. “I cued that way for La La Land, but I ended up not having to use a lot of that. The studio recorded vocals and the production sound were beautifully recorded using the same mics in both cases. They were matching very well and I was able to go with the more emotional, natural sounding songs that were sung on-set in some cases,” says Morgan, who worked from her suite at 20th Century Fox studios along with ADR editor Galen Goodpaster.

Mia’s audition song, “The Fools Who Dream,” was one track that Morgan and the director were most concerned about. As Mia gives her impromptu audition she goes from speaking softly to suddenly singing, and then she starts singing louder. That would have been difficult to recreate in post because her performance on-set — captured by production mixer Steven Morrow — was so beautiful and emotional. The trouble was there were creaking noises on the track. Morgan explains, “As Mia starts singing, the camera moves in on her. It moves through the office and through the desk. It was a breakaway desk and they broke it apart so that the camera could move through it. That created all the creaking I heard on the track.”

Morgan was able to save the live performance by editing in clean ambience between words, and finding alternate takes that weren’t ruined by the creaking noise. She used Elastic Audio inside Pro Tools, as well as the Pro Tools TCE tool (time compression/expansion tool) to help tweak the alt takes into place. “I had to go through all of the outtakes, word by word, syllable by syllable, and find ones that fit in with the singing, and didn’t have creaks on them… and fit in terms of sync. It was very painstaking. It took me a couple of days to do it but it was a very rewarding result. That took a lot of time but it was so worth it because that was a really important moment in the movie,” says Morgan.

Reality Steps In
Not all on-set song performances could be used in the final track, so putting the pre-recorded songs in the space helped to make the transition into musical moments feel more realistic. Precisely crafted backgrounds, made with sounds that fit the tone of the impending song, gradually step aside as the music takes over. But not all of the real-world sounds go away completely. Foley helped to ground a song into the reality on screen by marrying it to the space. For example, Mia’s roommates invite her to a party in a song called “Someone in the Crowd.” Diegetic sounds, such as the hairdryer, the paper fan flicking open, occasional footsteps, and clothing rustles helped the pre-recorded song fit naturally into the scene. Additionally, Morgan notes that production mixer Morrow “did an excellent job of miking the actors with body mics and boom mics, even during the musical numbers that were sung to playback, like ‘Someone in the Crowd,’ just in case there was something to capture that we could use. There were a couple of little vocalizations that we were able to use in the number.”

Foley also played a significant role in the tap dance song “A Lovely Night.” Originally performed as a soft shoe dance number, director Chazelle decided to change it to a tap dance number in post. Lee reveals, “We couldn’t use the production sound since there was music playback in the scene for the actors to perform to. So, we had to fully recreate everything with the sound. Damien had a great idea to try to replace the soft shoe sound with tap shoes. It was an excellent idea because the tap sound plays so much better with the dance music than the soft shoe sound does.”

Lee enlisted Mandy Moore, the dance choreographer on the film, and several dancers to re-record the Foley on that scene. Working with Foley artist Dan O’Connell, of One Step Up located on The Jane Russell Foley Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios, they tried various weights of tap shoes on different floor surfaces before narrowing it down to the classic “Fred and Ginger” sound that Chazelle was looking for. “Even though they are dancing on asphalt, we ended up using a wooden floor surface on the Foley stage. Damien was very precise about playing up a step here and playing up a scuff there, because it plays better against the music. It was really important to have the taps done to the rhythm of the song as opposed to being in sync with the picture. It fools your brain. Once you have everything in rhythm with the music, the rest flows like butter,” says Lee. She cut the tap dance Foley to picture according to Chazelle’s tastes, and then invited Moore to listen to the mix to make sure that the tap dance routine was realistic from a dancer’s point of view.

Inside the Design
One of Lee’s favorite scenes to design was the opening sequence of the film, which starts with the sound of a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway. The sound begins in mono with a long horn honk over a black and white Cinemascope logo. As the picture widens and the logo transitions into color, Lee widens the horn honk into stereo and then into the surrounds. From that, the sound builds to a few horns and cars idling. Morgan recorded a radio announcer to establish the location as Los Angeles. The 1812 Overture plays through a car radio, and the sound becomes futzed as the camera pans to the next car in the traffic jam. With each car the camera passes the radio station changes. “This is Los Angeles and it is a mixed cultural city. Damien wanted to make sure there was a wide variety of music styles, so Justin [Hurwitz] gave me a bunch of different music choices, an eclectic selection to choose from,” says Lee. She added radio tuning sounds, car idling sounds, and Foley of tapping on the steering wheel to ground the scene in reality. “We made sure that the sound builds but doesn’t overpower the first musical number. The first trumpet hit comes through this traffic soundscape, and gradually the real city sounds give way to the first song, ‘Another Day of Sun.’”

One scene that stood out for Morgan was after Mia’s play, when she’s in her dressing room feeling sad that the theater was mostly empty for her performance. Not even Sebastian showed up. As she’s sitting there, we hear two men from the audience disparaging her and her play. Initially, Chazelle and his assistant recorded a scratch track for that off-stage exchange, but he asked Morgan to reshoot it with actors. “He wanted it to sound very naturalistic, so we spent some time finding just the right actors who didn’t sound like actors. They sound like regular people,” says Morgan.

She had the actors improvise their lines on why they hated the play, how superficial it was and how pretentious it was. Following some instruction from Chazelle, they cut the scene together. “We screened it and it was too mean, so we had to tone it back a little,” shares Morgan. “That was fun because I don’t always get to do that, to create an ADR scene from scratch. Damien is meticulous. He knows what he wants and he knows what he doesn’t want. But in this case, he didn’t know exactly what they should say. He had an idea. So I do my version and he gave me ideas and it went back and forth. That was a big challenge for me but a very enjoyable one.”

The Mix
In addition to sound editing, Lee also mixed the final soundtrack with re-recording mixer Andy Nelson at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. She and Nelson share an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing on La La Land. Lee says, “Andy and I had made a film together before, called Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. So it made sense for me to do both the sound design and to mix the effects. Andy mixed the music and dialogue. And Jason Ruder was the music editor.”

From design to mix, Chazelle’s goal was to have La La Land sound natural — as though it was completely natural for these people to burst into song as they went through their lives. “He wanted to make sure it sounded fluid. With all the work we did, we wanted to make the film sound natural. The sound editing isn’t in your face. When you watch the movie as a whole, it should feel seamless. The sound shouldn’t take you out of the experience and the music shouldn’t stand apart from the sound. The music shouldn’t sound like a studio recording,” concludes Lee. “That was what we were trying to achieve, this invisible interaction of music and sound that ultimately serves the experience.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

A Conversation: Jungle Book’s Oscar-nominated Rob Legato

By Randi Altman

Rob Legato’s resume includes some titles that might be considered among the best visual effects films of all time: Titanic, Avatar, Hugo, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Apollo 13 and, most recently, The Jungle Book. He has two Oscars to his credit (Titanic, Hugo) along with two other nominations (Apollo 13 and this year for The Jungle Book). And while Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator don’t scream effects, he worked on those as well.

While Legato might be one of the most prodigious visual effects supervisors of all time, he never intended for this to be his path. “The magic of movies, in general, was my fascination more than anything else,” he says, and that led to him studying cinematography and directing at Santa Barbara’s Brooks Institute. They provided intensive courses on the intricacies of working with cameras and film.

Rob Legato worked closely with Technicolor and MPC to realize Jon Favreau’s vision for The Jungle Book, which is nominated for a VFX Oscar this year.

It was this technical knowledge that came in handy at his first job, working as a producer at a commercials house. “I knew that bizarre, esoteric end of the business, and that became known among my colleagues.” So when a spot came in that had a visual effect in it, Legato stepped up. “No one knew how to do it, and this was before on-set visual effects supervisors worked on commercials. I grabbed the camera and I figured out a way of doing it.”

After working on commercials, Legato transitioned to longer-form work, specifically television. He started on the second season of The Twilight Zone series, where he got the opportunity to shoot some footage. He was hoping to direct an episode, but the show got cancelled before he had a chance.

Legato then took his experience to Star Trek at a time when they were switching from opticals to a digital post workflow. “There were very few people then who had any kind of visual effects and live-action experience in television. I became second-unit director and ultimately directed a few shows. It was while working on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine that I learned how to mass produce visual effects on as big a scale as television allows, and that led me to Digital Domain.”

It was at Digital Domain where Legato transitioned to films, starting with Interview With the Vampire. He served as visual effects supervisor on this one. “Director Neil Jordan asked me to do the second unit. I got along really well with DP Philippe Roussselot and was able to direct live-action scenes and personally direct and photograph anything that was not live-action related — including the Tom Cruise puppet that looked like he’s bleeding to death.” This led to Apollo 13 on which he was VFX supervisor.

On set for Hugo (L-R): Martin Scorsese, DP Bob Richardson and Rob Legato.

“I thought as a director did, and I thought as a cameraman, so I was able to answer my own questions. This made it easy to communicate with directors and cameramen, and that was my interest. I attacked everything from the perspective of, ‘If I were directing this scene, what would I do?’ It then became easy for me to work with directors who weren’t very fluent in the visual effects side. And because I shot second unit too, especially on Marty Scorsese’s movies, I could determine what the best way of getting that image was. I actually became quite a decent cameraman with all this practice emulating Bob Richardson’s extraordinary work, and I studied the masters (Marty and Bob) and learned how to emulate their work to blend into their sequences seamlessly. I was also able to maximize the smaller dollar amount I was given by designing both second unit direction and cinematography together to maximize my day.”

Ok, let’s dig in a bit deeper with Legato, a card-carrying member of the ASC, and find out how he works with directors, his workflow and his love for trying and helping to create new technology in order to help tell the story.

Over the years you started to embrace virtual production. How has that technology evolved over the years?
When I was working on Harry Potter, I had to previs a sequence for time purposes, and we used a computer. I would tell the CG animators where to put the camera and lights, but there was something missing — a lot of times you get inspired by what’s literally in front of you, which is ever-changing in realtime. We were able to click the mouse and move it where we needed, but it was still missing this other sense of life.

For example, when I did Aviator, I had to shoot the plane crash; something I’d never done before, and I was nervous. It was a Scorsese film, so it was a given that it was to be beautifully designed and photographed. I didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t want to blow my opportunity. On Harry Potter and Titanic we had a lot of resources, so we could fix a mistake pretty easily. Here, I had one crack at it, and it had to be a home run.

So I prevised it, but added a realtime live-action pan and tilt wheels so we could operate and react in realtime — so instead of using a mouse, I was basically using what we use on a stage. It was a great way of working. I was doing the entire scene from one vantage point. I then re-staged it, put a different lens on it and shot the same exact scene from another angle. Then I could edit it as you would a real sequence, just as if I had all the same angles I would have if I had photographed it conventionally and produced a full set of multi-angle live-action dailies.

You edit as well?
I love editing. I would operate the shot and then cut it in the Avid, instantly. All of a sudden I was able to build a sequence that had a certain photographic and editorial personality to it — it felt like there was someone quite specific shooting it.

Is that what you did for Avatar?
Yes. Cameron loves to shoot, operate and edit. He has no fear of technology. I told him what I did on Aviator and that I couldn’t afford to add the more expensive, but extremely flexible, motion capture to it. So on Avatar instead of only the camera having live pan and tilt wheels, it could also be hand-held — you could do Steadicam shots, you could do running shots, you could do hand-held things, anything you wanted, including adding a motion capture live performance by an actor. You could easily stage them, or a representation of that character, in any place or scale in the scene, because in Avatar the characters were nine feet tall. You could preview the entire movie in a very free form and analog way. Jim loved the fact he could impart his personality — the way he moves the camera, the way he frames, the way he cuts — and that the CG-created film would bear the unmistakable stamp of his distinctive live-action movies.

You used the “Avatar-way” on Jungle Book, yes?
Yes. It wasn’t until Jungle Book that I could afford the Avatar-way — a full-on stage with a lot of people to man it. I was able to take what I gave to Jim on Avatar and do it myself with the bells and whistles and some improvements that gave it a life-like sensibility of what could have been an animated film. Instead it became a live film because we used a live-action analog methodology of acquiring images and choosing which one was the right, exact moment per the cut.

The idea behind virtual cinematography is that you shoot it like you would a regular movie. All the editors, cameramen or directors who’ve never done this before are now sort of operating the way they would have if it were real. This very flavor and personality starts to rub off on the patina of the film and begins to feel like a real movie; not animated or computer generated one.

Our philosophy on Jungle Book was we would not make the computer camera do anything that a real camera could not do, so we limited the way we could move it and how fast we could move it, so it wouldn’t defy any kind of gravity. That went part and parcel with the animation and movement of the animals and the actor performing stunts that only a human can accomplish.

So you are in a sense limiting what you can do with the technology?
There was an operator behind the camera and behind the wheels, massaging and creating the various compositional choices that generally are not made in a computer. They’re not just setting keyframes, and because somebody’s behind the camera, this sense of live-action-derived movement is consistent from shot to shot to shot. It’s one person doing it, whereas normally on a CG film, there are as many as 50 people who are placing cameras on different characters within the same scene.

You have to come up with these analog methodologies that are all tied together without even really knowing it. Your choices at the end of the day end up being strictly artistic choices. We’d sort of tap into that for Jungle Book and it’s what Jim tapped into when he did Avatar. The only difference between Avatar and our film is that we set our film in an instantly recognizable place so everybody can judge whether it’s photorealistic or not.

When you start a film, do you create your own system or use something off the shelf?
With every film there is a technology advance. I typically take whatever is off-the-shelf and glue it together with something not necessarily designed to work in unison. Each year you perfect it. The only way to really keep on top of technology is by being on the forefront of it, as opposed to waiting for it to come out. Usually, we’re doing things that haven’t been done before, and invariably it causes something new and innovative.

We’re totally revamping what we did on Jungle Book to achieve the same end on my next film for Disney, but we hope to make it that much better, faster and more intuitive. We are also taking advantage of VR tools to make our job easier, more creative and faster. The faster you can create options, the more iterations you get. More iterations get you a better product sooner and help you elevate the art form by taking it to the next level.

Technology is always driven by the story. We ask ourselves what we want to achieve. What kind of shot do we want to create that creates a mood and a tone? Then once we decide what that is, we figure out what technology we need to invent, or coerce into being, to actually produce it. It’s always driven that way. For example, on Titanic, the only way I could tell that story and make these magic transitions from the Titanic to the wreck and from the wreck back to the Titanic, was by controlling the water, which was impossible. We needed to make computer-generated water that looked realistic, so we did.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) BAGHEERA and MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CG water was a big problem back then.
But now that’s very commonplace. The water work in Jungle Book is extraordinary compared to the crudeness of what we did on Titanic, but we started on that path, and then over the years other people took over and developed it further.

Getting back to Marty Scorsese, and how you work with him. How does having his complete trust make you better at what you do?
Marty is not as interested in the technical side as Jim is. Jim loves all this stuff, and he likes to tinker and invent. Marty’s not like that. Marty likes to tinker with emotions and explore a performance editorially. His relationship with me is, “I’m not going to micro-manage you. I’m going to tell you what feeling I want to get.” It’s very much like how he would talk to an actor about what a particular scene is about. You then start using your own creativity to come up with the idea he wants, and you call on your own experience and interpretation to realize it. You are totally engaged, and the more engaged you are, the more creative you become in terms of what the director wants to tell his story. Tell me what you want, or even don’t want, and then I’ll fill in the blanks for you.

Marty is an incredible cinema master — it’s not just the performance, it’s not just the camera, it’s not just the edit, it’s all those things working in concert to create something new. His encouragement for somebody like me is to do the same and then only show him something that’s working. He can then put his own creative stamp on it as well once he sees the possibilities properly presented. If it’s good, he’s going to use it. If it’s not good, he’ll tell you why, but he won’t tell you how to if fix it. He’ll tell you why it doesn’t feel right for the scene or what would make it more eloquent. It’s a very soft, artistic push in his direction of the film. I love working with him for this very reason.

You too surround yourself with people you can trust. Can you talk about this for just a second?
I learned early on to surround myself with geniuses. You can’t be afraid of hiring people that are smarter than you are because they bring more to the party. I want to be the lowest common denominator, not the highest. I’ll start with my idea, but if someone else can do it better, I want it to be better. I can show them what I did and tell them to make it better, and they’ll go off and come up with something that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of, or the collusion between you and them creates a new gem.

When I was doing Titanic someone asked me how I did what I did. My answer was that I hired geniuses and told them what I wanted to accomplish creatively. I hire the best I can find, the smartest, and I listen. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the mistake of somebody literally misunderstanding what you meant delivers something that you never thought of. It’s like, “Wow, you completely misunderstood what I said, but I like that better, so we’re going to do that.”

Part and parcel of doing this is that you’re a little fearless. It’s like, “Well, that sounds good. There’s no proof to it, but we’re going to go for it,” as opposed to saying, “Well, no one has done it before so we better not try it. That’s what I learned from Cameron and Marty and Bob Zemeckis. They’re fearless.

Can you mention what you’re working on now, or no?
I’m working on Lion King.

Steve Porter

Behind the Title: MTI colorist Steve Porter

NAME: Steve Porter

COMPANY: MTI Film

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a Hollywood-based post facility that specializes in TV finishing, film restoration and software development.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That I am also a skin care specialist, VFX artist and therapist.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Digital Vision Nucoda.

Bates Motel

ARE YOU ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
This career has proven to be as much about color as it is about understanding cameras and technical workflows.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Being able to put my stamp as an artist on a project and working with great DPs and clients that like collaboration.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Working with someone that doesn’t respect the art of it.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Trying to make the professional golf tour.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’ve always loved photography and movies… it was a path that I never even knew existed when I was younger. It was something that bridged those two worlds, and I was lucky enough to have a knack for it.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS?
Outlander, Outcast, Bates Motel, Good Behavior, The Magicians and Hell on Wheels.

Outlander

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The projects that I just mentioned above… and I love Outlander — the clients and the show, they allow great freedom to create many different worlds. I enjoy that and take great pride in being a part of it.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Watching movies. Getting a wonderfully shot show from a great DP and seeing where something takes me — that’s inspiration.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A cell phone, my color corrector and a set of golf clubs.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I really only check Facebook.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Did I mention I like to golf?

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter editor Doobie White

By Brady Betzel

Editor Doobie White straddles two worlds. As co-founder of West Los Angeles-based Therapy Studios, he regularly works on commercials and music videos, but he also gets to step out of that role to edit movies. In fact, his most recent, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter for director Paul WS Anderson, is his ninth feature film.

Recently, we reached out to White to ask him about his workflow on this film, his editing techniques, his background and why regularly cutting more than one type of project makes him a better editor. Ok, let’s dig in.

Doobie White

What was it like coming onto a film that was an established franchise, and the last film in that franchise? Did that add any pressure?
The pressure was definitely on. The Final Chapter needed to be bigger, scarier and more exciting than the previous films. It’s also when the story comes full circle. We find out who Alice really is and what she has been fighting against throughout the franchise. There was a considerable amount of time and effort put into the edit to make it the best possible film it could be. That is what we aim for.

How early did you come on board? Were you on set? Near set? Keeping up with camera?
I was brought on a month or so before principal photography began. The film was shot in South Africa. I was there for four months cutting away like a madman. I was keeping up with camera so they could pick up any extra shots that would help tell the story. This was a life saver in the end. Scenes got better and we solved problems early on in the process. By the time we left South Africa we had a full rough cut. No re-shoots were necessary because they got it all before we left.

This is an action film with a lot of VFX. How did that affect your edit? Did they do pre and postvis on this one? Does that help you?
There was previs for some of the more complicated VFX in the movie, but that was mainly for production, to get a better understanding of what Paul was looking for and to make sure they captured every shot that was needed. I do think it really helps to get everyone on the same page. The scene usually evolves, but it’s a great way to start. I basically do the same thing but with the real footage when there is a lot of VFX involved.

When I’m working on a heavy VFX sequence, I really put everything into the scene that I possibly can to make sure it is working. There is a scene with a big flying creature at the beginning of the film that we called Dragon vs. Hummer. It’s basically exactly what it sounds like. I took still cut-outs of a temp creature and placed them into the shots, making the creature chase Alice around a destroyed Washington, DC. My goal was to make the edit look and sound like the finished film — albeit, with a silly cut-out of a scary monster. If I can create excitement with a still, I know the finished scene is going to be great.

Did the director shoot a lot of footage?
Paul does shoot a lot. He covers everything really well. I’m hardly ever painted into a corner. He always gives me a way out. Having tons of footage does make it more difficult when putting scenes together, but I love having the options to play.

What direction were you given from him in terms of the cut, if any?
We kinda had a motto for the film. Probably not a motto, but it’s something that Paul would say after showing him a cut, and I would always keep in mind. “There is a lot of great stuff in there… all you need to do now is move it all closer together.” Paul really wanted this film to be non-stop — for the story to always be propelled forward. I took that as a mission statement: to always make the audience feel like Alice, caught in this crazy post-apocalyptic world — with violence, chaos and monsters!

How did you work with Anderson? How often were you showing him cuts?
Paul is great to work with. We had an absolute blast cutting this film together. In the early stages I was just trying to tame the beast, so we would get together a couple of times a week to review. By the end, Paul was in everyday pushing me to take the edit into new territory. What’s incredible about Paul is that he never runs out of ideas. Anytime there was a problem he would always have a creative solution. It truly is a joy to work on a film like this with a director that isn’t afraid to push visual storytelling.

What system did you edit on?
Avid 8.3.1. It was the most stable at the time. Avid is still the best at having multiple people working on the same material at the same time. I might consider other software if they could match the sharing functionality that Avid has been doing for years. I also frequently use Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.

Do you have any special shortcuts/tricks you use often?
This really isn’t a shortcut or a trick, but it relates. If I find a performance that I like but there is something wrong with the image, I will usually figure out a way to fix it. I tend to do this on every job to some degree. For instance, if an actors eyes are shut when they are delivering a line, I will replace their eyes from a different take. Sometimes I’m replacing heads to have characters looking in the right direction. I will comp two different takes together. I use every tool I’ve got to get the best performance possible.

How do you organize your projects? Any special bins/folders of commonly used stuff like speed ramps, transitions, etc.?
I have a lot of bins that migrate from job to job. I place just as much importance on sound as I do on picture. Everything I do involves sound in a very specific way. So I have around 120 sound effects bins that I move over to every job that I do. Everything from footsteps to gunshots. I’m adding to this all the time, but it saves multiple days of work to keep a master set of sounds and then add specific sounds for each job.

On this one, we recorded a bunch of people in our office for zombie sounds, pitching their voices and adding effects to make them sound truly disturbing. I also have 60 bins or so of music that I keep on hand. I’m adding to this all the time as well.

What do you expect from an assistant editor, and how much knowledge should they already have? Are they essentially technical editors or do you mentor them?
I expect a lot from my assistants. They need to be technically savvy, but they also need to know how to edit. I do so many VFX and do a full sound design pass on every scene. My assistants have to be able to contribute on all fronts. One day they will be organizing. The next they will be adding sounds and lasers (temp VFX) to a scene. I have worked with the same assistant for a bunch of years. Her name is Amy K. Bostrom, and she is amazing. She does all the technical side, but she is a great editor in her own right. I have no doubt that she will have a great career.

How did you approach this project and was it any different than commercials/music videos?
It’s definitely different, but I start in a very similar way. I like to get a scene/commercial/music video cut together as fast as possible. I don’t watch a lot of the footage on the first pass. When I have a rough cut I go back to the dailies and watch everything. At that point I know what I’m looking for and my selects have a purpose.

If you could edit any genre and project what would you do?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think I really have a preference. I want the challenge and to be pushed creatively. Every project that I work on I’m really just trying to make myself feel something. I search for footage and sound that evokes emotion, and I cut it in a way that produces some sort of feeling in myself. Whether that be happiness, pain, excitement, fear, pleasure — if I can feel something when I’m working, then others will as well. I want to work on projects that connect with people in some way. The genre is secondary.

Are you ever satisfied with an edit, or does the edit just stop because of deadlines? Could you tinker forever or do know when something is at the right spot?
I think it is a little bit of both. You work really hard to get a project into a good place. Fix all the problems, fine-tune everything, but eventually you run out of time. A movie could be worked on forever. So it is like George Lucas said, “Movies are abandoned.” I believe a film can always be better. I go for that until I can’t.

Do you have any life/work balance tips or processes you do?
Unfortunately, no. I wish I did. I just have a lot of passion for what I do. I can’t really focus on anything else when I’m on a project. I try to disconnect from it, but I’m always thinking about it in some way. How can it be better? What is this scene/movie/commercial really about? How can I fix something that is not working? I’m half present when I’m on a project and I’m not in the cutting room. It takes over my life. It’s probably not the healthiest way to go, but it’s the only way I know. Honestly, I love it. I’m fine with getting a little obsessive. I’m going to work on meditating!

It must be fun to run an editorial house, but also step into the world of features films from time to time. Keeps things fresh for you?
Yes, it is nice to be able to jump from different types of projects. I love commercials and I love movies, but they are quite different and use different muscles. By the time I’m done with a movie I am so ready to cut commercials for a while, and vice versa. Films are extremely rewarding, but it’s an endurance race. Commercials are instant gratification. You cut for a week or two, and its on air the following week. It’s great! After a few months of commercials I’m ready for a new challenge.

Where/when did you get the first itch to work in video/film?
I had no plans of working in the film industry. I loved movies, music videos, and commercials, but I was so far removed from that world that I never saw a path. I was a ski bum studying art in Lake Tahoe, and one of the classes offered was digital media. This is the first time I realized you could edit clips together on a computer. It changed everything I was focused on. I started making silly short films and cutting them together. It wasn’t a film school and no one else was doing this so I had to do everything. From the writing, shooting and the music.

What I enjoyed the most was editing these little masterpieces. I decided I was going to figure out how to get someone to pay me to be an editor. I moved to LA and pretty much got laughed at. I couldn’t find a job, I was sleeping on couches. It was a bit desperate. The only opportunity that I eventually landed was an internship at a post house. After many coffee runs and taking out the trash, an editor asked me to work on a music video over the weekend. I jumped at the opportunity and didn’t go home until he came back on Monday. After he saw the cut I was hired the next day. This post house is where I met three of my best friends who would eventually become my partners at Therapy Studios.

Was your family supportive of you going into a creative job like editing?
To a degree, yes. It took a long time to find a path as an editor, and I think it was a bit confusing for them when I started working as an intern, especially being that I had zero cash and they were in no place to help. What I think is hard for a lot of people to understand that are not in the industry is that its very difficult to get a job in the film business. No matter what career you want to do, there are a thousand other kids that are trying to do the same thing. Perseverance is key. If you can outlast others you will probably find a way… ha!


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Deluxe VFX

Craig Zerouni joins Deluxe VFX as head of technology

Deluxe has named Craig Zerouni as head of technology for Deluxe Visual Effects. In this role, he will focus on continuing to unify software development and systems architecture across Deluxe’s Method studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver, New York and India, and its Iloura studios in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as LA’s Deluxe VR.

Based in LA and reporting to president/GM of Deluxe VFX and VR Ed Ulbrich, Zerouni will lead VFX and VR R&D and software development teams and systems worldwide, working closely with technology teams across Deluxe’s Creative division.

Zerouni has been working in media technology and production for nearly three decades, joining Deluxe most recently from DreamWorks, where he was director of technology at its Bangalore, India-bsed facility overseeing all technology. Prior to that he spent nine years at Digital Domain, where he was first head of R&D responsible for software strategy and teams in five locations across three countries, then senior director of technology overseeing software, systems, production technology, technical directors and media systems. He has also directed engineering, products and teams at software/tech companies Silicon Grail, Side Effects Software and Critical Path. In addition, he was co-founder of London-based computer animation company CFX.

Zerouni’s work has contributed to features including Tron: Legacy, Iron Man 3, Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Ender’s Game and more than 400 commercials and TV IDs and titles. He is a member of BAFTA, ACM/SIGGRAPH, IEEE and the VES. He has served on the AMPAS Digital Imaging Technology Subcommittee and is the author of the technical reference book “Houdini on the Spot.”

Says Ulbrich on the new hire: “Our VFX work serves both the features world, which is increasingly global, and the advertising community, which is increasingly local. Behind the curtain at Method, Iloura, and Deluxe, in general, we have been working to integrate our studios to give clients the ability to tap into integrated global capacity, technology and talent anywhere in the world, while offering a high-quality local experience. Craig’s experience leading global technology organizations and distributed development teams, and building and integrating pipelines is right in line with our focus.”

A closer look at some London-based audio post studios

By Mel Lambert

While in the UK recently for a holiday/business trip, I had the opportunity to visit several of London’s leading audio post facilities and catch up with developments among the Soho community.

‘Baby Driver’

I also met up with Julian Slater, a highly experienced supervising sound editor, sound designer and re-recording mixer who relocated to the US a couple of years ago, working first at Formosa Group and then at the Technicolor at Paramount facility in Hollywood. Slater was in London working on writer/director Edgar Wright’s action-drama Baby Driver, starring Lily James, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx. The film follows the progress of a young getaway driver who, after being coerced into working for a crime boss, finds himself taking part in a heist that’s doomed to fail.

Goldcrest Films
Slater handled sound effects pre-dubs at Goldcrest Films on Dean Street in the heart of Soho’s film district, while co-mixer Tim Cavagin worked on dialog and Foley pre-mixes at Twickenham TWI Studios in Richmond, a London suburb west of the capital. Finals started just before Christmas at Goldcrest, with Slater handling music and SFX, while Cavagin oversaw dialog and Foley. “We are using Goldcrest’s new Dolby Atmos-capable Theater 1, which opened last May,” explains Slater. “The post crew includes sound effects editors Arthur Graley, Jeremy Price and Martin Cantwell, plus dialog/ADR supervisor Dan Morgan and Foley editor Peter Hanson.

“I cannot reveal too much about my sound design for Baby Driver,” admits Slater, “but because the lead character [actor Ansel Elgort] has a hearing anomaly, I am working with pitch changes to interweave various elements of the film’s soundtrack.”

Baby Driver is scheduled for UK and US release in August, and will be previewed in mid-March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Composer Steven Price’s score for the film was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in North London. Price wrote the music for writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013), which won him the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

British-born Wright is probably best known for comedies, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013), several of which featured Slater’s talents as supervising sound editor, sound designer and/or re-recording mixer.

Slater is a multiple BAFTA and Emmy Award nominee. After graduating from the School of Audio Engineering (now the SAE Institute) in London, at the age of 22 he co-founded the Hackenbacker post company and designed sound for his first feature film, director Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Subsequent films include In Bruges (2008), Dark Shadows (2012), Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010) and Attack the Block (2011).

Goldcrest Films, which has a NYC-based studio as well, provides post services for film and broadcast projects, including Carol (2015), The Danish Girl (2015) and Les Misérables (2012). The facility features three Dolby dubbing theaters with DCI-compliant projection, plus ADR and Foley recording stages, sound design and editing suites, offline editorial and grading suites. “Last May we opened Theatre 1,” reports studio manager Rob Weatherall, “a fully sound-isolated mixing theater that is Dolby Atmos Premier-certified.”

Goldcrest Films Theater 1 (L-R): Alex Green, Rowan Watson, Julian Slater, Rob Weatherall and Robbie Scott.

First used to re-record writer/director Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne (2016), the new room houses a hybrid Avid 32-fader S6 M40 Pro Tools control surface section within a 72-fader dual-engine AMS Neve DFC3D Gemini frame. By building interchangeable AMS and S6 “buckets” in a single console frame, the facility can mix and match formats according to the re-recording engineers’ requirements — either “in the box” using the S6 surface, or a conventional workflow using the DFC sections.

“I like working in the box,” says Slater, “since it lets me retain all my sound ideas right through print mastering. For Baby Driver we premixed to a 9.1-channel bed with Atmos objects and brought this submix here to Goldcrest where we could open everything seamlessly on the S6 console and refine all my dialog, music and effects submixes for the final Atmos immersive mix. Because I have so much sound design for the music being heard by our lead character, including sound cues for the earbuds and car radios, it’s the only way to work! We also had a lot of music playback on the set.”

The supervising sound editor needed to carefully prepare myriad sound cues. “Having worked on all of his films, I have come to recognize that Edgar [Wright] is an extremely sound-conscious director,” Slater reports. “The soundtrack for Baby Driver needed to work seamlessly and sound holistic — not forced in any way. In other words, while sound is important in this film — for obvious reasons — it is critical that we don’t detract the audience from the dramatic storyline.”

Theater 1’s 55-loudspeaker Atmos array includes a mixture of Crown-powered JBL 5732s Screen Array cabinets in the front with Meyer cabinets for the surrounds. Accommodated formats include 5.1, 7.1 and DTS:X. Five Pro Tools playback systems are available with Waves Platinum plug-in packages, plus a 192-channel Pro Tools HDX 3 recorder. Each Pro Tools rig features a DAD DX32 audio interface, with both Audinate Dante- and MADI-format digital outputs. The latter can be routed to the DFC console for conventional mixing or to a sixth rig with a DAD AX32 converter system for in the box mixing on the S6 control surface. Video projection is via a Barco DP2K-10SX and an Integrated Media Server for DCP playback, and Pro Tools Native with an AJA video card. Outboards include a pair of Lexicon 960 reverbs, two TC 6000 reverb and four dbx Subharmonic synthesizers.

Hackenbacker Audio Post
Around the corner from Goldcrest, Slater’s former facility Hackenbacker Audio Post comprises a multi-room post facility that was purchased in July 2015 by Molinare from e-Post Media, owners of Halo Post. Hackenbacker handled sound for the TV series Downton Abbey, Cold Feet and Thunderbirds Are Go, plus director Richard Ayoade’s film, The Double (2013). Owner/founder Nigel Heath remains a director of the group management team for the facility’s three dubbing studios, five edit suites and a large Foley stage located a short distance away.

Hackebacker’s Studio 2

Hackenbacker Studio 1 has been Heath’s home base for more than a decade. It houses a large-format AMS Neve 48-fader MMC Neve console with three Avid HD3 Pro Tools systems, two iZ Technologies RADAR 24-track recorder/players and a Dynaudio M3F 5.1 monitoring system that was used to re-record Hot Fuzz, In Bruges, Shaun of the Dead and many other projects.

Studio 2 features Dynaudio monitoring along with an Avid Icon 16-fader D-Control surface linked to a Pro Tools HDX system. It is used for 5.1 TV mixing and ADR and includes a large booth suitable for both ADR and voice-over. Also designed for TV mixing and ADR, Studio 3 features Quested monitoring and an Avid ICON 32-fader D-control surface linked to a Pro Tools HDX system. Edit 1 and 2 handle a wide cross section of sound effects editorial assignments, with access to a large sound library and other creative tools. Edit 3 and 4 are equipped for dialog and ADR editing. Edit 5 features a transfer bay and QC facility in which all sound material is verified and checked.

Twickenham TWI Studios
According to technology development manager/re-recording mixer Craig Irving, Twickenham TWI Studios recently completed mixing of the soundtrack for writer/director Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, the story of Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, starring Armie Hammer and Geoffrey Rush. The film was re-recorded by Tim Cavagin and Irving, with sound editorial by Tim Hands on dialog and Jack Gillies on effects.

The lounge at Twickenham-TWI.

“Dialog tracks for Baby Driver were pre-mixed by Tim in our Atmos-capable Theatre 1,” explains Irving. “Paul Massey will be returning soon to complete the mix in Theatre 1 for director Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant, which reunites the same sound team that worked on The Martian — with Oliver Tarney supervising, Rachel Tate on dialog, and Mark Taylor and our very own Dafydd Archard on effects.” Massey also mixed Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) at Twickenham TWI. He also worked on director Rufus Norris’ London Road (2015) and director Tim Miller’s Deadpool (2016). He recently completed the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. While normally based at Fox Post Production Services in West Los Angeles, Massey also spends time in his native England overseeing a number of film projects.

“Their stages have also been busy with production of Netflix’s Black Mirror series, which consists of six original films looking at the darker side of modern life. Episode 1 was directed by Jodie Foster. “To service an increase in production, we are investing in new infrastructure that will feature a TV mixing stage,” explains Irving. “The new room will be based around an Avid S6 control surface and used as a bespoke area to mix original TV programming, as well as creating TV mixes of our theatrical titles. Our Picture Post area is also being expanded with a second FilmLight Baselight Two color grading system with full 4K projection for both theatrical and broadcast projects.”

Twickenham TWI’s rooftop bar and restaurant opened its doors to clients and staff last year. “It has proved extremely popular and is open to membership from within the industry,” Irving says. The facility’s remodeled front office and reception area was designed Barbarella Design. “We have chosen a ‘’60s retro, Mad Men theme in greys and red,” says the studio’s COO Maria Walker. In addition to its two main re-recording theaters, TWI offers 40 cutting rooms, an ADR/Foley stage and three shooting stages.

Warner Bros. De Lane Lea
Just up the street from Goldcrest Films is Warner Bros. De Lane Lea, which started as a multi-room studio. It also has a rather unusual ancestry. In the 1940s, Major De Lane Lea was looking to improve the way dialog for film and later TV could be recorded and replaced in order to streamline dubbing between French and English. This resulted in his setting up a company called De Lane Lea Processes and a laboratory in Soho. The company also developed a number of other products aimed at post, and over the next 30 years opened a variety of studios in London for voice recording, film, TV and jingle mixing, music recording and orchestral-score recording.

De Lane Lea’s Stage 1.

Around 1970, the operation moved into its current building on Dean Street and shifted its focus toward film and TV sound. The facility, which was purchased by Warner Bros. in 2012, currently includes four re-recording stages, two ADR stages for recording dialog, voiceovers and commentaries, plus 50 cutting rooms, a preview theater, transfer bay and a café/bar. Three of the Dolby-certified mixing stages are equipped with AMS Neve DFC Gemini consoles or Avid S6 control surfaces and Meyer monitoring. A TV mixing stage boasts an Avid Pro Tools control surface and JBL monitoring.

Stage 1 features an AMS Neve 80-fader DFC Gemini digital two-mixer console with an Avid control surface, linked to a Meyer Sound EXP system providing Dolby Atmos monitoring. Six Pro Tools playback systems are available — three 64-channel HDX and three 128-channel HDX2 rigs — together with a 128-channel HDX2 Pro Tools recorder. Film projection is from a Kinoton FP38ECII 35mm unit, with a Barco DP2K-23B digital cinema projector offering resolutions up to 2K. Video playback within Pro Tools is via a VCubeHD nonlinear player or a Blackmagic card. Outboards include a Lexicon 960 and a TC 6000 reverb, plus two dbx Subharmonic Synthesizers. Stage 2 is centered around an Avid S6 M40 24-fader console linked to three Pro Tools playback systems — a pair of 64-channel HDX2 and a single 128-channel HDX2 rig — plus a 64-channel HDX recorder. Monitoring is via a 7.1-channel Meyer Sound EXP system.

Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden
Located 20 miles north west of Central London and serving as its UK-based shooting lot, Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden offers a number of well-equipped stages for large-scale productions, in addition to a large tank for aquatic scenes. The facility’s history dates back almost 70 years, to when it was originally acquired by the UK Ministry of Defense in 1939 as a WWII production base for building aircraft, including the iconic Mosquito Fighter and Halifax Bombers. When hostilities ceased, the site was purchased by Rolls Royce and continued as a base for aircraft manufacture, progressing onto large engines. It eventually closed in 1992.

Warner Bros. Leavesden’s studio layout.

In 1994, Leavesden began a new life as a film studio and over the following decades was home to a number of high-profile productions, including the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995), Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (1999), An Ideal Husband (1999) and director Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999).

By 2000, Heyday Films had acquired use of the site on behalf of Warner Bros. for what would be the first in a series of Harry Potter films — Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) — with each subsequent film in the franchise during the following decade being shot at Leavesden. While other productions, almost exclusively Warner Bros. productions, made partial use of the complex, the site was mostly occupied by permanent standing sets for the Harry Potter films.

In 2010, as the eighth and final Harry Potter film was nearing completion, Warner Bros. announced its intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base, the first studio to do so since MGM in the 1940s. By November of that year, the studio had completed purchase of Leavesden Studios and announced plans to invest more than £100 million (close to $200 million at the time) on the site they had occupied, converting Stages A through H into sound stages. As part of the redevelopment, Warner Bros. created two entirely new soundstages to house a permanent public exhibition called Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter, creating 300 new jobs. It opened to the public in early 2012.

With over 100 acres, WBSL features one of the most extensive backlots in Europe, with level, graded areas, including a former aircraft runway, a variety of open fields, woodlands, hills and clear horizons. In addition, it offers bespoke art departments, dry-hire edit suites and VFX rooms, in addition to a pair of the largest water tanks in Europe, with a 60-by-60 foot filtered and heated indoor tank, and a 250-by-250 foot exterior tank.

Main Image: Goldcrest London’s Theater 1.


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

Nutmeg adds Broadway Video’s former design group

New York City-based Nutmeg, a creative marketing and post production house, has acquired Broadway Video’s design team formerly known as FAC5. Under the Nutmeg brand, they are now known as NTMG Design.

The team of four — executive creative producer Doug LeBow, executive creative director Fred Salkind, creative director David Rogers and art director Karolina Dawson — is an Emmy, Telly and PromaxBDA award-winning creative collective working on design across multiple media platforms. Existing clients that could benefit from the new services include broadcast networks, cable channels and brands.

With services that include main titles and show packaging, experiential and event design, promotions and image campaigns, the group has worked with a variety of clients on a wide range of projects, including Nickelodeon HALO Awards; Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards; The Emmys for Don Mischer Productions; Indy 500 100th Anniversary for ESPN; HBO’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for Line-by-Line Productions; Thursday Night Football and Sunday Night Football tune-in promo packaging for CBS Sports; AT&T Concert Series for iHeart Media; The Great Human Race for National Geographic Channel; The Peabody Awards for Den of Thieves and others.

“Nutmeg has always embraced growth,” says Nutmeg executive producer Laura Vick. “As our clients and the marketplace shift to engage end users, the addition of a full-service design team allows us to offer all aspects of content creation under one roof. We can now assist at the inception of an idea to help create complete visual experiences — show opens, trade shows, corporate interiors or digital billboards.”

“We look at these new design capabilities as both a new frontier unto itself, and as yet another component of what we’re already doing — telling compelling stories,” says Nutmeg executive creative director Dave Rogan. “Nothing at Nutmeg is created in a vacuum, so these new areas of design crossing over into an interactive web environment, for example, is natural.”

The new NTMG Design team will be working within Nutmeg’s midtown location. Their suite contains five workstations supported by a 10-box renderfarm, Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effects, one seat of Flame, Assimilate Scratch access for color and an insert stage for practical shooting. It is further supported by 28TBs of Infortrend storage. 

While acknowledging tools are important, executive creative director Fred Salkind says, “Sometimes when I’m asked what we work with, I say Scotch tape and scissors, because it’s the idea that puts the tools to work, not the other way around.”

Main Photo by Eljay Aguillo. L-R: Fred Salkind, David Rogers, Doug LeBow and Karolina Dawson.

Review: Maxon Cinema 4D Studio Release 18

By Brady Betzel

Each year I get to test out some of the latest and greatest software and hardware releases our industry has to offer. One of my favorites — and most challenging — is Maxon’s Cinema 4D. I say challenging because while I love Cinema 4D, I don’t use it every day. So, in order to test it thoroughly, I watched tutorials on Cineversity to brush up on what I forgot and what’s new. Even though I don’t use it every day, I do love it.

I’ve reviewed Cinema 4D Release 15 through R18. I started using the product when I was studying at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, which coincidentally is about 10 minutes from Maxon’s Newbury Park office.

Voronoi Fracture

Each version update has been packed full of remarkable additions and updates. From the grass generator in R15, addition of the Reflectance channel in R16, lens distortion tools in R17 to the multitude of updates in R18 — Cinema 4D keeps on cranking out the hits. I say multitude because there are a ton of updates packed into the latest Cinema 4D Release 18 update. You can check out a complete list of them as well as comparisons between Cinema 4D Studio, Visualize, Broadcast, Prime, BodyPaint 3D and Lite Release 18 versions on the Maxon site.

For this review, I’m going to touch on three of what I think are the most compelling updates in Release 18: the new Voronoi Fracture, Thin Film Shader and the Push Apart Effector. Yes, I know there are a bazillion other great updates to Cinema 4D R18 — such as Weight Painting, new Knife Tools, Inverse Ambient Occlusion, the ability to save cache files externally and many more — but I’m going to stick to the features that I think stand out.

Keep in mind that I am using Cinema 4D Studio R18 for this review, so if you don’t have Studio, some of the features might not be available in your version. For instance, I am going to touch on some of the MoGraph toolset updates, and those are only inside the Studio and Broadcast versions. Finally, while you should use a super powerful workstation to get the smoothest and most robust experience when using Cinema 4D R18, I am using a tablet that uses a quad core Intel i7 3.1GHz processor, 8GB of RAM and an Intel Iris graphics 6100 GPU. Definitely on the lower end of processing power for this app, but it works and I have to credit Maxon for making it work so well.

Voronoi Fracture
If, like me, you’ve never heard of the term Voronoi, check out the first paragraph of this Wiki page. A very simple way to imagine a Voronoi diagram is a bunch of cell-like polygons that are all connected (there’s a much more intricate and deeply mathematical definition, but I can barely understand it, and it’s really beyond the scope of this review). In Cinema 4D Studio R18, the Voronoi Fracture object allows us to easily, and I mean really easily, procedurally break apart objects like MoGraph text, or any other object, without the need for external third-party plug-ins such as Nitro4D’s Thrausi.

Voronoi Fracture

To apply Voronoi Fracture in as few steps as possible, you apply the Voronoi Fracture located in the MoGraph menu to your object, adjust parameters under the Sources menu (like distribution type or point amount) add effectors to cause dispersion, keyframe values and render. With a little practice you can explode your raytraced MoGraph text in no time. The best part is your object will not look fractured until animated, which in the past took some work so this is a great update.

Thin Film Shader
Things that are hard to recreate in a photorealistic way are transparent objects, such as glass bottles, windows and bubbles. In Cinema 4D R18, Maxon has added the new Thin Film Shader, which can add the film-like quality that you see on bubbles or soap. It’s an incredible addition to Cinema 4D, furthering the idea that Maxon is concentrating on adding features that improve efficiency for people like me who want to use Cinema 4D, but sometimes don’t because making a material like Thin Film will take a long time.

To apply the Thin Film to your object, find the Reflectance channel of your material that you want to add the Thin Film property to add a new Beckmann or GGX layer, lower the Specular Strength of this layer to zero, under Layer Color choose Texture > Effects > Thin Film. From there, if you want to see the Thin Film as a true layer of film you need to change your composite setting to Add on your layer; you should then see it properly. You can get some advanced tips from the great tutorials over at Cineversity and from Andy Needham (Twitter: @imcalledandy) on lynda.com. One tip I learned from Andy is to change the Index of Refraction to get some different looks, which can be found under the Shader properties.

Push Apart Effector

Push Apart Effector
The new Push Apart Effector is a simple but super-powerful addition to Cinema 4D. The easiest way to describe the Push Apart Effector is to imagine a bunch of objects in an array or using a Cloner where all of your objects are touching — the Push Apart Effector helps to push them away from each other. To decrease the intersection of your clones, you can dial-in the specific radius of your objects (like a sphere) and then tell Cinema 4D R18 how many times you want it to look through the scene by specifying iterations. The more iterations the less chance your objects will intersect, but the more time it will take to compute.

Summing Up
I love Maxon’s continual development of Cinema 4D in Release 18. I specifically love that while they are adding new features, like Weight Painting and Update Knife Tools, they are also helping to improve efficiency for people like me who love to work in Cinema 4D but sometimes skip it because of the steep learning curve and technical know-how you need in order to operate it. You should not fear though, I cannot emphasize how much you can learn at Cineversity, Lynda.com, and on YouTube from an expert like Sean Frangella. Whether you are new to the world of Cinema 4D, mildly experienced like me, or an expert you can always learn something new.

Something I love about Maxon’s licensing for education is that if you go to a qualified school, you can get a free Cinema 4D license. Instructors can get access to Cineversity to use the tutorials in their curriculum as well as project files to use. It’s an amazing resource.

Thin Film Render

If you are an Adobe After Effects user, don’t forget that you automatically get a free version of Cinema 4D bundled with After Effects — Cinema 4D Lite. Even though you have to have After Effects open to use the Cinema 4D Lite, it is still a great way to dip your toes into the 3D world, and maybe even bring your projects back into After Effects to do some compositing.

Cinema 4D Studio R18’s pricing breaks down like this: Commercial Pricing/Annual License Pricing/Upgrade R17 to R18 pricing — Cinema 4D Studio Release 18: $3,695/$650 /$995; Cinema 4D Visualize Release 18: $2,295/$500/$795; Cinema 4D Broadcast Release 18: $1,695/$400 /$795; Cinema 4D Prime Release 18: $995/$250/$395.

Another interesting option is Maxon’s short-term licensing in three- or six-month chunks for the Studio version ($600/$1,100) and 75 percent of the fees you pay for a short-term license can be applied to your purchase of a full license later. Keep in mind, when using such a powerful and robust software like Cinema 4D you are making an investment that will payoff with concentrated effort in learning the software. With a few hours of training from some of the top trainers — like Tim Clapham on www.hellolux.com, Greyscalegorilla.com and Motionworks.com — you will be off and running in 3D land.

For everyday Cinema 4D creations and inspiration, check out @beeple_crap on Instagram. He produces amazing work all the time.

In this review, I tested some of the new updates to Cinema 4D Studio R18 with sample projects from Andy Needham’s Lynda.com class Cinema 4D R18: New Features and Joren Kandel’s awesome website, which offers tons of free content to play with while learning the new tools.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

The A-List: Lego Batman Movie director Chris McKay

By Iain Blair

Three years ago, The Lego Movie became an “everything is awesome” monster hit that cleverly avoided the pitfalls of feeling like a corporate branding exercise thanks to the deft touch and tonal dexterity of the director/writer/animator/producer team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Now busy working on a Han Solo spinoff movie, they handed over the directing reins on the follow-up, The Lego Batman Movie, to Chris McKay, who served as animation director and editor on the first one. And he hit the ground running on this one, which seriously — and hilariously — tweak’s Batman’s image.

Chris McKay

This time out, Batman stars in his own big-screen adventure, but there are big changes brewing in Gotham City. If he wants to save the city from The Joker’s hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up (somber introspection only goes so far when you’re a handsome billionaire with great cars and gadgets, who gets to punch people in the face with no repercussions).

Will Arnett voices Batman, Zach Galifianakis is The Joker, Michael Cera is orphan Dick Grayson, Rosario Dawson is Barbara Gordon, and Ralph Fiennes voices Alfred.

Behind the scenes, production designer Grant Freckelton and editor David Burrows also return from The Lego Movie, joined by editors Matt Villa and John Venzon. Lorne Balfe was composer, and feature animation was, again, by Animal Logic. The Warner Bros. film was released in 3D, 2D and IMAX.

I recently talked to McKay about making the film and how the whole process was basically all about the post.

The Lego Movie made nearly half a billion dollars and was a huge critical success as well. Any pressure there?
(Laughs) A lot, because of all that success, and asking, “How do we top it?” Then it’s Batman, with all his fans, and DC is very particular as he’s one of their crown jewels. But at the same time, the studio and DC were great partners and understood all the challenges.

So how did you pitch the whole idea?
As Jerry Maguire, directed by Michael Mann, with a ton of jokes in it. They got on board with that and saw what I was doing with the animatic, as well as the love I have for Batman and this world.

Once you were green-lit, you began on post, right?
Exactly right, because post is everything in animation. The whole thing is post. You start in post and end in post. When we pitched this, we didn’t even have a script, just a three- to four-page treatment. They liked the idea and said, “OK, let’s do it.” So we needed to write a script, and get the storyboard and editorial teams to work immediately, because there was no way we could get it finished in time if we didn’t.

It was originally scheduled to come out in May — almost three years from the time we pitched it, but then they moved the release date up to February, so it got even crazier. So we began getting all the key people involved, like [editor/writer] Dave Burrows at Animal Logic, who cut the first one with me, and developing the opening set piece.

You got an amazing cast, including Will Arnett as Batman again, and such unlikely participants as Mariah Carey, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes and Apple’s Siri. How tough was that?
We were very lucky because everyone was a fan, and when they saw that the first one wasn’t just a 90-minute toy commercial, they really wanted to be in it. Mariah was so charming and funny, and apart from her great singing voice, she has a really great speaking voice — and she was great at improv and very playful. Ralph has done some comedy, but I wasn’t sure he’d want to do something like this, but he got it immediately, and his voice was perfect. Michael Cera doesn’t do this kind of thing at all. Like Ralph, he’s an artist who usually does smaller movies and more personal stuff, and people told us, “You’re not going to get Ralph or Cera,” but Will reached out to Cera (they worked together on Arrested Development) and he came on.

As for Siri, it was a joke we tried to make work in the first movie but couldn’t, so we went back to it, and it turned into a great partnership with Apple. So that was a lot of fun for me, playing around with pop culture in that way, as the whole computer thing is part of Batman’s world anyway.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller have been very busy directing the upcoming, untitled Han Solo Star Wars movie, but as co-producers on this weren’t they still quite involved?
Very. I’d ask them for advice all the time and they would give notes since I was running a lot of stuff past them. They ended up writing several of my favorite lines in this; they gave me so much of their time, pitched jokes and let me do stuff with the animation I wanted to do. They’re very generous.

Sydney-based Animal Logic, the digital design, animation and effects company whose credits include Moulin Rouge!, Happy Feet and Walking With Dinosaurs did all the animation again. What was involved?
As I wanted to use Burrows, that would require us having an editorial team down there, and the studio wasn’t crazy about that. But he’s a fantastic editor and storyteller, and I also wanted to work with Grant Freckelton, who was the production designer on the first one, as well as lighting supervisor Craig Welch — all these team members at Animal Logic who were so good. In the end, we had over 400 people working on this for two and a half years — six months faster than the first one.

So Animal Logic began on it on day one, and I didn’t wait for a script. It was just me, Dave and the storyboard teams in LA and Sydney, and Grant’s design team. I showed them the treatment and said, “Here’s the scenes I want to do,” and we began with paintings and storyboards. The first act in animatic form and the script both landed at the same time in November 2014, and then we pitched where the rest of the movie would go and what changes we would make. So it kept going in tandem like that. There was no traditional screenwriting process. We’d just bring writers in and adjust as we went. So we literally built the screenplay in post — and we could do that because animation is like filmmaking in slow motion, and we had great storytellers in post, like Burrows.

You also used two other editors — Matt Villa and John Venzon. How did that work?
Matt’s very accomplished. He’s cut three of Baz Luhrmann’s films — The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge! and Australia — and he cut Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner as well as
the animated features Happy Feet Two and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, so he came in to help. We also brought in other writers, and we would all be doing the voices. I was Batman and Matt would do the side characters. We literally built it as we went, with some storyboard artists from the first film, plus others we gathered along the way. The edit was crucial because of the crazy deadline.

Last summer we added John, who has also cut animated features, including Storks, Flushed Away, Shark Tale and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, because we needed to move some editorial to LA last July for five months, and he helped out with all the finishing. It was a 24/7 effort by that time, a labor of love.

Let’s talk about the VFX. Fair to say the whole film’s one big VFX sequence?
You’re right. Every single frame is a VFX shot. It’s mind blowing! You’re constantly working on it at the same time you’re writing and editing and so on, and it takes a big team of very focused animators and producers to do it.

What about the sound and music? Composer Lorne Balfe did the scores for Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, the animated features Penguins of Madagascar and Home, as well as Terminator Genisys. How important was the score?
It was crucial. He actually worked on the Dark Knight movies, so I knew he could do all the operatic, serious stuff as well as boy’s adventure stuff for Robin, and he was a big part of making it sound like a real Batman movie. We recorded the score in Sydney and Vienna, and did the mix on the lot at Warners with a great team that included effects mixer Gregg Landaker and sound designer Wayne Pashley from Big Bang Sound in Sydney.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
I wish we had those extra two months, but it’s the movie I wanted to make — it’s good for kids and adults, and it’s a big, fun Batman movie that looks at him in a way that the other Batman movies can’t.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.