Author Archives: Randi Altman

Roger Deakins earns ASC Award for Blade Runner 2049, plus other winners

At the 32nd Annual American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards, where cinematographers honor fellow cinematographers, industry legend Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, won the Theatrical Award for best cinematography in a motion picture for his work on Blade Runner 2049. This is Deakins’ fourth win and his 15th ASC nomination. He previously won for Skyfall (2013), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2002) and The Shawshank Redemption (1995). His other nominations include Unbroken (2015), Prisoners (2014), True Grit (2011), The Reader (2009), Revolutionary Road (2009), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2008), No Country for Old Men (2008), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001), Kundun (1998) and Fargo (1997).

In other categories, Mart Taniel, ESC, was given the Spotlight Award for “November.” In the TV categories, winners included Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, for The Crown; Boris Mojsovski, CSC, for 12 Monkeys; and Mathias Herndl, AAC, for Genius. The awards ceremony took place tonight in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees:

Theatrical Release Category (presented by Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC and Matthew Libatique, ASC)

  • Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC for “Blade Runner 2049” – WINNER
  • Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC for “Darkest Hour”
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC for “Dunkirk”
  • Dan Laustsen, ASC, DFF for “The Shape of Water”
  • Rachel Morrison, ASC for “Mudbound”

 Spotlight Award Category (presented by John Bailey, ASC)

  • Máté Herbai, HSC for “On Body and Soul”
  • Mikhail Krichman, RGC for “Loveless”
  • Mart Taniel, ESC for “November” – WINNER

 Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television (presented by Teri Polo)

  • Gonzalo Amat for “The Man in the High Castle” (Land O’ Smiles) on Amazon
  • Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC for “The Crown” (Smoke and Mirrors) on Netflix – WINNER
  • Robert McLachlan, ASC, CSC for “Game of Thrones” (The Spoils of War) on HBO
  • Gregory Middleton, ASC, CSC for “Game of Thrones” (Dragonstone) on HBO
  • Alasdair Walker for “Outlander” (The Battle Joined) on Starz

 Episode of a Series for Commercial Television (presented by Sean Astin)

  • Dana Gonzales, ASC for “Legion” (Chapter 1) on FX
  • David Greene, ASC, CSC for “12 Monkeys” (Mother) on Syfy
  • Kurt Jones for “The Originals” (Bag of Cobras) on The CW
  • Boris Mojsovski, CSC for “12 Monkeys” (Thief) on Syfy – WINNER
  • Crescenzo Notarile, ASC for “Gotham” (Mad City: The Executioner) on Fox

 Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television (presented by Kerri Kenney-Silver)

  • Pepe Avila del Pino for “The Deuce” pilot on HBO
  • Serge Desrosiers, CSC for “Sometimes the Good Kill” on Lifetime
  • Mathias Herndl, AAC for “Genius” (Einstein: Chapter 1) on National Geographic – WINNER
  • Shelly Johnson, ASC for “Training Day” pilot (Apocalypse Now) on CBS
  • Christopher Probst, ASC for “Mindhunter” pilot on Netflix

 Honorary awards also presented this evening included:

  • The ASC Board of Governors Award was presented to Angelina Jolie by Dean Semler, ASC, ACS (“Maleficent,” “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” “The Bone Collector”) for her significant and indelible contributions to cinema. It is the only ASC Award not given to a cinematographer and is reserved for filmmakers who have been champions for directors of photography and the visual art form.
  • The ASC Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Russell Carpenter, ASC (Oscar winner for “Titanic”) and presented by Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC (Oscar nominee for “The Insider” and “LA Confidential.”)
  • The ASC Career Achievement in Television Award was presented to Alan Caso, ASC (Emmy nominee for “Into the West,” “Six Feet Under,” “George Wallace”) by actor-producer Daniel Dae Kim.
  • Russell Boyd, ASC, ACS (Oscar winner “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) received the ASC International Award from Mandy Walker, ASC, ACS (“Hidden Figures,” “Australia”).
  • Stephen Lighthill, ASC (“Berkeley in the ‘60s,” “Gimme Shelter,” CBS’ “60 Minutes”) was bestowed the ASC Presidents Award by American Film Institute (AFI) President and CEO Bob Gazzale. This award is given not only for the recipient’s body of work, but dedication to the organization and its mission of advancing the art of cinematography through education. Lighthill is currently Senior Filmmaker in Residence: Cinematography at the AFI Conservatory.
  • The ASC Bud Stone Award of Distinction was given to Frieder Hochheim, president and founder of Kino Flo Lighting Systems. This award is presented to an ASC Associate Member who has demonstrated extraordinary service to the society and/or has made a significant contribution to the motion picture industry.

Skywalker’s Michael Semanick: Mixing SFX for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By Jennifer Walden

Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Michael Semanick from Skywalker Sound mixed the sound effects, Foley and backgrounds on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has earned an Oscar nomination for Sound Mixing.

Technically, this is not Semanick’s first experience with the Star Wars franchise — he’s credited as an additional mixer on Rogue One — but on The Last Jedi he was a key figure in fine-tuning the film’s soundtrack. He worked alongside re-recording mixers Ren Klyce and David Parker, and with director Rian Johnson, to craft a soundtrack that was bold and dynamic.

Recently, Semanick shared his story of what went into mixing the sound effects on The Last Jedi. He mixed at Skywalker in Nicasio, California, on the Kurosawa Stage. (And come back next week for our interview with Ren Klyce about mixing the music and sounds.)

You have all of these amazing elements — Skywalker’s effects, John Williams’s score and the dialogue. How do you bring clarity to what could potentially be a chaotic soundtrack?
Yes, there are a lot of elements that come in, and you have to balance these things. It’s easy on a film like this to get bombastic and assault the audience, but that’s one of the things that Rian didn’t want to do. He wanted to create dynamics in the track and to get really quiet so that when it does get loud it’s not overly loud.

So when creating that I have to look at all of the elements coming in and see what we’re trying to do in each specific scene. I ask myself, “What’s this scene about? What’s this storyline? What’s the music doing here? Is that the thread that takes us to the next scene or to the next place? What are the sound effects? Do we need to hear these background sounds, or do we need just the hard effects?”

Essentially, it’s me trying to figure out how many frequencies are available and how much dialogue has to come through so the audience doesn’t lose the thread of the story. It’s about deciding when it’s right to feature the sound effects or take the score down to feature a big explosion and then bring the score back up.

It’s always a balancing act, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and throw it all in there. I might need a line of dialogue to come through, so the backgrounds go. I don’t want to distract the audience. There is so much happening visually in the film that you can’t put sound on everything. Otherwise, the audience wouldn’t know what to focus on. At least that’s my approach to it.

How did you work with the director?
As we mixed the film with Rian, we found what types of sounds defined the film and what types of moments defined the film in terms of sound. For example, by the time you reach the scene when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) jumps to hyperspace into the First Order’s fleet, everything goes really quiet. The sound there doesn’t go completely out — it feels like it goes out, but there’s sound. As soon as the music peaks, I bring in a low space tone. Well, if there was a tone in space, I imagine that is what it would sound like. So there is sound constantly through that scene, but the quietness goes on for a long time.

One of the great things about that scene was that it was always designed that way. While I noted how great that scene was, I didn’t really get it until I saw it with an audience. They became the soundtrack, reacting with gasps. I was at a screening in Seattle, and when we hit that scene and you could hear that the people were just stunned, and one guy in the audience went, “Yeah!”

There are other areas in the film where we go extremely quiet or take the sound out completely. For example, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) first force-connect, the sound goes out completely… you only hear a little bit of their breathing. There’s one time when the force connection catches them off guard — when Kylo had just gotten done working out and Rey was walking somewhere — we took the sound completely out while she was still moving.

Rian loved it because when we were working on that scene we were trying to get something different. We used to have sound there, all the way through the scene. Then Rian said, “What happens if you just start taking some of the sounds out?” So, I started pulling sounds out and sure enough, when I got the sound all the way out — no music, no sounds, no backgrounds, no nothing — Rian was like, “That’s it! That just draws you in.” And it does. It pulls you into their moment. They’re pulled together even though they don’t want to be. Then we slowly brought it back in with their breathing, a little echo and a little footstep here or there. Having those types of dynamics worked into the film helped the scene at the end.

Rian shot and cut the picture so we could have these moments of quiet. It was already set up, visually and story-wise, to allow that to happen. When Rey goes into the mirror cave, it’s so quiet. You hear all the footsteps and the reverbs and reflections in there. The film lent itself to that.

What was the trickiest scene to mix in terms of the effects?
The moment Kylo Ren and Rey touch hands via the force connection. That was a real challenge. They’re together in the force connection, but they weren’t together physically. We were cutting back and forth from her place to Kylo Ren’s place. We were hearing her campfire and her rain. It was a very delicate balance between that and the music. We could have had the rain really loud and the music blasting, but Rian wanted the rain and fire to peel away as their hands were getting closer. It was so quiet and when they did touch there was just a bit of a low-end thump. Having a big sound there just didn’t have the intimacy that the scene demanded. It can be so hard to get the balance right to where the audience is feeling the same thing as the characters. The audience is going, “No, oh no.” You know what’s going to come, but we wanted to add that extra tension to it sonically. For me, that was one of the hardest scenes to get.

What about the action scenes?
They are tough because they take time to mix. You have to decide what you want to play. For example, when the ships are exploding as they’re trying to get away before Holdo rams her ship into the First Order’s, you have all of that stuff falling from the ceiling. We had to pick our moments. There’s all of this fire in the background and TIE fighters flying around, and you can’t hear them all or it will be a jumbled mess. I can mix those scenes pretty well because I just follow the story point. We need to hear this to go with that. We have to have a sound of falling down, so let’s put that in.

Is there a scene you had fun with?
The fight in Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) room, between Rey and Kylo Ren. That was really fun because it was like wham-bam, and you have the lightsaber flying around. In those moments, like when Rey throws the lightsaber, we drop the sound out for a split second so when Kylo turns it on it’s even more powerful.

That scene was the most fun, but the trickiest one was that force-touch scene. We went over it a hundred different ways, to just get it to feel like we were with them. For me, if the sound calls too much attention to itself, it’s pulling you out of the story, and that’s bad mixing. I wanted the audience to lean in and feel those hands about to connect. When you take the sound out and the music out, then it’s just two hands coming together slowly. It was about finding that balance to make the audience feel like they’re in that moment, in that little hut, and they’re about to touch and see into each other’s souls, so to speak. That was a challenge, but it was fun because when you get it, and you see the audience react, everyone feels good about that scene. I feel like I did something right.

What was one audio tool that you couldn’t live without on this mix?
For me, it was the AMS Neve DFC Gemini console. All the sounds came into that. The console was like an instrument that I played. I could bring any sound in from any direction, and I could EQ it and manipulate it. I could put reverb on it. I could give the director what he wanted. My editors were cutting the sound, but I had to have that console to EQ and balance the sounds. Sometimes it was about EQing frequencies out to make a sound fit better with other sounds. You have to find room for the sounds.

I could move around on it very quickly. I had Rian sitting behind me saying, “What if you roll back and adjust this or try that.” I could ease those faders up and down and hit it just right. I know how to use it so well that I could hear stuff ahead of what I was doing.

The Neve DFC was invaluable. I could take all the different sound formats and sample rates and it all came through the console, and in one place. It could blend all those sources together; it’s a mixing bowl. It brought all the sounds together so they could all talk to each other. Then I manipulated them and sent them out and that was the soundtrack — all driven by the director, of course.

Can you talk about working with the sound editor?
The editors are my right-hand people. They can shift things and move things and give me another sound. Maybe I need one with more mid-range because the one in there isn’t quite reading. We had a lot of that. Trying to get those explosions to work and to come through John Williams’ score, sometimes we needed something with more low-end and more thump or more crack. There was a handoff in some scenes.

On The Last Jedi, I had sound effects editor Jon Borland with me on the stage. Bonnie Wild had started the project and had prepped a lot of the sounds for several reels — her and Jon and Ren Klyce, who oversaw the whole thing. But Jon was my go-to person on the stage. He did a great job. It was a bit of a daunting task, but Jon is young and wants to learn and gave it everything he had. I love that.

What format was the main mix?
Everything was done in Atmos natively, then we downmixed to 7.1 and 5.1 and all the other formats. We were very diligent about having the downmixed versions match the Atmos mix the best that they could.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I’m so glad that Rian chose me to be part of the mix. This film was a lot of fun and a real collaborative effort. Rian is the one who really set that tone. He wanted to hear our ideas and see what we could do. He wasn’t sold on one thing. If something wasn’t working, he would try things out until it did. It was literally sorting out frequencies and getting transitions to work just right. Rian was collaborative, and that creates a room of collaboration. We wanted a great track for the audience to enjoy… a track that went with Rian’s picture.

Behind the Title: MTI Senior Colorist Trent Johnson

NAME: Trent Johnson

COMPANY: MTI Film

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MTI Film works in multiple post production disciplines, including TV and feature post, film restoration and software development.

AS A SENIOR COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In order to be excellent in this profession you have to be obsessive about the details, because it is in the composite of details that the whole mood and tempo of the show comes alive.

At this point in the post process, I may even become more passionate about certain aspects of the project than the clients. With years of experience under my belt, I have mastered many tricks of the trade that clients may or may not be aware of. I can see what needs to be corrected in lighting and color to make the director, cinematographer and producer’s vision for the piece become a reality.

It is my responsibility to make it right and I take this responsibility very seriously and down to the tiniest detail. For example, I can unify inconsistent shots, change the time of day, augment special effects that have to be married into practical photography, tint color to affect an emotional response from the audience and enhance the appearance of characters, to name a few. The addition of my creative input to the creative process – at the direction of the creative heads of a project – serves as the icing on the cake. It’s the final perfection of the product before it’s delivered and released.

WHAT SYSTEMS DO YOU WORK ON?
I am proficient on Nucoda, Resolve and Baselight.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? IF SO, CAN YOU DESCRIBE?
I take on light editorial tasks: compositing, speed changes, titling, etc. For a restoration project it could be sifting through various elements to choose the best quality.

The Emoji Movie

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I have lots of favorites. First is working with very talented creative clients who know what they want and how to communicate a vision. Sitting in a theatre with these creative giants, over a period of several days, an atmosphere of camaraderie develops. This has resulted in many wonderful working relationships.

Second, I love being given a challenge on a film or TV project and then being able to meet or exceed expectations. I have always said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who give you reasons why they can’t do something and those who give you reasons why something that seems impossible can be done. I like to be the guy that figures out how to make it happen for a client, even though it may be out of the wheelhouse of most color correctors.

Third, once I meet a challenge and succeed in enhancing the creative vision of the client to an unexpected level, I like reviewing what I colored and how it’s made everything come together according to the vision. I thoroughly enjoy looking at what I colored yesterday and liking it, not to mention witnessing my client’s satisfaction with the final product.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Rushing through the grade. I’m a perfectionist and like to refine a look until everyone in the room is pleased. I’m willing to put the time to get it right.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I edited as well as colored early in my career. I could have easily pursued editing, as I enjoy it quite a lot. I like focusing on performances and finding the magic moments in shots and scenes and piecing it all together to move the story forward. I bring these skills into the color bay every day and draw on them by using color to amplify and strengthen the storyline of the project I’m working on.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
As a child I binge-watched TV shows and movies, and developed a love of classic Hollywood. I can walk into a room and glance at a movie and usually know what the title is. My kids get a kick out of that. I have a bit of a photographic memory in that sense. This has come in handy because I not only remember the movie, but the color and lighting as well, and how it was used in that particular instance to create a mood.

As I grew into my teens, I decided to make that movie-watching time investment pay off. I bought a Super 8 camera in high school and began making movies with my friends. I’ve never looked back. I majored in film production at the collegiate level at USC and San Diego State University. I started my career at Complete Post in Hollywood, and the rest is history.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently worked on Overboard for MGM, Proud Mary for Screen Gems and The Emoji Movie for Sony/Columbia.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’ve worked on all the Smurfs movies. I started on the animated TV series early in my career and was hired to color correct all three of the motion pictures. The most challenging aspect of these movies early on was the combination live action and animation.

I became known as the “Smurf Blue guy” for keeping the characteristic blue color of the characters consistent. I especially enjoyed working with the animation clients on these shows because they are extremely precise, and I respect that.

A close second favorite is the motion picture Burlesque. The cinematography on that film was executed brilliantly; it featured dramatic dance numbers enhanced with creative lighting, had an avant-garde cast and was a throw-back to old Hollywood.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
I feel as connected to the old as to the new. Technology is always morphing, and the way movies are made constantly in flux. This is a source of fascination to me, and I’m inspired by the way all forms of art both reflect and influence culture. I study how camerawork and lighting techniques come and go, and how they were and are effectively used artistically in movies past and present. How to communicate different facets of life is the fundamental inspiration for art. What I do is a technical art form, so it draws deeply on these principles.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
XM Radio, television, my iPhone and my coffeemaker.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I thoroughly enjoy reading blogs, and especially listening to podcasts of cinematographers and other colorists to stay current of innovation trends. Anything to do with the industry on Facebook, YouTube, etc. is always interesting to me.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Sinatra, classic radio shows and pastry. Actually, it’s my sense of humor that keeps me going. Also, coming home to my loving family and being highly involved in my children’s lives is my lifeblood.

Comedy director Aaron Beckum joins Strike Anywhere

Strike Anywhere, a production company with offices in LA and San Francisco, has grown its roster with the addition of comedy director Aaron Beckum to its talented roster.

Originally from Kansas City, Beckum grew up mostly in Europe before coming to LA by way of Vancouver. He has a background in editing, producing, writing, and directing, having studied film at the Vancouver Film School, where his debut short won an Achievement in Direction Award from the Directors Guild of Canada.

After moving to LA, Beckum spent time at The Directors Bureau working as a creative director in Roman Coppola’s special projects division. He would go on to form close working relationships with directors like Mike Mills after working on his feature Beginners, and Miranda July after serving as an associate producer on her film The Future. During this time, Beckum gained experiences on short films, music videos and commercials, working with clients like Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Redbubble and Sony Music.

His shorts and music videos have screened at festivals worldwide, including the Vancouver International Film Fest, Raindance, London Sci-Fi, Fantasia and Woodstock. He is currently developing a feature film Microchip Blues with the support of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program.

Beckum’s work combines “Scandinavian deadpan humor with a love of 1970s slapstick comedy.” Visually, it is often characterized by lo-fi practical effects and selective color palettes. Beckum often asks himself, “If I were to pull a still at any moment in the piece, would that frame stand alone as a good photograph?” This mindset ensures his work is graphic and iconic, and balanced within the frame.

With a tendency towards working with non-actors and employing in-camera techniques, Beckum is able to create authentic worlds in a few short moments. “I have a thing for practical effects, single takes and match cuts,” he says. “I just love to create organically, as much on set as possible.”

His signature style is on display in his Redbubble spot The Last Pickle. The ad follows a sad worker in a beige office attempting to hold onto the last pickle from a pickle jar, and inevitably falling out of the high-rise window. Beckum says, “It’s a great example of what I like to do because it combines a sort of drab setup but ends with an over-the-top goofy ending. Also, I think anything with a falling dummy is just great.”

David Walton Smith joins digital agency Grow as head of film

Norfolk, Virginia-based digital agency Grow has expanded its film and production capabilities with the addition of David Walton Smith, who will take on the newly created role of head of film. Walton Smith will be charged with overseeing all content development and video production for the agency’s clients, which include Google, Spotify, Adidas and Adult Swim.

A multidisciplinary filmmaker and creative, Walton Smith has produced commercials, as well as branded and documentary content, for brands like Google, Volvo, Mass Mutual, Hyundai and Aleve. Prior to joining Grow, he was a director and producer at CNN’s branded content division, Courageous Studio, where he created broadcast and web content for CNN’s global audiences. He was also editor of Born to Explore with Richard Wiese, an Emmy Award-winning show that aired on ABC, as well as creative lead/director at London and Brooklyn-based LonelyLeap, where he spearheaded campaigns for Google and Tylenol.

Grow works with brands including Google, Spotify, NBC, Adidas, Homes.com, Oxygen Network and Adult Swim, to create digital experiences, products and interactive installations. Notable recent projects include Window Wonderland for Google Shopping, Madden Giferator for EA Sports, as part of Google’s Art, Copy & Code initiative, as well as The Pursuit, an interactive, crime thriller game created with Oxygen Media.

Super Bowl: Sound Lounge’s audio post for Pepsi, NFL and more

By Jennifer Walden

Super Bowl Sunday is an unofficial national holiday in this country, with almost as much excitement for the commercials that air as for the actual game. And regardless of which teams are playing, New York’s advertising and post communities find themselves celebrating, because they know the work they are providing will be seen by millions and talked about repeatedly in offices and on social media. To land a Super Bowl ad is a pretty big deal, and audio post facility Sound Lounge has landed seven!

Tom Jucarone

In this story, president/mixer/sound designer Tom Jucarone, mixer/sound designer Rob DiFondi and mixer/sound designer Glen Landrum share details on how they helped to craft the Super Bowl ads for Pepsi, E*Trade, the NFL and more.

Pepsi This is the Pepsi via Pepsi’s in-house creative team
This spot looks at different Pepsi products through the ages and features different pop-culture icons — like Cindy Crawford — who have endorsed Pepsi over the years. The montage-style ad is narrated by Jimmy Fallon.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Jucarone: What’s unique about this spot is the voiceover — it’s Jimmy Fallon. Sound-wise, the spot was about him and the music more than anything else. The sound effects were playing a very secondary role.

Pepsi had a really interesting vision of how they wanted Jimmy to sound. We spent a lot of time making his voice work well against the music. The Pepsi team wanted Fallon’s voice to have a fullness yet still be bright enough to cut through the heavy-duty music track. They wanted his voice to sound big and full, but without losing the personality.

What tools helped?
I used a few plug-ins on his voice. Obviously, there was some EQ but I also used one plug-in called MaxxBass by Waves, which is a bass enhancement plug-in. With that, I was able to manipulate where on the low-end I could affect his voice with more fullness. Then we added a touch of reverb to make it a bit bigger. For that, I used Audio Ease’s Altiverb but it’s very slight.

Persil Game-Time Stain-Time via DDB New York
In this spot, there’s a time-out during the big game and an announcer on TV taps on the television’s glass — from the inside. He points out a guacamole stain on one viewer’s shirt, then comes through the TV and offers up a jug of laundry detergent. The man’s shirt flies off, goes into the washer and comes out perfect. Suddenly, the shirt is back on the viewer’s body and the announcer returns to inside the TV.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Jucarone: It’s an interesting spot because it’s so totally different from what you’d expect to see during the Super Bowl. It’s this fun, little quirky spot. This guy comes out of the TV and turns all these people onto this product that cleans their clothes. There was no music, just a few magical sound effects. It’s a dialogue-driven spot, so the main task there was to clean up the dialogue and make it clear.

iZotope is my go-to tool for dialogue clean up. I love that program. There are so many different ways to attack the clean up. I’m working on a spot now that has dialogue that is basically not savable, but I think I can save it with iZotope. It’s a great tool — one of the best ones to have. I used RX 6 a lot on the Persil spot, particularly for this one guy who whispers, “What is going on?” The room tone was pretty heavy on that line, and it was one of the funniest lines, so we really wanted that one to be clear.

The approach to all these spots was to find out what unique sonic pieces are important to the story, and those are the ones you want to highlight. Back before the CALM Act, everyone was trying to make their commercial louder than everybody else’s. Now that we have that regulation, we’re a bit more open to making a spot more cinematic. We have a greater opportunity for storytelling.

E*Trade This is Getting Old via MullenLowe
In this spot, a collection of senior citizens sing about still being in the workforce — “I’m eighty-five, and I want to go home.” It’s set to the music of Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-O.” From lifeguard to club DJ, their careers are interesting, sure, but they really want nothing more than to retire.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Jucarone: That spot was difficult because of all the different voices involved, all the different singers. The agency worked with mixer Rob DiFondi and me on this one. Rob did the final mix.

The spot has a music track with solo and group performances. They had recorded the performers at a recording studio and then brought those tracks to us as a playlist of roughly 20 different versions. There were multiple people with multiple different versions, and the challenge was going through all of those to find the most unique and funniest voices for each person. So that took some time. Then, we had to match all of those voices so they sounded similar in tone. We had to re-mix each voice as we found it and used it because it wasn’t already processed. Then we had to also craft the group.
I worked with the agency to get the solo performances finalized and then Rob, the other mixer on it, took over and created the group performances. He had to combine all of these singular voices to make it sound like they were all singing together in a group, which was pretty difficult. It turned out to be a very complex session. We had multiple versions because they wanted to have choices after the fact.

What tools did you use?
There were a couple of different reverbs that really helped on this spot. We used the Waves Renaissance Reverb, and Avid’s Reverb One. We used a fun analog modeling EQ called Waves V-EQ4, which is modeled after a Neve 1081 console EQ. We wanted the individual voices to sound like they were singing together, one after another.

Any particular challenge?
DiFondi: My big job was the background chorus. We had to make a group of eight elderly background singers sound much larger. The problem there was layering the same eight people four times doesn’t net you the same as having 32 individuals. So what I did was treat each track separately. I varied the timing of each layer and I put each one in a separate room using different reverb settings and in the end that gave us the sound of a much larger chorus though we had only eight people.

Super Bowl NFL Celebrations to Come via Grey New York
NY Giants players Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. re-enact the famous last dance from Dirty Dancing, including the legendary lift at the end. The spot starts out realistic with on-camera dialogue for Eli and Odell during a team practice, but then it transitions into more of a music video as the players get wrapped up in the dance.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Landrum: There was lots of mastering on the main music track to get it to pop and be loud on-air. I used the iZotope Neutron for my music track mastering. I love that plug-in and have been using it and learning more about it. It has great multi-band compression, and the exciter is a cool addition to really finesse frequencies.

I think the most interesting part of the process was working with the director and agency creatives and producers to edit the music to match the storyboard they had before the actual shoot. We cut a few versions of varying lengths to give some flexibility. They used the music edits on-set so the guys could dance to it. I thought this was so smart because they would know what’s working and what isn’t while on-set and could adjust accordingly. I know they had a short shoot day so this had to help.

Everything worked out perfectly. I think they edited in less than a week (editor Geoff Hounsell from Arcade Edit, NY) and we mixed in a day or less. The creatives and producers involved with this spot and the NFL account are an awesome group. They make decisions and get it done and the result was amazing. Also, our expert team of producers here made the process smooth as silk during the stressful Super Bowl time.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.  Follow her on Twitter @AudioJeney.

Trio from Reel FX and Shilo team on VFX/live-action studio

The commercial division of digital studio Reel FX has teamed up with Shilo founder/executive creative director Jose Sebastian Gomez to launch strategic creative group ATK PLN. Emmy Award-winner Gomez will lead the creative vision for the studio, joined by former Digital Domain HOP Jim Riche as executive producer, with overall strategy led by Reel FX’s David Bates as managing director. The trio will draw from their combined expertise across VFX, design, production, interactive media, branding and marketing to offer in-house services from concept to final delivery.

ATK PLN will work across design, animation and live action. The team has already created work for AT&T, Fox Racing and MADD — all a fusion of live action and VFX. ATK PLN creatives will work between its new Hollywood studio, Montreal and Dallas locations. ATK PLN will also partner with sister companies Flight School and Reel FX Animation.

AT&T

In terms of tools, the company uses a lot of the traditional apps like Flame, Maya, Nuke and Houdini. “Our biggest push at the moment is into GPU rendering,” reports Riche. “We have had great success with Octane from Otoy, and it is a second pipeline in our systems working alongside Arnold. Octane is a faster render system and is fantastic on hard surface models.”

Riche continues, “When I joined David Bates at Reel FX almost two years ago we created a vision to elevate the company to the next level, challenging the status quo of the advertising community to offer a new, unique approach to creative problem solving. Bringing on Jose Gomez and his creative vision to our team at ATK PLN is allowing us to turn our ideas into reality. I am excited about how this forward-thinking team will continue to evolve with the changing market.”

The 16th annual VES Award winners

The Visual Effects Society (VES) celebrated artists and their work at the 16th Annual VES Awards, which recognize outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials, video games and special venues.

Seven-time host, comedian Patton Oswalt, presided over more than 1,000 guests at the Beverly Hilton. War for the Planet of the Apes was named photoreal feature film winner, earning four awards. Coco was named top animated film, also earning four awards. Games of Thrones was named best photoreal episode and garnered five awards — the most wins of the night. Samsung; Do What You Can’t; Ostrich won top honors in the commercial field, scoring three awards. These top four contenders collectively garnered 16 of the 24 awards for outstanding visual effects.

President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige presented the VES Lifetime Achievement Award to producer/writer/director Jon Favreau. Academy Award-winning producer Jon Landau presented the Georges Méliès Award to Academy Award-winning visual effects master Joe Letteri, VES. Awards presenters included fan-favorite Mark Hamill, Coco director Lee Unkrich, War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves, Academy Award-nominee Diane Warren, Jaime Camil, Dan Stevens, Elizabeth Henstridge, Sydelle Noel, Katy Mixon and Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias.

Here is a list of the winners:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Joe Letteri

Ryan Stafford

Daniel Barrett

Dan Lemmon

Joel Whist

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Dunkirk

Andrew Jackson

Mike Chambers

Andrew Lockley

Alison Wortman

Scott Fisher

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

Coco

Lee Unkrich

Darla K. Anderson

David Ryu

Michael K. O’Brien

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall

Joe Bauer

Steve Kullback

Chris Baird

David Ramos

Sam Conway

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Black Sails: XXIX

Erik Henry

Terron Pratt

Yafei Wu

David Wahlberg

Paul Dimmer

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Raphael Lacoste

Patrick Limoges

Jean-Sebastien Guay

Ulrich Haar

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Tomek Zietkiewicz

Amir Bazazi

Martino Madeddu

 

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

Avatar: Flight of Passage

Richard Baneham

Amy Jupiter

David Lester

Thrain Shadbolt

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes: Caesar

Dennis Yoo

Ludovic Chailloleau

Douglas McHale

Tim Forbes

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature

Coco: Hèctor

Emron Grover

Jonathan Hoffman

Michael Honsel

Guilherme Sauerbronn Jacinto

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War: Drogon Loot Train Attack

Murray Stevenson

Jason Snyman

Jenn Taylor

Florian Friedmann

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

David Bryan

Maximilian Mallmann

Tim Van Hussen

Brendan Fagan

 

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Blade Runner 2049; Los Angeles

Chris McLaughlin

Rhys Salcombe

Seungjin Woo

Francesco Dell’Anna

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

Coco: City of the Dead

Michael Frederickson

Jamie Hecker

Jonathan Pytko

Dave Strick

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones; Beyond the Wall; Frozen Lake

Daniel Villalba

Antonio Lado

José Luis Barreiro

Isaac de la Pompa

 

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Groot Dance/Opening Fight

James Baker

Steven Lo

Alvise Avati

Robert Stipp

 

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

Blade Runner 2049: LAPD Headquarters

Alex Funke

Steven Saunders

Joaquin Loyzaga

Chris Menges

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

David Caeiro Cebrián

Johnathan Nixon

Chet Leavai

Gary Boyle

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature

Coco

Kristopher Campbell

Stephen Gustafson

Dave Hale

Keith Klohn

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project 

Game of Thrones; The Dragon and the Wolf; Wall Destruction

Thomas Hullin

Dominik Kirouac

Sylvain Nouveau

Nathan Arbuckle

  

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Christoph Salzmann

Robin Hollander

Ben Warner

Beck Veitch

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War: Loot Train Attack

Dom Hellier

Thijs Noij

Edwin Holdsworth

Giacomo Matteucci

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Michael Gregory

Andrew Roberts

Gustavo Bellon

Rashabh Ramesh Butani

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project

Hybrids

Florian Brauch

Romain Thirion

Matthieu Pujol

Kim Tailhades 

 

 

 

Oscar Watch: The Shape (and sound) of Water

Post production sound mixers Christian Cooke and Brad Zoern, who are nominated (with production mixer Glen Gauthier) for their work on Fox’s The Shape of Water, have sat side-by-side at mixing consoles for nearly a decade. The frequent collaborators, who handle mixing duties at Deluxe Toronto, faced an unusual assignment given that the film’s two lead characters never utter a single word of actual dialogue. In The Shape of Water, which has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is mute and the creature she falls in love with makes undefined sounds. This creative choice placed more than the usual amount of importance on the rest of the soundscape to support the story.

L-R: Nathan Robitaille, J. Miles Dale, Brad Zoern, director Guillermo del Toro, Christian Cooke, Nelson Ferreira, Filip Hosek, Cam McLauchlin, video editor Sidney Wolinsky, Rob Hegedus, Doug Wilkinson.

Cooke, who focused on dialogue and music, and Zoern, who worked with effects, backgrounds and Foley, knew from the start that their work would need to fit into the unique and delicate tone that infused the performances and visuals. Their work began, as always, with pre-dubs followed by three temp mixes of five days each, which allowed for discussion and input from director Guillermo del Toro. It was at the premixes that the mixers got a feel for del Toro’s conception for the film’s soundtrack. “We were more literal at first with some of the sounds,” says Zoern. “He had ideas about blending effects and music. By the time we started on the five-week-long mix, we had a very clear idea about what he was looking for.”

The final mix took place in one of Deluxe Toronto’s five stages, which have identical acoustic qualities and the same Avid Pro Tools-based Harrison MP4D/Avid S6 hybrid console, JBL M2 speakers and Crown amps.

The mixers worked to shape sonic moments that do more than represent “reality,” but create mood and tension. This includes key moments such as the sound of a car’s windshield wipers that build in volume until they take over the track in the form of a metronome-like beat underlining the tension of the moment. One pivotal scene finds Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) paying a visit to Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer). As Strickland speaks, Zelda’s husband Brewster (Martin Roach) watches television. “It was an actual mono track from a real show,” Cooke explains. “It starts out sounding roomy and distant as it would really have sounded. As the scene progresses, it expands, getting more prominent and spreading out around the speakers [for the 5.1 version]. By the end of the scene, the audio from the TV has become something totally different from what it started the scene as and then we melded that seamlessly into Alexandre Desplat’s score.”

Beyond the aesthetic work of building a sound mix, particularly one so fluid and expressionistic, post production mixers must also collaborate on a large number of technical decisions during the mix to ensure the elements have the right amount of emotional punch without calling attention to themselves. Individual sounds, even specific frequencies, vie for audience attention and the mixers orchestrate and layer them.

“It’s raining outside when they come into the room,” Zoern notes about the above scene. “We want to initially hear the sound of the rain to have a context for the scene. You never just want dialogue coming out of nowhere; it needs to live in a space. But then we pull that back to focus on the dialogue, and then the [augmented] audio from the TV gains prominence. During the final mix, Chris and I are always working together, side by side, to meld the hundreds of sounds the editors have built in a way that reflects the story and mood of the film.”

“We’re like an old married couple,” Cooke jokes. “We finish each other’s sentences. But it’s very helpful to have that kind of shorthand in this job. We’re blending so many pieces together and if people notice what we’ve done, we haven’t done our jobs.”

Behind the Title: Encore (and Ryan Murphy) Colorist Kevin Kirwan

NAME: Kevin Kirwan

COMPANY: Encore Hollywood

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Encore specializes in television post production. I’ve been at Encore forever — they have nice people and it’s a nice working environment.

JOB TITLE: Colorist

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Not a lot of surprises here. As a final colorist for television you have to balance the wishes of the producers against those of the director of photography and various post supervisors.

Feud

I think in features you have a great deal more input from directors — that really doesn’t exist in my world. The people skills that are required to keep everyone feeling like their voices are being heard and their concerns addressed, might be one of the overlooked nuances of the job.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
I’m currently working on the DaVinci Resolve. I started coloring just about 30 years ago, so I cut my teeth on the old analog Amigo and Dubner color correction systems. I’ve spent the bulk of my career on DaVinci systems since.

That has to be one of the more interesting aspects of having been at this as long as I have, the changes in technology are stunning. I used to master to 1-inch tape for god’s sake. When I came up, the old quads were just being phased out. Those things were massive. Everything that I did back in the day was mastered from film. Tape to tape came along much later and then, of course, digital.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Not really. I do get invited to the set occasionally to offer advice on situations that might become an issue later on in the process, but that’s become increasingly rare. I just do my thing in the color correction suite and schmooze with the clients.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Interacting with the creatives. I’m a people person. I have a creative personality, and that’s a nice mix when you’re dealing with like-minded producers and DPs. I have had great client relationships over the past 15 years or so; it’s always enjoyable to have that familiarity and the loyalty that comes along with having worked on multiple projects with a client.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
As much as I enjoy collaboration there is a downside to that as well. When you get too many voices in the room, and this is even more pronounced when they’re not in the room together, then occasionally you see a project suffer from having too many cooks in the kitchen, too many disparate visions fighting one another. That can end badly, and the overall look of the show can take a hit.

It’s difficult to say no to a client, but once in a while I am faced with pointing out the negative effects that a producer, or a DP, may be imposing on a show by insisting on something that might not be serving the best interests of the project.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’m also a professional helicopter pilot. I’ve been flying for as long as I’ve been coloring. I owned and operated a helicopter tour and charter business here in LA for years, and sold it this past July. I’m incredibly passionate about aviation, so for sure if I ever stop coloring, I’ll be up flying something the next day.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I stumbled into it. I came to LA to be a rock star — this is me rolling my eyes at my youthful naiveté — but it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t much of a musician to be honest, but I was enthusiastic!

I did however land a job driving and working in the mailroom at a tiny little film lab… this was when I was in my early 20s. They had one color correction bay and two guys operating the video department. I befriended them and they took me under their collective wing. I took that opportunity and made the most of it.

YOU’RE A LONGTIME COLLABORATOR OF RYAN MURPHY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT HISTORY?
I used to do all of Mike Robin’s stuff, Popular, Nip/Tuck, The Closer, etc. Ryan worked with Mike on a few things, and I started out with him on Popular, and then Nip/Tuck while he and Mike were still in business together. I became very close with Alexis Martin-Woodall, who was at that time just cutting her teeth as a post producer. She’s now exec producing all of the shows along with Ryan. She is by far one of the nicest people that you’ll ever meet, and easily the best client that I’ve had in my career. Alexis is a total rock star. She and I are creatively simpatico, she trusts me, and I know what she and Ryan are looking for. It’s a nice marriage.

HOW HAS THE VISUAL STYLE EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS AS YOU AND RYAN HAVE WORKED TOGETHER?
It’s a show-by-show thing. Shows like Glee, or something like the new series that we just started, 911, are pretty straightforward, nothing stylized, good contrast, nice poppy colors, don’t go too dark, feature the performance, make sure you can see into the actors’ expressions… that sort of thing.

American Horror Story is a different creature each season. These anthology series are fun because even though it’s technically the same show each time, the seasons all have their own theme. The look is much more tailored to fit the individual story. Season 2, which was called Asylum, was my favorite in terms of look. Very desaturated, dark and moody. It was a grungy, forbidding vibe that I really had fun with.

We just finished the second season of American Crime. This one was The Assassination of Gianni Versace. It’s very warm and colorful, especially when we were in Miami, but as we descended into Andrew Cunanan’s world it got a bit dirty, and we got to play a bit.

The first season of American Crime, The People Vs. OJ Simpson, was pretty gritty. It had a really tight look and a nice period feel.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT AND UPCOMING PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The Ryan Murphy camp keeps me busy. I mentioned 911 earlier. That’s a brand-new series. We get to watch the shows, of course, and it’s nice when you enjoy what you work on. I like 911.

American Horror Story

I’m looking forward to the next series of Feud, another anthology. Season 1 was the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford story with Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. I believe the next season is the Charles and Diana saga. That should be pretty opulent to look at.

At some point in the near future we’ll start a series based on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Sarah Paulson. Looking forward to that one.

WHAT IS THE SHOW THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s probably American Horror Story. As I said earlier the changes in theme for each season make it new and different each time, and I really enjoy the show and am very proud of the work that we do on it.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Music. I’m a huge music fan; anything from John Denver to Jay-Z. Love the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Snoop and Slim Shady. I grew up listening to vinyl and got back into that recently.

My daughter Bella inspires me with her art, she’s amazing, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with some day. Hold it, I take that back, she already is a force to be reckoned with. My house is pretty much baby girl’s own personal art studio at this point.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone. I’m an old man, there were no cell phones for the first half of my life pretty much, and I still remember when pagers were a big deal. It’s insane how dependent we’ve become on our phones, but I can’t live without mine.

My computer, of course.

GPS is huge for me when I fly. Again, I’m dating myself but I learned to fly when you kept a paper chart on your lap and kept dialing up nearby VORs (you older pilots will know what I’m talking about), in order to navigate. GPS was an absolute game changer.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Don’t do social media. Don’t understand the need to share every detail of one’s life like that. Not my thing. (I’m a crotchety old man at this point. Hey, you kids get off my lawn!)

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Fly airplanes and helicopters and hang out with my daughter. We go to live theater and concerts quite a bit. My dogs de-stress me. I take them everywhere.