Author Archives: Randi Altman

On Hold: Making an indie web series

By John Parenteau

On Hold is an eight-episode webseries, created and co-written by myself and Craig Kuehne, about a couple of guys working at a satellite company for an India-based technology firm. They have little going for themselves except for each other, and that’s not saying much. Season 1 is available now, and we are in prepro on Season 2.

While I personally identify as a filmmaker, I’ve worn a wide range of hats in the entertainment industry since graduating from USC School of Cinematic Arts in the late ‘80s. As a visual effects supervisor, I’ve been involved in projects as diverse as Star Trek: Voyager and Hunger Games. I have also filled management roles at companies such as Amblin Entertainment, Ascent Media, Pixomondo and Shade VFX.

That’s me in the chair conferring on setup.

It was with my filmmaker hat on that I recently partnered with Craig, a long-time veteran of visual effects, with credits including Westworld and Game of Thrones. We thought it might be interesting to share our experiences as we ventured into live-action production.

It’s not unique that Craig and I want to be filmmakers. I think most industry professionals, if not already working as directors or producers, strive to eventually reach that goal. It’s usually the reason people like us got into the business in the first place, and what many of us continue to pursue. Often we’ve become successful in another aspect of entertainment and find it difficult to break out of those “golden handcuffs.” I know we’ve both felt that way for years, despite having led fairly successful lives as visual effects pros.

But regardless of our successes in other roles, we still identify ourselves as filmmakers, and at some point you just have to make the big push or let the dream go. Instead, I decided to live by my own mantra, “filmmakers make film.” Thus, On Hold was born.

Why the web series format, you might ask? With so many streaming and online platforms focused on episodic material, doing a series would show we are comfortable with the format, even if ours was a micro-version of a full series. We had, for years, talked about doing a feature film, but that type of project takes so many resources and coordination. It just seemed daunting in a no-budget scenario. The web series concept allows us to produce something that resembles a marketable project, essentially on little or no budget. In addition, the format is easily recreated for an equally low budget, so we knew we could do a second season of the show once we had done the first.

This is Craig, pondering a shot.

The Story
We have been friends for years, and the idea of the series came from both our friendship as well as our own lives. Who hasn’t felt, as they are getting older, that maybe some of the life choices they have made might not have been the best? Though that can be a serious topic, we took a comedic angle, looking for the extremes. Our main characters, Jeff (Jimmy Blakeney) and Larry (Paul Vaillancourt), are subtle reflections of us (Craig is Jeff, the somewhat over-thinking, obsessive nerd, and I’m Larry, a bit of a curmudgeon, who can take himself way too serious), but they quickly took a life of their own, as did the rest of the cast. We added in Katy (Brittney Bertier), their over energetic intern, Connie (Kelly Keaton), Jeff’s bigger-than-life sister, and Brandon (Scott Rognlien), the creepy and not very bright boss. The chemistry just clicked. They say casting is key, and we certainly discovered that on this project. We were very lucky to find the actors we did, and together they really played off of each other perfectly.

So what does it take to do a web series? First off, writing was key. We spent a few months working out the overall storyline of the first season and then honing in on basic outlines of each episode. We actually worked out a rough overall arc of the show itself, deciding on a four-season project, which gave us a target to aim for. It was just some basic imagery for an ultimate ending of the show, but it helped keep us focused and helped drive the structure of the early episodes. We split up writing duties, each working on alternate episodes and then sharing scripts with the other. We tried to be brutally honest; It was important that the show reflect both of our views. We spent many nights arguing over certain moments in each episode, both very passionate about the storyline.

In the end we could see we had something good, we just needed to add our talented actors to make it great.

On Hold

The Production
We shot on a Blackmagic Cinema camera, which was fairly new at that point. I wanted the flexibility of different lenses but a high-resolution and high-quality picture. I had never been thrilled with standard DSLR cameras, so I thought the Blackmagic camera would be a good option. To top it off, I could get one for free, always a deciding factor at our budget level. We ended up shooting with a single Canon zoom lens that Craig had, and for the most part it worked fine. I can’t tell you how important the “glass” you shoot with can be. If we had the budget I would have rented some nice Zeiss lenses or something equally professional, and the quality of the image reflects the lack of budget. But the beauty of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is that it shoots such a nice image already, and at a high resolution, that we knew we would have some flexibility in post. We recorded in Apple ProRes.

As a DP, I have shot everything from PBS documentaries to music videos, commercials and EPKs (a.k.a. behind the scenes projects), and have had the luxury of working with a load of gear, and sometimes with a single light. At USC Film School, my alma mater, you learn to work with what you have, so I learned early to adapt my style to the gear I had on hand. I ended up using a single lighting kit (a Lowell DP 3 head kit) which worked fine. Shooting comedy is always more about static angles and higher key lighting, and my limited kit made that easily accessible. I would usually lift the ambience in the room by bouncing a light off a wall or ceiling area off camera, then use bounce cards on C-stands to give some source light from the top/side, complementing but not competing with the existing fluorescents in the practical office. The bigger challenges were when we shot toward the windows. The bright sunlight outside, even with the blinds closed, was a challenge, but we creatively scheduled those shots for early or late in the day.

Low-budget projects are always an exercise in inventiveness and flexibility, mostly by the crew. We had a few people helping off and on, but ultimately it came down to the two of us wearing most hats, and our associate producer, Maggie Jones, filling in the gaps. She handled the SAG paperwork, some AD tasks, ordering lunch and even operating the boom microphone. That left me shooting all but one episode, while we alternated directing episodes. We shot an episode a day, using a friend’s office on the weekends for free. We made sure we created shot lists ahead of time, so I could see what he had in mind when I shot his episodes, but also so he could act as a backup check on my own list when I was directing.

The Blackmagic camera at work.

One thing about SAG — we decided to go with the guild’s new media contract for our actors. Most of them were already SAG, and while they most likely would have been fine shooting such a small project non-union, we wanted them to be comfortable with the work. We also wanted to respect the guild. Many people complain that working under SAG, especially at this level, is a hassle, but we found it to be exactly the opposite. The key is keeping up with the paperwork each day you shoot. Unless you are working incredibly long hours, or plan to abuse your talent (not a good idea regardless), it’s fairly easy to remain compliant. Maggie managed the daily paperwork and ensured we broke for lunch as per the requirements. Other than that, it was a non-issue.

The Post
Much like our writing and directing, Craig and I split editorial tasks. We both cut on Apple Final Cut Pro X (he with pleasure, me begrudgingly), and shared edits with each other. It was interesting to note differences in style. I tended to cut long, letting scenes breathe. Craig, a much better editor than I, had snappier cuts that moved quicker. This isn’t to say my way didn’t work at times, but it was a nice balance as we made comments on each other’s work. You can tell my episodes are a bit longer than his, but I learned from the experience and managed to shorten my episodes significantly.

I did learn another lesson, one called “killing your darlings.” In one episode, we had as scene where Jeff enjoys a box of donuts, fishing through them to find the fruit-filled one he craved. The process of him licking each one and putting them back, or biting into a few and spitting out pieces, was hilarious onset, but in editorial I soon learned that too much of a good thing can be bad. Craig persuaded me to trim the scene, and I realized that just having one strong beat is just as good as several.

We had a variety of issues with other areas of post, but with no budget we could do little about them. Our “mix” consisted of adjusting levels in our timeline. Our DI amounted to a little color correction. While we were happy with the end result, we realized quickly we wanted to make season two even better.

On Hold

The Lessons
A few things pop out as areas needing improvement. First of all, shooting a comedy series with a great group of improv comedians mandates at least two cameras. Both Craig and I, as directors, would do improv takes with the actors after getting the “scripted version,” but some of it was not usable since cutting between different improv takes from a single camera shoot is nearly impossible. We also realized the importance of a real sound mixer on set. Our single mic, mono tracks, run by our unprofessional hands, definitely needed some serious fixing in post. Simply having more experienced hands would have made our day more efficient as well.

For post, I certainly wanted to use newer tools, and we called in some favors for finishing. A confident color correction really makes the image cohesive, and even a rudimentary audio mix can remove many sound issues.

All in all, we are very proud of our first season of On Hold. Despite the technical issues and challenges, what really comes together is the performances, and, ultimately, that is what people are watching. We’ve already started development on Season 2, which will start shooting in January 2018, and we couldn’t be more excited.

The ultimate lesson we’ve learned is that producing a project like On Hold is not as hard as you might think. Sure it has its challenges, but what part of entertainment isn’t a challenge? As Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it.” Well, this time, the hard was worth it, and has inspired us to continue on. Ultimately, isn’t that the point of it all? Whether making films for millions of dollars, or no-budget web series, the point is making stuff. That’s what makes us filmmakers.

 

 

Timecode Systems intros SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6

Not long after GoPro introduced its latest offering, Timecode Systems released a customized SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6 Black cameras, a timecode-sync solution for the newest generation of action cameras.

By allowing the Hero6 to generate its own frame-accurate timecode, the SyncBac Pro creates the capability to timecode-sync multiple GoPro cameras wirelessly over long-range RF. If GoPro cameras are being used as part of a wider multicamera shoot, SyncBac Pro also allows GoPro cameras to timecode-sync with pro cameras and audio devices. At the end of a shoot, the edit team receives SD cards with frame-accurate timecode embedded into the MP4 file. According to Timecode Systems, using SyncBac Pro for timecode saves around 85 percent in post.

“With the Hero6, GoPro has added features that advance camera performance and image quality, which increases the appeal of using GoPro cameras for professional filming for television and film,” says Ashok Savdharia, CTO at Timecode Systems. “SyncBac Pro further enhances the camera’s compatibility with professional production methods by adding the ability to integrate footage into a multicamera film and broadcast workflow in the same way as larger-scale professional cameras.”

The new SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6 Black will start shipping this winter, and it is now available for preorder.

The Other Art Fair: Brands as benefactors for the arts

By Tom Westerlin

Last weekend, courtesy of Dell, I had the opportunity to attend The Other Art Fair, presented by Saatchi Art here in New York City. My role at Nice Shoes is creative director for VR/AR/360, and I was interested to see how the worlds of interactive and traditional art would intersect. I was also curious to see what role brands like Dell would play, as I feel that as we’ve transitioned from traditional advertising to branded content, brands have emerged as benefactors for the arts.

It was great to have so many artists represented that had created such high-quality work, and unlike other art shows I’ve attended, everything felt affordable and accessible. Art is often priced out for the average person and here was an opportunity to get to know artists, learn about their process and possibly walk away with a beautiful piece to bring into the home.

The curators and sponsors created a very welcoming, jovial atmosphere. Kids had an area where they could draw on the walls, and adults had access to a bar area and lounge where they could converse (I suppose adults could have drawn there as well, but some needed a drink or two to loosen up). The human body was also a canvas as there was an artist offering tattoos. Overall, the organizers created an infectious, creative vibe.

A variety of artists were represented. Traditional paintings, photography, collage, sculpture, neon and VR were all on display in the same space. Seeing VR and digital art amongst traditional art was very encouraging. I’ve encountered bits of this at other shows, but in those instances everything felt cordoned off. At The Other Art Fair, every medium felt as if it were being displayed on equal ground, and, in some cases, the lines between physical and digital art were blurred.

Samsung had framed displays that looked like physical paintings. Their high-quality monitors sat flat on the wall, framed and indistinguishable from physical art.

Dell’s 8K monitor looked amazing. It was such a high resolution and the pixel density was very tight. It looked perfect for displaying a high-resolution photo at 100%. I’d be curious to see how galleries take advantage of monitors like these. Traditionally, prints of photographs would be shown, but monitors like these offer up new potential for showcasing vivid texture, detail and composition.

Although I didn’t walk out with a painting that night, I did come away with the desire to keep my eye on a number of artists — in particular, Glen Gauthier, Paul Richard, Laura Noel and Beth Radford. They all stood out to me.

As the lines between art and advertising blur, there are always new opportunities for brands and artists to come together to create stunning content, and I expect many brands, agencies, and creative studios to engage these artists in the near future.

Joe Wright on directing Darkest Hour

By Iain Blair

Maybe it’s something in the water, but Dunkirk and Winston Churchill seem to be popping up everywhere these days. While the British statesman and prime minister merely hovered unseen in the background of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk epic, he’s front-and-center in Joe Wright’s aptly titled Darkest Hour.

Starring Academy Award-nominee and BAFTA Award-winner Gary Oldman as Churchill, it tells the story of his first weeks in office during the fraught early days of World War II. A witty and brilliant statesman, Churchill is a stalwart member of Parliament, but at age 65 is an unlikely candidate for prime minister. However, the situation in Europe is desperate, with allied nations continuing to fall against Nazi troops, and with the entire British army stranded in France at Dunkirk.

Writer Iain Blair and director Joe Wright.

He’s appointed PM as the threat of invasion of the UK by Hitler’s forces looms, only to find his own party is plotting against him and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) skeptical that the new prime minister can rise to the challenge. He is confronted with the ultimate choice: negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany and save the British people at a terrible cost, or fight on against incredible odds.

With the support of his wife of 31 years, Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas), Churchill looks to the British people to inspire him to stand firm and fight for his nation’s ideals, liberty and freedom. Putting his power with words to the ultimate test, and with the help of his tireless secretary (Lily James), Winston must write and deliver speeches that will rally a nation as he attempts to change the course of world history forever.

Working from a script by Anthony McCarten, Wright also assembled a stellar below-the-line team that included DP Bruno Delbonnel, editor Valerio Bonelli and composer Dario Marianelli

Wright first grabbed Hollywood’s attention with his debut film, 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, which won a raft of awards and four Oscar nominations. He followed that up with the Oscar-winning war drama Atonement, and in 2012 reunited with his Atonement star Kiera Knightley to remake Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s classic tale of love and betrayal.

Now, the master of period pieces, whose credits include The Soloist, Pan and Hanna, is getting a lot of awards and Oscar buzz for Focus Features’ Darkest Hour, and Oldman looks like a lock for an Oscar nomination.

I met up with Wright to discuss making the film.

This is definitely not your usual biopic. It’s a real political thriller, but also a character study.
Yeah, and that’s what I wanted to make. I didn’t realize there were so many Churchill projects going on in both movies and TV, and I wasn’t interested in trying to cover his whole life. This is a very concentrated slice about a pivotal moment in his life — and in history.When I first read the script, it was such a page-turner, full of all this drama and emotion, highs and lows.

First off, he was this complete English eccentric who’d hold meetings while taking a bath, or in his bed, and he’d drink whisky and scotch at lunch and discuss matters of state in his nightshirt… that’s an appealing character. I think he was also a bit of a genius. I say “bit of,” because he also got a lot wrong in his life and career, such as Gallipoli. But when it really counted the most — the resistance to Hitler, tyranny, bigotry and Nazism — he got it exactly right.

Casting the right actor as Churchill was obviously crucial, but what made you choose Gary Oldman — who looks nothing like him?
I’ve always been a huge fan of his — he’s the man — but for this role I wanted an actor with the right level of intensity.  I saw Churchill as almost bi-polar, with all this energy both in thought and action that led him to brilliance, but that also sometimes led him to disastrous and reckless acts. Gary has that kind of energy, which is impossible to fake. You can do all the rest — prosthetics and make-up and body suits, but the essence is what’s most important.

What were the main challenges of the shoot?
It wasn’t a big shoot though it’s got a big scale and deals with epic themes. It wasn’t a micro-budget, but it was tight, so a main challenge was how to deliver a movie that feels truly epic with very limited resources. It’s a very dialogue-heavy film, and with a lot of scenes — including a 10-minute one with people sitting around a table talking — so we had to find a way to make all that very dramatic and as suspenseful as possible.

Fair to say your visual approach on this marries a lot of cutting-edge camera moves to a very classical style?
I think that’s right. I kind of like classicism, and I strive to achieve what might be called “modern classicism,” and I also use a lot of sweeping and unusual camera moves at the same time. Because so much is set in the underground bunkers, whenever we left I wanted to give it a lot more scope and scale, so we designed a lot of shots with that in mind. As I read the script, I envisaged it, and then I spent many, many hours lying on the sofa, listening to music and thinking about what I might do. That’s when I dreamed up those sequences. And we started with all the VFX and post from day one. It all happened together.

Do you like the post process?
Love it, and it’s probably my favorite part, though I like the whole filmmaking process. There are times when post can be very frustrating, but that’s also true of shooting.

Where did you do the post?
All in London. I cut it at my house, and it was set up in such a way that I could do most of the post there, which was great.  Craig Berkey, the supervising sound editor — did my first film and every one since — does most of his cutting and work at home in Canada, and then he came over, and we did all the mixing at Halo Post in London.

Then we did the DI at Technicolor in London, with colorist Peter Doyle, who has a very subtle hand and eye, and he does a lot of my stuff. I really enjoy that process so much as well. Back in the ‘90s in London, everyone was doing music videos, and we all used to spend long nights in telecine smearing stuff all over the film and trying to experiment with all sorts of looks. So it’s always been very important to me, and exciting, and I’m pretty involved.

The film was edited by Valerio Bonelli, who worked with you on Black Mirror, and whose credits include Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins for Stephen Frears. How did that relationship work?
Black Mirror was a good opportunity to try someone new. I loved working with him, and that rolled straight into this. He was on location with us up in Yorkshire at the house we used, and we set a cutting room up there. After shooting every day, I’d come back, we’d watch dailies and discuss the edit. The edit took about six months, and for the first time —  I’d committed to directing a play — I took a six-week hiatus and found it to be very helpful with the edit. I didn’t watch it once during that time, so it was abundantly clear where I was being indulgent when I came back to it with fresh eyes. I plan to take a break like that during editing from now on, it was so helpful.

What about visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
We had about 60, and Framestore did them all. I really like working with VFX as they’re such a useful tool, a means to an end. But when they become the end, then you have a big problem.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
For me it’s half of the experience. I sent the composer the script prior to shooting and we talked about my ideas. I wanted something quite minimalist, which was unusual for him as he’s more in the lush, romantic tradition. I also sent him a photo of Gary as Churchill walking, to show him the energy. He wrote a piece based on that photo, and did a fantastic score.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped it would?
You always have a picture of it in your head and it’s always different from the way you originally pictured it, but I’m very happy with it.


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.

Blackmagic embraces 8K workflows with DeckLink 8K Pro

At InterBee in Japan, Blackmagic showed it believes in 8K workflows with the introduction of the DeckLink 8K Pro, a new high-performance capture and playback card featuring quad link 12G‑SDI to allow realtime high resolution 8K workflows.

This new DeckLink 8K Pro supports all film and video formats from SD all the way up to 8K DCI, 12‑bit RGB 4:4:4, plus it also handles advanced color spaces such as Rec. 2020 for deeper color and higher dynamic range. DeckLink 8K also handles 64 channels of audio, stereoscopic 3D, high frame rates and more.

DeckLink 8K Pro will be available in early January for US $645 from Blackmagic resellers worldwide. In addition, Blackmagic has also lowered the price of its DeckLink 4K Extreme 12G — to US $895.

The DeckLink 8K Pro digital cinema capture and playback card features four quad-link multi-rate 12G‑SDI connections and can work in all SD, HD, Ultra HD, 4K, 8K and 8K DCI formats. It’s also compatible with all existing pro SDI equipment. The 12G‑SDI connections are also bi-directional so they can be used to either capture or playback quad-link 8K, or for the simultaneous capture and playback of single- or dual-link SDI sources.

According to Blackmagic, DeckLink 8K Pro’s 8K images have 16 times more pixels than a regular 1080 HD image, which lets you reframe or scale shots with high fidelity and precision.

DeckLink 8K Pro supports capture and playback of 8- or 10-bit YUV 4:2:2 video and 10- or 12‑bit RGB 4:4:4. Video can be captured as uncompressed or to industry standard broadcast quality ProRes and DNx files. DeckLink 8K Pro users can work at up to 60 frames per second in 8K and it supports stereoscopic 3D for all modes up to 4K DCI at 60 frames per second in 12‑bit RGB.

The advanced broadcast technology in DeckLink 8K Pro is built into an easy-to-install eight-lane third generation PCI Express for Mac, Windows and Linux workstations. Users get support for all legacy SD and HD formats, along with Ultra HD, DCI 4K, 8K and DCI 8K, as well as Rec. 601, 709 and 2020 color.

DeckLink 8K Pro is designed to work seamlessly with the upcoming DaVinci Resolve 14.2 Studio for seamless editing, color and audio post production workflow. In addition, DeckLink 8K Pro also works with other pro tools, such as Apple Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer, Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, Avid Pro Tools, Foundry’s Nuke and more. There’s also a free software development kit so customers and OEMs can build their own custom solutions.

 

HPA celebrates creatives at annual awards ceremony

The Hollywood Professional Association‘s 2017 HPA Awards, held on November 16, recognize individuals and companies for outstanding post production contributions made in the creation of feature films, television, commercials and entertainment content.

Awards were given out in 12 creative categories honoring color grading, sound, editing and visual effects for commercials, television and feature film. Larry Chernoff of MTI received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and special awards were presented for Engineering Excellence and Creativity and Innovation.

The winners of the 2017 HPA Awards are:

Outstanding Color Grading
Outstanding Color Grading – Feature Film

WINNER:
“Ghost in the Shell”
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

“The Birth of a Nation”
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Hidden Figures”
Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

“Doctor Strange”
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Beauty and the Beast”
Stefan Sonnenfeld // Company 3

“Fences”
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

Outstanding Color Grading – Television

WINNER:
“The Crown – Smoke and Mirrors”
Asa Shoul // Molinare

“The Last Tycoon – Burying the Boy Genius”
Timothy Vincent // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Game of Thrones – Dragonstone”
Joe Finley // Chainsaw

“Genius – Einstein: Chapter 1”
Pankaj Bajpai // Encore Hollywood

“The Man in the High Castle – Detonation”
Roy Vasich // Technicolor

Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial

WINNER:
Jose Cuervo – “Last Days”
Tom Poole // Company 3

Land O’ Lakes – “The Farmer”
Billy Gabor // Company 3

Pennzoil – “Joyride Tundra”
Dave Hussey // Company 3

Nedbank – “A Tale of a Note”
Sofie Borup // Company 3

Squarespace – “John’s Journey”
Tom Poole // Company 3

Outstanding Editing
Outstanding Editing – Feature Film   

WINNER:
“Dunkirk”
Lee Smith, ACE

“Hidden Figures”
Peter Teschner

“The Ivory Game”
Verena Schönauer

“Get Out”
Gregory Plotkin, ACE

“Lion”
Alexandre de Franceschi

Outstanding Editing – Television

WINNER:
“Stranger Things – Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Outstanding Editing – Commercial

WINNER:
Nespresso – “Comin’ Home”
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit 

Bonafont – “Choices”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Optum – “Heroes”
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit

SEAT – “Moments”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Outstanding Sound
Outstanding Sound – Feature Film

WINNER:
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Addison Teague, Dave Acord, Chris Boyes, Lora Hirschberg // Skywalker Sound

“The Fate of the Furious”
Peter Brown, Mark Stoeckinger, Paul Aulicino, Steve Robinson, Bobbi Banks // Formosa Group

“Sully”
Alan Murray, Bub Asman, John Reitz, Tom Ozanich // Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services

“John Wick: Chapter 2”
Mark Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin, Andy Koyama, Martyn Zub, Gabe Serrano // Formosa Group

“Doctor Strange”
Shannon Mills, Tom Johnson, Juan Peralta, Dan Laurie // Skywalker Sound

Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Outstanding Sound – Television

WINNERS (TIE):
“Stranger Things – Chapter 8: The Upside Down”
Craig Henighan // FOX
Bradley North, Joe Barnett, Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Tiffany S. Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

“American Gods – The Bone Orchard”
Bradley North, Joseph DeAngelis, Kenneth Kobett, David Werntz, Tiffany S. Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Underground – Soldier”
Larry Goeb, Mark Linden, Tara Paul // Sony Pictures Post

“Game of Thrones – The Spoils of War”
Tim Kimmel, MPSE, Paula Fairfield, Mathew Waters, CAS, Onnalee Blank, CAS, Bradley C. Katona, Paul Bercovitch // Formosa Group

“The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”
Pete Horner // Skywalker Sound
Dimitri Tisseyre // Envelope Music + Sound
Dennis Hamlin // Hamlin Sound

Outstanding Sound – Commercial 

WINNER:
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – “We’re The Superhumans”
Anthony Moore // Factory

Honda – “Up”
Anthony Moore, Neil Johnson, Jack Hallett // Factory
Sian Rogers // Siren

Virgin Media – “This Is Virgin Fibre”
Anthony Moore // Factory

Kia – “Hero’s Journey”
Nathan Dubin // Margarita Mix Santa Monica

SEAT – “Moments”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

War for the Planet of the Apes

Outstanding Visual Effects
Outstanding Visual Effects – Feature Film

WINNER:
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
Dan Lemmon, Anders Langlands, Luke Millar, Erik Winquist, Daniel Barrett // Weta Digital

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Gary Brozenich, Sheldon Stopsack, Patrick Ledda, Richard Clegg, Richard Little // MPC

“Beauty and the Beast”
Kyle McCulloch, Glen Pratt, Richard Hoover, Dale Newton, Neil Weatherley // Framestore

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Guy Williams, Kevin Andrew Smith, Charles  Tait, Daniel Macarin, David Clayton // Weta Digital

“Ghost in the Shell”
Guillaume Rocheron, Axel Bonami, Arundi Asregadoo, Pier Lefebvre, Ruslan Borysov // MPC

Outstanding Visual Effects – Television

WINNER:
“Black Sails – XXIX”
Erik Henry
Yafei Wu, Nicklas Andersson, David Wahlberg // Important Looking Pirates
Martin Lippman // Rodeo

“The Crown – Windsor”
Ben Turner, Tom Debenham, Oliver Cubbage, Lionel Heath, Charlie Bennett // One of Us

“Taboo – Episode One”
Henry Badgett, Nic Birmingham, Simon Rowe, Alexander Kirichenko, Finlay Duncan // BlueBolt VFX

“Ripper Street – Occurrence Reports”
Ed Bruce, Nicholas Murphy, Denny Cahill, Piotr Swigut, Mark Pinheiro // Screen Scene

“Westworld – The Bicameral Mind”
Jay Worth // Deep Water FX
Bobo Skipper, Gustav Ahren, Jens Tenland // Important Looking Pirates
Paul Ghezzo // COSA VFX

Outstanding Visual Effects – Commercial

WINNER:
Kia – “Hero’s Journey”
Robert Sethi, Chris Knight, Tom Graham, Jason Bergman // The Mill

Walmart – “Lost & Found”
Morgan MacCuish, Michael Ralla, Aron Hjartarson, Todd Herman // Framestore

Honda – “Keep the Peace”
Laurent Ledru, Georgia Tribuiani, Justin Booth-Clibborn, Ellen Turner // Psyop

Nespresso – “Comin’ Home”
Matt Pascuzzi, Martin Lazaro, Murray Butler, Nick Fraser, Callum McKeveny // Framestore

Walmart – “The Gift”
Mike Warner, Kurt Lawson, Charles Trippe, Robby  Geis // ZERO VFX

The following special awards, which were previously announced, were also presented this evening:

HPA ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE AWARD
2017 Winners:
-Colorfront // Colorfront Engine
-Dolby // Dolby Vision Post-Production Tools
-Red Digital Cinema // Weapon 8K Vista Vision
-SGO // Mistika VR

Honorable Mentions were awarded to Canon USA for Critical Viewing Reference Displays and to Eizo for ColorEdge CG318-4K.

HPA JUDGES AWARD FOR CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION

2017 Winner
NASA, Amazon Web Services, and AWS Elemental, an Amazon Web Services Company // The First Live 4K Stream from the International Space Station

HPA LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
2017 Honoree: Larry Chernoff

Dementia 13: Helping enhance the horror with VFX

By Randi Altman

As scary movies are making a comeback and putting butts in seats, as they say, the timing couldn’t be better for NBC Universal’s remake of Dementia 13, a 1963 horror film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The 2017 version, directed by Richard LeMay, can be streamed on all major VOD platforms. It focuses on a vengeful ghost, a mysterious murderer and a family with a secret. Jeremy Wanek was the lead VFX artist on Dementia 13, and Wayne Harry Johnson Jr. was the VFX producer. They are from Black Space VFX. We reached out to them with some questions.

Jeremy Wanek

How early did you get involved in Dementia 13?
Johnson: We were involved from the second or third draft of the script. Dan De Filippo, who wrote and produced the film, wanted our feedback immediately in terms of what was possible for VFX in the film. We worked with them through pre-production and even fielded a few questions during production. It is extremely important to start thinking about VFX immediately in any production. That way you can write for it and plan your shoot for it. There is nothing worse than a production hoping it can be fixed by VFX work. So getting us involved right away saves everyone a lot of time and money.

Wanek: During preproduction it seems incredibly common for filmmakers to underestimate how many effect shots there will be on their films. They forget about the simple/invisible effects, while concentrating on the bigger and flashier stuff. I don’t blame them; it’s nearly impossible to figure everything out ahead of time. There are always unexpected things that come up during production as well. Always.

For example, on Dementia 13 they shot in this really cool castle location, but they found out while on production that they couldn’t use as many of the practical blood effects as they intended. They didn’t want a bloody mess! So, we were asked to do more digital blood effects and enhancements.

Wayne Harry Johnson, Jr.

Were they open to suggestions from you or did they have a very specific idea of what they wanted?
Johnson: As in every production, there are always elements that are very specifically asked for, but director Richard LeMay is very collaborative. We discussed in great detail the look of all the important effects. And he was very open to suggestions and ideas. This was our second film with Rich. We also did the VFX work on his new film Blood Bound, and it has been a great creative relationship. We can’t wait to work with him again.

Wanek: Yeah, Rich has a vision for sure, but he always gives us creative freedom to explore options and see what we can come up with. I think that’s the best of both worlds.

How many shots did you provide?
Johnson: We did roughly 60 VFX shots for the film, and hopefully the audience won’t notice all of them. If we do our jobs correctly, most VFX work is invisible. As in all films there are little things that get cleaned up or straightened out. VFX isn’t just about robots and explosions. It has a lot to do with keeping the film looking the best it can be by hiding the blemishes that could not be avoided during production.

So again it is important for the filmmakers to consult on their film as they go and ask questions as they go. We all want the same thing for the film, and that is to make it the best it can be and sometimes that means painting out a light switch or removing a sign on that beautiful shot of a road.

Wanek: It’s interesting to note how many shots were intended during preproduction and how many we ended up doing in post. I’d say we ended up doing at least twice as many shots, which is not uncommon. There are elements like the smoke on Kathleen, the ghost girl, when it’s hard to know exactly how many times you’re going to cut to a shot of her. Half of the effect shots for the movie involved creating her ghostly appearance.

Ghost girl Kathleen.

Can you describe the type of effects you provided on the show?
Wanek: We did muzzle flashes, wire removal, visible breath from characters in a cold environment, frost that encapsulates windows, digital hands that pull a character off a dock and into water (that included a digital water splash), the Kathleen ghost effect and an assortment of blood effects.

You created a lot of element effects, such as smoke, water, blood, etc. What was the hardest one to create and why?
Wanek: Creating the smoke that blankets Kathleen was the most challenging and time consuming effect. There were about 30 shots of her in total, and I tackled them myself. With the quick turnaround on the film, it made for some long nights. Every action she performed, and each new camera angle, presented unique challenges. Thankfully, she doesn’t move much in most of the shots. But for shots where she picks a gun up from the ground, or walks across the room, I had to play around with the physics to make it play more realistically, which takes time.

What tools did you use on this project?
Wanek: We composited in Adobe After Effects, tracked in Mocha AE, used Photoshop to assist in painting out objects/wire removal, and I relied heavily on Red Giant’s Trapcode Particular to create the particle effects — ghostly smoke, some of the blood effects and a digital water splash.

Our artists work remotely, so we stored the shots on Dropbox to easily send them out to other artists on the team, who would then download them to their own hard drives. To review shots it was a similar process, using Dropbox and emailing the director a link to stream/download. We kept shot names and the progress info on all shots organized using a Google spreadsheet. This was great because we could update it live, and everyone was on the same page at all times.

CG hands.

Turnarounds are typically tight? Was that the case with Dementia 13? If so, how did you make it work?
Johnson: Yes, we had roughly 30 days to complete the VFX work on the film. Tight deadlines can be hard but we were aware of that when we went into it. What really helps with managing tight deadlines is all the upfront communication between us and the director. By the time we started we knew exactly what Rich was looking for so dialing it in was a much easier and faster process. We also previewed early cuts of the film so we could see and anticipate any potential problems ahead of time. Planning and preparing solves most problems even when time is tight.

So as I said, having VFX involved from the very beginning is essential. Bring us in early, even when it’s just a treatment. We can get a sense of what needs to be done, how long it will take and start estimating budgets. The thing that makes tight deadlines hard is that lots of filmmakers think about VFX last, or very late in the process. Then when they want it done fast they have to compromise because the effect may not have been planned right. So as you can see we have a theme, call us early on.

Wanek: And as I mentioned earlier, unexpected things happen. The dreaded, “we’ll fix it in post,” is a real thing, unfortunately. Filmmakers need to make sure they have additional VFX budget for those surprises.

What was the most challenging part of the process?
Johnson: Each area can have its own challenges. But making anything move like liquid and look convincing is hard. We worked on some ghostly blood effects in the title sequence of the film that were difficult, but in the end we think it looks great. It is a subtle plant for the audience to know there is a bit of supernatural action in this film. Our company is also a virtual company, meaning all of us work remotely. So sometimes communication internally and with clients can be a challenge, but in the end a quick phone call usually solves most problems. Again, more communication and earlier involvement helps alleviate a lot of issues.

CG blood spurts.

What’s next for you and your studio, and where are you based?
Wanek: We are based in Minneapolis, and just opened a second office in New York City. Wayne, myself and Adam Natrop are partners in the company. We’re currently in post production on a horror comedy zombie/hockey movie, Ahockalypse. It’s wackier than it sounds. It’s a lot of fun and pretty bold!

Wayne wrote and directed the film, and I edited it. We just handed it off to our sound designer, to our composer, and are starting work on the VFX. We’re hoping to finish before the year is up. We have several projects on the horizon that we can’t say anything about yet, but we’re excited!

Behind the Title: Framestore director of production & ops Sarah Hiddlestone

NAME: Sarah Hiddlestone

COMPANY: Framestore

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Framestore is a BAFTA-and Oscar-winning visual effects studio. We produce visual content for any screen from films and TV programs to theme park rides to large-scale installations and virtual/augmented/mixed realities.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Production & Operations

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role oversees daily negotiation and communication, and ensures that the New York office runs smoothly. I focus on creating an environment, studio culture and working process that allows teams to produce high-quality work on time and on budget. My role looks at the bigger picture, ensuring projects are run as efficiently as possible. I’m constantly problem-solving and pushing to create the best working environment for our clients and creative talent.

Framestore

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Choosing soap.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My talented production team and our talented artists — they are the life and soul of all the work we produce at Framestore.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Tantrums.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
The morning. I’m usually one of the first in, and I get a lot done as the office wakes up.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Living as a beach bum in Bali.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I fell into this profession. I always loved animation, but studied hospitality management — thought I wanted to be a chef but hated the hours. Oh, the irony. I worked my way up from a PA, learning everything I know on the job. Along the way I’ve developed vital, in-depth knowledge of the production, VFX, VR and emerging technology processes, and the ability to see Framestore as a global whole rather than at individual office or project level.

Working in VFX has allowed me to travel the world, live in different cities (Sydney, New York, London) and meet a network of firm friends that span the globe. My VFX family. I am lucky to have worked at Framestore in both the London and NY offices.

Fantastic Beasts experience

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I am behind the scenes on most of the jobs that come out of the NY office. A stand out for our New York office would include last year’s virtual school bus experience Field Trip to Mars with Lockheed Martin and McCann. It’s gone on to win over 100 awards and truly showed the strength and diversity of our staff. More recently we worked with multiple Academy Award-winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki to visualize One Night for Absolut and BBH. Our New York office collaborated with Framestore’s film teams in London and Montreal to produce the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them experience.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
My personal all-time favorite is Chemical Brothers’ Salmon Dance, which I produced when working in the London office of Framestore for Dom & Nic at Outsider. I also love The Tale of Three Brothers (an animated storybook within Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1). It is a stunning piece of work.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
There’s just one: my iPhone.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Pilates, boxing, sitting in silence, lots of slow breathing. Thinking “calm blue ocean.”

MPC adds Flame artists and executive producer to its finishing team

MPC has strengthened its finishing capabilities with the addition of Flame artist and creative director Claus Hansen, senior Flame artist Noah Caddis and executive producer Robert Owens. The trio, who have joined MPC from Method, have over a decade of experience working together. They will be based in MPC’s Culver City studio.

Owens, Hansen and Caddis are all looking forward to collaborating with MPC’s colorists and artists who are located all around the world. “We were attracted to MPC for the quality of work they are renowned for. At the same time it feels very accessible, like we’re working in a collective group, all driven by the same thing, to make great work,” says Hansen. “We are at a point in our careers where we can take our knowledge and skills to make the best experience possible for the company and clients.”

“There is an assurance that all projects will be treated with an artistic eye and scrutiny that is not typically found in the fast-paced nature of finishing and beauty,” adds Caddis.

Hansen has worked with agencies, such as CP+B, Wieden + Kennedy and Deutsch, creating effects, beauty and finishing work on content for brands including BMW, Lexus, Maserati, Microsoft, Target and Revlon.

Caddis has worked on spots for Infiniti, Kia, Adobe, Diet Dr Pepper and others. He too has a strong history of partnering with high-profile agencies like Deutsch, CP+B, Media Arts Lab, Agency 215 and David & Goliath.

“Robert, Noah and I have noticed the strong sense of camaraderie since we arrived, and it’s contagious,” says Hansen. “It gives the feeling of being in a tight-knit, creatively focused group that you want to be a part of. And that’s very appealing.”

Main Image: (L-R) Noah Caddis, Robert Owen and Claus Hansen.

AJA and Avid intro Avid Artist | DNxIP hardware interface

AJA has collaborated with Avid to develop Avid Artist | DNxIP, a new hardware interface option for Avid Media Composer users that supports high frame rate, deep color and HDR IP workflows. It is a Thunderbolt 3-equipped I/O device that enables the transfer of SMPTE standard HD video over 10 GigE IP networks, with high-quality local monitoring over 3G-SDI and HDMI 2.0.

Based on the new AJA Io IP, Avid Artist | DNxIP is custom engineered to Avid’s specifications and includes an XLR audio input on the front of the device for microphone or line-level sources. Avid Artist | DNxIP uses Thunderbolt 3 to enable simple, fast HD/SD video and audio ingest/output from/to IP networks. It features dual Thunderbolt 3 ports for daisy chaining and two SFP+ cages for video and audio routing over 10 GigE IP networks. The portable, aluminum encased device also supports SMPTE 2022-6 uncompressed video, audio and VANC data over IP, as well as SMPTE 2022-7 for redundancy protection.

“The increased agility and efficiency of IP workflows is a must-have for content creators and broadcasters in today’s competitive climate,” says Alan Hoff, VP of market solutions for Avid. “We’ve collaborated with AJA on the newest addition to our Avid Artist product line, Avid Artist DNxIP, which offers broadcasters and post production facilities a portable, yet powerful, video interface for IP workflows.”

Avid Artist | DNxIP feature highlights include:
– Laptop or desktop HD/SD capture and playback over IP across Thunderbolt 3
– Audio input for analog microphone to record single-channel 16-bit D/A analog audio, 48 kHz sample rate, balanced, using industry standard XLR
– Backwards compatibility with existing Thunderbolt hosts
– SMPTE 2022-6 and 2022-7 I/O
– Dual 10 GigE connectivity via two SFP+ cages compatible with 10 GigE SFP transceiver modules from leading third-party providers
– Two Thunderbolt 3 ports for daisy chaining of up to six Thunderbolt devices
– 3G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 video monitoring
– Audio I/O: 16-channel embedded SDI; 8-channel embedded HDMI; 4-channel analog audio In and 4-channel audio out via XLR breakout
– Small, rugged design suited for a variety o production environments
– Downstream keyer
– Standard 12v 4-pin XLR for AC or battery power