Author Archives: Randi Altman

An image scientist weighs in about this year’s SciTech winners

While this year’s Oscar broadcast was unforgettable due to the mix up in naming the Best Picture, many in the industry also remember actors Leslie Mann and John Cho joking about how no one understands what the SciTech Awards are about. Well, Shed’s SVP of imaging science, Matthew Tomlinson, was kind enough to answer some questions about the newest round of winners and what the technology means to the industry.

As an image scientist, what was the most exciting thing about this year’s Oscars’ Scientific and Technical Awards?
As an imaging scientist, I was excited about the five digital cameras — Viper, Genesis, Sony 65, Red Epic and Arri — that received accolades. I’ve been working with each of these cameras for years, and each of them has had a major impact in the industry. They’ve pioneered the digital revolution and have set a very high standard for future cameras that appear on the market.

The winners of the 2017 SciTech Awards. Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S.

Another exciting aspect is that you actually have access to your “negative” with digital cameras and, if need be, you can make adjustments to that negative after you’ve exposed it. It’s an incredibly powerful option that we haven’t even realized the full potential of yet.

From an audience perspective, even though they’ll never know it, the facial performance capture solving system developed by ILM, as well as the facial performance-based software from Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, is incredibly exciting. The industry is continuously pushing the boundaries of the scope of the visual image. As stories become more expansive, this technology helps the audience to engage with aliens or creatures that are created by a computer but based on the actions, movements and emotions of an actor. This is helping blur the lines between reality and fantasy. The best part is that these tools help tell stories without calling attention to themselves.

Which category or discipline saw the biggest advances from last year to this year? 
The advancements in each technology that received an award this year are based on years of work behind the scenes that led up to this moment. I will say that from an audience perspective, the facial animation advancements were significant this past year. We’re reaching a point where audiences are unaware major characters are synthetic or modified. It’s really mind blowing when you think about it.

Sony’s Toshihiko Ohnishi.

Which of the advancements will have the biggest impact on the work that you do, specifically?
The integration of digital cameras and intermixing various cameras into one project. It’s pretty common nowadays to see the Sony, Alexa and Red camera all used on the same project. Each one of these cameras comes with its own inherent colorspace and particular attributes, but part of my job is to make sure they can all work together — that we can interweave the various files they create — without the colorist having to do a lot of technical heavy lifting. Part of my job as an Imaging Scientist is handling the technicalities so that when creatives, such as the director, cinematographer and colorist, come together they can concentrate on the art and don’t have to worry about the technical aspects much at all.

Are you planning to use, or have you already begun using, any of these innovations in your work?

The digital cameras are very much part of my everyday life. Also, in working with a VFX house, I like to provide the knowledge and tools to help them view the imagery as it will be seen in the DI. The VFX artist spends an incredible amount of time and effort on every pixel they work on and it’s a real goal of mine to make sure that the work that they create is the best it can be throughout the DI.

Hollywood’s Digital Jungle moves to Santa Clarita

Digital Jungle, a long-time Hollywood-based post house, has moved its operations to a new facility in Santa Clarita, California, which has become a growing hub for production and post in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The new headquarters is now home to both Digital Jungle Post and its recent off-shoot Digital Jungle Pictures, a feature film development and production studio.

“I don’t mind saying, it was a bit of an experiment moving to Santa Clarita,” explains Digital Jungle president and chief creative Dennis Ho. “With so many filmmakers and productions working out here — including Disney/ABC Studios, Santa Clarita Studios and Universal Locations — this area has developed into a vast untapped market for post production professionals. I decided that now was a good time to tap into that opportunity.”

Digital Jungle’s new facility offers the full complement of digital workflow solutions for HD to 4K. The facility has multiple suites featuring Smoke, DaVinci Resolve, audio recording via Avid’s S6 console and Pro Tools, production offices, a conference area, a full kitchen and a client lounge.

Digital Jungle is well into the process of adding further capabilities with a new high-end luxury DI 4K theater and screening room, greenscreen stage, VFX bullpen, multiple edit bays and additional production offices as part of their phase two build-out.

Digital Jungle Post services include DI/color grading; VFX/motion graphics; audio recording/mixing and sound design; ADR and VO; HD to 4K deliverables for tape and data; DCI and DCDM; promo/bumper design and film/television title design.

Commenting on Digital Jungle Pictures, Ho says, “It was a natural step for me. I started my career by directing and producing promos and interstitials for network TV, studios and distributors. I think that our recent involvement in producing several independent films has enhanced our credibility on the post side. Filmmakers tend to feel more comfortable entrusting their post work to other filmmakers. One example is we recently completed audio post and DI for a new Hallmark film called Love at First Glance.”

In addition to Love at First Glance, Digital Jungle Productions’ recent projects include indie films Day of Days, A Better Place (available now on digital and DVD) and Broken Memories, which was screened at the Sedona Film Festival.

 

Nickelodeon gets new on-air brand refresh

The children’s network Nickelodeon has debuted an all-new brand refresh of its on-air and online look and feel. Created with animation, design, global branding and creative agency Superestudio, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nick’s new look features an array of kids interacting with the real world and Nick’s characters in live-action and graphic environments.

The new look consists of almost 300 deliverables, including bumpers, IDs, promo toolkits and graphic developments that first rolled out across the network’s US linear platform, followed by online, social media and off-channel. Updated elements for the network’s international channels will follow.

“We really wanted to highlight how much surprise and fun are parts of kids’ lives, so we took as our inspiration the surreal nature of GIFs, memes and emoticons and created an entire new visual vocabulary,” says Michael Waldron, SVP, creative director art and design for Nickelodeon Group and Nick@Nite. “Using a mix of real kids and on-air talent, the refresh looks through the lens of how kids see things — the unpredictable, extraordinary and joyful nature of a child’s imagination. Superestudio was the right company for this refresh because they use a great mix of different techniques, and they brought a fresh viewpoint that had just the right amount of quirk and whimsy.”

Nickelodeon’s new look was created by combining real kids with 2D and 3D graphics to create imaginative reinterpretations of Nickelodeon’s properties and characters as they became real-world playgrounds for kids to bring to life, rearrange and redesign. From turning SpongeBob’s face into a tongue-twisted fun zone to kids rearranging and rebuilding Lincoln Loud from The Loud House, everything from the overhead and docu-style camera angles to the seamless blend of real-world and tactile elements.

Nickelodeon’s classic orange logo is now set against an updated color palette of bright tones, including purple, light blue, lime and cream.

According to Superestudio executive creative director Ezequiel Rormoser, “The software that we used is Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D. I think the most interesting thing is how we mixed live action with graphics, not in terms of technical complexity, but in the way they interact in an unexpected way. “

Flavor Detroit welcomes VFX artist/designer Scott Stephens

Twenty-year industry veteran Scott Stephens has joined Flavor Detroit as senior VFX artist/designer. Previously the lead designer at Postique, Stephens has been a key part of the post boutique Section 8 as co-founder and lead designer since its launch in 2001.

Known for his work with top brands and directors on major commercial campaigns for Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), Chrysler, Expedia, Food Network, Mazda and Six Flags, to name but a few, Stephens also brings vast experience creating content that maximizes unique environments and screens of all sizes.

Recent projects include the Amazon Kindle release in Times Square, the Ford Focus theatrical release for the Electric Music Festival, BCBS media for the Pandora app, Buick’s multi-screen auto show installations and the Mount St. Helens installation for the National Park Service.

Review: LogicKeyboard’s Astra PC keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5

By Brady Betzel

I love a good keyboard. In fact, my favorite keyboards have always been mechanical, or pseudo-mechanical, like those old Windows keyboards you can find at thrift stores for under 10 bucks — in fact, I went back and bought one just the other day at a Goodwill. I love them because of the tactile response and click you get when depressing the keys.

Knowing this, you can understand my frustration (and maybe old-man bitterness) when all I see in the modern workplace are those slimline Apple keyboards, even on Windows PCs! I mean I can get by on those, but at home I love using this old Avid keyboard that is as close to mechanical as I can get.

LogicKeyboard’s Astra latest Resolve-focused backlit keyboard answers many problems in one slick keyboard. Logic’s scissor switch designed keys give me the tactile feedback that I love while the backlit keyboard itself is sleek and modern.

After being a primarily Avid Media Composer-focused editor with keyboards emblazoned with Avid shortcuts for many years, I started using other apps like Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and realized I really like to see shortcuts displayed on my keyboard. Yeah, I know, I should pretend to be able to blaze through an edit without looking at the keyboard but guess what, I look down. So when learning new apps like Resolve it is really helpful to have a keyboard with shortcuts, moreover with keys that have backlighting. I don’t usually run into many Resolve-focused keyboards so when I heard about Logic’s backlit version, I immediately wanted to try it out.

While this particular keyboard has Resolve-specific shortcuts labeled on the keys it will work as a standard keyboard and will run backlit regardless of what app you are in. If you are looking for a keyboard with shortcuts for a specific app check out LogicKeyboard’s site where you can find Windows and Ma OS keyboards for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Smoke and even non-video-based apps like Pro Tools or Photoshop.

Taking it for a Drive
The Astra keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5 is awesome. First off, there are two USB 2.0 cables you need to plug into your PC to use this keyboard: one for the keyboard itself and one for the two USB 2.0 ports on the back. I love that LogicKeyboard has created a self-powered USB hub on the back of the keyboard. I do wish it was USB 3.0, but to have the ability to power external hard drives from the keyboard and not have to fumble around the back of the machine really helps my day-to-day productivity, a real key addition. While the keyboard I am reviewing is technically for a Windows-based machine it will work on a Mac OS-based system, but you will have to keep in mind the key differences such as the Windows key, but really you should just buy the Mac OS version.

The Astra keyboard is sleek and very well manufactured. The first thing I noticed after I plugged in the keyboard was that it didn’t walk along the desk as I was using it. Maybe I’m a little hard on my equipment, but a lot of keyboards I use start to move across my desk when typing; the Logic keyboard stays still and allows me to pound on that keyboard all day long.

As a testament to the LogicKeyboard’s durability, one day I came home after work and one of the shift keys on the keyboard had come off (it may or may not have been my two year old — I have no concrete evidence). My first thought was “great, there goes that keyboard,” but then I quickly tried to snap the key back on and it went on the first try. Pretty amazing.

What sets the LogicKeyboard backlit keyboard apart from other application-specific keyboards, or any for that matter, is not only the solid construction but also the six levels of brightness for the backlit keys that can be controlled directly from the keyboard. The brightness can be controlled in increments of 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% brightness. As a professional editor or colorist, you might think that having backlit keys in a dark room is both distracting and/or embarrassing, but LogicKeyboard has made a beautiful keyboard that glows softly. Even at 100% brightness it feels like the Astra keyboard has a nice fall off, leaving the keyboard almost unnoticeable until you need to see it and use it. Furthermore, it kicks into what Logic calls “smoothing light” after three minutes of non-use — basically it dims to a dull level.

In terms of shortcuts on the Resolve 12/12.5-specific Astra keyboard, you get four levels of shortcuts: normal, shift + key, control + key, and alt + key. Normal is labeled in black, shift + key are labeled in red just like the shift key, control + key are labeled in blue just like the control key, and alt + key are labeled green just like the alt key. While I love all of these shortcuts I do think that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming with so many visible at the same time. It’s kind of a catch-22; I want every shortcut labeled for easy and fast searches, but too many options lead me, at times, to search too long.

On the flip side, after about a week I noticed my Resolve keyboard shortcuts getting more committed to memory than before, so I was less worried about searching each individual key for the shortcut I needed. I am a big proponent for memorizing keyboard shortcuts and the Astra keyboard for Resolve helped cement those into my memory way faster than any normal non-backlit keyboard. Usually, my eyes have a hard time going back and forth between a bright screen and a super dark keyboard; it’s pretty much impossible to do efficiently. The backlit Astra solved my problem of hunting for keys in a dark room with a bright monitor.

The Windows version is compatible with pretty much any version of Windows from the last 10 years, and the Mac version is compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and higher. I tested mine on a workstation with Windows 10 installed.

Summing Up
In the end, I love Logic’s Astra backlit keyboard for DaVinci Resolve 12/12.5. The tactile feedback from each key is essential for speed when editing and color correcting, and it’s the best I’ve felt since having to give up my trusty mechanical-style keyboards. I’ve been through Apple-like low-profile keyboards for Media Composer, going back to the old-school ps/2-style mechanical-ish keyboards, and now to the Astra backlit keyboard and loving it.

The backlit version of LogicKeyboards don’t necessarily come cheap, however, this version retails for $139.90-plus $11.95 for shipping. The Mac version costs the same.

While you may think that is high for a keyboard, the Astra is of the highest manufacturing quality, has two fully powered USB 2.0 ports (that come in handy for things like the Tangent Ripple or Element color correction panels), and don’t forget the best part: is also backlit! My two-year-old son even ripped a key off of the keyboard (he wants me to add, allegedly!) and I fixed it easily without having to send it in for repairs. I doubt the warranty will cover kids pulling off keys, but you do get a free one-year warranty with the product.

I used this keyboard over a few months and really began to fall in love with the eight-degree angle that it is set at. I use keyboards all day, every day and not all keyboards are the same. Some have super flat angles and some have super high angles. In my opinion, the LogicKeyboard Astra has a great and hurt-free angle.

I also can’t overstate how awesome the backlit element of this keyboard is, it’s not just the letters that are backlit, each key is smoothly backlit in its entirety. Even at 100% brightness the keys look soft with a nice fall off on the edges, they aren’t an eyesore and in fact are a nice talking point for many clients. If you are barely thinking about buying a keyboard or are in desperate need of a new keyboard and you use Resolve 12 or 12.5 you should immediately buy the Astra. I love it, and I know you will not regret it.

Check out my footage of the LogicKeyboard Astra backlit keyboard for Resolve on my YouTube page:

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

The A-list — Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts

By Iain Blair

Plucky explorers! Exotic locations! A giant ape! It can only mean one thing: King Kong is back… again. This time, the new Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ Kong: Skull Island re-imagines the origin of the mythic Kong in an original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

With an all-star cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar-winner Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it follows a diverse team of explorers as they venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific — as beautiful as it is treacherous — unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.

The legendary Kong was brought to life on a whole new scale by Industrial Light & Magic, with two-time Oscar-winner Stephen Rosenbaum (Avatar, Forrest Gump) serving as visual effects supervisor.

To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts, his cast and filmmaking team shot across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii — where shooting commenced on October 2015 — on Australia’s Gold Coast and, finally, in Vietnam, where production took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film. Kong: Skull Island was released worldwide in 2D, 3D and IMAX beginning March 10.

I spoke with Vogt-Roberts about making the film and his love of post.

What’s the eternal appeal of doing a King Kong movie?
He’s King Kong! But the appeal is also this burden, as you’re playing with film history and this cinematic icon of pop culture. Obviously, the 1933 film is this impeccable genre story, and I’m a huge fan of creature features and people like Ray Harryhausen. I liked the idea of taking my love for all that and then giving it my own point of view, my sense of style and my voice.

With just one feature film credit, you certainly jumped in the deep end with this — pun intended — monster production, full of complex moving parts and cutting-edge VFX. How scary was it?
Every movie is scary because I throw myself totally into it. I vanish from the world. If you asked my friends, they would tell you I completely disappear. Whether it’s big or small, any film’s daunting in that sense. When I began doing shorts and my own stuff, I did shooting, the lighting, the editing and so on, and I thrived off all that new knowledge, so even all the complex VFX stuff wasn’t that scary to me. The truly daunting part is that a film like this is two and a half years of your life! It’s a big sacrifice, but I love a big challenge like this was.

What were the biggest challenges, and how did you prepare?
How do you make it special —and relevant in 2017? I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to a challenge, and when I made the jump to The Kings of Summer it really helped train me. But there are certain things that are the same as they always are, such as there’s never enough time or money or daylight. Then there are new things on a movie of this size, such as the sheer endurance you need and things you simply can’t prepare yourself for, like the politics involved, all the logistics and so on. The biggest thing for me was, how do I protect my voice and point of view and make sure my soul is present in the movie when there are so many competing demands? I’m proud of it, because I feel I was able to do that.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Very early on — even before we had the script ready. We had concept artists and began doing previs and discussing all the VFX.

Did you do a lot of previs?
I’m not a huge fan of it. Third Floor did it and it’s a great tool for communicating what’s happening and how you’re going to execute it, but there’s also that danger of feeling like you’re already making the movie before you start shooting it. Think of all the great films like Blade Runner and the early Star Wars films, all shot before they even had previs, whereas now it’s very easy to become too reliant on it; you can see a movie sequence where it just feels like you’re watching previs come to life. It’s lost that sense of life and spontaneity. We only did three previs sequences — some only partially — and I really stressed with the crew that it was only a guide.

Where did you do the post?
It was all done at Pivotal in Burbank, and we began cutting as we shot. The sound mix was done at Skywalker and we did our score in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love post. I love all aspects of production, but post is where you write the film again and where it ceases being what was on the page and what you wanted it to be. Instead you have to embrace what it wants to be and what it needs to be. I love repurposing things and changing things around and having those 3am breakthroughs! If we moved this and use that shot instead, then we can cut all that.

You had three editors — Richard Pearson, Bob Murawski and Josh Schaeffer. How did that work?
Rick and Bob ran point, and Rick was the lead. Josh was the editor who had done The Kings of Summer with me, and my shorts. He really understands my montages and comedy. It was so great that Rick and Bob were willing to bring him on, and they’re all very different editors with different skills — and all masters of their craft. They weren’t on set, except for Hawaii. Once we were really globe-trotting, they were in LA cutting.

VFX play a big role. Can you talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Jeff White and ILM, who did the majority of the effects work?
He ran the team there, and they’re all amazing. It was a dream come true for me. They’re so good at taking kernels of ideas and turning them into reality. I was able to do revisions as I got new ideas. Creating Kong was the big one, and it was very tricky because the way he moves isn’t totally realistic. It’s very stylized, and Jeff really tapped into my animé and videogame sensibility for all that. We also used Hybride and Rodeo for some shots.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The helicopter sequence was really very difficult, juggling the geography of that, with this 100-foot creature and people spread all over the island, and also the final battle sequence. The VFX team and I constantly asked ourselves, “Have we seen this before? Is it derivative? Is it redundant?” The goal was to always keep it fresh and exciting.

Where did you do the DI?
At Fotokem with colorist Dave Cole who worked on The Lord of the Rings and so many others. I love color, and we did a lot of very unusual stuff for a movie like this, with a lot of saturation.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
A movie never quite turns out the way you hope or think it will, but I love the end result and I feel it represents my voice. I’m very proud of what we did.


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.

25 Million Reasons to Smile: When a short film is more than a short

By Randi Altman

For UK-based father and son Paul and Josh Butterworth, working together on the short film 25 Million Reasons to Smile was a chance for both of them to show off their respective talents — Paul as an actor/producer and Josh as an aspiring filmmaker.

The film features two old friends, and literal partners in crime, who get together to enjoy the spoils of their labors after serving time in prison. After so many years apart, they are now able to explore a different and more intimate side of their relationship.

In addition to writing the piece, Josh served as DP and director, calling on his Canon 700D for the shoot. “I bought him that camera when he started film school in Manchester,” says Paul.

Josh and Paul Butterworth

The film stars Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty) and actor/dialect/voice coach Jon Sperry as the thieves who are filled with regret and hope. 25 Million Reasons to Smile was shot in Southern California, over the course of one day.

We reached out to the filmmakers to find out why they shot the short film, what they learned and how it was received.

With tools becoming more affordable these days, making a short is now an attainable goal. What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Josh: It’s wonderful. Young and old aspiring filmmakers alike are so lucky to have the ability to make short films. This can lead to issues, however, because people can lose sight of what it is important: character and story. What was so good about making 25 Million was the simplicity. One room, two brilliant actors, a cracking story and a camera is all you really need.

What about the edit?
Paul: We had one hour and six minutes (a full day’s filming) to edit down to about six minutes, which we were told was a day’s work. An experienced editor starts at £500 a day, which would have been half our total budget in one bite! I budgeted £200 for edit, £100 for color grade and £100 for workflow.

At £200 a day, you’re looking at editors with very little experience, usually no professional broadcast work, often no show reel… so I took a risk and went for somebody who had a couple of shorts in good festivals, named Harry Baker. Josh provided a lot of notes on the story and went from there. And crucial cuts, like staying off the painting as long as possible and cutting to the outside of the cabin for the final lines — those ideas came from our executive producer Ivana Massetti who was brilliant.

How did you work with the colorist on the look of the film?
Josh: I had a certain image in my head of getting as much light as possible into the room to show the beautiful painting in all its glory. When the colorist, Abhishek Hans, took the film, I gave him the freedom to do what he thought was best, and I was extremely happy with the results. He used Adobe Premiere Pro for the grade.

Paul: Josh was DP and director, so on the day he just shot the best shots he could using natural light — we didn’t have lights or a crew, not even a reflector. He just moved the actors round in the available light. Luckily, we had a brilliant white wall just a few feet away from the window and a great big Venice Beach sun, which flooded the room with light. The white walls bounced light everywhere.

The colorist gave Josh a page of notes on how he envisioned the color grade — different palettes for each character, how he’d go for the dominant character when it was a two shot and change the color mood from beginning to end as the character arc/resolution changed and it went from heist to relationship movie.

What about the audio?
Paul: I insisted Josh hire out a professional Róde microphone and a TASCAM sound box from his university. This actually saved the shoot as we didn’t have a sound person on the boom, and consequently the sound box wasn’t turned up… and also we swiveled the microphone rather than moving it between actors, so one had a reverb on the voice while the other didn’t.

The sound was unusable (too low), but since the gear was so good, sound designer Matt Snowden was able to boost it in post to broadcast standard without distortion. Sadly, he couldn’t do anything about the reverb.

Can you comment on the score?
Paul: A BAFTA mate of mine, composerDavid Poore, offered to do the music for free. It was wonderful and he was so professional. Dave already had a really good hold on the project as we’d had long chats but he took the Josh’s notes and we ended up with a truly beautiful score.

Was the script followed to the letter? Any improvisations?
Josh: No, not quite. Paul and Jon were great, and certainly added a lot to the dialogue through conversations before and during the shoot. Jon, especially, was very helpful in Americanizing his character, Jackson’s, dialogue.

Paul: Josh spent a long time on the script and worked on every word. We had script meetings at various LA cafes and table reads with me and Jon. On the shoot day, it was as written.

Josh ended up cutting one of my lines in the edit as it wasn’t entirely necessary, and the reverb was bad. It tightened it up. And our original ending had our hands touching on the bottle, but it didn’t look right so Josh went with the executive producer’s idea of going to the cabin.

What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Paul: Wow! The benefits are amazing… as an actor I never realized the process. The filming is actually a tiny proportion of the entire process. It gave me the whole picture (I’m now in awe of how hard producers work, and that’s only after playing at it!) and how much of a team effort it is — how the direction, edit, sound design and color grade can rewrite the film. I can now appreciate how the actor doesn’t see the bigger picture and has no control over any of those these elements. They are (rightly) fully immersed in their character, which is exactly what the actor’s role is: to turn up and do the lines.

I got a beautiful paid short film out of it, current footage for my show reel and a fantastic TV job — I was cast by Charles Sturridge in the new J.K.Rowling BBC1/HBO series Cormoran Strike as the dad of the female lead Robin (Holliday Grainger). I’d had a few years out bringing Josh up and getting him into film school. I relaunched when he went to university, but my agent said I needed a current credit as the career gap was causing casting directors problems. So I decided to take control and make my own footage — but it had to stand up on my show reel against clips like The Full Monty. If it wasn’t going to be broadcast-standard technically, then it had to have something in the script, and my acting (and my fellow actor had to be good) had to show that I could still do the job.

Josh met a producer in LA who’s given him runner work over here in England, and a senior producer with an international film company saw this and has given him an introduction to their people in Manchester. He also got a chance to write and direct a non-student short using industry professionals, which in the “real” world he might not get for years. And it came with real money and real consequences.

Josh, what did you learn from this experience from a filmmaker’s point of view?
More hands on deck is never a bad thing! It’s great having a tight-knit cast and crew, but the shoot would have definitely benefited from more people to help with lighting and sound, as well as the process running smoother overall.

Any surprises pop up? Any challenges?
Josh: The shoot actually ran very smoothly. The one challenge we had to face was time. Every shot took longer than expected, and we nearly ran out of time but got everything we needed in the end. It helped having such professional and patient actors.

Paul: I was surprised how well Josh (at 20 years old and at the start of film school) directed two professional middle-aged actors. Especially as one was his dad… and I was surprised by how filmic his script was.

Any tips for those looking to do something similar?
Josh: Once you have a story, find some good actors and just do it. As I said before, keep it simple and try to use character not plot to create drama.

Paul: Yes, my big tip would be to get the script right. Spend time and money on that and don’t film it till it’s ready. Get professional help/mentoring if you can. Secondly, use professional actors — just ask! You’d be surprised how many actors will take a project if the script and director are good. Of course, you need to pay them (not the full rate, but something).

Finally, don’t worry too much about the capture — as a producer said to me, “If I like a project I can buy in talent behind the camera. In a short I’m looking for a director’s voice and talent.”

Review: Dell Precision 7910 tower workstation

By Mike McCarthy

While I started my career on Dell Precision workstations, I have spent the last 10 years with HP workstations under my desk. They have served me well, which is why I used them for five generations. At the beginning of 2016, I was given the opportunity to do a complete hardware refresh for director Scott Waugh’s post house, Vasquez Saloon, to gear up our capabilities to edit the first film shot for Barco Escape and edited fully in 6K. This time we ended up with Dell Precision 7910 workstations under our desks. After having a chance to use them for a year, I decided it was time to share some of my experiences with the top-end Precision workstation.

My 7910 has two Xeon E5-2687W V3 processors, each with 10 cores running at 3.1Ghz. Regardless of which CPU speed you select, always fill both sockets of a high-end workstation, as that doubles your memory bandwidth and enables the last two PCIe slots. Therefore, choose dual 4-core CPUs instead of a single 8-core CPU, if that is the performance level you are after. It has 128GB of DDR4 memory, divided across eight sticks that are 16GB each. Regardless of size, maximum performance is achieved with at least as many sticks of RAM since there are memory channels. This system has four memory channels per CPU, for a total of eight channels. I would recommend at least 64GB of RAM for most editing systems, with more for larger projects. Since we were cutting an entire feature with 6K source files, 128GB was a reasonable choice that served us well.

Both our systems are usually pretty quiet, which is impressive considering how powerful they are. They do generate heat, and I don’t recommend running them in a room without AC, but that was outside of our control. Air-cooled systems are only as effective as the environment they are in, and our situation wasn’t always optimal.

PCIe SSDs are a huge leap forward for storage throughput. This workstation came with a PCIe x16 Gen3 card that supports up to four M.2 NVMe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NVM_Express SSDs at full speed. This allows up to 2500MB/s from each of the four ports, which is enough bandwidth to play back 6K DPXs at 24p in Premiere without dropping frames.

Now capacity is limited with this new expensive technology, topping out at 1TB per $700 card. My 512GB card can only store seven minutes of data at maximum throughput, but for smaller data sets, like VFX shots, this allows a system to cache meaningful quantities of data at very high speed without needing a large array of disks to sustain the required I/Os.

Once we open the tool-less case, one of the obvious visual differences between the Dell and HP solutions is that the Precision 7910 splits the PCIe slots, with two above the CPUs and five below. I assume the benefits to this are shorter circuit paths to the CPUs, and better cooling for hot cards. It hasn’t made a big difference to me, but it is worth noting. Like other dual-socket systems, two of the slots are disabled if the second CPU is not installed.

In my case, I have the SSD card in the top slot, and a Red Rocket-X in the next one down. The Thunderbolt 2 card has to be installed in the slot directly below the CPUs. Then I installed my SAS RAID card and the Intel X540 10GbE NIC, leaving space at the bottom for my Quadro GPU.

Another unique feature of the case layout is that the power supply is located behind the motherboard, instead of at the top or bottom of the system. This places the motherboard at the center of the chassis, with components and cards on one side, and power and storage bays on the other. There are a variety of integrated ports, with dual-Gigabit NICs, PS/2, audio, serial, and six USB ports. The only aspect I found limiting was the total of four USB 3.0 ports, one in front and three in back. I have on occasion been using all of them at once for my external drive transfers, but having a USB 3.0 hub in most of Dell’s monitors can help with this issue. Hopefully, we will see USB-C ports with double that bandwidth in the next generation, as well as integrated Thunderbolt 3 support to free up another PCIe slot.

Besides the slim DVD drive, there are four 3.5-inch hard drive bays with tool-less cages, and a 5.25-inch bay, which can be optionally reconfigured to hold four more 2.5-inch drives. The next model down, the Precision 7810, is similar, but without the top two PCIe slots and only two 3.5-inch drive bays. My drive bays are all empty because the PCIe SSD is my only internal storage, but that means that I could easily add four 8TB SAS drives for 32TB of internal storage with no other accessories required. And I may use the 5.25-inch bay for an LTO drive someday, if I don’t end up getting an external one.

If I do get an external SAS drive, it could be connected to one of the two SFF 8643 connectors on the motherboard. These new connectors each support four channels of 12Gb SAS, with one of them hooked to the 3.5-inch drive back plane by default. The integrated SAS controller supports up to eight channels of SAS or SATA data, capable of RAID-0 or -1. Using RAID-5 or -6 requires a separate dedicated card, in my case the Areca 1883x. At least one integrated M.2 slot would be great to see in the next refresh, as those SSDs become more affordable.

Dell also includes their system management software Dell Precision Optimizer to help you get the maximum performance from the system. It allows users to monitor and chart CPU and GPU use as well as memory and disk usage. It can configure system settings like Hyperthreading, Power Usage and V-Sync, using pre-built profiles for various industry applications. It won’t tune your system for video editing as well as an expert who knows what they are doing, but it is better than doing nothing right out of the box.

Real-World Use
Over the last year, we have run two of these workstations on a 6K feature film, taking them right to the limit on a regular basis. It was not uncommon to be encoding R3D dailies to H264 in AME, while rendering a VFX shot in AE, and playing back in Premiere, on both systems simultaneously, pulling data from each other’s local storage arrays over the network. And while I won’t say that they never crashed, stability was not an issue that seriously impacted our workflow or schedule. I have been quite impressed by what we were able to accomplish with them, with very little other infrastructure. The unique split chassis design makes room for a lot of internal storage, and they run reliably and quietly, even when chock full of powerful cards. I am looking forward to getting a couple more solid years of use out of them.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor and workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been on the forefront of pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and now multiscreen and surround video experiences. If you want to see more specific details about performance numbers and benchmark tests for these Nvidia cards, check out techwithmikefirst.com.

Recreating history for Netflix’s The Crown

By Randi Altman

If you, like me, binge-watched Netflix’s The Crown, you are now considerably better educated on the English monarchy, have a very different view of Queen Elizabeth, and were impressed with the show’s access to Buckingham Palace.

Well, it turns out they didn’t actually have access to the Palace. This is where London-based visual effects house One of Us came in. While the number of shots provided for the 10-part series varied, the average was 43 per episode.

In addition to Buckingham Palace, One of Us worked on photoreal digital set extensions, crowd replications and environments, including Downing Street and London Airport. The series follows a young Elizabeth who inherits the crown after her father, King George VI, dies. We see her transition from a vulnerable young married lady to a more mature woman who takes her role as head monarch very seriously.

We reached out to One of Us VFX supervisor Ben Turner to find out more.

How early did you join the production?
One of Us was heavily involved during an eight-month pre-production process, until shooting commenced in July 2015.

Ben Turner

Did they have clear vision of what they needed VFX vs. practical?
As we were involved from the pre-production stage, we were able to engage in discussions about how best to approach shooting the scenes with the VFX work in mind. It was important to us and the production that actors interacted with real set pieces and the VFX work would be “thrown away” in the background, not drawing attention to itself.

Were you on set?
I visited all relevant locations, assisted on set by Jon Pugh who gathered all VFX data required. I would attend all recces at these locations, and then supervise on the shoot days.

Did you do previs? If so, what software did you use?
We didn’t do much previs in the traditional sense. We did some tech-vis to help us figure out how best to film some things, such as the arrivals at the gates of Buckingham Palace and the Coronation sequence. We also did some concept images to help inform the shoot and design of some scenes. This work was all done in Autodesk Maya, The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe Photoshop.

Were there any challenges in working in 4K? Did your workflow change at all, and how much of your work currently is in 4K?
Working in 4K didn’t really change our workflow too much. At One of Us, we are used to working on film projects that come in all different shapes and sizes (we recently completed work on Terrance Mallick’s Voyage of Time in IMAX 5K), but for The Crown we invested in the infrastructure that enabled us to take it in our stride — larger and faster disks to hold the huge amounts of data, as well as a new 4K monitor to review all the work.

     

What were some of your favorite, or most challenging, VFX for the show?
The most challenging work was the kind of shots that many people are already very familiar with. So the Queen’s Coronation, for example, was watched by 20 million people in 1953, and with Buckingham Palace and Downing Street being two of the most famous and recognizable addresses in the world, there wasn’t really anywhere for us to hide!

Some of my favorite shots are the ones where we were recreating real events for which there are amazing archive references, such as the tilt down on the scaffolding at Westminster Abbey on the eve of the Coronation, or the unveiling of the statue of King George VI.

     

Can you talk about the tools you used, and did you create any propriety tools during the workflow?
We used Enwaii and Maya for photogrammetry, Photoshop for digital matte painting and Nuke for compositing. For crowd replication we created our own in-house 2.5D tool in Nuke, which was a card generator that gave the artist a choice of crowd elements, letting them choose the costume, angle, resolution and actions required.

What are you working on now?
We are currently hard at work on Season 2 of The Crown, which is going to be even bigger and more ambitious, so watch this space! Recent work also includes King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (Warner Bros.) and Assassin’s Creed (New Regency).

Behind the Title: Stitch senior editor Gabriel Britz

NAME: Gabriel Britz

COMPANY: Stitch (@STITCHEDITING)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a boutique editing company that specializes in commercials, digital content, music videos and films. We have studios in Los Angeles and London.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Editor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As an editor I work with directors, creatives and producers on various projects to help stories reach their maximum impact for viewers.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Everyone has an idea of how something should look or feel, and usually there are many ways to get there with editing. Sometimes I have to work pretty hard to convince people that one idea or a group of ideas are better than another. So at time, I’m a mediator of creative ideas or a politician of opinions.

Britz edited this documentary for Expedia.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love the collaborative process and seeing how many ideas can coalesce to create something that is unexpected and stronger that any one of its parts.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Rendering, exporting, transcoding, crashing computers. Basically, anything that hinders the creative flow.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the mornings the best because I feel I am most productive at that time of day.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Getting bossed around by my daughter a lot more often.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I chose this profession because I love creating things and telling stories. I started making skateboard videos with friends at an early age and always preferred to make movies in school instead of writing papers.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I worked with Intel on a spot about a scientist in Tasmania who placed tiny tracking devices on the backs of honeybees to try and determine why their colony numbers are declining.

Intel

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I worked on a short documentary about a father coming to terms with his daughter’s sexuality for Expedia directed by Elliot Rausch.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My laptop and my phone are probably the most important. I think I could probably get by without anything else.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram and Facebook

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I listen to a lot of music at work — some by choice some by necessity.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Play with my kids and spend time with my wife. We like to travel when we can.