Category Archives: commercials

David Walton Smith joins digital agency Grow as head of film

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

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

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

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

By Jennifer Walden

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

Tom Jucarone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cinna 1.2

The 16th annual VES Award winners

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

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

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

Here is a list of the winners:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Joe Letteri

Ryan Stafford

Daniel Barrett

Dan Lemmon

Joel Whist

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Dunkirk

Andrew Jackson

Mike Chambers

Andrew Lockley

Alison Wortman

Scott Fisher

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

Coco

Lee Unkrich

Darla K. Anderson

David Ryu

Michael K. O’Brien

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall

Joe Bauer

Steve Kullback

Chris Baird

David Ramos

Sam Conway

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Black Sails: XXIX

Erik Henry

Terron Pratt

Yafei Wu

David Wahlberg

Paul Dimmer

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Raphael Lacoste

Patrick Limoges

Jean-Sebastien Guay

Ulrich Haar

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Tomek Zietkiewicz

Amir Bazazi

Martino Madeddu

 

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

Avatar: Flight of Passage

Richard Baneham

Amy Jupiter

David Lester

Thrain Shadbolt

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes: Caesar

Dennis Yoo

Ludovic Chailloleau

Douglas McHale

Tim Forbes

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature

Coco: Hèctor

Emron Grover

Jonathan Hoffman

Michael Honsel

Guilherme Sauerbronn Jacinto

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project

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

Murray Stevenson

Jason Snyman

Jenn Taylor

Florian Friedmann

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

David Bryan

Maximilian Mallmann

Tim Van Hussen

Brendan Fagan

 

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Blade Runner 2049; Los Angeles

Chris McLaughlin

Rhys Salcombe

Seungjin Woo

Francesco Dell’Anna

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

Coco: City of the Dead

Michael Frederickson

Jamie Hecker

Jonathan Pytko

Dave Strick

 

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

Game of Thrones; Beyond the Wall; Frozen Lake

Daniel Villalba

Antonio Lado

José Luis Barreiro

Isaac de la Pompa

 

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project

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

James Baker

Steven Lo

Alvise Avati

Robert Stipp

 

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

Blade Runner 2049: LAPD Headquarters

Alex Funke

Steven Saunders

Joaquin Loyzaga

Chris Menges

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

David Caeiro Cebrián

Johnathan Nixon

Chet Leavai

Gary Boyle

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature

Coco

Kristopher Campbell

Stephen Gustafson

Dave Hale

Keith Klohn

 

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

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

Thomas Hullin

Dominik Kirouac

Sylvain Nouveau

Nathan Arbuckle

  

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Christoph Salzmann

Robin Hollander

Ben Warner

Beck Veitch

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War: Loot Train Attack

Dom Hellier

Thijs Noij

Edwin Holdsworth

Giacomo Matteucci

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Michael Gregory

Andrew Roberts

Gustavo Bellon

Rashabh Ramesh Butani

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project

Hybrids

Florian Brauch

Romain Thirion

Matthieu Pujol

Kim Tailhades 

 

 

 


Super Bowl: Heard City’s audio post for Tide, Bud and more

By Jennifer Walden

New York audio post house Heard City put their collaborative workflow design to work on the Super Bowl ad campaign for Tide. Philip Loeb, partner/president of Heard City, reports that their facility is set up so that several sound artists can work on the same project simultaneously.

Loeb also helped to mix and sound design many of the other Super Bowl ads that came to Heard City, including ads for Budweiser, Pizza Hut, Blacture, Tourism Australia and the NFL.

Here, Loeb and mixer/sound designer Michael Vitacco discuss the approach and the tools that their team used on these standout Super Bowl spots.

Philip Loeb

Tide’s It’s a Tide Ad campaign via Saatchi & Saatchi New York
Is every Super Bowl ad really a Tide ad in disguise? A string of commercials touting products from beer to diamonds, and even a local ad for insurance, are interrupted by David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame). He declares that those ads are actually just Tide commercials, as everyone is wearing such clean clothes.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Loeb: These spots, four in total, involved sound design and mixing, as well as ADR. One of our mixers, Evan Mangiamele, conducted an ADR session with David Harbour, who was in Hawaii, and we integrated that into the commercial. In addition, we recorded a handful of different characters for the lead-ins for each of the different vignettes because we were treating each of those as different commercials. We had to be mindful of a male voiceover starting one and then a female voiceover starting another so that they were staggered.

There was one vignette for Old Spice, and since the ads were for P&G, we did get the Old Spice pneumonic and we did try something different at the end — with one version featuring the character singing the pneumonic and one of him whistling it. There were many different variations and we just wanted, in the end, to get part of the pneumonic into the joke at the end.

The challenge with the Tide campaign, in particular, was to make each of these vignettes feel like it was a different commercial and to treat each one as such. There’s an overall mix level that goes into that but we wanted certain ones to have a little bit more dynamic range than the others. For example, there is a cola vignette that’s set on a beach with people taking a selfie. David interrupts them by saying, “No, it’s a Tide ad.”

For that spot, we had to record a voiceover that was very loud and energetic to go along with a loud and energetic music track. That vignette cuts into the “personal digital assistant” (think Amazon’s Alexa) spot. We had to be very mindful of these ads flowing into each other while making it clear to the viewer that these were different commercials with different products, not one linear ad. Each commercial required its own voiceover, its own sound design, its own music track, and its own tone.

One vignette was about car insurance featuring a mechanic in a white shirt under a car. That spot isn’t letterbox like the others; it’s 4:3 because it’s supposed to be a local ad. We made that vignette sound more like a local ad; it’s a little over-compressed, a little over-equalized and a little videotape sounding. The music is mixed a little low. We wanted it to sound like the dialogue is really up front so as to get the message across, like a local advertisement.

What’s your workflow like?
Loeb: At Heard City, our workflow is unique in that we can have multiple mixers working on the same project simultaneously. This collaborative process makes our work much more efficient, and that was our original intent when we opened the company six years ago. The model came to us by watching the way that the bigger VFX companies work. Each artist takes a different piece of the project and then all of the work is combined at the end.

We did that on the Tide campaign, and there was no other way we could have done it due to the schedule. Also, we believe this workflow provides a much better product. One sound artist can be working specifically on the sound design while another can be mixing. So as I was working on mixing, Evan was flying in his sound design to me. It was a lot of fun working on it like that.

What tools helped you to create the sound?
One plug-in we’re finding to be very helpful is the iZotope Neutron. We put that on the master bus and we have found many settings that work very well on broadcast projects. It’s a very flexible tool.

Vitacco: The Neutron has been incredibly helpful overall in balancing out the mix. There are some very helpful custom settings that have helped to create a dynamic mix for air.

Tourism Australia Dundee via Droga5 New York
Danny McBride and Chris Hemsworth star in this movie-trailer-turned-tourism-ad for Australia. It starts out as a movie trailer for a new addition to the Crocodile Dundee film franchise — well, rather, a spoof of it. There’s epic music featuring a didgeridoo and title cards introducing the actors and setting up the premise for the “film.” Then there’s talk of miles of beaches and fine wine and dining. It all seems a bit fishy, but finally Danny McBride confirms that this is, in fact, actually a tourism ad.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Vitacco: In this case, we were creating a fake movie trailer that’s a misdirect for the audience, so we aimed to create sound design that was both in the vein of being big and epic and also authentic to the location of the “film.”

One of the things that movie trailers often draw upon is a consistent mnemonic to drive home a message. So I helped to sound design a consistent mnemonic for each of the title cards that come up.

For this I used some Native Instruments toolkits, like “Rise & Hit” and “Gravity,” and Tonsturm’s Whoosh software to supplement some existing sound design to create that consistent and branded mnemonic.

In addition, we wanted to create an authentic sonic palette for the Australian outback where a lot of the footage was shot. I had to be very aware of the species of animals and insects that were around. I drew upon sound effects that were specifically from Australia. All sound effects were authentic to that entire continent.

Another factor that came into play was that anytime you are dealing with a spot that has a lot of soundbites, especially ones recorded outside, there tends to be a lot of noise reduction taking place. I didn’t have to hit it too hard because everything was recorded very well. For cleanup, I used the iZotope RX 6 — both the RX Connect and the RX Denoiser. I relied on that heavily, as well as the Waves WNS plug-in, just to make sure that things were crisp and clear. That allowed me the flexibility to add my own ambient sound and have more control over the mix.

Michael Vitacco

In RX, I really like to use the Denoiser instead of the Dialogue Denoiser tool when possible. I’ll pull out the handles of the production sound and grab a long sample of noise. Then I’ll use the Denoiser because I find that works better than the Dialogue Denoiser.

Budweiser Stand By You via David Miami
The phone rings in the middle of the night. A man gets out of bed, prepares to leave and kisses his wife good-bye. His car radio announces that a natural disaster is affecting thousands of families who are in desperate need of aid. The man arrives at a Budweiser factory and helps to organize the production of canned water instead of beer.

Sonically, what’s unique about this spot?
Loeb: For this spot, I did a preliminary mix where I handled the effects, the dialogue and the music. We set the preliminary tone for that as to how we were going to play the effects throughout it.

The spot starts with a husband and wife asleep in bed and they’re awakened by a phone call. Our sound focused on the dialogue and effects upfront, and also the song. I worked on this with another fantastic mixer here at Heard City, Elizabeth McClanahan, who comes from a music background. She put her ears to the track and did an amazing job of remixing the stems.

On the master track in the Pro Tools session, she used iZotope’s Neutron, as well as the FabFilter Pro-L limiter, which helps to contain the mix. One of the tricks on a dynamic mix like that — which starts off with that quiet moment in the morning and then builds with the music in the end — is to keep it within the restrictions of the CALM Act and other specifications that stipulate dynamic range and not just average loudness. We had to be mindful of how we were treating those quiet portions and the lower portions so that we still had some dynamic range but we weren’t out of spec.


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


Behind the Title: Unheard/Of Director Chris Volckmann

NAME: Chris Volckmann

COMPANY: Unheard/Of

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We’re a production company. We make commercials. It’s a small group, which is fantastic, and a tight-knit community of directors. They do a great job of thinking outside the box and supporting the roster.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Typically, I’m provided scripts from an agency or brand and collaborate with them to develop a visual and narrative voice. I then creatively guide a production through the live-action process and often through completion.

Groupon

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Well, nearly all decisions on a production run through the director, whether it’s a direct decision or via your department heads. You might be surprised how much time is spent on things that the audience wouldn’t really think about. Like the color of a vase, or the cut of a t-shirt. We like to think these things add up to an overall tone and aesthetic that aids the story, but often we’re probably over-considering.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Finding the story. Sometimes it’s right in front of you, sometimes you really have to dig. But when you find it, the rest falls away. It becomes your North Star.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Tough question. I suppose budgets — though sometimes a smaller sandbox aids in originality. But more often than not, these days we’re just trying to do too much in a day. The value in advertising has become quantity, and that just makes our jobs harder.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I have no idea. I’ve worked in most phases of production, from producing live-action to VFX, design and interactive… I would probably be making something, and probably within the advertising community.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I wanted to make movies about as early as I can remember. I actually wanted to be an archeologist when I was young because of Indiana Jones, until someone explained that that’s not what archeology is really like — that’s just in the movies. Since then, it’s pretty much been tunnel vision.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
It sounds cliché, but just telling stories. Like all art, it’s emotional expression. I try to find an emotional connection within myself to whatever we’re doing. Often with advertising you’re telling someone else’s story, or trying to connect to an audience that might differ from yourself. It can be easy to keep it all at an arm’s length.

Similar to acting, you need to reach back for that emotional foundation within yourself and live there for a bit so that you’re seeing the world through that lens. If you can do that, then the work comes from an honest place and that can be as rewarding as any other artistic medium.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT CONTINUES TO KEEP YOU INTERESTED?
Commercial work is actually incredibly experimental. Oftentimes, you’re doing something for the first time with each job. Whether it’s a narrative approach or an effect, there’s constant problem solving and experimentation. I started out in longer form work, independent film, etc., but I find that work extremely limiting with red tape all over the place and extraordinarily time consuming (duh). Commercial work keeps you on your toes.

Amazon Music

HOW DO YOU PICK THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT?
I like working with the same crew as much as possible. Sometimes specific stories need specific talents, and the project always takes first priority — but the more you work with people, the more you get a sense for each other and your collective strengths and weaknesses.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s kind of an impossible question — probably something nobody has seen (ha!). Sometimes, I’ll just make a thing without much of a plan and let it unfold in the process. No client or anything, just trying to keep things spontaneous and avoid over-considering everything. Sometimes, I’ll put those out into the world, but oftentimes not. It’s just constant experimentation. I think that type of work stirs up different stuff that keeps me sharp for client work, and it’s more the process of that work that I’m proud of than the final product itself.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My fucking phone. Adobe InDesign, even though it’s one of the most frustrating applications around. Adobe Premiere (RIP Final Cut).

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Good work isn’t stressful, it’s actually a stress release. If the process with a client becomes really difficult, and a production is stressful, the best way for me to pull myself out of it isn’t to take time away, it’s actually to make something else. Sometimes, that’s just a new job or sometimes, it’s something personal like what I described before.

Otherwise, spending time with my wife and kids — and sports. Oh, and exercise is huge. That probably should have been my first answer!


Cutters Chicago ups Billy Montross to editor

Billy Montross has been promoted to editor at Cutters Studio in Chicago. He joined the post house back in 2012 as an intern after working as a P.A. for director John Komnenich. By early 2013, Montross earned the role of assistant editor, supporting many of the Cutter Studio editors and key clients, but primarily working with managing editor Grant Güstafson. He edits on Avid Media Composer.

Montross has worked with agencies such as DDB, Leo Burnett, Mcgarrybowen, Ogilvy and We Are Unlimited, among many others. His reel features work for Capital One, Esurance, Fairfield Inn and Suites, McDonald’s, Oscar Mayer, Scotts, Spalding and Western Union.

Montross edited Scott’s :30 “Bill’s Yard” from DDB Chicago. It was directed by Christian Bevilacqua. The DP was Tim Hudson. Color was via Luke Morrison at The Mill.

“Billy is a rare talent,” says Güstafson. “He is an incredibly creative and instinctive editor with a very engaging and positive personality. This combination allows him to provide his clientele with beautifully nuanced edits while making the long hours working in the room extremely enjoyable and relaxed.”

In 2015 and 2016, Montross had the opportunity to work at Cutters Tokyo. There, he helped cut projects for Jeep, McDonald’s, Nissan and Suburu, all of which he says, “definitely made me into a more rounded editor.” He also acknowledges managing director/partner Craig Duncan. “He has always been tough in pushing me to work harder and grow.”

Montross continues to be busy with work at Cutters. “I’m already having a lot of opportunities that are building on the groundwork done over the past several years. Right now I’m finishing up a fun 30-second spot for Western Union with Mcgarrybowen Chicago. And then coming right up I start a Modelo project with Ogilvy and that’s being directed by Matt Bieler of Reset.”


Storage in the Studio: Post Houses

By Karen Maierhofer

There are many pieces that go into post production, from conform, color, dubbing and editing to dailies and more. Depending on the project, a post house can be charged with one or two pieces of this complex puzzle, or even the entire workload. No matter the job, the tasks must be done on time and on budget. Unforeseen downtime is unacceptable.

That is why when it comes to choosing a storage solution, post houses are very particular. They need a setup that is secure, reliable and can scale. For them, one size simply does not fit all. They all want a solution that fits their particular needs and the needs of their clients.

Here, we look at three post facilities of various sizes and range of services, and the storage solutions that are a good fit for their business.

Liam Ford

Sim International
The New York City location of Sim has been in existence for over 20 years, operating under the former name of Post Factory NY up until about a month ago when Sim rebranded it and its seven other founding post companies as Sim International. Whether called by its new moniker or its previous one, the facility has grown to become a premier space in the city for offline editorial teams as well as one of the top high-end finishing studios in town, as the list of feature films and episodic shows that have been cut and finished at Sim is quite lengthy. And starting this past year, Sim has launched a boutique commercial finishing division.

According to senior VP of post engineering Liam Ford, the vast majority of the projects at the NYC facility are 4K, much of which is episodic work. “So, the need is for very high-capacity, very high-bandwidth storage,” Ford says. And because the studio is located in New York, where space is limited, that same storage must be as dense as possible.

For its finishing work, Sim New York is using a Quantum Xcellis SAN, a StorNext-based appliance system that can be specifically tuned for 4K media workflow. The system, which was installed approximately two years ago, runs on a 16Gb Fibre Channel network. Almost half a petabyte of storage fits into just a dozen rack units. Meanwhile, an Avid Nexis handles the facility’s offline work.

The Sim SAN serves as the primary playback system for all the editing rooms. While there are SSDs in some of the workstations for caching purposes, the scheduling demands of clients do not leave much time for staging material back and forth between volumes, according to Ford. So, everything gets loaded back to the SAN, and everything is played back from the SAN.

As Ford explains, content comes into the studio from a variety of sources, whether drives, tapes or Internet transfers, and all of that is loaded directly onto the SAN. An online editor then soft-imports all that material into his or her conform application and creates an edited, high-resolution sequence that is rendered back to the SAN. Once at the SAN, that edited sequence is available for a supervised playback session with the in-house colorists, finishing VFX artists and so forth.

“The point is, our SAN is the central hub through which all content at all stages of the finishing process flows,” Ford adds.

Before installing the Xcellis system, the facility had been using local workstation storage only, but the huge growth in the finishing division prompted the transition to the shared SAN file system. “There’s no way we could do the amount of work we now have, and with the flexibility our clients demand, using a local storage workflow,” says Ford.

When it became necessary for the change, there were not a lot of options that met Sim’s demands for high bandwidth and reliable streaming, Ford points out, as Quantum’s StorNext and SGI’s CXFS were the main shared file systems for the M&E space. Sim decided to go with Quantum because of the work the vendor has done in recent years toward improving the M&E experience as well as the ease of installing the new system.

Nevertheless, with the advent of 25Gb and 100Gb Ethernet, Sim has been closely monitoring the high-performance NAS space. “There are a couple of really good options out there right now, and I can see us seriously looking at those products in the near future as, at the very least, an augmentation to our existing Fibre Channel-based storage,” Ford says.

At Sim, editors deal with a significant amount of Camera Raw, DPX and OpenEXR data. “Depending on the project, we could find ourselves needing 1.5GB/sec or more of bandwidth for a single playback session, and that’s just for one show,” says Ford. “We typically have three or four [shows] playing off the SAN at any one time, so the bandwidth needs are huge!”

Master of None

And the editors’ needs continue to evolve, as does their need for storage. “We keep needing more storage, and we need it to be faster and faster. Just when storage technology finally got to the point that doing 10-bit 2K shows was pretty painless, everyone started asking for 16-bit 4K,” Ford points out.

Recently, Sim completed work on the feature American Made and the Netflix show Master of None, in addition to a number of other episodic projects. For these and others shows, the SAN acts as the central hub around which the color correction, online editing, visual effects and deliverables are created.

“The finishing portion of the post pipeline deals exclusively with the highest-quality content available. It used to be that we’d do our work directly from a film reel on a telecine, but those days are long past,” says Ford. “You simply can’t run an efficient finishing pipeline anymore without a lot of storage.”

DigitalFilm Tree
DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) opened its doors in 1999 and now occupies a 10,000-square-foot space in Universal City, California, offering full round-trip post services, including traditional color grading, conform, dailies and VFX, as well as post system rentals and consulting services.

While Universal City may be DFT’s primary location, it has dozens of remote satellite systems — mini post houses for production companies and studios – around the world. Those remote post systems, along with the increase in camera resolution (Alexa, Raw, 4K), have multiplied DFT’s storage needs. Both have resulted in a sea change in the facility’s storage solution.

According to CEO Ramy Katrib, most companies in the media and entertainment industry historically have used block storage, and DFT was no different. But four years ago, the company began looking at object storage, which is used by Silicon Valley companies, like Dropbox and AWS, to store large assets. After significant research, Katrib felt it was a good fit for DFT as well, believing it to be a more economical way to build petabytes of storage, compared to using proprietary block storage.

Ramy Katrib

“We were unique from most of the post houses in that respect,” says Katrib. “We were different from many of the other companies using object storage — they were tech, financial institutions, government agencies, health care; we were the rare one from M&E – but our need for extremely large, scalable and resilient storage was the same as theirs.”

DFT’s primary work centers around scripted television — an industry segment that continues to grow. “We do 15-plus television shows at any given time, and we encourage them to shoot whatever they like, at whatever resolution they desire,” says Katrib. “Most of the industry relies on LTO to back up camera raw materials. We do that too, but we also encourage productions to take advantage of our object storage, and we will store everything they shoot and not punish them for it. It is a rather Utopian workflow. We now give producers access to all their camera raw material. It is extremely effective for our clients.”

Over four years ago, DFT began using a cloud-based platform called OpenStack, which is open-source software that controls large pools of data, to build and design its own object storage system. “We have our own software developers and people who built our hardware, and we are able to adjust to the needs of our clients and the needs of our own workflow,” says Katrib.

DFT designs its custom PC- and Linux-based post systems, including chassis from Super Micro, CPUs from Intel and graphic cards from Nvidia. Storage is provided from a number of companies, including spinning-disc and SSD solutions from Seagate Technology and Western Digital.

DFT then deploys remote dailies systems worldwide, in proximity to where productions are shooting. Each day clients plug their production hard drives (containing all camera raw files) into DFT’s remote dailies system. From DFT’s facility, dailies technicians remotely produce editorial, viewing and promo dailies files, and transfer them to their destinations worldwide. All the while, the camera raw files are transported from the production location to DFT’s ProStack “massively scalable object storage.” In this case, “private cloud storage” consists of servers DFT designed that house all the camera raw materials, with management from DFT post professionals who support clients with access to and management of their files.

DFT provides color grading for Great News.

Recently, storage vendors such as Quantum and Avid have begun building and branding their own object storage solutions not unlike what DFT has constructed at its Universal City locale. And the reason is simple: Object storage provides a clear advantage because of reliability and the low cost. “We looked at it because the storage we were paying for, proprietary block storage, was too expensive to house all the data our clients were generating. And resolutions are only going up. So, every year we needed more storage,” Katrib explains. “We needed a solution that could scale with the practical reality we were living.”

Then, about four years ago when DFT started becoming a software company, one of the developers brought OpenStack to Katrib’s attention. “The open-source platform provided several storage solutions, networking capabilities and cloud compute capabilities for free,” he points out. Of course, the solution is not a panacea, as it requires a company to customize the offering for its own needs and even contribute back to the OpenStack community. But then again, that requirement enables DFT to evolve to the changing needs of its clients without waiting for a manufacturer to do it.

“It does not work out of the box like a solution from IBM, for instance. You have to develop around it,” Katrib says. “You have to have a lab mentality, designing your own hardware and software based on pain points in your own environment. And, sometimes it fails. But when you do it correctly, you realize it is an elegant solution.” However, there are vibrant communities, user groups and tech summits of those leveraging the technology who are willing to assist and collaborate.

DFT has evolved its object storage solution, extending its capabilities from an initial hundreds of terabytes – which is nothing to sneeze at — to hundreds of petabytes of storage. DFT also designs remote post systems and storage solutions for customers in remote locations around the world. And those remote locations can be as simple as a workstation running applications such as Blackmagic’s Resolve or Adobe After Effects and connected to object storage housing all the client’s camera raw material.

The key, Katrib notes, is to have great post and IT pros managing the projects and the system. “I can now place a remote post system with a calibrated 4K monitor and object storage housing the camera raw material, and I can bring the post process to you wherever you are, securely,” he adds. “From wherever you are, you can view the conform, color and effects, and sign off on the final timeline, as if you were at DFT.”

DFT posts American Housewife

In addition to the object storage, DFT is also using Facilis TerraBlock and Avid Nexis systems locally and on remote installs. The company uses those commercial solutions because they provide benefits, including storage performance and feature sets that optimize certain software applications. As Katrib points out, storage is not one flavor fits all, and different solutions work better for certain use cases. In DFT’s case, the commercial storage products provide performance for the playback of multiple 4K streams across the company’s color, VFX and conform departments, while its ProStack high-capacity object storage comes into play for storing the entirety of all files produced by our clients.

“Rather than retrieve files from an LTO tape, as most do when working on a TV series, with object storage, the files are readily available, saving hours in retrieval time,” says Katrib.

Currently, DFT is working on a number of television series, including Great News (color correction only) and Good Behavior (dailies only). For other shows, such as the Roseanne revival, NCIS: Los Angeles, American Housewife and more, it is performing full services such as visual effects, conform, color, dailies and dubbing. And in some instances, even equipment rental.

As the work expands, DFT is looking to extend upon its storage and remote post systems. “We want to have more remote systems where you can do color, conform, VFX, editorial, wherever you are, so the DP or producer can have a monitor in their office and partake in the post process that’s particular to them,” says Katrib. “That is what we are scaling as we speak.”

Broadway Video
Broadway Video is a global media and entertainment company that is primarily engaged in post-production services for television, film, music, digital and commercial projects for the past four decades. Located in New York and Los Angeles, the facility offers one-stop tools and talent for editorial, audio, design, color grading, finishing and screening, as well as digital file storage, preparation, aggregation and delivery of digital content across multiple platforms.

Since its founding in 1979, Broadway Video has grown into an independent studio. During this timeframe, content has evolved greatly, especially in terms of resolution, to where 4K and HD content — including HDR and Atmos sound — is becoming the norm. “Staying current and dealing with those data speeds are necessary in order to work fluidly on a 4K project at 60p,” says Stacey Foster, president and managing director, Broadway Video Digital and Production. “The data requirements are pretty staggering for throughput and in terms of storage.”

Stacey Foster

This led Broadway Video to begin searching a year ago for a storage system that would meet its needs now as well as in the foreseeable future — in short, it also needed a system that is scalable. Their solution: an all-Flash Hitachi Vantara Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) G series. Although quite expensive, a flash-based system is “ridiculously powerful,” says Foster. “Technology is always marching forward, and Flash-based systems are going to become the norm; they are already the norm at the high end.”

Foster has had a long-standing relationship with Hitachi for more than a decade and has witnessed the company’s growth into M&E from the medical and financial worlds where it has been firmly ensconced. According to Foster, Hitachi’s VSP series will enhance Broadway Video’s 4K offerings and transform internal operations by allowing quick turnaround, efficient and cost-effective production, post production and delivery of television shows and commercials. And, the system offers workload scalability, allowing the company to expand and meet the changing needs of the digital media production industry.

“The systems we had were really not that capable of handling DPX files that were up to 50TB, and Hitachi’s VSP product has been handling them effortlessly,” says Foster. “I don’t think other [storage] manufacturers can say that.”

Foster explains that as Broadway Video continued to expand its support of the latest 4K content and technologies, it became clear that a more robust, optimized storage solution was needed as the company moved in this new direction. “It allows us to look at the future and create a foundation to build our post production and digital distribution services on,” Foster says.

Broadway Video’s with Netflix projects sparked the need for a more robust system. Recently, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, an Embassy Row production, transitioned to Netflix, and one of the requirements by its new home was the move from 2K to 4K. “It was the perfect reason for us to put together a 4K end-to-end workflow that satisfies this client’s requirements for technical delivery,” Foster points out. “The bottleneck in color and DPX file delivery is completely lifted, and the post staff is able to work quickly and sometimes even faster than in real time when necessary to deliver the final product, with its very large files. And that is a real convenience for them.”

Broadway Video’s Hitachi Vantara Virtual Storage Platform G series.

As a full-service post company, Broadway Video in New York operates 10 production suites of Avids running Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic Resolve, as well as three full mixing suites. “We can have all our workstations simultaneously hit the [storage] system hard and not have the system slow down. That is where Hitachi’s VSP product has set itself apart,” Foster says.

For Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, like many projects Broadway Video encounters, the cut is in a lower-resolution Avid file. The 4K media is then imported into the Resolve platform, so it is colored in its original material and format. In terms of storage, once the material is past the cutting stage, it is all stored on the Hitachi system. Once the project is completed, it is handed off on spinning disc for archival, though Foster foresees a limited future for spinning discs due to their inherent nature for a limited life span — “anything that spins breaks down,” he adds.

All the suites are fully HD-capable and are tied with shared SAN and ISIS storage; because work on most projects is shared between editing suites, there is little need to use local storage. Currently Broadway Video is still using its previous Avid ISIS products but is slowly transitioning to the Hitachi system only. Foster estimates that at this time next year, the transition will be complete, and the staff will no longer have to support the multiple systems. “The way the systems are set up right now, it’s just easier to cut on ISIS using the Avid workstations. But that will soon change,” he says.

Currently, Broadway Video is still using its Avid ISIS products but is slowly transitioning to the Hitachi system. Foster estimates that at this time next year, the transition will be complete, and the staff will no longer have to support the multiple systems. “The way the systems are set up right now, it’s just easier to cut on ISIS using the Avid workstations. But that will soon change,” he says.

Other advantages the Hitachi system provides is stability and uptime, which Foster maintains is “pretty much 100 percent guaranteed.” As he points out, there is no such thing as downtime in banking and medical, where Hitachi earned its mettle, and bringing that stability to the M&E industry “has been terrific.”

Of course, that is in addition to bandwidth and storage capacity, which is expandable. “There is no limit to the number of petabytes you can have attached,” notes Foster.

Considering that the majority of calls received by Broadway Video center on post work for 4K-based workflows, the new storage solution is a necessary technical addition to the facility’s other state-of-the-art equipment. “In the environment we work in, we spend more and more time on the creative side in terms of the picture cutting and sound mixing, and then it is a rush to get it out the door. If it takes you days to import, color correct, export and deliver — especially with the file sizes we are talking about – then having a fast system with the kind of throughput and bandwidth that is necessary really lifts the burden for the finishing team,” Foster says.

He continues: “The other day the engineers were telling me we were delivering 20 times faster using the Hitachi technology in the final cutting and coloring of a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up special we had done in 4K” resulting in a DPX file that was about 50TB. “And that is pretty significant,” Foster adds.

Main Image: DigitalFilm Tree’s senior colorist Patrick Woodard.


Stitch cuts down 200+ hours of footage for TalkTalk Xmas spot

Can you feel it? The holidays are here, and seasonal ads have begun. One UK company, TalkTalk — which provides pay television, telecommunications, Internet and mobile services — is featuring genuine footage of a family Christmas. Documenting a real family during last year’s holiday, this totally unscripted, fly-on-the-wall commercial sees the return of the Merwick Street family and their dog, Elvis, in This is Christmas.

Directed by Park Pictures’ Tom Tagholm and cut by Stitch’s Tim Hardy, the team used the same multi-camera techniques that were used on their 2016 This Stuff Matters campaign.

Seventeen cameras — a combination of Blackmagic Micro Studio 4K, a remote Panasonic AW-UE70WP and Go Pros — were used over the four-day festive period, located across eight rooms and including a remote controlled car. The cameras were rolling from 6:50am on Christmas Eve and typically rolled until midnight on most days, accumulating in over 200 hours of rushes that were edited down into this 60-second spot.

In lessons learned from the last year’s shoot, which was shot continuously, this time video loggers were in place to to identify moments the rooms were empty.

“I think we had pretty much perfected our system for organizing and managing the rushes in Talk Talk’s summer campaign, so we were in a good position to start off with,” explains editor Hardy, who cut the piece on an Avid Media Composer. “The big difference this time around was that the whole family were in the house at the same time, meaning that quite often there were conversations going on between two or three different rooms at once. Although it did get a little confusing, it was often very funny as they are not the quietest of families!”

Director Tagholm decided to add a few extra cameras, such as the toy remote-controlled car that crashes into the Christmas tree. “This extra layer of complexity added a certain feel to the Christmas film that we didn’t have in the previous ones,” says Hardy.


Saddington Baynes adds senior lighting artist Luis Cardoso

Creative production house Saddington Baynes has hired Luis Cardoso as a senior lighting artist, adding to the studio’s creative team with specialist CGI skills in luxury goods, beauty and cosmetics. He joins the team following a four-year stint at Burberry, where he worked on high-end CGI.

He specializes in Autodesk 3ds Max, Chaos Group’s V-Ray and Adobe Photoshop. Cardoso’s past work includes imagery for all Burberry fragrances, clothing and accessories and social media assets for the Pinterest Cat Lashes campaign. He also has experience under his belt as senior CG artist at Sectorlight, and later in his career Assembly Studios.

At Saddington Baynes, Cardoso will be working on new motion cinematic sequences for online video to expand the beauty, fragrance, fashion and beverage departments and take the expertise further, particularly in regards to video lighting.

According to executive creative director James Digby-Jones, “It no longer matters whether elements are static or moving; whether the brief is for a 20,000-pixel image or 4K animation mixed with live action. We stretch creative and technical boundaries with fully integrated production that encompasses everything from CGI and motion to shoot production and VR capability.”

Sonic Union adds Bryant Park studio targeting immersive, broadcast work

New York audio house Sonic Union has launched a new studio and creative lab. The uptown location, which overlooks Bryant Park, will focus on emerging spatial and interactive audio work, as well as continued work with broadcast clients. The expansion is led by principal mix engineer/sound designer Joe O’Connell, now partnered with original Sonic Union founders/mix engineers Michael Marinelli and Steve Rosen and their staff, who will work out of both its Union Square and Bryant Park locations. O’Connell helmed sound company Blast as co-founder, and has now teamed up with Sonic Union.

In other staffing news, mix engineer Owen Shearer advances to also serve as technical director, with an emphasis on VR and immersive audio. Former Blast EP Carolyn Mandlavitz has joined as Sonic Union Bryant Park studio director. Executive creative producer Halle Petro, formerly senior producer at Nylon Studios, will support both locations.

The new studio, which features three Dolby Atmos rooms, was created and developed by Ilan Ohayon of IOAD (Architect of Record), with architectural design by Raya Ani of RAW-NYC. Ani also designed Sonic’s Union Square studio.

“We’re installing over 30 of the new ‘active’ JBL System 7 speakers,” reports O’Connell. “Our order includes some of the first of these amazing self-powered speakers. JBL flew a technician from Indianapolis to personally inspect each one on site to ensure it will perform as intended for our launch. Additionally, we created our own proprietary mounting hardware for the installation as JBL is still in development with their own. We’ll also be running the latest release of Pro Tools (12.8) featuring tools for Dolby Atmos and other immersive applications. These types of installations really are not easy as retrofits. We have been able to do something really unique, flexible and highly functional by building from scratch.”

Working as one team across two locations, this emerging creative audio production arm will also include a roster of talent outside of the core staff engineering roles. The team will now be integrated to handle non-traditional immersive VR, AR and experiential audio planning and coding, in addition to casting, production music supervision, extended sound design and production assignments.

Main Image Caption: (L-R) Halle Petro, Steve Rosen, Owen Shearer, Joe O’Connell, Adam Barone, Carolyn Mandlavitz, Brian Goodheart, Michael Marinelli and Eugene Green.