Category Archives: compositing

Behind the Title: Senior compositing artist Marcel Lemme

We recently reached out to Marcel Lemme to find out more about how he works, his background and how he relaxes.

What is your job title and where are you based?
I’m a senior compositing artist based out of Hamburg, Germany.

What does your job entail?
I spend about 90 percent of my time working on commercial jobs for local and international companies like BMW, Audi and Nestle, but also dabble in feature films, corporate videos and music videos. On a regular day, I’m handling everything from job breakdowns to set supervision to conform. I’m also doing shot management for the team, interacting with clients, showing clients work and some compositing. Client review sessions and final approvals are regular occurrences for me too.

What would surprise people the most about the responsibilities that fall under that title?
When it comes to client attended sessions, you have to be part clown, part mind-reader. Half the job is being a good artist; the other half is keeping clients happy. You have to anticipate what the client will want and balance that with what you know looks best. I not only have to create and keep a good mood in the room, but also problem-solve with a smile.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love solving problems when compositing solo. There’s nothing better than tackling a tough project and getting results you’re proud of.

What’s your least favorite?
Sometimes the client isn’t sure what they want, which can make the job harder.

What’s your most productive time of day?
I’m definitely not a morning guy, so the evening — I’m more productive at night.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I’ve asked myself this question a lot, but honestly, I’ve never come up with a good answer.

How’d you get your first job, and did you know this was your path early on?
I fell into it. I was young and thought I’d give computer graphics a try, so I reached out to someonewho knew someone, and before I knew it I was interning at a company in Hamburg, which is how I came to know online editing. At the time, Quantel mostly dominated the industry with Editbox and Henry, and Autodesk Flame and Flint were just emerging. I dove in and started using all the technology I could get my hands on, and gradually started securing jobs based on recommendations.

Which tools are you using today, and why?
I use whatever the client and/or the project demands, whether it’s Flame or Foundry’s Nuke and for tracking I often use The Pixel Farm PFTrack and Boris FX Mocha. For commercial spots, I’ll do a lot of the conform and shot management on Flame and then hand off the shots to other team members. Or, if I do it myself, I’ll finish in Flame because I know I can do it fast.

I use Flame because it gives me different ways to achieve a certain look or find a solution to a problem. I can also play a clip at any resolution with just two clicks in Flame, which is important when you’re in a room with clients who want to see different versions on the fly. The recent open clip updates and python integration have also saved me time. I can import and review shots, with automatic versions coming in, and build new tools or automate tedious processes in the post chain that have typically slowed me down.

Tell us about some recent project work.
I recently worked on a project for BMW as a compositing supervisor and collaborated with eight other compositors to finish number of versions in a short amount of time. We did shot management, compositing, reviewing, versioning and such in Flame. Also individual shot compositing in Nuke and some tracking in Mocha Pro.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
There’s no one project that stands out in particular, but overall, I’m proud of jobs like the BMW spots, where I’ve led a team of artists and everything just works and flows. It’s rewarding when the client doesn’t know what you did or how you did it, but loves the end result.

Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
The obvious answer here is other commercials, but I also watch a lot of movies and, of course, spend time on the Internet.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
The off button on the telephone (they should really make that bigger), anything related to cinematography or digital cinema, and streaming technology.

What social media channels do you follow?
I’ve managed to avoid Facebook, but I do peek at Twitter and Instagram from time to time. Twitter can be a great quick reference for regional news or finding out about new technology and/or industry trends.

Do you listen to music while you work?
Less now than I did when I was younger. Most of the time, I can’t as I’m juggling too much and it’s distracting. When I listen to music, I appreciate techno, classical and singer/song writer stuff; whatever sets the mood for the shots I’m working on. Right now, I’m into Iron and Wine and Trentemøller, a Danish electronic music producer.

How do you de-stress from the job?
My drive home. It can take anywhere from a half an hour to an hour, depending on the traffic, and that’s my alone time. Sometimes I listen to music, other times I sit in silence. I cool down and prepare to switch gears before heading home to be with my family.

Foundry intros Mari 4.0

Foundry’s Mari 4.0 is the latest version of the company’s digital 3D painting and texturing tool. Foundry launches Mari 4.0 with a host of advanced features, making the tool easier to use and faster to learn. Mari 4.0 comes equipped with more flexible and configurable exporting, simpler navigation, and a raft of improved workflows.

Key benefits of Mari 4.0 include:
Quicker start-up and export: Mari 4.0 allows artists to get projects up-and-running faster with a new startup mechanism that automatically performs the steps previously completed manually by the user. Shaders are automatically built, with channels connected to them as defined by the channel presets in the startup dialog. The user also now gets the choice of initial lighting and shading setup. The new Export Manager configures the batch exporting of Channels and Bake Point Nodes. Artists can create and manage multiple export targets from the same source, as well as perform format conversions during export. This allows for far more control and flexibility when passing Mari’s texture maps down the pipeline.

Better navigation: A new Palettes Toolbar containing all Mari’s palettes offers easy access and visibility to everything Mari can do. It’s now easier to expand a Palette to fullscreen by hitting the spacebar while your mouse is hovered over it. Tools of a similar function have been grouped under a single button in the Tools toolbar, taking up less space and allowing the user to better focus on the Canvas. Various Palettes have been merged together, removing duplication and simplifying the UI, making Mari both easier to learn and use.

Improved UI: The Colors Palette is now scalable for better precision, and the component sliders have been improved to show the resulting color at each point along the control. Users can now fine tune their procedural operations with precision keyboard stepping functionality brought into Mari’s numeric controls.

The HUD has been redesigned so it no longer draws over the paint subject, allowing the user to better focus on their painting and work more effectively. Basic Node Graph mode has been removed: Advanced is now the default. For everyone learning Mari, the Non-Commercial version now has full Node Graph access.

Enhanced workflows: A number of key workflow improvements have been brought to Mari 4.0. A drag-and-drop fill mechanism allows users to fill paint across their selections in a far more intuitive manner, reducing time and increasing efficiency. The Brush Editor has been merged into the Tool Properties Palette, with the brush being used now clearly displayed. It’s now easy to browse and load sets of texture files into Mari, with a new Palette for browsing texture sets. The Layers Palette is now more intuitive when working with Group layers, allowing users to achieve the setups they desire with less steps. And users now have a shader in Mari that previews and works with the channels that match their final 3D program/shader: The Principled BRDF, based on the 2012 paper from Brent Burley of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Core: Having upgraded to OpenSubdiv 3.1.x and introduced the features into the UI, users are able to better match the behavior of mesh subdivision that they get in software renderers. Mari’s user preference files are now saved with the application version embedded in the file names —meaning artists can work between different versions of Mari without the danger of corrupting their UI or preferences. Many preferences have had their groups, labels and tooltips modified to be easier to understand. All third-party libraries have been upgraded to match those specified by the VFX Reference Platform 2017.
Mari 4.0 is available now.

Dell 6.15

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.


Autodesk Flame family updates offer pipeline enhancements

Autodesk has updated its Flame 2018 family of 3D visual effects and finishing software, which includes Flame, Flare, Flame Assist and Lustre. Flame 2018.3 offers more efficient ways of working in post, with feature enhancements that offer greater pipeline flexibility, speed and support for emerging formats and technology.

Flame 2018.3 highlights include:

• Action Selective: Apply FX color to an image surface or the whole action scene via the camera

• Motion Warp Tracking: Organically distort objects that are changing shape, angle and form with new 32-bit motion vector-based tracking technology

• 360-degree VR viewing mode: View LatLong images in a 360-degree VR viewing mode in the Flame player or any viewport during compositing and manipulate the field of view

• HDR waveform monitoring: Set viewport to show luminance waveform; red, green, blue (RGB) parade; color vectorscope or 3D cube; and monitor a range of HDR and wide color gamut (WCG) color spaces including Rec2100 PQ, Rec2020 and DCI P3

• Shotgun Software Loader: Load assets for a shot and build custom batches via Flame’s Python API, and browse a Shotgun project for a filtered view of individual shots

• User-requested improvements for Action, Batch, Timeline and Media Hub

“The new standalone Python console in Flame 2018.3 is a great,” says Treehouse Edit finishing artist John Fegan, a Flame family beta tester. “We’re also excited about the enhanced FBX export with physically based renderer (PBR) for Maya and motion analysis updates. Using motion vector maps, we can now achieve things we couldn’t with a planar tracker or 3D track.”

Flame Family 2018.3 is available today at no additional cost to customers with a current Flame Family 2018 subscription.


Winners: IBC2017 Impact Awards

postPerspective has announced the winners of our postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC2017. All winning products reflect the latest version of the product, as shown at IBC.

The postPerspective Impact Award winners from IBC2017 are:

• Adobe for Creative Cloud
• Avid for Avid Nexis Pro
• Colorfront for Transkoder 2017
• Sony Electronics for Venice CineAlta camera

Seeking to recognize debut products and key upgrades with real-world applications, the postPerspective Impact Awards are determined by an anonymous judging body made up of industry pros. The awards honor innovative products and technologies for the post production and production industries that will influence the way people work.

“All four of these technologies are very worthy recipients of our first postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC,” said Randi Altman, postPerspective’s founder and editor-in-chief. “These awards celebrate companies that push the boundaries of technology to produce tools that actually make users’ working lives easier and projects better, and our winners certainly fall into that category. You’ll notice that our awards from IBC span the entire pro pipeline, from acquisition to on-set dailies to editing/compositing to storage.

“As IBC falls later in the year, we are able to see where companies are driving refinements to really elevate workflow and enhance production. So we’ve tapped real-world users to vote for the Impact Awards, and they have determined what could be most impactful to their day-to-day work. We’re very proud of that fact, and it makes our awards quite special.”

IBC2017 took place September 15-19 in Amsterdam. postPerspective Impact Awards are next scheduled to celebrate innovative product and technology launches at the 2018 NAB Show.


Behind the Title: Artist Jayse Hansen

NAME: Jayse Hansen

COMPANY: Jayse Design Group

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I specialize in designing and animating completely fake-yet-advanced-looking user interfaces, HUDs (head-up displays) and holograms for film franchises such as The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman: Homecoming, Big Hero 6, Ender’s Game and others.

On the side, this has led to developing untraditional, real-world, outside-the-rectangle type UIs, mainly with companies looking to have an edge in efficiency/data-storytelling and to provide a more emotional connection with all things digital.

Iron Man

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Designer/Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Mainly, I try to help filmmakers (or companies) figure out how to tell stories in quick reads with visual graphics. In a film, we sometimes only have 24 frames (one second) to get information across to the audience. It has to look super complex, but it has to be super clear at the same time. This usually involves working with directors, VFX supervisors, editorial and art directors.

With real-world companies, the way I work is similar. I help figure out what story can be told visually with the massive amount of data we have available to us nowadays. We’re all quickly finding that data is useless without some form of engaging story and a way to quickly ingest, make sense of and act on that data. And, of course, with design-savvy users, a necessary emotional component is that the user interface looks f’n rad.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
A lot of R&D! Movie audiences have become more sophisticated, and they groan if a fake UI seems outlandish, impossible or Playskool cartoon-ish. Directors strive to not insult their audience’s intelligence, so we spend a lot of time talking to experts and studying real UIs in order to ground them in reality while still making them exciting, imaginative and new.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Research, breaking down scripts and being able to fully explore and do things that have never been done before. I love the challenge of mixing strong design principles with storytelling and imagination.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Paperwork!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Early morning and late nights. I like to jam on design when everyone else is sleeping.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I actually can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s what I dream about and obsess about day and night. And I have since I was little. So I’m pretty lucky that they pay me well for it!

If I lost my sight, I’d apply for Oculus or Meta brain implants and live in the AR/VR world to keep creating visually.

SO YOU KNEW THIS WAS YOUR PATH EARLY ON?
When I was 10 I learned that they used small models for the big giant ships in Star Wars. Mind blown! Suddenly, it seemed like I could also do that!

As a kid I would pause movies and draw all the graphic parts of films, such as the UIs in the X-wings in Star Wars, or the graphics on the pilot helmets. I never guessed this was actually a “specialty niche” until I met Mark Coleran, an amazing film UI designer who coined the term “FUI” (Fictional User Interface). Once I knew it was someone’s “everyday” job, I didn’t rest until I made it MY everyday job. And it’s been an insanely great adventure ever since.

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT FUI AND WHAT IT MEANS?
FUI stands for Fictional (or Future, Fantasy, Fake) User Interface. UIs have been used in films for a long time to tell an audience many things, such as: their hero can’t do what they need to do (Access Denied) or that something is urgent (Countdown Timer), or they need to get from point A to point B, or a threat is “incoming” (The Map).

Mockingjay Part I

As audiences are getting more tech-savvy, the potential for screens to act as story devices has developed, and writers and directors have gotten more creative. Now, entire lengths of story are being told through interfaces, such as in The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Part I where Katniss, Peeta, Beetee and President Snow have some of their most tense moments.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The most recent projects I can talk about are Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, both with the Cantina Creative team and Marvel. For Guardians 2, I had a ton of fun designing and animating various screens, including Rocket, Gamora and Star-Lord’s glass screens and the large “Drone Tactical Situation Display” holograms for the Sovereign (gold people). Spider-Man was my favorite superhero as a child, so I was honored to be asked to define the “Stark-Designed” UI design language of the HUDs, holograms and various AR overlays.

I spent a good amount of time researching the comic book version of Spider-man. His suit and abilities are actually quite complex, and I ended up writing a 30-plus page guide to all of its functions so I could build out the HUD and blueprint diagrams in a way that made sense to Marvel fans.

In the end, it was a great challenge to blend the combination of the more military Stark HUDs for Iron Man, which I’m very used to designing, and a new, slightly “webby” and somewhat cute “training-wheels” UI that Stark designed for the young Peter Parker. I loved the fact that in the film they played up the humor of a teenager trying to understand the complexities of Stark’s UIs.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the one I was most proud to be a part of. It was my one bucket list film to work on from childhood, and I got to work with some of the best talents in the business. Not only JJ Abrams and his production team at Bad Robot, but with my longtime industry friends Navarro Parker and Andrew Kramer.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON?
As always, we used a ton of Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe’s After Effects and Illustrator and Element 3D to pull off rather complex and lengthy design sequences such as the Starkiller Base hologram and the R2D2/BB8 “Map to Luke Skywalker” holograms.

Cinema 4D was essential in allowing us to be super creative while still meeting rather insane deadlines. It also integrates so well with the Adobe suite, which allowed us to iterate really quickly when the inevitable last-minute design changes came flying in. I would do initial textures in Adobe Illustrator, then design in C4D, and transfer that into After Effects using the Element 3D plugin. It was a great workflow.

YOU ALSO CREATE VR AND AR CONTENT. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?
Yes! Finally, AR and VR are allowing what I’ve been doing for years in film to actually happen in the real world. With a Meta (AR) or Oculus (VR) you can actually walk around your UI like an Iron Man hologram and interact with it like the volumetric UI’s we did for Ender’s Game.

For instance, today with Google Earth VR you can use a holographic mapping interface like in The Hunger Games to plan your next vacation. With apps like Medium, Quill, Tilt Brush or Gravity Sketch you can design 3D parts for your robot like Hiro did in Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6

While wearing a Meta 2, you can surround yourself with multiple monitors of content and pull 3D models from them and enlarge them to life size.

So we have a deluge of new abilities, but most designers have only designed on flat traditional monitors or phone screens. They’re used to the two dimensions of up and down (X and Y), but have never had the opportunity to use the Z axis. So you have all kinds of new challenges like, “What does this added dimension do for my UI? How is it better? Why would I use it? And what does the back of a UI look like when other people are looking at it?”

For instance, in the Iron Man HUD, most of the time I was designing for when the audience is looking at Tony Stark, which is the back of the UI. But I also had to design it from the side. And it all had to look proper, of course, from the front. UI design becomes a bit like product design at this point.

In AR and VR, similar design challenges arise. When we are sharing volumetric UIs — we will see other people’s UIs from the back. At times, we want to be able to understand them, and at other times, they should be disguised, blurred or shrouded for privacy reasons.

How do you design when your UI can take up the whole environment? How can a UI give you important information without distracting you from the world around you? How do you deal with additive displays where black is not a color you can use? And on and on. These are all things we tackle with each film, so we have a bit of a head start in those areas.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I love tech, but it would be fun to be stuck with just a pen, paper and a book… for a while, anyway.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m on Twitter (@jayse_), Instagram (@jayse_) and Pinterest (skyjayse). Aside from that I also started a new FUI newsletter to discuss some behind the scenes of this type of work.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Heck yeah. Lately, I find myself working to Chillstep and Deep House playlists on Spotify. But check out The Cocteau Twins. They sing in a “non-language,” and it’s awesome.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I chill with my best friend and fiancé, Chelsea. We have a rooftop wet-bar area with a 360-degree view of Las Vegas from the hills. We try to go up each evening at sunset with our puppy Bella and just chill. Sometimes it’s all fancy-like with a glass of wine and fruit. Chelsea likes to make it all pretty.

It’s a long way from just 10 years ago where we were hunting spare-change in the car to afford 99-cent nachos from Taco Bell, so we’re super appreciative of where we’ve come. And because of that, no matter how many times my machine has crashed, or how many changes my client wants — we always make time for just each other. It’s important to keep perspective and realize your work is not life or death, even though in films sometimes they try to make it seem that way.

It’s important to always have something that is only for you and your loved ones that nobody can take away. After all, as long as we’re healthy and alive, life is good!


Review: Blackmagic’s Fusion 9

By David Cox

At Siggraph in August, Blackmagic Design released a new version of its compositing software Fusion. For those not familiar with Fusion, it is a highly flexible node-based compositor that can composite in 2D and 3D spaces. Its closest competitor is Nuke from The Foundry.

The raft of new updates in Version 9 could be categorized into one of two areas: features created in response to user requests, and a set of tools for VR. Also announced with the new release is a price drop to $299 for the full studio version, which, judging by global resellers instantly running out of stock (Fusion ships via dongle), seems to have been a popular move!

As with other manufacturers in the film and broadcast area, the term “VR” is a little misused as they are really referring to “360 video.” VR, although a more exciting term, would demand interactivity. That said, as a post production suite for 360 video, Fusion already has a very strong tool set. It can create, manipulate, texture and light 3D scenes made from imported CGI models and built-in primitives and particles.

Added in Version 9 is a spherical camera that can capture a scene as a 360 2D or stereo 3D image. In addition, new tools are provided to cross-convert between many 360 video image formats. Another useful tool allows a portion of a 360-degree image to be unwrapped (or un-distorted) so that restoration or compositing work can be easily carried out on it before it is perfectly re-wrapped back into the 360-degree image.

There is also a new stabilizer for 360 wrap-around shots. A neat feature is that Fusion 9 can directly drive VR headsets such as Oculus Rift. Within Fusion, any node can be routed to any viewing monitor and the VR headset simply presents itself as an extra one of those.

Notably, Blackmagic has opted not to tackle 360-degree image stitching — the process by which images from multiple cameras facing in different directions are “stitched” together to form a single wrap-around view. I can understand this — on one hand, there are numerous free or cheap apps that perform stitching and so there’s no need for Blackmagic to reinvent that wheel. On the other hand, Blackmagic targets the mass user area, and given that 360 video production is a niche activity, productions that strap together multiple cameras form an even smaller and decreasing niche due to the growing number of single-step 360-degree cameras that provide complete wrap-around images without the need for stitching.

Moving on from VR/360, Fusion 9 now boasts some very significant additional features. While some Fusion users had expressed concerned that Blackmagic was favoring Resolve, in fact it is now clear that the Fusion development team have been very busy indeed.

Camera Tracker
First up is an embedded camera tracker and solver. Such a facility aims to deduce how the original camera in a live-action shoot moved through the scene and what lens must have been on it. From this, a camera tracker produces a virtual 3D scene into which a compositor can add objects that then move precisely with the original shot.

Fusion 9’s new camera tracker performed well in tests. It requires the user to break the process down into three logical steps: track, refine and export. Fusion initially offers auto-placed trackers, which follow scores of details in the scene quite quickly. The operator then removes any obviously silly trackers (like the ones chasing around the moving people in a scene) and sets Fusion about the task of “solving” the camera move.

Once done, Fusion presents a number of features to allow the user to measure the accuracy of the resulting track and to locate and remove trackers that are adversely affecting that result. This is a circular process by which the user can incrementally improve the track. The final track is then converted into a 3D scene with a virtual camera and a point cloud to show where the trackers would exist in 3D space. A ground plane is also provided, which the user can locate during the tracking process.

While Fusion 9’s camera tracker perhaps doesn’t have all the features of a dedicated 3D tracker such as SynthEyes from Andersson Technologies, it does satisfy the core need and has plenty of controls to ensure that the tool is flexible enough to deal with most scenarios. It will certainly be received as a welcome addition.

Planar Tracker
Next up is a built-in “planar” tracker. Planar trackers work differently than classic point trackers, which simply try to follow a small area of detail. A planar tracker follows a larger area of a shot, which makes up a flat plane — such as a wall or table top. From this, the planar tracker can deduce rotation, location, scale and perspective.

Fusion 9 Studio’s new planar tracker also performed well in tests. It assessed the track quickly and was not easily upset by foreground objects obscuring parts of the tracked area. The resulting track can either be used directly to insert another image into the resulting plane or to stabilize the shot, or indirectly by producing a separate Planar Transform node. This is used to warp any other asset such as a matte for rotoscoping work.

Inevitably, any planar tracker will be compared to the long-established “daddy” of them all, Mocha Pro from Boris FX. At a basic level, Fusion’s planar tracker worked just as well as Mocha, creating solid tracks from a user-defined area nicely and quickly. However, I would think that for complex rotoscoping, where a user will have many roto layers, driven by many tracking sources, with other layers acting as occlusion masks, Mocha’s working environment would be easier to control. Such a task would lead to many, many wired up nodes in Fusion, whereas Mocha would present the same functions within a simper layer-list. Of course, Mocha Pro is available as an OFX plug-in for Fusion Studio anyway, so users can have the best of both worlds.

Delta Keyer
Blackmagic also added a new keyer to Fusion called the Delta Keyer. It is a color difference keyer with a wide range of controls to refine the resulting matte and the edges of the key. It worked well when tested against one of my horrible greenscreens, something I keep for these very occasions!

The Delta Keyer can also take a clean plate as a reference input, which is essentially a frame of the green/bluescreen studio without the object to be keyed. The Delta Keyer then uses this to understand which deviations from the screen color represent the foreground object and which are just part of an uneven screen color.

To assist with this process, there is also a new Clean Plate node, which is designed to create an estimate of a clean plate in the absence of one being available from the shoot (for example, if the camera was moving). The combination of the clean plate and the Delta Keyer produced good results when challenged to extract subtle object shadows from an unevenly lit greenscreen shot.

Studio Player
Studio Player is also new for Fusion 9 Studio; it’s a multi-station shot review tool. Multiple versions of clips and comps can be added to the Studio Player’s single layer timeline, where simple color adjustments and notes can be added. A neat feature is that multiple studio players in different locations can be slaved together so that cross-facility review sessions can take place, with everyone looking at the same thing at the same time, which helps!

Fusion 9 Studio also supports the writing of Apple-approved Pro Res from all its supported platforms, including Windows and Linux. Yep – you read that right. Other format support has also been widened and improved, such as faster native handling for DNxHR codecs, for example.

Summing Up
All in all, the updates to Fusion 9 are comprehensive and very much in line with what professional users have been asking for. I think it certainly demonstrates that Blackmagic is as committed to Fusion as Resolve, and at $299, it’s a no-brainer for any professional VFX artist to have available to them.

Of course, the price drop shows that Blackmagic is also aiming Fusion squarely at the mass independent filmmaker market. Certainly, with Resolve and Fusion, those users will have pretty much all the post tools they will need.

Fusion by its nature and heritage is a more complex beast to learn than Resolve, but it is well supported with a good user manual, forums and video tutorials. I would think it likely that for this market, Fusion might benefit from some minor tweaks to make it more intuitive in certain areas. I also think the join between Resolve and Fusion will provide a lot of interest going forward for this market. Adobe has done a masterful job bridging Premiere and After Effects. The join between Resolve and Fusion is more rudimentary, but if Blackmagic gets this right, they will have a killer combination.

Finally, Fusion 9 extends what was already a very powerful and comprehensive compositing suite. It has become my primary compositing device and the additions in version 9 only serve to cement that position.


David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20+ years experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.


Blackmagic’s Fusion 9 is now VR-enabled

At SIGGRAPH, Blackmagic was showing Fusion 9, its newly upgraded visual effects, compositing, 3D and motion graphics software. Fusion 9 features new VR tools, an entirely new keyer technology, planar tracking, camera tracking, multi-user collaboration tools and more.

Fusion 9 is available now with a new price point — Blackmagic has lowered the price of its Studio version from $995 to $299 Studio Version. (Blackmagic is also offering a free version of Fusion.) The software now works on Mac, PC and Linux.

Those working in VR get a full 360º true 3D workspace, along with a new panoramic viewer and support for popular VR headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Working in VR with Fusion is completely interactive. GPU acceleration makes it extremely fast so customers can wear a headset and interact with elements in a VR scene in realtime. Fusion 9 also supports stereoscopic VR. In addition, the new 360º spherical camera renders out complete VR scenes, all in a single pass and without the need for complex camera rigs.

The new planar tracker in Fusion 9 calculates motion planes for accurately compositing elements onto moving objects in a scene. For example, the new planar tracker can be used to replace signs or other flat objects as they move through a scene. Planar tracking data can also be used on rotoscope shapes. That means users don’t have to manually animate motion, perspective, position, scale or rotation of rotoscoped elements as the image changes.

Fusion 9 also features an entirely new camera tracker that analyzes the motion of a live-action camera in a scene and reconstructs the identical motion path in 3D space for use with cameras inside of Fusion. This lets users composite elements with precisely matched movement and perspective of the original. Fusion can also use lens metadata for proper framing, focal length and more.

The software’s new delta keyer features a complete set of matte finesse controls for creating clean keys while preserving fine image detail. There’s also a new clean plate tool that can smooth out subtle color variations on blue- and greenscreens in live action footage, making them easier to key.

For multi-user collaboration, Fusion 9 Studio includes Studio Player, a new app that features a playlist,
storyboard and timeline for playing back shots. Studio Player can track version history, display annotation notes, has support for LUTs and more. The new Studio Player is suited for customers that need to see shots in a suite or theater for review and approval. Remote synchronization lets artists  sync Studio Players in multiple locations.

In addition, Fusion 9 features a bin server so shared assets and tools don’t have to be copied onto each user’s local workstation.


Foundry’s Nuke and Hiero 11.0 now available

Foundry has made available Nuke and Hiero 11.0, the next major release for the Nuke line of products, including Nuke, NukeX, Nuke Studio, Hiero and HieroPlayer. The Nuke family is being updated to VFX Platform 2017, which includes several major updates to key libraries used within Nuke, including Python, Pyside and Qt.

The update also introduces a new type of group node, which offers a powerful new collaborative workflow for sharing work among artists. Live Groups referenced in other scripts automatically update when a script is loaded, without the need to render intermediate stages.

Nuke Studio’s intelligent background rendering is now available in Nuke and NukeX. The Frame Server takes advantage of available resource on your local machine, enabling you to continue working while rendering is happening in the background. The LensDistortion node has been completely revamped, with added support for fisheye and wide-angle lenses and the ability to use multiple frames to produce better results. Nuke Studio now has new GPU-accelerated disk caching that allows users to cache part or all of a sequence to disk for smoother playback of more complex sequences.

 

 

Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

Veteran Armenian artist Mihran Stepanyan has an interesting background. In addition to being a filmmaker and cinematographer, he is also a colorist and visual effects artist. In fact, he won the 2017 Flame Award, which was presented to him during NAB in April.

Let’s find out how his path led to this interesting mix of expertise.

Tell us about your background in VFX.
I studied feature film directing in Armenia from 1997 through 2002. During the process, I also became very interested in being a director of photography. As a self-taught DP, I was shooting all my work, as well as films produced by my classmates and colleagues. This was great experience. Nearly 10 years ago, I started to study VFX because I had some projects that I wanted to do myself. I’ve fallen in love with that world. Some years ago, I started to work in Moscow as a DP and VFX artist for a Comedy Club Production special project. Today, I not only work as a VFX artist but also as a director and cinematographer.

How do your experiences as a VFX artist inform your decisions as a director and cinematographer?
They are closely connected. As a director, you imagine something that you want to see in the end, and you can realize that because you know what you can achieve in production and post. And, as a cinematographer, you know that if problems arise during the shoot, you can correct them in VFX and post. Experience in cinematography also complements VFX artistry, because your understanding of the physics of light and optics helps you create more realistic visuals.

What do you love most about your job?
The infinity of mind, fantasy and feelings. Also, I love how creative teams work. When a project starts, it’s fun to see how the different team members interact with one another and approach various challenges, ultimately coming together to complete the job. The result of that collective team work is interesting as well.

Tell us about some recent projects you’ve worked on.
I’ve worked on Half Moon Bay, If Only Everyone, Carpenter Expecting a Son and Doktor. I also recently worked on a tutorial for FXPHD that’s different from anything I’ve ever done before. It is not only the work of an Autodesk Flame artist or a lecturer, but also gave me a chance to practice English, as my first language is Armenian.

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

Where do you get your inspiration?
First, nature. There nothing more perfect to me. And, I’m picturalist, so for various projects I can find inspiration in any kind of art, from cave paintings to pictorial art and music. I’m also inspired by other artists’ work, which helps me stay tuned with the latest VFX developments.

If you had to choose the project that you’re most proud of in your career, what would it be, and why?
I think every artist’s favorite project is his/her last project, or the one he/she is working on right now. Their emotions, feelings and ideas are very fresh and close at the moment. There are always some projects that will stand out more than others. For me, it’s the film Half Moon Bay. I was the DP, post production supervisor and senior VFX artist for the project.

What is your typical end-to-end workflow for a project?
It differs on each project. In some projects, I do everything from story writing to directing and digital immediate (DI) finishing. For some projects, I only do editing or color grading.

How did you come to learn Flame?
During my work in Moscow, nearly five years ago, I had the chance to get a closer look at Flame and work on it. I’m a self-taught Flame artist, and since I started using the product it’s become my favorite. Now, I’m back in Armenia working on some feature films and upcoming commercials. I am also a member of Flame and Autodesk Maya Beta testing groups.

How did you teach yourself Flame? What resources did you use?
When I started to learn Flame, there weren’t as many resources and tutorials as we have now. It was really difficult to find training documentation online. In some cases, I got information from YouTube, NAB or IBC presentations. I learned mostly by experimentation, and a lot of trial and error. I continue to learn and experiment with Flame every time I work.

Any tips for using the product?
As for tips, “knowing” the software is not about understanding the tools or shortcuts, but what you can do with your imagination. You should always experiment to find the shortest and easiest way to get the end result. Also, imagine how you can construct your schematic without using unnecessary nods and tools ahead of time. Exploring Flame is like mixing the colors on the palette in painting to get the perfect tone. In the same way, you must imagine what tools you can “mix” together to get the result you want.

Any advice for other artists?
I would advise that you not be afraid of any task or goals, nor fear change. That will make you a more flexible artist who can adapt to every project you work on.

What’s next for you?
I don’t really know what’s next, but I am sure that it is a new beginning for me, and I am very interested where this all takes me tomorrow.