Category Archives: post production

Ten Questions: SpeedMedia’s Kenny Francis

SpeedMedia is a bicoastal post studio whose headquarters are in Venice Beach, California. They offer editorial, color grading, finishing, mastering, closed captions/subtitles, encoding and distribution. This independently-owned facility, which has 15 full-time employees, turns 10 this month.

We recently asked a few questions of Kenny Francis, president of the company in an effort to find out how he has not only survived in a tough business but thrived over the years.

WHAT DOES MAKING IT 10 YEARS IN THIS INDUSTRY MEAN?
This industry has a high turnover rate. We have been able to maintain a solid brand and studio relationships, building our own brand equity in the process. At the time we started the company high-def television content was new to the marketplace; there were only a handful of vendors that had updated to that technology and could cater to this larger file size. Most existing vendors were using antiquated machines and methodology to distribute HD, causing major bottlenecks at the station level. We built the company in anticipation of this new trend, which allowed us to properly manage our clients post production and distribution needs.

HOW HAS THE POST PIPELINE CHANGED IN A DECADE?
Now everything is needed “immediately.” Lightning fast is now the new norm. Ten years ago there was a decent amount of time in production schedules for editing, spot tagging, trafficking, clearance, every part of the post process… these days everything is expected to happen now. There’s been a huge sense of time compression because the exception has now become the rule.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN THE FUTURE?
Staying relevant as a company and trying to evolve with the times and our clients’ needs. What worked 10 years ago creatively or productively doesn’t hold the same weight today. We’re living in an age of online and guerrilla marketing campaigns where advertising has already become wildly diversified, so staying relevant is key. To be successful, we’ve had to anticipate these trends and stay nimble enough to reconfigure our equipment to cater to them. We were early adopters of 3D content, and now we are gearing up for UHD finishing and distribution.

WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR COMPANY AND THE INDUSTRY?
We’re constantly accruing new business, so we’re looking forward to building onto our list of accounts. As a new technology launches, emerging companies compete, one acquires them all and becomes a monopoly, and then the cycle repeats itself. We have been through a few of these cycles, but plan to see many more in the years ahead.

HOW DID YOU ESTABLISH THAT FOUNDATION?
Well, aside from just building a business, it’s been about building a home for our team — giving them a platform to grow. Our employees are family. My uncle used to tell me, “If you concentrate on building a business and not the person, you will not achieve, but if you concentrate on building the person, you achieve both.” SpeedMedia has been focused on building that kind of team — we pride ourselves on supporting one another.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SPACE AT SPEEDMEDIA STUDIO?
As comfy as possible. We’ve been in the same place for 10 years — a block away from those iconic Venice letters. It’s a great place to be, and why we’ve never left. It’s a home away from home for our employees, so we’ve got big couches, a kitchen, televisions and even our own bar for the monthly company mixers.

Stop by and you’ll see a little bit of Matrix code scrolling down some of the walls, as this historic building was actually Joel Silver’s production office back in the day. If these walls could talk…

HOW HAS VENICE CHANGED SINCE YOU OPENED?
Venice is a living and breathing city, now more than ever. Despite Silicon Beach moving into the area and putting a serious premium on real estate, we’re staying put. It would have been cheaper to move inland, but then that’s all it would have been — an office, not a second home. We’d lose some of our identity for sure.

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR CLIENTS?
It all started with Burger King. I have a long-standing relationship with the company since my days back at Amoeba, a Santa Monica-based advertising agency. I held a number of positions there and learned the business inside and out. The experience and relationships cultivated there helped me bring Burger King in as an anchor account to help launch SpeedMedia back in 2007. We now work with a wide variety of brands, from Adidas to Old Navy to Expedia to Jaguar Land Rover.

WHAT’S IT LIKE RUNNING A BICOASTAL BUSINESS?
In our business, it’s important to have a presence on both coasts. We have some great clients in NYC, and it’s nice to actually be local for them. Styles of business on the east coast are a bit different than in LA. It actually used to make more sense back in the tape-based workflow days for national logistics. We had a realtime exchange between coasts, creating physical handoffs.

Now we’re basically hard-lined together, operators in Soho working remotely with Venice Beach and vice-versa, sharing assets and equipment and collaborating 24-hours a day. This is all possible thanks to our proprietary order management software system, Matrix. This system allows SpeedMedia the ability to seamlessly integrate with every digital distribution network globally via API tap-ins with our various technology partners.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW IT WAS TIME TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
Well, we were at the end of one of these cycles in the marketplace and many of our brand relationships did not want to go along with the monopoly that was forming. That’s when we created SpeedMedia. We listened to our clients and made sure they had a logical and reliable alternative in the marketplace for post, distribution and asset management. And here we are 10 years later.

Making 6 Below for Barco Escape

By Mike McCarthy

There is new movie coming out this week that is fairly unique. Telling the true story of Eric LeMarque surviving eight days lost in a blizzard, 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain is the first film shot and edited in its entirety for the new Barco Escape theatrical format. If you don’t know what Barco Escape is, you are about to find out.

This article is meant to answer just about every question you might have about the format and how we made the film, on which I was post supervisor, production engineer and finishing editor.

What is Barco Escape?
Barco Escape is a wraparound visual experience — it consists of three projection screens filling the width of the viewer’s vision with a total aspect ratio of 7.16:1. The exact field of view will vary depending on where you are sitting in the auditorium, but usually 120-180 degrees. Similar to IMAX, it is not about filling the entire screen with your main object but leaving that in front of the audience and letting the rest of the image surround them and fill their peripheral vision in a more immersive experience. Three separate 2K scope theatrical images play at once resulting in 6144×858 pixels of imagery to fill the room.

Is this the first Barco Escape movie?
Technically, four other films have screened in Barco Escape theaters, the most popular one being last year’s release of Star Trek: Into the Darkness. But none of these films used the entire canvas offered by Escape throughout the movie. They had up to 20 minutes of content on the side screens, but the rest of the film was limited to the center screen that viewers are used to. Every shot in 6 Below was framed with the surround format in mind, and every pixel of the incredibly wide canvas is filled with imagery.

How are movies created for viewing in Escape?
There are two approaches that can be used to fill the screen with content. One is to place different shots on each screen in the process of telling the story. The other is to shoot a wide enough field of view and high enough resolution to stretch a single image across the screens. For 6 Below, director Scott Waugh wanted to shoot everything at 6K, with the intention of filling all the screens with main image. “I wanted to immerse the viewer in Eric’s predicament, alone on the mountain.”

Cinematographer Michael Svitak shot with the Red Epic Dragon. He says, “After testing both spherical and anamorphic lens options, I chose to shoot Panavision Primo 70 prime lenses because of their pristine quality of the entire imaging frame.” He recorded in 6K-WS (2.37:1 aspect ratio at 6144×2592), framing with both 7:1 Barco Escape and a 2.76:1 4K extraction in mind. Red does have an 8:1 option and a 4:1 option that could work if Escape was your only deliverable. But since there are very few Escape theaters at the moment, you would literally be painting yourself into a corner. Having more vertical resolution available in the source footage opens up all sorts of workflow possibilities.

This still left a few challenges in post: to adjust the framing for the most comfortable viewing and to create alternate framing options for other deliverables that couldn’t use the extreme 7:1 aspect ratio. Other projects have usually treated the three screens separately throughout the conform process, but we treated the entire canvas as a single unit until the very last step, breaking out three 2K streams for the DCP encode.

What extra challenges did Barco Escape delivery pose for 6 Below’s post workflow?
Vashi Nedomansky edited the original 6K R3D files in Adobe Premiere Pro, without making proxies, on some maxed-out Dell workstations. We did the initial edit with curved ultra-wide monitors and 4K TVs. “Once Mike McCarthy optimized the Dell systems, I was free to edit the source 6K Red RAW files and not worry about transcodes or proxies,” he explains. “With such a quick turnaround everyday, and so much footage coming in, it was critical that I could jump on the footage, cut my scenes, see if they were playing well and report back to the director that same day if we needed additional shots. This would not have been possible time-wise if we were transcoding and waiting for footage to cut. I kept pushing the hardware and software, but it never broke or let me down. My first cut was 2 hours and 49 minutes long, and we played it back on one Premiere Pro timeline in realtime. It was crazy!”

All of the visual effects were done at the full shooting resolution of 6144×2592, as was the color grade. Once Vashi had the basic cut in place, there was no real online conform, just some cleanup work to do before sending it to color as an 8TB stack of 6K frames. At that point, we started examining it from the three-screen perspective with three TVs to preview it in realtime, courtesy of the Mosaic functionality built into Nvidia’s Quadro GPU cards. Shots were realigned to avoid having important imagery in the seams, and some areas were stretched to compensate for the angle of the side screens from the audiences perspective.

DP Michael Svitak and director Scott Waugh

Once we had the final color grade completed (via Mike Sowa at Technicolor using Autodesk Lustre), we spent a day in an Escape theater analyzing the effect of reflections between the screens and its effect on the contrast. We made a lot of adjustments to keep the luminance of the side screens from washing out the darks on the center screen, which you can’t simulate on TVs in the edit bay. “It was great to be able to make the final adjustments to the film in realtime in that environment. We could see the results immediately on all three screens and how they impacted the room,” says Waugh.

Once we added the 7.1 mix, we were ready to export assets for our delivery in many different formats and aspect ratios. Making the three streams for Escape playback was a simple as using the crop tool in Adobe Media Encoder to trim the sides in 2K increments.

How can you see movies in the Barco Escape format?
Barco maintains a list of theaters that have Escape screens installed, which can be found at ready2escape.com. But for readers in the LA area, the only opportunity to see a film in Barco Escape in the foreseeable future is to attend one of the Thursday night screenings of 6Below at the Regal LA Live Stadium or the Cinemark XD at Howard Hughes Center. There are other locations available to see the film in standard theatrical format, but as a new technology, Barco Escape is only available in a limited number of locations. Hopefully, we will see more Escape films and locations to watch them in the future.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Dell 6.15

The A-List: Director Marc Webb on The Only Living Boy in New York

By Iain Blair

Marc Webb has directed movies both big and small. He made his feature film debut in 2009 with the low-budget indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer, which was nominated for two Golden Globes. He then went on to helm two recent The Amazing Spider-Man blockbusters, the fourth and fifth films in the multi-billion-dollar-grossing franchise.

Webb isn’t just about the big screen. He directed and executive produced the TV series Limitless for CBS, based on the film starring Bradley Cooper, and is currently an executive producer and director of the CW’s Golden Globe-winning series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Marc Webb

Now Webb, whose last film was the drama Gifted, released earlier this year, has again returned to his indie roots with the film The Only Living Boy in New York, starring Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Callum Turner and Kiersey Clemons.

Set in New York City, the sharp and witty coming-of-age story focuses on a privileged young man, Thomas Webb (Turner) — the son of a publisher and his artistic wife — who has just graduated from college. After moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Bridges), an alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey.

Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family.

Collaborating with Webb from behind the scenes was director of photography Stuart Dryburgh (Gifted, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and editor Tim Streeto (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Vinyl).

I recently talked with Webb about making the film, and if there is another superhero movie in his future.

What was the appeal of making another small film on the heels of Gifted?
They were both born out of a similar instinct, an impulse to simplify after doing two blockbusters. I had them lined up after Spider-Man and the timing worked out.

 

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
I think of it as a fable, with a very romantic image of New York as the backdrop, and on some levels it’s an examination of honesty or coming clean. I think people often cover a lot in trying to protect others, and that’s important in life where you have various degrees of truth-telling. But at some point you have to come clean, and that can be very hard. So it’s about that journey for Thomas, and regardless of the complex nature of his desires, he tries to be honest with himself and those close to him.

Can you talk about the look of New York in this film and working with your DP, who also shot your last film?
It was the same DP, but we had the opposite approach and philosophy on this. Gifted was very naturalistic with a diverse color palette and lots of hand-held stuff. On this we mostly kept the camera at eye level, as if it was a documentary, and it has more panache and “style” and more artifice. We restrained the color palette since New York has a lot of neutral tones and people wear a lot of black, and I wanted to create a sort tribute to the classic New York films I love. So we used a lot of blacks and grays, and almost no primary colors, to create an austere look. I wanted to push that but without becoming too stylized; that way when you do see a splash of red or some bright color, it has more impact and it becomes meaningful and significant. We also tried to do a lot of fun shots, like high angle stuff that gives you this objective POV of the city, making it a bit more dramatic.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
I’ve always loved film and shooting in film, and it also suited this story as it’s a classic medium. And when you’re projecting digital, sometimes there’s an aliasing in the highlights that bothers me. It can be corrected, but aesthetically I just prefer film. And everyone respects film on set. The actors know you’re not just going to redo takes indefinitely. They feel a little pressure about the money.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
Yes, it does, as most post people are now used to working in a purely digital format, but I think shooting analog still works better for a smaller film like this, and I’ve had pretty good experiences with film and the labs. There are more labs now than there were two years ago, and there are still a lot of films being shot on film. TV is almost completely digital now, with the odd exception of Breaking Bad. So the post workflow for film is still very accessible.

Where did you do the post?
We did the editing at Harbor Picture Company, and all the color correction at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. C5’s Ron Bochar was the supervising sound editor and did a lot of it at Harbor. (For the mix at Harbor he employed D-Command using Avid Pro Tools as a mix engine.)

Do you like the post process?
I really love post… going through all the raw footage and then gradually molding it and shaping it. And because of my music video background I love working on all the sound and music in particular.  I started off as an editor, and my very first job in the business was re-cutting music videos for labels and doing documentaries and EPKs. Then I directed a bunch of music videos and shorts, so it’s a process that I’m very familiar with and understand the power of. I feel very much at home in an edit bay, and I edit the movie in my head as I shoot.

You edited with Tim Streeto. Tell us how it worked.
I loved his work on The Squid and the Whale, and I was anxious to work with him. We had a cool relationship. He wasn’t on the set, and he began assembling as I shot, as we had a fairly fast post schedule. I knew what I wanted, so it wasn’t particularly dramatic. We made some changes as we went, but it was pretty straightforward. We had our cut in 10 weeks, and the whole post was just three or four months.

What were the main challenges of editing this?
Tracking the internal life of the character and making sure the tone felt playful. We tried several different openings to the film before we settled on the voiceover that had this organic raison-d’etre, and that all evolved in the edit.

The Spider-Man films obviously had a huge number of very complex visual effects shots. Did you do many on this film?
Very few. Phosphene in New York did them. We had the opening titles and then we did some morphing of actors from time to time in order to speed things up. (Says Phosphene CEO/EP Vivian Connolly, “We designed an animated the graphic opening sequence of the film — using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects — which was narrated by Jeff Bridges. We commissioned original illustrations by Tim Hamilton, and animated them to help tell the visual story of the opening narration of the film.”)

It has a great jazzy soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
The score had to mingle with all the familiar sounds of the concrete jungle, and we used a bit of reverb on some of the sounds to give it more of a mystical quality. I really love the score by Rob Simonsen, and my favorite bit is the wedding toast sequence. We’d temped in waltzes, but it never quite worked. Then Rob came up with this tango, and it all just clicked.

I also used some Dave Brubeck, some Charlie Mingus and some Moondog — he was this well-known blind New York street musician I’ve been listening to a lot lately — and together it all evoked the mood I wanted. Music is so deeply related to how I started off making movies, so music immediately helps me understand a scene and how to tell it the best way, and it’s a lot of fun for me.

How about the DI? What look did you go for?
It was all about getting a very cool look and palette. We’d sometimes dial up a bit of red in a background, but we steered away from primary colors and kept it a bit darker than most of my films. Most of the feel comes from the costumes and sets and locations, and Stefan did a great job, and he’s so fast.

What’s next? Another huge superhero film?
I’m sure I’ll do another at some point, but I’ve really enjoyed these last two films. I had a ball hanging out with the actors. Smaller movies are not such a huge risk, and you have more fun and can be more experimental.

I just did a TV pilot, Extinct, for CBS, which was a real fun murder mystery, and I’ll probably do more TV next.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Creative nominees named for HPA Awards

Nominees in the creative categories for the 2017 HPA Awards have been announced. Receiving a record-breaking number of entrants this year, the HPA Awards creative categories recognize the outstanding work done by individuals and teams who bring compelling content to a global audience.

Launched in 2006, the HPA Awards recognize outstanding achievement in editing, sound, visual effects and color grading for work in television, commercials and feature films. The winners of the 12th Annual HPA Awards will be announced on November 16 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The 2017 HPA Award nominees are:

Outstanding Color Grading – Feature Film
The Birth of a Nation
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

Ghost in the Shell
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures
Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

Doctor Strange
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

Beauty and the Beast
Stefan Sonnenfeld // Company 3

Fences
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

Outstanding Color Grading – Television
The Last Tycoon – Burying the Boy Genius
Timothy Vincent // Technicolor – Hollywood

Game of Thrones – Dragonstone
Joe Finley // Chainsaw

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

The Crown – Smoke and Mirrors
Asa Shoul // Molinare

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

Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial
Land O’ Lakes – The Farmer
Billy Gabor // Company 3

Pennzoil – Joyride Tundra
Dave Hussey // Company 3

Jose Cuervo – Last Days
Tom Poole // Company 3

Nedbank – The Tale of a Note
Sofie Borup // Company 3

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

Outstanding Editing – Feature Film
Hidden Figures
Peter Teschner

Dunkirk
Lee Smith, ACE

The Ivory Game
Verena Schönauer

Get Out
Gregory Plotkin

Lion
Alexandre de Franceschi

Game of Thrones

Outstanding Editing – Television
Game of Thrones – Stormborn
Tim Porter, ACE

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

Game of Thrones – The Queen’s Justice
Jesse Parker

Narcos – Al Fin Cayo!
Matthew V. Colonna, Trevor Baker

Westworld – The Original
Stephen Semel, ACE, Marc Jozefowicz

Game of Thrones – Dragonstone
Crispin Green

Outstanding Editing – Commercial
Nespresso – Comin’ Home
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit

Bonafont – Choices
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Optum – Heroes
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit

SEAT – Moments
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Outstanding Sound – Feature Film
Fate of the Furious
Peter Brown, Mark Stoeckinger, Paul Aulicino, Steve Robinson, Bobbi Banks // Formosa Group

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

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

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

Doctor Strange
Shannon Mills, Tom Johnson, Juan Peralta, Dan Lauris // Skywalker Sound

Outstanding Sound – Television
Underground – Soldier
Larry Goeb, Mark Linden, Tara Paul // Sony Pictures Post

Stranger Things – Chapter 8: The Upside Down
Craig Henigham // FOX
Joe Barnett, Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Tiffany Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

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

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

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

Outstanding Sound – Commercial
Honda – Up
Anthony Moore, Neil Johnson, Jack Hallett // Factory
Sian Rogers // SIREN

Virgin Media – This Is Fibre
Anthony Moore // Factory

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

SEAT – Moments
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – We’re the Superhumans
Anthony Moore // Factory

Outstanding Visual Effects – Feature Film
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Gary Brozenich, Sheldon Stopsack, Patrick Ledda, Richard Clegg, Richard Little // MPC

War for the Planet of the Apes

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

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

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

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

Outstanding Visual Effects – Television
Black Sails – XXIX
Erik Henry
Yafei Wu, Nicklas Andersson, David Wahlberg // Important Looking Pirates
Martin Lippman // Rodeo

Westworld

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

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

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

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

Outstanding Visual Effects – Commercial
Walmart – Lost & Found
Morgan MacCuish, Michael Ralla, Aron Hjartarson, Todd Herman // Framestore

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

Nespresso – Comin’ Home
Martin Lazaro, Murray Butler, Nick Fraser, Callum McKevney // Framestore

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

Walmart – The Gift
Mike Warner, Kurt Lawson, Charles Trippe, Robby Geis // Zero VFX

In other awards news, Larry Chernoff has been named recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Winners of the coveted Engineering Excellence Award include Colorfront Engine by Colorfront, Dolby Vision Post Production Tools by Dolby, Mistika VR by SGO and the Weapon 8K Vista Vision by Red Digital Cinema. These special awards will be bestowed at the HPA Awards gala as well.

The HPA Awards gala ceremony is expected to be a sold-out affair and early ticket purchase is encouraged. Tickets for the HPA Awards are on sale now and can be purchased online at www.hpaawards.net.


Updating the long-running Ford F-150 campaign

Giving a decade-long very successful campaign a bit of a goose presents unique challenges, including maintaining tone and creative continuity while bringing a fresh perspective. To help with the launch of the new 2018 Ford F-150, Big Block director Paul Trillo brought all of his tools to the table, offering an innovative spin to the campaign.

Big Block worked closely with agency GTB, from development to previz, live-action, design, editorial, all the way through color and finish.

Trillo wanted to maintain the tone and voice of the original campaign while adding a distinct technical style and energy. Dynamic camera movement and quick editing helped bring new vitality to the “Built Ford Tough” concept.

Technically challenging camera moves help guide the audience through distinct moments. While previous spots relied largely on motion graphics, Trillo’s used custom camera rigs on real locations.

Typography remained a core of the spots, all underscored by an array of stop-motion, hyperlapse, dolly zooms, drone footage, camera flips, motion control and match frames.

Premiere was used for editing. CG was a combination of Maya and 3ds Max. Compositing was done in Nuke and Flame with finishing in Flame. 


Heidi Netzley joins We Are Royale as director of biz dev

Creative agency We Are Royale has added Heidi Netzley as director of business development. She will be responsible for helping to evolve the company’s business development process and building its direct-to-brand vertical.

Most recently, Netzley held a similar position at Digital Kitchen, where she expanded and diversified the company’s client base and also led projects like a digital documentary series for Topgolf and show launch campaigns for CBS and E! Network. Prior to that, she was business development manager at Troika, where she oversaw brand development initiatives and broadcast network rebrands for the agency’s network clients, including ABC, AwesomenessTV, Audience Network and Sundance Cinemas.

Netzley launched her career at Disney/ABC Television Group within the entertainment marketing division. During her seven-year tenure, she held various roles ranging from marketing specialist to manager of creative services, where she helped manage the brand across multi-platform marketing campaigns for all of ABC’s primetime properties.

“With our end-to-end content creation capabilities, we can be both a strategic and creative partner to other types of brands, and I look forward to helping make that happen,” says Netzley.

When Netzley isn’t training for the 2018 LA Marathon, she’s busy fundraising for causes close to her heart, including the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for which she was nominated as the organization’s 2016 Woman of the Year. She currently sits on the society’s leadership committee.


LumaForge offering support for shared projects in Adobe Premiere

LumaForge, which designs and sells high-performance servers and shared storage appliances for video workflows, will be at IBC this year showing full support for new collaboration features in Adobe Premiere Pro CC. When combined with LumaForge’s Jellyfish or ShareStation post production servers, the new Adobe features — including multiple open projects and project locking —allow production groups and video editors to work more effectively with shared projects and assets. This is something that feature film and TV editors have been asking for from Adobe.

Project locking allows multiple users to work with the same content. In a narrative workflow, an editing team can divide their film into shared projects per reel or scene. An assistant editor can get to work synchronizing and logging one scene, while the editor begins assembling another. Once the assistant editor is finished with their scene, the editor can refresh their copy of the scene’s Shared Project and immediately see the changes.

An added benefit of using Shared Projects on productions with large amounts of footage is the significantly reduced load time of master projects. When a master project is broken into multiple shared project bins, footage from those shared projects is only loaded once that shared project is opened.

“Adobe Premiere Pro facilitates a broad range of editorial collaboration scenarios,” says Sue Skidmore, partner relations for Adobe Professional Video. “The LumaForge Jellyfish shared storage solution complements and supports them well.”

All LumaForge Jellyfish and LumaForge ShareStation servers will support the Premiere Pro CC collaboration features for both Mac OS and Windows users, connecting over 10Gb Ethernet.

Check out their video on the collaboration here.

FMPX8.14

Sony Imageworks’ VFX work on Spider-Man: Homecoming

By Daniel Restuccio

With Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming getting ready to release digitally on September 26 and on 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD on October 17, we thought this was a great opportunity to talk about some of the film’s VFX.

Sony Imageworks has worked on every single Spider-Man movie in some capacity since the 2002 Sam Raimi version. On Spider-Man: Homecoming, Imageworks worked on mostly the “third act,” which encompasses the warehouse, hijacked plane and beach destruction scenes. This meant delivering over 500 VFX shots, created by over 30 artists (at one point this peaked at 200) and compositors, and rendering out 2K finished scenes.

All of the Imageworks artists used Dell R7910 workstations with Intel Xeon CPU E5-2620 24 cores, 64GB memory and Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics cards. They used Cinesync for client reviews and internally they used their in-house Itview software. Rendering technology was SPI Arnold (not the commercial version) and their custom shading system. Software used was Autodesk 2015, Foundry’s Nuke X 10.0 and Side Effects Houdini 15.5. They avoided plug-ins so that their auto-vend, breaking of comps into layers for the 3D conversion process, would be as smooth as possible. Everything was rendered internally on their on-premises renderfarm. They also used the Sony “Kinect” scanning technique that allowed their artists to do performance capture on themselves and rapidly prototype ideas and generate reference.

We sat down with Sony Imageworks VFX supervisor Theo Bailek, who talks about the studio’s contribution to this latest Spidey film.

You worked on The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014. From a visual effects standpoint, what was different?
You know, not a lot. Most of the changes have been iterative improvements. We used many of the same technologies that we developed on the first few movies. How we do our city environments is a specific example of how we build off of our previous assets and techniques, leveraging off the library of buildings and props. As the machines get faster and the software more refined, it allows our artists increased iterations. This alone gave our team a big advantage over the workflows from five years earlier. As the software and pipeline here at Sony has gotten more accessible, it has allowed us to more quickly integrate new artists.

It’s a lot of very small, incremental improvements along the way. The biggest technological changes between now and the early Spider-Mans is our rendering technology. We use a more physically-accurate-based rendering incarnation of our global illumination Arnold renderer. As the shaders and rendering algorithms become more naturalistic, we’re able to conform our assets and workflows. In the end, this translates to a more realistic image out of the box.

The biggest thing on this movie was the inclusion of Spider-Man in a Marvel Universe: a different take on this film and how they wanted it to go. That would be probably the biggest difference.

Did you work directly with director Jon Watts, or did you work with production VFX supervisor Janek Sirrs in terms of the direction on the VFX?
During the shooting of the film I had the advantage of working directly with both Janek and Jon. The entire creative team pushed for open collaboration, and Janek was very supportive toward this goal. He would encourage and facilitate interaction with both the director and Tom Holland (who played Spider-Man) whenever possible. Everything moved so quick on set, often times if you waited to suggest an idea you’d lose the chance, as they would have to set up for the next scene.

The sooner Janek could get his vendor supervisors comfortable interacting, the bigger our contributions. While on set I often had the opportunity to bring our asset work and designs directly to Jon for feedback. There were times on set when we’d iterate on a design three or four times over the span of the day. Getting this type of realtime feedback was amazing. Once post work began, most of our reviews were directly with Janek.

When you had that first meeting about the tone of the movie, what was Jon’s vision? What did he want to accomplish in this movie?
Early on, it was communicated from him through Janek. It was described as, “This is sort of like a John Hughes, Ferris Bueller’s take on Spider-Man. Being a teenager he’s not meant to be fully in control of his powers or the responsibility that comes with them. This translates to not always being super-confident or proficient in his maneuvers. That was the basis of it.

Their goal was a more playful, relatable character. We accomplished this by being more conservative in our performances, of what Spider-Man was capable of doing. Yes, he has heightened abilities, but we never wanted every landing and jump to be perfect. Even superheroes have off days, especially teenage ones.

This being part of the Marvel Universe, was there a pool of common assets that all the VFX houses used?
Yes. With the Marvel movies, they’re incredibly collaborative and always use multiple vendors. We’re constantly sharing the assets. That said, there are a lot of things you just can’t share because of the different systems under the hood. Textures and models are easily exchanged, but how the textures are combined in the material and shaders… that makes them not reusable given the different renderers at companies. Character rigs are not reusable across vendors as facilities have very specific binding and animation tools.

It is typical to expect only models, textures, base joint locations and finished turntable renders for reference when sending or receiving character assets. As an example, we were able to leverage somewhat on the Avengers Tower model we received from ILM. We did supply our Toomes costume model and Spider-Man character and costume models to other vendors as well.

The scan data of Tom Holland, was it a 3D body scan of him or was there any motion capture?
Multiple sessions were done through the production process. A large volume of stunts and test footage were shot with Tom before filming that proved to be invaluable to our team. He’s incredibly athletic and can do a lot of his own stunts, so the mocap takes we came away with were often directly usable. Given that Tom could do backflips and somersaults in the air we were able to use this footage as a reference for how to instruct our animators later on down the road.
Toward the later-end of filming we did a second capture session, focusing on the shots we wanted to acquire using specific mocap performances. Then again several months later, we followed up with a third mocap session to get any new performances required as the edit solidified.

As we were trying to create a signature performance that felt like Tom Holland, we exclusively stuck to his performances whenever possible. On rare occasions when the stunt was too dangerous, a stuntman was used. Other times we resorted to using our own in-house method of performance capture using a modified Xbox Kinect system to record our own animators as they acted out performances.

In the end performance capture accounted for roughly 30% of the character animation of Spider-Man and Vulture in our shots, with the remaining 70% being completed using traditional key-framed methods.

How did you approach the fresh take on this iconic film franchise?
It was clear from our first meeting with the filmmakers that Spider-Man in this film was intended to be a more relatable and light-hearted take on the genre. Yes, we wanted to take the characters and their stories seriously, but not at the expense of having fun with Peter Parker along the way.

For us that meant that despite Spider-Man’s enhanced abilities, how we displayed those abilities on screen needed to always feel grounded in realism. If we faltered on this goal, we ran the risk of eroding the sense of peril and therefore any empathy toward the characters.

When you’re animating a superhero it’s not easy to keep the action relatable. When your characters possess abilities that you never see in the real world, it’s a very thin line between something that looks amazing and something that is amazingly silly and unrealistic. Over-extend the performances and you blow the illusion. Given that Peter Parker is a teenager and he’s coming to grips with the responsibilities and limits of his abilities, we really tried to key into the performances from Tom Holland for guidance.

The first tool at our disposal and the most direct representation of Tom as Spider-Man was, of course, motion capture of his performances. On three separate occasions we recorded Tom running through stunts and other generic motions. For the more dangerous stunts, wires and a stuntman were employed as we pushed the limit of what could be recorded. Even though the cables allowed us to record huge leaps, you couldn’t easily disguise the augmented feel to the actor’s weight and motion. Even so, every session provided us with amazing reference.

Though a bulk of the shots were keyframed, it was always informed by reference. We looked at everything that was remotely relevant for inspiration. For example, we have a scene in the warehouse where the Vulture’s wings are racing toward you as Spider-Man leaps into the air stepping on the top of the wings before flipping to avoid the attack. We found this amazing reference of people who leap over cars racing in excess of 70mph. It’s absurdly dangerous and hard to justify why someone would attempt a stunt like that, and yet it was the perfect for inspiration for our shot.

In trying to keep the performances grounded and stay true to the goals of the filmmakers, we also found it was always better to err on the side of simplicity when possible. Typically, when animating a character, you look for opportunities to create strong silhouettes so the actions read clearly, but we tended to ignore these rules in favor of keeping everything dirty and with an unscripted feel. We let his legs cross over and knees knock together. Our animation supervisor, Richard Smith, pushed our team to follow the guidelines of “economy of motion.” If Spider-Man needed to get from point A to B he’d take the shortest route — there’s not time to strike an iconic pose in-between!


Let’s talk a little bit about the third act. You had previsualizations from The Third Floor?
Right. All three of the main sequences we worked on in the third act had extensive previs completed before filming began. Janek worked extremely closely with The Third Floor and the director throughout the entire process of the film. In addition, Imageworks was tapped to help come up with ideas and takes. From early on it was a very collaborative effort on the part of the whole production.
The previs for the warehouse sequence was immensely helpful in the planning of the shoot. Given we were filming on location and the VFX shots would largely rely on carefully choreographed plate photography and practical effects, everything had to be planned ahead of time. In the end, the previs for that sequence resembled the final shots in most cases.

The digital performances of our CG Spider-Man varied at times, but the pacing and spirit remained true to the previs. As our plane battle sequence was almost entirely CG, the previs stage was more of an ongoing process for this section. Given that we weren’t locked into plates for the action, the filmmakers were free to iterate and refine ideas well past the time of filming. In addition to The Third Floor’s previs, Imageworks’ internal animation team also contributed heavily to the ideas that eventually formed the sequence.

For the beach battle, we had a mix of plate and all-CG shots. Here the previs was invaluable once again in informing the shoot and subsequent reshoots later on. As there were several all-CG beats to the fight, we again had sections where we continued to refine and experiment till late into post. As with the plane battle, Imageworks’ internal team contributed extensively to pre and postvis of this sequence.

The one scene, you mentioned — the fight in the warehouse — in the production notes, it talks about that scene being inspired by an actual scene from the comic The Amazing Spider-Man #33.
Yes, in our warehouse sequence there are a series of shots that are directly inspired by the comic book’s cells. Different circumstances in the the comic and our sequence lead to Spider-Man being trapped under debris. However, Tom’s performance and the camera angles that were shot play homage to the comic as he escapes. As a side note, many of those shots were added later in the production and filmed as reshoots.

What sort of CG enhancements did you bring to that scene?
For the warehouse sequence, we added digital Spider-Man, Vulture wings, CG destruction, enhanced any practical effects, and extended or repaired the plate as needed.The columns that the Vulture wings slice through as it circles Spider-Man were practically destroyed with small denoted charges. These explosives were rigged within cement that encased the actual warehouses steel girder columns. They had fans on set that were used to help mimic interaction from the turbulence that would be present from a flying wingsuit powered by turbines. These practical effects were immensely helpful for our effects artists as they provided the best-possible in-camera reference. We kept much of what was filmed, adding our fully reactive FX on top to help tie it into the motion of our CG wings.

There’s quite a bit of destruction when the Vulture wings blast through walls as well. For those shots we relied entirely on CG rigid body dynamic simulations for the CG effects, as filming it would have been prohibitive and unreliable. Though most of the shots in this sequence had photographed plates, there were still a few that required the background to be generated in CG. One shot in particular, with Spider-Man sliding back and rising up, stands out in particular. As the shot was conceived later in the production, there was no footage for us to use as our main plate. We did however have many tiles shot of the environment, which we were able to use to quickly reconstruct the entire set in CG.

I was particularly proud of our team for their work on the warehouse sequence. The quality of our CG performances and the look of the rendering is difficult to discern from the live action. Even the rare all-CG shots blended seamlessly between scenes.

When you were looking at that ending plane scene, what sort of challenges were there?
Since over 90 shots within the plane sequence were entirely CG we faced many challenges, for sure. With such a large number of shots without the typical constraints that practical plates impose, we knew a turnkey pipeline was needed. There just wouldn’t be time to have custom workflows for each shot type. This was something Janek, our client-side VFX supervisor, stressed from the onset, “show early, show often and be prepared to change constantly!”

To accomplish this, a balance of 3D and 2D techniques were developed to make the shot production as flexible as possible. Using our compositing software Nuke’s 3D abilities we were able to offload significant portions of the shot production into the compositor’s hands. For example: the city ground plane you see through the clouds, the projections of the imagery on the plane’s cloaking LED’s and the damaged flickering LED’s were all techniques done in the composite.

A unique challenge to the sequence that stands out is definitely the cloaking. Making an invisible jet was only half of the equation. The LEDs that made up the basis for the effect also needed to be able to illuminate our characters. This was true for wide and extreme close-up shots. We’re talking about millions of tiny light sources, which is a particularly expensive rendering problem to tackle. Mix in the fact that the design of these flashing light sources is highly subjective and thus prone to needing many revisions to get the look right.

Painting control texture maps for the location of these LEDs wouldn’t be feasible for the detail needed on our extreme close-up shots. Modeling them in would have been prohibitive as well, resulting in excessive geometric complexity. Instead, using Houdini, our effects software, we built algorithms to automate the distribution of point clouds of data to intelligently represent each LED position. This technique could be reprocessed as necessary without incurring the large amounts of time a texture or model solution would have required. As the plane base model often needed adjustments to accommodate design or performance changes, this was a real factor. The point cloud data was then used by our rendering software to instance geometric approximations of inset LED compartments on the surface.

Interestingly, this was a technique we adopted from rendering technology we use to create room interiors for our CG city buildings. When rendering large CG buildings we can’t afford to model the hundreds and sometimes thousands of rooms you see through the office windows. Instead of modeling the complex geometry you see through the windows, we procedurally generate small inset boxes for each window that have randomized pictures of different rooms. This is the same underlying technology we used to create the millions of highly detailed LEDs on our plane.

First our lighters supplied base renders to our compositors to work with inside of Nuke. The compositors quickly animated flashing damage to the LEDs by projecting animated imagery on the plane using Nuke’s 3D capabilities. Once we got buyoff on the animation of the imagery we’d pass this work back to the lighters as 2D layers that could be used as texture maps for our LED lights in the renderer. These images would instruct each LED when it was on and what color it needed to be. This back and forth technique allowed us to more rapidly iterate on the look of the LEDs in 2D before committing and submitting final 3D renders that would have all of the expensive interactive lighting.

Is that a proprietary system?
Yes, this is a shading system that was actually developed for our earlier Spider-Man films back when we used RenderMan. It has since been ported to work in our proprietary version of Arnold, our current renderer.


Behind the Title: Park Road Post’s Anthony Pratt

NAME: Anthony Pratt

COMPANY: Park Road Post Production

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Park Road is a bespoke post production facility, and is part of the Weta Group of Companies based on the Miramar Peninsular in Wellington, New Zealand.

We are internationally recognized for our award-winning sound and picture finishing for TV and film. We walk alongside all kinds of storytellers, supporting them from shoot through to final delivery.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Workflow Architect — Picture

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I get to think about how we can work with a production to wrap process and people around a project, all with a view of achieving the best result at the end of that process. It’s about taking a step back and challenging our current view while thinking about what’s next.

We spend a lot of time working with the camera department and dailies team, and integrating their work with editorial and VFX. I work alongside our brilliant director of engineering for the picture department, and our equally skilled systems technology team — they make me look good!

From a business development perspective, I try to integrate the platforms and technologies we advance into new opportunities for Park Road as a whole.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I quite like outreach around the company and the group, so presenting and sharing is fun — and it’s certainly not always directly related to the work in the picture department. Our relationships with film festivals, symposia, the local industry guilds and WIFT always excite me.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite time of all is when we get to see our clients work in a cinema with an audience for the first time — then the story is really real.

It’s great when our team is actively engaged as a creative partner, especially during the production phase. I enjoy learning from our technical team alongside our creative folk, and there’s always something to learn.

We have fantastic coffee and baristas; I get to help QC that throughout my day!

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
It’s always hard when a really fantastic story we’ve helped plan for isn’t greenlit. That’s the industry, of course, but there are some stories we really want to see told! Like everyone, there are a few Monday mornings that really need to start later.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I get a huge kick on the days we get to sign off the final DCP for a theatrical release. It’s always inspiring seeing all that hard work come together in our cinema.

I am also particularly fond of summer days where we can get away from the facility for a half hour and eat lunch on a beach somewhere with the crew — in Miramar a beach is only 10 minutes away.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d be building my own business and making my own work — if it wasn’t strictly film related it would still be narrative — and I’m always playing with technology, so no doubt I’d be asking questions about what that meant from a lived perspective, regardless of the medium. I’d quite probably be distilling a bit more gin as well!

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think it kind of chose me in the end… I’ve always loved the movies and experimented with work in various media types from print and theatre through animation and interactivity — there was always a technology overtone — before landing where I needed to be: in cinema.

I came to high-end film post somewhat obliquely, having built an early tapeless TV pipeline; I was able to bring that comfort with digital acquisition to an industry transitioning from 35mm in the mid 2000s.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’m profoundly privileged to work for a company owned by Peter Jackson, and I have worked on every project of his since The Lovely Bones. We are working on Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines at present. We recently supported the wonderful Jess Hall shooting on the Alexa 65 for Ghost in the Shell. He’s a really smart DOP.

I really enjoy our offshore clients. As well as the work we do with our friends in the USA. we’ve done some really great work recently with clients in China and the Middle East. Cultural fusion is exhilarating.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
We worked with director Geoff Murphy to restore and revisit his seminal New Zealand feature from 1983 UTU Redux, and that was the opening night feature for the 2013 NZ International Film Festival. It was incredibly good fun, was honorable and is a true taonga in our national narrative.

A Park Road Mistika grading suite.

The Hobbit films were a big chunk of the last decade for us, and our team was recognized with multiple awards. The partnerships we built with SGO, Quantum, Red and Factorial are strong to this day. I was very fortunate to collect some of those awards on our team’s behalf, and was delighted to have that honor.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I rely on clean water and modern medicine to help keep myself, and our wider community, safe from harm. And I am really conscious that to keep that progress moving forward we’re going to have to shepherd our natural world one hell of a lot better.

Powerful computing and fast Internet transformed not only our work, but time and distance for me. I’ve learned more about film, music and art because of the platforms running without friction on the Internet than I would have dared dreamed in the ‘90s.

I hold in my hand a mobile access point that can not only access a mind-bogglingly large world of knowledge and media, but can also dynamically represent that information for my benefit and allow me to acknowledge the value of trust in that connection — there’s hope for us in the very large being accessible by way of the very small.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I kind of abandoned Facebook a few years ago, but Film Twitter has some amazing writers and cinematographers represented. I tend to be a bit of a lurker most other places — sometimes the most instructive exercise is to observe! Our private company Slack channels supplement the rest of my social media time.

To be honest, most of our world is respectfully private, but I do follow @ParkRoadPost on Instagram and Twitter.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Our team has a very broad range of musical tastes, and we tend to try and share that with each other… and there is always Radiohead. I have a not-so-secret love of romantic classical music and lush film scores. My boss and I agree very much on what rock (and a little alt-country) should sound like, so there’s a fair bit of that!

When my headphones are on there is sometimes old-school liquid or downbeat electronica, but mostly I am listening to the best deep house that Berlin and Hamburg have to offer while I work.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
A quick walk around the peninsular is a pretty good way of chilling out, especially if it’s dusk or dawn — then I can watch some penguins on the rocks while ships come in and out of the harbor!

My family (including the furry ones!) are incredible, and they help provide perspective in all things.

Wellington is the craft beer capital of New Zealand, so there’s always an opportunity for some food and an interesting drop from Garage Project (or Liberty brewing out of Auckland) with mates in town. I try and hang out with a bunch of my non-industry friends every month or so — those nights are definitely my favorite for music, and are good for my soul!

Colorist Stephen Nakamura on grading Stephen King’s It

By Randi Altman

A scary clown can be thanked for helping boost what had been a lackluster summer box office. In its first weekend, Stephen King’s It opened with an impressive $125 million. Not bad!

Stephen Nakamura

This horror film takes place in a seemingly normal small town, but of course things aren’t what they seem. And while most horror films set most of the action in shadowy darkness, the filmmakers decided to let a lot of this story unfold in the bright glow of daylight in order to make the most of the darkness that eventually takes over. That presented some interesting opportunities for Deluxe’s Company 3 veteran colorist Stephen Nakamura.

How early did you get involved on It?
We came onboard early to do the first trailer. The response on YouTube and other places was enormous. I can’t speak for the filmmakers, but that was when I first realized how much excitement there was out there for this movie.

Had you worked with director Andy Muschietti before? What kind of direction were you given and how did he explain the look he wanted?
One of the concepts about the look that evolved during production, and we continued it in the DI, was this idea that a lot of the film takes place in fairly high-key situations, not the kind of dark, shadowy world some horror films exist in. It’s a period piece. It’s set in a small town that sort of looks like this pleasant place to be, but all this wild stuff is happening! You see these scary movies and everything’s creepy and it’s overcast outside and it’s clearly a horror movie from the outset. Naturally, that can work, but it can be even scarier when you play against that. The violence and everything feels more shocking.

How would you describe the look of the film?
You have the parts that are like I just described and then it does get very dark and shadowy as the action goes into dark spaces and into the sewer. And all that is particularly effective because we’ve kind of gotten to know all the kids who are in what’s called the Losers’ Club, and we’re rooting for them and scared about what might happen to them.

Can you talk about the Dolby Cinema pass? People generally talk about how bright you can get something with HDR, but I understand you were more interested in how dark the image can look.
Right. When you’re working in HDR, like Dolby lets you do, you have a lot more contrast to work with than you do in the normal digital cinema version. I worked on some of the earliest movies to do a Dolby Cinema version, and when I was working with Brad Bird and Claudio Miranda on Tomorrowland, we experimented with how much brighter we could make portions of the frame than what would be possible with normal digital cinema projection, without making the image into something that had a completely different feel from the P3 version. But when you’re in that space, you can also make things appear much much darker too. So the overall level in the theater can get really dark but because of that contrast you can actually see more detail on a person’s face, or a killer clown’s face, even when the overall level is so low. It’s more like you’re really in that dark space.

It doesn’t make it a whole different movie or anything, but it’s a good example of where Dolby can add something to the experience. I’d tell people to see it in Dolby Cinema if they could.

There was obviously a lot of VFX work that helped the terrifying shapeshifting clown, Pennywise, do what he does, but you also did some work on him in the DI, correct?
Yes. We had alpha channel mattes cut around his eyes for every shot he’s in and we used the color corrector to make changes to his eyes. Sometimes the changes were very subtle — making them brighter or pushing the color around — and sometimes we went more extreme, but I don’t want to talk about that too much. People can see for themselves when they see the movie.

What system do you use, and why? How does that tool allow you to be more creative?
I use Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. I’ve been a colorist since the ‘90s and I’ve used Resolve pretty much my whole career. There are other systems out there that are also very good, but for the kinds of projects I do and the way I like to work, I find it the fastest and most intuitive and every time there’s a new upgrade, I find some new tool that helps me be even more efficient.