Category Archives: Quick Chat

Quick Chat: Lucky Post’s Sai Selvarajan on editing Don’t Fear The Fin

Costa, makers of polarized sunglasses, has teamed up with Ocearch, a group of explorers and scientists dedicated to generating data on the movement, biology and health of sharks, in order to educate people on how saving the sharks will save our oceans. In a 2.5-minute video, three shark attack survivors — Mike Coots, Paul de Gelder, and Lisa Mondy — explain why they are now on a quest to help save the very thing that attacked them, took their limbs and almost their lives.

The video edited by Lucky Post’s Sai Selvarajan for agency McGarrah Jessee and Rabbit Food Studios, tells the viewer that the number of sharks killed by long-lining, illegal fishing and the shark finning trade exceeds human shark attacks by millions. And as go the sharks, so go our oceans.

For editor Selvarajan, the goal was to strike a balance with the intimate stories and the global message, from striking footage filmed in Hawaii’s surf mecca, the North Shore. “Stories inside stories,” describes Selvarajan, who reveres the subjects’ dedication to saving the misunderstood creatures, despite having their life-changing encounters.

We spoke with the Texas-based editor to find out more about this project.

How early on did you become involved in the project?
I got a call when the project was greenlit and Jeff Bednarz the creative head at Rabbit Foot walked me through the concept. He wanted to showcase the whole teamwork aspect of Costa, Ocearch and shark survivors all coming together and using their skills to save sharks.

Did working on Don’t Fear The Fin change your perception of sharks?
Yes it did.  Before working on the project I had no idea that sharks were in trouble. After working on Don’t Fear the Fin, I’m totally for shark conservation, and I admire anyone who is out there fighting for the species.

What equipment did you use for the edit?
Adobe Premiere on Mac Tower.

What were the biggest creative challenges?
The biggest creative challenge was how to tell the shark survivors’ stories and then the shark’s story, and then Ocearch/Costa’s mission story. It was stories inside stories, which made it very dense and challenging to cut into a three-minute story. I had to do justice to all the stories and weave them into each other. The footage was gorgeous, but there had to be a sense of gravity to it all, so I used pacing and score to give us that gravity.

What do you think of the fact that sharks are not shown much in the film?
We made a conscious effort to show sharks and people in the same shot. The biggest misconception is that sharks are these big man-eating monsters. Seeing people diving with the sharks tied them to our story and the mission of the project.

What’s your biggest fear, and how would/can you overcome it?
Snakes are my biggest fear. I’m not sure how I’ll ever overcome it. I respect snakes and keep a safe distance. Living in Texas, I’ve read up on which ones are poisonous, so I know which ones to stay away from. But if I came across a rat snake in the wild, I’m sure to jump 20 feet in the air.

Check out the full video below…

 

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.

Dell 6.15

Quick Chat: Endcrawl now supports 4K

By Randi Altman

Endcrawl, a web-based end credits service, is now supporting 4K. This rollout comes on the heels of an extensive testing period — Endcrawl ran 37 different 4K pilot projects on movies for Netflix, Sony and Filmnation.

Along with 4K support comes new pricing. All projects still start on a free-forever tier with 1K preview renders, and users can upgrade to 4K for $999 or 2K for $499.

We reached out to Endcrawl co-founder John “Pliny” Eremic to find out more about the upgrade to 4K.

You are now offering unlimited 4K renders in the cloud. Why was that an important thing to include in Endcrawl, and what does that mean for users?
We’ve seen a sharp rise in the demand for 4K and UHD finishes over the past 18 months. Some of this is driven by studios, like Netflix and Sony, but there’s plenty of call for 4K on the indie and short-form side as well.

Why cloud rendering?
Speed is a big reason. 4K renders usually turn around in less than an hour. 2K renders in half that time. You’d need a beefy rig to match that performance. Convenience is another reason. Offloading renders to the cloud eliminates a huge bottleneck. If you need that late-night clutch render it’s just a few clicks away. Your workflow isn’t tied to a single workstation somewhere… or to business hours.

That’s why we decided to make Endcrawl 100% cloud-based from day one. And, yes, I’d say that using SaaS tools in production is more or less completely normalized in 2017.

Endcrawl’s UI

Are renders really unlimited?
Yes, they are. Unlimited preview renders on the free tier. Unlimited 2K or 4K uncompressed for upgraded projects. We do reserve the right to cut off a project if someone is behaving abusively or just spamming the render engine for kicks.

Have you ever had to do that?
After more than 1,000 projects, this has come up exactly zero times.

Can you mention some films Endcrawl has been used on?
Moonlight, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Oliver Stone’s Snowden, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, Pride Prejudice & Zombies and Dirty Grandpa, and about 1,000 others.

What else should people know?
– It’s still really fast. 4K renders turn around in about an hour. That’s 60 minutes from clicking “render” until you (or your post house) see a download link to fresh, zipped DPX frames. I cannot overstate how much this comes in handy.
– File sizes are small. Even though a five-minute 4K sequence weighs in at around 250GB, those same frames zip up to just 2.2GB. That’s a compression ratio of more than 100:1. On a fast pipe, you’ll download that in minutes.
– All projects are 4K under the hood now. Even if you’re on a 1K or 2K tier, our engine initially typesets and rasterizes all renders in 4K.
– 4K is still tough on the desktop. Some applications start to run out of memory even on lengthy 2K credits sequences — to say nothing of 4K. Endcrawl eliminates those worries and adds collaboration, live preview and that speedy cloud render engine.


Quick Chat: Scott Gershin from The Sound Lab at Technicolor

By Randi Altman

Veteran sound designer and feature film supervising sound editor Scott Gershin is leading the charge at the recently launched The Sound Lab at Technicolor, which, in addition to film and television work, focuses on immersive storytelling.

Gershin has more than 100 films to his credit, including American Beauty (which earned him a BAFTA nomination), Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. But films aren’t the only genre that Gershin has tackled — in addition to television work (he has an Emmy nom for the TV series Beauty and the Beast), this audio post pro has created the sound for game titles such as Resident Evil, Gears of War and Fable. One of his most recent projects was contributing to id Software’s Doom.

We recently reached out to Gershin to find out more about his workflow and this new Burbank-based audio entity.

Can you talk about what makes this facility different than what Technicolor has at Paramount? 
The Sound Lab at Technicolor works in concert with our other audio facilities, tackling film, broadcast and gaming projects. In doing so we are able to use Technicolor’s world-class dubbing, ADR and Foley stages.

One of the focuses of The Sound Lab is to identify and use cutting-edge technologies and workflows not only in traditional mediums, but in those new forms of entertainment such as VR, AR, 360 video/films, as well as dedicated installations using mixed reality. The Sound Lab at Technicolor is made up of audio artists from multiple industries who create a “brain trust” for our clients.

Scott Gershin and The Sound Lab team.

As an audio industry veteran, how has the world changed since you started?
I was one of the first sound people to use computers in the film industry. When I moved from the music industry into film post production, I brought that knowledge and experience with me. It gave me access to a huge number of tools that helped me tell better stories with audio. The same happened when I expanded into the game industry.

Learning the interactive tools of gaming is now helping me navigate into these new immersive industries, combining my film experience to tell stories and my gaming experience using new technologies to create interactive experiences.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is that there are so many opportunities for the audience to ingest entertainment — creating competition for their time — whether it’s traveling to a theatre, watching TV (broadcast, cable and streaming) on a new 60- or 70-inch TV, or playing video games alone on a phone or with friends on a console.

There are so many choices, which means that the creators and publishers of content have to share a smaller piece of the pie. This forces budgets to be smaller since the potential audience size is smaller for that specific project. We need to be smarter with the time that we have on projects and we need to use the technology to help speed up certain processes — allowing us more time to be creative.

Can you talk about your favorite tools?
There are so many great technologies out there. Each one adds a different color to my work and provides me with information that is crucial to my sound design and mix. For example, Nugen has great metering and loudness tools that help me zero in on my clients LKFS requirements. With each client having their own loudness requirements, the tools allow me to stay creative, and meet their requirements.

Audi’s The Duel

What are some recent projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve been working on a huge variety of projects lately. Recently, I finished a commercial for Audi called The Duel, a VR piece called My Brother’s Keeper, 10 Webisodes of The Strain and a VR music piece for Pentatonix. Each one had a different requirement.

What is your typical workflow like?
When I get a job in, I look at what the project is trying to accomplish. What is the story or the experience about? I ask myself, how can I use my craft, shaping audio, to better enhance the experience. Once I understand how I am going to approach the project creatively, I look at what the release platform will be. What are the technical challenges and what frequencies and spacial options are open to me? Whether that means a film in Dolby Atmos or a VR project on the Rift. Once I understand both the creative and technical challenges then I start working within the schedule allotted me.

Speed and flow are essential… the tools need to be like musical instruments to me, where it goes from brain to fingers. I have a bunch of monitors in front of me, each one supplying me with different and crucial information. It’s one of my favorite places to be — flying the audio starship and exploring the never-ending vista of the imagination. (Yeah, I know it’s corny, but I love what I do!)


Quick Chat: Brent Bonacorso on his Narrow World

Filmmaker Brent Bonacorso has written, directed and created visual effects for The Narrow World, which examines the sudden appearance of a giant alien creature in Los Angeles and the conflicting theories on why it’s there, what its motivations are, and why it seems to ignore all attempts at human interaction. It’s told through the eyes of three people with differing ideas of its true significance. Bonacorso shot on a Red camera with Panavision Primo lenses, along with a bit of Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for random B-roll.

Let’s find out more…

Where did the idea for The Narrow World come from?
I was intrigued by the idea of subverting the traditional alien invasion story and using that as a way to explore how we interpret the world around us, and how our subconscious mind invisibly directs our behavior. The creature in this film becomes a blank canvas onto which the human characters project their innate desires and beliefs — its mysterious nature revealing more about the characters than the actual creature itself.

As with most ideas, it came to me in a flash, a single image that defined the concept. I was riding my bike along the beach in Venice, and suddenly in my head saw a giant Kaiju as big as a skyscraper sitting on the sand, gazing out at the sea. Not directly threatening, not exactly friendly either, with a mutual understanding with all the tiny humans around it — we don’t really understand each other at all, and probably never will. Suddenly, I knew why he was here, and what it all meant. I quickly sketched the image and the story followed.

What was the process like bringing the film to life as an independent project?
After I wrote the script, I shot principal photography with producer Thom Fennessey in two stages – first with the actor who plays Raymond Davis (Karim Saleh) and then with the actress playing Emily Field (Julia Cavanaugh).

I called in a lot of favors from my friends and connections here in LA and abroad — the highlight was getting some amazing Primo lenses and equipment from Panavision to use because they love Magdalena Górka’s (the cinematographer) work. Altogether it was about four days of principal photography, a good bit of it guerrilla style, and then shooting lots of B-roll all over the city.

Kacper Sawicki, head of Papaya Films which represents me for commercial work in Europe, got on board during post production to help bring The Narrow World to completion. Friends of mine in Paris and Luxembourg designed and textured the creature, and I did the lighting and animation in Maxon Cinema 4D and compositing in Adobe After Effects.

Our editor was the genius Jack Pyland (who cut on Adobe Premiere), based in Dallas. Sound design and color grading (via Digital Vision’s Nucoda) were completed by Polish companies Głośno and Lunapark, respectively. Our composer was Cedie Janson from Australia. So even though this was an indie project, it became an amazing global collaborative effort.

Of course, with any no-budget project like this, patience is key — lack of funds is offset by lots of time, which is free, if sometimes frustrating. Stick with it — directing is a generally a war of attrition, and it’s won by the tenacious.

As a director, how did you pull off so much of the VFX work yourself, and what lessons do you have for other directors?
I realized early on in my career as a director that the more you understand about post, and the more you can do yourself, the more you can control the scope of the project from start to finish. If you truly understand the technology and what is possible with what kind of budget and what kind of manpower, it removes a lot of barriers.

I taught myself After Effects and Cinema 4D in graphic design school, and later I figured out how to make those tools work for me in visual effects and to stretch the boundaries of the short films I was making. It has proved invaluable in my career — in the early stages I did most of the visual effects in my work myself. Later on, when I began having VFX companies do the work, my knowledge and understanding of the process enabled me to communicate very efficiently with the artists on my projects.

What other projects do you have on the horizon?
In addition to my usual commercial work, I’m very excited about my first feature project coming up this year through Awesomeness Films and DreamWorks — You Get Me, starring Bella Thorne and Halston Sage.


Quick Chat: Xytech COO Greg Dolan

Greg Dolan has seen tremendous change in the industry during his career. After a tenure at New York City’s Post Perfect, where he was CIO, Dolan switched to the vendor side of the business, bringing his hands-on post house expertise to a facility management company. After a number of successful years and product rollout, he moved to Xytech, where he is now COO. Xytech offers facility management software for scheduling all resources, managing all operations and tracking all assets, while providing reporting and accounting tools.

MediaPulse offers over 35 modules to manage the complicated tasks that facilities deal with daily. This past year, Xytech added interoperability, transmission and mobility, and a broadcast services division.

We recently reached out to Dolan to talk about the need and evolution of facility management tools.

What are some of the most frequently asked questions you get from customers?
Every client wants to know how their unique business workflows are managed in a commercially available product. It’s an incredibly fair point, and skepticism is warranted. Lots of companies have made lots of promises, not always with the best results. Every client has a unique mixture of workflows, integration needs and accounting treatments, however at a granular level, many requirements are seen throughout the industry. Our continued investment in MediaPulse ensures we stay current with these requirements, and the design of MediaPulse allows us to configure to exactly the client’s needs. This takes discipline and more importantly total commitment. Surprises always occur and the real test of a company and its people is in the response to these surprises.

What are some questions customers should be asking when it comes to facility management software that they often don’t?
My father was fond of saying, “They put erasers on pencils for a reason.” As vendors, we are all very happy to give “happy talk” as though our clients can’t see straight through the marketing haze. I wish more clients asked us to talk about our biggest challenges — times where we made mistakes — and then engaged us in conversation around how it was remedied. On a more concrete front, questioning a vendor about the technical architecture of their products and getting a list of previous years’ new features is essential. Success demands technical acuity from vendors and these types of questions really separate the wheat from the chaff.

Can you talk about the most important benefits of facility management tools for today’s facilities?
Facilities are challenged more than ever to get more done in narrower and narrower windows. There simply isn’t any room for inefficacies, and individual departments can’t operate as a silo. Facility management systems tie all the disparate operations, automate workflows and seamlessly exchange metadata with all systems in the facility. This eliminates redundancy and allows staff to manage by exception, with most activities automated.

What are some misconceptions about facility management tools?
These are not just scheduling systems. In fact, the idea of a standalone scheduling system having any relevance today is wildly anachronistic. Certainly, you still must schedule people and equipment to be in a place to do a thing, but this is a subset of the larger vision. To move the needle — all operations with their associated accounting and automation needs should be included in the system portfolio. Media manufacturing automation, federated asset and metadata management and transmission management are vital to the overall operational picture regardless of a facility’s size.

It’s obvious that bigger facilities could benefit from facility management tools, but can you tell the smaller studios why it’s important as well?
We think it’s more important for smaller facilities as there is a lower margin of error. For a modest investment, smaller facilities get a vital holistic view of all operations while having their billing and accounting totally automated. Facility management systems make sure all staff members are engaged in moving the business forward instead of burning unrecoverable hours fixing mistakes. Time is a key restriction for all of us. We find time where none exists.

How has this type of software evolved over the years, and how do you see it evolving again in the future?
Let me be very clear — it’s essential for clients to ensure their vendor understands the concept of the question. The game is incredibly different now and the tools of the past are woefully unprepared for today’s marketplace. To quote Lincoln, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”

The simple answer is interoperability. It is a critical requirement for today’s systems. A lot of noise is made around interoperability, but it doesn’t take too long to separate point-to-point integrations from truly modern architectures. As for the future, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know we are committed to delivering technology capable of evolving and quickly responding to the changes. You simply must have the entire organization on a constant change footing.


Quick Chat: Freefolk US executive producer Celia Williams

By Randi Altman

A few months back, UK-based post house Finish purchased VFX studio Realise and renamed the company Freefolk. They also expanded into the US with a New York City-based studio. Industry vet Celia Williams, who was most recently head of production at agency Arnold NY, is heading up Freefolk US. To find out more about the recently rebranded entity, we reached out to Williams.

Can you describe Freefolk? What kind of services do you offer?
Freefolk is a team of creative artists, technicians and problem solvers who use post production as their tool box. We offer services including high-end FilmLight Baselight color grading, remote grading, 2D and 3D visual effects, final conform, shoot supervision, animation, data management and direction of special projects. We work across the mediums of advertising, film, TV and digital content.

L-R: Celia Williams, Paul Harrison and Jason Watts.

What spurred on Freefolk’s expansion to the US?
Having carved out a reputation in London over the last 13 years as a commercials post house, the expansion to the US seemed like a natural progression for the founders, allowing them to export a boutique service and high-quality work rather than becoming another large machine in London.

Will you be offering the same services in both locations?
The services we offer in London will all be represented in New York. Color grading plays such an important role in the process these days, so we are spearheading with a Baselight suite driven by Paul Harrison and 2D VFX department being set up by Jason Watts.

Will you share staff between New York and the UK?
Yes, there will be a sharing of resources and, obviously, experience across the offices. A great thing about opening in New York is being able to offer our staff the experience of working in a foreign city. It also gives clients who are increasingly working across multiple markets a seamless global service.

Why the rebrand from Finish to Freefolk?
The rebrand from Finish to Freefolk came about as part of the expansion into the US and the acquisition of Realise. It was also a timely opportunity to express one of the core values of the company, and the way it values its staff and clients — Freefolk is about the people involved in the process.

What does the acquisition of Realise mean to the company?
Realise has brought a wealth of experience and talent to the table. They combine creative skill and technical understanding in equal measure. They are known in both commercials and now film and TV for offering very specialized capabilities with Side Effects Houdini and customized software.

We have just completed VFX work on 400 shots over 10 episodes of NBC’s Emerald City TV series (due to be released early 2017) and have just embarked on our next long-form project. It’s really exciting to be expanding into other mediums such as TV, film, installation work, projection mapping and other experimental and experiential arenas.

You have an ad agency background. From your own experience how important is that to clients?
It’s extremely important and comforting, actually. Understanding what the producers and creatives are challenged with on a daily basis gives me the ability to offer workable solutions to their problems in a very collaborative way. They don’t have to wonder if I “get” where they’re coming from. Frankly, I do.

I think that it’s emotionally helpful as well. To know someone can be an understanding shoulder to lean on and is taking their concerns seriously is beyond important. Everyone is working at breakneck speed in our industry, which can lead to a lack of humanity in our interactions. One of the main reasons I was attracted to working with Freefolk is that they are deeply dedicated to keeping that humanity and personal touch in the way they do business.

The way that post companies service agencies has changed due to the way that products are now being marketed — online ads, social media, VR. Can you talk about that?
To be well informed and prepped as early on in the process as you can be is key. And to truly partner with the producers and creatives, as much as they need or want, is critical. What might work in one medium may be less impactful in another, so from the get-go, how do we plan to ensure all deliverables are strong, and to offer insights into new technology that might impact the outcome? It’s all about sharing and collaboration.

I may be one of the few people who’ve never really panicked about the different ways we deliver final work — our industry has always been about change, which is what keeps it interesting. At the end of the day, it’s always been about delivering content, in one form or another. So you need to know your final deliverables list and plan accordingly.

FMPX8.14

Quick Chat: Monkeyland Audio’s Trip Brock

By Dayna McCallum

Monkeyland Audio recently expanded its facility, including a new Dolby Atmos equipped mixing stage. The Glendale-based Monkeyland Audio, where fluorescent lights are not allowed and creative expression is always encouraged, now offers three mixing stages, an ADR/Foley stage and six editorial suites.

Trip Brock, the owner of Monkeyland, opened the facility over 10 years ago, but the MPSE Golden Reel Award-winning supervising sound editor and mixer (All the Wilderness), started out in the business more than 23 years ago. We reached out to Brock to find out more about the expansion and where the name Monkeyland came from in the first place…

monkeyland audioOne of your two new stages is Dolby Atmos certified. Why was that important for your business?
We really believe in the Dolby Atmos format and feel it has a lot of growth potential in both the theatrical and television markets. We purpose-built our Atmos stage looking towards the future, giving our independent and studio clients a less expensive, yet completely state-of-the-art alternative to the Atmos stages found on the studio lots.

Can you talk specifically about the gear you are using on the new stages?
All of our stages are running the latest Avid Pro Tools HD 12 software across multiple Mac Pros with Avid HDX hardware. Our 7.1 mixing stage, Reposado, is based around an Avid Icon D-Control console, and Anejo, our Atmos stage, is equipped with dual 24-fader Avid S6 M40 consoles. Monitoring on Anejo is based on a 3-way JBL theatrical system, with 30 channels of discrete Crown DCi amplification, BSS processing and the DAD AX32 front end.

You’ve been in this business for over 23 years. How does that experience color the way you run your shop?
I stumbled into the post sound business coming from a music background, and immediately fell in love with the entire process. After all these years, having worked with and learned so much from so many talented clients and colleagues, I still love what I do and look forward to every day at the office. That’s what I look for and try to cultivate in my creative team — the passion for what we do. There are so many aspects and nuances in the audio post world, and I try to express that to my team — explore all the different areas of our profession, find which role really speaks to you and then embrace it!

You’ve got 10 artists on staff. Why is it important to you to employ a full team of talent, and how do you see that benefiting your clients?
I started Monkeyland as primarily a sound editorial company. Back in the day, this was much more common than the all-inclusive, independent post sound outfits offering ADR, Foley and mixing, which are more common today. The sound editorial crew always worked together in house as a team, which is a theme I’ve always felt was important to maintain as our company made the switch into full service. To us, keeping the team intact and working together at the same location allows for a lot more creative collaboration and synergy than say a set of editors all working by themselves remotely. Having staff in house also allows us flexibility when last minute changes are thrown our way. We are better able to work and communicate as a team, which leads to a superior end product for our clients.

Monkeyland AudioCan you name some of the projects you are working on and what you are doing for them?
We are currently mixing a film called The King’s Daughter, starring Pierce Brosnan and William Hurt. We also recently completed full sound design and editorial, as well as the native Atmos mix, on a new post-apocalyptic feature we are really proud of called The Worthy. Other recent editorial and mixing projects include the latest feature from Director Alan Rudolph, Ray Meets Helen, the 10-episode series Junior for director Zoe Cassavetes, and Three Days To Live, a new eight-episode true-crime series for NBC/Universal.

Most of your stage names are related to tequila… Why is that?
Haha — this is kind of a take-off from the naming of the company itself. When I was looking for a company name, I knew I didn’t want it to include the word “digital” or have any hint toward technology, which seemed to be the norm at the time. A friend in college used to tease me about my “unique” major in audio production, saying stuff like, “What kind of a degree is that? A monkey could be trained to do that.” Thus Monkeyland was born!

Same theory applied to our stage names. When we built the new stages and needed to name them, I knew I didn’t want to go with the traditional stage “A, B, C” or “1, 2, 3,” so we decided on tequila types — Anejo, Reposado, Plata, even Mezcal. It seems to fit our personality better, and who doesn’t like a good margarita after a great mix!


Utopic editor talks post for David Lynch tribute Psychogenic Fugue

Director Sandro Miller called on Utopic partner and editorCraig Lewandowski to collaborate on Psychogenic Fugue, a 20-minute film starring John Malkovich in which the actor plays seven characters in scenes recreated from some of filmmaker David Lynch’s films and TV shows. These characters include The Log Lady, Special Agent Dale Cooper, and even Lynch himself as narrator of the film.

It is part of a charity project called Playing Lynch that will benefit the David Lynch Foundation, which seeks to introduce at-risk populations affected by trauma to transcendental meditation.

craigChicago-based Utopic handled all the post, including editing, graphics, VFX and sound design. The film is part of a multimedia fundraiser hosted by Squarespace and executed by Austin-based agency, Preacher. The seven vignettes were released one at a time on Playinglynch,com.

To find out more about Utopic’s work on the film, we reached out to Lewandowski with some questions.

How early were you brought in on the film?
We were brought in before the project was even finalized. There were a couple other ideas that were kicked around before this one rose to the top.

We cut together a timing board using all the pieces we would later be recreating. We also pulled some hallway scenes from an old Playstation commercial that he directed, and we then scratched in all the “Lynch” lines for timing.

You were on set. Can you talk about why and what the benefits were for the director and you as an editor?
My job on the set was to have our reference movie at the ready and make sure we were matching timing, framing, lighting, etc. Sandro would often check the reference to make sure we were on track.

For scenes like the particles in Eraserhead, I had the DP shoot it at various frame rates and at the highest possible resolution, so we could shoot it vertical and use the particles falling. I also worked with the Steadicam operator to get a variety of shots in the hallway since I knew we’d need to create some jarring cutaways.

How big of a challenge was it dealing with all those different iconic characters, especially in a 20-minute film?
Sandro was adamant that we not try to “improve” on anything that David Lynch originally shot. Having had a lot of experience with homages, Sandro knew that we couldn’t take liberties. So the sets and action were designed to be as close as possible to the original characters.

In shots where it was only one character originally (The Lady in the Radiator, Special Agent Dale Cooper, Elephant Man) it was easier, but in scenes where there were originally more characters and now it was just Malkovich, we had to be a little more creative (Frank Booth, Mystery Man). Ultimately, with the recreations, my job was to line up as closely as possible with what was originally done, and then with the audio do my best to stay true to the original.

Can you talk about your process and how you went about matching the original scenes? Did you feel much pressure?
Sandro and I have worked together before, so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure from him, but I think I probably put a fair amount on myself because I knew how important this project was for so many people. And, as is the case with anything I edit, I don’t take it lightly that all of that effort that went into preproduction and production now sits on my shoulders.

Again, with the recreations it was actually fairly straightforward. It was the corridor shots where Malkovich plays Lynch and recites lines taken from various interviews that offered the biggest opportunity, and challenge. Because there was no visual reference for this, I could have some more fun with it. Most of the recreations are fairly slow and ominous, so I really wanted these corridor shots to offset the vignettes, kind of jar you out of the trance you were just put in, make you uneasy and perhaps squirm a bit, before being thrust into the next recreation.

What about the VFX? Can you talk about how they fit in and how you worked with them?
Many of the VFX were either in-camera or achieved through editorial, but there were spots — like where he’s in the corridor and snaps from the front to the back — that I needed something more than I could accomplish on my own, so I used our team at Utopic. However, when cutting the trailer, I relied heavily on our motion graphics team for support.

Psychogenic Fugue is such an odd title, so the writer/creative director, Stephen Sayadin, came up with the idea of using the dictionary definition. We took it a step further, beginning the piece with the phonetic spelling and then seamlessly transitioning the whole thing. They then tried different options for titling the characters. I knew I wanted to use the hallway shot, close-ups of the characters and ending on Lynch/Malkovich in the chair. They gave me several great options.

What was the film shot on, and what editing system did you use?
The film was shot on Red at 6K. I worked in Adobe Premiere, using the native Red files. All of our edit machines at Utopic are custom-built, high-performance PCs assembled by the editors themselves.

What about tools for the visual effects?
Our compositor/creative finisher used an Autodesk Flame, and our motion graphics team used Adobe After Effects.

Can you talk about the sound design?
I absolutely love working on sound design and music, so this was a dream come true for me. With both the film and the trailer, our composer Eric Alexandrakis provided me with long, odd, disturbing tracks, complete with stems. So I spent a lot of time just taking his music and sound effects and manipulating them. I then had our sound designer at Brian Lietner jump in and go crazy.

Is there a scene that you are most proud of, or that was most challenging, or both?
I really like the snap into the flame/cigarette at the very beginning. I spent a long time just playing with that shot, compositing a bunch of shots together, manipulating them, adjusting timing, coming back in the next morning and changing it all up again. I guess that and Eraserhead. We had so many passes of particles and layered so many throughout the piece. That shot was originally done with him speaking to camera, but we had this pass of him just looking around, and realized it was way more powerful to have the lines delivered as though they were internal monologue. It also allowed us to play with the timings in a way that we wouldn’t be able to with a one-take shot.

As far as what I’m most proud of, it’s the trailer. We worked really hard to get the recreations and full film done. Then I was able to take some time away from it all and come back fresh. I knew that there was a ton of great footage to work with and we had to do something that wasn’t just a cutdown. It was important to me that the trailer feel every bit as demented as the film itself, if not more. I think we accomplished that.

Check out the trailer here:

Checking In: HPA Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Herb Dow

The HPA Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be handed out at the HPA Awards ceremony in Los Angeles tonight, is intended “to give recognition to individuals who have, with great service, dedicated their careers to the betterment of the industry.” That sentence perfectly describes this year’s honoree, Herb Dow, ACE.

Not only a hands-on editor with an impressive resume — including cutting episodes of such classic series as Fantasy Island and WKRP in Cincinnati — Herb has spent much of his career helping to build community within the post production world, whether at his roasts during NAB, his now bi-weekly Friday lunches in LA or with his Website postproductionpro.com, a sort of LinkedIn for the post world.

We recently reached out to Herb to ask him about how he got started in the industry, trends he’s seen over the years, and so much more.

You began your career as a film editor. Can you talk about what you loved most about the job and how you got started?
My entry into the business was marrying a film editor’s daughter 51 years ago. My wife’s father, Robert Swanson, was cutting Mannix at Desilu and he recommended me for an apprentice position in commercial integration on the lot. I spent eight years there moving up to Group 1 — back then the joke was you could go to medical school and be cutting brains faster. I loved editing. Putting together stories on film is a great career, and I still miss that aspect of my life.

Can you tell us some of the projects you worked on, and what you were cutting on when you started?
My first editing job was at MGM on a show called Lucan about a guy who turned into a wolf and solved crimes. It lasted seven episodes. I worked on 12 different series (none of which were picked up beyond the original order), but out of eight pilots, seven were picked up for series. I also cut MOWs and a few features.

You are considered a pioneer in nonlinear editing. How did you get involved in the development of the Ediflex system?
I had spent four years working at Culver Studios with a first floor cutting room. It had big picture windows, a beach mural on the wall that made it look like I was cutting on the beach, and speakers hanging from the ceiling playing loud rock music. Then I went over to Universal to cut on a show called Street Hawk. No windows, small room and not a great show.

I went to the head of post and said that I would finish the episode, but I was leaving and my assistant could take over. He asked why and I said no windows, etc. He said they were starting a new series at the Oakwood apartments on Pass and that it had a new-fangled electronic editing system and there were windows.

I went over and met Adrian Ettlinger. He created the CMX 600, the very first nonlinear system. The system was called Vidicut and had six VHS decks all with the same material and a Commodore 64 controlled with a light pen. I jumped at the chance to work on it and cut 24 episodes of Still the Beavers while helping Adrian modify the system to work for editors like myself. We formed a company with Milt Forman, Andy Maltz, Adrian and me called Cinedco. Then we renamed the system to Ediflex.

How has the world of nonlinear editing changed over the years?
Not much has changed since Avid came on the scene 30 years, aside from the computers getting faster. The big change is what I am involved in now, BeBop Technology  — editing in the cloud, which gets rid of all the machines.

What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in production and post over your time in the industry?
HD and 4K were substantial. The growth of the business has been astronomical, with many more content providers and outlets. There are a lot more jobs in post.

Looking forward, where do you see the post industry heading?
Well, I might be prejudiced, but I think using the cloud environment for post will change the industry dramatically. Freeing artists to work from anywhere they want with faster processors and no machinery to worry about is going to change our world of post.

Herb at one of his industry gatherings.

What does being given the HPA Lifetime Achievement Award mean to you?
I am so proud to be awarded this honor in my 50th year in post. I was mentored by a lot of wonderful men and women in this industry, and it really is a thank you to all of them for helping me with my career.

You have always been involved in fostering relationships with pros in the industry, from your Las Vegas roasts to your Friday lunches. Why is this so important to you?
It has always been about the people. I love the fraternity/sorority I belong to. My roasts and lunches are a way to be among more of these people all the time. I love them.

You’ve accomplished so much over the years. What is your proudest moment?
No question, it was the Ediflex changing the art form as we knew it. That was an incredible moment for me. And, actually, getting to do it all again with BeBop at the other end of my career is a gift from the gods.