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Creating the color of Hacksaw Ridge

Australian colorist Trish Cahill first got involved in the DI on Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge when she was approached by cinematographer Simon Duggan about her interest in the project and her availability. She didn’t have to consider the idea long before saying yes.

Hacksaw Ridge, which earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Film Editing (won), Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (won), is about a real-life World War II conscientious observer, Desmond Doss, who refused to pick up a gun but instead used his bravery to save lives on the battlefield.

Trish Cahill

Let’s find out more about Cahill’s work and workflow on Hacksaw Ridge

What was the collaboration like between you and director Mel Gibson and cinematographer Simon Duggan?
I first met Mel and the editor John Gilbert when I visited them in the cutting room halfway through the edit. We looked through the various scenes and — in particular, the different battle sequences — and discussed the different tone that was needed for each.

Simon had already talked through the Kodachrome idea with a gradual and subtle desaturation as the film progressed and it was very helpful to be spinning through the actual images and listening to Mel and John talk through their thoughts. We then chose a collection of shots that were representative of the different looks and turning points in the film to use in a look development session.

Simon was overseas at the time, but we had a few phone conversations and he sent though some reference stills prior to the session. The look development session not only gave us our look template for the film but it also gave us a better idea of how smoke continuity was shaping up and what could be done in the grade to help.

During the DI, Mel, John and producer Bill Mechanic came in see my work every couple of days for a few hours to review spools down. Once the film was in good shape, Simon flew in with a nice fresh eye to help tighten it further.

What was the workflow for this project?
Being a war film, there are quite a few bullet hits, blood splatter, smoke elements and various other VFX to be completed across a large number of shots. One of the main concerns was the consistency of smoke levels, so it was important that the VFX team had a balanced set of shots put into sequence reflecting how they would appear in the film.

While the edit was still evolving, the film was conformed and DI/finishing editor Justin Tran started a balance grade of the war sequences on FilmLight Baselight at Definition Films. This provided VFX supervisor Chris Godfrey and the rest of the team with a better idea of how each shot should be treated in relation to the shots around them and if additional treatment was required for shots not ear-marked for VFX. The balance grading work was carried across to the DI grade in the form of BLGs and were applied to the final edit with the use of Baselight’s multi-paste, so I had full control and nothing was baked in.

Was there a particular inspiration or reference that you used for the look of this film?
Simon sent through a collection of vintage photograph references from the era to get me started. There were shots of old ox blood red barns, mechanics and machinery, train yards and soldiers in uniform — a visual board of everyday pictures of real scenes from the 1930s and 1940s, which was an excellent starting point to spring from. Key words were desaturated, Kodachrome and, the phrase “twist the primaries a touch” was used a bit!

The film starts when our hero, Desmond Doss, is a boy in the 1930s. These scenes have a slight chocolaty sepia tone, which lessens when Doss becomes a young man and enters the military training camp. Colors become more desaturated again when he arrives in Okinawa and then climbs the ridge. We wanted the ridge to be a world unto itself — the desolate battlefield. Each battle from there occurs at different times of day in different environmental conditions, so each has been given its own color variation.

What were the main challenges in grading such a film?
Hacksaw Ridge is a war film. A big percentage of screen time is action-packed and fast-paced with a high-cut ratio. So there are many more shots to grade, there are varied cameras to balance between and fluctuating smoke levels to figure out. It’s more challenging to keep consistency in this type of film than the average drama.

The initial attack on top of the ridge happens just after an aerial bombing raid, and it was important to the story for the grade to help the smoke enhance a sense of vulnerability and danger. We needed to keep visibility as low as possible, but at the same time we wanted it still to be interesting and foreboding. It needed analysis at an individual shot level: what can be done on this particular image to keep it interesting and tonal but still have the audience feel a sense of “I can’t see anything.”

Then on a global level — after making each shot as tonal and interesting as possible — do we still have the murkiness we need to sell the vulnerability and danger? If not, where is the balance to still provide enough visual interest and definition to keep the audience in the moment?

What part of the grading process do you spend most of your time on?
I would say I spend more time on the balancing and initial grade. I like to keep my look in a layer at the end of the stack that stays constant for every shot in the scene. If you have done a good job matching up, you have the opportunity of being able to continue to craft the look as well as add secondaries and global improvements with confidence that you’re not upsetting the apple cart. It gives you better flexibility to change your mind or keep improving as the film evolves and as your instincts sharpen on where the color mood needs to sit. I believe tightening the match and improving each shot on the primary level is time very well spent.

What was the film shot on, and did this bring any challenges or opportunities to you during the grade?
The majority of Hacksaw Ridge was shot with an Arri Alexa. Red Dragon and Blackmagic pocket cameras were also used in the battle sequences. Whenever possible I worked with the original camera raw. I worked in LogC and used Baselight’s generalized color space to normalize the Red and Blackmagic cameras to match this.

Matching the flames between Blackmagic and Alexa footage was a little tricky. The color hues and dynamic range captured by each camera are quite different, so I used the hue shift controls often to twist the reds and yellows of each closer together. Also, on some shots I had several highlight keys in place to create as much dynamic range as possible.

How did you handle reviews and updates to shots?
Each grade review would start with playback of the live grade reel within Baselight. We would then have a quick discussion before jumping straight into changes. As to the shot updates, whenever possible we would work with the live reels so that any updates would carry the current grades. In the event that I wasn’t able to release a reel, a duplicate would be made with changes being rippled into the live reels at a later stage.

Could you say more about how you dealt with delivering for multiple formats?
The main deliverables required for Hacksaw Ridge were an XYZ and a Rec709 version. Baselight’s generalized color space was used to do the conversions from P3 to XYZ and Rec709. I then made minimal tweaks for the Rec709 version.

Was there a specific scene or sequence you found particularly enjoyable or challenging?
I enjoyed working with the opening scene of the film, enhancing the golden warmth as the boys are walking through the forest in Virginia. The scenes within the Doss house were also a favorite. The art direction and lighting had a beautiful warmth to it and I really enjoyed bringing out the chocolaty, 1930’s and 1940’s tones.

On the flip side of that I also loved working with the cooler crisper dawn tones that we achieved in the second battle sequence. I find when you minimize the color palette and let the contrast and light do the tonal work it can take you to a unique and emotionally amplified place.

One of the greater challenges of grading the film was eliminating any hint of green plant life throughout the Okinawa scenes. With lush, green plants happily existing in the background, we were in danger of losing the audience’s belief that this was a bleak place. Unfortunately, the WW II US military uniforms were the same shade of green found in many parts of the surrounding landscape of the location, making it impossible to get a clean key. There is one scene in particular where a convoy of military trucks rolls through a column of soldiers adding clouds of dust to an already challenging situation.

Lime opens sound design division led by Michael Anastasi, Rohan Young

Santa Monica’s Lime Studios has launched a sound design division. LSD (Lime Sound Design), featuring newly signed sound designer Michael Anastasi and Lime sound designer/mixer Rohan Young has already created sound design for national commercial campaigns.

“Having worked with Michael since his early days at Stimmung and then at Barking Owl, he was always putting out some of the best sound design work, a lot of which we were fortunate to be final mixing here at Lime,” says executive producer Susie Boyajan, who collaborates closely with Lime and LSD owner Bruce Horwitz and the other company partners — mixers Mark Meyuhas and Loren Silber. “Having Michael here provides us with an opportunity to be involved earlier in the creative process, and provides our clients with a more streamlined experience for their audio needs. Rohan and Michael were often competing for some of the same work, and share a huge client base between them, so it made sense for Lime to expand and create a new division centered around them.”

Boyajan points out that “all of the mixers at Lime have enjoyed the sound design aspect of their jobs, and are really talented at it, but having a new division with LSD that operates differently than our current, hourly sound design structure makes sense for the way the industry is continuing to change. We see it as a real advantage that we can offer clients both models.”

“I have always considered myself a sound designer that mixes,” notes Young. “It’s a different experience to be involved early on and try various things that bring the spot to life. I’ve worked closely with Michael for a long time. It became more and more apparent to both of us that we should be working together. Starting LSD became a no-brainer. Our now-shared resources, with the addition of a Foley stage and location audio recordists only make things better for both of us and even more so for our clients.”

Young explains that setting up LSD as its own sound design division, as opposed to bringing in Michael to sound design at Lime, allows clients to separate the mix from the sound design on their production if they choose.

Anastasi joins LSD from Barking Owl, where he spent the last seven years creating sound design for high-profile projects and building long-term creative collaborations with clients. Michael recalls his fortunate experiences recording sounds with John Fasal, and Foley sessions with John Roesch and Alyson Dee Moore as having taught him a great deal of his craft. “Foley is actually what got me to become a sound designer,” he explains.

Projects that Anastasi has worked on include the PSA on human trafficking called Hide and Seek, which won an AICP Award for Sound Design. He also provided sound design to the feature film Casa De Mi Padre, starring Will Ferrell, and was sound supervisor as well. For Nike’s Together project, featuring Lebron James, a two-minute black-and-white piece, Anastasi traveled back to Lebron’s hometown of Cleveland to record 500+ extras.

Lime is currently building new studios for LSD, featuring a team of sound recordists and a stand-alone Foley room. The LSD team is currently in the midst of a series of projects launching this spring, including commercial campaigns for Nike, Samsung, StubHub and Adobe.

Main Image: Michael Anastasi and Rohan Young.

G-Tech 6-15

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

By Brady Betzel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review: Dell Precision 7910 tower workstation

By Mike McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Dog in the Night director/DP Fletcher Wolfe

By Cory Choy

Silver Sound Showdown Music + Video Festival is unique in two ways. First, it is both a music video festival and battle of the bands at the same time. Second, every year we pair up the Grand Prize-winners, director and band, and produce a music video with them. The budget is determined by the festival’s ticket sales.

I conceived of the festival, which is held each year at Brooklyn Bowl, as a way to both celebrate and promote artistic collaboration between the film and music communities — two crowds that just don’t seem to intersect often enough. One of the most exciting things for me is then working with extremely talented filmmakers and musicians who have more often than not met for the first time at our festival.

Dog in the Night (song written by winning band Side Saddle) was one of our most ambitious videos to date — using a combination of practical and post effects. It was meticulously planned and executed by director/cinematographer Fletcher Wolfe, who was not only a pleasure to work with, but was gracious enough to sit down with me for a discussion about her process and the experience of collaborating.

What was your favorite part of making Dog in the Night?
As a music video director I consider it my first responsibility to get to know the song and its meaning very intimately. This was a great opportunity to stretch that muscle, as it was the first time I was collaborating with musicians who weren’t already close friends. In fact, I hadn’t even met them before the Showdown. I found it to be a very rewarding experience.

What is Dog in the Night about?
The song Dog in the Night is, quite simply, about a time when the singer Ian (a.k.a. Angler Boy) is enamored with a good friend, but that friend doesn’t share his romantic feelings. Of course, anyone who has been in that position (all of us?) knows that it’s never that simple. You can hear him holding out hope, choosing to float between friendship and possibly dating, and torturing himself in the process.

I decided to use dusk in the city to convey that liminal space between relationship labels. I also wanted to play on the nervous and lonely tenor of the track with images of Angler Boy surrounded by darkness, isolated in the pool of light coming from the lure on his head. I had the notion of an anglerfish roaming aimlessly in an abyss, hoping that another angler would find his light and end his loneliness. The ghastly head also shows that he doesn’t feel like he has anything in common with anybody around him except the girl he’s pining after, who he envisions having the same unusual head.

What did you shoot on?
I am a DP by trade, and always shoot the music videos I direct. It’s all one visual storytelling job to me. I shot on my Alexa Mini with a set of Zeiss Standard Speed lenses. We used the 16mm lens on the Snorricam in order to see the darkness around him and to distort him to accentuate his frantic wanderings. Every lens in the set weighed in at just 1.25lbs, which is amazing.

The camera and lenses were an ideal pairing, as I love the look of both, and their light weight allowed me to get the rig down to 11lbs in order to get the Snorricam shots. We didn’t have time to build our own custom Snorricam vest, so I found one that was ready to rent at Du-All Camera. The only caveats were that it could only handle up to 11lbs, and the vest was quite large, meaning we needed to find a way to hide the shoulders of the vest under Ian’s wardrobe. So, I took a cue from Requiem for a Dream and used winter clothing to hide the bulky vest. We chose a green and brown puffy vest that held its own shape over the rig-vest, and also suited the character.

I chose a non-standard 1.5:1 aspect ratio, because I felt it suited framing for the anglerfish head. To maximize resolution and minimize data, I shot 3.2K at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and cropped the sides. It’s easy to build custom framelines in the Alexa Mini for accurate framing on set. On the Mini, you can also dial in any frame rate between 0.75-60fps (at 3.2K). Thanks to digital cinema cameras, it’s standard these days to over-crank and have the ability to ramp to slow motion in post. We did do some of that; each time Angler Boy sees Angler Girl, his world turns into slow motion.

In contrast, I wanted his walking around alone to be more frantic, so I did something much less common and undercranked to get a jittery effect. The opening shot was shot at 6fps with a 45-degree shutter, and Ian walked in slow motion to a recording of the track slowed down to quarter-time, so his steps are on the beat. There are some Snorricam shots that were shot at 6fps with a standard 180-degree shutter. I then had Ian spin around to get long motion blur trails of lights around him. I knew exactly what frame rate I wanted for each shot, and we wound up shooting at 6fps, 12fps, 24fps, 48fps and 60fps, each for a different emotion that Angler Boy is having.

Why practical vs. CG for the head?
Even though the fish head is a metaphor for Angler Boy’s emotional state, and is not supposed to be real, I wanted it to absolutely feel real to both the actor and the audience. A practical, and slightly unwieldy, helmet/mask helped Ian find his character. His isolation needed to be tangible, and how much he is drawn to Angler Girl as a kindred spirit needed to be moving. It’s a very endearing and relatable song, and there’s something about homemade, practical effects that checks both those boxes. The lonely pool of light coming from the lure was also an important part of the visuals, and it needed to play naturally on their faces and the fish mask. I wired Lite Gear LEDs into the head, which was the easy part. Our incredibly talented fabricator, Lauren Genutis, had the tough job — fabricating the mask from scratch!

The remaining VFX hurdle then was duplicating the head. We only had the time and money to make one and fit it to both actors with foam inserts. I planned the shots so that you almost never see both actors in the same shot at the same time, which kept the number of composited shots to a minimum. It also served to maintain the emotional disconnect between his reality and hers. When you do see them in the same shot, it’s to punctuate when he almost tells her how he feels. To achieve this I did simple split screens, using the Pen Tool in Premiere to cut the mask around their actions, including when she touches his knee. To be safe, I shot takes where she doesn’t touch his knee, but none of them conveyed what she was trying to tell him. So, I did a little smooshing around of the two shots and some patching of the background to make it so the characters could connect.

Where did you do post?
We were on a very tight budget, so I edited at home, and I always use Adobe Premiere. I went to my usual colorist, Vladimir Kucherov, for the grade. He used Blackmagic Resolve, and I love working with him. He can always see how a frame could be strengthened by a little shaping with vignettes. I’ll finally figure out what nuance is missing, and when I tell him, he’s already started working on that exact thing. That kind of shaping was especially helpful on the day exteriors, since I had hoped for a strong sunset, but instead got two flat, overcast days.

The only place we didn’t see eye to eye on this project was saturation — I asked him to push saturation farther than he normally would advise. I wanted a cartoon-like heightening of Angler Boy’s world and emotions. He’s going through a period in which he’s feeling very deeply, but by the time of writing the song he is able to look back on it and see the humor in how dramatic he was being. I think we’ve all been there.

What did you use VFX for?
Besides having to composite shots of the two actors together, there were just a few other VFX shots, including dolly moves that I stabilized with the Warp Stabilizer plug-in within Premiere. We couldn’t afford a real dolly, so we put a two-foot riser on a Dana Dolly to achieve wide push-ins on Ian singing. We were rushing to catch dusk between rainstorms, and it was tough to level the track on grass.

The final shot is a cartoon night sky composited with a live shot. My very good friend, Julie Gratz of Kaleida Vision, made the sky and animated it. She worked in Adobe After Effects, which communicates seamlessly with Premiere. Julie and I share similar tastes for how unrealistic elements can coexist with a realistic world. She also helped me in prep, giving feedback on storyboards.

Do you like the post process?
I never used to like post. I’ve always loved being on set, in a new place every day, moving physical objects with my hands. But, with each video I direct and edit I get faster and improve my post working style. Now I can say that I really do enjoy spending time alone with my footage, finding all the ways it can convey my ideas. I have fun combining real people and practical effects with the powerful post tools we can access even at home these days. It’s wonderful when people connect with the story, and then ask where I got two anglerfish heads. That makes me feel like a wizard, and who doesn’t like that?! A love of movie magic is why we choose this medium to tell our tales.


Cory Choy, Silver Sound Showdown festival director and co-founder of Silver Sound Studios, produced the video.


Bringing the documentary Long Live Benjamin to life

The New York Times Op-Docs recently debuted Long Live Benjamin, a six-part episodic documentary directed by Jimm Lasser (Wieden & Kennedy) and Biff Butler (Rock Paper Scissors), and produced by Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment.

The film focuses on acclaimed portrait artist Allen Hirsch, who, while visiting his wife’s homeland of Venezuela, unexpectedly falls in love. The object of his affection — a deathly ill, orphaned newborn Capuchin monkey named Benjamin. After nursing Benjamin back to health and sneaking him into New York City, Hirsch finds his life, and his sense of self, forever changed by his adopted simian son.

We reached out to Lasser and Butler to learn more about this compelling project, the challenges they faced, and the unique story of how Long Live Benjamin came to life.

Long Live Benjamin

Benjamin sculpture, Long Live Benjamin

How did this project get started?
Lasser: I was living in Portland at the time. While in New York I went to visit Allen, who is my first cousin. I knew Benjamin when he was alive, and came by to pay my respects. When I entered Allen’s studio space, I saw his sculpture of Benjamin and the frozen corpse that was serving as his muse. Seeing this scene, I felt incredibly compelled to document what my cousin was going through. I had never made a film or thought of doing so, but I found myself renting a camera and staying the weekend to begin filming and asking Allen to share his story.

Butler: Jimm had shown up for a commercial edit bearing a bag of Mini DV tapes. We offered to transfer his material to a hard drive, and I guess the initial copy was never deleted from my own drive. Upon initial preview of the material, I have to say it all felt quirky and odd enough to be humorous; but when I took the liberty of watching the material at length, I witnessed an artist wrestling with his grief. I found this profound switch in takeaway so compelling that I wanted to see where a project like this might lead.

Can you describe your collaboration on the film?
Lasser: It began as a director/editor relationship, but it evolved. Because of my access to the Hirsch family, I shot the footage and lead the questioning with Allen. Biff began organizing and editing the footage. But as we began to develop the tone and feel of the storytelling, it became clear that he was as much a “director” of the story as I was.

Butler: In terms of advertising, Jimm is one of the smartest and discerning creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I found myself having rather differing opinions to him, but I always learned something new and felt we came to stronger creative decisions because of such conflict. When the story of Allen and his monkey began unfolding in front of me, I was just as keen to foster this creative relationship as I was to build a movie.

Did the film change your working relationship?
Butler: As a commercial editor, it’s my job to carry a creative team’s hard work to the end of their laborious process — they conceive the idea, sell it through, get it made and trust me to glue the pieces together. I am of service to this, and it’s a privilege. When the footage I’d found on my hard drive started to take shape, and Jimm’s cousin began unloading his archive of paintings, photographs and home video on to us, it became a more involved endeavor. Years passed, as we’d get busy and leave things to gather dust for months here and there, and after a while it felt like this film was something that reflected both of our creative fingerprints.

Long Live Benjamin

Jimm Lasser, Long Live Benjamin

How did your professional experiences help or influence the project?
Lasser: Collaboration is central to the process of creating advertising. Being open to others is central to making great advertising. This process was a lot like film school. We both hadn’t ever done it, but we figured it out and found a way to work together.

Butler: Jimm and I enjoyed individual professional success during the years we spent on the project, and in hindsight I think this helped to reinforce the trust that was necessary in such a partnership.

What was the biggest technical challenge you faced?
Butler: The biggest challenge was just trying to get our schedules to line up. For a number of years we lived on opposite sides of the country, although there were three years where we both happened to live in New York at the same time. We found that the luxury of sitting was when the biggest creative strides happened. Most of the time, though, I would work on an edit, send to Jimm, and wait for him to give feedback. Then I’d be busy on something else when he’d send long detailed notes (and often new interviews to supplement the notes), and I would need to wait a while until I had the time to dig back in.

Technically speaking, the biggest issue might just be my use of Final Cut Pro 7. The film is made as a scrapbook from multiple sources, and quite simply Final Cut Pro doesn’t care much for this! Because we never really “set out” to “make a movie,” I had let the project grow somewhat unwieldy before realizing it needed to be organized as such.

Long Live Benjamin

Biff Butler, Long Live Benjamin

Can you detail your editorial workflow? What challenges did the varying media sources pose?
Butler: As I noted before, we didn’t set out to make a movie. I had about 10 tapes from Jimm and cut a short video just because I figured it’s not every day you get to edit someone’s monkey funeral. Cat videos this ain’t. Once Allen saw this, he would sporadically mail us photographs, newspaper clippings, VHS home videos, iPhone clips, anything and everything. Jimm and I were really just patching on to our initial short piece, until one day we realized we should start from scratch and make a movie.

As my preferred editing software is Final Cut Pro 7 (I’m old school, I guess), we stuck with it and just had to make sure the media was managed in a way that had all sources compressed to a common setting. It wasn’t really an issue, but needed some unraveling once we went to online conform. Due to our schedules, the process occurred in spurts. We’d make strides for a couple weeks, then leave it be for a month or so at a time. There was never a time where the project wasn’t in my backpack, however, and it proved to be my companion for over five years. If there was a day off, I would keep my blades sharp by cracking open the monkey movie and chipping away.

You shot the project as a continuous feature, and it is being shown now in episodic form. How does it feel to watch it as an episodic series?
Lasser: It works both ways, which I am very proud of. The longer form piece really lets you sink into Allen’s world. By the end of it, you feel Allen’s POV more deeply. I think not interrupting Alison Ables’ music allows the narrative to have a greater emotional connective tissue. I would bet there are more tears at the end of the longer format.

The episode form sharpened the narrative and made Allen’s story more digestible. I think that form makes it more open to a greater audience. Coming from advertising, I am used to respecting people’s attention spans, and telling stories in accessible forms.

How would you compare the documentary process to your commercial work? What surprised you?
Lasser: The executions of both are “storytelling,” but advertising has another layer of “marketing problem solving” that effects creative decisions. I was surprised how much Allen became a “client” in the process, since he was opening himself up so much. I had to keep his trust and assure him I was giving his story the dignity it deserved. It would have been easy to make his story into a joke.

Artist Allen Hirsch

Butler: It was my intention to never meet Allen until the movie was done, because I cherished that distance I had from him. In comparison to making a commercial, the key word here would be “truth.” The film is not selling anything. It’s not an advertisement for Allen, or monkeys, or art or New York. We certainly allowed our style to be influenced by Allen’s way of speaking, to sink deep into his mindset and point of view. Admittedly, I am very often bored by documentary features; there tends to be a good 20 minutes that is only there so it can be called “feature length” but totally disregards the attention span of the audience. On the flip side, there is an enjoyable challenge in commercial making where you are tasked to take the audience on a journey in only 60 seconds, and sometimes 30 or 15. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being in control of what our audience felt and how they felt it.

What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Lasser: To me this is a portrait of an artist. His relationship with Benjamin is really an ingredient to his own artistic process. Too often we focus on the end product of an artist, but I was fascinated in the headspace that leads a creative person to create.

Butler: What I found most relatable in Allen’s journey was how much life seemed to happen “to” him. He did not set out to be the eccentric man with a monkey on his shoulders; it was through a deep connection with an animal that he found comfort and purpose. I hope people sympathize with Allen in this way.


To watch Long Live Benjamin, click here.


CAS and MPSE bestow craft honors to audio pros, filmmakers

By Mel Lambert

While the Academy Awards spotlight films released during the past year, members of the Cinema Audio Society (CAS) and Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE) focus on both film and TV productions.

The 53rd CAS Awards — held at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel on February 18, and hosted once again by comedian Elayne Boosler — celebrated the lifetime contributions of production mixer John Pritchett with the CAS Career Achievement Award for his multiple film credits. The award was presented by re-recording mixer Scott Millan, CAS, and actor/producer Jack Black, with a special video tribute from actor/director/producer Tom Hanks. Quoting seasoned sound designer Walter Murch, Millan shared, “Dialog is the backbone of a film.”

“Sound mixing is like plastic surgery,” Black advised. “You only notice it when it’s done badly.”

Actor/director Jon Favreau received the CAS Filmmaker Award from actor/writer Seth McFarlane, film composer John Debney and CAS president Mark Ulano. Clips from the directors’ key offerings, including The Jungle Book, Chef, Cowboys & Aliens, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, were followed by pre-recorded congratulations from Stan Lee and Ed Asner. “Production and post production are invisible arts,” said Favreau. “Because if you do it right, it’s invisible. If you want to look good on the set you need to understand sound.”

Presenters Robert Forster and Melissa Hoffman flanking winners of the CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Motion Picture for La La Land.

The CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Motion Picture — Live Action went to the team behind La La Land: production mixer Steven Morrow, CAS; re-recording mixers Andy Nelson, CAS, and Ai-Ling Lee, scoring mixer Nicholai Baxter, ADR mixer David Betancourt and Foley mixer James Ashwill. “It was a blast to work with Andy Nelson and the Fox Sound Department,” said Lee. The film’s director, Damien Chazelle, also was on hand to support his award-winning crew. Other nominees included Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Sully.

The CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Motion Picture — Animated went to Finding Dory and original dialogue mixer Doc Kane, CAS, re-recording mixers Nathan Nance and Michael Semanick, CAS, scoring mixer Thomas Vicari, CAS, and Foley mixer Scott Curtis. “I’ve got the best job in the world,” Kane offered, “recording all these talented people.”

 

Kevin O’Connell and Angela Sarafyan flanking Dennis Hamlin and Peter Horner, winners of the CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Motion Picture — Documentary.

During a humorous exchange with his co-presenter Angela Sarafyan, an actress who starred in HBO’s Westworld series, re-recording mixer Kevin O’Connell, CAS, was asked why the 21-time Oscar-nominee had not — as yet — received an Academy Award. Pausing briefly to collect his thoughts, O’Connell replied that he thought the reasons were three-fold. “First, because I do not work at Skywalker Sound,” he said, referring to Disney Studios’ post facility in Northern California, which has hosted a number of nominated sound projects. “Secondly, I do not work on musicals,” he continued, referring to the high number of Oscar and similar nominations this year for La La Land. “And third, because I do not sit next to Andy Nelson,” an affectionate reference to the popular re-recording engineer’s multiple Oscar wins and current nomination for La La Land. (For O’Connell it seems the 21st time is the charm. He walked away from this year’s Oscar with a statuette for his work on Hacksaw Ridge.)

O’Connell and Sarafyan then presented the first-ever CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Motion Picture — Documentary to the team that worked on The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble: production mixers Dimitri Tisseyre and Dennis Hamlin, plus re-recording mixer Peter Horner.

The CAS Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing Television Movie or Miniseries went to The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and production mixer John Bauman, re-recording mixers Joe Earle, CAS, and Doug Andham, CAS, ADR mixer Judah Getz and Foley mixer John Guentner. The award for Television Series — 1-Hour went to Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards and production mixers Ronan Hill, CAS, and Richard Dyer, CAS, re-recording mixers Onnalee Blank, CAS, and Mathew Waters, CAS, and Foley mixer Brett Voss, CAS. “Game of Thrones was a great piece of art to work on,” said Blank.

L-R:Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards team — Onnalee Blank, Brett Voss, and Matthew Waters, with Karol Urban and Clyde Kusatsu.

The award for Television Series — 1/2-Hour went to Modern Family: The Storm and production mixer Stephen A. Tibbo, CAS, and re-recording mixers Dean Okrand, CAS, and Brian R. Harman, CAS. The award for Television Non-Fiction, Variety or Music Series or Specials went to Grease Live! and production mixer J. Mark King, music mixer Biff Dawes, playback and SFX mixer Eric Johnston and Pro Tools playback music mixer Pablo Munguía.

The CAS Student Recognition Award went to Wenrui “Sam” Fan from Chapman University. Outstanding Product Awards went to Cedar Audio for its DNS2 Dynamic Noise Suppression Unit and McDSP for its SA-2 dialog processor.

Other presenters included Nancy Cartwright (The Simpsons), Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), Janina Gavankar (Sleepy Hollow), Clyde Kusatsu (SAG/AFTRA VP and Madame Secretary), Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul) and Nondumiso Tembe (Six).

MPSE
Held on February 19 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, opening remarks for the 64th MPSE Golden Reel Awards came from MPSE president Tom McCarthy. “Digital technology is creating new workflows for our sound artists. We need to take the initiative and drive technology, and not let technology drive us,” he said, citing recent and upcoming MPSE Sound Advice confabs. “The horizons for sound are expanding, particularly virtual reality. Immersive formats from Dolby, Auro, DTS and IMAX are enriching the cinematic experience.”

Scott Gershin, MPSE Filmmaker Award recipient Guillermo Del Toro and Tom McCarthy.

The annual MPSE Filmmaker Award was presented to writer/director Guillermo del Toro by supervising sound editor/sound designer Scott Gershin, who has worked with him for the past 15 years on such films as Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013). “Sound editing is an opportunity in storytelling,” the director offered. “There is always a balance we need to strike between sound effects and music. It’s a delicate tango. Sound design and editing is a curatorial position. I always take that partnership seriously in my films.”

Referring to recent presidential decisions to erect border walls and tighten immigration controls, del Torro was candid in his position. “I’m a Mexican,” he stated. “Giving me this award [means] that the barriers people are trying to erect between us are false,” he stressed, to substantial audience applause.

Supervising sound editor/sound designer Wiley Stateman and producer Shannon McIntosh presented the MPSE Career Achievement Award to supervising sound editor/sound designer Harry Cohen, who has worked on more than 150 films, including many directed by Quentin Tarantino, who made a surprise appearance to introduce the award recipient. “I aspired to be a performing musician,” Cohen acknowledged, “and was 31 when I became an editor. Sound design is a craft. You refine the director’s creativity through your own lens.” He also emphasized the mentoring process within the sound community, “which leads to a free flow of information.”

The remaining Golden Reel Awards comprised several dozen categories encompassing feature films, long- and short-form TV, animation, documentaries and other media.

The Best Sound Editing In Feature Film — Music Score award went to Warcraft: The Beginning and music editors Michael Bauer and Peter Myles. The Best Sound Editing In Feature Film — Music, Musical Feature award went to La La Land music editor Jason Ruder.

The Hacksaw Ridge team included (L-R) Michelle Perrone, Kimberly Harris, Justine Angus, Jed Dodge, Robert Mackenzie Liam Price and Tara Webb.

The Best Sound Editing In Feature Film — Dialog/ADR award went to director Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and supervising sound editor Andy Wright, supervising ADR editors Justine Angus and Kimberly Harris, dialog editor Jed Dodge and ADR editor Michele Perrone. The Best Sound Editing In Feature Film — FX/Foley Award also went to Hacksaw Ridge and supervising sound editors Robert Mackenzie, Foley editor Steve Burgess and Alex Francis, plus sound effects editors Liam Price, Tara Webb and Steve Burgess.

The MPSE Best Sound & Music Editing: Television Animation Award went to Albert  supervising sound editor Jeff Shiffman, MPSE, dialogue editors Michael Petak and Anna Adams, Foley editor Tess Fournier, music editor Brad Breeck plus SFX editors Jessey Drake, MPSE, Tess Fournier and Jeff Shiffman, MPSE. The Best Sound & Music Editing: Television Documentary Short-Form award to Sonic Sea and supervising sound editor Trevor Gates, dialog editor Ryan Briley and SFX editors Ron Aston and Christopher Bonis. The Best Sound & Music Editing: Television Documentary Long-Form award went to My Beautiful Broken Brain supervising sound editor Nick Ryan, dialog editor Claire Ellis and SFX editor Tom Foster. The Best Sound & Music Editing: Animation — Feature Film award went to Moana supervising sound editor Tim Nielsen, supervising dialog editor Jacob Riehle, Foley editors Thom Brennan and Matthew Harrison, music editors Earl Ghaffari and Dan Pinder, plus SFX editors Jonathan Borland, Pascal Garneau and Lee Gilmore. The Best Sound & Music Editing: Documentaries — Feature Film award to The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble and supervising sound editor Pete Horner, sound designer Al Nelson and SFX editor Andre Zweers.

The Verna Fields Award in Sound Editing in Student Films was a tie, with $1,500 checks being awarded to Fishwitch, directed by Adrienne Dowling from the National Film and Television School, and Icarus by supervising sound editor/sound designer Zoltan Juhasz from Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Chapman University.

The MPSE Best Sound & Music Editing: Special Venue award went to supervising sound editor/sound designer Jamey Scott for his work on director Patrick Osborne’s Pearl, a panoramic virtual reality presentation — and which has also been nominated in the Oscars Best Animated Short Category. The Best Sound Editing In Television: Short Form — Music Score award went to music editor David Klotz for his work on Stranger Things, Chapter Three: Holly Jolly. “The show’s composers — Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein — were an inspiration to work with,” said Klotz, “as was the sound team at Technicolor.” The Best Sound Editing In Television: Short Form — Music, Musical award was another tie between music editor Jason Tregoe Newman and Bryant J. Fuhrmann for Mozart in the Jungle — Now I Will Sing and music editor Jamieson Shaw for The Get Down — Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice.

The winning Westworld team included Thomas E. de Gorter (center), Matthew Sawelson, Geordy Sincavage, Michael Head, Mark R. Allen and Marc Glassman.

The Best Sound Editing In Television: Short Form — Dialog/ADR award went to the team from Penny Dreadful III, including supervising sound editor Jane Tattersall, supervising dialogue editor David McCallum, dialog editor Elma Bello, and ADR editors Dale Sheldrake and Paul Conway. The Best Sound Editing In Television: Short Form — FX/Foley award went to Westworld — Trompe L’Oeil supervising sound editors Thomas E. de Gorter, MPSE, and Matthew Sawelson, MPSE, Foley editors Geordy Sincavage and Michael Head, and sound designers Mark R. Allen, MPSE, and Marc Glassman, MPSE. The same post team won The Best Sound Editing In Television: Long Form — FX/Foley award for Westworld — The Bicameral Mind. The Best Sound Editing In Television: Long Form — Dialog/ADR award went to The Night Of — Part 1 The Beach and supervising sound editor Nicholas Renbeck, and dialog editors Sara Stern, Luciano Vignola and Odin Benitez.

Presenters included actor Erich Riegelmann, actress Julie Parker, Avid director strategic solutions Rich Nevens, SFX editor Liam Price, producer/journalist Geoff Keighley, Formosa Interactive VP of creative services Paul Lipson, CAS president Mark Ulano, actress Andrene Ward-Hammond, supervising sound editors Mark Lanza and Bernard Weiser, picture editor Sabrina Plisco, and Technicolor VP/head of theatrical Sound Jeff Eisner.

MPSE president McCarthy offered that the future for entertainment sound has no boundaries. “It is impossible to predict what new challenges will be presented to practitioners of our craft in the years to come,” he said. “It is up to all of us to meet those challenges with creativity, professionalism and skill. MPSE membership now extends around the world. We are building a global network of sound professionals in order to help artists collaborate and share ideas with their peers.”

A complete list of MPSE Golden Reel Awards can be found on its website.

Main Image (L-R): John Debney, CAS Filmmaker Award recipient Jon Favreau, Seth MacFarlane and Mark Ulano. 

CAS images – Alex J. Berliner/ABImages
MPSE Images – Chris Schmitt Photography


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.


Michael Vinyard joins Xytech exec team

Xytech, which makes facility management software for the broadcast and media industries, has added industry vet Michael Vinyard in the new role of SVP Professional Services. Vinyard will be responsible for consulting, configuration and installation services for system implementations across the company.

Vinyard’s previous senior management roles include stints with Mattel, Warner Bros. and CBS. At Xytech, he will based out of the company’s Chatsworth headquarters.

“Having Michael allows us to expand our goals while maintaining the focus required to properly serve our clients,” said Greg Dolan, Xytech COO. “The addition of Michael shows our dedication to working with the best professionals in the business.”


Second HPA Tech Retreat UK announced

The Hollywood Professional Association (HPA) has announced the dates and opened the call for proposals for the second annual HPA Tech Retreat UK. Presented in association with SMPTE, the event returns to Heythrop Park Resort in Oxfordshire July 11-13.

Programming for the HPA Tech Retreat UK is built from proposals, along with the participation of notable speakers. The proposal deadline for the main program is May 30.

“We’ll feature seminars, a Supersession and the curated Innovation Zone, where attendees can explore the latest developments in workflow, tools and technologies,” said Richard Welsh, co-chair of the HPA Tech Retreat UK. “Proposals for the main program, as well as the breakfast roundtables, may address topics related to moving images and associated sound, great projects or worthy technological development.”

The 2016 program included a special session on the production and post of Game of Thrones, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) vs. Perceptual Quantiser (PQ), the IMF and the European view of the media landscape from the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and cloud workflows.

For more information on the HPA Tech Retreat UK, click here.

Review: Soundly — an essential tool for sound designers

By Ron DiCesare

The people behind the sound effects database Soundly and I think alike. We both imagine a world where all audio files are accessible from any computer at anytime. Soundly is helping accomplish that with their cloud-based audio sound effect searchable database and online sound effects library. Having access to thousands of sound effects online via the cloud from any computer anywhere with Internet access is long overdue. I am so pleased to see Soundly paving the way to what I see as the inevitable workflow of the future.

When I started out in audio post production years ago, sound effect libraries were all on CDs. Back then I had to look through a huge directory listing the tens of thousands of sounds available on all of the audio CDs, which I called “the big phone book of sounds.” I remember thinking to myself that there must be a better way. After years of struggling with these phone books, technology finally made a viable step forward with iTunes. That led to my “innovative” idea to rip all of my sound effect CDs to iTunes to use it as a makeshift searchable database. It was crude, but worked a hell of a lot better than the phone books and audio CDs!

Once digital audio files became the norm, technology got on board and finally offered us searchable database programs exclusively for sound effects. Now Soundly has made another leap forward with its cloud access.

Over the years, I have acquired well over 100,000 sound effects — 112,495 to be exact. In my library, there are a fair amount of custom sounds (particularly vocal reactions) that I have recorded myself. All of these sounds are stored on a 1TB external hard drive (with an ilok/dongle) that I take with me to every studio I work at, including my home studio.

The problem for me is that I am a freelance audio mixer and sound designer working at many different studios in New York City, in addition to my home studio on Long Island. That means I am forced to take my external sound effects drive and ilok to every studio I work at for every session. I am always at risk of losing the drive and/or ilok or simply forgetting them behind when going to and from studios. I have often asked myself, wouldn’t it be great to have all my sounds accessible from any computer with Internet access at all times? Enter Soundly.

Soundly can be broken down into two main parts. First, they offer 300-plus or 7,500-plus sounds included in their database for immediate use. This depends on which price option you choose, which is either free or a monthly subscription. Second, they offer the ability to upload all of users’ existing sound effects to a local drive or, better yet, the cloud. Uploading to the cloud makes your sounds available from a computer with Internet access, in addition to the over 7,500 sound effects included with Soundly.

A Wide Appeal
Soundly is available for Mac and PC, and is very easy to install — it took me just a few minutes. Once installed, the program immediately gives access to over 7,500 high-quality sound effects, many as 96kHz, 24-bit Wav files. This is ideal for anyone not able to spend the thousands of dollars needed to build up a large library by purchasing sound effects from a variety of companies. That could include video editors who are often asked to do sound design without a proper or significant database of sounds to choose from. All too often these video editors are forced to look to the Internet for any kind of free sound effect, but the quality can be dubious at times. Audio mixers and sound designers, who are just starting out and getting their libraries underway could benefit as well.

In addition to accessing 7,500-plus high-quality sounds, Soundly allows for the purchase of additional sound effect libraries in the store section of the program, such as “Cinematic Hits and Transitions” from SoundBits and “Summer Nature Ambiences” by Soundholder. The store also gives the user access to all free sound effects across the Internet via Freesound.org. This will no doubt help fill in any gaps in the large variety of sounds needed for any video editor or sound designer. But just as the Soundly disclaimer notes for the free sound effects, there is no way to enforce any kind of quality control or audio standard for the wide range of free sounds available throughout the Internet. Even so, Soundly manages to be a one-stop shop for all Internet sound searches rather than just randomly searching the Internet blindly.

Targeted Appeal
Any seasoned audio mixer or sound designer will tell you that it is best to stay away from free sounds found on the Internet in general. Audio mixers like me who have been working for over 30 years (though I do not look like I am over 50!) are more likely to have built up their own sound effect libraries over the years that they prefer to use. For example, my sound effect library contains both purchased sounds from many of the various commercial libraries and a fair amount of custom sounds I have recorded on the job. That is why uploading a user’s own entire sound effect library to the cloud for use with Soundly (which in my case is almost 1TB) is an absolute necessity.

Now I admit, I am the exception and not the rule. I need access to all of my audio files at all times because I am never in one place for long. That is why Soundly is ideal for me. I can dial up Soundly and access the cloud instantly from any computer that has Internet access. Now I can leave my sound effects drive at home, which is a huge relief.

I know that the vast majority of audio professionals on my level have a staff position. Most of them typically work at multi-room facilities and rarely, if ever, need to leave their facility for an audio mix or sound design. Soundly offers multi-room licenses for just that reason. But more importantly, it means that most of the major audio facilities have their sound effect libraries accessible to all their staff on some kind of network server such as a RAID or NAS. So why switch to Soundly’s cloud storage service when an audio or video facility has access to many TBs worth of network storage of their own? The answer in a nutshell is price.

To fully understand if Soundly could replace a network server in a large audio or video facility, let’s breakdown Soundly’s pricing options starting with the free option. Soundly offers access to the free cloud library of over 300 sound effects, a maximum of 2,500 pre-existing local files and no upload space allotment. Next is Soundly’s Pro subscription for $14.99 a month, allowing for all the features of Soundly, access to the 7,500-plus cloud-based sound effects and unlimited access to pre-existing local files.

But for the real heavy lifting, Soundly offers storage space options needed to upload large amounts of sounds to the cloud at a very competitive rate. For example, to get access to my pre-existing sound effect library totaling nearly 1TB worth of sound effects, Soundly offers an annual fee of $500 for cloud storage that size. Compare that to the cost of installing and maintaining RAID or NAS storage systems that a large facility might use and it could very well be a better and more cost-effective option, not to mention it’s accessible everywhere. So freelancers like me, or staff audio engineers, can count on reliable, safe, large-scale storage of their data by switching to Soundly.

Operation
Installing Soundly is fast and easy. I was instantly able to access all of the included sounds. Once my entire sound effect library was uploaded, it was well worth the time and effort needed for such a large amount of files. Searching for sound effects worked exactly as I expected it to. All possible sounds came up with the search criteria I specified, all based on file names and metadata. Simply click on any sound file to play it and see if it’s right for your project.

Now here is where Soundly really impressed me. There are two ways of exporting your sound files: drag and drop and what Soundly calls “spot-to.” Drag and drop works with Pro Tools, Nuendo, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro CC and FCP X and 7, to name a few. The “spot-to” function works with Pro Tools, specifically Pro Tools HD 12.7. The “spot-to” function is where the real power and speed comes into play. The “spot-to” icon appears automatically whenever Pro Tools is active (it disappears when the Pro Tools is not active, so just be aware of that). Click on the icon and your sound file is sent to Pro Tools in an instant.

There are two great options when using the “spot-to” icon, spot to bin or spot to timeline. Each one has its advantages depending on how you like to work. Sending to your bin makes it accessible via the clip list in Pro Tools. Sending to the timeline adds it to wherever your curser is located on any track. That is a real time saver. To illustrate this, let’s look at how few steps are needed to get your sound file in your time line or bin. I counted three steps. Step one: select the sound in Soundly. Step two: send to Pro Tools using the “spot-to” icon. Step three: immediately working with the sound file in my session, which really is not a step. So, we can say it is actually just two steps. Yes, it’s that fast and easy.

For me, the most important aspect of Soundly’s “spot-to” function is that it copies the sound file to Pro Tools rather than referencing it. This is significant. Some people may have learned the hard way, like I have, that referencing a sound effect does not include that sound effect in your audio folder within your session. This is key because coping it into your session’s audio folder allows you to move your session from drive to drive, room to room or studio to studio without the dreaded missing sound file error message in Pro Tools when the drive or network housing the sound effects cannot be located. As far as I know, only Sound Miner’s higher priced options do this crucial copy to audio folder step. In contrast, all of Soundly’s pricing options do this essential step.

Let’s not ignore the fact that Soundly works as a stand-alone program without any DAW or video editing software needed. Simply drag and drop the sound file to a folder located anywhere, say your desktop, should you happen to want to work outside of your DAW or video software for whatever reason.

Organization
With Soundly, there are a variety of ways you can organize your library, all customizable and up to the user. For me, I kept it very simple. I chose a three-folder hierarchy as follows: Soundly’s built-in cloud library, my entire personal sound effects library and my “greatest hits” for my most useful sounds. All three folders are located under the master cloud folder, which means that all my sounds and folders can be searched at once, or in any combination. You can choose one or more of your folders whenever you do a search. That means you can really hone in your search if you would like to set up multiple sub folders – or not. For me, when I do a search I will typically want to search all my sounds all at once since I cannot take the time to think of sub categories that may or may not yield better results. My organization and set up is purely my own preference and it is sure to vary from user to user. Each person can set up their folders however they feel best to organize their library.

Hard to Pick a Favorite Feature
I think my absolute favorite feature of Soundly is the pitch shift function. That’s because whenever I am finding and auditioning sounds with the pitch shift engaged (up or down), the sound file will be sent to my DAW with the exact amount of pitch shift applied to the sound effect! That means I do not have to recreate or guess the amount of pitch shifting I used when auditioning the sound after it is imported into Pro Tools. The same goes for the reverse function. There is no doubt that pitch shift and reverse are the two most common alterations for sound effects done by sound designers. Soundly has these two crucial functions built-in to the search and export functions.

Another feature worth noting is marking favorite or popular sounds with a star, like flagging an important email. Marking your favorite sounds with the star icon means you do not have to make a separate folder for your favorites as I have done in the past. Playlists are another noteworthy feature. Making playlists can be a great way of storing all your sounds as you are searching for a project that can be downloaded or sent to your DAW in a more organized fashion after your search. This is much faster than downloading each sound effect one by one as you find the sound effects needed for larger sound design projects. Making multiple playlists is another way to speed up the searching process over all. Playlists can be shared with other Soundly users.

More to Come
In the future, we can expect to see more options for the output format. Currently you can choose bit rate and sample rate, but you will only be able to export .wav files. Future releases are slated to include AIFF, MP3 and even Ogg Vorbis for the gaming world.

As Soundly grows, there will be more sound effects added to the cloud for use. Not surprisingly, the folks behind Soundly are sound designers and the program clearly reflects that. Soundly’s developer Peder Jørgensen and sound designer Christian Schaanning really understand how today’s sound designers work. More importantly, they understand how tomorrow’s sound designers will work.


Ron DiCesare is an audio mixer and sound designer located in the New York City area. His work can be heard on promos and shows, including “Noisey” featuring Kendrick Lamar, “B. Deep,” “F**k That’s Delicious” and “Moltissomo” with Chef Mario Batali on Vice’s Munchies channel. He also works on spots and promos. He can be reached at rononizer@gmail.com.