Rat Pack Films and XYZ Films movie Stung is an homage to the golden age of VHS, featuring a campy look of the 1980’s horror film genre. It’s proof positive that monster movies still exist in the world of low-budget horror/comedy.
They used an Arri Alexa 2K with Hawk anamorphic lenses to shoot the film. The anamorphic lenses produced a distinctive intensity that the filmmakers felt helped with the strong color definition needed to achieve a 1980’s look and feel.
Stung focuses on a fancy garden party gone terribly wrong when a colony of killer wasps mutates into seven-foot tall predators.
German-based freelance colorist Peter Hacker custom built — from top to bottom — his own PC-based compositing/grading workstation, equipped with an Nvidia 760GTX, an internal hardware RAID for storage and some SSDs for realtime playback. The calibrated NEC LCD monitors are supported by a Sony OLED screen in order to accurately judge the final color grading.
Hacker (pictured above) has a strong background in visual effects and compositing, which is why he was hired to be the VFX producer and compositor, as well as colorist — more on that in a minute — for Stung (see the trailer here). Hacker has several years experience in color grading, working on numerous commercials for Mercedes, Audi and Fanta; a few indie features; and many shorts.
In collaboration with director Benni Diez and VFX supervisor Sebastian Nozon, he took over the post-production management of the movie. He was also in charge of preparing all the footage for the VFX shots and handed it over to the remotely working animation, rigging, modeling and compositing artists.
He also developed the movie’s look and was involved in the compositing of more than a hundred shots. However, schedule conflicts with the original color grading team required a new plan, and Hacker took on the color grading and finishing of the film as well.
Hacker’s weapon of choice for his post work on Stung was Assimilate Scratch. “As a student I had worked in Scratch at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg and really dug into fully learning the system. I found it to be the most straightforward tool suite, and I still feel that way. As a freelancer working on a variety of imagery projects, it has all the realtime functions I need — conform, color grading, versioning and finishing – as well as some bells and whistles like VR capability. And it’s now at a price I can personally afford, which means that I, as well as all indie productions, can set up an at-home studio and have a second license on the laptop for hitting the road.”
“For Stung I created different looks during the first two days of grading because I didn’t have LUTs as a reference. It’s easy to create multiple looks for review in Scratch, and those LUTs are now in my archive for possible future use. Then I created a separate Scratch Construct (timeline) with all the movie’s master shots to ensure the look would work and to allow me to track the changes within the story, which were bound to occur due to changes of the seasons and different weather/lighting conditions within a sequence.”
Working Remotely, and on a Budget
The horror film genre is synonymous with low-budget production, so there was not a lot of wiggle room, which meant they had to get creative with workflows, especially since they were working and reviewing shots remotely.
The movie was shot in Berlin. Dominik Kattwinkel and Benni Diez edited on Avid Media Composer in Cologne. Also working in Cologne were animators Waldemar and Harry Fast. Sebastian Nozon and Sascha Geddert did the compositing, lighting and rendering in Berlin. “I was doing parts of the compositing and finally graded the entire movie in Ludwigsburg,” explains Hacker. “To make all the data transfer possible among those numerous locations we used BTSync, which kept us all in sync without a hassle.” The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe After Effects were used for compositing and Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya for 3D animation and rendering.
During editing, the number of visual effects shots increased from 150 to 600. “I had 8TB of storage for the Alexa material and some Red footage from the pick-up shoot. There were 1,600 edits in the film that runs for 84 minutes, so that gives you an idea of the project’s heavy workload — and all while being on a tight budget,” explains Hacker. “To ensure the data’s safety we had back-up RAIDs set up at several locations spread over the country. Furthermore, we separated the data being worked on from the back-ups, and scheduled the day’s work to back up during the night.”
“With a couple weeks left until delivery, the rendered shots (JPEGs, in the end replaced by DPXs) were transferred from Berlin and Cologne to me in Ludwigsburg where I dropped them into the Scratch timeline. With peer-to-peer uploaded previews of the film, or just smaller sequences, we all were continually on the same page.”
They used Skype for review conversations. “Two weeks before delivery we all came together in a small office space in Ludwigsburg to finish the compositing. At that time I switched from compositing to color grading for 12 straight days in a darkened tent in the corner of the room. It was a cheerful time with all of us finally sharing the same space and adding some final touches and even bringing some sequences to life for the first time. For viewing pleasure, I brought in my 55-inch Sony TV for a few relaxed reviews, which also sped up the process and helped to keep the budget in line.”
These sessions included director Benni Diez watching back to back with Hacker. “It was very helpful that he could view and judge the color grading in realtime on a separate monitor without the need to watch over my shoulder all the time,” he says. “It was also crucial for all the VFX shots — Diez and Nozon immediately could discuss how they looked with the grading applied. It’s always a big challenge when it comes to CGI content being integrated into live action back plates. With the different nature of the content, they either fit together even better after the grading is applied, or not. Once in a while we had shots working completely fine in comps, but they got torn apart in the grading. Altogether, it was a magical experience to see all the elements come together right before your eyes, and literally any changes could be made on the fly.”
Hacker says one particularly helpful Scratch feature, which he used a lot on Stung, was the ability to continue working while Scratch was rendering in the background. “That’s a huge timesaver and I wouldn’t like to work without it.”