Tag Archives: AlphaDogs

AlphaDogs’ Terence Curren is on a quest: to prove why pros matter

By Randi Altman

Many of you might already know Terence Curren, owner of Burbank’s AlphaDogs, from his hosting of the monthly Editor’s Lounge, or his podcast The Terence and Philip Show, which he co-hosts with Philip Hodgetts. He’s also taken to producing fun, educational videos that break down the importance of color or ADR, for example.

He has a knack for offering simple explanations for necessary parts of the post workflow while hammering home what post pros bring to the table. You can watch them here:

I reached out to Terry to find out more.

How do you pick the topics you are going to tackle? Is it based on questions you get from clients? Those just starting in the industry?
Good question. It isn’t about clients as they already know most of this stuff. It’s actually a much deeper project surrounding a much deeper subject. As you well know, the media creation tools that used to be so expensive, and acted as a barrier to entry, are now ubiquitous and inexpensive. So the question becomes, “When everyone has editing software, why should someone pay a lot for an editor, colorist, audio mixer, etc.?”

ADR engineer Juan-Lucas Benavidez

Most folks realize there is a value to knowledge accrued from experience. How do you get the viewers to recognize and appreciate the difference in craftsmanship between a polished show or movie and a typical YouTube video? What I realized is there are very few people on the planet who can’t afford a pencil and some paper, and yet how many great writers are there? How many folks make a decent living writing, and why are readers willing to pay for good writing?

The answer I came up with is that almost anyone can recognize the difference between a paper written by a 5th grader and one written by a college graduate. Why? Well, from the time we are very little, adults start reading to us. Then we spend every school day learning more about writing. When you realize the hard work that goes into developing as a good writer, you are more inclined to pay a master at that craft. So how do we get folks to realize the value we bring to our craft?

Our biggest problem comes from the “magician” aspect of what we do. For most of the history of Hollywood, the tricks of the trade were kept hidden to help sell the illusion. Why should we get paid when the average viewer has a 4K camera phone with editing software on it?

That is what has spurred my mission. Educating the average viewer to the value we bring to the table. Making them aware of bad sound, poor lighting, a lack of color correction, etc. If they are aware of poorer quality, maybe they will begin to reject it, and we can continue to be gainfully employed exercising our hard-earned skills.

Boom operator Sam Vargas.

How often is your studio brought in to fix a project done by someone with access to the tools, but not the experience?
This actually happens a lot, and it is usually harder to fix something that has been done incorrectly than it is to just do it right from the beginning. However, at least they tried, and that is the point of my quest: to get folks to recognize and want a better product. I would rather see that they tried to make it better and failed than just accepted poor quality as “good enough.”

Your most recent video tackles ADR. So let’s talk about that for a bit. How complicated a task is ADR, specifically matching of new audio to the existing video?
We do a fair amount of ADR recording, which isn’t that hard for the experienced audio mixer. That said, I found out how hard it is being the talent doing ADR. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is when you are trying to match your delivery from the original recording.

What do you use for ADR?
We use Avid Pro Tools as our primary audio tool, but there are some additional tools in Fairlight (included free in Blackmagic’s Resolve now) that make ADR even easier for the mixer and the talent. Our mic is Sennheiser long shotgun, but we try to match mics to the field mic when possible for ADR.

I suppose Resolve proves your point — professional tools accessible for free to the masses?
Yeah. I can afford to buy a paint brush and some paint. It would take me a lot of years of practice to be a Michelangelo. Maybe Malcolm Gladwell, who posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something, is not too far off target.

What about for those clients who don’t think you need ADR and instead can use a noise reduction tool to remove the offensive noise?
We showed some noise reduction tools in another video in the series, but they are better at removing consistent sounds like air conditioner hum. We chose the freeway location as the background noise would be much harder to remove. In this case, ADR was the best choice.

It’s also good for replacing fumbled dialogue or something that was rewritten after production was completed. Often you can get away with cheating a new line of dialogue over a cutaway of another actor. To make the new line match perfectly, you would rerecord all the dialogue.

What did you shoot the video with? What about editing and color?
We shot with a Blackmagic Cinema Camera in RAW so we could fix more in post. Editing was done in Avid Media Composer with final color in Blackmagic’s Resolve. All the audio was handled in Avid’s Pro Tools.

What other topics have you covered in this series?
So far we’ve covered some audio issues and the need for color correction. We are in the planning stages for more videos, but we’re always looking for suggestions. Hint, hint.

Ok, letting you go, but is there anything I haven’t asked that’s important?
I am hoping that others who are more talented than I am pick up the mantle and continue the quest to educate the viewers. The goal is to prevent us all becoming “starving artists” in a world of mediocre media content.

First-time director of Beyond Transport calls on AlphaDogs for post

The new documentary Beyond Transport, directed and produced by Ched Lohr, focuses on technology and how it’s brought people together while at the same time creating a huge disconnect in personal relationships. In this doc, this topic is examined from the perspective of cab drivers. Shot on all seven continents of the world, the film includes interviews with drivers who share their accounts of how socializing has changed dramatically in the 21st Century.

Eighteen months in the making, Beyond Transport was shot intermittently due to an extensive travel schedule to countries that included, Ireland, Cambodia, Tanzania and Australia. An unexpected conversation with a cab driver in Cairns, Australia, and a dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef were initially what inspired Lohr to make the film. “I noticed all the divers were using their personal devices in between dives,” says Lohr. “It seemed like meeting new people and connecting with others has become less of a priority. I thought it would be interesting to interview cab drivers because they have a very unique perspective of people’s behaviors.”

A physician by trade, Lohr had a vision for the documentary, but no idea on how to go about creating it. With no background in producing, writing or even how to use editing systems, Lohr assembled a team of pros to help guide him through the process, including hiring the team at Burbank’s AlphaDogs to complete post for the film.

AlphaDogs colorist Sean Stack distinguished differences in climate between the various locations by choosing specific color palettes. This helped bring the audiences into the story with a feel and vibe on what it might feel like to actually be there in person. “The filmmaker talks to cab drivers from a variety of climates, ranging from the searing heat of Tanzania, to the frigid temperatures of Antarctica,” describes Stack. “With that in mind, I navigated through the documentary looking for ways to help define the surroundings.”

To accomplish this, Stack added saturated warm colors, such as yellow, tan and brown to locations in South Africa and South America, making even the dirt, cars and buildings radiate a sense of intense heat. In contrast, less saturation was given to the harsher climate of Antarctica, using a series of blue tones for both the sky and the water, which added depth, and also gave a more frigid and crisp appearance. Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Power Windows were used to fix problems with uncontrolled lighting situations present in the interviews with cab drivers. Hand-held footage was also stabilized, with a final touch of film grain added to take away from a videotape feel and give a more inviting texture to the documentary.

In addition, Stack created an end credits section by pulling shots of the cab drivers looking into the camera and smiling. “This accomplished the goal of the filmmaker to have pictures accompany the end credits,” explains Stack. “It also added another element of connection to the drivers who are telling the story. Seeing them one last time reminds the viewer of some of the best moments in the documentary and hopefully taking those memorable moments away with them.”

AlphaDogs audio engineer Curtis Fritsch completed audio on the film that included clean up on noisy audio files, since most all of the interviews take place inside of a cab. To keep the audio from sounding over processed, Fritsch used a very specific combination of Cedar and Izotope plugins. “We were able to find a really good balance in making the dialogue sound much clearer and pronounced,” he says. “This was of particular importance in the scene where a muezzin is reciting the adhan (call to prayer). I was able to remove the wind noise so you not only heard the prayer in this dreamlike sequence but also to keep the focus on the music, rather than the VFX.”

Behind the Title: AlphaDogs colorist Sean Stack

NAME: Sean Stack

COMPANY: Burbank’s AlphaDogs

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a post production facility focused on online finishing, including color correction and audio mixing. We also have graphic artists and complete duplication, format conversion and tape output capabilities.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably the most surprising thing to the layman would be how much control I can have over the image and what that means for the production.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Primarily, I work in DaVinci Resolve for color grading, and we have both Mac and PC systems capable of the same work. I also color correct in Avid Symphony. The choice of system is guided by the requirements of the project.

For example, if I am working on a documentary or feature I would most likely be using Resolve to re-link and conform the sequence to the camera source files for grading, allowing access to the full quality and resolution of the source file. In the event I am finishing an unscripted reality-style television series, the sequence in Avid would be upres’d to a high-resolution format (such as DNxHD175) and graded using the Avid Symphony color correction tools.

Sunset Strip

‘Sunset Strip’ is just one of many projects Sean Stack has worked on.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Nearly every project I work on has additional work other than color correction. It ranges — some are simple edit tasks that are required to create delivery files, such as adding the final audio mix stems and exporting them with picture in the correct layout following the delivery specifications.

For a more complicated project I may be exporting DPX image sequences from Resolve of pre-graded scenes that will go to graphic artists for visual effects work. Then, once the VFX are complete, I will be cutting the final effect shots back into the final graded sequence. I’ve never been asked to do a hula dance and I am thankful for that, however I have been asked for my critical review of the project and that can be very tricky terrain to tread on. I always try to find something in every project that I like, because filmmakers need emotional support.

ARE YOU BEING ASKED TO DO MINOR VFX WORK TOO?
I do a ton of minor VFX work. My favorite fix is when you can just push-in to remove a problem, such as a boom mic dropping into the frame. Arguably, that instance may not be VFX but if you are talking about painting it out and I fix it, then it’s fixed. Minor perhaps, but I just saved the client major time and money. Other minor VFX work may include stabilizing shots, blurring objects and compositing several images together. A compositing example for a recent project involved adding footage inside a cell phone that was making a FaceTime call and also adding computer desktop images to laptop screens that were not powered up.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
When the clients and I get on the same wavelength and we are seeing the color working the same way. It means I get it and I can go forward with confidence, and once that trust is built the project will sail.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Unlocking the cut. Do everything to avoid unlocking the cut once you are in color and sound mix.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Good question. Making ice cream or maybe a landscape designer.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION? HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’ve always wanted to be part of filmmaking and spent some years acting in professional non-equity theatre before discovering editing was what really made me happy.

Tom Petty

‘Running Down a Dream’

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The most well-known project may be the Tom Petty documentary called Running Down a Dream, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Other projects of note would be Sunset Strip, a documentary on the history of the famous boulevard in Los Angeles.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I would have to say a documentary called Dying to Know about Timothy Leary and Ram Das. I’m proud of the work on that film because the filmmakers set a very high bar for me to achieve, and I feel like I met the expectation, and in some cases, exceeded it. In that feature length documentary, there was nearly every possible video format used, from archival film transfers of a Congressional inquiry to standard definition video captured in the early 1980s. The director has a fantastic eye for color and the producer is a talented photographer, so the color grading was highly scrutinized by experienced people, and that pushed me into learning new solutions.

Timothy Leary

‘Dying to Know’

This was one of the few projects where every stone was turned over to get the best out of every shot — if it meant going to the Teranex to convert footage to the proper frame-rate then it was done. There was a long interview section where camera A was an analog video format, Betacam, and footage from camera B was Digi Beta, so the sources looked very different. I was able to balance the sources to look very similar and the distraction of varied formats was removed. Do average viewers notice? I have to say, subconsciously they probably do, and there’s a value added to a program when there’s no distraction from the story. Editing, color correction, VFX and even audio mix should not be something the viewer is thinking about or even aware of, so my best work probably goes completely unnoticed and that’s the best possible scenario for the audience. Enjoy the show.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
I first try to find it within the project and footage I’m working on. I get on board with the story and, if the director has ideas, listen to those as well. If that still doesn’t get me involved, I might look at some clips from movies that have a similar feel to what I’m working on. Then I choose some music to listen to and usually stick with the genre through the project to keep my head in that space.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Graphics tablet, external video scopes and fast Internet.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram and Facebook, but really only for personal stuff. I have a LinkedIn account as well but I’m not very active. I’m not suggesting this is the wisest choice. I also have listings on IMDB, of course.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I golf and work on restoring my vintage VW bus, then go camping or hit the beach and just relax.

AlphaDogs employs roundtripping workflow for surfing film ‘Gone’

The AlphaDogs post house in Burbank color graded the film Gone, from producer/director Mark Kronemeyer of Pargo Media. Gone takes audiences on a journey through Mexican deserts and jungles, from Baja to Oaxaca, on the search for the soul of surfing in Mexico.

Edited in Final Cut Pro X by Kronemeyer, Gone required a roundtrip workflow through DaVinci Resolve before the color grading process could begin in order to match mixed frame rates between FCP X and Resolve. Roundtripping often causes playback judder if not done properly. To avoid this problem, AlphaDogs colorist Sean Stack, who was in charge of creating the look for the film, rendered the footage outside of Resolve using the original source frame rate, then allowed for adjustment in playback quality once the footage was back in the editing application.

GONEImage2

Non-native frame rates can sometimes appear jittery, which is especially problematic with action footage. The post house used Cinema Tools on short clips to simply convert the playback rate to match the timeline. Although there is a slight speed ramp applied when using this technique, it is typically not noticeable on shorter clips.

Gone was shot in various locations throughout Mexico, so it encompasses a wide variety of beach terrain. To give each location its own personality and character, Stack made specific creative color decisions, such as making southern beaches more teal and green in color while adding more blue and purple/red into the shadows of the surf on northern beaches. Kronemeyer specifically wanted the sections of larger waves to appear even more dangerous and menacing. Stack achieved this look by punching up the blue in the surf, making the water appear darker and in turn giving the waves a deeper and more hazardous look.

While FCP X and Resolve workflows are mostly reliable when it comes to roundtrip accuracy, Stack remains diligent in making sure he always has a QuickTime reference movie with time code delivered to the color session before any conforming begins.

GONEmovieposter

“Without that roadmap, commonly known as a ‘chase reference,’ I cannot guarantee sync with the original offline locked cut,” explains Stack. “The audio mixer should use the same chase reference as the colorist, as this will further guarantee that the mix stems will sync up perfectly with the color graded final sequence.”

Round-trip workflows also present unique challenges when it comes to audio. Because FCP X cannot export proper materials for a pro mix, specific steps are required so as to not slow down the audio process in post. AlphaDogs audio engineer Curtis Fritsch used workaround methods, such as applying Assisted Editing’s Xto7 app and streamlining the audio tracks to ease the transition from FCP X to Pro Tools. Fritsch then added extra EQ to the low and high ends of each song to help elevate the drive of the music to better match the fast pace and lush visuals of the beaches in Mexico.

AlphaDogs audio pros offer their Top 5 tips for success

Curtis Fritsch, Erik Valenzuela and Marcus Pardo are part of the audio post team at Burbank-based AlphaDogs. They all agree that one of the best parts of the job is the collaborative process — working with clients to realize their audio vision to the fullest potential.

Projects taking place at AlphaDogs include everything from indie feature sound design to documentary clean-up to promo sweetening and audio for reality TV, which is a big part of their work.

AlphaDogs’ suite of tools includes Izotope RX for audio cleanup and restoration; Waves Diamond Bundle for EQs, compression and limiting; Cedar DNS One for dialog noise suppression; Dolby Media Meter and the LM-100 for the CALM Act TV Dialog standard; the Surcode for surround Continue reading

AlphaDogs provides finishing for indie film The Dark Places

Burbank — Director Jody Wheeler recently turned to AlphaDogs to finish his feature film The Dark Place about a series of mysterious events in the life of Keegan Dark, who has the ability to remember everything that happens to him in videographic detail.

AlphaDogs colorist Sean Stack completed color correction for the film in DaVinci Resolve.  A round-trip workflow was required to conform files from FCP X into Resolve.  Stack took extra care in scrutinizing the clips for any potential problem areas before meeting with the client to set the tone and style for the film. “This was the first time we’ve delivered a project at this level with this many requirements, across both visual and sound,” said Wheeler. “AlphaDogs experience served as a wonderful touchstone. They identified some areas we hadn’t seen and, even better, already had fixes in place that were easy to implement, keeping us on track and within our budget.”

new gun

Audio for the film included balancing the sound effects and dialog, along with sound design on key scenes. Curtis Fritsch was the audio mixer for AlphaDogs. “With a 5.1 surround mix alone that’s six different audio files just for the full mix.  This doesn’t include other deliverables, such as separate music, special effects, and dialog, which gives you quite a few tracks by the end, especially if you are delivering in stereo as well.”

The Dark Place was written, directed and produced by Jody Wheeler at Blue Seraph Productions with producers, J.T. Tepnapa and Carlos Pedraza and distributed by Shoreline Entertainment.

AlphaDogs posts ‘Bigfoot’ reality series

Burbank — In the new one-hour reality competition series Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty, nine teams of lifelong Bigfoot bounty hunters — or “sqautchers” as they like to be called — use their skills, and modern-day technology, to track and hopefully capture this elusive giant, with one team receiving a chance at 10 million dollars in cash. The series, hosted by actor Dean Cain, airs on Spike TV.

The shoot presented its own daunting challenge, spanning four states with multiple indoor and outdoor locations. In addition, a wide variety of videotape and card-based formats from 124 cameras including thermal imaging, timelapse, quad copters and IR cameras were used. The producers called on Burbank’s AlphaDogs for post production services.

“This is the most complex array of gear I’ve come across and I knew we needed a post-house with a colorist and online editor who could handle it,” said consulting producer Scott Templeton.  Terence Curren and the team and AlphaDogs were my first choice. I’ve worked with them on other projects and knew it would be the right decision.”

Typical reality television programming time constraints and hefty technical challenges made color grading especially daunting. Curren, veteran colorist and CEO of AlphaDogs (http://www.alphadogs.tv), explains, “We weren’t given extra time to complete the finish just because the production was “gear heavy,” making the color grading process more demanding than other reality series we have worked on. You find a way to make it work without sacrificing quality while still meeting critical deadlines. Remaining flexible and thinking on your feet is key, especially when you’re looking at tight turnaround time.”

Curren’s experience as a colorist for over 25 years, combined with his skilled knowledge and use of color scopes made certain the overall look of the picture not only looked good on the surface, but went a step further by certifying the range of colors allowed for a video signal are also up to standard for broadcast television.

Executive producer Jon Kroll commented, “We really wanted to give 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty an epic look, and AlphaDogs stepped up in a big way to elevate each episode one shot at a time. The difference was amazing.”

Co- executive producer Kerry Schmidt added, “We shot 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty from more than 100 source cameras, and thought we’d never be able to give the show a unified look. With Alpha Dog’s support, we were able to pull it off.”

The series required multiple deliverable formats. AlphaDogs’ stringent quality control process made certain that broadcast and quality standards were met while delivering each episode on time, and ready-to-air.

10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty is produced by Charlie Corwin’s Original Media (Swamp People, Ink Master) with Corwin, Mike Riley and Jon Kroll (The Amazing Race, Big Brother) as executive producers, Kerry Schmidt as co- executive producer, and Scott Templeton as consulting producer.

“It’s not just that we got a great looking show, or that it’s done efficiently, it’s also the comfort of knowing that the AlphaDogs team was watching out in the same way that I’d watch out for the show,” said Templeton. “It’s a great feeling when you’ve got a tough project like this knowing that there is a team that has your back.”

AlphaDogs called on Avid Symphony Nitris, an Avid Artist color panel, Waveform color scopes, Tektronix scopes, and Sony OLED monitors.