Tag Archives: color grading

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.

25 Million Reasons to Smile: When a short film is more than a short

By Randi Altman

For UK-based father and son Paul and Josh Butterworth, working together on the short film 25 Million Reasons to Smile was a chance for both of them to show off their respective talents — Paul as an actor/producer and Josh as an aspiring filmmaker.

The film features two old friends, and literal partners in crime, who get together to enjoy the spoils of their labors after serving time in prison. After so many years apart, they are now able to explore a different and more intimate side of their relationship.

In addition to writing the piece, Josh served as DP and director, calling on his Canon 700D for the shoot. “I bought him that camera when he started film school in Manchester,” says Paul.

Josh and Paul Butterworth

The film stars Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty) and actor/dialect/voice coach Jon Sperry as the thieves who are filled with regret and hope. 25 Million Reasons to Smile was shot in Southern California, over the course of one day.

We reached out to the filmmakers to find out why they shot the short film, what they learned and how it was received.

With tools becoming more affordable these days, making a short is now an attainable goal. What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Josh: It’s wonderful. Young and old aspiring filmmakers alike are so lucky to have the ability to make short films. This can lead to issues, however, because people can lose sight of what it is important: character and story. What was so good about making 25 Million was the simplicity. One room, two brilliant actors, a cracking story and a camera is all you really need.

What about the edit?
Paul: We had one hour and six minutes (a full day’s filming) to edit down to about six minutes, which we were told was a day’s work. An experienced editor starts at £500 a day, which would have been half our total budget in one bite! I budgeted £200 for edit, £100 for color grade and £100 for workflow.

At £200 a day, you’re looking at editors with very little experience, usually no professional broadcast work, often no show reel… so I took a risk and went for somebody who had a couple of shorts in good festivals, named Harry Baker. Josh provided a lot of notes on the story and went from there. And crucial cuts, like staying off the painting as long as possible and cutting to the outside of the cabin for the final lines — those ideas came from our executive producer Ivana Massetti who was brilliant.

How did you work with the colorist on the look of the film?
Josh: I had a certain image in my head of getting as much light as possible into the room to show the beautiful painting in all its glory. When the colorist, Abhishek Hans, took the film, I gave him the freedom to do what he thought was best, and I was extremely happy with the results. He used Adobe Premiere Pro for the grade.

Paul: Josh was DP and director, so on the day he just shot the best shots he could using natural light — we didn’t have lights or a crew, not even a reflector. He just moved the actors round in the available light. Luckily, we had a brilliant white wall just a few feet away from the window and a great big Venice Beach sun, which flooded the room with light. The white walls bounced light everywhere.

The colorist gave Josh a page of notes on how he envisioned the color grade — different palettes for each character, how he’d go for the dominant character when it was a two shot and change the color mood from beginning to end as the character arc/resolution changed and it went from heist to relationship movie.

What about the audio?
Paul: I insisted Josh hire out a professional Róde microphone and a TASCAM sound box from his university. This actually saved the shoot as we didn’t have a sound person on the boom, and consequently the sound box wasn’t turned up… and also we swiveled the microphone rather than moving it between actors, so one had a reverb on the voice while the other didn’t.

The sound was unusable (too low), but since the gear was so good, sound designer Matt Snowden was able to boost it in post to broadcast standard without distortion. Sadly, he couldn’t do anything about the reverb.

Can you comment on the score?
Paul: A BAFTA mate of mine, composerDavid Poore, offered to do the music for free. It was wonderful and he was so professional. Dave already had a really good hold on the project as we’d had long chats but he took the Josh’s notes and we ended up with a truly beautiful score.

Was the script followed to the letter? Any improvisations?
Josh: No, not quite. Paul and Jon were great, and certainly added a lot to the dialogue through conversations before and during the shoot. Jon, especially, was very helpful in Americanizing his character, Jackson’s, dialogue.

Paul: Josh spent a long time on the script and worked on every word. We had script meetings at various LA cafes and table reads with me and Jon. On the shoot day, it was as written.

Josh ended up cutting one of my lines in the edit as it wasn’t entirely necessary, and the reverb was bad. It tightened it up. And our original ending had our hands touching on the bottle, but it didn’t look right so Josh went with the executive producer’s idea of going to the cabin.

What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Paul: Wow! The benefits are amazing… as an actor I never realized the process. The filming is actually a tiny proportion of the entire process. It gave me the whole picture (I’m now in awe of how hard producers work, and that’s only after playing at it!) and how much of a team effort it is — how the direction, edit, sound design and color grade can rewrite the film. I can now appreciate how the actor doesn’t see the bigger picture and has no control over any of those these elements. They are (rightly) fully immersed in their character, which is exactly what the actor’s role is: to turn up and do the lines.

I got a beautiful paid short film out of it, current footage for my show reel and a fantastic TV job — I was cast by Charles Sturridge in the new J.K.Rowling BBC1/HBO series Cormoran Strike as the dad of the female lead Robin (Holliday Grainger). I’d had a few years out bringing Josh up and getting him into film school. I relaunched when he went to university, but my agent said I needed a current credit as the career gap was causing casting directors problems. So I decided to take control and make my own footage — but it had to stand up on my show reel against clips like The Full Monty. If it wasn’t going to be broadcast-standard technically, then it had to have something in the script, and my acting (and my fellow actor had to be good) had to show that I could still do the job.

Josh met a producer in LA who’s given him runner work over here in England, and a senior producer with an international film company saw this and has given him an introduction to their people in Manchester. He also got a chance to write and direct a non-student short using industry professionals, which in the “real” world he might not get for years. And it came with real money and real consequences.

Josh, what did you learn from this experience from a filmmaker’s point of view?
More hands on deck is never a bad thing! It’s great having a tight-knit cast and crew, but the shoot would have definitely benefited from more people to help with lighting and sound, as well as the process running smoother overall.

Any surprises pop up? Any challenges?
Josh: The shoot actually ran very smoothly. The one challenge we had to face was time. Every shot took longer than expected, and we nearly ran out of time but got everything we needed in the end. It helped having such professional and patient actors.

Paul: I was surprised how well Josh (at 20 years old and at the start of film school) directed two professional middle-aged actors. Especially as one was his dad… and I was surprised by how filmic his script was.

Any tips for those looking to do something similar?
Josh: Once you have a story, find some good actors and just do it. As I said before, keep it simple and try to use character not plot to create drama.

Paul: Yes, my big tip would be to get the script right. Spend time and money on that and don’t film it till it’s ready. Get professional help/mentoring if you can. Secondly, use professional actors — just ask! You’d be surprised how many actors will take a project if the script and director are good. Of course, you need to pay them (not the full rate, but something).

Finally, don’t worry too much about the capture — as a producer said to me, “If I like a project I can buy in talent behind the camera. In a short I’m looking for a director’s voice and talent.”

Looking at the ACES color workflow on Café Society

By Sarah Priestnall

Last year’s Café Society marked a milestone in Woody Allen’s cinematic career — the first of his movies to be acquired digitally, mostly with the Sony F65 camera, and with additional use of the Sony F55. To accompany him in this endeavor, he turned to legendary Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, ASC. Storaro has, of course, shot some of the most iconic movies of all time, including Apocalypse Now, Little Buddha and The Sheltering Sky. A period piece, set in the 1930s, Café Society tells the story of Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who leaves the Bronx for Hollywood where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful young woman (Kristen Stewart) who is involved with a mysterious married man.

Storaro uses color and tone throughout Café Society to great effect creating distinctive looks for the different locations. For this, he worked closely with Anthony Raffaele, senior colorist at Technicolor PostWorks, New York. Influenced by photographers and artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Hopper, Storaro uses look and color as a tool to help tell the story and place the characters in a particular location —in this case the Bronx, Hollywood and New York. As Bobby Dorfman moves from the Bronx, with its muted tones, to Hollywood, the colors become more vibrant and luminous. His life changes drastically and so when he moves back to New York the color palette becomes a blend of the two, reflecting that Bobby’s life has been changed by his time on the West Coast.

Unlike many of his projects, Anthony Raffaele had the opportunity to grade the dailies as well as the final digital intermediate. Conversations between him and Storaro began in pre-production. “We started a workflow and color conversation very early on,” explains Raffaele. “From our initial meeting with Vittorio and his DIT Simone D’Arcangelo, the color pipeline was paramount so that we could maintain the color decisions from on-set through to the finish.” Storaro insisted on a 4K 16-bit pipeline from the camera through to the digital intermediate. He had used Filmlight’s Baselight before on Muhammed: The Messenger of God, and based on that experience he knew that he wanted to use it again.

Although ACES was not used for the dailies, Raffaele was looking for a way to get a really strong image with deep blacks and vibrant colors — something that Storaro thought was perhaps missing in the dailies, at least compared to a film print. He had successfully used ACES previously on a movie with Dean Cundey, ASC — on the movie Freedom in 2014. After some experimentation with Baselight, he realized that he could achieve the richness that Storaro desired with Baselight’s revamped color pipeline which includes ACES throughout. “Filmlight does a great job with ACES color. I’ve found that using their IDTs (Input Display Transforms) gives me a great starting place, says Raffaele. “You can get a really great image very quickly. Also once you’re in ACES color space, creating any deliverable is very easy. The color mapping is amazingly accurate.”

The ease of the ACES integration in Baselight, together with the time saved by using ACES, allowed Raffaele to maximize the time he spent on creative color grading. The fidelity of the original 4K 16-bit images carried through to the digital intermediate with ACES wide color gamut. As Raffaele explains, the combination of Baselight and ACES also made the creation of an HDR deliverable simple as well as future-proofing the content, “there is the archival benefit to using ACES. The large color space will, in theory, futureproof the color decisions made in the room.”

Like many other colorists, Raffaele is convinced of the value of ACES, using it on every project he can. In fact, he is again collaborating with Storaro and DIT Simone D’Arcangelo on Woody Allen’s latest project and using ACES from beginning to end.


Sarah Priestnall has worked in the entertainment technology for many years, always at the forefront of the digital transition, with companies like Kodak, Hollywood Intermediate and Codex.

Quick Chat: Freefolk US executive producer Celia Williams

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mill’s color team adds long-form work to offerings

The Mill, known for its work on spots, games and music videos, is broadening its offerings to include creative digital intermediate work for feature-length indie projects. This new initiative is being led by Mill colorist and director of DI, Damien Van Der Cruyssen at The Mill’s New York studio. Van Der Cruyssen has worked on features Clown (directed by Jon Watts), Blue Caprice (directed by Alexandre Moors) and the Mick Rock documentary Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock (directed by Barney Clay).

“Our passion is for the artistic side of the DI process,” says Van Der Cruyssen. “Being able to work on both commercials and movies is wonderful for a colorist. The variety helps you approach all different kinds of work, with each one giving you new creative skills that you can apply to the other.”

And how does the work differ from spots to long-form? “In commercials, I finesse every shot and push the boundaries to create the desired emotion and have an impact,” says Van Der Cruyssen. “For features, it’s more about letting the grade develop over time and building it around the arc of the story.”

L-R: Damien Van Der Cruyssen and Dee Allen.

Dee Allen, who was promoted to global color director back in July, calls this expansion of services a natural progression. “Our team collaborates with world class directors and DPs, and this allows us to extend the collaboration into features. In New York, we are also supported by our relationship with Technicolor PostWorks, providing an end-to-end solution to clients across all aspects of DI workflow and final deliverables. Of course, we’ll continue to grow our commercial and music video work, finding creative opportunities across all media.”

DI color work will be also available at other Mill studios in the moviemaking hubs of London and Los Angeles, as well as the burgeoning industry in Chicago. Additionally, filmmakers can work from any Technicolor location across the globe, either using The Mill’s remote network or by flying the talent into, for example, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.

Mill Color’s latest feature work can be seen in Barry (our main image), a biopic of outgoing US President Barack Obama set during his time as a college student in New York City. Released mid-December on Netflix, the film was directed by Vikram Gandhi and colored by Van Der Cruyssen.

Mill colorists already have experience working on features. Recently, head of color in NYC Fergus McCall graded The Greasy Strangler (directed by Jim Hosking) and colorist Mikey Rossiter completed work on Burn Country (directed by Ian Olds). In Chicago, head of color Luke Morrison graded Among Wolves (directed by Shawn Convey). In London, colorist Mick Vincent has done work for leading long-form TV shows including Dr. Who and Merlin. The team also has a successful history working with feature directors and DPs on commercials, including Guy Ritchie, Rupert Sanders, Tom Hopper, Peter Berg and Wally Pfister.

 

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.

Review: NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 for editors

By Brady Betzel

Basic color correction is rapidly becoming a skill that is expected of an editor, or even an assistant editor. If you have had the luxury of using a colorist and/or an online editor, you have probably seen them use apps such as Blackmagic Resolve, Avid Symphony, FilmLight’s Baselight or other color grading tools. These systems have so many levels of intricacy that without years of experience in color correction, most editors’ knowledge starts at the beginning stage.

If you are an editor looking to do basic color correction, slight secondary correction and, maybe, even a creative grade, you probably want to stay inside of your NLE, whether it’s Adobe Premiere, Apple FCPX, Avid Media Composer, Magix Vegas, or even After Effects. This is where NewBlueFX’s latest color correction and grading plug-in comes into play.

Featuring over 60 different looks (sometimes referred to as creative LUTs or preset color grades), skin tone isolation and the ability to isolate regions of an image for the video scopes to analyze, New Blue ColorFast 2 is a modest color correction app without the overwhelming toolset of a full-fledged color correction application.

The Details
ColorFast 2 costs $99 and works in apps like Vegas Pro 10+, Resolve 11+, Premiere CS6/6.5/CC, After Effects 5+, FCPX, Media Composer/Symphony 6+ and Grass Valley Edius 7 and 8. If you are using apps like Resolve you probably would only use ColorFast 2 for its preset looks since you already have access to all of the color correction tools included in the plug-in — unless you like the region isolating feature for the video scopes, something I find really intriguing.

ColorFast2 RGB Scope and the Lumetri RGB scope.

Most people reading this review will probably want to know why they should buy ColorFast 2 when Premiere Pro has a lot of these features built into their Lumetri color correction tools. To be honest, there are only a few things that ColorFast 2 has that Premiere, or other apps for that matter, don’t have: region-controlled video scopes, skin color isolating and NewBlueFX’s color presets. You should really check out NewBlueFX’s product page for ColorFast 2 to see some more examples of the color presets and download a trial for yourself.

Right off the bat, I felt that stacking ColorFast 2 after the Lumetri color correction tools in the effects panel in Premiere is the proper order of operations. If you are familiar with LUTs and how the chain of command works, you probably have experimented with color correcting before and after the LUT is applied.

Typically, a LUT gives the colorist a good starting point to grade from, but these days you may see creative LUTs. If the creative LUT doesn’t quite look right you will want add color correction first in the chain of command and then the LUT. This is how I would work with ColorFast 2 and Lumetri color correction tools. You will be correcting the footage to work with your creative LUT instead of correcting the LUT, which most of the time will give you inadequate results. Long story short: stack your ColorFast 2 effect after Lumetri tools in the effects window and then fine-tune the Basic Correction settings with your ColorFast 2 preset to get a great color grade.

The ColorFast2 waveform with isolated scope region.

Video Scopes
I was excited to check out the video scopes inside of ColorFast 2, so I jumped to the bottom where the Region Scopes twirl-down menu is. Under that is the Video Scopes menu, which contains Vectorscope (Classic), Vectorscope (Color), Vectorscope (Sat, RGB Parade), Waveform and Histogram. The real beauty is that NewBlueFX gives you the ability to isolate a square region of your footage to be output through the video scope. This allows you to pinpoint your correction a little easier, and I really love this feature… but I also noticed that when you have both the Lumetri video scopes, as well as the ColorFast 2 scopes there is a discrepancy in values. I tended to like the Lumetri video scopes a little better. In fact, they go all the way up to 100, where the ColorFast 2 scopes only go up to 80 — this could very well be a bug in the compatibility between ColorFast 2 and the new Adobe Premiere CC 2015.4.

One issue I found with the ColorFast 2 scopes was that I couldn’t move the actual scope around or have more than one on at a time. While the region selection is an awesome feature, being able to see your full image is sometimes more important, so that is why I would probably stick to the NLEs built-in scopes.

Primary, Secondary, Output Correction Menus
Going back to the top of the ColorFast 2 Effect Editor menus, up first is the Primary Correction twirl-down menu. Here you can quickly white-balance your footage with an eyedropper, even keyframe it. In addition, you can adjust the White Strength, White Tweak (fine-tune control of the white color), Hue, Saturation, Exposure, Brightness and Film Gamma. A problem I encountered was that if you do a primary color correct on your image and then choose a color preset, all of your primary work gets reset, which is a real bummer if you want to correct and then grade your footage. So, if you want to work in ColorFast 2 in a more traditional way, where you color correct then color grade, you may want to do it in two separate effects. Moreover, you may want to primary color correct inside of the Lumetri tools then stack the ColorFast 2 on top.

Secondaries menu.

Next up is the Secondary Correction twirl-down menu, which gets you into the real meat and potatoes of the plug-in. There is a helpful “Show Mask” drop down that will allow you to isolate and view Highlights, Midtones, Shadows, Skin Color Mask and a Shape Mask. Inside each of these you can adjust Tint, Saturation, overall Level, and even enable and disable this secondary if you want. Further down in the secondary menu you can adjust the High, Mid and Shadow thresholds (basically transitions from high to mid or mid to shadow), and even the blending and spread.

While still in the secondary twirl-down menu you can jump into the Skin Mask, which will quickly help you identify skin color, soften imperfections and even help keep skin color fidelity while adjusting the rest of your image.

The last menu is the Output Correction twirl-down. Here you can do a widespread correction that lands after the fine-tuning. You can adjust overall Saturation, Exposure and Brightness.

Summing Up
In the end, I think ColorFast 2 is best suited for people who want a quick color grade by applying a preset look but who also want a little ability to fine-tune that look. ColorFast 2 has some pretty good-looking presets like Vintage, Fallout, Gotham and even some black and white presets like B&W Ink. It’s even more fun to go and purposely change your white balance to something crazy, like a deep purple, for interesting grades. You should definitely try NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 if you are looking for some additional creative grade looks while still being able to individually tweak the output.

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.

Nice Shoes opens Toronto studio

A New York City post production mainstay for the past 20 years, Nice Shoes has gone international with the opening of Nice Shoes Toronto. The new studio is made up of creative directors Gary Thomas and Matt Greenwood, design director Stefan Woronko, senior colorist Roslyn Di Sisto and executive producer Kristen Van Fleet.

Prior to joining Nice Shoes, the team (who come from the now defunct post house Smith) delivered a series of vibrant animations and short films for the Cannes Lions Festival, working closely with Leo Burnett Chicago executive producer Juan Woodbury. Van Fleet and Di Sisto also graded Drake’s hit “Hotline Bling,” working with Director X on the color-driven music video.

Thomas, Greenwood and Woronko will also be added to the now-international Nice Shoes Creative Studio roster, which recently showed off the studio’s animation and virtual reality capabilities by designing and editing the opening titles of the 2016 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference.

Di Sisto joins the color and finishing team, who have delivered work for brands such as Volvo, Samsung, Jeep, McDonald’s and MasterCard as well as performers BeyoncéKanye WestLady Gaga and Pink. As executive producer, Van Fleet unites the divisions, working closely with creative studio EP Angela Bowen and color and finishing EP Tara Holmes.

“Toronto is one of the top hubs for advertising in the world, and we’ve assembled a team that reflects the high quality of creative content being produced in this market,” says managing director Justin Pandolfino.

The newly launched location will offer directors and clients in the US planning shoots in Canada a convenient and competitive production partner. Nice Shoes Toronto will be integrated with the studio’s Remote Color Grading network, creating opportunities for Di Sisto to work with clients throughout North America and for clients in Toronto to connect with the company’s full roster of colorists. Di Sisto will be working with FilmLight’s Baselight and with monitors calibrated by Nice Shoes’ team of engineers.

“Our Toronto studio not only extends our physical reach, but it expands the combined resources and talents of all locations, allowing us to be a more versatile and nimble partner to our clients,” adds Nice Shoes Creative Studio EP Bowen.

Main Photo Caption: (Back Row, L-R) Gary Thomas and Matt Greenwood. (Front, L-R) Kristen Van Fleet, Stefan Woronko, Adrian Gluvakovich and Roslyn Di Sisto.

Technicolor’s Maxine Gervais colors Sully

Warner Bros.’s Sully, which had its US premiere last month and opens in the UK next, tells the story of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in 2009, saving everyone on board.

Director Clint Eastwood once again called on long-time collaborator and cinematographer Tom Stern to shoot the film. He used Arri Alexa 65 large-format cameras at 6K resolution. Sully was then finished in 4K and readied for distribution, including to IMAX HDR theaters.

Maxine Gervais at work.

Technicolor colorist Maxine Gervais, who supervised dailies and provided the grade, helped develop the overall aesthetic of the film and helped established a look of photorealism with a “very current feel,” working closely with Stern and director Eastwood. Because the emergency landing took place on a cold January morning, it was important that the visual tones reflected how cold the river temperatures were along with the tension and urgency of the situation.

“Because it was freezing that day, we wanted to make sure that it looked and felt that way — and that’s what you experience when you see the movie,” says Gervais, who used FilmLight’s Baselight on the project.

Sully also features several flashback scenes, for which Gervais used Baselight’s compositing tools. “I love the composite grading capability where you can blend layers in additive, subtractive and other modes — each layer becomes an element. It can serve a creative yet intricate look as well as some basic VFX, and it just keeps getting better.”

Composite grading also enables precise control when grading VFX shots. “The 4K VFX shots were sometimes delivered with up to eight element mattes. It gave me the ability to stack and treat every element from the plane, the water, the background and foreground to create a unique set of creative grades to work with and manipulate in realtime, without processing or rendering,” she explains.

Technicolor’s MPC provided key visual effects. As the VFX shots were brought into the Baselight timeline, the evolving grade was applied so the film could be continually reviewed with Eastwood and Stern in an IMAX environment. “This is my third collaboration with the Malpaso team [Eastwood’s production company],” says Gervais, who also worked on Jersey Boys and American Sniper. “Sully is definitely high-tech in every sense of the word from a DI point of view. We had to ensure that the look would hold up, that the VFX and non-VFX shots would balance out, the blacks and the highlights would be pristine, and that the resolution was perfectly preserved to meet the exacting standards of IMAX.”

Gervais worked closely with the IMAX team, “especially with Lee Wimer, who had been a lab-timer at Technicolor for many years. Bob Peichel produced the Sully color finishing and Erik Kauffman delivered editorial conform, along with Jeff Pantaleo who was Gervais’ color assist. Technicolor also delivered theatrical marketing color for the film’s theatrical and broadcast trailers. In addition to color grading and color finishing at Technicolor Hollywood, Technicolor Toronto’s sound team created IMAX Audio DRM for the film’s theatrical release.

Check out Gervais discussing some of her work:

The color and sound of Netflix’s The Get Down

The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s new series for Netflix, tells the story of the birth of hip-hop in the late 1970s in New York’s South Bronx. The show depicts a world filled with colorful characters pulsating to the rhythms of an emerging musical form.

Shot on the Red Dragon and Weapon in 6K, sound and picture finishing for the full series was completed over several months at Technicolor PostWorks New York. Re-recording mixers Martin Czembor and Eric Hirsch, working under Luhrmann’s direction and alongside supervising sound designer Ruy Garcia, put the show’s dense soundtrack into its final form.

The Get Down

Colorist John Crowley, meanwhile, collaborated with Luhrmann, cinematographer William Rexer and executive producer Catherine Martin in polishing its look. “Every episode is like a movie,” says Czembor. “And the expectations, on all levels, were set accordingly. It was complex, challenging, unique… and super fascinating.”

The Get Down’s soundtrack features original music from composer Elliott Wheeler, along with classic hip-hop tracks and flashes of disco, new wave, salsa and even opera. And the music isn’t just ambiance; it is intricately woven into the story. To illustrate the creative process, a character’s attempt to work out a song lyric might seamlessly transform into a full-blown finished song.

According to Garcia, the show’s music team began working on the project from the writing stage. “Baz uses songs as plot devices — they become part of the story. The music works together with the sound effects, which are also very musical. We tuned the trains, the phones and other sounds and synced them to the music. When a door closes, it closes on the beat.”

Ruy Garcia

The blending of story, music, dialogue and sound came together in the mix. Hirsch, who mixed Foley and effects, recalls an intensive trial-and-error process to arrive at a layering that felt right. “There was more music in this show than anything I’ve previously worked on,” he says. “It was a challenge to find enough sound effects to fill out the world without stepping on the music. We looked for places where they could breathe.”

In terms of tools, they used Avid Pro Tools 12 HD for sound and music, ADR manager for ADR cueing and Sound Miner for Sound FX library management. For sound design they called on Altiverb, Speakerphone and SoundToys EchoBoy to create spaces, and iZotope Iris for sampling. “We mixed using two Avid Pro Tools HDX2 systems and a double operator Avid S6 control surface,” explains Garcia. “The mix sessions were identical to the editorial sessions, including plug-ins, to allow seamless exchange of material and elaborate conformations.”

Music plays a crucial role in the series’ numerous montage sequences, acting as a bridge as the action shifts between various interconnecting storylines. “In Episode 2, Cadillac interrogates two gang members about a nightclub shooting, as Shaolin and Zeke are trying to work out the ‘get down’ — finding the break for a hip-hop beat,” recalls Czembor. “The way those two scenes are cut together with the music is great! It has an amazing intensity.”

Czembor, who mixed dialogue and music, describes the mix as a collaborative process. During the early phases, he and Hirsch worked closely with Wheeler, Garcia and other members of the sound and picture editing teams. “We spent several days pre-mixing the dialogue, effects and music to get it into a basic shape that we all liked,” he explains. “Then Baz would come in and offer ideas on what to push and where to take it next. It was a fun process. With Baz, bigger and bolder is always better.”

The team mostly called on Garcia’s personal sound library, “plus a lot of vintage New York E train and subway recordings from some very generous fellow sound editors,” he says. “Shaolin Fantastic’s kung-fu effects come from an old British DJ’s effects record. We also recorded and edited extensive Foley, which was edited against the music reference guide.”

The Color of Hip-Hop
Bigger and bolder also applied to the picture finishing. Crowley notes that cinematographer William Rexer employed a palette of rich reddish brown, avocado and other colors popular during the ‘70s, all elevated to levels slightly above simple realism. During grading sessions with Rexer, Martin and Luhrmann, Crowley spent time enhancing the look within the FilmLight Baselight, sharpening details and using color to complement the tone of the narrative. “Baz uses color to tell the story,” he observes. “Each scene has its own look and emotion. Sometimes, individual characters have their own presence.”

ohn-crowley

John Crowley

Crowley points to a scene where Mylene gives an electrifying performance in a church (photo above). “We made her look like a superstar,” he recalls. “We darkened the edges and did some vignetting to make her the focus of attention. We softened her image and added diffusion so that she’s poppy and glows.”

The series uses archival news clips, documentary material and stock footage as a means of framing the story in the context of contemporary events. Crowley helped blend this old material with the new through the use of digital effects. “In transitioning from stock to digital, we emulated the gritty 16mm look,” he explains. “We used grain, camera shake, diffusion and a color palette of warm tones. Then, once we got into a scene that was shot digitally, we would gradually ride the grain out, leaving just a hint.”

Crowley says it’s unusual for a television series to employ such complex, nuanced color treatments. “This was a unique project created by a passionate group of artists who had a strong vision and knew how to achieve it,” he says.