Tag Archives: Matt Damon

Building a workflow for The Great Wall

Bling Digital, which is part of the SIM Group, was called on to help establish the workflow on Legendary/Universal’s The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon as a European mercenary imprisoned within the wall. While being held he sees exactly why the Chinese built this massive barrier in the first place — and it’s otherworldly. This VFX-heavy mystery/fantasy was directed by Yimou Zhang.

We reached out to Bling’s director of workflow services, Jesse Korosi, to talk us through the process on the film, including working with data from the Arri 65, which at that point hadn’t yet been used on a full-length feature film. Bling Digital is a post technology and services provider that specializes in on-set data management, digital dailies, editorial system rentals and data archiving

Jesse Korosi

When did you first get involved on The Great Wall and in what capacity?
Bling received our first call from the unit production manager Kwame Parker about providing on-set data management, dailies, VFX and stereo pulls, Avid rentals and a customized process for the digital workflow for The Great Wall in December of 2014.

At this time the information was pretty vague, but outlined some of the bigger challenges, like the film being shot in multiple locations within China, and that the Arri 65 camera may be used, which had not yet been used on a full-length feature. From this point on I worked with our internal team to figure out exactly how we would tackle such a challenge. This also required a lot of communication with the software developers to ensure that they would be ready to provide updated builds that could support this new camera.

After talks with the DP Stuart Dryburgh, the studio and a few other members of production, a big part of my job and anyone on my workflow team is to get involved as early as possible. Therefore our role doesn’t necessarily start on day one of principal photography. We want to get in and start testing and communicating with the rest of the crew well ahead of time so that by the first day, the process runs like a well-oiled machine and the client never has to be concerned with “week-one kinks.”

Why did they opt for the Arri 65 camera and what were some of the challenges you encountered?
Many people who we work with love Arri. The cameras are known for recording beautiful images. For anyone who may not be a huge Arri fan, they might dislike the lower resolution in some of the cameras, but it is very uncommon that someone doesn’t like the final look of the recorded files. Enter the Arri 65, a new camera that can record 6.5K files (6560×3100) and every hour recorded is a whopping 2.8TB per hour.

When dealing with this kind of data consumption, you really need to re-evaluate your pipeline. The cards are not able to be downloaded by traditional card readers — you need to use vaults. Let’s say someone records three hours of footage in a day — that equals 8.7TB of data. If you’re sending that info to another facility even using a 500Mb/s Internet line, that would take 38 hours to send! LTO-ing this kind of media is also dreadfully slow. For The Great Wall we ended up setting up a dedicated LTO area that had eight decks running at any given time.

Aside from data consumption, we faced the challenge of having no dailies software that could even read the files. We worked with Colorfront to get a new build-out that could work, and luckily, after having been through this same ordeal recording Arri Open Gate on Warcraft, we knew how to make this happen and set the client at ease.

Were you on set? Near set? Remote?
Our lab was located in the production office, which also housed editorial. Considering all of the traveling this job entailed, from Beijing and Qingdao to Gansu, we were mostly working remotely. We wanted to be as close to production as possible, but still within a controlled environment.

The dailies set-up was right beside editor Craig Wood’s suite, making for a close-knit workflow with editorial, which was great. Craig would often pull our dailies team into his suite to view how the edit was coming along, which really helped when assessing how the dailies color was working and referencing scenes in the cut when timing pickup shots.

How did you work with the director and DP?
At the start of the show we established some looks with the DP Stuart Dryburgh, ASC. The idea was that we would handle all of the dailies color in the lab. The DIT/DMT would note as much valuable information on set about the conditions that day and we would use our best judgment to fulfill the intended look. During pre-production we used a theatre at the China Film Group studio to screen and review all the test materials and dial in this look.

With our team involved from the very beginning of these color talks, we were able to ensure that decisions made on color and data flow were going to track through each department, all the way to the end of the job. It’s very common for decisions to be made color wise at the start of a job that get lost in the shuffle once production has wrapped. Plus, sometimes there isn’t anyone available who recognizes why certain decisions were made up front when you‘re in the post stage.

Can you talk us through the workflow? 
In terms of workflow, the Arri 65 was recording media onto Codex cards, which were backed up onset with a VaultS. After this media was backed up, the Codex card would be forwarded onto the lab. Within the lab we had a VaultXL that would then be used to back this card up to the internal drive. Unfortunately, you can’t go directly from the card to your working drive, you need to do two separate passes on the card, a “Process” and a “Transfer.”

The Transfer moves the media off the card and onto an internal drive on the Vault. The Process then converts all the native camera files into .ARI files. Once this media is processed and on the internal drive, we were able to move it onto our SAN. From there we were able to run this footage through OSD and make LTO back-ups. We also made additional back-ups to G-Tech GSpeed Studio drives that would be sent back to LA. However, for security purposes as well as efficiency, we encrypted and shipped the bare drives, rather than the entire chassis. This meant that when the drives were received in LA, we were able to mount them into our dock and work directly off of them, i.e no need to wait on any copies.

Another thing that required a lot of back and forth with the DI facility was ensuring that our color pipeline was following the same path they would take once they hit final color. We ended up having input LUTs for any camera that recorded a non-LogC color space. In regards to my involvement, during production in China I had a few members of my team on the ground and I was overseeing things remotely. Once things came back to LA and we were working out of Legendary, I became much more hands-on.

What kind of challenges did providing offline editorial services in China bring, and how did that transition back to LA?
We sent a tech to China to handle the set-up of the offline editorial suites and also had local contacts to assist during the run of the project. Our dailies technicians also helped with certain questions or concerns that came up.

Shipping gear for the Avids is one thing, however shipping consoles (desks) for the editors would have been far too heavy. Therefore this was probably one of the bigger challenges — ensuring the editors were working with the same caliber of workspace they were used to in Los Angeles.

The transition of editorial from China to LA required Dave French, director of post engineering, and his team to mirror the China set-up in LA and have both up and running at the same time to streamline the process. Essentially, the editors needed to stop cutting in China and have the ability to jump on a plane and resume cutting in LA immediately.

Once back in LA, you continued to support VFX, stereo and editorial, correct?
Within the Legendary office we played a major role in building out the technology and workflow behind what was referred to as the Post Hub. This Post Hub was made up of a few different systems all KVM’d into one desk that acted as the control center for VFX and stereo reviews, VFX and stereo pulls and final stereo tweaks. All of this work was controlled by Rachel McIntire, our dailies, VFX and stereo management tech. She was a jack-of-all-trades who played a huge role in making the post workflow so successful.

For the VFX reviews, Rachel and I worked closely with ILM to develop a workflow to ensure that all of the original on set/dailies color metadata would carry into the offline edit from the VFX vendors. It was imperative that during this editing session we could add or remove the color, make adjustments and match exactly what they saw on set, in dailies and in the offline edit. Automating this process through values from the VFX Editors EDL was key.

Looking back on the work provided, what would you have done differently knowing what you know now?
I think the area I would focus on next time around would be upgrading the jobs database. With any job we manage at Bling, we always ensure we keep a log of every file recorded and any metadata that we track. At the time, this was a little weak. Since then, I have been working on overhauling this database and allowing creative to access all camera metadata, script metadata, location data, lens data, etc. in one centralized location. We have just used this on our first job in a client-facing capacity and I think it would have done wonders for our VFX and stereo crews on The Great Wall. It is all too often that people are digging around for information already captured by someone else. I want to make sure there is a central repository for that data.

The A-List: Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan

By Iain Blair

It’s been 16 years since filmmaker and playwright Kenneth Lonergan made his prize-winning debut at Sundance with You Can Count on Me, which he wrote and directed. The film won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and was an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay.

Lonergan’s most recent film is also garnering award attention. Directed by one of the most distinctive writing talents on the American indie scene today, Manchester by the Sea, fulfills that earlier promise and extends Lonergan’s artistic vision.

Kenneth Lonergan

Both an ensemble piece and an intense character study, Manchester by the Sea tells the story of how the life of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a grieving and solitary Boston janitor, is transformed when he reluctantly returns to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) after the sudden death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). It’s also the story of the Chandlers, a working-class family living in a Massachusetts fishing village for generations, and a deeply poignant, unexpectedly funny exploration of the power of familial love, community, sacrifice and hope.

Co-produced by Matt Damon, the film from Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios — which received four SAG nominations, a crucial Oscars barometer — has a stellar behind-the-scenes list of collaborators, including DP Jody Lee Lipes (Trainwreck, Martha Marcy May Marlene), editor Jennifer Lame (Mistress America, Paper Towns), composer Lesley Barber (You Can Count on Me) and production designer Ruth De Jong (The Master, The Tree of Life).

I recently spoke with Lonergan about making the film and his workflow.

I heard Matt Damon was very involved in the genesis of this. How did this project come about?
Matt, his producer Chris Moore and John Krasinski were talking on the set of this film they were shooting about ideas for Matt’s directing debut. Matt and John brought me the basic idea and asked me to write it. So, I took some of their suggestions and went off and spent a couple of years working on it and expanding it. I don’t really start off with themes when I write. I always start with characters and stories that seem compelling, and then let the themes emerge as I go, and with this it became about people dealing with terrible loss, with the story of this man who’s carrying a weight that’s just too much to bear. It’s about loss, family and how people cope.

Is it true that Damon was going to star in it originally?
Yes, but what actually happened was that John was going to star and Matt was going to direct it, but then John’s schedule got too busy and then Matt was going to star and direct it, and then he also got too busy, so then I came onboard to also direct.

You ended up with a terrific cast. What did Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges bring to their roles?
Casey’s a truly wonderful actor who brings tremendous emotional depth even without saying much in a scene. He’s very hard working, never has a false moment and really has the ability to navigate through the complicated relationships and in the way he deals with people.

Michelle has a tremendous sense of character and is just brilliant, I think. She brings a beautiful characterization to the film and has to go through some pretty intense emotions. They’re both very generous actors, as there are a lot of people they have to interact with. They’re not show-boaters who just want to get up there and emote. And Lucas is this real find, a very talented young actor just starting out who really captured this character.

You shot this on location all over Cape Ann. How tough was it?
It was a bit grueling, as we shot from March until April and it was pretty cold a lot of the time, especially during prep and scouting in February. We had some schedule and budget pressures, but nothing out of the ordinary. I loved shooting around Cape Ann — the locals were great, and the place really seeped into the film in a way that I’m very happy about.

Do you like the post process?
I love post because of the quiet and the chance to really concentrate on making the film. I also like the lack of administrative duties and the sudden drop in the large number of people I’m responsible for on a set. It’s just you, the editor and editorial staff. Some of the technical finishing procedures can be a bit tiring after you’ve seen the film so many times, but overall post is very enjoyable for me.

I loved my editor, and doing all the sound mixing; it was so much fun putting it all together and seeing the story work, all without the stress of the shoot. You still have pressures, but not on the same scale. We did all the post in New York at Technicolor Postworks, and we worked from May through September so it was a pretty relaxed schedule. We had our basic template done by October, and then we did a bunch of little fixes from that point on so it would be ready for Sundance. Then we did a bit more work on it, but didn’t change much — we added four minutes.

Talk about working with editor Jennifer Lame. Was she on the set?
No, we sent her dailies in New York and we never actually met face-to-face until after the shoot. I had to interview her on the phone when she was in LA working on another job, and we got along right away. She’s a wonderful editor. We began cutting on Avid Media Composer at Technicolor Postworks and then did some over the summer at my rental house in Long Island, where she’d come over and set up. Then we finished up back in New York.

How challenging were all the flashbacks to cut, as they’re quite abrupt?
All the flashbacks were very interesting to put together, but they didn’t really present more of a challenge than anything else because they’re such an intrinsic part of the whole story. We didn’t want to telegraph them and warn the audience by doing them differently. We discussed them a lot. Should they be color-timed differently? Should they be shot differently? Look and sound different?

In the end, we decided they should be indistinguishable from the rest, and it’s mainly only because of the content and behavior that you know they’re flashbacks. They were fun to weave into the story, and the more seamless they were the better we liked it. Jennifer actually pointed out that it was almost like telling two stories, not just one, because that’s how Lee experiences the world. He’s always dealing with memories which pop up when they’re least wanted, and when he returns home to Manchester he’s flooded by memories — for him the past and present are almost the same.

You shot in early spring, but there’s a lot of winter scenes, so you must have needed some visual effects?
Some, but not that much. Hectic Electric in Amsterdam did them all. We had some snow enhancement, we added some smoke, clean-up and did some adjustments for light and weather, but scenes like the house fire were all real.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s hard to overstate. For me, music has the biggest influence on the feeling of a scene after the acting — even more than the cinematography in how it can instantly change the tone and feeling. You can make it cheerful or sad or ominous or peaceful just with the right music, and it adds all these new layers to the story and goes right to your emotions. So I love working with my composer and finding the right music.

Then I asked [supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer] Jacob Ribicoff to record sounds up in Cape Ann at all our locations — the particular sound of the marina, the woods, the bars — so it was all grounded in reality. The whole idea of post sound, which we did at Technicolor Postworks with Jacob, was to support that verisimilitude. He used Avid Pro Tools. There’s no stylization, and it was also about the ocean and that feeling of never being far from water. So the sound design was all about placing you in this specific environment.

Where did you do the DI?
We did the color correction with Jack Lewars, also at Technicolor Postworks. He did the final grade on Autodesk Flame. We shot digitally but I think the film looks very filmic. They did a great job.

Did it turn out the way you first envisioned it?
Pretty much, but it always changes from the script to the screen, and once you bring in your team and all their contributions and the locations and so on, it just expands in every direction. That’s the magic of movies.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

The A-List: An interview with ‘The Martian’ director Ridley Scott

By Iain Blair

A mysterious alien world in deep space, hundreds of years in the future. The gore and glory of imperial Rome, and the spectacle of its doomed gladiators. The nightmarish vision of a dystopian Los Angeles and its rogue replicants. The colossal grandeur of ancient Egypt and its massive monuments. The bloody battlefields of the Crusades. The pastoral glow of vineyards in southern France.

Those are just a few of the “other worlds” that Ridley Scott, one of the supreme stylists of contemporary cinema, has brought to life over the past five decades since making his feature debut with The Duellists in 1977. Scott’s directorial resume also includes Blade Runner, Alien and Thelma and Louise. Of all his contemporaries working today, Scott alone seems to be equally at ease creating vast landscapes set in both the distant past and distant future, in the process channeling David Lean, Cecil B. DeMille and Jim Cameron along with his own prodigious gifts as an epic storyteller and visual artist.

THE MARTIAN

Ridley Scott on location in Jordan for ‘The Martian.’

Now, the three-time Oscar-nominated director — whose credits include such varied fare as Hannibal, Robin Hood, Black Hawk Down, Exodus: Gods and Kings, A Good Year and G.I. Jane — has turned his attention to the red badlands of Mars in his new sci-fi thriller The Martian. Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Jeff Daniels, it tells the story of a botanist astronaut (Damon) left behind on the dead, hostile planet after an aborted mission and the efforts of NASA and a team of international scientists to rescue him.

I recently spoke to Scott, whose other credits include Prometheus, Matchstick Men, American Gangster and Legend, about making the 3D film, which was shot in Jordan and Hungary. We discussed his love of previs and post and — hold onto your seats!! — why post schedules are way too long for his liking.

You’ve made a lot of sci-fi films. What’s the appeal?
It’s a new canvas, it takes you into the arena of “anything goes,” but you also need to create a rulebook so the world you create is coherent, otherwise you just get rubbish. You also need a story that’s valid in that universe… and to create parameters. Anything doesn’t go!

The appeal here was it’s a sort of Robinson Crusoe survival story, set in space, five years in the future. There are no aliens and we went for a very realistic look and approach — I knew exactly what to do with it. Even as I was reading it, I was seeing Wadi Rum in Jordan, where we shot the landscapes, and I knew grading would be simple, as I could adjust terra cotta to orange landscapes.

THE MARTIAN

How early on did you decide to go 3D?
Immediately. I loved 3D when I first tried it out on Prometheus, and then we used it on Exodus, so this is the third one. Again DP Dariusz Wolski used the 3ality TS-5 Technica rigs with Red Epic Dragons and Scarlet Dragons. I love it! It’s only a problem if you allow it to become brain surgery, so you just need to know what you’re doing. It’s a bit like shooting four cameras, which I do anyway.

All the visual effects were obviously crucial. How soon did you integrate post and VFX with the production?
I start it almost immediately, and I also do a lot of boarding. I started well before we began The Martian, with a particular view or rock. I board it all myself, which makes it more accurate, and it allows you to pace a scene. They’re very instructive and they become the bible for everyone, and you can tell the VFX guys, “Here’s the lead-in, this is the cross-over, now we’re in the full VFX shot.”

What about digi-data animation?
I absolutely love it. I think it’s essential before you go into anything complex, because, first, you see what the problems are and, second, in editing you invariably haven’t got the greenscreen, so digital data enables you to cut it into the film instead of having blank space, and it stays there until you get a complete shot.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who draws upon his ingenuity to subsist on a hostile planet.

Did you do a lot of previs?
Yes, at MPC and Argon. I love that too as it let’s me see what’s what. It can be very sophisticated now in terms of working out the pacing and how you’ll cut. You can get very close to what the final thing will be.

Where did you post?
Partly in London and Budapest, and we did a lot of post as we shot. I cut as we go, every night, so by the end of the shoot I’m pretty close to the director’s cut. I hate waiting until the end of the shoot to start editing, so editor Pietro Scalia just got on with it. That let’s me see where I am.

We did the sound mix at Twickenham in the big new Dolby Atmos room. The mix is amazing as it gives you all this clarity and separation between dialogue and all the effects and other layers.

A lot of filmmakers complain about today’s accelerated post schedules. I assume you’re not one of them?
Are you kidding me? It’s like watching ivy grow when you’re waiting for all the VFX shots and so on. We worked 25 weeks on post for this, and I still think it’s a bit long. Today’s digital technology means you no longer travel with a million feet [of film], just digital output and data, and post is getting faster and faster, thank God. Shooting and posting in 35mm drove me crazy! To be honest, I’d be happy with an even shorter post. I love post, but if you know what you’re doing you don’t need to spend all that time. And digital has changed everything.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who must draw upon his ingenuity to survive on a hostile planet.How many visual effects shots are there?
Probably 1,300, and we had a lot of companies — Framestore, ILM, Milk, Prime Focus, The Senate, [The Territory for screen graphics] and my usual VFX supervisor Richard Stammers, who’s been with me since Kingdom of Heaven. Funnily enough, the hardest shot to do was the [scene] with the tape, where it floats around and curls in a rather balletic fashion. That was very tricky to get right.

Where was the DI?
At Company 3 in London. I love the DI. For me it’s the final touch, like grading still photographs, and I used my favorite colorist, Stephen Nakamura, who’s a top guy at their LA office and he would travel to London. He’s very fast, and we did the whole film in just two weeks. I’m very happy with the way it looks. (Nakamura used Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve on the film.)

What’s next?
I plan to start Alien: Paradise Lost in February, maybe in Toronto. It’s a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien. I’m also doing a lot of TV projects, including The Hot Zone, a drama with Fox about the Ebola virus.

You seem to be working at a flat-out pace these days, directing a huge movie every year. You turn 78 in November. Do you ever see yourself slowing down?
(Laughs) Hopefully not! I actually think I’m speeding up, and as long as I find great projects to make that really interest me, I’ll keep working.

Photos by Giles Keyte and Aidan Monaghan.


Check back in soon for our audio post coverage of The Martian.