Tag Archives: VFX

London’s Lola provides VFX for three holiday shows

London’s Lola Post Production has been busy leading up to the holidays, working on three shows scheduled to air over the Christmas period: Little Women (BBC One), Grandpa’s Great Escape (BBC One) and Ratburger (Sky One).

The team created over 50 shots for Grandpa’s Great Escape. Based on the book by David Walliams and produced by King Bert, it’s the story of Grandpa, a World War II flying ace, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is moved to an old peoples’ home called Twilight Towers, run by Miss Dandy.

Grandpa’s Great Escape

Lola’s Tim Zaccheo created an entirely CG landscape, sky and planes (and avatars of the characters) in Side Effects Houdini and PlanetSide Software’s Terragen. Chris Glew and Desi Valcheva comped the greenscreen cockpit shots of Grandpa and Jack as they’re pursued by RAF jet fighters.

Another King Bert production and David Walliams adaptation is Ratburger (our main image). Lola completed more than 100 shots for this gruesome yet funny story. Ratburger follows a young girl named Zoe, who befriends a baby rat and names him Armitage. He’s no ordinary rat — he can dance and that’s where Lola came in. They built a photoreal CG dancing rat to take over from the on-set Armitage and to perform the more dangerous stunts.

Lola’s animation team (headed by Helen Bucknall) produced the dancing rat action for this Sky One Christmas Eve offering.

For Playground TV’s three-part adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Lola created around 80 VFX shots.

VFX house Kevin adds three industry veterans

Venice, California-based visual effects house Kevin, founded by Tim Davies, Sue Troyan and Darcy Parsons, has beefed up its team even further with the hiring of head of CG Mike Dalzell, VFX supervisor Theo Maniatis and head of technology Carl Loeffler. This three-month-old studio has already worked on spots for Jaguar, Land Rover, Target and Old Spice, and is currently working on a series of commercials for the Super Bowl.

Dalzell brings years of experience as a CG supervisor and lead artist — he started as a 3D generalist before focusing on look development and lighting — at top creative studios including Digital Domain, MPC and Psyop, The Mill, Sony Imageworks and Method. He was instrumental in look development for VFX Gold Clio and British Arrow-winner Call of Duty Seize Glory and GE’s Childlike Imagination. He has also worked on commercials for Nissan, BMW, Lexus, Visa, Cars.com, Air Force and others. Early on, Dalzell honed his skills on music videos in Toronto, and then on feature films such as Iron Man 3 and The Matrix movies, as well as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Maniatis, a Flame artist and on-set VFX supervisor, has a wide breadth of experience in the US, London and his native Sydney. “Tim [Davies] and I used to work together back in Australia, so reconnecting with him and moving to LA has been a blast.”

Maniatis’s work includes spots for Apple Watch 3 + Apple Music’s Roll (directed by Sam Brown), TAG Heuer’s To Jack (directed by and featuring Patrick Dempsey), Destiny 2’s Rally the Troops and Titanfall 2’s Become One (via Blur Studios), and PlayStation VR’s Batman Arkham and Axe’s Office Love, both directed by Filip Engstrom. Prior to joining Kevin, Maniatis worked with Blur Studios, Psyop, The Mill, Art Jail and Framestore.

Loeffler is creating the studio’s production model using the latest Autodesk Flame systems, high-end 3D workstations and render nodes and putting new networking and storage systems into place. Kevin’s new Culver City studio will open its doors in Q1, 2018 and Loeffler will guide the current growth in both hardware and software, plan for the future and make sure Kevin’s studio is optimized for the needs of production. He has over two decades of experience building out and expanding the technologies for facilities including MPC and Technicolor.

Image: (L-R) Mike Dalzell, Carl Loeffler and Theo Maniatis.

Shotgun 7.6 adds analytics feature set for VFX and animation

Shotgun Software has released Shotgun 7.6, the latest version of its cloud-based review and production tracking software, featuring a new set of analytics and reporting tools that give studios the ability to visualize key production information, keep a close eye on the progress of their projects and make business-critical decisions quickly.

The new normal is shorter turnaround, tighter budgets and growing creative demands, so studios need to be efficient, identify business issues quickly and adjust where and how resources are being used during production. Production Insights in Shotgun provides studios with an overview of the health of projects as well as the ability to dive into the details to see where time and resources are used, so operations can be streamlined and better decisions can be made.

“Our new Production Insights features help Shotgun customers answer urgent and costly production questions such as: Are we going to hit our deadline? How much work is there left to do? Where are we struggling?” explains James Pycock, head of product management for Shotgun. “Having access to these tools out of the box gives everyone instant at-a-glance visualizations of how and where they are spending time and resources.”

Shotgun Production Insights include:

– Analytics: The ability to apply production data in Shotgun to optimize how resources are used, plan ahead for tight deadlines and budgets, and accurately compile bids for upcoming projects.
– Data Visualization: In addition to the existing horizontal bar chart in Shotgun, there are now new graph types, including pie charts, vertical bar charts and line charts.
– Data Grouping: Display data is now available as stacked (see picture) or un-stacked bar charts to visualize in even greater at-a-glance detail.
– Presets: Users can drag and drop from a number of pre-configured presets to build reports instantly, with flexible customization options.

Shotgun pricing starts at $30 per account/per month with what they call “Awesome” support, or $50 per account/per month for “Super Awesome” support. They are offering free trials here.

Abbe Daniel joins NYC’s Eight VFX as EP

Eight VFX, a New York- and Los Angeles-based visual effects, design and production studio, has named Abbe Daniel executive producer for its New York studio.

Daniel joins Eight VFX (www.eightvfx.com) from Leroy & Clarkson, a brand design and identity boutique in New York. She’s held key positions at production companies and agencies, specializing in the production of digital ad campaigns, visual effects work and experiential installations. Prior to Leroy & Clarkson, she was an EP at the experiential studio Fake Love and has held EP/MD or senior producer posts at such studios as Digital Kitchen, Curious Pictures, Click3x and R/GA.

Daniel says she was drawn to the company largely based on the level of creative work. “It’s an impressive portfolio, coming from a boutique company such as this, and that’s what first caught my eye. Once the leadership team and I discussed the goals and strategy, we knew we were all on the same page about how to expand the New York office. The cultural fit just felt right, almost immediately.”

In her new position, she’ll play several key roles in the New York office; in addition to acting as both EP and GM, she’ll oversee sales and marketing and is in the process of recruiting and hiring an experienced creative team, with plans to add additional VFX supervisors, CG supervisors, 2D and 3D lead compositors, designers and other key contributors.

Currently Eight handles a range of work, including commercials for such brands as Target, Pandora, Puma, Ram Trucks, New York Lottery, Call of Duty, Honda, Perrier and others. The studio has partnered with such directors as Craig Gillespie, Michel Gondry, Noam Murro, Tom Kuntz and Michael Gracey.

The studio also has extensive feature credits, and provided VFX for the new film I, Tonya, directed by Gillespie. Eight’s New York office was the sole effects studio on this picture, completing over 200 shots and delivering in under four months. They’ve also worked on films like Beasts of No Nation for Cary Fukunaga, Knight & Day for James Mangold, Mother! for Darren Aronofsky, Hostage for Florent Emilio Siri and Gillespie’s 2014 sports drama, Million Dollar Arm.

Eight VFX has branched into episodic television as well, working on the hit Netflix series Stranger Things 2 and the Fox series The Orville, a the sci-fi comedy from Seth MacFarlane. For the latter, the studio turned around over 120 shots in under four weeks. “They tapped into our strengths for large digital matte paintings, set extensions and photoreal CG,” Daniel says about their work.

The main focus of growing Eight VFX’s presence in New York, says Daniel, will be to continue to build on their current relations, both with directors and production houses, as well as with agencies and brands. “We’re also expanding our design and development and mixed media services for all of our clients across the board. Our goal is to help clients achieve their visions and meet their objectives, so all touchpoints across all platforms will be important.”

HPA celebrates creatives at annual awards ceremony

The Hollywood Professional Association‘s 2017 HPA Awards, held on November 16, recognize individuals and companies for outstanding post production contributions made in the creation of feature films, television, commercials and entertainment content.

Awards were given out in 12 creative categories honoring color grading, sound, editing and visual effects for commercials, television and feature film. Larry Chernoff of MTI received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and special awards were presented for Engineering Excellence and Creativity and Innovation.

The winners of the 2017 HPA Awards are:

Outstanding Color Grading
Outstanding Color Grading – Feature Film

WINNER:
“Ghost in the Shell”
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

“The Birth of a Nation”
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Hidden Figures”
Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

“Doctor Strange”
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Beauty and the Beast”
Stefan Sonnenfeld // Company 3

“Fences”
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

Outstanding Color Grading – Television

WINNER:
“The Crown – Smoke and Mirrors”
Asa Shoul // Molinare

“The Last Tycoon – Burying the Boy Genius”
Timothy Vincent // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Game of Thrones – Dragonstone”
Joe Finley // Chainsaw

“Genius – Einstein: Chapter 1”
Pankaj Bajpai // Encore Hollywood

“The Man in the High Castle – Detonation”
Roy Vasich // Technicolor

Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial

WINNER:
Jose Cuervo – “Last Days”
Tom Poole // Company 3

Land O’ Lakes – “The Farmer”
Billy Gabor // Company 3

Pennzoil – “Joyride Tundra”
Dave Hussey // Company 3

Nedbank – “A Tale of a Note”
Sofie Borup // Company 3

Squarespace – “John’s Journey”
Tom Poole // Company 3

Outstanding Editing
Outstanding Editing – Feature Film   

WINNER:
“Dunkirk”
Lee Smith, ACE

“Hidden Figures”
Peter Teschner

“The Ivory Game”
Verena Schönauer

“Get Out”
Gregory Plotkin, ACE

“Lion”
Alexandre de Franceschi

Outstanding Editing – Television

WINNER:
“Stranger Things – Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Outstanding Editing – Commercial

WINNER:
Nespresso – “Comin’ Home”
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit 

Bonafont – “Choices”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Optum – “Heroes”
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit

SEAT – “Moments”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Outstanding Sound
Outstanding Sound – Feature Film

WINNER:
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Addison Teague, Dave Acord, Chris Boyes, Lora Hirschberg // Skywalker Sound

“The Fate of the Furious”
Peter Brown, Mark Stoeckinger, Paul Aulicino, Steve Robinson, Bobbi Banks // Formosa Group

“Sully”
Alan Murray, Bub Asman, John Reitz, Tom Ozanich // Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services

“John Wick: Chapter 2”
Mark Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin, Andy Koyama, Martyn Zub, Gabe Serrano // Formosa Group

“Doctor Strange”
Shannon Mills, Tom Johnson, Juan Peralta, Dan Laurie // Skywalker Sound

Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Outstanding Sound – Television

WINNERS (TIE):
“Stranger Things – Chapter 8: The Upside Down”
Craig Henighan // FOX
Bradley North, Joe Barnett, Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Tiffany S. Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

“American Gods – The Bone Orchard”
Bradley North, Joseph DeAngelis, Kenneth Kobett, David Werntz, Tiffany S. Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

“Underground – Soldier”
Larry Goeb, Mark Linden, Tara Paul // Sony Pictures Post

“Game of Thrones – The Spoils of War”
Tim Kimmel, MPSE, Paula Fairfield, Mathew Waters, CAS, Onnalee Blank, CAS, Bradley C. Katona, Paul Bercovitch // Formosa Group

“The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”
Pete Horner // Skywalker Sound
Dimitri Tisseyre // Envelope Music + Sound
Dennis Hamlin // Hamlin Sound

Outstanding Sound – Commercial 

WINNER:
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – “We’re The Superhumans”
Anthony Moore // Factory

Honda – “Up”
Anthony Moore, Neil Johnson, Jack Hallett // Factory
Sian Rogers // Siren

Virgin Media – “This Is Virgin Fibre”
Anthony Moore // Factory

Kia – “Hero’s Journey”
Nathan Dubin // Margarita Mix Santa Monica

SEAT – “Moments”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

War for the Planet of the Apes

Outstanding Visual Effects
Outstanding Visual Effects – Feature Film

WINNER:
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
Dan Lemmon, Anders Langlands, Luke Millar, Erik Winquist, Daniel Barrett // Weta Digital

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
Gary Brozenich, Sheldon Stopsack, Patrick Ledda, Richard Clegg, Richard Little // MPC

“Beauty and the Beast”
Kyle McCulloch, Glen Pratt, Richard Hoover, Dale Newton, Neil Weatherley // Framestore

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Guy Williams, Kevin Andrew Smith, Charles  Tait, Daniel Macarin, David Clayton // Weta Digital

“Ghost in the Shell”
Guillaume Rocheron, Axel Bonami, Arundi Asregadoo, Pier Lefebvre, Ruslan Borysov // MPC

Outstanding Visual Effects – Television

WINNER:
“Black Sails – XXIX”
Erik Henry
Yafei Wu, Nicklas Andersson, David Wahlberg // Important Looking Pirates
Martin Lippman // Rodeo

“The Crown – Windsor”
Ben Turner, Tom Debenham, Oliver Cubbage, Lionel Heath, Charlie Bennett // One of Us

“Taboo – Episode One”
Henry Badgett, Nic Birmingham, Simon Rowe, Alexander Kirichenko, Finlay Duncan // BlueBolt VFX

“Ripper Street – Occurrence Reports”
Ed Bruce, Nicholas Murphy, Denny Cahill, Piotr Swigut, Mark Pinheiro // Screen Scene

“Westworld – The Bicameral Mind”
Jay Worth // Deep Water FX
Bobo Skipper, Gustav Ahren, Jens Tenland // Important Looking Pirates
Paul Ghezzo // COSA VFX

Outstanding Visual Effects – Commercial

WINNER:
Kia – “Hero’s Journey”
Robert Sethi, Chris Knight, Tom Graham, Jason Bergman // The Mill

Walmart – “Lost & Found”
Morgan MacCuish, Michael Ralla, Aron Hjartarson, Todd Herman // Framestore

Honda – “Keep the Peace”
Laurent Ledru, Georgia Tribuiani, Justin Booth-Clibborn, Ellen Turner // Psyop

Nespresso – “Comin’ Home”
Matt Pascuzzi, Martin Lazaro, Murray Butler, Nick Fraser, Callum McKeveny // Framestore

Walmart – “The Gift”
Mike Warner, Kurt Lawson, Charles Trippe, Robby  Geis // ZERO VFX

The following special awards, which were previously announced, were also presented this evening:

HPA ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE AWARD
2017 Winners:
-Colorfront // Colorfront Engine
-Dolby // Dolby Vision Post-Production Tools
-Red Digital Cinema // Weapon 8K Vista Vision
-SGO // Mistika VR

Honorable Mentions were awarded to Canon USA for Critical Viewing Reference Displays and to Eizo for ColorEdge CG318-4K.

HPA JUDGES AWARD FOR CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION

2017 Winner
NASA, Amazon Web Services, and AWS Elemental, an Amazon Web Services Company // The First Live 4K Stream from the International Space Station

HPA LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
2017 Honoree: Larry Chernoff

Dementia 13: Helping enhance the horror with VFX

By Randi Altman

As scary movies are making a comeback and putting butts in seats, as they say, the timing couldn’t be better for NBC Universal’s remake of Dementia 13, a 1963 horror film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The 2017 version, directed by Richard LeMay, can be streamed on all major VOD platforms. It focuses on a vengeful ghost, a mysterious murderer and a family with a secret. Jeremy Wanek was the lead VFX artist on Dementia 13, and Wayne Harry Johnson Jr. was the VFX producer. They are from Black Space VFX. We reached out to them with some questions.

Jeremy Wanek

How early did you get involved in Dementia 13?
Johnson: We were involved from the second or third draft of the script. Dan De Filippo, who wrote and produced the film, wanted our feedback immediately in terms of what was possible for VFX in the film. We worked with them through pre-production and even fielded a few questions during production. It is extremely important to start thinking about VFX immediately in any production. That way you can write for it and plan your shoot for it. There is nothing worse than a production hoping it can be fixed by VFX work. So getting us involved right away saves everyone a lot of time and money.

Wanek: During preproduction it seems incredibly common for filmmakers to underestimate how many effect shots there will be on their films. They forget about the simple/invisible effects, while concentrating on the bigger and flashier stuff. I don’t blame them; it’s nearly impossible to figure everything out ahead of time. There are always unexpected things that come up during production as well. Always.

For example, on Dementia 13 they shot in this really cool castle location, but they found out while on production that they couldn’t use as many of the practical blood effects as they intended. They didn’t want a bloody mess! So, we were asked to do more digital blood effects and enhancements.

Wayne Harry Johnson, Jr.

Were they open to suggestions from you or did they have a very specific idea of what they wanted?
Johnson: As in every production, there are always elements that are very specifically asked for, but director Richard LeMay is very collaborative. We discussed in great detail the look of all the important effects. And he was very open to suggestions and ideas. This was our second film with Rich. We also did the VFX work on his new film Blood Bound, and it has been a great creative relationship. We can’t wait to work with him again.

Wanek: Yeah, Rich has a vision for sure, but he always gives us creative freedom to explore options and see what we can come up with. I think that’s the best of both worlds.

How many shots did you provide?
Johnson: We did roughly 60 VFX shots for the film, and hopefully the audience won’t notice all of them. If we do our jobs correctly, most VFX work is invisible. As in all films there are little things that get cleaned up or straightened out. VFX isn’t just about robots and explosions. It has a lot to do with keeping the film looking the best it can be by hiding the blemishes that could not be avoided during production.

So again it is important for the filmmakers to consult on their film as they go and ask questions as they go. We all want the same thing for the film, and that is to make it the best it can be and sometimes that means painting out a light switch or removing a sign on that beautiful shot of a road.

Wanek: It’s interesting to note how many shots were intended during preproduction and how many we ended up doing in post. I’d say we ended up doing at least twice as many shots, which is not uncommon. There are elements like the smoke on Kathleen, the ghost girl, when it’s hard to know exactly how many times you’re going to cut to a shot of her. Half of the effect shots for the movie involved creating her ghostly appearance.

Ghost girl Kathleen.

Can you describe the type of effects you provided on the show?
Wanek: We did muzzle flashes, wire removal, visible breath from characters in a cold environment, frost that encapsulates windows, digital hands that pull a character off a dock and into water (that included a digital water splash), the Kathleen ghost effect and an assortment of blood effects.

You created a lot of element effects, such as smoke, water, blood, etc. What was the hardest one to create and why?
Wanek: Creating the smoke that blankets Kathleen was the most challenging and time consuming effect. There were about 30 shots of her in total, and I tackled them myself. With the quick turnaround on the film, it made for some long nights. Every action she performed, and each new camera angle, presented unique challenges. Thankfully, she doesn’t move much in most of the shots. But for shots where she picks a gun up from the ground, or walks across the room, I had to play around with the physics to make it play more realistically, which takes time.

What tools did you use on this project?
Wanek: We composited in Adobe After Effects, tracked in Mocha AE, used Photoshop to assist in painting out objects/wire removal, and I relied heavily on Red Giant’s Trapcode Particular to create the particle effects — ghostly smoke, some of the blood effects and a digital water splash.

Our artists work remotely, so we stored the shots on Dropbox to easily send them out to other artists on the team, who would then download them to their own hard drives. To review shots it was a similar process, using Dropbox and emailing the director a link to stream/download. We kept shot names and the progress info on all shots organized using a Google spreadsheet. This was great because we could update it live, and everyone was on the same page at all times.

CG hands.

Turnarounds are typically tight? Was that the case with Dementia 13? If so, how did you make it work?
Johnson: Yes, we had roughly 30 days to complete the VFX work on the film. Tight deadlines can be hard but we were aware of that when we went into it. What really helps with managing tight deadlines is all the upfront communication between us and the director. By the time we started we knew exactly what Rich was looking for so dialing it in was a much easier and faster process. We also previewed early cuts of the film so we could see and anticipate any potential problems ahead of time. Planning and preparing solves most problems even when time is tight.

So as I said, having VFX involved from the very beginning is essential. Bring us in early, even when it’s just a treatment. We can get a sense of what needs to be done, how long it will take and start estimating budgets. The thing that makes tight deadlines hard is that lots of filmmakers think about VFX last, or very late in the process. Then when they want it done fast they have to compromise because the effect may not have been planned right. So as you can see we have a theme, call us early on.

Wanek: And as I mentioned earlier, unexpected things happen. The dreaded, “we’ll fix it in post,” is a real thing, unfortunately. Filmmakers need to make sure they have additional VFX budget for those surprises.

What was the most challenging part of the process?
Johnson: Each area can have its own challenges. But making anything move like liquid and look convincing is hard. We worked on some ghostly blood effects in the title sequence of the film that were difficult, but in the end we think it looks great. It is a subtle plant for the audience to know there is a bit of supernatural action in this film. Our company is also a virtual company, meaning all of us work remotely. So sometimes communication internally and with clients can be a challenge, but in the end a quick phone call usually solves most problems. Again, more communication and earlier involvement helps alleviate a lot of issues.

CG blood spurts.

What’s next for you and your studio, and where are you based?
Wanek: We are based in Minneapolis, and just opened a second office in New York City. Wayne, myself and Adam Natrop are partners in the company. We’re currently in post production on a horror comedy zombie/hockey movie, Ahockalypse. It’s wackier than it sounds. It’s a lot of fun and pretty bold!

Wayne wrote and directed the film, and I edited it. We just handed it off to our sound designer, to our composer, and are starting work on the VFX. We’re hoping to finish before the year is up. We have several projects on the horizon that we can’t say anything about yet, but we’re excited!

Behind the Title: Framestore director of production & ops Sarah Hiddlestone

NAME: Sarah Hiddlestone

COMPANY: Framestore

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Framestore is a BAFTA-and Oscar-winning visual effects studio. We produce visual content for any screen from films and TV programs to theme park rides to large-scale installations and virtual/augmented/mixed realities.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Production & Operations

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role oversees daily negotiation and communication, and ensures that the New York office runs smoothly. I focus on creating an environment, studio culture and working process that allows teams to produce high-quality work on time and on budget. My role looks at the bigger picture, ensuring projects are run as efficiently as possible. I’m constantly problem-solving and pushing to create the best working environment for our clients and creative talent.

Framestore

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Choosing soap.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My talented production team and our talented artists — they are the life and soul of all the work we produce at Framestore.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Tantrums.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
The morning. I’m usually one of the first in, and I get a lot done as the office wakes up.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Living as a beach bum in Bali.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I fell into this profession. I always loved animation, but studied hospitality management — thought I wanted to be a chef but hated the hours. Oh, the irony. I worked my way up from a PA, learning everything I know on the job. Along the way I’ve developed vital, in-depth knowledge of the production, VFX, VR and emerging technology processes, and the ability to see Framestore as a global whole rather than at individual office or project level.

Working in VFX has allowed me to travel the world, live in different cities (Sydney, New York, London) and meet a network of firm friends that span the globe. My VFX family. I am lucky to have worked at Framestore in both the London and NY offices.

Fantastic Beasts experience

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I am behind the scenes on most of the jobs that come out of the NY office. A stand out for our New York office would include last year’s virtual school bus experience Field Trip to Mars with Lockheed Martin and McCann. It’s gone on to win over 100 awards and truly showed the strength and diversity of our staff. More recently we worked with multiple Academy Award-winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki to visualize One Night for Absolut and BBH. Our New York office collaborated with Framestore’s film teams in London and Montreal to produce the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them experience.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
My personal all-time favorite is Chemical Brothers’ Salmon Dance, which I produced when working in the London office of Framestore for Dom & Nic at Outsider. I also love The Tale of Three Brothers (an animated storybook within Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1). It is a stunning piece of work.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
There’s just one: my iPhone.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Pilates, boxing, sitting in silence, lots of slow breathing. Thinking “calm blue ocean.”

MPC adds Flame artists and executive producer to its finishing team

MPC has strengthened its finishing capabilities with the addition of Flame artist and creative director Claus Hansen, senior Flame artist Noah Caddis and executive producer Robert Owens. The trio, who have joined MPC from Method, have over a decade of experience working together. They will be based in MPC’s Culver City studio.

Owens, Hansen and Caddis are all looking forward to collaborating with MPC’s colorists and artists who are located all around the world. “We were attracted to MPC for the quality of work they are renowned for. At the same time it feels very accessible, like we’re working in a collective group, all driven by the same thing, to make great work,” says Hansen. “We are at a point in our careers where we can take our knowledge and skills to make the best experience possible for the company and clients.”

“There is an assurance that all projects will be treated with an artistic eye and scrutiny that is not typically found in the fast-paced nature of finishing and beauty,” adds Caddis.

Hansen has worked with agencies, such as CP+B, Wieden + Kennedy and Deutsch, creating effects, beauty and finishing work on content for brands including BMW, Lexus, Maserati, Microsoft, Target and Revlon.

Caddis has worked on spots for Infiniti, Kia, Adobe, Diet Dr Pepper and others. He too has a strong history of partnering with high-profile agencies like Deutsch, CP+B, Media Arts Lab, Agency 215 and David & Goliath.

“Robert, Noah and I have noticed the strong sense of camaraderie since we arrived, and it’s contagious,” says Hansen. “It gives the feeling of being in a tight-knit, creatively focused group that you want to be a part of. And that’s very appealing.”

Main Image: (L-R) Noah Caddis, Robert Owen and Claus Hansen.

Review: Blackmagic Resolve 14

By David Cox

Blackmagic has released Version 14 of its popular DaVinci Resolve “color grading” suite, following a period of open public beta development. I put color grading in quotes, because one of the most interesting aspects about the V14 release is how far-reaching Resolve’s ambitions have become, beyond simply color grading.

Fairlight audio within Resolve.

Prior to being purchased by Blackmagic, DaVinci Resolve was one of a small group of high-end color grading systems being offered in the industry. Blackmagic then extended the product to include editing, and Version 14 offers several updates in this area, particularly around speed and fluidity of use. A surprise addition is the incorporation of Fairlight Audio — a full-featured audio mixing platform capable of producing feature film quality 3D soundscapes. It is not just an external plugin, but an integrated part of the software.

This review concentrates on the color finishing aspects of Resolve 14, and on first view the core color tools remain largely unchanged save for a handful of ergonomic improvements. This is not surprising given that Resolve is already a mature grading product. However, Blackmagic has added some very interesting tools and features clearly aimed at enabling colorists to broaden their creative control. I have been a long-time advocate of the idea that a colorist doesn’t change the color of a sequence, but changes the mood of it. Manipulating the color is just one path to that result, so I am happy to see more creatively expansive facilities being added.

Face Refinement
One new feature that epitomizes Blackmagic’s development direction is the Face Refinement tool. It provides features to “beautify” a face and underlines two interesting development points. Firstly, it shows an intention by the developers to create a platform that allows users to extend their creative control across the traditional borders of “color” and “VFX.”

Secondly, such a feature incorporates more advanced programming techniques that seek to recognize objects in the scene. Traditional color and keying tools simply replace one color for another, without “understanding” what objects those colors are attached to. This next step toward a more intelligent diagnosis of scene content will lead to some exciting tools and Blackmagic has started off with face-feature tracking.

Face Refinement

The Face Refinement function works extremely well where it recognizes a face. There is no manual intervention — the tool simply finds a face in the shot and tracks all the constituent parts (eyes, lips, etc). Where there is more than one face detected, the system offers a simple box selector for the user to specify which face to track. Once the analysis is complete, the user has a variety of simple sliders to control the smoothness, color and detail of the face overall, but also specific controls for the forehead, cheeks, chin, lips, eyes and the areas around and below the eyes.

I found the face de-shine function particularly successful. A light touch with the controls yields pleasing results very quickly. A heavy touch is what you need if you want to make someone look like an android. I liked the fact that you can go negative with some controls and make a face look more haggard!

In my tests, the facial tracking was very effective for properly framed faces, even those with exaggerated expressions, headshakes and so on. But it would fail where the face became partially obscured, such as when the camera panned off the face. This led to all the added improvements popping off mid shot. While the fully automatic operation makes it quick and simple to use, it affords no opportunity for the user to intervene and assist the facial tracking if it fails. All things considered though, this will be a big help and time saver for the majority of beauty work shots.

Resolve FX
New for Resolve 14 are a myriad of built-in effects called Resolve FX, all GPU-accelerated and available to be added in the edit “page” directly to clips, or in the color page attached to nodes. They are categorized into Blurs, Light, Color, Refine, Repair, Stylize, Texture and Warp. A few particularly caught my eye, for example in “color,” the color compressor brings together nearby colors to a central hue. This is handy for unifying colors of an unevenly lit client logo into their precise brand reference, or dealing with blotchy skin. There is also a color space transform tool that enables LUT-less conversion between all the major color “spaces.”

Color

The dehaze function derives a depth map by some mysterious magic to help improve contrast over distance. The “light” collection includes a decent lens flare that allows plenty of customizing. “Styles” creates watercolor and outline looks while Texture includes a film grain effect with several film-gauge presets. I liked the implementation of the new Warp function. Rather than using grids or splines, the user simply places “pins” in the image to drag certain areas around. Shift-adding a pin defines a locked position immune from dragging. All simple, intuitive and realtime, or close to it.

Multi-Skilled and Collaborative Workflows
A dilemma for the Resolve developers is likely to be where to draw the line between editing, color and VFX. Blackmagic also develops Fusion, so they have the advanced side of VFX covered. But in the middle, there are editors who want to make funky transitions and title sequences, and colorists who use more effects, mattes and tracking. Resolve runs out of ability in these areas quite quickly and this forces the more adventurous editor or colorist into the alien environment of Fusion. The new features of Resolve help in this area, but a few additions to Resolve, such as better keyframing of effects and easier ability to reference other timeline layers in the node panel could help to extend Resolve’s ability to handle many common VFX-ish demands.

Some have criticized Blackmagic for turning Resolve into a multi-discipline platform, suggesting that this will create an industry of “jack of all trades and masters of none.” I disagree with this view for several reasons. Firstly, if an artist wants to major in a specific discipline, having a platform that can do more does not impede them. Secondly, I think the majority of content (if you include YouTube, etc.) is created by a single person or small teams, so the growth of multi-skilled post production people is simply an inevitable and logical progression which Blackmagic is sensibly addressing.

Edit

But for professional users within larger organisations, the cross-discipline features of Resolve take on a different meaning when viewed in the context of “collaboration.” Resolve 14 permits editors to edit, colorists to color and sound mixers to mix, all using different installations of the same platform, sharing the same media and contributing to the same project, even the same timeline. On the face of it, this promises to remove “conforms” and eradicate wasteful import/export processes and frustrating compatibility issues, while enabling parallel workflows across editing, color grading and audio.

For fast-turnaround projects, or projects where client approval cannot be sought until the project progresses beyond a “rough” stage, the potential advantages are compelling. Of course, the minor hurdle to get over will be to persuade editors and audio mixers to adopt Resolve as their chosen weapon. If they do, Blackmagic might well be on the way to providing collaborative utopia.

Summing Up
Resolve 14 is a massive upgrade from Resolve 12 (there wasn’t a Resolve 13 — who would have thought that a company called Blackagic might be superstitious?). It provides a substantial broadening of ability that will suit both the multi-skilled smaller outfits or fit as a grading/finishing platform and collaborative backbone in larger installations.


David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20-plus years of experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.

Behind the Titles: Something’s Awry Productions

NAME: Amy Theorin

NAME: Kris Theorin

NAME: Kurtis Theorin

COMPANY: Something’s Awry Productions

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a family owned production company that writes, creates and produces funny sharable web content and commercials mostly for the toy industry. We are known for our slightly offbeat but intelligent humor and stop-motion animation. We also create short films of our own both animated and live action.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Amy: Producer, Marketing Manager, Business Development
Kris: Director, Animator, Editor, VFX, Sound Design
Kurtis: Creative Director, Writer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Amy: A lot! I am the point of contact for all the companies and agencies we work with. I oversee production schedules, all social media and marketing for the company. Because we operate out of a small town in Pennsylvania we rely on Internet service companies such as Tongal, Backstage.com, Voices.com, Design Crowd and Skype to keep us connected with the national brands and talent we work with who are mostly based in LA and New York. I don’t think we could be doing what we are doing 10 years ago without living in a hub like LA or NYC.

Kris: I handle most of production, post production and some pre-production. Specifically, storyboarding, shooting, animating, editing, sound design, VFX and so on.

Kurtis: A lot of writing. I basically write everything that our company does, including commercials, pitches and shorts. I help out on our live-action shoots and occasionally direct. I make props and sets for our animation. I am also Something Awry’s resident voice actor.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Amy: Probably that playing with toys is something we get paid to do! Building Lego sets and setting up Hot Wheels jumps is all part of the job, and we still get excited when we get a new toy delivery — who wouldn’t? We also get to explore our inner child on a daily basis.

Hot Wheels

Kurtis: A lot of the arts and crafts knowledge I gathered from my childhood has become very useful in my job. We have to make a lot of weird things and knowing how to use clay and construction paper really helps.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Amy: See above. Seriously, we get to play with toys for a living! Being on set and working with actors and crew in cool locations is also great. I also like it when our videos exceed our client’s expectations.

Kris: The best part of my job is being able to work with all kinds of different toys and just getting the chance to make these weird and entertaining movies out of them.

Kurtis: Having written something and seeing others react positively to it.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Amy/Kris: Working through the approval process with rounds of changes and approvals from multiple departments throughout a large company. Sometimes it goes smoothly and sometimes it doesn’t.

Kurtis: Sitting down to write.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Amy: Since most of the companies we work with are on the West Coast my day kicks into high gear around 4:00pm East Coast time.

Kris: I work best in the morning.

Kurtis: My day often consists of hours of struggling to sit down and write followed by about three to four hours where I am very focused and get everything done. Most often those hours occur from 4pm to 7pm, but it varies a lot.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Amy: Probably helping to organize events somewhere. I am not happy unless I am planning or organizing a project or event of some sort.

Kris: Without this job, I’d likely go into some kind of design career or something involving illustration. For me, drawing is one of my secondary interests after filming.

Kurtis: I’d be telling stories in another medium. Would I be making a living doing it is another question.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
Amy: I have always loved advertising and creative projects. When I was younger I was the advertising manager for PNC Bank, but left the corporate world when I had kids and started my own photography business, which I operated for 10 years. Once my kids became interested in film I wanted to foster that interest and here we are!

Kris: Filmmaking is something I’ve always had an interest in. I started when I was just eight years old and from there it’s always something I loved to do. The moment when I first realized this would be something I’d follow for an actual career was really around 10th grade, when I started doing it more on a professional level by creating little videos here and there for company YouTube channels. That’s when it all started to sink in that this could actually be a career for me.

Kurtis: I knew I wanted to tell stories very early on. Around 10 years old or so I started doing some home movies. I could get people to laugh and react to the films I made. It turned out to be the medium I could most easily tell stories in so I have stuck with it ever since.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Amy: We are currently in the midst of two major projects — one is a six-video series for Hot Wheels that involves creating six original song music videos parodying different music genres. The other is a 12-episode series for Warner Bros. Scooby Doo that features live-action and stop-motion animation. Each episode is a mini-mystery that Scooby and the gang solve. The series focuses on the imaginations of different children and the stories they tell.

We also have two short animations currently on the festival circuit. One is a hybrid of Lovecraft and a Scooby-Doo chase scene called Mary and Marsha in the Manor of Madness. The other is dark fairytale called The Gift of the Woods.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Amy: Although I am proud of a lot of our projects I am most proud of the fact that even though we are such a small company, and live in the middle of nowhere, we have been able to work with companies around the world like Lego, Warner Bros. and Mattel. Things we create are seen all over the world, which is pretty cool for us.

Lego

Kris: The Lego Yellow Submarine Beatles film we created is what I’m most proud of. It just turned out to be this nice blend of wacky visuals, crazy action, and short concise storytelling that I try to do with most of my films.

Kurtis: I really like the way Mary and Marsha in the Manor of Madness turned out. So far it is the closest we have come to creating something with a unique feel and a sense of energetic momentum; two long term goals I have for our work. We also recently wrapped filming for a twelve episode branded content web series. It is our biggest project yet and I am proud that we were able to handle the production of it really well.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Amy: Skype, my iPad and the rise of online technology companies such as Tongal, Voices.com, Backstage.com and DesignCrowd that help us get our job done.

Kris: Laptop computers, Wacom drawing tablets and iPhones.

Kurtis: My laptop (and it’s software Adobe Premiere and Final Draft), my iPhone and my Kindle.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Amy: Being in this position I like to know what is going on in the industry so I follow Ad Age, Ad Week, Ad Freak, Mashable, Toy Industry News, iO9, Geek Tyrant, and of course all the social media channels of our clients like Lego, Warner Bros., Hot Wheels and StikBots. We also are on Twitter (@AmyTheorin) Instagram (@Somethingsawryproductions) and Facebook (Somethingsawry).

Kris: Mostly YouTube and Facebook.

Kurtis: I follow the essays of Film Crit Hulk. His work on screenwriting and story-telling is incredibly well done and eye opening. Other than that I try to keep up with news and I follow a handful of serialized web-comics. I try to read, watch and play a lot of different things to get new ideas. You never know when the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone might give you the idea for your next toy commercial.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Amy: I don’t usually but I do like to listen to podcasts. Some of my favorites are: How I Built This, Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad and Fresh Air.

Kris: I listen to whatever pop songs are most popular at the time. Currently, that would be Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Kurtis: I listen to an eclectic mix of soundtracks, classic rock songs I‘ve heard in movies, alternative songs I heard in movies, anime theme songs… basically songs I heard with a movie or game and can’t get out of my head. As for particular artists I am partial to They Might Be Giants, Gorillaz, Queen, and the scores of Ennio Morricone, Darren Korb, Jeff Williams, Shoji Meguro and Yoko Kanno.

IS WORKING WITH FAMILY EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT THAN WORKING/MANAGING IN A REGULAR AGENCY?
Amy: Both! I actually love working with my sons, and our skill sets are very complimentary. I love to organize and my kids don’t. Being family we can be very upfront with each other in terms of telling our opinions without having to worry about hurting each other’s feelings.

We know at the end of the day we will always be there for each other no matter what. It sounds cliché but it’s true I think. We have a network of people we also work with on a regular basis who we have great relationships with as well. Sometimes it is hard to turn work off and just be a family though, and I find myself talking with them about projects more often than what is going on with them personally. That’s something I need to work on I guess!

Kris: It’s great because you can more easily communicate and share ideas with each other. It’s generally a lot more open. After a while, it really is just like working within an agency. Everything is fine-tuned and you have worked out a pipeline for creating and producing your videos.

Kurtis: I find it much easier. We all know how we do our best work and what our strengths are. It certainly helps that my family is very good at what they do. Not to mention working from home means I get to set my own hours and don’t have a commute. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay motivated when you’re not in a professional office setting but overall the pros far outweigh the cons.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Amy: I try to take time out to walk our dog, but mostly I love it so much I don’t mind working on projects all the time. If I don’t have something to work on I am not a happy camper. Sometimes I have to remember that not everyone is working on the weekends, so I can’t bother them with work questions!

Kris: It really helps that I don’t often get stressed. At least, not after doing this job for as long as I have. You really learn how to cope with it all. Oftentimes, it’s more just getting exhausted from working long hours. I’ll often just watch some YouTube videos at the end of a day or maybe a movie if there’s something I really want to see.

Kurtis: I like to read and watch interesting stories. I play a lot games: board games, video games, table-top roleplaying. I also find bike riding improves my mood a lot.