Tag Archives: VFX

Behind the Title: Flavor LA director/CD Jason Cook

Name: Jason Cook (@jcookerama)

Company: Flavor LA

Can you describe your company?
We are a narrative-driven company that uses design, animation, CG, visual effects and live action to tell stories for our clients. Flavor LA serves the West Coast territories for our parent company, Cutters Studios in Chicago.

What’s your job title?
I am both a director and creative director for this office.

What does that entail?
It really depends on the project, but I tend to wear many hats. From a creative direction perspective, I am involved with the cultivation and management of all of the creative that we do here in LA. I have a strong design background, which helps me lead our team through pitching, production and finish. We pride ourselves on highly conceptual and thoughtful storytelling in our work, so I spend a large part of my days with the headphones on writing treatments. I love when the job involves live-action opportunities. Here, I can use a completely different medium and skill set to accomplish our creative goals. My sensibility is very design-driven, so most of the stuff I shoot tends to have a CG or VFX component, which is always so exciting.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
It’s funny. As I came up as a designer, I always swore to myself I would never stop designing, and I kept that promise up until the last couple of years. I love designing, but as I get busier, my bandwidth gets smaller. I have grown into a true leadership role and have come to accept that my time is better served looking at the bigger picture instead of being consumed by the intricacies of the process. This allows me to manage projects with greater quality control and leaves my brain and creative flow available for new things as they come in. As a leader, I’ve found that giving artists space, and not micro-managing their development, brings me greater results.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Seeing a plan come together is the most gratifying part of this business. It’s exciting when we are given a brief, we pitch an idea, and we win. There’s also a moment of, “Ok how to do we pull this off?” For me, putting my head together with my team, allowing for experimentation, encouraging outside thinking and following the creative where it leads us is such a fun part of this process. When all the elements start to coalesce and you see the first dailies comped and your previs edit starts to get replaced with real shots… that’s when things get awesome.

What’s your least favorite?
I try to work very efficiently and sometimes communications break down, which can be frustrating. This is for any number of reasons, but it gets in the way of the process and that can slow momentum.

What is your favorite time of the day?
Not the morning! I’m more of a night owl. I tend to stay up a bit later and write when it’s nice and quiet.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I think my internal drive to tell stories would have translated into straight-up filmmaking. I chose a graphic design path, but I also focused my intention on motion graphics, which incorporates live action a lot of the time. I really believe that everything I’ve done up to this point has led me to where I am today.

How early on did you know this would be your path?
It seems so trite now because so many people have a similar story, but I remember watching the film title of Seven and it blew my freaking mind. I was just graduating high school at the time, and I knew right there that I wanted to do that, even though I didn’t really understand at the time what “that” was.

Arrow Electronics

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I recently shot a few spots that I’m really happy with. Two for Arrow Electronics and a spec spot for water conservation that involves a cute CG water drop character that lightly shames people for wasting water. In April, I directed and creative directed a live, site-specific show for over 3,000 Detroit Lions fans to reveal the team’s new uniforms.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
I really love the Be Pro-H20 spec I shot. It was a complete labor of love and a self-financed production that I wrote, cast and directed. The Lions event was absolutely crazy and something I’ve never done before. Somehow I sold the Lions on creating a giant geometric lion head installation that we projection-mapped visuals onto. It was madness! I learned so much on that project and I hope to do more live events like that down the road.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
I think my phone is clearly one, followed by the Internet and cameras.

What social media channels do you follow?
I’ve been weening myself off of Facebook these days. I have a Twitter and Instagram account as well.

Do you listen to music while you work? Care to share your favorite music to work to?
It depends on the task at hand, but I have a hard time writing to music with lyrics. My go-to is the composer Cliff Martinez. Something about his scores just gets me so focused and the words spill out. If I don’t need to focus, my musical tastes span from hip-hop to house music. I’ll throw on some Motley Crüe sometimes, too.

This is a high stress job. What do you do to de-stress from it all?
It can be a very high stress job for sure, and sometimes it’s easy to take it with you when you leave the office. I try to make a conscious effort not to get pulled into the chaos of the process. Even when we are in the weeds, we have to remember it always works out in the end. To unwind, I love hanging with my wife and our two pups and watching a movie at home, going out with friends or traveling. My PS4 comes in handy sometimes too.

John Hughes, Helena Packer, Kevin Donovan open post collective

Three industry vets have combined to launch PHD, a Los Angeles-based full-service post collective. Led by John Hughes (founder of Rhythm & Hues), Helena Packer (VFX supervisor/producer) and Kevin Donovan (film/TV/commercials director), PHD works across the genres of VR/AR, independent films, documentaries, TV — including limited series and commercials. In addition to post production, including color grading, offline and online editorial, the visual effects and final delivery, they offer live-action production services. In addition to Los Angeles, PHD has locations in India, Malaysia and South Africa.

Hughes was the co-founder of the legendary VFX shop Rhythm & Hues (R&H) and led that studio for 26 years, earning three Academy Awards for “Best Visual Effects” (Babe, The Golden Compass, Life of Pi) as well as four scientific and engineering Academy Awards.

Packer was inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in 2008 for her creative contributions to filmmaking as an accomplished VFX artist, supervisor and producer. Her expertise extends beyond feature films to episodic TV, stereoscopic 3D and animation. Packer has been the VFX supervisor and Flame artist for hundreds of commercials and over 20 films, including 21 Jump Street and Charlie Wilson’s War.

Director Kevin Donovan is particularly well-versed in action and visual effects. He directed the feature film, The Tuxedo, and is currently producing the TV series What Would Trejo Do? He has shot over 700 commercials during the course of his career and is the winner of six Cannes Lions.

Since the company’s launch, PHD has worked on a number of projects — two PSAs for the Climate Change organization 5 To Do Today featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron called Don’t Buy It and Precipice
a PSA for the international animal advocacy group WildAid shot in Tanzania and Oregon called Talking Elephant, another for WildAid shot in Cape Town, South Africa called Talking Rhino, and two additional WildAid PSAs featuring actor Josh Duhamel called Souvenir and Situation.

“In a sense, our new company is a reconfigured version of R&H, but now we are much smarter, much more nimble and much more results driven,” says Hughes about PHD. “We have very little overhead to deal with. Our team has worked on hundreds of award-winning films and commercials…”

Main Photo: L-R:  John Hughes, Helena Packer and Kevin Donovan.

Liron Ashkenazi-Eldar joins The Artery as design director  

Creative studio The Artery has brought on Liron Ashkenazi-Eldar as lead design director. In her new role, she will spearhead the formation of a department that will focus on design and branding. Ashkenazi-Eldar and team are also developing in-house design capabilities to support the company’s VFX, experiential and VR/AR content, as well as website development, including providing motion graphics, print and social campaigns.

“While we’ve been well established for many years in the areas of production and VFX, our design team can now bring a new dimension to our company,” says Ashkenazi-Eldar, who is based in The Artery’s NYC office. “We are seeking brand clients with strong identities so that we can offer them exciting, new and even weird creative solutions that are not part of the traditional branding process. We will be taking a completely new approach to branding — providing imagery that is more emotional and more personal, instead of just following an existing protocol. Our goal is to provide a highly immersive experience for our new brand clients.”

Originally from Israel, the 27-year-old Ashkenazi-Eldar is a recent graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts with a BFA degree in Design. She is the winner of a 2017 ADC Silver Cube Award from The One Club, in the category 2017 Design: Typography, for her contributions to a project titled Asa Wife Zine. She led the Creative Team that submitted the project via the School of Visual Arts.

 

Shotgun 7.2 — plug-and-play integrations, streaming in RV, more

Shotgun has released Version 7.2 of its cloud-based review and production tracking software. With an eye on simplifying workflows and helping studios of all sizes collaborate, this latest update transforms integrations with content creation tools and streamlines the review process.

Updates to RV also make reviewing media from the cloud seamless and SDI functionality is now standard. The release also adds single sign-on to give IT departments centralized control over user access and permissions in Shotgun.

Highlights include:
– Plug-and-Play Integrations: It’s now easier for Shotgun users to connect their content creation tools with Shotgun. New plug-and-play integrations auto-discover Maya, Nuke, Photoshop, Houdini, 3ds Max and Flame, and then embed the Shotgun Panel, loader and publisher directly within them without requiring any manual configuration.
 – Web Streaming in RV: Many Shotgun users work on dispersed teams around the world, and might not always have access to the high-res media for reviews in RV. With the addition of cloud playback support in RV, web-connected artists and supervisors can review shots in context, even if the content is not stored on their computers. Shotgun simply recognizes if media isn’t available and seamlessly pulls it into RV from Shotgun on the web.
– New Publisher: A new publisher tool allows for easy tracking of files in Shotgun and can either run in content creation tools or as a standalone app. This gives users the flexibility to publish files from any content creation tools, not just the ones currently supported by Shotgun.
– Single Sign-On: Single sign-on bolsters security in-house by centralizing authentication, making it easy for your IT department to grant, limit and revoke access and permissions for any user.
– SDI Functionality in RV: SDI functionality, previously only available with Shotgun’s deeper support option, is now available to all Shotgun clients.

Shotgun pricing starts at $30 per account/per month with standard support, or $50 per account/per month with deeper support. Free trials are available here.

Game of Thrones: VFX associate producer Adam Chazen

With excitement starting to build for the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, what better time to take a quick look back at last season’s VFX workflow. HBO associate VFX producer Adam Chazen was kind enough to spend some time answering questions after just wrapping Season 7.

Tell us about your background as a VFX associate producer and what led you to Game of Thrones.
I got my first job as a PA at VFX studio Pixomondo. I was there for a few years, working under my current boss Steve Kullback (visual effects producer on Game of Thrones). He took me with him when he moved to work on Yogi Bear, and then on Game of Thrones.

I’ve been with the show since 2011, so this is my sixth year on board. It’s become a real family at this point; lots of people have been on since the pilot.

From shooting to post, what is your role working on Game of Thrones?
As the VFX associate producer, in pre-production mode I assist with organizing our previs and concept work. I help run and manage our VFX database and I schedule reviews with producers, directors and heads of departments.

During production I make sure everyone has what they need on set in order to shoot for the various VFX requirements. Also during production, we start to post the show — I’m in charge of running review sessions with our VFX supervisor Joe Bauer. I make sure that all of his notes get across to the vendors and that the vendors have everything they need to put the shots together.

Season 7 has actually been the longest we’ve stayed on set before going back to LA for post. When in Belfast, it’s all about managing the pre-production and production process, making sure everything gets done correctly to make the later VFX adjustments as streamlined as possible. We’ll have vendors all over the world working on that next step — from Australia to Spain, Vancouver, Montreal, LA, Dublin and beyond. We like to say that the sun never sets on Game of Thrones.

What’s the process for bringing new vendors onto the show?
They could be vendors that we’ve worked with in the past. Other times, we employ vendors that come recommended by other people. We check out industry reels and have studios do testing for us. For example, when we have dragon work we ask around for vendors willing to run dragon animation tests for us. A lot of it is word of mouth. In VFX, you work with the people that you know will do great work.

What’s your biggest challenge in creating Game of Thrones?
We’re doing such complex work that we need to use multiple vendors. This can be a big hurdle. In general, whether it be film or TV, when you have multiple vendors working on the same shot, it becomes a potential issue.

Linking in with cineSync helps. We can have a vendor in Australia and a vendor in Los Angeles both working on the same shot, at exactly the same time. I first started using cineSync while at Pixomondo and found it makes the revision process a lot quicker. We send notes out to vendors, but most of the time it’s easier to get on cineSync, see the same image and draw on it.

Even the simple move of hovering a cursor over the frame can answer a million questions. We have several vendors who don’t use English as their first language, such as those in Spain. In these cases, communication is a lot easier via cineSync. By pointing to a single portion of a single frame, we completely bypass the language barrier. It definitely helps to see an image on screen versus just explaining it.

What is your favorite part of the cineSync toolkit?
We’ve seen a lot of cool updates to cineSync. Specifically, I like the notes section, where you can export a PDF to include whichever frame that note is attributed to.

Honestly, just seeing a cursor move on-screen from someone else’s computer is huge. It makes things so much easier to just point and click. If we’re talking to someone on the phone, trying to tell them about an issue in the upper left hand corner, it’s going to be hard to get our meaning across. cineSync takes away all of the guesswork.

Besides post, we also heavily use cineSync for shoot needs. We shoot the show in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Spain and Calgary. With cineSync, we are able to review storyboards, previs, techvis and concepts with the producers, directors, HODs and others, wherever they are in the world. It’s crucial that everyone is on the same page. Being able to look at the same material together helps everyone get what they want from a day on set.

Is there a specific shot, effect or episode you’re particularly proud of?
The Battle of the Bastards — it was a huge episode. Particularly, the first half of the episode when Daenerys came in with her dragons at the battle of Meereen, showing those slavers who is boss. Meereen City itself was a large CG creation, which was unusual for Game of Thrones. We usually try to stay away from fully CG environments and like to get as much in-camera as possible.

For example, when the dragon breathes fire we used an actual flamethrower we shot. Back in Season 5, we started to pre-animate the dragon, translate it to a motion control rig, and attach a flamethrower to it. It moves exactly how the dragon would move, giving us a practical element to use in the shot. CG fire can be done but it’s really tricky. Real is real, so you can’t question it.

With multiple vendors working on the sequence, we had Rodeo FX do the environment while Rhythm & Hues did the dragons. We used cineSync a lot, reviewing shots between both vendors in order to point out areas of concern. Then in the second half of the episode, which was the actual Battle of the Bastards, the work was brilliantly done by Australian VFX studio Iloura.

FilmLight shows new versions of color tools at NAB

FilmLight was at NAB demo-ing Version 5.0 of its color tools. The upgraded toolkit maintains a consistent user experience across the Baselight color grading and finishing system, Baselight Editions, Daylight and FilmLight’s new on-set application, Prelight.

“We are delivering 5.0 everywhere, bringing a new level of color control and creative possibilities from the very start of a production right to the final deliverables,” says Wolfgang Lempp, CEO of FilmLight. “And, importantly, color and artistic intent are accompanying all deliverables precisely and with minimum effort, be it for HDR and SDR or even 360 VR grading.”

Version 5.0 introduces Base Grade, which mimics the way the eye sees color to yield a more natural feel. Version 5.0 also includes some new VFX features, such as paint, perspective tracking, warping, depth keying and relighting.

FilmLight’s new Prelight On-Set, a Mac OS app for preview and grading, brings color control and the FilmLight BLG (Baselight Linked Grade) metadata system to shoots.

With Version 5.0, Baselight Editions, the plug-ins for Avid and Nuke 5.0, now include Base Grade functionality as well as color tools, such as midtone contrast and filters for denoise and deflicker. In addition, Baselight for Nuke includes boosted functionality in the Version 5.0 BLG that enables the tool to act as a multi-input node in Nuke. In this manner, BLG files can refer to multiple input images and OpenEXR channels.

Exceptional Minds: Autistic students learn VFX, work on major feature films

After graduation, these artists have been working on projects for Marvel, Disney, Fox and HBO.

By Randi Altman

With an estimated 1 in 68 children in the US being born with some sort of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring, I think it’s fair to say that most people have been touched in some way by a child on the spectrum.

As a parent of a teenager with autism, I can attest to the fact that one of our biggest worries, the thing that keeps us up at night, is the question of independence. Will he be able to make a living? Will there be an employer who can see beyond his deficits to his gifts and exploit those gifts in the best possible way?

Enter Exceptional Minds, a school in Los Angeles that teaches young adults with autism how to create visual effects and animation while working as part of a team. This program recognizes how bright these young people are and how focused they can be, surrounds them with the right teachers and behavioral therapists, puts the right tools in their hands and lets them fly.

The school, which also has a VFX and animation studio that employs its graduates, was started in 2011 by a group of parents who have children on the spectrum. “They were looking for work opportunities for their kids, and quickly discovered they couldn’t find any. So they decided to start Exceptional Minds and prepare them for careers in animation and visual effects,” explains Susan Zwerman, the studio executive producer at Exceptional Minds and a long-time VFX producer whose credits include Broken Arrow, Alien Resurrection, Men of Honor, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guardian.

Since the program began, these young people have had the opportunity to work on some very high-profile films and TV programs. Recent credits include Game of Thrones, The Fate of the Furious and Doctor Strange, which was nominated for an Oscar for visual effects this year.

We reached out to Zwerman to find out more about this school, its studio and how they help young people with autism find a path to independence.

The school came first and then the studio?
Yes. We started training them for visual effects and animation and then the conversation turned to, “What do they do when they graduate?” That led to the idea to start a visual effects studio. I came on board two years ago to organize and set it up. It’s located downstairs from the school.

How do you pick who is suitable for the program?
We can only take 10 students each year, and unfortunately, there is a waiting list because we are the only program of its kind anywhere. We have a review process that our educators and teachers have in terms of assessing the student’s ability to be able to work in this area. You know, not everybody can function working on a computer for six or eight hours. There are different levels of the spectrum. So the higher functioning and the medium functioning are more suited for this work, which takes a lot of focus.

Students are vetted by our teachers and behavioral specialists, who take into account the student’s ability, as well as their enthusiasm for visual effects and animation — it’s very intense, and they have to be motivated.

Susie Zwerman (in back row, red hair) with artists in the Exceptional Minds studio.

I know that kids on the spectrum aren’t necessarily social butterflies, how do you teach them to work as a team?
Oh, that’s a really good question. We have what’s called our Work Readiness program. They practice interviewing, they practice working as a team, they learn about appearance, attitude, organization and how to problem solve in a work place.

A lot of it is all about working in a team, and developing their social skills. That’s something we really stress in terms of behavioral curriculum.

Can you describe how the school works?
It’s a three-year program. In the first year, they learn about the principles of design and using programs like Adobe’s Flash and Photoshop. In Flash, they study 2D animation and in Photoshop they learn how to do backgrounds for their animation work.

During year two, they learn how to work in a production pipeline. They are given a project that the class works on together, and then they learn how to edit using Adobe Premiere Pro and compositing on Adobe After Effects.

In the third year, they are developing their skills in 3D via Autodesk Maya and compositing with The Foundry’s Nuke. So they learn the way we work in the studio and our pipeline, as well as preparing their portfolios for the workplace. At the end of three years, each student completes their training with a demo reel and resume of their work.

Who helps with the reels and resumes?
Their teachers supervise that process and help them with editing and picking the best pieces for their reel. Having a reel is important for many reasons. While many students will work in our studio for a year after graduation, I was able to place some directly into the work environment because their talent was so good… and their reel was so good.

What is the transition like from school to studio?
They graduate in June and we transition many of them to the studio, where they learn about deadlines and get paid for their work. Here, many experience independence for the first time. We do a lot of 2D-type visual effects clean-up work. We give them shots to work on and test them for the first month to see how they are doing. That’s when we decide if they need more training.

The visual effects side of the studio deals with paint work, wire and rod removal and tracker or marker removals — simple composites — plus a lot of rotoscoping and some greenscreen keying. We also do end title credits for the major movies.

We just opened the animation side of the studio in 2016, so it’s still in the beginning stages, but we’re doing 2D animation. We are not a 3D studio… yet! The 2D work we’ve done includes music videos, Websites, Power Points and some stuff for the LA Zoo. We are gearing up for major projects.

How many work in the studio?
Right now, we have about 15 artists at workstations in our current studio. Some of these will be placed on the outside, but that’s part of using strategic planning in the future to figure out how much expansion we want to do over the next five years.

Thanks to your VFX background, you have many existing relationships with the major studios. Can you talk about how that has benefitted Exceptional Minds?
We have had so much support from the studios; they really want to help us get work for the artists. We started out with Fox, then Disney and then HBO for television. Marvel Studios is one of our biggest fans. Marvel’s Victoria Alonso is a big supporter, so much so that we gave her our Ed Asner Award last June.

Once we started to do tracker marker and end title credits for Marvel, it opened doors. People say, “Well, if you work for Marvel, you could work for us.” So she has been so instrumental in our success.

What were the Fox and Marvel projects?
Our very first client was Fox and we did tracker removals for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — that was about three years ago. Marvel happened about two years ago and our first job for them was on Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What are some of the other projects Exceptional Minds has worked on?
We worked on Doctor Strange, providing tracker marker removals and end credits. We worked on Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Pete’s Dragon, Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and X-Men: Apocalypse.

Thanks to HBO’s Holly Schiffer we did a lot of Game of Thrones work. She has also been a huge supporter of ours.

It’s remarkable how far you guys have come in a short amount of time. Can you talk about how you ended up at Exceptional Minds?
I used to be DGA production manager/location manager and then segued into visual effects as a freelance VFX producer for all the major studios. About three years ago, my best friend Yudi Bennett, who is one of the founders of Exceptional Minds, convinced me to leave my career and  come here to help set up the studio. I was also tasked with producing, scheduling and budgeting work to come into the studio. For me, personally, this has been a spiritual journey. I have had such a good career in the industry, and this is my way of giving back.

So some of these kids move on to other places?
After they have worked in the studio for about a year, or sometimes longer, I look to have them placed at an outside studio. Some of them will stay here at our studio because they may not have the social skills to work on the outside.

Five graduates have been placed so far and they are working full time at various productions studios and visual effects facilities in Los Angeles. We have also had graduates in internships at Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

One student is at Marvel, and others are at Stargate Studios, Mr. Wolf and New Edit. To be able to place our artists on the outside is our ultimate goal. We love to place them because it’s sort of life changing. For example, one of the first students we placed, Kevin, is at Stargate. He moved out of his parents’ apartment, he is traveling by himself to and from the studio, he is getting raises and he is moving up as a rotoscope artist.

What is the tuition like?
Students pay about 50 percent and we fundraise the other 50 percent. We also have scholarships for those that can’t afford it. We have to raise a lot of money to support the efforts of the school and studio.

Do companies donate gear?
When we first started, Adobe donated software. That’s how we were able to fund the school before the studio was up and running. Now we’re on an educational plan with them where we pay the minimum. Autodesk and The Foundry also give us discounts or try to donate licenses to us. In terms of hardware, we have been working with Melrose Mac, who is giving us discounts on computers for the school and studio.


Check out Exceptional Minds Website for more info.

Ed Koenig returns to MPC to help lead remote color, VFX services  

Ed Koenig has rejoined visual effects and post production studio MPC as an executive producer. Formerly EP of color at MPC’s Los Angeles office, he was one of the first hires the company made when it opened there in 2008. Koenig brings a broad range of post experience to his new post, where he’s tasked with continuing to grow the studio’s network of official partner facilities and expand its remote services beyond color grading. He will be based in New York, but work out of LA as well.

MPC has also announced new additions to its official partner facility roster: 11 Dollar Bill in Chicago and Hero Post in Atlanta. They join Charlieuniformtango in Austin and Dallas, The Work in Detroit and Ditch in Minneapolis as the studio’s list of partner facilities.

“We’re not merely looking to connect with top performers in major markets around the country,” Koenig explains, “but to redefine how these independent companies work with a studio as multifaceted as ours. I’ll also be functioning as a kind of roving advance scout for MPC, finding ways clients anywhere can take full advantage of what we have to offer in a way that works best for them.”

He cites as an example the work they’ve done with Ditch since adding them to the partner roster last year. MPC has not only provided several of the boutique’s clients with high-end color grading, performed by colorists in both its LA and New York offices, but also compositing, finishing, Flame work and a range of other VFX services, all performed by artists based many miles from the Twin Cities. “In these instances, we just point our signal toward Minneapolis and we’re collaborating with Ditch owner and editor Brody Howard and his entire team.”

“A big part of what I’m doing is bringing wide-ranging projects into MPC through our remote partners,” he continues. “While remote color has become an accepted part of the post production mix, our push to expand into a broader roster of visual effects capabilities puts us out in front.”

Rick Pearson on cutting Kong: Skull Island

By Randi Altman

Who doesn’t love a good King Kong movie? And who says a good King Kong movie has to have the hairy giant climbing the Empire State Building, lady in hand?

The Jordan Vogt-Roberts-directed Kong: Skull Island, which had an incredible opening weekend at the box office — and is still going strong — tells the story of a 1973 military expedition to map out an island where in 1944 two downed pilots happened upon a huge monster. What could possibly go wrong?

Editor Rick Pearson, who was originally set to come on board for 10 weeks during the Director’s Cut process to help with digital effects turnovers, ended up seeing the project through to the end. Pearson came on during the last third of production, as the crew was heading off to Vietnam.

The process was already in place where rough cuts were shared on the PIX system for the director’s review. That seemed to be work well, he says.

To find out more about the process, I recently touched base with Pearson, who at the time of our interview was in Budapest editing a film about the origin of Robin Hood. He kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his work and workflow on Kong: Skull Island, which in addition to Vietnam shot in Hawaii and Australia.

Would director Vogt-Roberts get you notes? Did he give you any direction in terms of the cut?
Yes, he would give very specific notes via PIX. He would drop the equivalent of locators or markers on sequences that I would send him and say, “Could you maybe try a close-up here?” Or “Could you try this or that?” They were very concise, so that was helpful. Eventually, though, you get to a point where you really need to be in a room together to explore options.

There are a lot of visual effects in the film. Can you talk about how that affected your edit and workflow?
Some of the sequences were quite evolved in terms of previsualization that had been done a year or more prior. Then there was a combination of previs, storyboards and some sequences, one in particular had kind of a loose set of storyboards and some previs, but then the set piece was evolving as we were working.

The production was headed to Vietnam and there was a lot of communication between myself, Jordan and the producers about trying to nail down the structure of this set piece so they would know what to shoot in terms of plates, because it was a battle that largely took place between Kong and one of the creatures of the island — it was a lot of plate work.

Would you say that that was the most difficult sequence to work on, or is there another more challenging sequence that you could point to?
I think they were all challenging. For me, that last sequence, which we called the “Final Battle” was challenging in there was not a lot that was nailed down. There were some beats we knew we wanted to try to play, but it sort of kept evolving. I enjoy working on these kinds of films with those types of sequences because they’re so malleable. It’s a fun sandbox to play in because, to an extent, you’re limited only by your imagination.

Still, you’re committing a lot of money, time and resources, so you need to look down field as far as you can to say, “This is the right direction and we’re all on the same page.” It’s a big, slow-moving, giant cargo ship that takes a long time to course-correct. You want to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction, or at least as close as you can be, when you start going down those roads.

Any other shots that stand out?
There was one thing that was kind of a novelty on this picture — and I know that it’s not the first time it’s been done, but it was the first time for me. We had some pretty extensive re-shoots, but our cast was kind of spread all over the globe. In one of the re-shoots, we needed a conversation to happen in a bar between three of the characters, Tom Hiddelston, John Goodman and Cory Hawkins. None of them were available at the same time or in the same city.

The scene was going to the three of them sitting down at a table having a conversation where John Goodman’s character offers Tom Hiddelston’s character a job as their guide to take them to Skull Island. I think it was Goodman’s character that was shot first. We show Goodman’s side of the table in New York with that side of the bar behind him and an empty chair beside him. Then we shot Hawkin’s character by himself in front of a greenscreen sitting in a chair reacting to Goodman and delivering his dialogue. Lastly, we shot Hiddelston in LA with that side of the bar and overs with doubles. It all came together, and I thought, “I don’t think anybody would have a clue that none of these people were in the same room at the same time.” It was kind of a Rubik’s Cube… an editorial bit of sleight of hand that worked in the end.


You worked with other editors on the film, correct?
Yes, editor Bob Murawski helped me tremendously; he ended up taking over my original role, which was during the Director’s Cut. Bob came on to help split up these really demanding visual effects sequence turnovers every two weeks. We had to keep on it to make the release date.

Murawski was a huge help, but so was the addition of Josh Schaeffer, who had worked with Jordan in the past. He was one of the additional editors on Jordan’s Kings of Summer (2013). Jordan had shot a lot of material — it wasn’t necessarily montage-based, but we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to work in the picture. We knew that he had a long-standing relationship with Josh and was comfortable with him. Bob said, “While we’re in the middle of a Director’s Cut and you and I are trying to feed this giant visual effects beast, there’s also this whole other aspect that Jordan and Josh could really focus on.” Josh was a really big help in getting us through the process. Both Bob and Josh were very big assets to me.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
I’ve had the same first assistant, Sean Thompson, for about 12 years. Unfortunately, he’s not with me here in Budapest. I took this film after the original editor dropped out for health reasons. Sean has a young family, and 15 weeks in Budapest and then another 12 weeks in London just wasn’t possible for him.

How did you work with Sean on Skull Island?
He’s a terrific manager of the cutting room in terms of discerning the needs of other departments, be it digital effects, music or sound. I lean on him to let me know what I absolutely need to know, and he takes care of the rest. That’s one of the roles he serves, and he’s bulletproof.

I also rely on him creatively. He’s tremendous with his sound work and very good at looking at cuts with me and giving his feedback. I throw him scenes to cut as much as I can, but sometimes on films like this there are so many other demands as a manager.

You use Avid Media Composer. Any special keyboard mappings, or other types of work you provide?
As a feature film editor my main objective is to make sure that the story and the characters are firing on all cylinders. I’m not particularly interested in how far I can push the box technically.

I’ve mapped the keyboard to what I’m comfortable with, but I don’t think it’s anything that’s particularly sophisticated. I try to do as much as I can on the keyboard so that I keep the
pointing and clicking to a minimum.

You edit a lot of action films. Is that just because people say, “He does action,” or is that your favorite kind of film to cut?
It’s interesting you should say that… the first Hollywood feature I cut was Bowfinger, which is comedy. I hadn’t cut any comedy before that and suddenly I was the comedy editor. I found it ironic because everything I had done prior was action-based television, music videos and commercials. I’ve always loved cutting action and juxtaposing images in a way that tells a story that’s not necessarily being told verbally. It’s not just like, “Wow, look at how much stuff is blowing up and that’s amazing how many cars are involved.” It’s actually character-based and story-driven.

I also really enjoy comedy. There is quite a lot of comedy in Kong, so it’s nice to flex that muscle too. I’ve tried very hard to not get pigeonholed.

So you are knee-deep in this Robin Hood film?
I sure am! I wasn’t planning on getting back on to another film quite so quickly, but I was very intrigued by both the director and script. As I mentioned earlier, they had an editor slated for the picture but unfortunately she fell ill just weeks prior to the start of production. So suddenly, here I am.

The added bonus is you get to play in Europe for a bit.
Yes, actually, I’m sitting here in my apartment. I have a laptop and an additional monitor and I’ve been cutting scenes. I have a lovely view of the parliament building, which is on the Danube. It’s a beautiful domed building that’s lit up every night until midnight. It’s really kind of cool.

The VFX Industry: Where are the women?

By Jennie Zeiher

As anyone in the visual effects industry would know, Marvel’s Victoria Alonso was honored earlier this year with the Visual Effects Society Visionary Award. Victoria is an almighty trailblazer, one of whom us ladies can admire, aspire to and want to be.

Her acceptance speech was an important reminder to us of the imbalance of the sexes in our industry. During her speech, Victoria stated: “Tonight there were 476 of you nominated. Forty-three of which are women. We can do better.”

Over the years, I’ve had countless conversations with industry people — executives, supervisors and producers — about why there are fewer women in artist and supervisory roles. A recent article in the NY Times suggested that female VFX supervisors made up only five percent of the 250 top-grossing films of 2014. Pretty dismal.

I’ve always worked in male-dominated industries, so I’m possibly a bit blasé about it. I studied IT and worked as a network engineer in the late ‘90s, before moving to the United States where I worked on 4K digital media projects with technologists and scientists. One of a handful of women, I was always just one of the boys. To me it was the norm.

Moving into VFX about 10 years ago, I realized this industry was no different. From my viewpoint, I see about 1/8 ratio of female to male artists. The same is true from what I’ve seen through our affiliated training courses. Sadly, I’ve heard of some facilities that have no women in artist roles at all!

Most of the females in our industry work in other disciplines. At my workplace, Australia’s Rising Sun Pictures, half of our executive members are women (myself included), and women generally outweigh men in indirect overhead roles (HR, finance, administration and management), as well as production management.

Women bring unique qualities to the workplace: they’re team players, hard working, generous and empathetic. Copious reports have found that companies that have women on their board of directors and in leadership positions perform better than those that don’t. So in our industry, why do we see such a male-dominated artist, technical and supervisory workforce?

By no means am I undervaluing the women in those other disciplines (we could not have functioning businesses without them), I’m just merely trying to understand why there aren’t more women inclined to pursue artistic jobs and, ultimately, supervision roles.

I can’t yet say that one of the talented female artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years has risen to the ranks of being a VFX supervisor… and that’s not to say that they couldn’t have, just that they didn’t, or haven’t yet. This is something that disappoints me deeply. I consider myself a (liberal) feminist. Someone who, in a leadership position, wants to enable other women to become the best they can be and to be equal among their male counterparts.
So, why? Where are the women?

Men and Women Are Wired Differently
A study by LiveScience suggests men and women really are wired differently. It says,  “Male brains have more connections within hemispheres to optimize motor skills, whereas female brains are more connected between hemispheres to combine analytical and intuitive thinking.”

Apparently this difference is at its greatest during the adolescent years (13-17 years), however with age these differences get smaller. So, during the peak of an adolescent girl’s education, she’s more inclined to be analytical and intuitive. Is that a direct correlation to them not choosing a technical vocation? But then again I would have thought that STEM/STEAM careers would be something of interest to girls if they’re brains are wired to be analytical?

This would also explain women having better organizational and management skills and therefore seeking out more “indirectly” associated roles.

Lean Out
For those women already in our industry, are they too afraid to seek out higher positions? Women are often more self-critical and self-doubting. Men will promote themselves and dive right in, even if they’re less capable. I have experienced this first hand and didn’t actual recognize it in myself until I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.

Or, is it just simply that we’re in a “boys club” — that these career opportunities are not being presented to our female artists, and that we’d prefer to promote men over women?

The Star Wars Factor
Possibly one of the real reasons that there is a lack of women in our industry is what I call “The Star Wars factor.” For the most part, my male counterparts grew up watching (and being inspired by) Star Wars and Star Trek, whereas, personally, I was more inclined to watch Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Footloose. Did these adolescent boys want to be Luke or Han, or George for that matter? Were they so inspired by John Dykstra’s lightsabers that they wanted to do THAT when they grew up? And if this is true, maybe Jyn, Rae and Captain Marvel —and our own Captain Marvel, Victoria Alonso — will spur on a new generation of women in the industry. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these factors. Maybe it’s none.

I’m very interested in exploring this further. To address the problem, we need to ask ourselves why, so please share your thoughts and experiences — you can find me at jz@vfxjz.com. At least now the conversation has started.

One More Thing!
I am very proud that one of my female colleagues, Alana Newell (pictured with her fellow nominees), was nominated for a VES Award this year for Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature for X-Men: Apocalypse. She was one of the few, but hopefully as time goes by that will change.

Main Image: The woman of Rising Sun Pictures.
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Jennie Zeiher is head of sales & business development at Adelaide, Australia’s Rising Sun Pictures.