Author Archives: Randi Altman

Behind the Title: DigitalFilm Tree colorist Rick Dalby

NAME: Rick Dalby

COMPANY: DigitalFilm Tree

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I would describe DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) as a smaller, bleeding-edge, independently-owned post house that is capable of remote dailies, color and edit. I work with fellow colorists Dan Judy and Patrick Woodard.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
What should fall under that title is that a Resolve colorist has become the creative gatekeeper for the producer’s, director’s and DP’s vision. You don’t just hand off a show and add some color. We have color tools that work akin to the way you work in Photoshop, using layer-mixers and alpha-mattes.

On-set, the DP and/or DIT that uses Resolve can send projects or custom LUTs or nodes that we can carry directly into the final color session. I would describe the colorist-driven post workflow as more holistic than ever before.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? 
Yes, we are asked to stabilize shots and add OFX plug-in looks and effects, which will evolve further with Resolve 15’s addition of Fusion. It’s really show dependent. On a larger scale, with 4K and HDR, our colorists are redesigning workflows on a continual basis. Our online conform artists are doing most of the editing, though with Resolve, any of us might make the deliverables.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Collaborating with everyone at DFT and working with the clients that depend on us is rewarding for me. I like the art of color correction. When I can just sit down and get to work on scene looks and matching, the day passes quickly, and I can feel the creativity flow. It’s fun. When the client comes in to view and I’m in sync with their vision, there’s a great sense of accomplishment.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Post facilities have few windows. Sometimes, I just like to open the door and see something alive and green. Seriously though, the business end and paperwork are the things that don’t interest me.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Park ranger, running an animal rescue, Buddhist monk or one of my previous jobs, like being a broadcast news technical director. That sounds like a silly answer, but it’s not meant to be.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
That’s a long and difficult question to answer. When I was small, I used to get up very early with my dad and wait for the engineer to turn on the transmitter, so I could see the test pattern and watch some cartoons. I was a computer science major in college, but I didn’t like it. My brother worked at Compact Video and urged me to change career paths. I trained in journalism and broadcast news and worked in Sacramento television in graphics, studio and ENG camera, editing, technical directing and, finally, directing.

Next, was film transfer of 35mm prints for syndication, then on to master control and transmitter operations requiring an FCC license. That was all by the time I was 24, when I moved to Los Angeles to work with my brother in post. Within a year I was running a Rank and transferring features for most of the majors.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The re-boot of Roseanne. Also Wrecked for TBS. I’ve been doing collaborative color with Dan and Patrick on NCIS: Los Angeles, Angie Tribeca, Great News and The 100.

The 100

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m very satisfied to have worked on iconic long-running shows like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond and developing looks for shows like Friday Night Lights with David Boyd and Todd McMullen. Recently, having a chance to work with the creative team on the Roseanne reboot was a great experience. DP Johnny Simmons and Sara Gilbert were a great pleasure to work with.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Inspiration comes from the people I meet and the challenges I face. I also love the changing exhibits at the Broad Museum and LACMA. I’m always looking at films and television to dissect what other people think and do. I don’t like the work when it seems copy-cat.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
DaVinci, which has been part of most of my career — with the exception of a few years on Lustre. The best quality hero monitor that can display the great color and resolution we need to do this job. Anything Apple. My iPad is in much need of replacement.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I like Theo Miesner’s YouTube posts and the rapid-fire way he delivers. Recently, there’s a slew of YouTube posts that are helping me with Fusion. I use Facebook to follow my fellow meditators.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I don’t take it too seriously after this many decades. The stress is there sometimes. I acknowledge it, meditate and even go on long silent meditation retreats once or twice a year.

I walk to work, hike and sometimes just walk outside and breathe deeply. Ultimately, the stress is up to me, and how I choose to respond. Equanimity has become a guiding concept with the worldly winds.

Epic Games launches Unreal Engine 4.20

Epic Games has introduced Unreal Engine 4.20, which allows developers to build even more realistic characters and immersive environments across games, film and TV, VR/AR/MR and enterprise applications. Unreal Engine 4.20 release combines the latest realtime rendering advancements with improved creative tools, making it even easier to ship games across all platforms. With hundreds of optimizations, especially for iOS, Android and Nintendo Switch — which have been built for Fortnite and are now rolled into Unreal Engine 4.20 and released to all users — Epic is providing developers the scalable tools they need for these types of projects.

Artists working in visual effects, animation, broadcast and virtual production will find enhancements for digital humans, VFX, cinematic depth of field allowing them to create realistic images across all forms of media and entertainment. In the enterprise space, Unreal Studio 4.20 includes upgrades to the UE4 Datasmith plugin suite, such as SketchUp support, which make it easier to get CAD data prepped, imported and working in Unreal Engine.

Here are some key features of Unreal Engine 4.20:

A new proxy LOD system: Users can handle sprawling worlds via UE4’s production-ready Proxy LOD system for the easy reduction of rendering cost due to poly count, draw calls and material complexity. Proxy LOD offers big gains when developing for mobile and console platforms.

A smoother mobile experience: Over 100 mobile optimizations developed for Fortnite come to all 4.20 users, marking a major shift for easy “shippability” and seamless gameplay optimization across platforms. Major enhancements include improved Android debugging, mobile Landscape improvements, RHI thread on Android and occlusion queries on mobile.

Works better with Switch: Epic has improved Nintendo Switch development by releasing tons of performance and memory improvements built for Fortnite on Nintendo Switch to 4.20 users as well.

Niagara VFX (early access): Unreal Engine’s new programmable VFX editor, Niagara, is now available in early access and will help developers take their VFX to the next level. This new suite of tools is built from the ground up to give artists unprecedented control over particle simulation, rendering and performance, for more sophisticated visuals. This tool will eventually replace the Unreal Cascade particle editor.

Cinematic depth of field: Unreal Engine 4.20 delivers tools for achieving depth of field at true cinematic quality in any scene. This brand new implementation replaces the Circle DOF method. It’s faster, cleaner and provides a cinematic appearance through the use of a procedural bokeh simulation. Cinematic DOF also supports alpha channel, dynamic resolution stability and has multiple settings for scaling up or down on console platforms based on project requirements. This feature debuted at GDC this year as part of the Star Wars “Reflections” demo by Epic, ILMxLAB and Nvidia.

Digital human improvements: In-engine tools now include dual-lobe specular/double Beckman specular models, backscatter transmission in lights, boundary bleed color subsurface scattering, iris normal slot for eyes and screen space irradiance to build the most cutting-edge digital humans in games and beyond.

Live record and replay: All developers now have access to code from Epic’s Fortnite Replay system. Content creators can easily use footage of recorded gameplay sessions to create incredible replay videos.

Sequencer cinematic updates: New features include frame accuracy, media tracking, curve editor/evaluation, and Final Cut Pro 7 XML import/export.

Shotgun integration: Shotgun, a production management and asset tracking solution, is now supported. This will streamline workflows for Shotgun users in game development who are leveraging Unreal’s realtime performance. Shotgun users can assign tasks to specific assets within Unreal Engine.

Mixed reality capture support (early access): Users with virtual production workflows will now have mixed reality capture support that includes video input, calibration and in-game compositing. Supported webcams and HDMI capture devices allow users to pull real-world greenscreened video into the engine, and supported tracking devices can match your camera location to the in-game camera for more dynamic shots.

AR support: Unreal Engine 4.20 ships with native support for ARKit 2, which includes features for creating shared, collaborative AR experiences. Also included is the latest support for Magic Leap One, Google ARCore 1.2 support.

Metadata control: Import metadata from 3ds Max, SketchUp and other common CAD tools for the opportunity to batch process objects by property, or expose metadata via scripts. Metadata enables more creative uses of Unreal Studio, such as Python script commands for updating all meshes of a certain type, or displaying relevant information in interactive experiences.

Mesh editing tools: Unreal Engine now includes a basic mesh editing toolset for quick, simple fixes to imported geometry without having to fix them in the source package and re-import. These tools are ideal for simple touch-ups without having to go to another application. Datasmith also now includes a base Python script that can generate Level Of Detail (LOD) meshes automatically.

Non-destructive re-import: Achieve faster iteration through the new parameter tracking system, which monitors updates in both the source data and Unreal Editor, and only imports changed elements. Previous changes to the scene within Unreal Editor are retained and reapplied when source data updates.

HP intros new entry-level HP Z lineup

HP is offering new entry-level workstations with their HP Z lineup, which is designed to help accelerate performance and secure pros’ workflows.

The HP Z2 Mini, HP Z2 Small Form Factor and HP Z2 Tower, as well as the HP EliteDesk 800 Workstation Edition, feature built-in end-to-end HP security services, providing protection from evolving malware threats with self-healing BIOS and an HP endpoint security controller. Users get protection from hardware-enforced security solutions, including HP Sure Start Gen4 and HP Sure Run, which help keep critical processes running, even if malware tries to stop them. Additionally, HP’s Manageability Kit Gen 2 manages multiple devices.

All HP Z2 workstations can now connect with Thunderbolt for fast device connections and offer an array of certifications for the apps pros are using in their day-to-day work lives. HP Performance Advisor is available to optimize software and drivers, and users can deploy Intel Xeon processors and ECC memory for added reliability. The customization, expandability, performance upgradeability and I/O options help future-proof HP Z workstation purchases.

Here are some details about the fourth-generation entry HP Z workstation family:

The HP Z2 Mini G4 workstation features what HP calls “next-level performance” in a small form factor (2.7 liters in total volume). Compared to the previous generation HP Z2 Mini, it offers two times more graphics power. Users can choose either the Nvidia Quadro P600 or Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU. In addition, there is the option for AMD Radeon Pro WX4150 graphics.

Thanks to its size, users can mount it under a desk, behind a display or in a rack — up to 56 HP Z2 Mini workstations will fit in a standard 42U rack with the custom rackmount bracket accessory. With its flexible I/O, users can configure the system for connectivity of legacy serial ports, as well as support for up to six displays for peripheral and display connectivity needs. The HP Z2 G4 Mini comes with six core Intel Xeon Processors.

The HP Z2 Small Form Factor (SFF) G4 workstation offers 50 percent more processing power than the previous generation in the exact same compact size. The six-core CPU provides significant performance boosts. The HP Z2 SFF takes customization to the next level with flexible I/O options that free up valuable PCIe slots, while providing customization for legacy or specialized equipment, and for changing display needs.

The HP Z2 G4 SFF ships with four PCIe slots and dual M.2 storage slots. Its flexible I/O option enables users to customize networking, I/O or display needs without taking up PCIe slots or adding external adapters.

The HP Z2 Tower G4 workstation is designed for complex workloads like rendering with up to Ultra 3D graphics and the latest Intel Core or Intel Xeon processors. The HP Z2 tower can handle demanding 3D projects with over 60 percent more graphics power than the previous generation. With high clock speeds, users can get full, unthrottled performance, even with heavy workloads.

The HP EliteDesk 800 workstation Edition targets users who want to upgrade to a workstation-class desktop with integrated ISV certified applications experience.

Designed for 2D/3D design, it is also out-of-the box optimized for leading VR engines and features the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080.

The HP Z2 Mini is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $799; the HP Z2 Small Form Factor is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of
$749; the HP Z2 Tower is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $769; and the HP EliteDesk 800 is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $642, including Nvidia Quadro P400 graphics.

Kari Skogland — Emmy-nominated director of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

By Iain Blair

From day one, the stark images of pure white bonnets and blood-red cloaks in The Handmaid’s Tale have come to symbolize one thing — the oppression of women. The Hulu hit series has also come to symbolize that rare moment in pop culture where difficult subject matter and massive artistic ambition cross over into impressive ratings.

In fact, the show — based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian and prescient 1985 novel of the same name — just received 20 Emmy nominations, including eight acting noms and a second nod for best drama series. It reportedly doubled its audience for the Season 2 premiere (as compared to the first season), after becoming the first show from a streaming service to win best drama at the 2017 Emmys.

Many of the most searing episodes, including “Night,” the finale to Season 1, and “Other Women” in Season 2, were directed by the award-winning Kari Skogland. As CEO of Mad Rabbit, which launched in 2016, Skogland produces one-hour dramas for the international market while she continues her work as a director on The Handmaid’s Tale and the upcoming pilot for Starz’s The Rook. Skogland was included in the 2018 Emmy nominations with recognition of her directing work on the Season 2 episode “After.”

A prolific female director of TV and film, Skogland’s television credits include episodes for the premiere season of Condor (Audience), and such shows as The Borgias and Penny Dreadful (Showtime), Boardwalk Empire (HBO), The Killing, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead (AMC), Under the Dome (CBS), Vikings (History Channel), Power-Starring 50 Cent (Starz), The Americans (FX) and House of Cards and The Punisher (Netflix). Skogland also directed Sons of Liberty (History), a six-part event miniseries for which she won the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) award for Best Director of a Television Miniseries.

As a feature film writer, director and producer, Skogland’s film Fifty Dead Men Walking, starring Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for another six awards, including Best Film.  Additionally, Skogland was recognized by the DGC as Best Director. Her previous film as director, writer and producer was The Stone Angel, starring Ellen Burstyn and Ellen Page. It was nominated for Best Director and Best Writer by WGC as well as Best Screenplay and Best Actress. It also won a Best Film award from the DGC.

I recently spoke with Skogland — the only female nominated in the best directing drama category at this year’s Emmys — about the show, her workflow and mentoring other women.

Why do you think the show’s caught the public’s imagination so much?
I think it’s rooted in many things, one of them being a cautionary tale. Another would be these compelling performances that engage you in the story in an emotional context and a narrative that has the possibility of actually coming true, especially given what we’re seeing on the news all the time now. It’s a weird perfect storm where today’s political climate and this show sort of merge.

I recently read something where Margaret Atwood, who wrote it over 30 years ago, says that everything has happened. It was fiction, but it has happened somewhere in the world since she wrote it, and it’s happening today. So I think the authenticity of the characters and the performances, even more than the events, is what really drives it even further into being so incredibly watchable.

Every character is so complex.
Exactly. You love to hate Serena Joy, but then there are moments where you really feel for her in ways you can’t predict. So your emotional barometer is going up and down.

Fair to say that Atwood’s book and its themes seem more timely than ever?
Definitely. Not only is it very timely now, but it was probably very timely when it first came out too, which makes it even more interesting when you think about progress. Are we really on a treadmill? Have we really moved the political needle at all? It doesn’t seem that different from when she wrote it, when Reagan and the rise of conservatism in America were making headlines.

Have you started Season 3?
Not yet. It’ll probably start filming in September. They’ve asked me to come back, but they don’t have a schedule yet.

Kari Skogland on set

What are the big challenges of directing this show?
First of all, you have to be very aware of all of it. When I did the Season 1 finale, I had to watch everything very carefully up until that point so I could continue the emotional story. It was the same thing for Season 2. They’re very challenging performance pieces for everyone, and you have to maintain that sense of continuity and trust. You have to really plan for the season’s arc for each character, and someone like Lizzie [Moss] is so collaborative. But it’s also this path of discovery, where you want to capture the inspiration of the moment.

Where do you post?
We shoot in Toronto and do all the post at Take 5 Productions there. I’ve known and worked with them for years — they’ve won so many awards for their great work. They do all the editing and finishing.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and with a show like this it’s where you can combine the plan you went into post with, along with those happy accidents and inspired moments, and see the scene or episode come alive in ways you didn’t expect. I always think of it as a way to re-direct the episode. Post is always full of surprises.

Talk about editing. Didn’t you start off as an editor?
Yes, and I am really involved in the edit. I always want to have two options in post. I don’t want to be handcuffed by any decisions made on the set. I need to be able to re-sculpt the footage and rediscover stuff as we go.

You have a big cast, and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
One of the things I really like to avoid is what I call “ping-pong” editing, and doing lazy coverage of a scene where it’s so predictable — there’s the closeup, there’s the wide shot, there’s another closeup!  I always want coverage that actually eliminates edits. The goal is to not interrupt the flow by jumping all over the place. With that in mind, I try and shoot with the idea of “the elegant accident,” and that means you sometimes shoot a lot of extra footage so you can find the gold and the gems as you re-sculpt in post. It’s like documentary filmmaking in that sense, and those gems happen in the oddest of moments.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Talk about the importance of sound and music.
The show’s creator, Bruce Miller, is very really instrumental in all that, but we’re all involved too. For episode eight, Joe Fiennes came up with the idea of a record player, and then we built this whole storyline around the record player. The wonderful thing about Bruce’s writing and his aesthetic is that it’s so spare, so it leaves such great opportunities for performance. The actors can convey a lot without any words.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
It’s incredibly important! When your peers nominate you it’s a real nod from industry professionals, and it indicates tremendous appreciation.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
I’ve been advocating for women for years, and the truth is, nothing’s really changed that much. There’s been so much talk recently, and it was the same thing 20 years ago. One female director had a big hit with Wonder Woman, but real change will only come when half the superhero movies are directed by women.

What advice would you give young women who would like to direct and run shows like this?
Not only can you do it — just do it! Obviously, it’s hard and there are many sacrifices you have to make, but don’t take “no” for an answer.


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

SIGGRAPH conference chair Roy C. Anthony: VR, AR, AI, VFX, more

By Randi Altman

Next month, SIGGRAPH returns to Vancouver after turns in Los Angeles and Anaheim. This gorgeous city, whose convention center offers a water view, is home to many visual effects studios providing work for film, television and spots.

As usual, SIGGRAPH will host many presentations, showcase artists’ work, display technology and offer a glimpse into what’s on the horizon for this segment of the market.

Roy C. Anthony

Leading up to the show — which takes place August 12-16 — we reached out to Roy C. Anthony, this year’s conference chair. For his day job, Anthony recently joined Ventuz Technology as VP, creative development. There, he leads initiatives to bring Ventuz’s realtime rendering technologies to creators of sets, stages and ProAV installations around the world

SIGGRAPH is back in Vancouver this year. Can you talk about why it’s important for the industry?
There are 60-plus world-class VFX and animation studios in Vancouver. There are more than 20,000 film and TV jobs, and more than 8,000 VFX and animation jobs in the city.

So, Vancouver’s rich production-centric communities are leading the way in film and VFX production for television and onscreen films. They are also are also busy with new media content, games work and new workflows, including those for AR/VR/mixed reality.

How many exhibitors this year?
The conference and exhibition will play host to over 150 exhibitors on the show floor, showcasing the latest in computer graphics and interactive technologies, products and services. Due to the increase in the amount of new technology that has debuted in the computer graphics marketplace over this past year, almost one quarter of this year’s 150 exhibitors will be presenting at SIGGRAPH for the first time

In addition to the traditional exhibit floor and conferences, what are some of the can’t-miss offerings this year?
We have increased the presence of virtual, augmented and mixed reality projects and experiences — and we are introducing our new Immersive Pavilion in the east convention center, which will be dedicated to this area. We’ve incorporated immersive tech into our computer animation festival with the inclusion of our VR Theater, back for its second year, as well as inviting a special, curated experience with New York University’s Ken Perlin — he’s a legendary computer graphics professor.

We’ll be kicking off the week in a big VR way with a special session following the opening ceremony featuring Ivan Sutherland, considered by many as “the father of computer graphics.” That 50-year retrospective will present the history and innovations that sparked our industry.

We have also brought Syd Mead, a legendary “visual futurist” (Blade Runner, Tron, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Aliens, Time Cop, Tomorrowland, Blade Runner 2049), who will display an arrangement of his art in a special collection called Progressions. This will be seen within our Production Gallery experience, which also returns for its second year. Progressions will exhibit more than 50 years of artwork by Syd, from his academic years to his most current work.

We will have an amazing array of guest speakers, including those featured within the Business Symposium, which is making a return to SIGGRAPH after an absence of a few years. Among these speakers are people from the Disney Technology Innovation Group, Unity and Georgia Tech.

On Tuesday, August 14, our SIGGRAPH Next series will present a keynote speaker each morning to kick off the day with an inspirational talk. These speakers are Tony Derose, a senior scientist from Pixar; Daniel Szecket, VP of design for Quantitative Imaging Systems; and Bob Nicoll, dean of Blizzard Academy.

There will be a 25th anniversary showing of the original Jurassic Park movie, being hosted by “Spaz” Williams, a digital artist who worked on that film.

Can you talk about this year’s keynote and why he was chosen?
We’re thrilled to have ILM head and senior VP, ECD Rob Bredow deliver the keynote address this year. Rob is all about innovation — pushing through scary new directions while maintaining the leadership of artists and technologists.

Rob is the ultimate modern-day practitioner, a digital VFX supervisor who has been disrupting ‘the way it’s always been done’ to move to new ways. He truly reflects the spirit of ILM, which was founded in 1975 and is just one year younger than SIGGRAPH.

A large part of SIGGRAPH is its slant toward students and education. Can you discuss how this came about and why this is important?
SIGGRAPH supports education in all sub-disciplines of computer graphics and interactive techniques, and it promotes and improves the use of computer graphics in education. Our Education Committee sponsors a broad range of projects, such as curriculum studies, resources for educators and SIGGRAPH conference-related activities.

SIGGRAPH has always been a welcoming and diverse community, one that encourages mentorship, and acknowledges that art inspires science and science enables advances in the arts. SIGGRAPH was built upon a foundation of research and education.

How are the Computer Animation Festival films selected?
The Computer Animation Festival has two programs, the Electronic Theater and the VR Theater. Because of the large volume of submissions for the Electronic Theater (over 400), there is a triage committee for the first phase. The CAF Chair then takes the high scoring pieces to a jury comprised of industry professionals. The jury selects then become the Electronic Theater show pieces.

The selections for the VR Theater are made by a smaller panel comprised mostly of sub-committee members that watch each film in a VR headset and vote.

Can you talk more about how SIGGRAPH is tackling AR/VR/AI and machine learning?
Since SIGGRAPH 2018 is about the theme of “Generations,” we took a step back to look at how we got where we are today in terms of AR/VR, and where we are going with it. Much of what we know today couldn’t have been possible without the research and creation of Ivan Sutherland’s 1968 head-mounted display. We have a fanatic panel celebrating the 50-year anniversary of his HMD, which is widely considered and the first VR HMD.

AI tools are newer, and we created a panel that focuses on trends and the future of AI tools in VFX, called “Future Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Tools for VFX.” This panel gains insight from experts embedded in both the AI and VFX industries and gives attendees a look at how different companies plan to further their technology development.

What is the process for making sure that all aspects of the industry are covered in terms of panels?
Every year new ideas for panels and sessions are submitted by contributors from all over the globe. Those submissions are then reviewed by a jury of industry experts, and it is through this process that panelists and cross-industry coverage is determined.

Each year, the conference chair oversees the program chairs, then each of the program chairs become part of a jury process — this helps to ensure the best program with the most industries represented from across all disciplines.

In the rare case a program committee feels they are missing something key in the industry, they can try to curate a panel in, but we still require that that panel be reviewed by subject matter experts before it would be considered for final acceptance.

 

DP Patrick Stewart’s path and workflow on Netflix’s Arrested Development

With its handheld doc-style camerawork, voiceover narration and quirky humor, Arrested Development helped revolutionize the look of TV sitcoms. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz, with Ron Howard serving as one of its executive producers, the half-hour comedy series follows the once-rich Bluth family, that continues to live beyond their means in Southern California. At the center of the family is the mostly sane Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who does his best to keep his dysfunctional family intact.

Patrick Stewart

The series first aired for three seasons on the Fox TV network (2003-2006) but was canceled due to low ratings. Because the series was so beloved, in 2013, Netflix brought it back to life with its original cast in place. In May 2018, the fifth season began streaming, shot by cinematographer Patrick Stewart (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The League, Flight of the Conchords). He called on VariCam LT cinema cameras.

Stewart’s path to becoming a cinematographer wasn’t traditional. Growing up in Los Angeles and graduating with a degree in finance from the University of Santa Clara, he got his start in the industry when a friend called him up and asked if he’d work on a commercial as a dolly grip. “I did it well enough where they called me for more and more jobs,” explains Stewart. “I started as a dolly grip but then I did sound, worked as a tape op and then started in the camera department. I also worked with the best gaffers in San Francisco, who showed me how to look at the light, understand it and either augment it or recreate it. It was the best practical film school I could have ever attended.”

Not wanting to stay “in a small pond with big fish” Stewart decided to move back to LA and started working for MTV, which brought him into the low-budget handheld world. It also introduced him to “interview lighting” where he lit celebrities like Barbara Streisand, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. “At that point I got to light every single amazing musician, actor, famous person you could imagine,” he says. “This practice afforded me the opportunity to understand how to light people who were getting older, and how to make them look their best on camera.”

In 1999, Stewart received an offer to shoot Mike Figgis’ film Time Code (2000), which was one of the landmark films of the DV/film revolution. “It was groundbreaking not only in the digital realm but the fact that Time Code was shot with four cameras from beginning to end, 93 minutes, without stopping, shown in a quad split with no edits — all handheld,” explains Stewart. “It was an amazingly difficult project, because having no edits meant you couldn’t make mistakes. I was very fortunate to work with a brilliant renegade director like Mike Figgis.”

Triple Coverage
When hired for Arrested Development, the first request Stewart approached Hurwitz with was to add a third camera. Shooting with three cameras with multiple characters can be a logistical challenge, but Stewart felt he could get through scenes more quickly and effectively, in order to get the actors out on time. “I call the C camera the center camera and the A and the B are screen left and screen right,” Stewart explains. “C covers the center POV, while A and B cover the scene from their left and right side POV, which usually starts with overs. As we continue to shoot the scene, each camera will get tighter and tighter. If there are three or more actors in the scene, C will get tighter on whoever is in the center. After that, C camera might cover the scene following the dialogue with ‘swinging’ singles. If no swinging singles are appropriate, then the center camera can move over and help out coverage on the right or left side.

“I’m on a walkie — either adjusting the shots during a scene for either of their framing or exposure, or I’m planning ahead,” he continues. “You give me three cameras and I’ll shoot a show really well for you and get it done efficiently, and with cinematic style.”

Because it is primarily a handheld show, Stewart needed lenses that would not weigh down his operators during long takes. He employed Fujinon Cabrio zooms (15-35mm, 19-90mm, and 85-300mm), which are all f/2.8 lenses.

For camera settings, Stewart captures 10-bit 422 UHD (3840×2160) AVC Intra files at 23.98-fps. He also captures in V-Log but uses the V-709 LUT. “To me, you can create all the LUTs you want,” he says, “but more than likely you get to color correction and end up changing things. I think the basic 709 LUT is really nice and gentle on all the colors.”

Light from Above
Much of Arrested Development is shot on a stage, so lighting can get complicated, especially when there are multiple characters in a scene. To makes things less complicated, Stewart provided a gentle soft light from softboxes covering the top of each stage set, using 4-by-8 wooden frames with Tungsten-balanced Quasar tubes dimmed down to 50%. His motivated lighting explanation is that the unseen source could basically be a skylight. If characters are close to windows, he uses HMIs creating “natural sunlight” punching through to light the scene. “The nice thing about the VariCam is that you don’t need as many photons, and I did pretty extensive tests during pre-production on how to do it.”

On stage, Stewart sets his ISO to 5000 base and dials down to 2500 and generally shoots at an f/2.8 and ½. He even uses one level of ND on top of that. “You can imagine 27-foot candles at one level of ND at a 2.8 and 1/2 — that’s a pretty sensitive camera, and I noticed very little noise. My biggest concern was mid-tones, so I did a lot of testing — shooting at 5000, shooting at 2500, 800, 800 pushed up to 1600 and 2500.

“Sometimes with certain cameras, you can develop this mid-tone noise that you don’t really notice until you’re in post. I felt like shooting at 5000 knocked down to 2500 was giving me the benefit of lighting the stage at these beautifully low-lit levels where we would never be hot. I could also easily put 5Ks outside the windows to have enough sunlight to make it look like it’s overexposed a bit. I felt that the 5000 base knocked down to 2500, the noise level was negligible. At native 5000 ISO, there was a little bit more mid-tone noise, even though it was still acceptable. For daytime exteriors, we usually shot at ISO 800, dialing down to 500 or below.”

Stewart and Arrested Development director Troy Miller have known each other for many years since working together on the HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. “There was a shorthand between director and DP that really came in handy,” says Stewart. “Troy knows that I know what I’m doing, and I know on his end that he’s trying to figure out this really complicated script and have us shoot it. Hand in hand, we were really able to support Mitch.”

Review: Maxon Cinema 4D R19 — an editor’s perspective

By Brady Betzel

It’s time for my yearly review of Maxon’s Cinema 4D. Currently in Release 19, Cinema 4D comes with a good amount of under-the-hood updates. I am an editor, first and foremost, so while I dabble in Cinema 4D, I am not an expert. There are a few things in the latest release, however, that directly correlate to editors like me.

Maxon offers five versions of Cinema 4D, not including BodyPaint 3D. There is the Cinema 4D Lite, which comes free with Adobe After Effects. It is really an amazing tool for discovering the world of 3D without having to invest a bunch of money. But, if you want all the goodies that come packed into Cinema 4D you will have to pay the piper and purchase one of the other four versions. The other versions include Prime, Broadcast, Visualize and Studio.

Cinema 4D Prime is the first version that includes features like lighting, cameras and animation. Cinema 4D Broadcast includes all of Cinema 4D Prime’s features as well as the beloved MoGraph tools and the Broadcast Library, which offers pre-built objects and cameras that will work with motion graphics. Cinema 4D Visualize includes Cinema 4D Prime features as well, but is geared more toward architects and designers. It includes Sketch and Toon, as well as an architecturally focused library of objects and presets. Cinema 4D Studio includes everything in the other versions plus unlimited Team Render nodes, a hair system, a motion/object tracker and much more. If you want to see a side-by-side comparison you can check out Maxon’s website.

What’s New
As usual, there are a bunch of new updates to Cinema 4D Release 19, but I am going to focus on my top three, which relate to the workflows and processes I might use as an editor: New Media Core, Scene Reconstruction and the Spherical Camera. Obviously, there are a lot more updates — including the incredible new OpenGL Previews and the cross-platform ProRender, which adds the ability to use AMD or Nvidia graphics cards — but to keep this review under 30 pages I am focusing on the three that directly impact my work.

New Media Core
Buckle up! You can now import animated GIFs into Cinema 4D. So, yes, you can import animated GIFs into Cinema 4D Release 19, but that is just one tiny aspect of this update. The really big addition is the QuickTime-free support of MP4 videos. Now MP4s can be imported and used as textures, as well as exported with different compression settings, directly from within Cinema 4D’s  interface — all of this without the need to have QuickTime installed. What is cool about this is that you no longer need to export image-based file sequences to get your movie inside of Cinema 4D. The only slowdown will be how long it takes Cinema 4D R19 to cache your MP4 so that you will have realtime playback… if possible.

In my experience, it doesn’t take that much time, but that will be dependent on your system performance. While this is a big under-the-hood type of update, it is great for those quick exports of a scene for approval. No need to take your export into Adobe Media Encoder, or something else, to squeeze out an MP4.

Scene Reconstruction
First off, for any new Cinema 4D users out there, Scene Reconstruction is convoluted and a little thick to wade through. However, if you work with footage and want to add motion graphics work to a scene, you will want to learn this. You can check out this Cineversity.com video for an eight-minute overview.

Cinema 4D’s Scene Reconstruction works by tracking your footage to generate point clouds, and then after you go back and enable Scene Reconstruction, it creates a mesh from the resulting scene calculation that Cinema 4D computes. In the end, depending on how compatible your footage is with Scene Detection (i.e. contrasting textures and good lighting will help) you will get a camera view with matching scene vertices that are then fully animatable. I, unfortunately, do not have enough time to recreate a set or scene inside of Cinema 4D R19, however, it feels like Maxon is getting very close to fully automated scene reconstruction, which would be very, very interesting.

I’ve seen a lot of ideas from pros on Twitter and YouTube that really blow my mind, like 3D scanning with a prosumer camera to recreate objects inside of Cinema 4D. Scene Reconstruction could be a game-changing update, especially if it becomes more automated as it would allow base users like me to recreate a set in Cinema 4D without having to physically rebuild a set. A pretty incredible motion graphics-compositing future is really starting to emerge from Cinema 4D.

In addition, the Motion Tracker has received some updates, including manual tracking on R, G, B, or custom channel — viewed as Tracker View — and the tracker can now work with a circular tracking pattern.

Spherical Camera
Finally, the last update, which seems incredible, is the new Spherical Camera. It’s probably because I have been testing and using a lot more 360 video, but the ability to render your scene using a Spherical Camera is here. You can now create a scene, add a camera and enable Spherical mapping, including equirectangular, cubic string, cubic cross or even Facebook’s 360 video 3×2 cubic format. In addition, there is now support for Stereo VR as well as dome projection.

Other Updates
In addition to the three top updates I’ve covered, there are numerous others updates that are just as important, if not more so to those who use Cinema 4D in other ways. In my opinion, the rendering updates take the cake. Also, as mentioned before, there is support for both Nvidia and AMD GPUs, multi-GPU support, incredible viewport enhancements with Physical Rendering and interactive Preview Renders in the viewport.

Under MoGraph, there is an improved Voronoi Fracture system (ability to destroy an object quickly) including improved performance for high polygon counts and detailing to give the fracture a more realistic look. There is also a New Sound Effector to allow for interactive MoGraph creation to the beat of the music. One final note: the new Modern Modelling Kernel has been introduced. The new kernel gives more ability to things like polygon reduction and levels of detail.

In the end, Cinema 4D Release 19 is a huge under-the-hood update that will please legacy users but will also attract new users with AMD-based GPUs. Moreover, Maxon seems to be slowly morphing Cinema 4D into a total 2D and 3D modeling and motion graphics powerhouse, much like the way Blackmagic’s Resolve is for colorists, video editors, VFX creators and audio mixers.

Summing Up
With updates like Scene Recreation and improved motion tracking, Maxon gives users like me the ability to work way above their pay grade to composite 3D objects onto our 2D footage. If any of this sounds interesting to you and you are a paying Adobe Creative Cloud user, download and open up Cinema 4D Lite along with After Effects, then run over to Cineversity and brush up on the basics. Cinema 4D Release 19 is an immensely powerful 3D application that is blurring the boundaries between 3D and 2D compositing. With Cinema 4D Release 19’s large library of objects, preset scenes and lighting setups you can be experimenting in no time, and I didn’t even touch on the modeling and sculpting power!


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Director Sasha Levinson talks about her Las Vegas tourism spots

After seeing some of her previous work, Humble director Sasha Levinson was approached by agency R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority with a vision of creating four short films of personal transformation, each set across one weekend in Las Vegas, where the city was the catalyst in each narrative. The spots play more like a film trailer than a commercial.

Initial scripts were already written, when Levinson won project. “Right out of the gate I started to develop ideas about how I would bring these stories to life in a way that created a human mystique around Las Vegas while showcasing how the city could have an authentically positive impact on each character’s life,” she says.

We reached out to Levinson to find out more about her process and the project.

Who did you work with the most from the agency?
R&R Partners’ Arnie DiGeorge (ECD), Scott Murray (CD) and Gerri Angelo (Producer) were the primary people I interacted with. Once I was officially on board, the collaboration stretched into a place I hadn’t seen in my commercial work thus far. The team stressed their desire to have a filmmaker that could truly bring the films to life, and I think I did just that. They trusted my process whole-heartedly.

Now and Then

Can you walk us through the production process?
While working on readying the scripts for production, I flew out to Las Vegas and spent several days location scouting in and around the city. It was very inspiring to start to feel the environment and begin to envision exactly how our scenes might play out.

We scouted many incredible spaces, both interior and exterior. My process was to put myself into the mindset of each of the characters and decide where they would want to spend their weekend.

The next step was casting, which was done in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We all took a collective breath when we found our actors because they became the characters that had only been living on the page for quite a while.

It took a dedicated team and the full support of Humble, our production company, to pull this off. Line producer Trevor Allen, AD Scott Murray, AD Todd Martin, costume designer Karmen Dann and location scout/manager Kim Houser-Amaral were a huge help during this two-week shoot.

Two weeks?
Yes, we shot for eight days over the course of two weeks, filming mostly at night in restaurants, nightclubs and suites both on and off The Strip. For interiors alone we shot at over nine different hotel properties, and then filmed various exteriors, driving shots and desert scenes.

Can you talk about each of the four spots?
For the Now and Then spot we used a handheld and Steadicam to stay intimate with the characters. The film lives in a dreamy, indie space, making the audience feel like they are inside the story, and as if the flashbacks are their own memories.

Party of One

The Anniversary was the flirtiest, most luxurious of the films. We were initially planning to film in a different bar, but I changed the schedule when I saw the personality of the final location. It was perfect.

To me, Party of One was a quirky romantic comedy, but the real romance is with herself. This film had a cleaner look with colors that really popped, a playful wardrobe and fun music. The Meetup has the most obvious references to the iconic Oceans and Bond films, and I wanted to do this genre justice.

Victor, the actor in The Meetup has a comedy background, so he was able to give us something different and great each take. We used cleaner lenses and slower-paced, more precise movements using a dolly.

What did you shoot on, and why did you (and assuming the DP) feel this was the best camera?
We shot on the Alexa Mini for its stunning Alexa image and the smaller body. The choice was due to all of the handheld and Steadicam we knew we would be working with. I really love the Alexa and of course we played with a lot of filtration and elements in front of the lens.

Where did you find the inspiration for this campaign?
I was really inspired by the film Paris, je t’aime, which became a reference we really stayed true to with this campaign. We kept saying, “If these four films feel like a love letter to Las Vegas, then we’ve done our job.”

After we finished casting in LA, I spent a weekend in Vegas visiting Valley of Fire State Park, seeing Elton John in concert, riding on the High Roller, eating at some amazing restaurants and overall experiencing the city in a new and inspiring way. I’ve always loved the desert, so there is a built-in romance for me about Vegas being a desert oasis that you just feel, looking out the windows wherever you are. I wanted to capture that essence in this campaign.

Sasha on set

What was the biggest obstacle in directing these four spots?
Las Vegas is all about tourism, so we had to keep the visitor experience in mind when planning our schedules and shooting. It was a constantly changing puzzle of a schedule, but each location had a filming liaison that worked with us. They helped us film across iconic Las Vegas locations like the High Roller at the LinQ Hotel & Casino and the Bellagio Fountains, where we even had an engineer help us control the fountains, starting them at just the right moment in the shot.

Where was this project edited, and how did you work with the editors?
I worked extremely closely with the editors Erin Nordstrom and Nick Pezillo at Spot Welders in Venice, California. They cut on Adobe Premiere, and during the edit process we cut in side-by-side rooms. As we were cutting the first cuts I would hop between rooms as the edits were evolving.

Music was a huge point of discussion. Josh Baron was our music supervisor, and Human created some original pieces. Early in the edit process there was a lot of conversation about tone and feel of the soundtracks. Getting the music to encourage the cinematic feeling was very important to all of us.

Can you talk about what you wanted from the color grade?
Las Vegas has so much light and spectacle, and most of the films took place at night, so I wanted to capture that essence and make sure we didn’t go too far. The idea was that the character of Las Vegas should be cohesive across all four films, but each of the storylines should feel visually dedicated to their respective characters.

Dave Hussey at Company 3 too the reigns on color and hit the perfect balance between fantasy and reality.

We’ve heard a lot about making the ad and production industries more inclusive. How do you see the industry changing? Do you think organizations like Free the Bid are doing their jobs to help female directors get the work they deserve?
I think that filmmaking and content creation is about telling stories that accurately reflect reality, but this isn’t possible without diverse creators showcasing their own unique realities. I’ve spent a lot of time on scouts and shoots where I am the only woman, but this is changing, and there are more and more times where the van is all women, and it’s amazing!

However, just when I think diversity is becoming the norm, I’ll be on set with a crew member or client who says they’ve never worked with a female director. Free the Bid has been an incredible initiative and because it’s so action oriented, you can feel the rumblings of change in realtime. That’s exciting.

Do you have any tips for aspiring female directors?
Being a filmmaker in film or advertising is an incredible career path. My best advice is to develop your authentic voice and find projects that resonate with it. Don’t get lost in what you think you should be doing, and don’t just follow the trends. Be authentic in your work and speak from the heart. And when it comes to starting a reel, donate your time. Find brands or projects that cover the costs and give them your creative skills in exchange for footage to build a reel.

There has been a trend around branded content and spots, that look and like films, like this campaign. Do you think this trend will continue?
I think this trend will continue and extend deeper into newer mediums like immersive storytelling and interactivity. Brands are constantly searching for ways to connect with consumers, and I believe the art of storytelling is an age-old unifier and connector. So it makes sense. Personally, I love the three-act structure and any opportunity to work with this, whether it be 90 seconds or 90 minutes, inspires me.

Are you working on any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
I’m currently taking my recent film Welcome to Grandville through the festival circuit. It made its premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Perspectives Exhibition, and more recently in New York City at the Soho International Film Festival.

I’ve also just completed a commercial project for Whirlpool, Google and Amazon’s Alexa. Currently, I’m writing a film called the The Discomfort of Skin, about the human discomfort with nudity and sexuality.

Mark Thorely joins Mill Film Australia as MD

Mill Film in Australia, a Technicolor VFX studio, has named Mark Thorley as managing director.Hi appointment comes in the wake of the February launch of Mill Film in Adelaide, Australia.

Thorley brings with him more than 15 years of executive experience, working at such studios as Lucas Film, Singapore, where he oversaw studio operations and production strategies. Prior to that, Thorley spent nine years at Animal Logic, at both their Los Angeles and Sydney locations, as head of production. He also held senior positions at Screen Queensland and Omnicom.

Throughout his career, Thorley has received credits on numerous blockbuster feature films, including Kong: Skull Island, Rogue One, Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thorley will drive all aspects of VFX production, client relations and business development for Australia, reporting into the global head of Mill Film, Lauren McCallum.

Behind the Title: Colorist David Rivero Martin

NAME: David Rivero Martin

COMPANY: Freelance colorist based in China

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO?
I color grade and supervise the finishing of feature films and commercials — normally all versions and often the trailers associated with them.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The amount of retouching (other than overall luma/chroma changes) that we usually do to the image.

Lord 2

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Mostly in DaVinci Resolve and SGO Mistika, but I’m trying to get more time on Filmlight’s Baselight.

ARE YOU ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Definitively. Sometimes I’m asked, sometimes I offer it, and sometimes I just do it. It can vary wildly… from texturing (grain, noise, denoise, adding textures) to beauty passes — going through everything else the system can do (warping, flares, sky replacements, compositing).

I’m always happy to do more for the image and the project. And having these tools within the systems I use means that even if those tasks might eventually go to another department, at least we get to see them right there and then, and see how the tools affect the image. Sometimes, there are things that are just done better at the grading stage, or there are things no one realized or thought of, and we deal with them. Lately, I’ve been using warping as a beauty tool, and also as a creative tool.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
On the job site, it’s the people: directors, photographers, producers, editors, mixers, the whole team. The collaboration between creative, hard-working people is what really drives most of the projects.

On the craft side, it’s when we get to create the style of the project. Those are the color jam sessions.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Chasing payments. Ha!

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Maybe I could have made it as an illustrator (I liked the narrative side of drawing panels and pages as a comic book artist, but I was too slow for the job). Other options would be engineer or historian.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
My first experiences in a studio were actually with my dad at a sound studio. He is a musician, so back when I was a kid he would bring me to the studio to help record and mix, which was pretty interesting and mysterious at the time.

I was always interested in storytelling; and the environment I grew up surely helped, given the family background and the long Spanish tradition of pictorial and graphic arts. By the time I was finishing my technical degree on film and TV, I had already done a few editing jobs and a bunch of other home projects using mostly computers (CG, matte painting, edit, motion graphics, color, VFX), so I definitively knew my place was in post. It’s similar to how I enjoyed being in the studio helping my dad rather than playing in front of an audience. Then, at my first internship, where I went as editor and motion graphics artist, I witnessed an actual grading session take place and I knew that was it. I got introduced to the craft and started right there as assistant.

Pepsi

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’m currently finishing grading two great films: Detective Dee 3: The Four Heavenly King (狄仁杰之四大天王) by Tsui Hark, and Lord 2 (爵迹2) by Guo Jingming. The most recent commercials I graded were for Apple, Pepsi and Cartier.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I try to craft my grading in a way that I can always be proud of, so it is hard for me choose a single one. There are several films during the last three years that I’m very proud of, including the two I’m currently working on. Sometimes it’s just some specific scenes, or sometimes it’s how we dealt with the shadows throughout the whole film. Or maybe it’s how the yellow evolves during the film, or how we shaped the volume and light of the characters in the climax of the film, etc.

I would like to mention Bangzi Melody (村戏), an independent film I graded last year that won the Golden Rooster Award (national Chinese award) for Best Cinematography. It recognized the bold creativity and effort it took during photography and grading. It was shot in color, but we graded it for black and white. And at times in the movie, the color flows into black, white with pools of red and green in the picture. Plus, there were some other effects we added into the grading. I was happy an independent film like this got recognized at that level, as well as our work with it.

Bangzi Melody

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
There is plenty of good material in the entertainment industry that I truly enjoy experiencing and analyzing: films, comic books, videogames, TV series.

When I have the chance, I go to painting galleries or museums, especially in Europe and my hometown of Madrid. Oh, and music. Music curiously serves as a guide and reference in many aspects of grading.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone, my computer and my HiFi headphones.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram. It’s a diverse source of pictures, from people of all kinds and all places.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I love spending time with my wife and daughter, going hiking through the wild or the countryside and my too many hobbies (laughs).