Category Archives: compositing

Behind the Title: Jogger Studios’ CD Andy Brown

This veteran creative director can also often be found at the controls of his Flame working on a new spot.

NAME: Andy Brown

COMPANY: Jogger Studios (@joggerstudios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a boutique post house with offices in the US and UK providing visual effects, motion graphics, color grading and finishing. We are partnered with Cut + Run for editorial and get to work with their editors from around the world. I am based in our Jogger Los Angeles office, after having helped found the company in London.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing compositing, visual effects and finishing. Looking after staff and clients. Juggling all of these things and anticipating the unexpected.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m still working “on the box” every day. Even though my title is creative director, it is the hands-on work that is my first love as far as project collaborations go. Also I get to re-program the phones and crawl under the desks to get the wires looking neater when viewed from the client couch.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The variety, the people and the challenges. Just getting to work on a huge range of creative projects is such a privilege. How many people get to go to work each day looking forward to it?

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The hours, occasionally. It’s more common to have to work without clients nowadays. That definitely makes for more work sometimes, as you might need to create two or three versions of a spot to get approval. If everyone was in the room together you reach a consensus more quickly.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the start of the day best, when everyone is coming into the office and we are getting set up for whatever project we are working on. Could be the first coffee of the day that does it.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I want to say classic car dealer, but given my actual career path the most likely alternative would be editor.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
There were lots of reasons, when I look at it. It was either the Blue Peter Book of Television (the longest running TV program for kids, courtesy of the BBC) or my visit to the HTV Wales TV station with my dad when I was about 12. We walked around the studios and they were playing out a film to air, grading it live through a telecine. I was really struck by the influence that the colorist was having on what was seen.

I went on to do critical work on photography, film and television at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. Part of that course involved being shown around the Pebble Mill BBC Studios. They were editing a sequence covering a public enquiry into the Handsworth riots in 1985. It just struck me how powerful the editing process was. The story could be told so many different ways, and the editor was playing a really big part in the process.

Those experiences (and an interest in writing) led me to think that television might be a good place to work. I got my first job as a runner at MPC after a friend had advised me how to get a start in the business.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We worked on a couple of spots for Bai recently with Justin Timberlake creating the “brasberry.” We had to make up some graphic animations for the newsroom studio backdrop for the shoot and then animate opening title graphics to look just enough like it was a real news report, but not too much like a real news report.

We do quite a bit of food work, so there’s always some burgers, chicken or sliced veggies that need a bit of love to make them pop.

There’s a nice set extension job starting next week, and we recently finished a job with around 400 final versions, which made for a big old deliverables spreadsheet. There’s so much that we do that no one sees, which is the point if we do it right.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Sometimes the job that you are most proud of isn’t necessarily the most amazing thing to look at. I used to work on newspaper commercials back in the UK, and it was all so “last minute.” A story broke, and all of a sudden you had to have a spot ready to go on air with no edit, no footage and only the bare bones of a script. It could be really challenging, but we had to get it done somehow.

But the best thing is seeing something on TV that you’ve worked on. At Jogger Studios, it is primarily commercials, so you get that excitement over and over again. It’s on air for a few weeks and then it’s gone. I like that. I saw two of our spots in a row recently on TV, which I got a kick out of. Still looking for that elusive hat-trick.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Flame, the Land Rover Series III and, sadly, my glasses.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Just friends and family on Instagram, mainly. Although like most Flame operators, I look at the Flame Learning Channel on YouTube pretty regularly. YouTube also thinks I’m really interested in the Best Fails of 2018 for some reason.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
More often than not it is podcasts. West Wing Weekly, The Adam Buxton Podcast, Short Cuts and Song Exploder. Plus some of the shows on BBC 6 Music, which I really miss.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I go to work every day feeling incredibly lucky to be doing the job that I do, and it’s good to remember that. The 15-minute walk to and from work in Santa Monica usually does it.

Living so close to the beach is fantastic. We can get down to the sand, get the super-brella set up and get in the sea with the bodyboards in about 15 minutes. Then there’s the Malibu Cars & Coffee, which is a great place to start your Sunday.

Review: Blackmagic’s Resolve 15

By David Cox

DaVinci Resolve 15 from Blackmagic Design has now been released. The big news is that Blackmagic’s compositing software Fusion has been incorporated into Resolve, joining the editing and audio mixing capabilities added to color grading in recent years. However, to focus just on this would hide a wide array of updates to Resolve, large and small, across the entire platform. I’ve picked out some of my favorite updates in each area.

For Colorists
Each time Blackmagic adds a new discipline to Resolve, colorists fear that the color features take a back seat. After all, Resolve was a color grading system long before anything else. But I’m happy to say there’s nothing to fear in Version 15, as there are several very nice color tweaks and new features to keep everyone happy.

I particularly like the new “stills store” functionality, which allows the colorist to find and apply a grade from any shot in any timeline in any project. Rather than just having access to manually saved grades in the gallery area, thumbnails of any graded shot can be viewed and copied, no matter which timeline or project they are in, even those not explicitly saved as stills. This is great for multi-version work, which is every project these days.

Grades saved as stills (and LUTS) can also be previewed on the current shot using the “Live Preview” feature. Hovering the mouse cursor over a still and scrubbing left and right will show the current shot with the selected grade temporarily applied. It makes quick work of finding the most appropriate look from an existing library.

Another new feature I like is called “Shared Nodes.” A color grading node can be set as “shared,” which creates a common grading node that can be inserted into multiple shots. Changing one instance, changes all instances of that shared node. This approach is more flexible and visible than using Groups, as the node can be seen in each node layout and can sit at any point in the process flow.

As well as the addition of multiple play-heads, a popular feature in other grading systems, there is a plethora of minor improvements. For example, you can now drag the qualifier graphics to adjust settings, as opposed to just the numeric values below them. There are new features to finesse the mattes generated from the keying functions, as well as improvements to the denoise and face refinement features. Nodes can be selected with a single click instead of a double click. In fact, there are 34 color improvements or new features listed in the release notes.

For Editors
As with color, there are a wide range of minor tweaks all aimed at improving feel and ergonomics, particularly around dynamic trim modes, numeric timecode entry and the like. I really like one of the major new features, which is the ability to open multiple timelines on the screen at the same time. This is perfect for grabbing shots, sequences and settings from other timelines.

As someone who works a lot with VFX projects, I also like the new “Replace Edit” function, which is aimed at those of us that start our timelines with early drafts of VFX and then update them as improved versions come along. The new function allows updated shots to be dragged over their predecessors, replacing them but inheriting all modifications made, such as the color grade.

An additional feature to the existing markers and notes functions is called “Drawn Annotations.” An editor can point out issues in a shot with lines and arrows, then detail them with notes and highlight them with timeline markers. This is great as a “note to self” to fix later, or in collaborative workflows where notes can be left for other editors, colorists or compositors.

Previous versions of Resolve had very basic text titling. Thanks to the incorporation of Fusion, the edit page of Resolve now has a feature called Text+, a significant upgrade on the incumbent offering. It allows more detailed text control, animation, gradient fills, dotted outlines, circular typing and so on. Within Fusion there is a modifier called “Follower,” which enables letter-by-letter animation, allowing Text+ to compete with After Effects for type animation. On my beta test version of Resolve 15, this wasn’t available in the Edit page, which could be down to the beta status or an intent to keep the Text+ controls in the Edit page more streamlined.

For Audio
I’m not an audio guy, so my usefulness in reviewing these parts is distinctly limited. There are 25 listed improvements or new features, according to the release notes. One is the incorporation of Fairlight’s Automated Dialog Replacement processes, which creates a workflow for the replacement of unsalvageable originally recorded dialog.

There are also 13 new built-in audio effects plugins, such as Chorus, Echo and Flanger, as well as de-esser and de-hummer clean-up tools.
Another useful addition both for audio mixers and editors is the ability to import entire audio effects libraries, which can then be searched and star-rated from within the Edit and Fairlight pages.

Now With Added Fusion
So to the headline act — the incorporation of Fusion into Resolve. Fusion is a highly regarded node-based 2D and 3D compositing software package. I reviewed Version 9 in postPerspective last year [https://postperspective.com/review-blackmagics-fusion-9/]. Bringing it into Resolve links it directly to editing, color grading and audio mixing to create arguably the most agile post production suite available.

Combining Resolve and Fusion will create some interesting challenges for Blackmagic, who say that the integration of the two will be ongoing for some time. Their challenge isn’t just linking two software packages, each with their own long heritage, but in making a coherent system that makes sense to all users.

The issue is this: editors and colorists need to work at a fast pace, and want the minimum number of controls clearly presented. A compositor needs infinite flexibility and wants a button and value for every function, with a graph and ideally the ability to drive it with a mathematical expression or script. Creating an interface that suits both is near impossible. Dumbing down a compositing environment limits its ability, whereas complicating an editing or color environment destroys its flow.

Fusion occupies its own “page” within Resolve, alongside pages for “Color,” “Fairlight” (audio) and “Edit.” This is a good solution in so far that each interface can be tuned for its dedicated purpose. The ability to join Fusion also works very well. A user can seamlessly move from Edit to Fusion to Color and back again, without delays, rendering or importing. If a user is familiar with Resolve and Fusion, it works very well indeed. If the user is not accustomed to high-end node-based compositing, then the Fusion page can be daunting.

I think the challenge going forward will be how to make the creative possibilities of Fusion more accessible to colorists and editors without compromising the flexibility a compositor needs. Certainly, there are areas in Fusion that can be made more obvious. As with many mature software packages, Fusion has the occasional hidden right click or alt-click function that is hard for new users to discover. But beyond that, the answer is probably to let a subset of Fusion’s ability creep into the Edit and Color pages, where more common tasks can be accommodated with simplified control sets and interfaces. This is actually already the case with Text+; a Fusion “effect” that is directly accessible within the Edit section.

Another possible area to help is Fusion Macros. This is an inbuilt feature within Fusion that allows a designer to create an effect and then condense it down to a single node, including just the specific controls needed for that combined effect. Currently, Macros that integrate the Text+ effect can be loaded directly in the Edit page’s “Title Templates” section.

I would encourage Blackmagic to open this up further to allow any sort of Macro to be added for video transitions, graphics generators and the like. This could encourage a vibrant exchange of user-created effects, which would arm editors and colorists with a vast array of immediate and community sourced creative options.

Overall, the incorporation of Fusion is a definite success in my view, whether used to empower multi-skilled post creatives or to provide a common environment for specialized creatives to collaborate. The volume of updates and the speed at which the Resolve software developers address the issues exposed during public beta trials, remains nothing short of impressive.


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

DG 7.9.18

Framestore Chicago adds compositing lead Chris Beers

Framestore Chicago has added Chris Beers as compositing lead. He will be working across a variety of clients with the Chicago team, as well as diving into Nuke projects of his own.

Beers attended The Illinois Institute of Art, where he earned a BFA in visual effects and motion graphics. After graduation he honed his skills as a junior motion graphics artist at Leviathan in Chicago, and has since worked on projects of all sizes.

Beers’ career highlights include working as an After Effects artist on an expansive projection mapping project for Brazilian musician Amon Tobin’s ISAM world tour, and as a Nuke compositor for the title sequences on Marvel films Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. Beers was lead compositor on the series finale of Netflix science-fiction drama Sense8, having worked with the team as a Nuke compositor across both seasons of the show.

“As we recently celebrated our office’s official first year and continue to expand, it’s talent like Chris that makes our studio what it is: a creative hub with a strong sense of community, but the firepower of an integrated, global studio,” says Framestore Chicago’s MD Krystina Wilson.


Creative editorial and post boutique Hiatus opens in Detroit

Hiatus, a full-service, post production studio with in-house creative editorial, original music composition and motion graphics departments, has opened in Detroit. Their creative content offerings cover categories such as documentary, narrative, conceptual, music videos and advertising media for all video platforms.

Led by founder/senior editor Shane Patrick Ford, the new company includes executive producer/partner Catherine Pink, and executive producer Joshua Magee, who joins Hiatus from the animation studio Lunar North. Additional talents feature editor Josh Beebe, composer/editor David Chapdelaine and animator James Naugle.

The roots of Hiatus began with The Factory, a music venue founded by Ford while he was still in college. It provided a venue for local Detroit musicians to play, as well as touring bands. Ford, along with a small group of creatives, then formed The Work – a production company focused on commercial and advertising projects. For Ford, the launch of Hiatus is an opportunity to focus solely on his editorial projects and to expand his creative reach and that of his team nationally.

Leading up to the launch of Hiatus, the team has worked on projects for brands such as Sony, Ford Motor Company, Acura and Bush’s, as well as recent music videos for Lord Huron, Parquet Courts and the Wombats.

The Hiatus team is also putting the finishing touches on the company’s first original feature film Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win. The film uncovers a Detroit Police decoy unit named STRESS and the efforts made to restore civil order in 1970s post-rebellion Detroit. Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win makes its debut at the Indy Film Festival on Sunday April 29th and Tuesday May 1st in Indianapolis, before it hits the film festival circuit.

“Launching Hiatus was a natural evolution for me,” says Ford. “It was time to give my creative team even more opportunities, to expand our network and to collaborate with people across the country that I’ve made great connections with. As the post team evolved within The Work, we outgrew the original role it played within a production company. We began to develop our own team, culture, offerings and our own processes. With the launch of Hiatus, we are poised to better serve the visual arts community, to continue to grow and to be recognized for the talented creative team we are.”

“Instead of having a post house stacked with people, we’d prefer to stay small and choose the right personal fit for each project when it comes to color, VFX and heavy finishing,” explains Hiatus EP Catherine Pink. “We have a network of like-minded artists that we can call on, so each project gets the right creative attention and touch it deserves. Also, the lower overhead allows us to remain nimble and work with a variety of budget needs and all kinds of clients.”


VFX supervisor Lesley Robson-Foster on Amazon’s Mrs. Maisel

By Randi Altman

If you are one of the many who tend to binge-watch streaming shows, you’ve likely already enjoyed Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. This new comedy focuses on a young wife and mother living in New York City in 1958, when men worked and women tended to, well, not work.

After her husband leaves her, Mrs. Maisel chooses stand-up comedy over therapy — or you could say stand-up comedy chooses her. The show takes place in a few New York neighborhoods, including the toney Upper West Side, the Garment District and the Village. The storyline brings real-life characters into this fictional world — Midge Maisel studies by listening to Red Foxx comedy albums, and she also befriends comic Lenny Bruce, who appears in a number of episodes.

Lesley Robson-Foster on set.

The show, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, is colorful and bright and features a significant amount of visual effects — approximately 80 per episode.

We reached out to the show’s VFX supervisor, Lesley Robson-Foster, to find out more.

How early did you get involved in Mrs. Maisel?
The producer Dhana Gilbert brought my producer Parker Chehak and I in early to discuss feasibility issues, as this is a period piece and to see if Amy and Dan liked us! We’ve been on since the pilot.

What did the creators/showrunners say they needed?
They needed 1958 New York City, weather changes and some very fancy single-shot blending. Also, some fantasy and magic realism.

As you mentioned, this is a period piece, so I’m assuming a lot of your work is based on that.
The big period shots in Season 1 are the Garment District reconstruction. We shot on 19th Street between 5th and 6th — the brilliant production designer Bill Groom did 1/3 of the street practically and VFX took care of the rest, such as crowd duplication and CG cars and crowds. Then we shot on Park Avenue and had to remove the Met Life building down near Grand Central, and knock out anything post-1958.

We also did a major gag with the driving footage. We shot driving plates around the Upper West Side and had a flotilla of period-correct cars with us, but could not get rid of all the parked cars. My genius design partner on the show Douglas Purver created a wall of parked period CG cars and put them over the modern ones. Phosphene then did the compositing.

What other types of effects did you provide?
Amy and Dan — the creators and showrunners — haven’t done many VFX shows, but they are very, very experienced. They write and ask for amazing things that allow me to have great fun. For example, I was asked to make a shot where our heroine is standing inside a subway car, and then the camera comes hurtling backwards through the end of the carriage and then sees the train going away down the tunnel. All we had was a third of a carriage with two and a half walls on set. Douglas Purver made a matte painting of the tunnel, created a CG train and put it all together.

Can you talk about the importance of being on set?
For me being on set is everything. I talk directors out of VFX shots and fixes all day long. If you can get it practically you should get it practically. It’s the best advice you’ll ever give as a VFX supervisor. A trust is built that you will give your best advice, and if you really need to shoot plates and interrupt the flow of the day, then they know it’s important for the finished shot.

Having a good relationship with every department is crucial.

Can you give an example of how being on set might have saved a shot or made a shot stronger?
This is a character-driven show. The directors really like Steadicam and long, long shots following the action. Even though a lot of the effects we want to do really demand motion control, I know I just can’t have it. It would kill the performances and take up too much time and room.

I run around with string and tennis balls to line things up. I watch the monitors carefully and use QTake to make sure things line up within acceptable parameters.

In my experience you have to have the production’s best interests at heart. Dhana Gilbert knows that a VFX supervisor on the crew and as part of the team smooths out the season. They really don’t want a supervisor who is intermittent and doesn’t have the whole picture. I’ve done several shows with Dhana; she knows my idea of how to service a show with an in-house team.

You shot b-roll for this? What camera did you use, and why?
We used a Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro. We rented one on The OA for Netflix last year and found it to be really easy to use. We liked that’s its self-contained and we can use the Canon glass from our DSLR kits. It’s got a built-in monitor and it can shoot RAW 4.6K. It cut in just fine with the Alexa Mini for establishing shots and plates. It fits into a single backpack so we could get a shot at a moment’s notice. The user interface on the camera is so intuitive that anyone on the VFX team could pick it up and learn how to get the shot in 30 minutes.

What VFX houses did you employ, and how do you like to work with them?
We keep as much as we can in New York City, of course. Phosphene is our main vendor, and we like Shade and Alkemy X. I like RVX in Iceland, El Ranchito in Spain and Rodeo in Montreal. I also have a host of secret weapon individuals dotted around the world. For Parker and I, it’s always horses for courses. Whom we send the work to depends on the shot.

For each show we build a small in-house team — we do the temps and figure out the design, and shoot plates and elements before shots leave us to go to the vendor.

You’ve worked on many critically acclaimed television series. Television is famous for quick turnarounds. How do you and your team prepare for those tight deadlines?
Television schedules can be relentless. Prep, shoot and post all at the same time. I like it very much as it keeps the wheels of the machine oiled. We work on features in between the series and enjoy that slower process too. It’s all the same skill set and workflow — just different paces.

If you have to offer a production a tip or two about how to make the process go more smoothly, what would it be?
I would say be involved with EVERYTHING. Keep your nose close to the ground. Really familiarize yourself with the scripts — head trouble off at the pass by discussing upcoming events with the relevant person. Be fluid and flexible and engaged!


Behind the Title: Senior compositing artist Marcel Lemme

We recently reached out to Marcel Lemme to find out more about how he works, his background and how he relaxes.

What is your job title and where are you based?
I’m a senior compositing artist based out of Hamburg, Germany.

What does your job entail?
I spend about 90 percent of my time working on commercial jobs for local and international companies like BMW, Audi and Nestle, but also dabble in feature films, corporate videos and music videos. On a regular day, I’m handling everything from job breakdowns to set supervision to conform. I’m also doing shot management for the team, interacting with clients, showing clients work and some compositing. Client review sessions and final approvals are regular occurrences for me too.

What would surprise people the most about the responsibilities that fall under that title?
When it comes to client attended sessions, you have to be part clown, part mind-reader. Half the job is being a good artist; the other half is keeping clients happy. You have to anticipate what the client will want and balance that with what you know looks best. I not only have to create and keep a good mood in the room, but also problem-solve with a smile.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love solving problems when compositing solo. There’s nothing better than tackling a tough project and getting results you’re proud of.

What’s your least favorite?
Sometimes the client isn’t sure what they want, which can make the job harder.

What’s your most productive time of day?
I’m definitely not a morning guy, so the evening — I’m more productive at night.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I’ve asked myself this question a lot, but honestly, I’ve never come up with a good answer.

How’d you get your first job, and did you know this was your path early on?
I fell into it. I was young and thought I’d give computer graphics a try, so I reached out to someonewho knew someone, and before I knew it I was interning at a company in Hamburg, which is how I came to know online editing. At the time, Quantel mostly dominated the industry with Editbox and Henry, and Autodesk Flame and Flint were just emerging. I dove in and started using all the technology I could get my hands on, and gradually started securing jobs based on recommendations.

Which tools are you using today, and why?
I use whatever the client and/or the project demands, whether it’s Flame or Foundry’s Nuke and for tracking I often use The Pixel Farm PFTrack and Boris FX Mocha. For commercial spots, I’ll do a lot of the conform and shot management on Flame and then hand off the shots to other team members. Or, if I do it myself, I’ll finish in Flame because I know I can do it fast.

I use Flame because it gives me different ways to achieve a certain look or find a solution to a problem. I can also play a clip at any resolution with just two clicks in Flame, which is important when you’re in a room with clients who want to see different versions on the fly. The recent open clip updates and python integration have also saved me time. I can import and review shots, with automatic versions coming in, and build new tools or automate tedious processes in the post chain that have typically slowed me down.

Tell us about some recent project work.
I recently worked on a project for BMW as a compositing supervisor and collaborated with eight other compositors to finish number of versions in a short amount of time. We did shot management, compositing, reviewing, versioning and such in Flame. Also individual shot compositing in Nuke and some tracking in Mocha Pro.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
There’s no one project that stands out in particular, but overall, I’m proud of jobs like the BMW spots, where I’ve led a team of artists and everything just works and flows. It’s rewarding when the client doesn’t know what you did or how you did it, but loves the end result.

Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
The obvious answer here is other commercials, but I also watch a lot of movies and, of course, spend time on the Internet.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
The off button on the telephone (they should really make that bigger), anything related to cinematography or digital cinema, and streaming technology.

What social media channels do you follow?
I’ve managed to avoid Facebook, but I do peek at Twitter and Instagram from time to time. Twitter can be a great quick reference for regional news or finding out about new technology and/or industry trends.

Do you listen to music while you work?
Less now than I did when I was younger. Most of the time, I can’t as I’m juggling too much and it’s distracting. When I listen to music, I appreciate techno, classical and singer/song writer stuff; whatever sets the mood for the shots I’m working on. Right now, I’m into Iron and Wine and Trentemøller, a Danish electronic music producer.

How do you de-stress from the job?
My drive home. It can take anywhere from a half an hour to an hour, depending on the traffic, and that’s my alone time. Sometimes I listen to music, other times I sit in silence. I cool down and prepare to switch gears before heading home to be with my family.


Foundry intros Mari 4.0

Foundry’s Mari 4.0 is the latest version of the company’s digital 3D painting and texturing tool. Foundry launches Mari 4.0 with a host of advanced features, making the tool easier to use and faster to learn. Mari 4.0 comes equipped with more flexible and configurable exporting, simpler navigation, and a raft of improved workflows.

Key benefits of Mari 4.0 include:
Quicker start-up and export: Mari 4.0 allows artists to get projects up-and-running faster with a new startup mechanism that automatically performs the steps previously completed manually by the user. Shaders are automatically built, with channels connected to them as defined by the channel presets in the startup dialog. The user also now gets the choice of initial lighting and shading setup. The new Export Manager configures the batch exporting of Channels and Bake Point Nodes. Artists can create and manage multiple export targets from the same source, as well as perform format conversions during export. This allows for far more control and flexibility when passing Mari’s texture maps down the pipeline.

Better navigation: A new Palettes Toolbar containing all Mari’s palettes offers easy access and visibility to everything Mari can do. It’s now easier to expand a Palette to fullscreen by hitting the spacebar while your mouse is hovered over it. Tools of a similar function have been grouped under a single button in the Tools toolbar, taking up less space and allowing the user to better focus on the Canvas. Various Palettes have been merged together, removing duplication and simplifying the UI, making Mari both easier to learn and use.

Improved UI: The Colors Palette is now scalable for better precision, and the component sliders have been improved to show the resulting color at each point along the control. Users can now fine tune their procedural operations with precision keyboard stepping functionality brought into Mari’s numeric controls.

The HUD has been redesigned so it no longer draws over the paint subject, allowing the user to better focus on their painting and work more effectively. Basic Node Graph mode has been removed: Advanced is now the default. For everyone learning Mari, the Non-Commercial version now has full Node Graph access.

Enhanced workflows: A number of key workflow improvements have been brought to Mari 4.0. A drag-and-drop fill mechanism allows users to fill paint across their selections in a far more intuitive manner, reducing time and increasing efficiency. The Brush Editor has been merged into the Tool Properties Palette, with the brush being used now clearly displayed. It’s now easy to browse and load sets of texture files into Mari, with a new Palette for browsing texture sets. The Layers Palette is now more intuitive when working with Group layers, allowing users to achieve the setups they desire with less steps. And users now have a shader in Mari that previews and works with the channels that match their final 3D program/shader: The Principled BRDF, based on the 2012 paper from Brent Burley of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Core: Having upgraded to OpenSubdiv 3.1.x and introduced the features into the UI, users are able to better match the behavior of mesh subdivision that they get in software renderers. Mari’s user preference files are now saved with the application version embedded in the file names —meaning artists can work between different versions of Mari without the danger of corrupting their UI or preferences. Many preferences have had their groups, labels and tooltips modified to be easier to understand. All third-party libraries have been upgraded to match those specified by the VFX Reference Platform 2017.
Mari 4.0 is available now.


Storage in the Studio: Post Houses

By Karen Maierhofer

There are many pieces that go into post production, from conform, color, dubbing and editing to dailies and more. Depending on the project, a post house can be charged with one or two pieces of this complex puzzle, or even the entire workload. No matter the job, the tasks must be done on time and on budget. Unforeseen downtime is unacceptable.

That is why when it comes to choosing a storage solution, post houses are very particular. They need a setup that is secure, reliable and can scale. For them, one size simply does not fit all. They all want a solution that fits their particular needs and the needs of their clients.

Here, we look at three post facilities of various sizes and range of services, and the storage solutions that are a good fit for their business.

Liam Ford

Sim International
The New York City location of Sim has been in existence for over 20 years, operating under the former name of Post Factory NY up until about a month ago when Sim rebranded it and its seven other founding post companies as Sim International. Whether called by its new moniker or its previous one, the facility has grown to become a premier space in the city for offline editorial teams as well as one of the top high-end finishing studios in town, as the list of feature films and episodic shows that have been cut and finished at Sim is quite lengthy. And starting this past year, Sim has launched a boutique commercial finishing division.

According to senior VP of post engineering Liam Ford, the vast majority of the projects at the NYC facility are 4K, much of which is episodic work. “So, the need is for very high-capacity, very high-bandwidth storage,” Ford says. And because the studio is located in New York, where space is limited, that same storage must be as dense as possible.

For its finishing work, Sim New York is using a Quantum Xcellis SAN, a StorNext-based appliance system that can be specifically tuned for 4K media workflow. The system, which was installed approximately two years ago, runs on a 16Gb Fibre Channel network. Almost half a petabyte of storage fits into just a dozen rack units. Meanwhile, an Avid Nexis handles the facility’s offline work.

The Sim SAN serves as the primary playback system for all the editing rooms. While there are SSDs in some of the workstations for caching purposes, the scheduling demands of clients do not leave much time for staging material back and forth between volumes, according to Ford. So, everything gets loaded back to the SAN, and everything is played back from the SAN.

As Ford explains, content comes into the studio from a variety of sources, whether drives, tapes or Internet transfers, and all of that is loaded directly onto the SAN. An online editor then soft-imports all that material into his or her conform application and creates an edited, high-resolution sequence that is rendered back to the SAN. Once at the SAN, that edited sequence is available for a supervised playback session with the in-house colorists, finishing VFX artists and so forth.

“The point is, our SAN is the central hub through which all content at all stages of the finishing process flows,” Ford adds.

Before installing the Xcellis system, the facility had been using local workstation storage only, but the huge growth in the finishing division prompted the transition to the shared SAN file system. “There’s no way we could do the amount of work we now have, and with the flexibility our clients demand, using a local storage workflow,” says Ford.

When it became necessary for the change, there were not a lot of options that met Sim’s demands for high bandwidth and reliable streaming, Ford points out, as Quantum’s StorNext and SGI’s CXFS were the main shared file systems for the M&E space. Sim decided to go with Quantum because of the work the vendor has done in recent years toward improving the M&E experience as well as the ease of installing the new system.

Nevertheless, with the advent of 25Gb and 100Gb Ethernet, Sim has been closely monitoring the high-performance NAS space. “There are a couple of really good options out there right now, and I can see us seriously looking at those products in the near future as, at the very least, an augmentation to our existing Fibre Channel-based storage,” Ford says.

At Sim, editors deal with a significant amount of Camera Raw, DPX and OpenEXR data. “Depending on the project, we could find ourselves needing 1.5GB/sec or more of bandwidth for a single playback session, and that’s just for one show,” says Ford. “We typically have three or four [shows] playing off the SAN at any one time, so the bandwidth needs are huge!”

Master of None

And the editors’ needs continue to evolve, as does their need for storage. “We keep needing more storage, and we need it to be faster and faster. Just when storage technology finally got to the point that doing 10-bit 2K shows was pretty painless, everyone started asking for 16-bit 4K,” Ford points out.

Recently, Sim completed work on the feature American Made and the Netflix show Master of None, in addition to a number of other episodic projects. For these and others shows, the SAN acts as the central hub around which the color correction, online editing, visual effects and deliverables are created.

“The finishing portion of the post pipeline deals exclusively with the highest-quality content available. It used to be that we’d do our work directly from a film reel on a telecine, but those days are long past,” says Ford. “You simply can’t run an efficient finishing pipeline anymore without a lot of storage.”

DigitalFilm Tree
DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) opened its doors in 1999 and now occupies a 10,000-square-foot space in Universal City, California, offering full round-trip post services, including traditional color grading, conform, dailies and VFX, as well as post system rentals and consulting services.

While Universal City may be DFT’s primary location, it has dozens of remote satellite systems — mini post houses for production companies and studios – around the world. Those remote post systems, along with the increase in camera resolution (Alexa, Raw, 4K), have multiplied DFT’s storage needs. Both have resulted in a sea change in the facility’s storage solution.

According to CEO Ramy Katrib, most companies in the media and entertainment industry historically have used block storage, and DFT was no different. But four years ago, the company began looking at object storage, which is used by Silicon Valley companies, like Dropbox and AWS, to store large assets. After significant research, Katrib felt it was a good fit for DFT as well, believing it to be a more economical way to build petabytes of storage, compared to using proprietary block storage.

Ramy Katrib

“We were unique from most of the post houses in that respect,” says Katrib. “We were different from many of the other companies using object storage — they were tech, financial institutions, government agencies, health care; we were the rare one from M&E – but our need for extremely large, scalable and resilient storage was the same as theirs.”

DFT’s primary work centers around scripted television — an industry segment that continues to grow. “We do 15-plus television shows at any given time, and we encourage them to shoot whatever they like, at whatever resolution they desire,” says Katrib. “Most of the industry relies on LTO to back up camera raw materials. We do that too, but we also encourage productions to take advantage of our object storage, and we will store everything they shoot and not punish them for it. It is a rather Utopian workflow. We now give producers access to all their camera raw material. It is extremely effective for our clients.”

Over four years ago, DFT began using a cloud-based platform called OpenStack, which is open-source software that controls large pools of data, to build and design its own object storage system. “We have our own software developers and people who built our hardware, and we are able to adjust to the needs of our clients and the needs of our own workflow,” says Katrib.

DFT designs its custom PC- and Linux-based post systems, including chassis from Super Micro, CPUs from Intel and graphic cards from Nvidia. Storage is provided from a number of companies, including spinning-disc and SSD solutions from Seagate Technology and Western Digital.

DFT then deploys remote dailies systems worldwide, in proximity to where productions are shooting. Each day clients plug their production hard drives (containing all camera raw files) into DFT’s remote dailies system. From DFT’s facility, dailies technicians remotely produce editorial, viewing and promo dailies files, and transfer them to their destinations worldwide. All the while, the camera raw files are transported from the production location to DFT’s ProStack “massively scalable object storage.” In this case, “private cloud storage” consists of servers DFT designed that house all the camera raw materials, with management from DFT post professionals who support clients with access to and management of their files.

DFT provides color grading for Great News.

Recently, storage vendors such as Quantum and Avid have begun building and branding their own object storage solutions not unlike what DFT has constructed at its Universal City locale. And the reason is simple: Object storage provides a clear advantage because of reliability and the low cost. “We looked at it because the storage we were paying for, proprietary block storage, was too expensive to house all the data our clients were generating. And resolutions are only going up. So, every year we needed more storage,” Katrib explains. “We needed a solution that could scale with the practical reality we were living.”

Then, about four years ago when DFT started becoming a software company, one of the developers brought OpenStack to Katrib’s attention. “The open-source platform provided several storage solutions, networking capabilities and cloud compute capabilities for free,” he points out. Of course, the solution is not a panacea, as it requires a company to customize the offering for its own needs and even contribute back to the OpenStack community. But then again, that requirement enables DFT to evolve to the changing needs of its clients without waiting for a manufacturer to do it.

“It does not work out of the box like a solution from IBM, for instance. You have to develop around it,” Katrib says. “You have to have a lab mentality, designing your own hardware and software based on pain points in your own environment. And, sometimes it fails. But when you do it correctly, you realize it is an elegant solution.” However, there are vibrant communities, user groups and tech summits of those leveraging the technology who are willing to assist and collaborate.

DFT has evolved its object storage solution, extending its capabilities from an initial hundreds of terabytes – which is nothing to sneeze at — to hundreds of petabytes of storage. DFT also designs remote post systems and storage solutions for customers in remote locations around the world. And those remote locations can be as simple as a workstation running applications such as Blackmagic’s Resolve or Adobe After Effects and connected to object storage housing all the client’s camera raw material.

The key, Katrib notes, is to have great post and IT pros managing the projects and the system. “I can now place a remote post system with a calibrated 4K monitor and object storage housing the camera raw material, and I can bring the post process to you wherever you are, securely,” he adds. “From wherever you are, you can view the conform, color and effects, and sign off on the final timeline, as if you were at DFT.”

DFT posts American Housewife

In addition to the object storage, DFT is also using Facilis TerraBlock and Avid Nexis systems locally and on remote installs. The company uses those commercial solutions because they provide benefits, including storage performance and feature sets that optimize certain software applications. As Katrib points out, storage is not one flavor fits all, and different solutions work better for certain use cases. In DFT’s case, the commercial storage products provide performance for the playback of multiple 4K streams across the company’s color, VFX and conform departments, while its ProStack high-capacity object storage comes into play for storing the entirety of all files produced by our clients.

“Rather than retrieve files from an LTO tape, as most do when working on a TV series, with object storage, the files are readily available, saving hours in retrieval time,” says Katrib.

Currently, DFT is working on a number of television series, including Great News (color correction only) and Good Behavior (dailies only). For other shows, such as the Roseanne revival, NCIS: Los Angeles, American Housewife and more, it is performing full services such as visual effects, conform, color, dailies and dubbing. And in some instances, even equipment rental.

As the work expands, DFT is looking to extend upon its storage and remote post systems. “We want to have more remote systems where you can do color, conform, VFX, editorial, wherever you are, so the DP or producer can have a monitor in their office and partake in the post process that’s particular to them,” says Katrib. “That is what we are scaling as we speak.”

Broadway Video
Broadway Video is a global media and entertainment company that is primarily engaged in post-production services for television, film, music, digital and commercial projects for the past four decades. Located in New York and Los Angeles, the facility offers one-stop tools and talent for editorial, audio, design, color grading, finishing and screening, as well as digital file storage, preparation, aggregation and delivery of digital content across multiple platforms.

Since its founding in 1979, Broadway Video has grown into an independent studio. During this timeframe, content has evolved greatly, especially in terms of resolution, to where 4K and HD content — including HDR and Atmos sound — is becoming the norm. “Staying current and dealing with those data speeds are necessary in order to work fluidly on a 4K project at 60p,” says Stacey Foster, president and managing director, Broadway Video Digital and Production. “The data requirements are pretty staggering for throughput and in terms of storage.”

Stacey Foster

This led Broadway Video to begin searching a year ago for a storage system that would meet its needs now as well as in the foreseeable future — in short, it also needed a system that is scalable. Their solution: an all-Flash Hitachi Vantara Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) G series. Although quite expensive, a flash-based system is “ridiculously powerful,” says Foster. “Technology is always marching forward, and Flash-based systems are going to become the norm; they are already the norm at the high end.”

Foster has had a long-standing relationship with Hitachi for more than a decade and has witnessed the company’s growth into M&E from the medical and financial worlds where it has been firmly ensconced. According to Foster, Hitachi’s VSP series will enhance Broadway Video’s 4K offerings and transform internal operations by allowing quick turnaround, efficient and cost-effective production, post production and delivery of television shows and commercials. And, the system offers workload scalability, allowing the company to expand and meet the changing needs of the digital media production industry.

“The systems we had were really not that capable of handling DPX files that were up to 50TB, and Hitachi’s VSP product has been handling them effortlessly,” says Foster. “I don’t think other [storage] manufacturers can say that.”

Foster explains that as Broadway Video continued to expand its support of the latest 4K content and technologies, it became clear that a more robust, optimized storage solution was needed as the company moved in this new direction. “It allows us to look at the future and create a foundation to build our post production and digital distribution services on,” Foster says.

Broadway Video’s with Netflix projects sparked the need for a more robust system. Recently, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, an Embassy Row production, transitioned to Netflix, and one of the requirements by its new home was the move from 2K to 4K. “It was the perfect reason for us to put together a 4K end-to-end workflow that satisfies this client’s requirements for technical delivery,” Foster points out. “The bottleneck in color and DPX file delivery is completely lifted, and the post staff is able to work quickly and sometimes even faster than in real time when necessary to deliver the final product, with its very large files. And that is a real convenience for them.”

Broadway Video’s Hitachi Vantara Virtual Storage Platform G series.

As a full-service post company, Broadway Video in New York operates 10 production suites of Avids running Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic Resolve, as well as three full mixing suites. “We can have all our workstations simultaneously hit the [storage] system hard and not have the system slow down. That is where Hitachi’s VSP product has set itself apart,” Foster says.

For Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, like many projects Broadway Video encounters, the cut is in a lower-resolution Avid file. The 4K media is then imported into the Resolve platform, so it is colored in its original material and format. In terms of storage, once the material is past the cutting stage, it is all stored on the Hitachi system. Once the project is completed, it is handed off on spinning disc for archival, though Foster foresees a limited future for spinning discs due to their inherent nature for a limited life span — “anything that spins breaks down,” he adds.

All the suites are fully HD-capable and are tied with shared SAN and ISIS storage; because work on most projects is shared between editing suites, there is little need to use local storage. Currently Broadway Video is still using its previous Avid ISIS products but is slowly transitioning to the Hitachi system only. Foster estimates that at this time next year, the transition will be complete, and the staff will no longer have to support the multiple systems. “The way the systems are set up right now, it’s just easier to cut on ISIS using the Avid workstations. But that will soon change,” he says.

Other advantages the Hitachi system provides is stability and uptime, which Foster maintains is “pretty much 100 percent guaranteed.” As he points out, there is no such thing as downtime in banking and medical, where Hitachi earned its mettle, and bringing that stability to the M&E industry “has been terrific.”

Of course, that is in addition to bandwidth and storage capacity, which is expandable. “There is no limit to the number of petabytes you can have attached,” notes Foster.

Considering that the majority of calls received by Broadway Video center on post work for 4K-based workflows, the new storage solution is a necessary technical addition to the facility’s other state-of-the-art equipment. “In the environment we work in, we spend more and more time on the creative side in terms of the picture cutting and sound mixing, and then it is a rush to get it out the door. If it takes you days to import, color correct, export and deliver — especially with the file sizes we are talking about – then having a fast system with the kind of throughput and bandwidth that is necessary really lifts the burden for the finishing team,” Foster says.

He continues: “The other day the engineers were telling me we were delivering 20 times faster using the Hitachi technology in the final cutting and coloring of a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up special we had done in 4K” resulting in a DPX file that was about 50TB. “And that is pretty significant,” Foster adds.

Main Image: DigitalFilm Tree’s senior colorist Patrick Woodard.


Autodesk Flame family updates offer pipeline enhancements

Autodesk has updated its Flame 2018 family of 3D visual effects and finishing software, which includes Flame, Flare, Flame Assist and Lustre. Flame 2018.3 offers more efficient ways of working in post, with feature enhancements that offer greater pipeline flexibility, speed and support for emerging formats and technology.

Flame 2018.3 highlights include:

• Action Selective: Apply FX color to an image surface or the whole action scene via the camera

• Motion Warp Tracking: Organically distort objects that are changing shape, angle and form with new 32-bit motion vector-based tracking technology

• 360-degree VR viewing mode: View LatLong images in a 360-degree VR viewing mode in the Flame player or any viewport during compositing and manipulate the field of view

• HDR waveform monitoring: Set viewport to show luminance waveform; red, green, blue (RGB) parade; color vectorscope or 3D cube; and monitor a range of HDR and wide color gamut (WCG) color spaces including Rec2100 PQ, Rec2020 and DCI P3

• Shotgun Software Loader: Load assets for a shot and build custom batches via Flame’s Python API, and browse a Shotgun project for a filtered view of individual shots

• User-requested improvements for Action, Batch, Timeline and Media Hub

“The new standalone Python console in Flame 2018.3 is a great,” says Treehouse Edit finishing artist John Fegan, a Flame family beta tester. “We’re also excited about the enhanced FBX export with physically based renderer (PBR) for Maya and motion analysis updates. Using motion vector maps, we can now achieve things we couldn’t with a planar tracker or 3D track.”

Flame Family 2018.3 is available today at no additional cost to customers with a current Flame Family 2018 subscription.

Winners: IBC2017 Impact Awards

postPerspective has announced the winners of our postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC2017. All winning products reflect the latest version of the product, as shown at IBC.

The postPerspective Impact Award winners from IBC2017 are:

• Adobe for Creative Cloud
• Avid for Avid Nexis Pro
• Colorfront for Transkoder 2017
• Sony Electronics for Venice CineAlta camera

Seeking to recognize debut products and key upgrades with real-world applications, the postPerspective Impact Awards are determined by an anonymous judging body made up of industry pros. The awards honor innovative products and technologies for the post production and production industries that will influence the way people work.

“All four of these technologies are very worthy recipients of our first postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC,” said Randi Altman, postPerspective’s founder and editor-in-chief. “These awards celebrate companies that push the boundaries of technology to produce tools that actually make users’ working lives easier and projects better, and our winners certainly fall into that category. You’ll notice that our awards from IBC span the entire pro pipeline, from acquisition to on-set dailies to editing/compositing to storage.

“As IBC falls later in the year, we are able to see where companies are driving refinements to really elevate workflow and enhance production. So we’ve tapped real-world users to vote for the Impact Awards, and they have determined what could be most impactful to their day-to-day work. We’re very proud of that fact, and it makes our awards quite special.”

IBC2017 took place September 15-19 in Amsterdam. postPerspective Impact Awards are next scheduled to celebrate innovative product and technology launches at the 2018 NAB Show.