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Category Archives: Film

Boris FX beefs up film VFX arsenal, buys SilhouetteFX, Digital Film Tools

Boris FX, a provider of integrated VFX and workflow solutions for video and film, has bought SilhouetteFX (SFX) and Digital Film Tools (DFT). The two companies have a long history of developing tools used on Hollywood blockbusters and experience collaborating with top VFX studios, including Weta Digital, Framestore, Technicolor and Deluxe.

This is the third acquisition by Boris FX in recent years — Imagineer Systems (2014) and GenArts (2016) — and builds upon the company’s editing, visual effects, and motion graphics solutions used by post pros working in film and television. Silhouette and Digital Film Tools join Boris FX’s tools Sapphire, Continuum and Mocha Pro.

Silhouette’s groundbreaking non-destructive paint and advanced rotoscoping technology was recognized earlier this year by the Academy of Motion Pictures (Technical Achievement Award). It first gained prominence after Weta Digital used the rotoscoping tools on King Kong (2005). Now the full-fledged GPU-accelerated node-based compositing app features over 100 VFX nodes and integrated Boris FX Mocha planar tracking. Over the last 15 years, feature film artists have used Silhouette on films including Avatar (2009), The Hobbit (2012), Wonder Woman (2017), Avengers: End Game (2019) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019).

Avengers: End Game courtesy of Marvel

Digital Film Tools (DFT) emerged as an off-shoot of a LA-based motion picture visual effects facility whose work included hundreds of feature films, commercials and television shows.

The Digital Film Tools portfolio includes standalone applications as well as professional plug-in collections for filmmakers, editors, colorists and photographers. The products offer hundreds of realistic filters for optical camera simulation, specialized lenses, film stocks and grain, lens flares, optical lab processes, color correction, keying and compositing, as well as natural light and photographic effects. DFT plug-ins support Adobe’s Photoshop, Lightroom, After Effects and Premiere Pro; Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Motion; Avid’s Media Composer; and OFX hosts, including Foundry Nuke and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

“This acquisition is a natural next step to our continued growth strategy and singular focus on delivering the most powerful VFX tools and plug-ins to the content creation market,”
“Silhouette fits perfectly into our product line with superior paint and advanced roto tools that highly complement Mocha’s core strength in planar tracking and object removal,” says Boris Yamnitsky, CEO/founder of Boris FX. “Rotoscoping, paint, digital makeup and stereo conversion are some of the most time-consuming, labor-intensive aspects of feature film post. Sharing technology and tools across all our products will make Silhouette even stronger as the leader in these tasks. Furthermore, we are very excited to be working with such an accomplished team [at DFT] and look forward to collaborating on new product offerings for photography, film and video.”

Silhouette founders, Marco Paolini, Paul Miller and Peter Moyer, will continue in their current leadership roles and partner with the Mocha product development team to collaborate on delivering next-generation tools. “By joining forces with Boris FX, we are not only dramatically expanding our team’s capabilities, but we are also joining a group of like-minded film industry pros to provide the best solutions and support to our customers,” says Marco Paolini, Product Designer. “The Mocha planar tracking option we currently license is extremely popular with Silhouette paint and roto artists, and more recently through OFX, we’ve added support for Sapphire plug-ins. Working together under the Boris FX umbrella is our next logical step and we are excited to add new features and continue advancing Silhouette for our user base.”

Both Silhouette and Digital Film Tool plug-ins will continue to be developed and sold under the Boris FX brand. Silhouette will adopt the Boris FX commitment to agile development with annual releases, annual support and subscription options.

Main Image: Silhouette

Sony adds 36×24 full-frame camera to CineAlta line

Sony has introduced Venice, the company’s first full-frame digital motion picture camera system and the newest of its CineAlta camera lineup, which is designed to expand the filmmaker’s creative freedom through immersive, large-format, full-frame capture of filmic imagery that enables production of natural skin tones, elegant highlight handling and wide dynamic range.

Venice was officially unveiled on September 6 to American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) members and a range of other industry pros. Sony also screened the first footage shot with Venice, a short film, The Dig, that was produced in anamorphic, written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, and shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda, ASC.

The new sensor.

“We really went back to the drawing board for this one,” says Peter Crithary, marketing manager, Sony Electronics. “It is our next-generation camera system, a ground-up development initiative encompassing a completely new image sensor. We carefully considered key aspects such as form factor, ergonomics, build quality, ease of use, a refined picture and painterly look — with a simple, established workflow. We worked in close collaboration with film industry professionals. We also considered the longer-term strategy by designing a user-interchangeable sensor that is as quick and simple to swap as removing four screws, and can accommodate different shooting scenarios as the need arises.”

Venice features a newly developed 36x24mm full-frame sensor to meet the demands of feature filmmaking. Full frame offers the advantages of compatibility with a wide range of lenses, including anamorphic, Super 35mm, spherical and full-frame PL mount lenses for a greater range of expressive freedom with shallow depth of field. The lens mount can also be changed to support E-mount lenses for shooting situations that require smaller, lighter and wider lenses. User-selectable areas of the image sensor allow shooting in Super 35mm 4-perf. Future firmware upgrades are planned to allow the camera to handle 36mm-wide 6K resolution. Fast image scan technology minimizes “Jello” effects.

A new color management system with an ultra-wide color gamut gives users more control and greater flexibility in working with images during grading and post production. Venice also has more than 15 stops of latitude to handle challenging lighting situations from low light to harsh sunlight with a gentle roll-off handling of highlights.

Venice uses Sony’s 16-bit RAW/X-OCN via the AXS-R7 recorder, and 10-bit XAVC workflows. The new camera is also compatible with current and upcoming CineAlta camera hardware accessories, including the DVF-EL200 full-HD OLED viewfinder, AXS-R7 recorder, AXS-CR1 and high-speed Thunderbolt-enabled AXS-AR1 card reader, using established AXS and SxS memory card formats.

Venice has a fully modular and intuitive design with functionality refined to support simple and efficient on-location operation. It is the film industry’s first camera with a built-in stage glass ND filter system, making the shooting process efficient and streamlining camera setup. The camera is designed for easy operation with an intuitive control panel placed on the assistant and operator sides of the camera. A 24-V power supply input/output and LEMO connector allow use of many standard camera accessories designed for use in harsh environments.

Users can customize Venice by enabling the features needed, matched to their individual production requirements. Optional licenses will be available in permanent, monthly and weekly durations to expand the camera’s capabilities, with new features including 4K anamorphic and full frame sold separately.

The Venice CineAlta digital motion picture camera system is scheduled to be available in February 2018.

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Baby Driver editors — Syncing cuts to music

By Mel Lambert

Writer/director Edgar Wright’s latest outing is a major departure from his normal offering of dark comedies. Unlike his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy — Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End — and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver has been best described as a romantic musical disguised as a car-chase thriller.

Wright’s regular pair of London-based picture editors, Paul Machliss, ACE, and Jonathan Amos, ACE, also brought a special brand of magic to the production. Machliss, who had worked with Wright on Scott Pilgrim, The World’s End and his TV series Spaced for Channel 4, recalls that, “very early on, Edgar decided that I should come along on the shoot in Atlanta to ensure that we had the material he’d already storyboarded in a series of complex animatics for the film [using animator Steve Markowski and editor Evan Schiff]. Jon Amos joined us when we returned to London for sound and picture post production, primarily handling the action sequences, at which he excels.”

Developed by Wright over the past two decades, Baby Driver tells the story of an eponymous getaway driver (Ansel Elgort), who uses earphones to drown out the “hum-in-the-drum” of tinnitus — the result of a childhood car accident — and to orchestrate his life to carefully chosen music. But now indebted to a sinister kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby becomes part of a seriously focused gang of bank robbers, including Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Griff (Jon Bernthal). Debora, Baby’s love interest (Lily James), dreams of heading west “in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have.” Imagine, in a sense, Jim McBride’s Breathless rubbing metaphorical shoulders with Tony Scott’s True Romance.

The film also is indebted to Wright’s 2003 music video for Mint Royale’s Blue Song, during which UK comedian/actor Noel Fielding danced in a stationery getaway car. In that same vein, Baby Driver comprises a sequence of linked songs that tightly choreograph the action and underpin the dramatic arcs being played out, often keying off the songs’ lyrics.

The film’s opener, for example, features Elgort partly lipsyncing to “Bellbottoms,” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, as the villains commit their first robbery. In subsequent scenes, our hero’s movements follow the opening bass riffs of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat,” then later to Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” before Queen’s “Brighton Rock” adds complex guitar cacophony to a key encounter scene.

Even the film’s opening titles are accompanied by Baby performing a casual coffee run in a continuous three-minute take to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” — a scene that reportedly took 28 takes on the first day of practical photography in Atlanta. And the percussion and horns of “Tequila” provide syncopation for a protracted gunfight. Fold in “Egyptian Reggae,” “Unsquare Dance,” and “Easy,” followed by “Debora,” and it’s easy to appreciate that Wright is using music as a key and underpinning component of this film. The director also brought in music video choreographer Ryan Heffington to achieve the timing precision he needed.

The swift action is reflected in a fast style of editing, including whip pans and crash zooms, with cuts that are tightly synchronized to the music. “Whereas the majority of Edgar’s previous TV series and films have been parodies, for Baby Driver he had a very different idea,” explains Machliss. Wright had accumulated a playlist of over 30 songs that would inspire various scenes in his script. “It’s something that’s very much a part of my previous films,” says director Wright, “and I thought of this idea of how to take that a stage further by having a character who listens to music the entire time.”

“Edgar had organized a table read of his script in the spring of 2012 in Los Angeles, at which he recorded all of the dialog,” says Machliss. “Taking that recording, some sound effects and the music tracks, I put together a 100-minute ‘radio play’ that was effectively the whole film in audio-only form that Edgar could then use as a selling tool to convince the studios that he had a viable idea. Remember, Baby Driver was a very different format for him and not what he is traditionally known for.”

Australia-native Machliss was on set to ensure that the gunshots, lighting effects, actors and camera movements, plus car hits, all happened to the beat of the accompanying music. “We were working with music that we could not alter or speed up or slow down,” he says. “We were challenged to make sure that each sequence fit in the time frame of the song, as well as following the cadence of the music.”

Almost 95% of music included in the first draft of Wright’s script made it into the final movie according to Machliss. “I laid up the relevant animatic as a video layer in my Avid Media Composer and then confirmed how each take worked against the choreographed timeline. This way I always had a reference to it as we were filming. It was a very useful guide to see if we were staying on track.”

Editing On Location
During the Atlanta shoot, Machliss used Apple ProRes digital files captured by an In2Core QTake video assist that was recording taps from the production’s 35mm cameras. “I connected to my Mac via Ethernet so I could create a network to the video assist’s storage. I had access to his QuickTime files the instant he stopped recording. I could use Avid’s AMA function to place the clip in the timeline without the need for transcoding. This allowed almost instantaneous feedback to Edgar as the sequence was built up.”

Paul Machliss on set.

While on location, Machliss used a 15-inch MacBook Pro, Avid Mojo DX and a JVC video monitor “which could double as a second screen for the Media Composer or show full-screen video output via the Mojo DX.” He also had a Wacom tablet, an 8TB Thunderbolt drive, a LaCie 500GB rugged drive — “which would shuttle my media between set and editorial” — and an APU “so that I wouldn’t lose power if the supply was shut down by the sparks!”

LA’s Fotokem handled film processing, with negative scanning by Efilm. DNX files were sent to Company 3 in Atlanta for picture editorial, “where we would also review rushes in 2K sent down the line from Efilm,” says Machliss. “All DI on-lining and grading took place at Molinare in London.” Bill Pope, ASC, was the film’s director of photography.

Picture and Sound Editorial in London
Instead of hiring out editorial suites at a commercial facility in London, Wright and his post teams opted for a different approach. Like an increasing number of London-based productions, they elected to rent an entire floor in an office building.

They located a suitable location on Berners Street, north of the Soho-based film community. As Machliss recalls: “That allowed us to have the picture editorial team in the same space as the sound crew,” which was headed up by Wright’s long-time collaborator Julian Slater, who served as sound designer, supervising sound editor and re-recording engineer on Baby Driver. “Having ready access to Julian and his team meant that we could collaborate very closely — as we had on Edgar’s other films — and share ideas on a regular basis,” as the 10-week Director’s Cut progressed.

British-born Slater then moved across Soho to Goldcrest Films for sound effects pre-dubs, while his co-mixer, Tim Cavagin, worked on dialog and Foley pre-mixes at Twickenham Studios. Print mastering of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack occurred in February 2017 at Goldcrest, with Slater handling music and SFX, while Cavagin oversaw dialog and Foley. “Following Edgar’s concept of threading together the highly choreographed songs with linking scenes, Jon and I began the cut in London against the pre-assembled material from Atlanta,” says Machliss.

To assist Machliss during his picture cut, the film’s sound designer had provided a series of audio stems for his Avid. “Julian [Slater] had been working on his sound effects and dialog elements since principal photography ended in Atlanta. He had prepared separate, color-coded left-center-right stems of the music, dialog and SFX elements he was working on. I laid these [high-quality tracks] into Media Composer so I could better appreciate the intricacies of Julian’s evolving soundtrack. It worked a lot better than a normal rough mix of production dialog, rough sound effects and guide music.”

“From its inception, this was a movie for which music and sound design worked together as a whole piece,” Slater recalls. “There is a large amount of syncopation of the diegetic sounds [implied by the film’s action] to the music track Baby is listening to. Sometimes it’s obvious because the action was filmed with that purpose in mind. For example, walking in tempo to the music track or guns being fired in tempo. But many times it’s more subtle, including police sirens or distant trains that have been pitched and timed to the music,” and hence blend into the overall musical journey. “We strived to always do this to support the story, and to never distract from it.”

Because of the lead character’s tinnitus, Slater worked with pitch changes to interweave elements of the film’s soundtrack. “Whenever Baby is not listening to music, his tinnitus is present to some degree. But it became apparent very soon in our design process that strident, high-pitched ‘whistle tones’ would not work for a sustained period of time. Working closely with composer Steven Price, we developed a varied set of methods to convey the tinnitus — it’s rarely the same sound twice. Much of the time, the tinnitus is pitched according to either the outgoing or incoming music track. This then enabled us to use more of it, yet at the same time be quite subtle.”

Meticulous Planning for Set Pieces and Car Chases
Picture editor Amos joined the project at the start of the Director’s Cut to handle the film’s set pieces. He says, “These set pieces were conceptually very different from the vast majority of action scenes in that they were literally built up around the music and then visualized. Meticulous development and planning went into these sequences before the shoot even began, which was decisive in making the action become musical. For example, the ‘Tequila’ gunfight started as a piece of music by Button Down Brass. It was then laced with gunfire and SFX pitched to the music, and in time with the drum hits — this was done at the script stage by Mark Nicholson (aka, Osymyso, a UK musician/DJ) who specializes in mashup/bastard pop and breakbeat.”

Storyboards then grew around this scripted sound collage, which became a precise shot list for the filmed sequences. “Guns were rigged to go off in time with the music; it was all a very deliberate thing,” adds Amos. “Clearly, there was a lot of editing still to be done, but this approach illustrates that there’s a huge difference between something that is shot and edited to music, and something that is built around the music.”

“All the car chases for Baby Driver were meticulously planned, and either prevised or storyboarded,” Amos explains. “This ensured that the action would always fit into the time slot permitted within the music. The first car chase [against the song ‘Bellbottoms’] is divided into 13 sections, to align to different progressions in the music. One of the challenges resulted from the decision to never edit the music, which meant that none of these could overrun. Stunts were tested and filmed by second unit director Darrin Prescott, and the footage passed back to editorial to test against the timing allowed in the animatic. If a stunt couldn’t be achieved in the time allowed, it was revised and tweaked until it worked. This detailed planning gave the perfect backbone to the sequences.”

Amos worked on the sequences sequentially, “using the animatic and Paul’s on-set assembly as reference,” and began to break down all the footage into rolls that aligned to specific passages of the music. “There was a vast amount of footage for all the set pieces, and things are not always shot in order. So generally I spent a lot of time breaking the material down very methodically. I then began to make selects and started to build the sequences from scratch, section by section. Once I completed a pass, I spent some time building up my sound layers. I find this helps evolve the cut, generating another level of picture ideas that further tighten the syncopation of sound and picture.”

Amos’ biggest challenge, despite all the planning, was finding ways to condense the material into its pre-determined time slot. “The real world never moves quite like animatics and boards. We had very specific points in every track where certain actions had to take place; we called these anchor points. When working on a section, we would often work backwards from the anchor point knowing, for instance, that we only had 20 seconds to tell a particular part of the story. Initially, it can seem quite restrictive, but the edits become so precise.

Jonathan Amos

“The time restriction led to a level of kineticism and syncopation that became a defining feature of the movie. While the music may be the driving force of the action scenes, editorial choices were always rooted in the story and the characters. If you lose sight of the characters, the audience will disengage with the sequence, and you’ll lose all the tension you’ve worked so hard to create. Every shot choice was therefore very considered, and we worked incredibly hard to ensure we never wasted a frame, telling the story in the most compelling, rhythmic and entertaining way we could.”

“Once we had our cut,” Machliss summarizes, “we could return the tracks to Julian for re-conforming,” to accommodate edit changes. “It was an excellent way of working, with full-sounding edit mixes.”

Summing up his experience in Baby Driver, Machliss considers the film to be “the hardest job I’ve ever done, but the most fun I’ve ever had. Ultimately, our task was to create a film that on one level could be purely enjoyed as an exciting/dramatic piece of cinema, but, on repeated viewing, would reveal all the little elements ‘under the surface’ that interlock together — which makes the film unique. It’s a testament to Edgar’s singular vision and, in that regard, he is a tremendously exciting director to work with.”


Mel Lambert has been involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.


ACE Eddie nominees include Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Better Call Saul

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) have named the nominees for the 67th ACE Eddie Award, which recognize editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be announced during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 27 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. In addition to the regular editing awards, J.J. Abrams will receive the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year award.

Check out the nominees:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC)
Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE

Hacksaw Ridge
John Gilbert, ACE

Hell or High Water
Jake Roberts

Manchester by the Sea
Jennifer Lame
 
Moonlight
Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY)
Deadpool
Julian Clarke, ACE

Hail, Caesar!
Roderick Jaynes

The Jungle Book
Mark Livolsi, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

The Lobster
Yorgos Mavropsaridis

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings
Christopher Murrie, ACE

Moana
Jeff Draheim, ACE

Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

13th
Spencer Averick

Amanda Knox
Matthew Hamachek

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years
Paul Crowder

OJ: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski

Weiner
Eli B. Despres

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION)
The Choice 2016
Steve Audette, ACE

Everything Is Copy
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World
Oliver Lief

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES
Silicon Valley: “The Uptick”
Brian Merken, ACE

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Veep: “Mother”
Shawn Paper

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES — COMMERCIAL
Better Call Saul: “Fifi”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Klick”
Skip Macdonald, ACE & Curtis Thurber

Better Call Saul: “Nailed”
Kelley Dixon, ACE and Chris McCaleb

Mr. Robot: “eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes”
Philip Harrison

This is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES – NON-COMMERCIAL
The Crown: “Assassins”
Yan Miles, ACE

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

Stranger Things: “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Stranger Things: “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Kevin D. Ross

Westworld: “The Original”
Stephen Semel, ACE and Marc Jozefowicz

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE (NON-THEATRICAL)
All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

The Night Of: “The Beach”
Jay Cassidy, ACE

The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Adam Penn, Stewart Schill, ACE and C. Chi-yoon Chung

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Manila” 
Hunter Gross, ACE

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal
Mustafa Bhagat

Deadliest Catch: “Fire at Sea: Part 2”
Josh Earl, ACE and Alexander Rubinow, ACE

Final ballots will be mailed on January 6, and voting ends on January 17. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary categories take place, will be on January 15. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 850-plus ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.

Main Image: Tilt Photo


The A-List: Director Garth Davis on the Oscar-nominated Lion

By Iain Blair

The plot of Lion, the new awards-buzzy Weinstein film, sounds like an over-the-top, completely made-up Hollywood tearjerker — a five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar) wanders onto a train, falls asleep and wakes up thousands of miles away from his home and family. Frightened, he ends up in chaotic Kolkata. Somehow he survives living on the streets, escaping all sorts of terrors and close calls, before ending up in an orphanage.

Eventually, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and finds love and security as he grows up in Hobart. As an adult, not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents’ feelings, Saroo (Dev Patel) suppresses his past and his hope of ever finding his lost mother and brother, but a chance meeting with some fellow Indians re-awakens his buried yearning. Armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination and Google Earth, Saroo sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

L-R: Writer Iain Blair and Garth Davis.

This true story, adapted from the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, was directed by Emmy Award-nominated Garth Davis (Top of the Lake). The screenplay was by Luke Davies (Candy, Life). The film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category.

I talked to Davis about making the film and his workflow.

This is your first film. What were you looking for in a project?
I’d read a lot of stuff, but I only wanted to make something I was very moved by, scared by, where there was something I could explore and question. I was just so moved by this story and felt there was a lot that I could bring to it. Producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning of See-Saw Films, who did the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, offered it to me at Sundance in 2013. We were there for the world premiere of the TV series Top of the Lake, which I co-directed with Jane Campion for See-Saw. I just had to do it. We got the rights and I began doing research very early on — even before the book came out — and digging into the story in a deeper way, and retracing all the steps in India and Australia.

When you first read this, did you think, ‘No one’s going to believe this. It’s just too Hollywood’?
Yes. That was the big risk of doing it. So the task for me was to make a movie that was a lot more complicated, with a lot more detail, because the basic story was very simple. Luke did a great job with his script in expanding it all. But when I began, I didn’t really have the end game in mind. I was very excited by the story, curious about the characters and also curious about how the miracle came about. It was a great spiritual story as well, which really attracted me.

Photo: Mark RogersYou’ve had successful career directing commercials. How did that prepare you?
They’re great preparation in terms of your practical skills, shooting in lots of complicated situations, dealing with tons of problems — so you get very experienced on set, but also in telling stories succinctly, paring things down to what works and what doesn’t.

You assembled a stellar cast — along with co-star Google Earth — but one of the great challenges must have been finding an Indian boy to play Saroo as a five-year-old?
It was, and we screen-tested thousands of children before we found Sunny. He’s a natural and we got lucky, because children can be good actors from about the age of eight but it’s very difficult to find a five year old capable of acting. But I knew it was important to have a small boy, as it’s visually very powerful having a tiny boy lost in the big, wide world, and he had this great look behind his eyes; he turned into an actor before our very eyes. And then Nicole and Dev and everyone just got called in by the story — that was the hook.

You shot on location in Kolkata. Was that tough?
Very tough. Absolutely. I enjoy complicated locations, but shooting there’s not for the faint-hearted as you’re dealing with all the crowds, the heat, the pollution, the dust. We kept it as agile as possible, and there’s glory there if you can get it right. But you run into so many problems, like you’re allowed to shoot on this railway platform for three hours, and then you get there, the train arrives, and there are padlocks on every door, so your three hours turn into 40 minutes.

Do you like post?
Love it, as you’re crafting all the way to the end. We did it all in Melbourne at Digital Pictures and Iloura, who did all the VFX. Then we did all the sound at Sound Firm with sound designer Robert Mackenzie. Sound design was very important in this film to the story, and we established a lot of audio maps, all the sounds of nature, and we had a lot of subtle stuff going on.

Tell us about working with editor Alexandre de Franceschi, who’s a frequent collaborator with Jane Campion, and who cut John Curran’s The Painted Veil.
He never came to the set. He was in Sydney while we were shooting and then when I got back, he came up to Melbourne and we began cutting. We watched the assembly and then all the rushes together. This had a special emotional alchemy, so the challenge was to not move too quickly through a sequence or something got lost. We had to honor the emotional arc of the story, so it was a very artistic thing. On the one hand, you had to structure the story, but on the other we had to really pay attention to that arc and it was a very detailed edit. It took us about six months in the end.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but they were important, right?
Yes, and the main VFX stuff was the butterflies, and the matte painting of the guard running beside the train on the embankment. We had a big problem when we shot that, as they wouldn’t let us take the train out again, and we ended up shooting that scene in the railway yard which was really depressing. But the matte painting worked very well, And then during the edit we decided to combine two Google searches into one, but they were shot at different times in different locations, and Dev was wearing a t-shirt in one and long-sleeved shirt in the other, and Iloura changed the tee to a long-sleeved shirt, which was pretty amazing.

Dev Patel and Rooney Mara star in LIONCan you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
I love sound because it creates this immersive experience. You can have an interior scene and have sound from 100 meters away, and you may not consciously notice it, but it places it in context. So I decided very early on that the sound design would be crucial on this. So, for instance, when Saroo first wakes up alone on the platform, there’s no sound to create that sense of peril — just the cicadas, which becomes overbearing. And I love music and didn’t want to be afraid of using it.

Where did you do the DI?
At Digital Pictures with colorist Olivier Fontenay. I’ve done so many for the commercials, so I’m pretty experienced. The difference is you’re working with the cinema screen a lot more, doing the sound mix with Dolby Surround, and working with far higher image resolution, which I loved. I’m completely in the world of the movie and I don’t want to leave.

What’s next?
I’ve shot my second film, Mary Magdalene, and we’ll be doing all the post back in Melbourne again where I’m based — the same set up basically. I’m so excited about it.

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.


Quick Chat: Efilm’s new managing director Al Cleland

Al Cleland has been promoted to managing director of Deluxe’s Efilm, which is a digital color, finishing and location services company working on feature films, episodics and trailers. For the past eight years, Cleland has been VP of trailers at Efilm.

A 30-year veteran of the post business, Cleland started his career at Editel and joined CIS, which later became Efilm, as one of the company’s original employees. He served as senior V/GM at Technicolor Creative Services for 10 years, and at Postworks, Los Angeles, returning to Efilm as VP of trailers. We threw three questions at Cleland, let’s see what he had to say…


After working on trailers for the last eight years, you must be excited to be working in all aspects of what Efilm does.
Our trailer department started out dedicated to finishing one studio’s trailers and we’ve expanded into a dedicated hub for the marketing departments of all the studios. Our trailers department has had the advantage of connectivity and common practices with all of Deluxe’s facilities throughout the world. I’ve loved being part of that growth process and, in my new position, I’ll continue to oversee that vital part of the company.

What’s challenging about trailers that people even in the business might not think about?
The great team in that division have to pull together shots and visual effects while the film itself is being finished, which is a unique logistical challenge. And they’re doing all kinds of small changes and creating effects specific to the trailer and to the MPAA requirements for trailers. It’s a unique skill set.

What do you hope to accomplish for Efilm going forward?
Efilm is expanding in terms of the amount of work and the kind of work we’re doing, and I intend to push that expansion along at an even faster rate. We’ve always had an amazing team of colorists, producers and editors that are really the heart of Efilm. We have wonderful technical and support staff. And, of course, we have access to all of those elements at our partner companies and we continue to build on that.

It’s early to talk about specifics, but we all know the industry is changing rapidly. We’ve been among the very first to introduce new technologies and workflows and that’s something the team here is going to expand on.


Vancouver names first film commissioner, opens Film & Media Centre

The city of Vancouver and the Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) have named David Shepheard as Vancouver’s first film commissioner. At the same time, they announced the creation of the Vancouver Film & Media Center, which aims to bring more work to the city. Vancouver is already the third largest film production center in North America — behind New York and Los Angeles.

Shepheard, who brings over 16 years of experience to his new role, previously ran the film commission services for Film London, the capital’s Media Development Agency. Film London supports producers shooting in London, advises them on accessing UK tax breaks and co-production opportunities, and promotes London’s film, TV, post production, animation, VFX and games sectors. Prior to that, Shepheard was CEO of Open House Films in the UK — a consultancy partnership specializing in developing strategies, film commissions and media development agencies at city, regional and state levels in Europe, Africa, North America, Asia and the Middle East.

“As one of Vancouver’s high-growth industries, film and media has been a big contributor to our economic growth and has a tremendous positive impact in our city,” reports Mayor Gregor Robertson. “David Shepheard’s expertise and experience — coupled with the new Film & Media Centre — will take our digital entertainment industry to the next level on the international stage.”

Nancy Mott and actor Ryan Reynolds during the filming of Deadpool. Deadpool 2 returns to Vancouver for production in January 2017.

In recent years, Vancouver has experienced big growth in film and TV production, and the industry has been a top contributor to British Columbia’s diversified economy, creating jobs, services and tax revenue. Last year, with pilot production filming increasing by 67 percent from 2015 to 2016. In 2015, the city issued almost 5,000 permits for 353 productions filmed in Vancouver; provisional data for 2016 from the city of Vancouver’s film office projects that this year’s numbers are expected to be even higher.

Shepheard will work with executive director Nancy Mott to attract film and TV production, co-production and post production projects to Vancouver. Through the prior business development activities of its Asia-Pacific Centre, the VEC has already identified opportunities in Japan, China and Korea, all of whom have been stepping up investment and production activity.


DP Vittorio Storaro on color and Woody Allen’s ‘Café Society’

Legendary Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has had a storied career that includes three Oscar wins for his work on Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds (1981) and The Last Emperor (1987). To call his career prodigious would be an understatement.

One of his most recent projects was for writer/director Woody Allen’s Café Society, which follows a young man from Brooklyn to Hollywood and back to New York City in the 1930s. Two filmmaking legends teaming up on one film? How could we not check in with Storaro to talk about his work on Café Society, which represented Allen’s first taste of digital shooting?

You’ve done 58 movies on film. What was your first experience with DI?
A long time ago, someone at Kodak asked me what I thought about digital intermediate versus film. Because I had already started doing transfer from film to telecine, I had some experience with the process. But the quality was not there yet — digital cameras and color correctors were still in their infancy back then.

My first experience in digital finishing was on a movie called Muhammad: The Messenger of God. In 2011 and 2012, we were doing the pre-production and production of the film, which we shot in Iran. I shot on film because, in my opinion, no digital camera could handle such drastic changing weather conditions. One segment, though, was transferred digitally, mostly for VFX purposes.

For the post of the film in 2013, we sent all the negative material to Arri as both Kodak and Technicolor Italy had closed. Arri scanned the negatives in 4K 16-bit. After that we decided to do the entire DI at ScreenCraft where I could review the film in a 4K 16-bit color screening, which is very important. It was an almost 100 percent switch from film to digital. They also had a FilmLight Baselight system in their screening room that we moved into their beautiful 4K theatre so we could work in the optimal environment.

The colorist at ScreenCraft was not used to doing films, as he had mainly worked on video and TV, so I had to influence him step-by-step, feeling the story. My advice to him was to work on color in realtime, listen to the dialogue, understand the dynamic and not just concentrate on the technical aspect of the fixed images.

In cinematography, the first image doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be the starting point, and it is moving in time until you reach the end. So when you see an image through Baselight, you have to think about what you really want to achieve. This is somehow a visual journey, which follows the path of the world where the characters interact, or the music plays.

It is fantastic to have color correction in realtime. Baselight through the 4K 16-bit video projector gave me my first taste of this great opportunity.

How did you come to shoot and finish Café Society digitally?
When Woody Allen asked me to do Café Society, he had never done a digital capture before. At that time, I knew it was a chance to step up to this new digital world. I chose the Sony F65 camera so that the image we had on set was as close to the final image as possible. I had experienced the first CineAlta digital video cameras from Sony in the past and valued the quality of the Sony equipment. I know that what I see on set is 90 percent of exactly what I will see in finishing. Plus, I wanted to work with a camera that gave me a ratio close to the 2:1 aspect ratio that was suggested to me by Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, along with 4K resolutions.

We also had a 4K 16-bit video projector because that was my previous experience and my preference. And for the post production of the movie at Technicolor PostWorks NY, I asked specifically for the color grading to be done on Baselight. It was good news, as they already had the system!

This is when colorist Anthony Raffaele joined your color journey?
Anthony Raffaele was originally only supposed to be the colorist for the DI, but with Technicolor we decided to have him on board from start to finish. In Italy, we are used to having a technician next to us from the beginning to the end of a project. To me, if the color process moves from one person to another from dailies to post to DI, you risk wasting all the history, the knowledge and the experience that has been built, and in my opinion it’s the best experience that I’ve had.

What is the look of the Café Society and its journey?
In my mind, the movie is in four different parts: it starts in the Bronx in 1935, then moves to Hollywood, then the main character comes back to New York and then to LA. In essence, it is four different looks, while keeping an overall style. I wanted to see the subtle differences in the dailies. I’d get the dailies on Blu-ray copies for me to watch on a calibrated Sony monitor, so it was very, very close to what I had on set. That was the process with Woody Allen too.

Anthony often came to Los Angeles during shooting, and when I was in New York we’d watch the dailies together. Looks were saved to SD cards as LUTs with notes. Every day Anthony was going through all the shots and applying the LUT that he already had, then he would make adjustments according to my notes. We practically grew up together through the entire film. And when we arrived to do the DI we had the right experience to continue.

For finishing, we graded using ACES with Baselight converting to XYZ. We got the EDL from editorial, pulled all the RAW media files from the LTO and conformed in Baselight. I told Anthony to always compare source material with the edited version. Check meticulously for any difference and get the feeling of our original intent. It is very easy to get lost in DI.

It is also very important to me to watch the film with sound, even if it’s temporary sound. The dialogue between two characters can give you some kind of feeling, which impacts the light, for instance. Or the time they have spent talking, everything is always moving. Or the music. If you don’t take notice of the words and sound you cannot adjust the color accordingly. Having said that, Woody also asked to watch the corrected copy without sound.

How much time did you spend on the DI overall?
It depends on the movie, of course, but I usually personally get involved in the DI of the movie over a week. Some movies require more time. It also depends on the relationship you have with the colorist. I don’t know how much time Anthony spent in the dark room polishing the movie without me. He is a perfectionist and because I was always pushing our creative intent, he probably spent time seeing what features within Baselight could do more. I’ve always encouraged him to perfect his art and technical knowledge. I’d say, “Can we try this? Can I look at that? What if we try it? Tell me, show me.”

You talked about the evolution from film to digital to DI. How would you say the role of a cinematographer has changed in this time?
The main change is that before digital, nobody was able to tell how the film would ultimately look. Only the cinematographer — through perception, knowledge, culture, intelligence, technology and experience — would eventually predict how the image would end up looking. Today, with digital capture and high-end technology, the standards are higher and reachable, and pretty much everyone can tell if it’s good or ugly, too contrasted, too bright and so on. Digital video cameras have mostly made everything automatic, you don’t even have to think anymore. But knowing the technology is not enough.

You need to know the meaning of the visual elements as well. Know ALL the arts that are part of cinematography. Cinema is a common art, not a single one. A good cinematographer will bring feeling and composition from the storyline, adding the emotion, the feeling and his own perception to the film — to know how one color connects to another color and the kind of emotional reaction you can have in relation to them.

What about the colorist’s role nowadays?
Firstly, I would say that a colorist has to know everything about production on set so that he or she can cover the journey of the project. Anthony told me, “I learned so much working with you, Vittorio, because I’m not used to being asked the things you ask me, and no one explained the why to me.” I was always referencing paintings, always showing him pictures and explaining why the artist had chosen this particular content or softness for instance.

Secondly, to reach that level where you can transfer a completely abstract idea into images and materialize concepts, the colorist has to know and control the grading system he is using as well as the tools sitting in his color suite.

Finally, the more you go to museums, read books and look at photography, the more you know about art and its evolution. I had such an experience when I was at Technicolor in Rome. A color supervisor I was working with, Ernesto Novelli, had an incredible sensitivity to images. If I asked him to do something, he might suggest adding four red, which I thought was crazy, but he would do so and the image was there, it was superb. He was able to use the technology to achieve the look of the image I wanted. Without such talent the technology doesn’t mean much.

On Café Society we worked effectively because Anthony knew Baselight very well. If I could give any advice to colorists, I would say they have to really know their console to reach the true potential capabilities of the machine. Learn, keep learning and never stop.

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Vittorio Storaro is currently in pre-production on the following films: 33 díasStory of Jesus, The Hunchback and Bach.


‘Ghostbusters’ VFX: Proton streams and monster Rowan

By Christine Holmes

While Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters might not have been the box office blockbuster some had hoped, no one can deny the quality of visual effects featured in the film.

While a number of studios contributed to Ghostbuster’s VFX — including Sony Imageworks and Iloura — we recently reached out to MPC VFX supervisor Dave Seager to discuss his studio’s work on the film. Seager joined Ghostbusters almost a full year before its delivery in the spring 2016.

Dave Seager

Seager and his team at MPC started visual effects pitch work that ultimately led to the creation of the proton streams and the villain in the film’s climax scenes. Read on to find out more about their process, how drones were used in the making of ghosts, and the best part about working on a Ghostbusters

What kind of early development work, if any, was MPC involved with on Ghostbusters?
Pete Travers, the visual effects supervisor from Sony Studios, had approached MPC about doing some pitch work. More specifically, a ghost test to help evaluate the lighting rig that they attached to a drone.

Using a drone operator, they flew lights around the set to capture the interactive lighting. Pete was looking for our pitch to help show everyone why it was worth doing. He sent us a really quick test with [the lighting rig], we mocked up a ghost really quick and put that in.

In addition, our art department created a bunch of concept work on the proton stream. Obviously, from the first film, people know what those proton streams look like, but then we had to figure out how to stay true to those while bringing them into modern-day filmmaking and visual effects.

After the art, we then transitioned to doing the actual test shot. That one, also, was to help establish a look for them. The client built the rig that attached to the front of the props the actors used on set. When the actors activated a trigger, a light would turn on. The interactive lighting on the actors was real and in place, and then we only had to paint out the rig out for them.

Pete and the director Paul Feig responded very positively to those tests, and we offered to do more pitch work. They said, “The final Rowan, what we called the final monster in the film, is still somewhat vague. Would you be willing to do a test on that?”

After the development work for the monster version of Rowan, what were the biggest challenges while working on shots with that character?
Probably the most challenging shots were the scenes where Rowan was taking his form of a realized cartoon character — based on the No Ghost logo — and he grows inside the Mercado building. He then breaks out of it almost like a shell. Very typical of what we do in visual effects, the shots that tick all the boxes for those elements tend to be the most complex.

In addition to that, the perfect example of the silly, fun, whimsical nature of Ghostbusters is that Rowan couldn’t fit in the building. (laughs) But you had to make it look like he could. Paul really wanted this kind of over-the-top look, an almost cartoonish quality to over-reacting as [various parts start to break through the building]. An arm comes out, then a leg punches out and steps on the ground. Then his stomach breaks out, and all these different types of events had to take place. It caused us to have to do a significant amount of custom animation.

Normally, with a character walking down the street, or doing something like the rest of the shots of Rowan, it’s more of a typical animation shot. That one, however, we had to hit those same kind of creative notes, but shove a square peg into a round hole. Luckily, Rowan is meant to be this malleable, squishy inflated ghosty thing, so that played into it.

Did that present some more technical challenges?
There were a number of technical challenges, as far as how does he fit in there, and then simulating both Rowan and the building destruction. We had muscle systems on him, and then cloth simulations on top of him. Then as he breaks through the building, and the debris starts to fly out, the debris needs to be affected by the cloth sim. It’s all the interdependencies. They’re some of my favorite shots in the film.

That group of shots was definitely the most challenging, and I think the most alive shots as far as 3D projection, as well. Those types of shots tend to be easier to dig your teeth into stereoscopically, because you’re not limited by the plates… to a degree.

Were you involved in the conversations and creative decisions made that related to the 3D projections?
Yes, but not a great deal. Ed Marsh was the stereographer on the client side. That was his creative realm. Pete would work with myself, Dan Cramer or any of the other visual effects supervisors at the various facilities. Typically, our primary concern is the mono delivery, because they’re just getting creatives down, what the timing is… the basics. Then as we get closer and the shots started to take hold, that’s where Ed would start to got involved and we began to send versions of the shots to Ed to review. In one of the shots of Rowan breaking down the building, Ed had a bunch of great ideas that weren’t in the original mono, or flat, delivery.

He would approach myself and Pete and we’d talk about it. He’d say, “I think it would be really great if we did this.” We went back and added little things here and there, or made those types of changes to help realize his notes and really amplify the 3D aspect of the shot.

What was your favorite part about working on this film?
There are certain types of films where maybe the whimsical, silly or over-the-top idea would be taboo because they’re trying to be very serious and real. Those things were fair game on Ghostbusters and embraced by Paul and Pete, both of whom have a great sense of humor. It becomes fun when trying these really crazy ideas. We had to make Mrs. Slimer, with her crazy makeup, so we looked at photos of big bouffant hairdos and thought, “Hey, how about we put that on Slimer?” That kind of thing.

It’s silly when you sit there and look at it from afar, but it makes the work more enjoyable. So much of the visual effects work that we tend to do is very serious, or trying to be invisible. I’d say that’s the thing that really resonates with me — the levity that that brought, and it was palpable to the team. Everyone was infected by it, and it was a great deal of fun. My job is easier when my team’s having fun.

Are there any movies that you used as a reference?
Probably, top of the list from Paul was Poltergeist. Obviously, we spent a great deal of time looking at the first two Ghostbusters films, and even the Ghostbusters media that has been generated since then. It’s always good to look through to see how a different group of artists interpreted things.

There was a lot of care taken to pay tribute to the original film that I think is very evident in this one. Paul did a wonderful job from the cameos to little bits of dialogue. We were able to leverage that creatively, as well. Even to the point where we hid, in one of the shots, the statue of the gargoyle that Rick Moranis’ character and Sigourney Weaver’s character break out of in the first film. It’s one of our little Easter eggs that we tossed in there when the building is destroyed and there’s giant debris flying around.

It’s fun and it energizes the crew and, I think, the fans.

Christine Holmes is a freelance artist and manager of animated content. She has worked in the film industry for the last six years.

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams to keynote Production Music Conference

Golden Globe-, Grammy- and BAFTA-nominated composer Harry Gregson-Williams will keynote the Production Music Conference (PMC), which takes place over two days in October in Santa Monica. In addition to playing clips from some of his films, including The Martian and the Shrek franchise, Gregson-Williams will discuss the creative process, his beginnings, writing production music for KPM and how he developed his career as a film composer.

PMC, hosted by the Production Music Association (PMA), takes place at Santa Monica’s Le Méridien Delfina on October 17 and 18. The newly expanded two-day conference will host business, creative and technology panels featuring diverse artists from the world of production music and will consist of industry panels, educational seminars with music professionals and networking events.

New features include one-on-one meetings with a music pro, hosted roundtable discussions with professionals and nearby networking and meeting spaces. The goal of the conference is to bring the production music community together. Visit here to register.

Gregson-Williams was the composer on all four installments of the Shrek franchise, garnered a BAFTA nomination for the score for the first Shrek, and received Golden Globe and Grammy Award nominations for his score to Andrew Adamson’s, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Other credits include The Martian and Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott; The Equalizer directed by Antoine Fuqua; Phone Booth and Veronica Guerin directed by Joel Schumacher; Man on Fire, Spy Game and Enemy of the State directed by Tony Scott; Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens; the animated films Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run and Antz, and Gone Baby Gone and The Town directed by Ben Affleck.

Upcoming projects include the dramatic crime thriller Live by Night, starring Ben Affleck, who also directed the film based on his own screenplay; The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Niki Caro; and Alien: Covenant, starring Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup directed by Ridley Scott.

Main Image Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

The A-List: Director David Yates on the VFX-heavy ‘Tarzan’

By Iain Blair

Filmmaking is a notoriously slow, labor-intensive business, and most directors would be thrilled if they could get a major movie made and released every couple of years. And then there’s David Yates, who has two mega-productions — each featuring tons of moving parts and cutting-edge VFX — out in the next five months alone.

First up is the Warner Bros. action-adventure film The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård as the Lord of the Apes, along with Margot Robbie as Jane. The cast also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar-nominee Djimon Hounsou, Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent and two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz. Not a bad cast!

The film features an impressive behind-the-scenes creative team as well, including director of photography Henry Braham (The Golden Compass, the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), editor Mark Day (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 & 2) and Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Tim Burke (the Harry Potter franchise).

Yates, who previously directed the last four Harry Potter films, also recently helmed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a return to the wizarding world created by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who wrote the screenplay. The film, starring Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell, will open worldwide in November.

I spoke with Yates about making Tarzan, and why post still makes him nervous.

You have two big films coming out. Are you a workaholic?
(Laughs) You know, I was shooting something on Beasts two months ago, and after a long, grueling week, I said to one of the actors, “You’ll need a holiday after this.” And he looked at me and said, “David, every day’s a holiday being able to do this.’ That’s exactly how I feel. It’s a bit like playing rather than working, although after finishing the back-to-back Potter films I was really knackered — more than I realized. So I’m a bit more cautious now, and I take more breaks.

How big a leap was it after four Harry Potter films to do this?
It felt quite natural, as I was looking for another film with an epic feel, full of action and adventure, and it just grabbed me.

What’s the eternal appeal of doing a Tarzan movie?
There’s just something about the character that’s so appealing to everyone. He was probably our first superhero — with all these extraordinary abilities — who is somehow human and also “other,” and he’s kinetically connected to the wild part of all of us. We’re all fascinated by where we came from and what’s inside us when we are really tested, and that’s a very enduring aspect. I also think there’s something very sexy and sensual about it, especially the Tarzan-Jane thing. Even in the early silent Tarzan movies… there’s something quite thrilling about them going back to the wild, primal state. That love of nature and animals is so strong in most of us, and he can reach them in ways we can only dream of.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
We used the same process we established on Potter, where we would edit a sequence, let it sit for a bit, then after a few days or a couple of weeks we would go back in and fine-tune it. Then we’d turn it over to the VFX guys. They would do their initial blocking and we would fine-tune it again.

It’s a remarkably fluid system in the sense that six months later, when the picture’s done and it’s all shot, I go back again and do another fine-tune. That gave me an enormous amount of flexibility if I wanted to change my mind about anything, and we’d be swapping out shots and changing shots quite late into the process. The VFX vendors were always great and accommodating, even though I put them under pressure a lot. They were always very helpful when I changed my mind about something.

Did you do a lot of previs?
A little bit. I start with storyboards, then I previs the bigger sequences, and those previses are sometimes based on the boards I’ve done. Especially with a big movie like this where you’re focused on several big sequences, you tell the previs team to just do it and then you start editing and refining it all. So I use a mix of storyboard, previs and the good, old-fashioned way of making it up as you go. That’s often oddly more liberating, and I did that on Potter for some sequences — just go for it and shoot it without too much prep.

Where did you post?
At De Lane Lea in London. That was our base for all the editing and post. We did some pre-mixing at Pinewood.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love every aspect of filmmaking except the tech recces, which I try and avoid if I can. Post is one of the best parts of the whole process, but also one of the scariest, as it’s when it all comes home to roost and you have to really nail the movie. I don’t know a single director who doesn’t have that initial nervous feeling when you first see an assembly and go, ‘Oh my God. This is scary.’

Even after all the big Potter films, I get nervous because you have so much invested. But I would hate to lose those nerves. I like that sense of adrenaline. These are big bets everyone’s making, and you want it to work for the audience. You also have the experience to know that whatever isn’t working, you can always fix or salvage it in post in some way. That’s what post is — it’s all about being able to hit the right notes and make it better. I’ve always felt that way about post, since I made my very first short film. I still remember seeing it for the first time in assembly and going, “Bloody hell! How are we going to fix this?” So you always look for the faults, the wrong notes, and how you can improve it.

I heard you’ve tested a new way of working with your editor, Mark Day?
Yes. Usually I shoot, he assembles and we’re a well-oiled team by now, but we actually changed the way we work recently. On Tarzan, I would shoot, he would assemble it the next day, then I would watch it, give notes and he would tune it a bit. Then we would look at the scene again a couple of weeks later. So we would be constantly changing scenes during the shoot, and I’d rush over to the edit every time I had a spare 30-minutes on the floor because of a lighting change.

So every shooting day was about shooting and editing, but on Beasts I decided to experiment, and not see Mark every day. I just let him get on with it. So on Beasts, I spent all my time on the floor, or with my storyboard guys or previs team, focusing on conceiving stuff, and then I saw Mark every few weeks — and that proved to be far less schizophrenic than bouncing back and forth from shooting to editing. So that’s how we’re going to do it from now on.

Can you talk about working with VFX supervisor Tim Burke?
He and I go way back, as he did all the Potter films with me. We’re both from the north of England and have a very pragmatic approach. It’s so difficult working with big apes and big cats, and so on, and getting them to do what you want — but now you don’t have to with all the advances in VFX. Tim used a bunch of vendors, including Framestore, Rodeo and MPC, and in the end we had over 1,300 VFX shots. There was everything from the gorillas and lions to zebras, ostriches and hippos. We really raised the bar on the VFX, especially the scenes where Tarzan has to interact directly with an animal.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The fight between Tarzan and his gorilla brother Akut was very tricky, as the choreography was very complex, and we had to use a guy in a suit as a stand-in for Akut so Alex had something to react to, but we didn’t use motion capture — it was more of a guide.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Pretty much. I really enjoyed making it. It was a very complex production. We shot in a lot of places, from the UK to Gabon and Italy. It has a huge amount of VFX, but I always enjoy a challenge.

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

The A-List — ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ director Roland Emmerich

The director talks about this VFX-heavy sequel and how it takes advantage of today’s technology to tell its story. 

By Iain Blair

After two decades of rumors and speculation, “The Master of Disaster” — German director/writer/producer Roland Emmerich — is finally back with Independence Day: Resurgence. This is the long-awaited sequel to his seminal 1996 alien invasion epic Independence Day, one of the most financially successful movies in the history of Hollywood — it ended up making over $817 million worldwide and turning Will Smith into a superstar.

Following that smash, Emmerich went on to make other apocalyptic mega-productions, including Godzilla (the 1998 version), The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC and 2012, all of which were huge box office hits despite little love from the critics. And while Emmerich has also made smaller movies, such as Anonymous, The Patriot and Stonewall, which didn’t involve aliens, the destruction of cities, rising sea levels or vast armies of VFX artists, his latest blockbuster will only further cement his legacy as an ambitious filmmaker who doesn’t just love to blow shit up but who has always seen the big picture. The Fox release opens June 24.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

I recently spoke with Emmerich about making the film, which features many visual effects shots, and the post process.

It’s been two decades since Independence Day became a global blockbuster. Why did it take so long to do a sequel?
I made the first one as a stand-alone film, and for 10 years I felt that way. Plus, ideas that were pitched for a sequel didn’t work for me. Then, about six, seven years ago, I was shooting for the first time on digital cameras for the film 2012. We did all of the 1,500 VFX shots in the computer, and it suddenly hit me that the technology had changed so much that maybe it was time to try a sequel.

On the first one I was just so frustrated as I couldn’t do everything I wanted and had imagined, because of all the limitations with VFX and technology back then. I had these scissors in my head — this I can do, that I cannot do — but this time I had no scissors and no limitations, and that was a huge difference for me.

How much pressure was there to top the last film?
I honestly didn’t feel much pressure, although I’m very aware that times have changed. I see all the other big VFX films out there and I keep up on it all and I know how competitive it is now. But I felt pretty good about what we could do with this one. And I feel I’ve always been able to create these “impossible images” where people go, “Oh my God! What is that?” Like water coming over the Himalayas. This time it was this enormous 3,000-mile long alien spaceship that comes down to Earth, like this giant spider. That was the first image I had in my head for the film.

It’s a very image-driven business I’m in, and while you obviously work hard on characters and themes and so on, most of the time it’s these images that pop into my head that inspire everything else. And this giant spaceship wasn’t something we could do back in ’96. It was just impossible.

How different was the approach on this and what sort of film did you set out to make?
I tried very hard to avoid making a classic sequel. And it’d been so long anyway. It’s a different society, and we can stay united and fight together. The other big idea was that we’ve harvested all the alien technology. We can’t rebuild it, but we’ve harvested it, and humans are so ingenious, so we can take it and adapt it for human use and machines. So all these themes and ideas were very interesting to me.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Even when I’m writing I’m already thinking about all the VFX and post, and the moment the script is there it’s well under way. I like to make 25-30 big paintings of key scenes that really show you where the movie’s going — the style, the size of the film. They’re so helpful for showing everyone from production executives at the studio to the visual effects teams. It gives a very clear visual idea of what I want. Then you break it down into sequences and start storyboarding and so on.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

You must have done a lot of previz for this one?
Yes, but we had very little time because of the release date, and it was very complicated. I had started shooting already and still had to do previz since we weren’t able to previz the whole film before. We needed to previz everything, so I had double duties: at lunch and after shooting I always had to meet with my previz team. When I look back, the film was like a long race against time.

Post and VFX have evolved so much since the first film. What have been the biggest changes for you?
The biggest for me is the whole digital revolution. Digital cameras can now make far better blue- and greenscreen composites, and we shot with Red Weapon Dragons. That’s huge for me as I used to hate the old look of composites and all the limits you had, whereas now, if you can imagine it, you can do it. The computer gives you infinite possibilities in VFX. On the first one I would have these images in my head and then find out we couldn’t do them. Anything is possible today.

Where did you post?
We rented offices in North Hollywood, and we had our editing suite there… the 3D people, and the VFX team. For sound, I always work with sound designer Paul Ottosson, who has his whole set-up at Sony on the lot. So we did all the mixing there, including a Dolby Atmos mix.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
This was edited by Adam Wolfe, who cut Stonewall and White House Down for you. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He’s a very active editor and he’ll run on to the set saying, “I need this or that.” He’s not on the set all the time, but he’s close by when I shoot, and we’ll work together on the weekends so I can get a feel for the film and what we’ve shot so far.

This is obviously a VFX-driven piece, and the VFX play a big role. Can you talk about that and working with the visual effects supervisor?
I really enjoy working with VFX — from the concepts to cutting the shots in — and working with a relatively small team of maybe 15 people on them every day, talking on Skype or in person, ideally. I feel that you can also cast VFX companies like actors — for their special talents. Some excel at this, some excel at that. If you’re doing a creature film, then Weta is great. If it’s a very complicated sequence with a lot of water and buildings collapsing and fires, then Scanline is great.

I always try and inspire them to do VFX they’ve never done before, so it’s not boring for them. In the end, we used 10 big companies and another five smaller ones, including Weta, CinINDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCEesite, Scanline, Image Engine, Trxter, MPC, Digital Domain and Buf.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to pull off?
The hardest was the big sequence where the mothership starts sucking up Singapore — the whole city and all the ships — before throwing it on London. That was very complicated to do, and Scanline did an amazing job. The whole scene at the end with the alien battle was also very hard to pull off. That took months and months to do, and the companies started doing tests and simulations at a very early stage. They also sent some of their people to the set to advise you on how best to shoot the live action to go with their VFX.

What’s next?
Another huge film, I hope. I love them. It’s my job, my business.

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.

Playing in a sonic sandbox for ‘Batman v Superman’

Formosa Group’s Scott Hecker on creating iconic sounds

By Jennifer Walden

If you’re looking to see a deep, intellectual movie, you might want to skip Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But if it’s action you are after, buy your ticket and enjoy the ride. Directed by Zack Snyder — who has helmed 300, Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen, Sucker Punch and Man of Steel — this film tries to answer the age-old question asked on playgrounds and in bars worldwide: “Who would win in a fight? Batman or Superman?”

For Warner Bros.’ Batman v Superman, Snyder called on his go-to supervising sound editor/designer Scott Hecker from Santa Monica’s Formosa Group — Hecker has worked on all of the Snyder films mentioned above, and more. “His vision is amazing,” Hecker says of Snyder. “It’s always fun to see what he puts on screen. It’s just a treat for a sound designer to dig his teeth into an amazing film like this.”

Scott Hecker

Scott Hecker

The Sound of Superheroes
Hecker’s sound design work on Man of Steel paved the way for Batman v Superman. The sounds from both films are the start of a growing library that will define the ensuing DC Comic films coming via Warner Bros. On Man of Steel, Hecker says they created Superman’s unique flying sounds by processing numerous wind and whoosh effects, but there was one throwback ingredient they included to make the flying sounds authentically Superman. “There’s a bit of the George Reeves flying sound from the original Superman TV series. The sound isn’t dominant, but we just had to include it. If you hear it you know exactly what it is and where it is from,” says Hecker.

Other superheroes and villains take the screen in Batman v Superman, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who is the focus of the next feature film in the series. Knowing that, Hecker paid special attention to Wonder Woman’s characteristic sounds. “They are presently shooting Wonder Woman in the UK. So while we were working on Wonder Woman’s sounds for this film, we wanted to come up with something that could hopefully carry forward, because the next film is entirely based on Wonder Woman. Her sounds weren’t just a one-off in this film.”

Power Blast!
Wonder Woman has two main sound elements to her superpower. There is the clank of her wristbands followed by a power blast. For the wristband clank, Hecker says he and his sound designer Chuck Michael searched far and wide to find a sound that was feminine, magical and tonally pleasing. “The final sound is a really powerful, solid metallic clank. It has a cool ring to it and it has a tone to it, instead of it just sounding like a normal metal hit. It sounds feminine and powerful with a cool tone.”

For the power blast, “we were thinking that it needed to feel magical, like a superpower, and not something earthly,” says Hecker. To achieve an interesting tonal feel without being overly musical, they processed different gongs and bells by manipulating the pitch and speed, and added modulation using Waves MondoMod and other plug-ins.

“It has a stuttering effect to make it feel like it is emulating a force. It’s unique, and it sounds powerful and magical at the same time,” says Hecker, who feels that designing superhero sounds is part skill and part serendipity. “It’s like playing in a sonic sandbox. You just keep experimenting with things until all the sudden it’s like sonic alchemy — a beautiful accident happens and you go, ‘Wow that was cool! What did we just do?” That happens for a lot of what we do and that’s the fun of it. It really is a lot of experimentation and just playing until something tickles your funny bone and you feel good about it.”

The Batmobile
Batman (Ben Affleck) may not have superpowers, but he’s super rich and super smart, and that’s good enough for gaining entry into the crime-fighting game. Sound-wise, Hecker wanted to reflect Bruce Wayne’s refined sense of style in Batman’s arsenal of high-tech gear, including his sweet ride — the Batmobile.

“We recorded the Batmobile on-location in Detroit, which was really exciting,” explains Hecker. “In putting that production vehicle together, they had to invert and reverse the transmission. On a technical level, I don’t know why they did it but it created this interesting sound. When I heard a sample of this reversed transmission, with this reversed whine and pitched-up characteristic to it — I thought there is a lot of promise there.”

He sent sound effects recordist John Fasal to Detroit to capture every sound he could from the Batmobile. There was just one stipulation: since they didn’t want to risk breaking the vehicle before they had a chance to shoot the scenes, they only allowed Fasal to capture the recordings during the vehicle tests. “They were constantly testing the vehicle to make sure it could withstand the various stunts and maneuvers that were required in the chase scenes. So they allowed John to put as many mics as he wanted on the car, in the car, on the engine and the tailpipe, but he couldn’t dictate what he wanted the car to do. He could just be there and capture as many sounds as he was able to capture.”

With the Batmobile miked up, Fasal was free to capture all the exterior sounds too, like pass-bys, drive-ups, pull-aways, engine starts and stops.

Back at Formosa, Hecker and his sound team layered the recordings of the Batmobile’s inverted transmission whine with the engine sounds of a Shelby Series 1. “It’s a powerful car, but it has this sleek power to it that works well with the high-pitched whine that was created from the inverted transmission of the Batmobile,” says Hecker. “I’m really happy that they had to do that to the car to make it work for them because otherwise we would’ve been missing a critical element to the sound. I think for other permutations of the Batmobile, in previous films, those sound crews were using jet turbine whines. One thing I always want to avoid is doing something that other people have done before. So this helped us to be original and authentic. It was a win-win.”

Fights
For the hand-to-hand combat sequences, Hecker turned to his brother Gary Hecker, a supervising Foley artist at Sony Pictures who has a flair for action films. “I love the process of Foley, and especially being able to work with my brother Gary. He was the perfect guy to get into that action film mode,” says Hecker.

Besides the footsteps and normal hand props, they created new punches, hits, crashes and also cape sounds. “We have Batman’s cape and Superman’s cape — that made everything have a very visceral feel. You actually feel the movement and the characters’ presence in these fights too.” The final combat tracks are a combination of Foley and sound effects tailored to fit the unique qualities of each fight scene. “There are about four fight scenes in the film and they are all different. It’s not just your standard punches and hits. They all have a slightly different feel stylistically. Zack is very smart about that. He has such a colorful vision and he keeps things fresh and fun.”

During the film’s epic battle sequences, there is the potential to go full-bore all the time. Add to that the soaring score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, which at times reaches operatic heights, and you get what Jimmy Fallon called, “One of the loudest movies I’ve ever seen… in a great way.”

The Mix
Hecker admits it was super challenging to build a dynamic track. “One way that we modulated it was by really changing things up for the various confrontations, fights and action scenes,” he says. On some scenes the effects would drive the mix, and in other scenes the music would lead. They could create shifts in the intensity by having the music and the effects hand-off from one to the other. “As soon as you start hearing operatic motifs in the music, you just know you don’t want to hear a bunch of loud sound effects. So in those situations we turned to using more impressionistic action sounds versus literal punches and hits and crashes.”

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

On Warner Bros. dub Stage 9, re-recording mixers Chris Jenkins (dialogue/music) and Michael Keller (sound effects/Foley) were tasked with finding harmony among all the elements competing for the same sonic space. “In areas where there are less interesting sound design or effects, we just let the music lead. When in doubt, the music will usually predominate, as it should. It’s a really beautiful score,” says Hecker.

There are definitely areas of the film that get loud but they don’t stay loud. The mixers tried to achieve an intense feeling without hitting levels that would abuse the audience. The loud sections pop in and pop out, giving the audience sonic breaks. Hecker explains the approach on the climactic third act confrontation, where Wonder Woman comes in. “Her theme comes in and the score turns operatic. We got very impressionistic there because by then, throughout the whole film, we had a lot of opportunities for vibrant, colorful, powerful action sounds. By the third act we really wanted to hand-off to music a bit more for the climax.”

Once Jenkins and Keller crafted the final soundtrack on Stage 9, they transferred everything over to Warner Bros. Stage 10 for the Dolby Atmos mix.

“I’m thrilled that audiences are finally able to enjoy our team’s hard work on the film. And as far as what’s sonically in store for the other DC Comics characters, we’re just rolling up our sleeves,” concludes Hecker.

Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer.