Arraiy 4.11.19

Category Archives: Quick Chat

Quick Chat: Lord Danger takes on VFX-heavy Devil May Cry 5 spot

By Randi Altman

Visual effects for spots have become more and more sophisticated, and the recent Capcom trailer promoting the availability of its game Devil May Cry 5 is a perfect example.

 The Mike Diva-directed Something Greater starts off like it might be a commercial for an anti-depressant with images of a woman cooking dinner for some guests, people working at a construction site, a bored guy trimming hedges… but suddenly each of our “Everyday Joes” turns into a warrior fighting baddies in a video game.

Josh Shadid

The hedge trimmer’s right arm turns into a futuristic weapon, the construction worker evokes a panther to fight a monster, and the lady cooking is seen with guns a blazin’ in both hands. When she runs out of ammo, and to the dismay of her dinner guests, her arms turn into giant saws. 

Lord Danger’s team worked closely with Capcom USA to create this over-the-top experience, and they provided everything from production to VFX to post, including sound and music.

We reached out to Lord Danger founder/EP Josh Shadid to learn more about their collaboration with Capcom, as well as their workflow.

How much direction did you get from Capcom? What was their brief to you?
Capcom’s fight-games director of brand marketing, Charlene Ingram, came to us with a simple request — make a memorable TV commercial that did not use gameplay footage but still illustrated the intensity and epic-ness of the DMC series.

What was it shot on and why?
We shot on both Arri Alexa Mini and Phantom Flex 4k using Zeiss Super Speed MKii Prime lenses, thanks to our friends at Antagonist Camera, and a Technodolly motion control crane arm. We used the Phantom on the Technodolly to capture the high-speed shots. We used that setup to speed ramp through character actions, while maintaining 4K resolution for post in both the garden and kitchen transformations.

We used the Alexa Mini on the rest of the spot. It’s our preferred camera for most of our shoots because we love the combination of its size and image quality. The Technodolly allowed us to create frame-accurate, repeatable camera movements around the characters so we could seamlessly stitch together multiple shots as one. We also needed to cue the fight choreography to sync up with our camera positions.

You had a VFX supervisor on set. Can you give an example of how that was beneficial?
We did have a VFX supervisor on site for this production. Our usual VFX supervisor is one of our lead animators — having him on site to work with means we’re often starting elements in our post production workflow while we’re still shooting.

Assuming some of it was greenscreen?
We shot elements of the construction site and gardening scene on greenscreen. We used pop-ups to film these elements on set so we could mimic camera moves and lighting perfectly. We also took photogrammetry scans of our characters to help rebuild parts of their bodies during transition moments, and to emulate flying without requiring wire work — which would have been difficult to control outside during windy and rainy weather.

Can you talk about some of the more challenging VFX?
The shot of the gardener jumping into the air while the camera spins around him twice was particularly difficult. The camera starts on a 45-degree frontal, swings behind him and then returns to a 45-degree frontal once he’s in the air.

We had to digitally recreate the entire street, so we used the technocrane at the highest position possible to capture data from a slow pan across the neighborhood in order to rebuild the world. We also had to shoot this scene in several pieces and stitch it together. Since we didn’t use wire work to suspend the character, we also had to recreate the lower half of his body in 3D to achieve a natural looking jump position. That with the combination of the CG weapon elements made for a challenging composite — but in the end, it turned out really dramatic (and pretty cool).

Were any of the assets provided by Capcom? All created from scratch?
We were provided with the character and weapons models from Capcom — but these were in-game assets, and if you’ve played the game you’ll see that the environments are often dark and moody, so the textures and shaders really didn’t apply to a real-world scenario.

Our character modeling team had to recreate and re-interpret what these characters and weapons would look like in the real world — and they had to nail it — because game culture wouldn’t forgive a poor interpretation of these iconic elements. So far the feedback has been pretty darn good.

In what ways did being the production company and the VFX house on the project help?
The separation of creative from production and post production is an outdated model. The time it takes to bring each team up to speed, to manage the communication of ideas between creatives and to ensure there is a cohesive vision from start to finish, increases both the costs and the time it takes to deliver a final project.

We shot and delivered all of Devil May Cry’s Something Greater in four weeks total, all in-house. We find that working as the production company and VFX house reduces the ratio of managers per creative significantly, putting more of the money into the final product.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Quick Chat: Crew Cuts’ Nancy Jacobsen and Stephanie Norris

By Randi Altman

Crew Cuts, a full-service production and post house, has been a New York fixture since 1986. Originally established as an editorial house, over the years as the industry evolved they added services that target all aspects of the workflow.

This independently-owned facility is run by executive producer/partner Nancy Jacobsen, senior editor/partner Sherri Margulies Keenan and senior editor/partner Jake Jacobsen. While commercial spots might be in their wheelhouse, their projects vary and include social media, music videos and indie films.

We decided to reach out to Nancy Jacobsen, as well as EP of finishing Stephanie Norris, to find out about trends, recent work and succeeding in an industry and city that isn’t always so welcoming.

Can you talk about what Crew Cuts provides and how you guys have evolved over the years?
Jacobsen: We pretty much do it all. We have 10 offline editors as well as artists working in VFX, 2D/3D animation, motion graphics/design, audio mix and sound design, VO record, color grading, title treatment, advanced compositing and conform. Two of our editors double as directors.

In the beginning, Crew Cuts primarily offered only editorial. As the years went by and the industry climate changed we began to cater to the needs of clients and slowly built out our entire finishing department. We started with some minimal graphics work and one staff artist in 2008.

In 2009, we expanded the team to include graphics, conform and audio mix. From there we just continued to grow and expand our department to the full finishing team we have today.

As a woman owner of a post house, what challenges have you had to overcome?
Jacobsen: When I started in this business, the industry was very different. I made less money than my male counterparts and it took me twice as long to be promoted because I am a woman. I have since seen great change where women are leading post houses and production houses and are finally getting the recognition for the hard work they deserve. Unfortunately, I had to “wait it out” and silently work harder than the men around me. This has paid off for me, and now I can help women get the credit they rightly deserve

Do you see the industry changing and becoming less male-dominated?
Jacobsen: Yes, the industry is definitely becoming less male-dominated. In the current climate, with the birth of the #metoo movement and specifically in our industry with the birth of Diet Madison Avenue (@dietmadisonave), we are seeing a lot more women step up and take on leading roles.

Are you mostly a commercial house? What other segments of the industry do you work in?
Jacobsen: We are primarily a commercial house. However, we are not limited to just broadcast and digital commercial advertising. We have delivered specs for everything from the Godzilla screen in Times Square to :06 spots on Instagram. We have done a handful of music videos and also handle a ton of B2B videos for in-house client meetings, etc., as well as banner ads for conferences and trade shows. We’ve even worked on display ads for airports. Most recently, one of our editors finished a feature film called Public Figure that is being submitted around the film festival circuit.

What types of projects are you working on most often these days?
Jacobsen: The industry is all over the place. The current climate is very messy right now. Our projects are extremely varied. It’s hard to say what we work on most because it seems like there is no more norm. We are working on everything from sizzle pitch videos to spots for the Super Bowl.

What trends have you seen over the last year, and where do you expect to be in a year?
Jacobsen: Over the last year, we have noticed that the work comes from every angle. Our typical client is no longer just the marketing agency. It is also the production company, network, brand, etc. In a year we expect to be doing more production work. Seeing as how budgets are much smaller than they used to be and everyone wants a one-stop shop, we are hoping to stick with our gut and continue expanding our production arm.

Crew Cuts has beefed up its finishing services. Can you talk about that?
Stephanie Norris: We offer a variety of finishing services — from sound design to VO record and mix, compositing to VFX, 2D and 3D motion graphics and color grading. Our fully staffed in-house team loves the visual effects puzzle and enjoys working with clients to help interpret their vision.

Can you name some recent projects and the services you provided?
Norris: We just worked on a new campaign for New Jersey Lottery in collaboration with Yonder Content and PureRed. Brian Neaman directed and edited the spots. In addition to editorial, Crew Cuts also handled all of the finishing, including color, conform, visual effects, graphics, sound design and mix. This was one of those all-hands-on-deck projects. Keeping everything under one roof really helped us to streamline the process.

New Jersey Lottery

Working with Brian to carefully plan the shooting strategy, we filmed a series of plate shots as elements that could later be combined in post to build each scene. We added falling stacks of cash to the reindeer as he walks through the loading dock and incorporated CG inflatable decorations into a warehouse holiday lawn scene. We also dramatically altered the opening and closing exterior warehouse scenes, allowing one shot to work for multiple seasons. Keeping lighting and camera positions consistent was mission-critical, and having our VFX supervisor, Dulany Foster, on set saved us hours of work down the line.

For the New Jersey Lottery Holiday spots, the Crew Cuts CG team, led by our creative director Ben McNamara created a 3D Inflatable display of lottery tickets. This was something that proved too costly and time consuming to manufacture and shoot practically. After the initial R&D, our team created a few different CG inflatable simulations prior to the shoot, and Dulany was able to mock them up live while on set. Creating the simulations was crucial for giving the art department reference while building the set, and also helped when shooting the plates needed to composite the scene together.

Ben and his team focused on the physics of the inflation, while also making sure the fabric simulations, textures and lighting blended seamlessly into the scene — it was important that everything felt realistic. In addition to the inflatables, our VFX team turned the opening and closing sunny, summer shots of the warehouse into a December winter wonderland thanks to heavy compositing, 3D set extension and snow simulations.

New Jersey Lottery

Any other projects you’d like to talk about?
Jacobsen: We are currently working on a project here that we are handling soup to nuts from production through finishing. It was a fun challenge to take on. The spot contains a hand model on a greenscreen showing the audience how to use a new product. The shoot itself took place here at Crew Cuts. We turned our common area into a stage for the day and were able to do so without interrupting any of the other employees and projects going on.

We are now working on editorial and finishing. The edit is coming along nicely. What really drives the piece here is the graphic icons. Our team is having a lot of fun designing these elements and implementing them into the spot. We are so proud because we budgeted wisely to make sure to accommodate all of the needs of the project so that we could handle everything and still turn a profit. It was so much fun to work in a different setting for the day and has been a very successful project so far. Clients are happy and so are we.

Main Image: (L-R) Stephanie Norris and Nancy Jacobsen

Arraiy 4.11.19

Quick Chat: Digital Arts’ Josh Heilbronner on Audi, Chase spots

New York City’s Digital Arts provided audio post on a couple of 30-second commercial spots that presented sound designer/mixer Josh Heilbronner with some unique audio challenges. They are Audi’s Night Watchman via agency Venables Bell & Partners in New York and Chase’s Mama Said Knock You Out, featuring Serena Williams from agency Droga5 in New York.

Josh Heilbronner

Heilbronner, who has been sound designing and mixing for broadcast and film for almost 10 years, has worked on large fashion brands like Nike and J Crew to Fortune 500 Companies like General Electric, Bank of America and Estee Lauder. He has also mixed promos and primetime broadcast specials for USA Network, CBS and ABC Television. In addition to commercial VO recording, editing and mixing, Heilbronner has a growing credit list of long-form documentaries and feature films, including The Broken Ones, Romance (In the Digital Age), Generation Iron 2, The Hurt Business and Giving Birth in America (a CNN special series).

We recently reached out to Heilbronner to find out more about these two very different commercial projects and how he tackled each.

Both Audi and Chase are very different assignments from an audio perspective. How did these projects come your way?
On Audi, we were asked to be part of their new 2019 A7 campaign, which follows a security guard patrolling the Audi factory in the middle of night. It’s sort of James Bond meets Night at the Museum. The factory is full of otherworldly rooms built to put the cars through their paces (extreme cold, isolation etc.). Q Department did a great job crafting the sounds of those worlds and really bringing the viewer into the factory. Agency Venables & Bell were looking to really pull everything together tightly and have the dialogue land up-front, while still maintaining the wonderfully lush and dynamic music and sound design that had been laid down already.

The Chase Serena campaign is an impact-driven series of spots. Droga5 has a great reputation for putting together cinematic spots and this is no exception. Drazen Bosnjak from Q Department originally reached out to see if I would be interested in mixing this one because one of the final deliverables was the Jumbotron at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Digital Arts has a wonderful 7.1 Dolby approved 4K theater, so we were able to really get a sense of what the finals would sound and look like up on the big screen.

Did you have any concerns going into the project about what would be required creatively or technically?
For Audi our biggest challenge was the tight deadline. We mixed in New York but we had three different time zones in play, so getting approvals could sometimes be difficult. With Chase, the amount of content for this campaign was large. We needed to deliver finals for broadcast, social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), Jumbotron and cinema. Making sure they played back as loud and crisp as they could on all those platforms was a major focus.

What was the most challenging aspect for you on the project?
As with a lot of production audio, the noise on set was pretty extreme. For Audi they had to film the night watchman walking in different spaces, delivering the copy at a variety of volumes. It all needed to gel together as if he was in one smaller room talking directly to the camera, as if he were a narrator. We didn’t have access to re-record him, so we had to use a few different denoise tools, such as iZotope RX6, Brusfri and Waves WNS to clear out the clashing room tones.

The biggest challenge on Chase was the dynamic range and power of these spots. Serena beautifully hushed whisper narration is surrounded by impactful bass drops, cinematic hits and lush ambiences. Reigning all that in, building to a climax and still having her narration be the focus was a game of cat and mouse. Also, broadcast standards are a bit restrictive when it comes to large impacts, so finding the right balance was key.

Any interesting technology or techniques that you used on the project?
I mainly use Avid Pro Tools Ultimate 2018. They have made some incredible advancements — you can now do everything on one machine, all in the box. I can have 180 tracks running in a surround session and still print every deliverable (5.1, stereo, stems etc.) without a hiccup.

I’ve been using Penteo 7 Pro for stereo 5.1 upmixing. It does a fantastic job filling in the surrounds, but also folds down to stereo nicely (and passes QC). Spanner is another useful tool when working with all sorts of channel counts. It allows me to down-mix, rearrange channels and route audio to the correct buses easily.


Quick Chat: Westwind Media president Doug Kent

By Dayna McCallum

Doug Kent has joined Westwind Media as president. The move is a homecoming of sorts for the audio post vet, who worked as a sound editor and supervisor at the facility when they opened their doors in 1997 (with Miles O’ Fun). He comes to Westwind after a long-tenured position at Technicolor.

While primarily known as an audio post facility, Burbank-based Westwind has grown into a three-acre campus comprised of 10 buildings, which also house outposts for NBCUniversal and Technicolor, as well as media focused companies Keywords Headquarters and Film Solutions.

We reached out to Kent to find out a little bit more about what is happening over at Westwind, why he made the move and changes he has seen in the industry.

Why was now the right time to make this change, especially after being at one place for so long?
Well, 17 years is a really long time to stay at one place in this day and age! I worked with an amazing team, but Westwind presented a very unique opportunity for me. John Bidasio (managing partner) and Sunder Ramani (president of Westwind Properties) approached me with the role of heading up Westwind and teaming with them in shaping the growth of their media campus. It was literally an offer I couldn’t refuse. Because of the campus size and versatility of the buildings, I have always considered Westwind to have amazing potential to be one of the premier post production boutique destinations in the LA area. I’m very excited to be part of that growth.

You’ve worked at studios and facilities of all sizes in your career. What do you see as the benefit of a boutique facility like Westwind?
After 30 years in the post audio business — which seems crazy to say out loud — moving to a boutique facility allows me more flexibility. It also lets me be personally involved with the delivery of all work to our customers. Because of our relationships with other facilities, we are able to offer services to our customers all over the Los Angeles area. It’s all about drive time on Waze!

What does your new position at Westwind involve?
The size of our business allows me to actively participate with every service we offer, from business development to capital expenditures, while also working with our management team’s growth strategy for the campus. Our value proposition, as a nimble post audio provider, focuses on our high-quality brick and motor facility, while we continue to expand our editorial and mix talent working with many of the best mix facilities and sound designers in the LA area. Luckily, I now get to have a hand in all of it.

Westwind recently renovated two stages. Did Dolby Atmos certification drive that decision?
Netflix, Apple and Amazon all use Atmos materials for their original programming. It was time to move forward. These immersive technologies have changed the way filmmakers shape the overall experience for the consumer. These new object-based technologies enhance our ability to embellish and manipulate the soundscape of each production, creating a visceral experience for the audience that is more exciting and dynamic.

How to Get Away With Murder

Can you talk specifically about the gear you are using on the stages?
Currently, Westwind runs entirely on a Dante network design. We have four dub stages, including both of the Atmos stages, outfitted with Dante interfaces. The signal path from our Avid Pro Tools source machines — all the way to the speakers — is entirely in Dante and the BSS Blu link network. The monitor switching and stage are controlled through custom made panels designed in Harman’s Audio Architect. The Dante network allows us to route signals with complete flexibility across our network.

What about some of the projects you are currently working on?
We provide post sound services to the team at ShondaLand for all their productions, including Grey’s Anatomy, which is now in its 15th year, Station 19, How to Get Away With Murder and For the People. We are also involved in the streaming content market, working on titles for Amazon, YouTube Red and Netflix.

Looking forward, what changes in technology and the industry do you see having the most impact on audio post?
The role of post production sound has greatly increased as technology has advanced.  We have become an active part of the filmmaking process and have developed closer partnerships with the executive producers, showrunners and creative executives. Delivering great soundscapes to these filmmakers has become more critical as technology advances and audiences become more sophisticated.

The Atmos system creates an immersive audio experience for the listener and has become a foundation for future technology. The Atmos master contains all of the uncompressed audio and panning metadata, and can be updated by re-encoding whenever a new process is released. With streaming speeds becoming faster and storage becoming more easily available, home viewers will most likely soon be experiencing Atmos technology in their living room.

What haven’t I asked that is important?
Relationships are the most important part of any business and my favorite part of being in post production sound. I truly value my connections and deep friendships with film executives and studio owners all over the Los Angeles area, not to mention the incredible artists I’ve had the great pleasure of working with and claiming as friends. The technology is amazing, but the people are what make being in this business fulfilling and engaging.

We are in a remarkable time in film, but really an amazing time in what we still call “television.” There is growth and expansion and foundational change in every aspect of this industry. Being at Westwind gives me the flexibility and opportunity to be part of that change and to keep growing.


Quick Chat: AI-based audio mastering

Antoine Rotondo is an audio engineer by trade who has been in the business for the past 17 years. Throughout his career he’s worked in audio across music, film and broadcast, focusing on sound reproduction. After completing college studies in sound design, undergraduate studies in music and music technology, as well as graduate studies in sound recording at McGill University in Montreal, Rotondo went on to work in recording, mixing, producing and mastering.

He is currently an audio engineer at Landr.com, which has released Landr Audio Mastering for Video, which provides professional video editors with AI-based audio mastering capabilities in Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

As an audio engineer how do you feel about AI tools to shortcut the mastering process?
Well first, there’s a myth about how AI and machines can’t possibly make valid decisions in the creative process in a consistent way. There’s actually a huge intersection between artistic intentions and technical solutions where we find many patterns, where people tend to agree and go about things very similarly, often unknowingly. We’ve been building technology around that.

Truth be told there are many tasks in audio mastering that are repetitive and that people don’t necessarily like spending a lot of time on, tasks such as leveling dialogue, music and background elements across multiple segments, or dealing with noise. Everyone’s job gets easier when those tasks become automated.

I see innovation in AI-driven audio mastering as a way to make creators more productive and efficient — not to replace them. It’s now more accessible than ever for amateur and aspiring producers and musicians to learn about mastering and have the resources to professionally polish their work. I think the same will apply to videographers.

What’s the key to making video content sound great?
Great sound quality is effortless and sounds as natural as possible. It’s about creating an experience that keeps the viewer engaged and entertained. It’s also about great communication — delivering a message to your audience and even conveying your artistic vision — all this to impact your audience in the way you intended.

More specifically, audio shouldn’t unintentionally sound muffled, distorted, noisy or erratic. Dialogue and music should shine through. Viewers should never need to change the volume or rewind the content to play something back during the program.

When are the times you’d want to hire an audio mastering engineer and when are the times that projects could solely use an AI-engine for audio mastering?
Mastering engineers are especially important for extremely intricate artistic projects that require direct communication with a producer or artist, including long-form narrative, feature films, television series and also TV commercials. Any project with conceptual sound design will almost always require an engineer to perfect the final master.

Users can truly benefit from AI-driven mastering in short form, non-fiction projects that require clean dialog, reduced background noise and overall leveling. Quick turnaround projects can also use AI mastering to elevate the audio to a more professional level even, when deadlines are tight. AI mastering can now insert itself in the offline creation process, where multiple revisions of a project are sent back and forth, making great sound accessible throughout the entire production cycle.

The other thing to consider is that AI mastering is a great option for video editors who don’t have technical audio expertise themselves, and where lower budgets translate into them having to work on their own. These editors could purchase purpose-built mastering plugins, but they don’t necessarily have the time to learn how to really take advantage of these tools. And even if they did have the time, some would prefer to focus more on all the other aspects of the work that they have to juggle.


Quick Chat: Steve Cronan on 5th Kind Core and AI

By Barry Goch

Steve Cronan has been on the cutting edge of digital production starting with his work on The Matrix sequels in 2001. Based on that experience, he saw an opportunity to build a solutions platform for film production. His 5th Kind has become the backbone for Marvel Studios asset management system. 5th Kind Core has expanded its reach beyond just the media and entertainment space into a wide variety of industries.

Steve Cronan speaking at a SMPTE event.

PostPerspective recently spoke to Steve about how Artificial Intelligence is used in his product and how it will more widely impact post production.

How did 5th Kind come about?
The idea for 5th Kind started in 2001 when I was the IT manager on the Matrix sequels in Sydney. I was able to analyze what files and data each department managed and how that information was used and flowed around the productions, video games and The Animatrix.

This was really the beginning of the creation of our PAM (production asset management), which was first used on Superman Returns in 2005. In 2012, we signed our first big studio deal with Marvel. They essentially built the studio around the product that, in collaboration, helped us to extend the platform to manage a huge amount of workflows going out to marketing, licenses, vendors, etc. It was the framework for what we now call a SAM (studio asset management).

The focus is to be the backbone of all digital files and metadata as it propagates around all layers — from a creator to a department to a production to a studio and beyond. In 2015, we began rewriting the product and completed it at the beginning of 2018. It’s now called 5th Kind Core.

The primary objectives of Core were to build a framework that has the ultimate in security, unlimited scalability, high-performance and extendability, with an easy to use interface — all while supporting a huge list of features. There was a big focus on creating the best dailies experience possible, but since it’s agnostic to any file type or size, it can be used across an array of workflows, such as the management of scripts, storyboards, concept art, set drawing, location photos, production documents and 3D models. Also for workflows like bidding, review, approval, distribution, archive, etc.

We achieved that this year and as our first big win, we signed a multi-year deal with Universal to provide dailies to all feature films.

How are you using AI now?
The two main areas are facial and object detection and speech to text. Metadata is a huge part of our overall framework that allow you to control file access, user access, search, edit capabilities, notification triggers, processing triggers, tiered storage, etc.

What benefits are your clients getting from AI on your platform?
The key workflow it currently helps are things like reduction in data entry, increase in search accuracy and capabilities, accelerate production still approvals, subtitling and localization, legal and compliance.

How do you see AI and machine learning changing production and post?
The creative side of AI is growing much faster than I anticipated. Everything from color correction to mob simulations seems to be exploring ways AI can help. From the perspective of our application, it will continue to allow us to save people time and money by leveraging machine learning for some of the menial data management tasks.


Barry Goch is a finishing artist at The Foundation, a boutique post facility in the heart of Burbank’s Media District. He is also an instructor for post production at UCLA Extension. You can follow him on Twitter @gochya


A Conversation: 3P Studio founder Haley Stibbard

Australia’s 3P Studio is a post house founded and led by artisan Haley Stibbard. The company’s portfolio of work includes commercials for brands such as Subway, Allianz and Isuzu Motor Company as well as iconic shows like Sesame Street. Stibbard’s path to opening her own post house was based on necessity.

After going on maternity to have her first child in 2013, she returned to her job at a content studio to find that her role had been made redundant. She was subsequently let go. Needing and wanting to work, she began freelancing as an editor — working seven days a week and never turning down a job. Eventually she realized that she couldn’t keep up with that type of schedule and took her fate into her own hands. She launched 3P Studio, one of Brisbane’s few women-led post facilities.

We reached out to Stibbard to ask about her love of post and her path to 3P Studio.

What made you want to get into post production? School?
I had a strong love of film, which I got from my late dad, Ray. He was a big film buff and would always come home from work when I was a kid with a shopping bag full of $2 movies from the video store and he would watch them. He particularly liked the crime stories and thrillers! So I definitely got my love of film and television from him.

We did not have any film courses at high school in the ‘90s, so the closest I could get was photography. Without a show reel it was hard to get a place at university in the college of art; a portfolio was a requirement and I didn’t have one. I remember I had to talk my way into the film program, and in the end I think they just got sick of me and let me into the course through the back door without a show reel — I can be very persistent when I want to be. I always had enjoyed editing and I was good at it, so in group tasks I was always chosen as the editor and then my love of post came from there.

What was your first job?
My very first job was quite funny, actually. I was working in both a shoe store and a supermarket at the time, and two post positions became available one day, an in-house editor for a big furniture chain and a job as a production assistant for a large VFX company at Movie World on the Gold Coast. Anyone who knows me knows that I would be the worst PA in the world. So, luckily for that company director, I didn’t get the PA job and became the in-house editor for the furniture chain.

I’m glad that I took that job, as it taught me so much — how to work under pressure, how to use an Avid, how to work with deadlines, what a key number was, how to dispatch TVCS to the stations, be quick, be accurate, how to take constructive feedback.

I made every mistake known to man, including one weekend when I forgot to remove the 4×3 safe bars from a TVC and my boss saw it on TV. I ended up having to drive to the office, climb the fence that was locked to get into the office and pull it off air. So I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way, but my boss was a very patient and forgiving man, and 18 years later is now a client of mine!

What job did you hold when you went out on maternity leave?
Before I left on maternity leave to have my son Dashiell, I was an editor for a small content company. I have always been a jack-of-all-trades and I took care of everything from offline to online, grading in Resolve, motion graphics in After Effects and general design. I loved my job and I loved the variety that it brought. Doing something different every day was very enjoyable.

After leaving that job, you started freelancing as an editor. What systems did you edit on at the time and what types of projects? How difficult a time was that for you? New baby, working all the time, etc.
I started freelancing when my son was just past seven months old. I had a mortgage and had just come off six months of unpaid maternity leave, so I needed to make a living and I needed to make it quickly. I also had the added pressure of looking after a young child under the age of one who still needed his mother.

So I started contacting advertising agencies and production companies that I thought may be interested in my skill set. I just took every job that I could get my hands on, as I was always worried that every job that I took could potentially be my last for a while. I was lucky that I had an incredibly well-behaved baby! I never said “no” to a job.

As my client base started to grow, my clients would always book me since they knew that I would never say “no” (they know I still don’t say no!). It got to the point where I was working seven days a week. I worked all day when my son was in childcare and all night after he would go to bed. I would take the baby monitor downstairs where I worked out of my husband’s ‘man den.’

As my freelance business grew, I was so lucky that I had the most supportive husband in the world who was doing everything for me, the washing, the cleaning, the cooking, bath time, as well has holding down his own full-time job as an engineer. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did for that period of time without his support and encouragement. This time really proved to be a huge stepping stone for 3P Studio.

Do you remember the moment you decided you would start your own business?
There wasn’t really a specific moment where I decided to start my own business. It was something that seemed to just naturally come together. The busier I became, the more opportunities came about, like having enough work through the door to build a space and hire staff. I have always been very strategic in regard to the people that I have brought on at 3P, and the timing in which they have come on board.

Can you walk us through that bear of a process?
At the start of 2016, I made the decision to get out of the house. My work life was starting to blend in with my home life and I needed to have that separation. I worked out of a small office for 12 months, and about six months into that it came to a point where I was able to purchase an office space that would become our studio today.

I went to work planning the fit out for the next six months. The studio was an investment in the business and I needed a place that my clients could also bring their clients for approvals, screenings and collaboration on jobs, as well as just generally enjoying the space.

The office space was an empty white shell, but the beauty of coming into a blank canvas was that I was able to create a studio that was specifically built for post production. I was lucky in that I had worked in some of the best post houses in the country as an editor, and this being a custom build I was able to take all the best bits out of all the places I had previously worked and put them into my studio without the restriction of existing walls.

I built up the walls, ripped down the ceilings and was able to design the edit suites and infrastructure all the way down to designing and laying the cable runs myself that I knew would work for us down the line. Then, we saved money and added more equipment to the studio bit by bit. It wasn’t 0 to 100 overnight, I had to work at the business development side of the company a lot, and I spent a lot of long days sitting by myself in those edit suites doing everything. Soon, word of mouth started to circulate and the business started to grow on the back of some nice jobs from my existing loyal clients.

What type of work do you do, and what gear do you call on?
3P Studio is a boutique post production studio that specializes in full-service post production, we also shoot content when required.

Our clients range anywhere from small content videos for the web all the way up to large commercial campaigns and everything in between.

There are currently six of us working full time in the studio, and we handle everything in-house from offline editing to VFX to videography and sound design. We work primarily in the Adobe Creative suite for offline editing in Premiere, mixed with Maxon Cinema 4D/Autodesk Maya for 3D work, Autodesk Flame and Side Effects Houdini for online compositing and VFX, Blackmagic Resolve for color grading and Pro Tools HD for sound mixing. We use EditShare EFS shared storage nodes for collaborative working and sharing of content between the mix of creative platforms we use.

This year we have invested in a Red Digital Cinema camera as well as an EditShare XStream 200 EFS scale-out single-node server so we can become that one-stop shop for our clients. We have been able to create an amazing creative space for our clients to come and work with us, be it from the bespoke design of our editorial suites or the high level of client service we offer.

How did you build 3P Studios to be different from other studios you’ve worked at?
From a personal perspective, the culture that we have been able to build in the studio is unlike anywhere else I have worked in that we genuinely work as a team and support each other. On the business side, we cater to clients of all sizes and budgets while offering uncompromising services and experience whether they be large or small. Making sure they walk away feeling that they have had great value and exemplary service for their budget means that they will end up being a customer of ours for life. This is the mantra that I have been able to grow the business on.

What is your hiring process like, and how do you protect employees who need to go out on maternity or family leave?
When I interview people to join 3P, attitude and willingness to learn is everything to me — hands down. You can be the most amazing operator on the planet, but if your attitude stinks then I’m really not interested. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the team that I have, and I have met them along the journey at exactly the right times. We have an amazing team culture and as the company grows our success is shared.

I always make it clear that it’s swings and roundabouts and that family is always number one. I am there to support my team if they need me to be, not just inside of work but outside as well and I receive the same support in return. We have flexible working hours, I have team members with young families who, at times, are able to work both in the studio and from home so that they can be there for their kids when they need to be. This flexibility works fine for us. Happy team members make for a happy, productive workplace, and I like to think that 3P is forward thinking in that respect.

Any tips for young women either breaking into the industry or in it that want to start a family but are scared it could cost them their job?
Well, for starters, we have laws in Australia that make it illegal for any woman in this country to be discriminated against for starting a family. 3P also supports the 18 weeks paid maternity leave available to women heading out to start a family. I would love to see more female workers in post production, especially in operator roles. We aren’t just going to be the coffee and tea girls, we are directors, VFX artists, sound designers, editors and cinematographers — the future is female!

Any tips for anyone starting a new business?
Work hard, be nice to people and stay humble because you’re only as good as your last job.

Main Image: Haley Stibbard (second from left) with her team.


Quick Chat: ATK PLN’s David Bates on alliance with Butcher Post

By Randi Altman

Creative group ATK PLN, which focuses on design, animation and live action, has partnered with LA-based editorial and post shop Butcher Post. ATK PLN will represent Butcher’s editors in the Texas market, and Butcher will represent ATK PLN’s editors in their markets. While ATK PLN is headquartered in Dallas, they have offices in LA and Montreal as well.

We reached out to ATK PLN managing director David Bates to find out more about the partnership.

ATK PLN has multiple offices. Is this partnership only with the Dallas facility? If so, why only Dallas and not across the board?
This is a strategic first step. Butcher hasn’t had representation in the Texas market, and this gave us a way to begin Phase 1 in a manageable way, while still making a big impact by bringing national talent into our Texas market.

The flip side is that we do have multiple brick and mortar offices that allow Butcher to have locations to work at as the need arises. ATK PLN is specifically representing Butcher in the Texas market, but operationally, our relationship goes much deeper than that.

Are the editors going to work in Texas or from where they are based? If remotely, what will that review and approval process look like?
One of the things we love the most about Butcher is their flexibility. We love that they can work on set, in a hotel suite or at a client’s office. They have already honed the skill of doing very high-quality work in whatever location they are called upon to do it. So much of the work that both Butcher and ATK PLN does is reviewed remotely.

The days of clients having the time to sit in a suite for hours or days on end to review work in progress are long gone. The key becomes setting clear expectations for both calendars and the content to be reviewed. We’re basically bringing the work to the client instead of asking them to come to us. We understand that agencies are continually asked to run leaner and meaner, and our aim is to be as supportive and as beneficial to them as possible. We’re mapping our workflow to their needs.

What systems does Butcher use?
They work on Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere, depending on the specific needs of the project. Both are easily portable.

Why was now the right time to partner, and why Butcher? There are many editorial houses out there.
So much of harnessing opportunity is just keeping your eyes open and being bold enough to leap when the opportunities present themselves. Our EP Jim Riche has had a long relationship with the team at Butcher and said, “David, you need to meet these guys.”

Our partnership began with a simple conversation… a discussion of how we think, and of what we do and how we do it. We discovered that our philosophies overlap, yet our skills are different enough to significantly extend the reach of the other. We had actually brought up the idea to other editorial houses in the past, but it was almost as if they couldn’t grasp the idea of being stronger together, while still retaining individuality. Butcher immediately understood the idea because they’re already in that mindset, and have been thinking in new strategic ways.

And conversely for Butcher, why partner with ATL PLN?
This partnership allows both companies to offer complete solutions without the long arduous process of building it from scratch. We allow Butcher to have three additional bases to operate from, as well as access to our young editorial talent. We provide them with representation in a significant market, and offer a level of design, animation, and general finishing that allows us to tackle potential work together and in a more strategic and efficient way.

What have they partnered on so far? Any projects to date? If so, what and how was the workflow on that?
We are at the very beginning of our relationship, and we’ve just begun the process of letting the marketplace know about it. Step one was to create awareness, letting the marketplace know that we are bringing something different to the table.

We have been approached by a Dallas agency for a project, but it never materialized. Butcher has successfully worked in two other markets with local agencies there. In one city, they had the editor set up in a hotel suite close to the client, in another they four-walled at a local edit company. In most cases the finishing, conform and color are all done at a facility local to the client. Here in Dallas, we offer all of the finishing needed, conform, Flame VFX, color and audio.


Quick Chat: Joyce Cox talks VFX and budgeting

Veteran VFX producer Joyce Cox has a long and impressive list of credits to her name. She got her start producing effects shots for Titanic and from there went on to produce VFX for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Dark Knight and Avatar, among many others. Along the way, Cox perfected her process for budgeting VFX for films and became a go-to resource for many major studios. She realized that the practice of budgeting VFX could be done more efficiently if there was a standardized way to track all of the moving parts in the life cycle of a project’s VFX costs.

With a background in the finance industry, combined with extensive VFX production experience, she decided to apply her process and best practices into developing a solution for other filmmakers. That has evolved into a new web-based app called Curó, which targets visual effects budgeting from script to screen. It will be debuting at Siggraph in Vancouver this month.

Ahead of the show we reached out to find out more about her VFX producer background and her path to becoming a the maker of a product designed to make other VFX pros’ lives easier.

You got your big break in visual effects working on the film Titanic. Did you know that it would become such an iconic landmark film for this business while you were in the throes of production?
I recall thinking the rough cut I saw in the early stage was something special, but had no idea it would be such a massive success.

Were there contacts made on that film that helped kickstart your career in visual effects?
Absolutely. It was my introduction into the visual effects community and offered me opportunities to learn the landscape of digital production and develop relationships with many talented, inventive people. Many of them I continued to work with throughout my career as a VFX producer.

Did you face any challenges as a woman working in below-the-line production in those early days of digital VFX?
It is a bit tricky. Visual effects is still a primarily male dominated arena, and it is a highly competitive environment. I think what helped me navigate the waters is my approach. My focus is always on what is best for the movie.

Was there anyone from those days that you would consider a professional mentor?
Yes. I credit Richard Hollander, a gifted VFX supervisor/producer with exposing me to the technology and methodologies of visual effects; how to conceptualize a VFX project and understand all the moving parts. I worked with Richard on several projects producing the visual effects within digital facilities. Those experiences served me well when I moved to working on the production side, navigating the balance between the creative agenda, the approved studio budgets and the facility resources available.

You’ve worked as a VFX producer on some of the most notable studio effects films of all time, including X-Men 2, The Dark Night, Avatar and The Jungle Book. Was there a secret to your success or are you just really good at landing top gigs?
I’d say my skills lie more in doing the work than finding the work. I believe I continued to be offered great opportunities because those I’d worked for before understood that I facilitated their goals of making a great movie. And that I remain calm while managing the natural conflicts that arise between creative desire and financial reality.

Describe what a VFX producer does exactly on a film, and what the biggest challenges are of the job.
This is a tough question. During pre-production, working with the director, VFX supervisor and other department heads, the VFX producer breaks down the movie into the digital assets, i.e., creatures, environments, matte paintings, etc., that need to be created, estimate how many visual effects shots are needed to achieve the creative goals as well as the VFX production crew required to support the project. Since no one knows exactly what will be needed until the movie is shot and edited, it is all theory.

During production, the VFX producer oversees the buildout of the communications, data management and digital production schedule that are critical to success. Also, during production the VFX producer is evaluating what is being shot and tries to forecast potential changes to the budget or schedule.

Starting in production and going through post, the focus is on getting the shots turned over to digital facilities to begin work. This is challenging in that creative or financial changes can delay moving forward with digital production, compressing the window of time within which to complete all the work for release. Once everything is turned over that focus switches to getting all the shots completed and delivered for the final assembly.

What film did you see that made you want to work in visual effects?
Truthfully, I did not have my sights set on visual effects. I’ve always had a keen interest in movies and wanted to produce them. It was really just a series of unplanned events, and I suppose my skills at managing highly complex processes drew me further into the world of visual effects.

Did having a background in finance help in any particular way when you transitioned into VFX?
Yes, before I entered into production, I spent a few years working in the finance industry. That experience has been quite helpful and perhaps is something that gave me a bit of a leg up in understanding the finances of filmmaking and the ability to keep track of highly volatile budgets.

You pulled out of active production in 2016 to focus on a new company, tell me about Curó.
Because of my background in finance and accounting, one of the first things I noticed when I began working in visual effects was, unlike production and post, the lack of any unified system for budgeting and managing the finances of the process.  So, I built an elaborate system of worksheets in Excel that I refined over the years. This design and process served as the basis for Curó’s development.

To this day the entire visual effects community manages the finances, which can be tens, if not hundreds, of millions in spend with spreadsheets. Add to that the fact that everyone’s document designs are different, which makes the job of collaborating, interpreting and managing facility bids unwieldy to say the least.

Why do you think the industry needs Curó, and why is now the right time? 
Visual effects is the fastest growing segment of the film industry, demonstrated in the screen credits of VFX-heavy films. The majority of studio projects are these tent-pole films, which heavily use visual effects. The volatility of visual effects finances can be managed more efficiently with Curó and the language of VFX financial management across the industry would benefit greatly from a unified system.

Who’s been beta testing Curó, and what’s in store for the future, after its Siggraph debut?
We’ve had a variety of beta users over the past year. In addition to Sony and Netflix a number of freelance VFX producers and supervisors as well as VFX facilities have beta access.

The first phase of the Curó release focuses on the VFX producers and studio VFX departments, providing tools for initial breakdown and budgeting of digital and overhead production costs. After Siggraph we will be continuing our development, focusing on vendor bid packaging, bid comparison tools and management of a locked budget throughout production and post, including the accounting reports, change orders, etc.

We are also talking with visual effects facilities about developing a separate but connected module for their internal granular bidding of human and technical resources.

 

Quick Chat: Freefolk colorist Paul Harrison

By Randi Altman

Freefolk, which opened in New York City in October 2017, was founded in London in 2003 by Flame artist Jason Watts and VFX artist Justine White. Originally called Finish, they rebranded to Freefolk with the opening of their NYC operation. Freefolk is an independent post house that offers high-end visual effects, color grading and CG for commercials, film and TV.

We reached out to global head of color grading Paul Harrison to find out his path to color and the way he likes to work.

What are your favorite types of jobs to work on and why?
I like to work on a mix of projects and not be pigeonholed as a particular type of colorist. Commercials are my main work, but I also work on music videos and the odd feature or longform piece. Each form has its own creative challenges, and I enjoy all disciplines.

What is your tool of choice, and why?
I use the FilmLight Baselight color system because it’s extremely versatile and will cope with any file format one cares to mention. On so many levels it allows a colorist to get on with the job at hand and not be bogged down by the kit’s limitations. The toolset is extensive and it doesn’t put boundaries in the way of creativity, like other systems I’ve used.

Are you often asked to do more than just color?
These days, because of the power of the systems we use, the lines are blurring between color and VFX. On most jobs I do things that used to be the realm of the VFX room. Things like softening skin tones, putting in skies or restoring elements of the image that need to be treated differently from the rest of the image.

Traditionally, this was done in the VFX room, now we do it as part of the grade. When there’s more difficult or time-consuming fixes required, the VFX artists will do that work.

How did you become a colorist? What led you down this path?
I started as a runner at the Mill in London. I had always had a keen interest in photography/art and film so this was the natural place for me to go. I was captivated by the mystery of the telecine suite; they looked hideously complex to operate. It was a mix of mechanical machinery, computers, film and various mixers and oscilloscopes, and it spoke to my technical, “How does this work” side of my brain, and the creative, photography/art side too.

Making all the various bits of equipment that comprised a suite then work together and talk to each other was a feat in itself.

Do you have a background in photography or fine art?
I’ve been a keen photographer for years, both on land and underwater. I’ve not done it professionally; it’s just grown through the influence of my work and interests.

In addition to your photography, where do you find inspiration? Museums? Films? A long walk?
I find inspiration from lots of different places — from hiking up mountains to diving in the oceans observing and photographing the creatures that live there. Or going for a walk in all weathers, and at all times of the year.

Art and photography are passions of mine, and seeing the world through the eyes of a talented photographer or artist, absorbing those influences, makes me constantly reassess my own work and what I’m doing in the color room. Colorists sometimes talk about learning to “see.” I think we take notice of things that others pass by. We notice what the “light” is doing and how it changes our environment.

If you had three things to share with a client before a project begins, what would that be?
Before a project begins? That’s a tough question. All I could share would be my vision of the look of the film, any reference that I had to show to illustrate my ideas. Maybe talking about any new or interesting cameras or lenses I’ve seen lately.

How do you prefer getting direction? Photos? Examples from films/TV?
Photos are always good at getting the message across. They describe a scene in a way words can’t. I’m a visual person, so that’s the preferred way for me. Also, a conversation imparts a feeling for the film, obviously that is more open to interpretation.

Do you often work directly with the DP?
DPs seem to be a rarer sight these days. It’s great when one has a good relationship with a DP and there’s that mutual trust in each other.

Is there a part of your job that people might not realize you do? Something extra and special that is sort of below the line?
Yes. Fixing things that no one knows are broken, whether it’s sorting out dodgy exposures/camera faults or fixing technical problems with the material. Colorists and their assistants make the job run smoothly and quietly in the background, outside of the color room.

What project are you most proud of?
Certain jobs stand out to me for different reasons. I still love the look of 35mm, and those jobs will always be favorites. But I guess it’s the jobs that I’ve had the complete creative freedom on like the Stella, Levi’s and Guinness commercials, or some of the music videos like Miike Snow. To be honest I don’t really have a top project.

Can you name some projects that you’ve worked on recently?
Since moving over to NYC recently, I’ve worked on some projects that I knew of before, and some I had no idea existed. Like a Swiffer — I had no idea what that was before working in NYC. But I’ve also graded projects for Cadillac, Bud Light, New York Yankees, Lays, State Farm and Macy’s, to name a few.