Category Archives: Quick Chat

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.

DG 7.9.18

Quick Chat: Maxon focuses on highlighting women in mograph

By Randi Altman

Maxon is well known for having hands-on artists as presenters at their trade show booths. Highlighting these artists and their work — and streaming their presentations — has been intrinsic in what they do. Sometimes they also have artists on hand at press luncheons, where Maxon talks about their Cinema 4D product and advances that have been made while at the same time highlighting users’ work.

This year’s conversation was a bit different in that it featured an all-woman panel of motion graphics artists, including moderator Tuesday McGowan, Penelope Nederlander, Julia Siemón, Caitlin Cadieux, Robyn Haddow and Sarah Wickliffe. They talked about their career experiences, the everyday challenges women face to achieve recognition and gender parity in a male-dominated work environment and strategies women can use to advance their careers.

During the panel (which you can watch here), McGowan talked about how motion graphics, in general, is very young, and how she believes there will be a coming evolution of diversity, and not just women. “I think it will happen through awareness and panel discussions like this one that will actually increase the visibility and get the word out — to influence Generation Z, the next generation of women and people of color to get involved,” says Tuesday. “We think that the young women of Generation Z, who are more familiar and very confident with technology, will branch out and become great 3D artists.”

Paul Babb

We reached out to Maxon US president/CEO Paul Babb to find out about why promoting women in motion graphics is a cause he has dug into wholeheartedly.

How did the idea for a panel like this come about?
During one of the trade shows, we got beat up a little on one of the public forums for not having enough female artists presenting. At first I was angry because in the first place I think we had more female presenters than any other company at the show, and we have historically been sensitive to it.

Then I thought about it and realized we are one of the few companies streaming our presentations. So people who do not attend shows have no idea. So I decided we had to be more proactive about it and tried to come up with some ideas to encourage more women to come out to the shows. The idea of the panel seemed to be a great starting point — what better way to find out what would encourage women in the industry than to give successful women an opportunity to discuss it and share their insights?

Did the panel turn out the way you hoped?
Absolutely. Really, all I had hoped for was to contribute to a conversation that has already started. I wanted to give some great female artists a forum to share their experiences and hopefully encourage a new generation of female artists.

The conversation was great — candid, constructive and informative.

The panel generated frank conversation about the gender gap in 3D motion graphics. Topics examined included negotiating wages, mansplaining and being “talked-over,” the importance of flexible work time for women raising families, the need for women to seek out industry mentorship and tips for industry leaders to make workplace life inclusive to women.

What were a few takeaways from the panel?
I wasn’t surprised by any of the comments — good and bad. The biggest takeaway is that we have to find ways of encouraging more women in the industry, and encourage those in the industry to be more vocal.

What are the challenges they face and what do you think needs to change in the industry in general?
Other than the usual issues of a male-dominated society, the one thing that struck me is how women need to be more empowered — to toot their own horn, to recognize they are an expert and to stand up and be heard.

Maxon announced sponsorship of a new Women in Motion Graphics website. Tell us about the site offerings. Do you expect to continue to promote female graphic artists?
The Women in Motion Graphics website is intended as a resource to help women get ahead in the industry and to promote industry role models. It includes the video of the panel we organized at NAB 2018 featuring successful female artists, each working in different areas of the motion graphics business, addressing their struggles in the workplace. The artists who were on the panel share their insights into the motion graphics industry, its influencers and best practices for artists to achieve recognition. There is also a page with links to motion graphics education and training resources.

We will continue to sponsor the site and allow the women involved to drive its growth and evolution. In addition, we will continue to make great effort to get more women to come present for us at industry events, focus on doing customer profiles that feature women artists as well as sponsor scholarships and events that promote women in the industry.


Quick Chat: FOM’s Adam Espinoza on DirecTV graphics campaign

By Randi Altman

Denver-based creative brand firm Friends of Mine (FOM) recently completed a graphics package for DirecTV Latin America that they had been working on for almost a year. The campaign, which first aired at the start of the 2017/2018 soccer season in August, has been airing on DirecTV’s Latin American network since then.

In addition to providing the graphics packages that ran on DirecTV Sports throughout the European Football League seasons (in Spain, England and France), FOM is currently creating graphics that will promote the World Cup games, set to take place between June 14 and July 15 in Russia.

Adam Espinoza

We reached out to FOM’s co-founder and creative director, Adam Espinoza, to find out more.

How early did you get involved in the piece? How much input did you have?
We were invited to the RFP process two months before the season started. We fully developed the look and concept from their written creative brief and objectives. We had complete input on the direction and execution.

What was it the client wanted to accomplish, and what did you suggest? 
The client wanted to convey the excitement of soccer throughout the season. There were two objectives: highlight the exclusive benefits of DirectTV for its subscribers while at the same time showing footage of goals and celebrations from the best players and teams in the world. We suggested the idea of intersections and digital energy.

Why did you think the visuals you created told the story the client needed? 
The digital energy graphics created a kinetic movement inherent in the sport while connecting the players around the league. The intersections concept helped to integrate the world of soccer seamlessly with DirecTV’s message.

What exactly did you provide services-wise on the piece? 
Conceptual design, art direction, 2D and 3D animation and video editing
.

What gear/tools did you use for each of those services? 
Our secret sauce along with Cinema 4D, Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects and Adobe Illustrator.

What was the most challenging part of the process?
Evolving the look from month to month throughout the season and building to the climatic finals, while still staying true to the original concept.

What’s was your favorite part of the process?
Being able to fine tune a concept over such a stretch of time.


DigitalFilm Tree’s Ramy Katrib talks trends and keynoting BMD conference

By Randi Altman

Blackmagic, which makes tools for all parts of the production and post workflow, is holding its very first Blackmagic Design Conference and Expo, produced with FMC and NAB Show. This three-day event takes place on February 11-13 in Los Angeles. The event includes a paid conference featuring over 35 sessions, as well as a free expo on February 12, which includes special guests, speakers and production and post companies.

Ramy Katrib, founder and CEO of Hollywood-based post house and software development company DigitalFilm Tree, is the keynote speaker for the conference. FotoKem DI colorist Walter Volpatto and color scientist Joseph Slomka will be keynoting the free expo on the 12th.

We reached out to Katrib to find out what he’ll be focusing on in his keynote, as well as pick his brains about technology and trends.

Can you talk about the theme of your keynote?
Resolve has grown mightily over the past few years, and is the foundation of DigitalFilm Tree’s post finishing efforts. I’ll discuss the how Resolve is becoming an essential post tool. And with Resolve 14, folks who are coloring, editing, conforming and doing VFX and audio work are now collaborating on the same timeline, and that is huge development for TV, film and every media industry creative and technician.

Why was it important for you to keynote this event?
DaVinci was part of my life when I was a colorist 25 years ago, and today BMD is relevant to me while I run my own post company, DigitalFilm Tree. On a personal note, I’ve known Grant Petty since 1999 and work with many folks at BMD who develop Resolve and the hardware products we use, like I/O cards and Teranex converters. This relationship involves us sharing our post production pain points and workflow suggestions, while BMD has provided very relevant software and hardware solutions.

Can you give us a sample of something you might talk about?
I’m looking forward to providing an overview of how Resolve is now part of our color, VFX, editorial, conform and deliverables effort, while having artists provide micro demos on stage.

You alluded to the addition of collaboration in Resolve. How important is this for users?
Resolve 14’s new collaboration tools are a huge development for the post industry, specifically in this golden age of TV where binge delivery of multiple episodes at the same time is common place. As the complexity of production and post increases, greater collaboration across multiple disciplines is a refreshing turn — it allows multiple artists and technicians to work in one timeline instead of 10 timelines and round tripping across multiple applications.

Blackmagic has ramped up their NLE offerings with Resolve 14. Do you see more and more editors embracing this tool for editing?
Absolutely. It always takes a little time to ramp up in professional communities. It reminds me of when the editors on Scrubs used Final Cut Pro for the first time and that ushered FCP into the TV arena. We’re already working with scripted TV editors who are in the process of transitioning to Resolve. Also, DigitalFilm Tree’s editors are now using Resolve for creative editing.

What about the Fairlight audio offerings within? Will you guys take advantage of that in any way? Do you see others embracing it?
For simple audio work like mapping audio tracks, creating multi mixes for 5.1 and 7.1 delivery and mapping various audio tracks, we are talking advantage of Fairlight and audio functionality within Resolve. We’re not an audio house, yet it’s great to have a tool like this for convenience and workflow efficiency.

What trends did you see in 2017 and where do you think things will land in 2018?
Last year was about the acceptance of cloud-based production and post process. This year is about the wider use of cloud-based production and post process. In short, what used to be file-based workflows will give way to cloud-based solutions and products.

postPerspective readers can get $50 off of Registration for the Blackmagic Design Conference & Expo by using Code: POST18. Click here to register


Quick Chat: Ntropic CD, NIM co-founder Andrew Sinagra

Some of the most efficient tools being used by pros today were created by their peers, those working in real-world post environments who develop workflows in-house. Many are robust enough to share with the world. One such tool is NIM, a browser-based studio management app for post houses that tracks a production pipeline from start to finish.

Andrew Sinagra, co-founder of NIM Labs and creative director of Ntropic, a creative studio that provides VFX, design, color and live action, was kind enough to answer some trends questions relating to tight turnarounds in post and visual effects.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing post and VFX studios in the coming year?
It’s an interesting time for VFX, in general. The post-Netflix era has ushered in a whole new range of opportunities, but the demands have shifted. We’re seeing quality expectations for television soar, but schedules and budgets have remained the same — or have tightened.

The challenges that will face post production studios will be to continue to create quality and competitive work while also working with faster turnarounds and ever-fluctuating budgets. It seems like an impossible problem, but thankfully tools, technology and talent continue to improve and deliver better results at a fraction of the time. By investing in those three Ts, the forward-thinking studios can balance expectation with necessary cost.

What have you found to be the typical pain points for studios with regards to project management in the past? What are the main complaints you hear time and time again?
Throughout my career I have met with many industry pros, from on-the-box artists and creative directors through to heads of production and studio owners. They have all shared their trials and tribulations – as well as their methods for staying ahead of the curve. The common pain point question is always the same: “How can I get a clearer view of my studio operations on a daily basis from resource utilization through running actuals?” It’s a growing concern. Managing budgets has been a major pain point for studios. Most just want a better way to visualize and gain back some control over what’s being spent and where. It’s all about the need for efficiency and clarity of vision on a project.

Is business intelligence very important to post studios at this point? Do you see it as an emerging trend over 2018?
Yes, absolutely. Studios need to know what’s going on, on any project, at a moment’s notice. They need to know if it will be affected by endless change orders, or if they’re consistently underbidding on a specific discipline, or if they’re marking something up that is actually affecting their overall margins. These can be the kind of statistics and influences that can impact the bottom line, but the problem is they are incredibly difficult to pull out from an ocean of numbers on a spreadsheet.

Studios that invest in business intelligence, and can see such issues immediately quantified, will be capable of performing at a much higher efficiency level than those that do not. The status quo of comparing spreadsheets and juggling emails works to an extent, but it’s very difficult to pull analysis out of that. Studios instead need solutions that can help them to better visualize their approach from the inside out. It enables stakeholders to make decisions going by their brain, rather than their gut. I can’t imagine any studio heading into 2018 will want to brave the turbulent seas without having that kind of business intelligence on their side.

What are the limitations with today’s approaches to bidding and the time and materials model? What changes do you see around financial modeling in VFX in the coming years?
The time and materials model seems largely dead, and has been for quite some time.  I have seen a few studios still working with the time and materials model in regards to specific clients, but as a whole I find studios working to flat bids with explicitly clear statements of work. The burden is then on the studio to stay within their limits and find creative solutions to the project challenges. This puts extra stress on producers to fully understand the financial ramifications of decisions made on a day-to-day basis. Will slipping in a client request push the budget when we don’t have the margin to spare? How can I reallocate my crew to be more efficient? Can we reorganize the project so that waiting for client feedback doesn’t stop us dead in the water. These are just a few of the questions that, when answered, can squeeze out that extra 10% to get the job done.

Additionally, having the right information arms the studio with the right ammunition to approach the client for overages when the time comes. Having all the information at your fingertips to the extent of time that has been spent on a project and what any requested changes would require allows studios the opportunity to educate their clients. And educating clients is a big part of being profitable.

What will studios need to do in 2018 to ensure continued success? What advice would you give them at this stage?
Other than business intelligence, staying ahead of the curve in today’s environment will also mean staying flexible, scalable and nimble. Nimbleness is perhaps the most important of the three — studios need to have this attribute to work in the ever-changing world of post production. It is rare that projects reach the finish line with the deliveries matching exactly what was outlined in the initial bid. Studios must be able to respond to the inevitable requested changes even in the middle of production. That means being able to make informed decisions that meet the client’s expectations, while also remaining within the scope of the budget. That can mean the difference between a failed project and a triumphant delivery.

Basically, my advice is this: Going into 2018, ask yourself, “Are you using your resources to your maximum potential, or are you leaving man hours on the table?” Take a close look at everything your doing and ensure you’re not pouring budget into areas it’s simply not needed. With so many moving pieces in production it’s imperative to understand at a glance where your efforts are being placed and how you can better use your artists.


Ten Questions: SpeedMedia’s Kenny Francis

SpeedMedia is a bicoastal post studio whose headquarters are in Venice Beach, California. They offer editorial, color grading, finishing, mastering, closed captions/subtitles, encoding and distribution. This independently-owned facility, which has 15 full-time employees, turns 10 this month.

We recently asked a few questions of Kenny Francis, president of the company in an effort to find out how he has not only survived in a tough business but thrived over the years.

WHAT DOES MAKING IT 10 YEARS IN THIS INDUSTRY MEAN?
This industry has a high turnover rate. We have been able to maintain a solid brand and studio relationships, building our own brand equity in the process. At the time we started the company high-def television content was new to the marketplace; there were only a handful of vendors that had updated to that technology and could cater to this larger file size. Most existing vendors were using antiquated machines and methodology to distribute HD, causing major bottlenecks at the station level. We built the company in anticipation of this new trend, which allowed us to properly manage our clients post production and distribution needs.

HOW HAS THE POST PIPELINE CHANGED IN A DECADE?
Now everything is needed “immediately.” Lightning fast is now the new norm. Ten years ago there was a decent amount of time in production schedules for editing, spot tagging, trafficking, clearance, every part of the post process… these days everything is expected to happen now. There’s been a huge sense of time compression because the exception has now become the rule.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN THE FUTURE?
Staying relevant as a company and trying to evolve with the times and our clients’ needs. What worked 10 years ago creatively or productively doesn’t hold the same weight today. We’re living in an age of online and guerrilla marketing campaigns where advertising has already become wildly diversified, so staying relevant is key. To be successful, we’ve had to anticipate these trends and stay nimble enough to reconfigure our equipment to cater to them. We were early adopters of 3D content, and now we are gearing up for UHD finishing and distribution.

WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR COMPANY AND THE INDUSTRY?
We’re constantly accruing new business, so we’re looking forward to building onto our list of accounts. As a new technology launches, emerging companies compete, one acquires them all and becomes a monopoly, and then the cycle repeats itself. We have been through a few of these cycles, but plan to see many more in the years ahead.

HOW DID YOU ESTABLISH THAT FOUNDATION?
Well, aside from just building a business, it’s been about building a home for our team — giving them a platform to grow. Our employees are family. My uncle used to tell me, “If you concentrate on building a business and not the person, you will not achieve, but if you concentrate on building the person, you achieve both.” SpeedMedia has been focused on building that kind of team — we pride ourselves on supporting one another.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SPACE AT SPEEDMEDIA STUDIO?
As comfy as possible. We’ve been in the same place for 10 years — a block away from those iconic Venice letters. It’s a great place to be, and why we’ve never left. It’s a home away from home for our employees, so we’ve got big couches, a kitchen, televisions and even our own bar for the monthly company mixers.

Stop by and you’ll see a little bit of Matrix code scrolling down some of the walls, as this historic building was actually Joel Silver’s production office back in the day. If these walls could talk…

HOW HAS VENICE CHANGED SINCE YOU OPENED?
Venice is a living and breathing city, now more than ever. Despite Silicon Beach moving into the area and putting a serious premium on real estate, we’re staying put. It would have been cheaper to move inland, but then that’s all it would have been — an office, not a second home. We’d lose some of our identity for sure.

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR CLIENTS?
It all started with Burger King. I have a long-standing relationship with the company since my days back at Amoeba, a Santa Monica-based advertising agency. I held a number of positions there and learned the business inside and out. The experience and relationships cultivated there helped me bring Burger King in as an anchor account to help launch SpeedMedia back in 2007. We now work with a wide variety of brands, from Adidas to Old Navy to Expedia to Jaguar Land Rover.

WHAT’S IT LIKE RUNNING A BICOASTAL BUSINESS?
In our business, it’s important to have a presence on both coasts. We have some great clients in NYC, and it’s nice to actually be local for them. Styles of business on the east coast are a bit different than in LA. It actually used to make more sense back in the tape-based workflow days for national logistics. We had a realtime exchange between coasts, creating physical handoffs.

Now we’re basically hard-lined together, operators in Soho working remotely with Venice Beach and vice-versa, sharing assets and equipment and collaborating 24-hours a day. This is all possible thanks to our proprietary order management software system, Matrix. This system allows SpeedMedia the ability to seamlessly integrate with every digital distribution network globally via API tap-ins with our various technology partners.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW IT WAS TIME TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
Well, we were at the end of one of these cycles in the marketplace and many of our brand relationships did not want to go along with the monopoly that was forming. That’s when we created SpeedMedia. We listened to our clients and made sure they had a logical and reliable alternative in the marketplace for post, distribution and asset management. And here we are 10 years later.


Quick Chat: Lucky Post’s Sai Selvarajan on editing Don’t Fear The Fin

Costa, makers of polarized sunglasses, has teamed up with Ocearch, a group of explorers and scientists dedicated to generating data on the movement, biology and health of sharks, in order to educate people on how saving the sharks will save our oceans. In a 2.5-minute video, three shark attack survivors — Mike Coots, Paul de Gelder, and Lisa Mondy — explain why they are now on a quest to help save the very thing that attacked them, took their limbs and almost their lives.

The video edited by Lucky Post’s Sai Selvarajan for agency McGarrah Jessee and Rabbit Food Studios, tells the viewer that the number of sharks killed by long-lining, illegal fishing and the shark finning trade exceeds human shark attacks by millions. And as go the sharks, so go our oceans.

For editor Selvarajan, the goal was to strike a balance with the intimate stories and the global message, from striking footage filmed in Hawaii’s surf mecca, the North Shore. “Stories inside stories,” describes Selvarajan, who reveres the subjects’ dedication to saving the misunderstood creatures, despite having their life-changing encounters.

We spoke with the Texas-based editor to find out more about this project.

How early on did you become involved in the project?
I got a call when the project was greenlit and Jeff Bednarz the creative head at Rabbit Foot walked me through the concept. He wanted to showcase the whole teamwork aspect of Costa, Ocearch and shark survivors all coming together and using their skills to save sharks.

Did working on Don’t Fear The Fin change your perception of sharks?
Yes it did.  Before working on the project I had no idea that sharks were in trouble. After working on Don’t Fear the Fin, I’m totally for shark conservation, and I admire anyone who is out there fighting for the species.

What equipment did you use for the edit?
Adobe Premiere on Mac Tower.

What were the biggest creative challenges?
The biggest creative challenge was how to tell the shark survivors’ stories and then the shark’s story, and then Ocearch/Costa’s mission story. It was stories inside stories, which made it very dense and challenging to cut into a three-minute story. I had to do justice to all the stories and weave them into each other. The footage was gorgeous, but there had to be a sense of gravity to it all, so I used pacing and score to give us that gravity.

What do you think of the fact that sharks are not shown much in the film?
We made a conscious effort to show sharks and people in the same shot. The biggest misconception is that sharks are these big man-eating monsters. Seeing people diving with the sharks tied them to our story and the mission of the project.

What’s your biggest fear, and how would/can you overcome it?
Snakes are my biggest fear. I’m not sure how I’ll ever overcome it. I respect snakes and keep a safe distance. Living in Texas, I’ve read up on which ones are poisonous, so I know which ones to stay away from. But if I came across a rat snake in the wild, I’m sure to jump 20 feet in the air.

Check out the full video below…

 


Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

Veteran Armenian artist Mihran Stepanyan has an interesting background. In addition to being a filmmaker and cinematographer, he is also a colorist and visual effects artist. In fact, he won the 2017 Flame Award, which was presented to him during NAB in April.

Let’s find out how his path led to this interesting mix of expertise.

Tell us about your background in VFX.
I studied feature film directing in Armenia from 1997 through 2002. During the process, I also became very interested in being a director of photography. As a self-taught DP, I was shooting all my work, as well as films produced by my classmates and colleagues. This was great experience. Nearly 10 years ago, I started to study VFX because I had some projects that I wanted to do myself. I’ve fallen in love with that world. Some years ago, I started to work in Moscow as a DP and VFX artist for a Comedy Club Production special project. Today, I not only work as a VFX artist but also as a director and cinematographer.

How do your experiences as a VFX artist inform your decisions as a director and cinematographer?
They are closely connected. As a director, you imagine something that you want to see in the end, and you can realize that because you know what you can achieve in production and post. And, as a cinematographer, you know that if problems arise during the shoot, you can correct them in VFX and post. Experience in cinematography also complements VFX artistry, because your understanding of the physics of light and optics helps you create more realistic visuals.

What do you love most about your job?
The infinity of mind, fantasy and feelings. Also, I love how creative teams work. When a project starts, it’s fun to see how the different team members interact with one another and approach various challenges, ultimately coming together to complete the job. The result of that collective team work is interesting as well.

Tell us about some recent projects you’ve worked on.
I’ve worked on Half Moon Bay, If Only Everyone, Carpenter Expecting a Son and Doktor. I also recently worked on a tutorial for FXPHD that’s different from anything I’ve ever done before. It is not only the work of an Autodesk Flame artist or a lecturer, but also gave me a chance to practice English, as my first language is Armenian.

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

Where do you get your inspiration?
First, nature. There nothing more perfect to me. And, I’m picturalist, so for various projects I can find inspiration in any kind of art, from cave paintings to pictorial art and music. I’m also inspired by other artists’ work, which helps me stay tuned with the latest VFX developments.

If you had to choose the project that you’re most proud of in your career, what would it be, and why?
I think every artist’s favorite project is his/her last project, or the one he/she is working on right now. Their emotions, feelings and ideas are very fresh and close at the moment. There are always some projects that will stand out more than others. For me, it’s the film Half Moon Bay. I was the DP, post production supervisor and senior VFX artist for the project.

What is your typical end-to-end workflow for a project?
It differs on each project. In some projects, I do everything from story writing to directing and digital immediate (DI) finishing. For some projects, I only do editing or color grading.

How did you come to learn Flame?
During my work in Moscow, nearly five years ago, I had the chance to get a closer look at Flame and work on it. I’m a self-taught Flame artist, and since I started using the product it’s become my favorite. Now, I’m back in Armenia working on some feature films and upcoming commercials. I am also a member of Flame and Autodesk Maya Beta testing groups.

How did you teach yourself Flame? What resources did you use?
When I started to learn Flame, there weren’t as many resources and tutorials as we have now. It was really difficult to find training documentation online. In some cases, I got information from YouTube, NAB or IBC presentations. I learned mostly by experimentation, and a lot of trial and error. I continue to learn and experiment with Flame every time I work.

Any tips for using the product?
As for tips, “knowing” the software is not about understanding the tools or shortcuts, but what you can do with your imagination. You should always experiment to find the shortest and easiest way to get the end result. Also, imagine how you can construct your schematic without using unnecessary nods and tools ahead of time. Exploring Flame is like mixing the colors on the palette in painting to get the perfect tone. In the same way, you must imagine what tools you can “mix” together to get the result you want.

Any advice for other artists?
I would advise that you not be afraid of any task or goals, nor fear change. That will make you a more flexible artist who can adapt to every project you work on.

What’s next for you?
I don’t really know what’s next, but I am sure that it is a new beginning for me, and I am very interested where this all takes me tomorrow.

Quick Chat: Endcrawl now supports 4K

By Randi Altman

Endcrawl, a web-based end credits service, is now supporting 4K. This rollout comes on the heels of an extensive testing period — Endcrawl ran 37 different 4K pilot projects on movies for Netflix, Sony and Filmnation.

Along with 4K support comes new pricing. All projects still start on a free-forever tier with 1K preview renders, and users can upgrade to 4K for $999 or 2K for $499.

We reached out to Endcrawl co-founder John “Pliny” Eremic to find out more about the upgrade to 4K.

You are now offering unlimited 4K renders in the cloud. Why was that an important thing to include in Endcrawl, and what does that mean for users?
We’ve seen a sharp rise in the demand for 4K and UHD finishes over the past 18 months. Some of this is driven by studios, like Netflix and Sony, but there’s plenty of call for 4K on the indie and short-form side as well.

Why cloud rendering?
Speed is a big reason. 4K renders usually turn around in less than an hour. 2K renders in half that time. You’d need a beefy rig to match that performance. Convenience is another reason. Offloading renders to the cloud eliminates a huge bottleneck. If you need that late-night clutch render it’s just a few clicks away. Your workflow isn’t tied to a single workstation somewhere… or to business hours.

That’s why we decided to make Endcrawl 100% cloud-based from day one. And, yes, I’d say that using SaaS tools in production is more or less completely normalized in 2017.

Endcrawl’s UI

Are renders really unlimited?
Yes, they are. Unlimited preview renders on the free tier. Unlimited 2K or 4K uncompressed for upgraded projects. We do reserve the right to cut off a project if someone is behaving abusively or just spamming the render engine for kicks.

Have you ever had to do that?
After more than 1,000 projects, this has come up exactly zero times.

Can you mention some films Endcrawl has been used on?
Moonlight, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Oliver Stone’s Snowden, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, Pride Prejudice & Zombies and Dirty Grandpa, and about 1,000 others.

What else should people know?
– It’s still really fast. 4K renders turn around in about an hour. That’s 60 minutes from clicking “render” until you (or your post house) see a download link to fresh, zipped DPX frames. I cannot overstate how much this comes in handy.
– File sizes are small. Even though a five-minute 4K sequence weighs in at around 250GB, those same frames zip up to just 2.2GB. That’s a compression ratio of more than 100:1. On a fast pipe, you’ll download that in minutes.
– All projects are 4K under the hood now. Even if you’re on a 1K or 2K tier, our engine initially typesets and rasterizes all renders in 4K.
– 4K is still tough on the desktop. Some applications start to run out of memory even on lengthy 2K credits sequences — to say nothing of 4K. Endcrawl eliminates those worries and adds collaboration, live preview and that speedy cloud render engine.