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Category Archives: Quick Chat

Quick Chat: Bonfire Labs’ Mary Mathaisell

Over the course of nearly 30 years, San Francisco’s Bonfire Labs has embraced change. Over the years, the company evolved from an editorial and post house to a design and creative content studio that leverages the best aspects of the agency and production company models without adhering to either one.

This hybrid model has worked well for product launches for Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Logitech and many others.

The latest change is in the company’s ownership, with the last of the original founders stepping down and a new management partnership taking over — led by executive producer Mary Mathaisell, managing director Jim Bartel and head of strategy and creative Chris Weldon.

We spoke with Mathaisell to get a better sense of Bonfire Labs’ past, present and future.

Can you give us some history of Bonfire Labs? When did you join the company? How/why did you first get into producing?
I’ve been with Bonfire Labs for seven years. I started here as head of production. After being at several large digital agencies working on campaigns and content for brands like Target, Gap, LG and PayPal, I wanted to build something more sustainable than just another campaign and was thrilled that Bonfire was interested in growing into a full-service creative company with integrated production.

Prior to working at AKQA and Publicis, I worked in VFX and production as well as design for products and interfaces, but my primary focus and love has always been commercial production.

The studio has evolved from a traditional post studio to creative strategy and content company. What were the factors that drove those changes?
Bonfire Labs has always been smart about staying small and strategic about the kind of work and clients to focus on. We have been able to change based on both the kind of work we want to be doing and what the market needs. With a giant need for content, especially video content, we have decided to staff and service clients as experts across all the phases of creative development and production and finishing. Instead of going to an agency and a production company and post houses, our clients can work directly with us on everything from concept to finishing.

Silicon Valley is clearly a big client base for you. What are they generally coming to you for? Are the content needs in high tech different from other business sectors?
Our clients usually have a new product, feature or brand that they want the world to know about. We work on product launches, brand awareness campaigns, product education, event content and social content. Most of our work is for technology companies, but every company these days has a technology component. I would say that speed to market is one key differentiator for our clients. We are often building stories as we are in production, so we get a lot done with our clients through creative collaboration and by not following the traditional rules of an agency or a production company.

Any specific trends that you’re seeing recently from your clients? New areas that Bonfire is looking to explore, either new markets for your talents or technology you’re looking to explore further?
Rapid brand prototyping is a new service we are offering to much excitement. Because we have experience across so many technology brands and work closely with our clients, we can develop a language and brand voice faster than most traditional agencies. Technology brands are evolving so quickly that we often start working on content creation before a brand has defined itself or transitioned to its next phase. Rapid brand prototyping allows brands to test content and grow the brand simultaneously.

Blade Shadow

Can you talk about some projects that you have done recently that challenged you and the team?
We rolled out a launch film for a new start-up client called Blade Shadow. We are working with Salesforce to develop trailblazer stories and anthem films for its .org branch, which focuses on NGOs, education and philanthropy.

The company is undergoing a transition with some of the original partners. Can you talk about that a bit as well?
The original founders have passed the torch to the group of people who have been managing and producing the work over the past five to 15 years. We have six new owners, three managing partners and three associate partners. Jim Bartel is the managing director; Chris Weldon is the head of strategy and creative, and I’m the executive producer in charge of content development and production. The three of us make up the management team.

The three of us make up the management team. Sheila Smith (head of production) Robbie Proctor (head of editorial) and Phil Spitler (creative technology lead) are associate partners as they contribute to and lead so much of our work and process and have been part of the company for over 10 years each.

 

Quick Chat: Robert Ryang on editing Netflix’s Zion doc

Back in May, Cut+Run’s Robert Ryang took home a Sports Emmy in the Outstanding Editing category for the short film Zion. The documentary, which premiered at Sundance and was released on Netflix, tells the story of Zion Clark, a young man who was born without legs, grew up in foster care and found community and hope in wrestling.

Robert Ryang and his Emmy for his work on Zion.

Clark began wrestling in second grade against his able-bodied peers. The physical challenge became a therapeutic outlet and gave him a sense of family. Moving from foster home to foster home, wrestling became the one constant in his childhood.

Editor Ryang and Zion’s director, Floyd Russ, had worked together previously — on the Ad Council’s Fans of Love and SK-II’s Marriage Market Takeover, among other projects — and developed a creative shorthand that helped tell this compelling, feel-good story.

We spoke with Ryang about the film, his process and working with the director

How and when did you become involved in this project?
In the spring of 2017, my good friend director Floyd Russ asked me to edit his passion project. Initially, I was hesitant, since it was just after the birth of my second child. Two years later, both the film and my kid have turned out great.

You’ve worked him before. What defines the way you work together?
I think Floyd and I work really well together because we’re such good friends; we don’t have to be polite. He’ll text me ideas any time of day, and I feel comfortable enough to tell him if I don’t like something. He wins most of the fights, but I think this dialectic probably makes the work better.

How did you approach the edit on the film? How did you hone the story structure?
At first, Floyd had a basic outline that I followed just to get something on the timeline. But from there, it was a pretty intense process of shuffling and reshaping. At one point, we tried to map the beats onto a whiteboard, and it looked like a Richter scale. Editor Adam Bazadona helped cut some of these iterations while I was on paternity leave.

How does working on a short film like this differ — hats worn, people involved, etc. — from advertising projects?
The editing process was a lot different from most commercial projects in that it was only Floyd and me in the room. Friends floated a few thoughts here and there, but we were only working toward a director’s cut.

What tools did you use?
Avid Media Composer for editing, some Adobe After Effects for rough comps.

What are the biggest creative and technical challenges you faced in the process?
With docs, there are usually infinite ways to put it together, so we did a lot of exploration. Floyd definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone in prescribing the more abstract scenes, but I think those touches ultimately made the film stand out.

From Sundance, to Netflix, to Sports Emmy awards. Did you ever imagine it would take this journey?
There wasn’t much precedent for a studio or network acquiring a 10-minute short, so our biggest hope was that it would get into Sundance then live on Vimeo. It really exceeded everyone’s expectations. And I would have never imagined receiving an Emm, but am really honored I did.

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Quick Chat: Sinking Ship’s Matt Bishop on live-action/CG series

By Randi Altman

Toronto’s Sinking Ship Entertainment is a production, distribution and interactive company specializing in children’s live-action and CGI-blended programming. The company has 13 Daytime Emmys and a variety of other international awards on its proverbial mantel. Sinking Ship has over 175 employees across all its divisions, including its VFX and interactive studio.

Matt Bishop

Needless to say, the company has a lot going on. We decided to reach out to Matt Bishop, founding partner at Sinking Ship, to find out more.

Sinking Ship produces, creates visual effects and posts its own content, but are you also open to outside projects?
Yes, we do work in co-production with other companies or contract our post production service to shows that are looking for cutting-edge VFX.

Have you always created your own content?
Sinking Ship has developed a number of shows and feature films, as well as worked in co-production with production companies around the world.

What came first, your post or your production services? Or were they introduced in tandem?
Both sides of company evolved together as a way to push our creative visions. We started acquiring equipment on our first series in 2004, and we always look for new ways to push the technology.

Can you mention some of your most recent projects?
Some of our current projects include Dino Dana (Season 4), Dino Dana: The Movie, Endlings and Odd Squad Mobile Unit.

What is your typical path getting content from set to post?
We have been working with Red cameras for years, and we were the first company in Canada to shoot in 4K over a decade ago. We shoot a lot of content, so we create backups in the field before the media is sent to the studio.

Dino Dana

You work with a lot of data. How do you manage and keep all of that secure?
Backups, lots of backups. We use a massive LTO-7 tape robot and we have over a 2PB of backup storage on top of that. We recently added Qumulo to our workflow to ensure the most secure method possible.

What do you use for your VFX work? What about your other post tools?
We use a wide range of software, but our main tools in our creature department are Pixologic Zbrush and Foundry Mari, with all animation happening inside Autodesk Maya.

We also have a large renderfarm to handle the amount of shots, and our render engine of choice is Arnold, which is now an Autodesk project.  In post we use an Adobe Creative Cloud pipeline with 4K HDR color grading happening in DaVinci Resolve. Qumulo is going to be a welcome addition as we continue to grow and our outputs become more complex.


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


Hobo Films’ Howard Bowler on new series The System

By Randi Altman

Howard Bowler, the founder of New York City-based audio post house Hobo
Audio, has launched Hobo Films, a long-form original content development company.

Howard Bowler’s many faces

Bowler is also the founder and president of Green Point Creative, a marijuana-advocacy branding agency focused on the war on drugs and changing drug laws. And it is this topic that inspired Hobo Films’ first project, a dramatic series called The System. It features actress Lolita Foster from Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black.

Bowler has his hand in many things these days, and with those paths colliding, what better time to reach out to find out more?

After years working in audio post, what led you to want to start an original long-form production arm?
I’ve always wanted to do original scripted content and have been collecting story ideas for years. As our audio post business has grown, it’s provided us a platform to develop this related, exciting and creative business.

You are president/founder of Green Point Creative. Can you tell us more about that initiative?
Green Point Creative is an advocacy platform that was born out of personal experience. After an arrest followed by release (not me), I researched the history of marijuana prohibition. What I found was shocking. Hobo VP Chris Stangroom and I started to produce PSAs through Green Point to share what we had learned. We brought in Jon Mackey to aid in this mission, and he’s since moved up the ranks of Hobo into production management. The deeper we explored this topic, the more we realized there was a much larger story to tell and one that couldn’t be told through PSAs alone.

You wrote the script for the show The System? Can you tell our readers what the show is about?
The show’s storyline plots the experiences of a white father raising his bi-racial son, set against the backdrop of the war on drugs. The tone of the series is a cross between Marvel Comics and Schindler’s List. What happens to these kids in the face of a nefarious system that has them in its grips, how they get out, fight back, etc.

What about the shoot? How involved were you on set? What cameras were used? Who was your DP?
I was very involved the whole time working with the director Michael Cruz. We had to change lines of the script on set if we felt they weren’t working, so everyone had to be flexible. Our DP was David Brick, an incredible talent, driven and dedicated. He shot on the Red camera and the footage is stunning.

Can you talk about working with the director?
I met Michael Cruz when we worked together at Grey, a global advertising agency headquartered in NYC. I told him back then that he was born to direct original content. At the time he didn’t believe me, but he does now.

L-R: DP David Brick and director Mike Cruz on set

Mike’s directing style is subtle but powerful; he knows how to frame a shot and get the performance. He also knows how to build a formidable crew. You’ve got to have a dedicated team in place to pull these things off.

What about the edit and the post? Where was that done? What gear was used?
Hobo is a natural fit for this type of creative project and is handling all the audio post as well as the music score that is being composed by Hobo staffer and musician Oscar Convers.

Mike Cruz tapped the resources of his company, Drum Agency to handle the first phase of editing and they pulled together the rough cuts. For final edit, we connected with Oliver Parker. Ollie was just coming off two seasons of London Kills, a police thriller that’s been released to great reviews. Oliver’s extraordinary editing elevated the story in ways I hadn’t predicted. All editing was done on an Avid Media Composer. Music was composed by Hobo staffer Oscar Convers.

The color grade via Juan Salvo at TheColourSpace using Blackmagic Resolve. [Editor’s Note: We reached out to Salvo to find out more. “We got the original 8K Red files from editorial and conformed that on our end. The look was really all about realism. There’s a little bit of stylized lighting in some scenes, and some mixed-temperature lights as well. Mostly, the look was about finding a balance between some of the more stylistic elements and the very naturalist, almost cinéma vérité tone of the series.

“I think ultimately we tried to make it true-to-life with a little bit of oomph. A lot of it was about respecting and leaning into the lighting that DP Dave Brick developed on the shoot. So during the dialogue scenes, we tend to have more diffuse light that feels really naturalist and just lets the performances take center stage, and in some of the more visual scenes we have some great set piece lighting — police lights and flashlights — that really drive the style of those shots.”]

Where can people see The System?
Click here view the first five minutes of the pilot and learn more about the series.

Any other shows in the works?
Yes, we have several properties in development and to help move these projects forward, we’ve brought on Tiffany Jackman to lead these efforts. She’s a gifted producer who spent 10 years honing her craft at various agencies, as well as working on various films. With her aboard, we can now create an ecosystem that connects all the stories.


Quick Chat: M&C Saatchi LA’s Dan Roman on Time Scouts campaign

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another place and time? To walk the Roman ruins before they were, well, ruined? If so, you might want to join the Time Scouts.

What is Time Scouts? Well, according to the website, it is a “multiverse-spanning organization dedicated to the growth of its members through the travel of space and time. It seeks to document the past, cultivate the present and build a better future through the empowerment of Scouts young and old.” In essence, it’s the name of a program created by 826LA, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students and teachers across Los Angeles through after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school programs and more. The Time Scouts program helps people explore their imaginations. Being a Time Scout comes with very real perks, like an actual handbook, membership cards and badges (a la Boy Scouts, but with an absurdist time travel twist).

Dan Roman

Inspired by 826LA’s Time Travel Mart storefronts — actual stores that lead to the organization’s drop-in education centers — the campaign is the brainchild of M&C Saatchi LA’s associate creative director, Stephen Reidmiller, and a team of the agency’s content creators, producers, writers and artists. Previously, M&C Saatchi LA collaborated with 826LA and its students on a series of Time Travel Mart product posters. This time, the agency is back to highlight the wide-reaching, future-changing effect of 826LA with a fundraising campaign that includes a promo video directed and edited by Dan Roman. The agency also created the website, handbook, all of the swag — print promotion images, and give aways like the badges — and the video.

We talked with M&C Saatchi LA director/editor Dan Roman about that video, which is a centerpiece of the project that explains what Time Scouts may or may not make possible, and how anyone can join the organization via Kickstarter

We assume this isn’t your typical M&C Saatchi LA project Can you give us a little background on the film and the campaign as a whole?
M&C Saatchi LA has been working with 826LA for a number of years now in different capacities, but this was the first time we really got to blow out a whole campaign for them. Our creative director for this project, Stephen Reidmiller, came up with the idea for Time Scouts as a way to engage students at 826LA and give them a fun way to create and expand their imagination. He and his lovely wife Beth wrote and illustrated the book, then asked if I would be interested in directing the video. The agency built out an entire website for Time Scouts as well. Marc Evan Jackson (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation) makes the perfect Time Scouts host.

How did his participation come about, and what was it like to direct him in this piece?
Marc was incredible to work with on the piece. He’s actually been involved with 826LA for a long time as well and I believe was one of the co-hosts of their early vaudeville shows, starring as Mr. Barnacle. So when we were thinking of who would fit the Time Scouts aura the best, he immediately sprang to mind.

Marc graciously signed on, and once we were able to tailor aspects of the script around his voice and mannerisms, he really bought in. He even brought his own space blazer the day of the shoot. It’s always really fun to work with people who are invested because they end up adding a lot of personal touches, like the dab at the end…all him. It makes it that much more fun.

In the end, we got in a really great groove with Marc and he had the whole set laughing. We took it pretty easy and tried our best to keep it fun, and he was a joy to direct in the piece. He brought a little extra to every line, even cracking himself up from time to time. Can’t think of a better time traveler.

Who wrote the script? Was any of it improvised? What was the biggest creative challenge?
Our illustrious creative director Stephen Reidmiller not only wrote the entire Time Scouts Handbook, but the script for this video as well. He’s a wonderful creative and I can’t say enough about his vision to bring this whole thing together. Marc is, of course, an amazing improviser, and I think we put his talents to good use. My favorite moment from set is when we were trying to figure out what city would sound the silliest if it were a fictitious location.

Originally we had the Time Scouts from New Jersey, but we thought we could beat it. We tried everything from Philadelphia (too many syllables) to the Inland Empire (too local). Marc came up with “Even in made-up places, like Orlando.” And the way he sounded out each syllable was too perfect. Had to go with that.

As far as creative challenges went, we tried to keep things relatively small given the nature of our day. However, we spent nearly two hours art directing the shelves behind Marc, and it’s safe to say that every piece of Time Travel Mart merch is intentionally placed. The Roman helmet gave us the hardest time though. We must have placed that unsuccessfully in about eight different spots. We all feel pretty good about where it ended up.

What tools were used on this project?
My favorite question! I almost wish this was a bit more exciting, but we had to keep it pretty down and dirty, so we shot this on my Sony FS7 with Zeiss CP.2s and a bit of glimmer glass. It’s lit very simply with daylight and bounce/fill, a bit of kick from quasar tubes, and more than a healthy amount of haze. We cut in Adobe Premiere and colored in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

The video was shot with a Sony FS7.

Increasingly, agencies have in-house content creators. Describe what you do for and with M&C Saatchi LA.
At M&C Saatchi LA, I’m the lead director and DP. Our director of content Tara Poynter and I have been working our way through building out a production arm for the agency. We work largely like any production company would work: concepting, prepping and leading shoots, end-to-end editorial and finishing.

However, we also have a full-service agency at our back with access to great creative and strategic minds. The hope is to build an arm of this company that can mold quickly to clients’ needs and scale creative, production and editorial without any lapse in quality.

We obviously play in a giant sandbox here in LA, and we want to make sure that what we put out is up to snuff with the rest of our industry, especially if it’s got talent like Marc Evan Jackson in it. Overall, It’s just been fun trying to forge some new ground in the agency world.

What’s your background, and how did you become a director/editor/content creator?
I came up in production in Boston. About 10 years ago, I left film school to work as an editor for an animation company, eventually finding my way into indie films, music videos and documentaries. I freelanced my way into more commercial productions and ended up working as a senior producer and editor at Weber Shandwick.

There, I really got the space to hone what I do as a director and DP, working on longer-form branded content, commercials and documentaries while getting the chance to help build a successful production department from the ground floor. About a year ago, I decided that I was ready for the jump to LA and packed up the camera, the car, and our ridiculously fat cat and headed out this way. It’s been a fun ride so far.


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


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.

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.

Quick Chat: Scott Gershin from The Sound Lab at Technicolor

By Randi Altman

Veteran sound designer and feature film supervising sound editor Scott Gershin is leading the charge at the recently launched The Sound Lab at Technicolor, which, in addition to film and television work, focuses on immersive storytelling.

Gershin has more than 100 films to his credit, including American Beauty (which earned him a BAFTA nomination), Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. But films aren’t the only genre that Gershin has tackled — in addition to television work (he has an Emmy nom for the TV series Beauty and the Beast), this audio post pro has created the sound for game titles such as Resident Evil, Gears of War and Fable. One of his most recent projects was contributing to id Software’s Doom.

We recently reached out to Gershin to find out more about his workflow and this new Burbank-based audio entity.

Can you talk about what makes this facility different than what Technicolor has at Paramount? 
The Sound Lab at Technicolor works in concert with our other audio facilities, tackling film, broadcast and gaming projects. In doing so we are able to use Technicolor’s world-class dubbing, ADR and Foley stages.

One of the focuses of The Sound Lab is to identify and use cutting-edge technologies and workflows not only in traditional mediums, but in those new forms of entertainment such as VR, AR, 360 video/films, as well as dedicated installations using mixed reality. The Sound Lab at Technicolor is made up of audio artists from multiple industries who create a “brain trust” for our clients.

Scott Gershin and The Sound Lab team.

As an audio industry veteran, how has the world changed since you started?
I was one of the first sound people to use computers in the film industry. When I moved from the music industry into film post production, I brought that knowledge and experience with me. It gave me access to a huge number of tools that helped me tell better stories with audio. The same happened when I expanded into the game industry.

Learning the interactive tools of gaming is now helping me navigate into these new immersive industries, combining my film experience to tell stories and my gaming experience using new technologies to create interactive experiences.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is that there are so many opportunities for the audience to ingest entertainment — creating competition for their time — whether it’s traveling to a theatre, watching TV (broadcast, cable and streaming) on a new 60- or 70-inch TV, or playing video games alone on a phone or with friends on a console.

There are so many choices, which means that the creators and publishers of content have to share a smaller piece of the pie. This forces budgets to be smaller since the potential audience size is smaller for that specific project. We need to be smarter with the time that we have on projects and we need to use the technology to help speed up certain processes — allowing us more time to be creative.

Can you talk about your favorite tools?
There are so many great technologies out there. Each one adds a different color to my work and provides me with information that is crucial to my sound design and mix. For example, Nugen has great metering and loudness tools that help me zero in on my clients LKFS requirements. With each client having their own loudness requirements, the tools allow me to stay creative, and meet their requirements.

Audi’s The Duel

What are some recent projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve been working on a huge variety of projects lately. Recently, I finished a commercial for Audi called The Duel, a VR piece called My Brother’s Keeper, 10 Webisodes of The Strain and a VR music piece for Pentatonix. Each one had a different requirement.

What is your typical workflow like?
When I get a job in, I look at what the project is trying to accomplish. What is the story or the experience about? I ask myself, how can I use my craft, shaping audio, to better enhance the experience. Once I understand how I am going to approach the project creatively, I look at what the release platform will be. What are the technical challenges and what frequencies and spacial options are open to me? Whether that means a film in Dolby Atmos or a VR project on the Rift. Once I understand both the creative and technical challenges then I start working within the schedule allotted me.

Speed and flow are essential… the tools need to be like musical instruments to me, where it goes from brain to fingers. I have a bunch of monitors in front of me, each one supplying me with different and crucial information. It’s one of my favorite places to be — flying the audio starship and exploring the never-ending vista of the imagination. (Yeah, I know it’s corny, but I love what I do!)

Quick Chat: Brent Bonacorso on his Narrow World

Filmmaker Brent Bonacorso has written, directed and created visual effects for The Narrow World, which examines the sudden appearance of a giant alien creature in Los Angeles and the conflicting theories on why it’s there, what its motivations are, and why it seems to ignore all attempts at human interaction. It’s told through the eyes of three people with differing ideas of its true significance. Bonacorso shot on a Red camera with Panavision Primo lenses, along with a bit of Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for random B-roll.

Let’s find out more…

Where did the idea for The Narrow World come from?
I was intrigued by the idea of subverting the traditional alien invasion story and using that as a way to explore how we interpret the world around us, and how our subconscious mind invisibly directs our behavior. The creature in this film becomes a blank canvas onto which the human characters project their innate desires and beliefs — its mysterious nature revealing more about the characters than the actual creature itself.

As with most ideas, it came to me in a flash, a single image that defined the concept. I was riding my bike along the beach in Venice, and suddenly in my head saw a giant Kaiju as big as a skyscraper sitting on the sand, gazing out at the sea. Not directly threatening, not exactly friendly either, with a mutual understanding with all the tiny humans around it — we don’t really understand each other at all, and probably never will. Suddenly, I knew why he was here, and what it all meant. I quickly sketched the image and the story followed.

What was the process like bringing the film to life as an independent project?
After I wrote the script, I shot principal photography with producer Thom Fennessey in two stages – first with the actor who plays Raymond Davis (Karim Saleh) and then with the actress playing Emily Field (Julia Cavanaugh).

I called in a lot of favors from my friends and connections here in LA and abroad — the highlight was getting some amazing Primo lenses and equipment from Panavision to use because they love Magdalena Górka’s (the cinematographer) work. Altogether it was about four days of principal photography, a good bit of it guerrilla style, and then shooting lots of B-roll all over the city.

Kacper Sawicki, head of Papaya Films which represents me for commercial work in Europe, got on board during post production to help bring The Narrow World to completion. Friends of mine in Paris and Luxembourg designed and textured the creature, and I did the lighting and animation in Maxon Cinema 4D and compositing in Adobe After Effects.

Our editor was the genius Jack Pyland (who cut on Adobe Premiere), based in Dallas. Sound design and color grading (via Digital Vision’s Nucoda) were completed by Polish companies Głośno and Lunapark, respectively. Our composer was Cedie Janson from Australia. So even though this was an indie project, it became an amazing global collaborative effort.

Of course, with any no-budget project like this, patience is key — lack of funds is offset by lots of time, which is free, if sometimes frustrating. Stick with it — directing is a generally a war of attrition, and it’s won by the tenacious.

As a director, how did you pull off so much of the VFX work yourself, and what lessons do you have for other directors?
I realized early on in my career as a director that the more you understand about post, and the more you can do yourself, the more you can control the scope of the project from start to finish. If you truly understand the technology and what is possible with what kind of budget and what kind of manpower, it removes a lot of barriers.

I taught myself After Effects and Cinema 4D in graphic design school, and later I figured out how to make those tools work for me in visual effects and to stretch the boundaries of the short films I was making. It has proved invaluable in my career — in the early stages I did most of the visual effects in my work myself. Later on, when I began having VFX companies do the work, my knowledge and understanding of the process enabled me to communicate very efficiently with the artists on my projects.

What other projects do you have on the horizon?
In addition to my usual commercial work, I’m very excited about my first feature project coming up this year through Awesomeness Films and DreamWorks — You Get Me, starring Bella Thorne and Halston Sage.

Quick Chat: Xytech COO Greg Dolan

Greg Dolan has seen tremendous change in the industry during his career. After a tenure at New York City’s Post Perfect, where he was CIO, Dolan switched to the vendor side of the business, bringing his hands-on post house expertise to a facility management company. After a number of successful years and product rollout, he moved to Xytech, where he is now COO. Xytech offers facility management software for scheduling all resources, managing all operations and tracking all assets, while providing reporting and accounting tools.

MediaPulse offers over 35 modules to manage the complicated tasks that facilities deal with daily. This past year, Xytech added interoperability, transmission and mobility, and a broadcast services division.

We recently reached out to Dolan to talk about the need and evolution of facility management tools.

What are some of the most frequently asked questions you get from customers?
Every client wants to know how their unique business workflows are managed in a commercially available product. It’s an incredibly fair point, and skepticism is warranted. Lots of companies have made lots of promises, not always with the best results. Every client has a unique mixture of workflows, integration needs and accounting treatments, however at a granular level, many requirements are seen throughout the industry. Our continued investment in MediaPulse ensures we stay current with these requirements, and the design of MediaPulse allows us to configure to exactly the client’s needs. This takes discipline and more importantly total commitment. Surprises always occur and the real test of a company and its people is in the response to these surprises.

What are some questions customers should be asking when it comes to facility management software that they often don’t?
My father was fond of saying, “They put erasers on pencils for a reason.” As vendors, we are all very happy to give “happy talk” as though our clients can’t see straight through the marketing haze. I wish more clients asked us to talk about our biggest challenges — times where we made mistakes — and then engaged us in conversation around how it was remedied. On a more concrete front, questioning a vendor about the technical architecture of their products and getting a list of previous years’ new features is essential. Success demands technical acuity from vendors and these types of questions really separate the wheat from the chaff.

Can you talk about the most important benefits of facility management tools for today’s facilities?
Facilities are challenged more than ever to get more done in narrower and narrower windows. There simply isn’t any room for inefficacies, and individual departments can’t operate as a silo. Facility management systems tie all the disparate operations, automate workflows and seamlessly exchange metadata with all systems in the facility. This eliminates redundancy and allows staff to manage by exception, with most activities automated.

What are some misconceptions about facility management tools?
These are not just scheduling systems. In fact, the idea of a standalone scheduling system having any relevance today is wildly anachronistic. Certainly, you still must schedule people and equipment to be in a place to do a thing, but this is a subset of the larger vision. To move the needle — all operations with their associated accounting and automation needs should be included in the system portfolio. Media manufacturing automation, federated asset and metadata management and transmission management are vital to the overall operational picture regardless of a facility’s size.

It’s obvious that bigger facilities could benefit from facility management tools, but can you tell the smaller studios why it’s important as well?
We think it’s more important for smaller facilities as there is a lower margin of error. For a modest investment, smaller facilities get a vital holistic view of all operations while having their billing and accounting totally automated. Facility management systems make sure all staff members are engaged in moving the business forward instead of burning unrecoverable hours fixing mistakes. Time is a key restriction for all of us. We find time where none exists.

How has this type of software evolved over the years, and how do you see it evolving again in the future?
Let me be very clear — it’s essential for clients to ensure their vendor understands the concept of the question. The game is incredibly different now and the tools of the past are woefully unprepared for today’s marketplace. To quote Lincoln, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”

The simple answer is interoperability. It is a critical requirement for today’s systems. A lot of noise is made around interoperability, but it doesn’t take too long to separate point-to-point integrations from truly modern architectures. As for the future, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know we are committed to delivering technology capable of evolving and quickly responding to the changes. You simply must have the entire organization on a constant change footing.

Quick Chat: Freefolk US executive producer Celia Williams

By Randi Altman

A few months back, UK-based post house Finish purchased VFX studio Realise and renamed the company Freefolk. They also expanded into the US with a New York City-based studio. Industry vet Celia Williams, who was most recently head of production at agency Arnold NY, is heading up Freefolk US. To find out more about the recently rebranded entity, we reached out to Williams.

Can you describe Freefolk? What kind of services do you offer?
Freefolk is a team of creative artists, technicians and problem solvers who use post production as their tool box. We offer services including high-end FilmLight Baselight color grading, remote grading, 2D and 3D visual effects, final conform, shoot supervision, animation, data management and direction of special projects. We work across the mediums of advertising, film, TV and digital content.

L-R: Celia Williams, Paul Harrison and Jason Watts.

What spurred on Freefolk’s expansion to the US?
Having carved out a reputation in London over the last 13 years as a commercials post house, the expansion to the US seemed like a natural progression for the founders, allowing them to export a boutique service and high-quality work rather than becoming another large machine in London.

Will you be offering the same services in both locations?
The services we offer in London will all be represented in New York. Color grading plays such an important role in the process these days, so we are spearheading with a Baselight suite driven by Paul Harrison and 2D VFX department being set up by Jason Watts.

Will you share staff between New York and the UK?
Yes, there will be a sharing of resources and, obviously, experience across the offices. A great thing about opening in New York is being able to offer our staff the experience of working in a foreign city. It also gives clients who are increasingly working across multiple markets a seamless global service.

Why the rebrand from Finish to Freefolk?
The rebrand from Finish to Freefolk came about as part of the expansion into the US and the acquisition of Realise. It was also a timely opportunity to express one of the core values of the company, and the way it values its staff and clients — Freefolk is about the people involved in the process.

What does the acquisition of Realise mean to the company?
Realise has brought a wealth of experience and talent to the table. They combine creative skill and technical understanding in equal measure. They are known in both commercials and now film and TV for offering very specialized capabilities with Side Effects Houdini and customized software.

We have just completed VFX work on 400 shots over 10 episodes of NBC’s Emerald City TV series (due to be released early 2017) and have just embarked on our next long-form project. It’s really exciting to be expanding into other mediums such as TV, film, installation work, projection mapping and other experimental and experiential arenas.

You have an ad agency background. From your own experience how important is that to clients?
It’s extremely important and comforting, actually. Understanding what the producers and creatives are challenged with on a daily basis gives me the ability to offer workable solutions to their problems in a very collaborative way. They don’t have to wonder if I “get” where they’re coming from. Frankly, I do.

I think that it’s emotionally helpful as well. To know someone can be an understanding shoulder to lean on and is taking their concerns seriously is beyond important. Everyone is working at breakneck speed in our industry, which can lead to a lack of humanity in our interactions. One of the main reasons I was attracted to working with Freefolk is that they are deeply dedicated to keeping that humanity and personal touch in the way they do business.

The way that post companies service agencies has changed due to the way that products are now being marketed — online ads, social media, VR. Can you talk about that?
To be well informed and prepped as early on in the process as you can be is key. And to truly partner with the producers and creatives, as much as they need or want, is critical. What might work in one medium may be less impactful in another, so from the get-go, how do we plan to ensure all deliverables are strong, and to offer insights into new technology that might impact the outcome? It’s all about sharing and collaboration.

I may be one of the few people who’ve never really panicked about the different ways we deliver final work — our industry has always been about change, which is what keeps it interesting. At the end of the day, it’s always been about delivering content, in one form or another. So you need to know your final deliverables list and plan accordingly.

Quick Chat: Monkeyland Audio’s Trip Brock

By Dayna McCallum

Monkeyland Audio recently expanded its facility, including a new Dolby Atmos equipped mixing stage. The Glendale-based Monkeyland Audio, where fluorescent lights are not allowed and creative expression is always encouraged, now offers three mixing stages, an ADR/Foley stage and six editorial suites.

Trip Brock, the owner of Monkeyland, opened the facility over 10 years ago, but the MPSE Golden Reel Award-winning supervising sound editor and mixer (All the Wilderness), started out in the business more than 23 years ago. We reached out to Brock to find out more about the expansion and where the name Monkeyland came from in the first place…

monkeyland audioOne of your two new stages is Dolby Atmos certified. Why was that important for your business?
We really believe in the Dolby Atmos format and feel it has a lot of growth potential in both the theatrical and television markets. We purpose-built our Atmos stage looking towards the future, giving our independent and studio clients a less expensive, yet completely state-of-the-art alternative to the Atmos stages found on the studio lots.

Can you talk specifically about the gear you are using on the new stages?
All of our stages are running the latest Avid Pro Tools HD 12 software across multiple Mac Pros with Avid HDX hardware. Our 7.1 mixing stage, Reposado, is based around an Avid Icon D-Control console, and Anejo, our Atmos stage, is equipped with dual 24-fader Avid S6 M40 consoles. Monitoring on Anejo is based on a 3-way JBL theatrical system, with 30 channels of discrete Crown DCi amplification, BSS processing and the DAD AX32 front end.

You’ve been in this business for over 23 years. How does that experience color the way you run your shop?
I stumbled into the post sound business coming from a music background, and immediately fell in love with the entire process. After all these years, having worked with and learned so much from so many talented clients and colleagues, I still love what I do and look forward to every day at the office. That’s what I look for and try to cultivate in my creative team — the passion for what we do. There are so many aspects and nuances in the audio post world, and I try to express that to my team — explore all the different areas of our profession, find which role really speaks to you and then embrace it!

You’ve got 10 artists on staff. Why is it important to you to employ a full team of talent, and how do you see that benefiting your clients?
I started Monkeyland as primarily a sound editorial company. Back in the day, this was much more common than the all-inclusive, independent post sound outfits offering ADR, Foley and mixing, which are more common today. The sound editorial crew always worked together in house as a team, which is a theme I’ve always felt was important to maintain as our company made the switch into full service. To us, keeping the team intact and working together at the same location allows for a lot more creative collaboration and synergy than say a set of editors all working by themselves remotely. Having staff in house also allows us flexibility when last minute changes are thrown our way. We are better able to work and communicate as a team, which leads to a superior end product for our clients.

Monkeyland AudioCan you name some of the projects you are working on and what you are doing for them?
We are currently mixing a film called The King’s Daughter, starring Pierce Brosnan and William Hurt. We also recently completed full sound design and editorial, as well as the native Atmos mix, on a new post-apocalyptic feature we are really proud of called The Worthy. Other recent editorial and mixing projects include the latest feature from Director Alan Rudolph, Ray Meets Helen, the 10-episode series Junior for director Zoe Cassavetes, and Three Days To Live, a new eight-episode true-crime series for NBC/Universal.

Most of your stage names are related to tequila… Why is that?
Haha — this is kind of a take-off from the naming of the company itself. When I was looking for a company name, I knew I didn’t want it to include the word “digital” or have any hint toward technology, which seemed to be the norm at the time. A friend in college used to tease me about my “unique” major in audio production, saying stuff like, “What kind of a degree is that? A monkey could be trained to do that.” Thus Monkeyland was born!

Same theory applied to our stage names. When we built the new stages and needed to name them, I knew I didn’t want to go with the traditional stage “A, B, C” or “1, 2, 3,” so we decided on tequila types — Anejo, Reposado, Plata, even Mezcal. It seems to fit our personality better, and who doesn’t like a good margarita after a great mix!

Utopic editor talks post for David Lynch tribute Psychogenic Fugue

Director Sandro Miller called on Utopic partner and editorCraig Lewandowski to collaborate on Psychogenic Fugue, a 20-minute film starring John Malkovich in which the actor plays seven characters in scenes recreated from some of filmmaker David Lynch’s films and TV shows. These characters include The Log Lady, Special Agent Dale Cooper, and even Lynch himself as narrator of the film.

It is part of a charity project called Playing Lynch that will benefit the David Lynch Foundation, which seeks to introduce at-risk populations affected by trauma to transcendental meditation.

craigChicago-based Utopic handled all the post, including editing, graphics, VFX and sound design. The film is part of a multimedia fundraiser hosted by Squarespace and executed by Austin-based agency, Preacher. The seven vignettes were released one at a time on Playinglynch,com.

To find out more about Utopic’s work on the film, we reached out to Lewandowski with some questions.

How early were you brought in on the film?
We were brought in before the project was even finalized. There were a couple other ideas that were kicked around before this one rose to the top.

We cut together a timing board using all the pieces we would later be recreating. We also pulled some hallway scenes from an old Playstation commercial that he directed, and we then scratched in all the “Lynch” lines for timing.

You were on set. Can you talk about why and what the benefits were for the director and you as an editor?
My job on the set was to have our reference movie at the ready and make sure we were matching timing, framing, lighting, etc. Sandro would often check the reference to make sure we were on track.

For scenes like the particles in Eraserhead, I had the DP shoot it at various frame rates and at the highest possible resolution, so we could shoot it vertical and use the particles falling. I also worked with the Steadicam operator to get a variety of shots in the hallway since I knew we’d need to create some jarring cutaways.

How big of a challenge was it dealing with all those different iconic characters, especially in a 20-minute film?
Sandro was adamant that we not try to “improve” on anything that David Lynch originally shot. Having had a lot of experience with homages, Sandro knew that we couldn’t take liberties. So the sets and action were designed to be as close as possible to the original characters.

In shots where it was only one character originally (The Lady in the Radiator, Special Agent Dale Cooper, Elephant Man) it was easier, but in scenes where there were originally more characters and now it was just Malkovich, we had to be a little more creative (Frank Booth, Mystery Man). Ultimately, with the recreations, my job was to line up as closely as possible with what was originally done, and then with the audio do my best to stay true to the original.

Can you talk about your process and how you went about matching the original scenes? Did you feel much pressure?
Sandro and I have worked together before, so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure from him, but I think I probably put a fair amount on myself because I knew how important this project was for so many people. And, as is the case with anything I edit, I don’t take it lightly that all of that effort that went into preproduction and production now sits on my shoulders.

Again, with the recreations it was actually fairly straightforward. It was the corridor shots where Malkovich plays Lynch and recites lines taken from various interviews that offered the biggest opportunity, and challenge. Because there was no visual reference for this, I could have some more fun with it. Most of the recreations are fairly slow and ominous, so I really wanted these corridor shots to offset the vignettes, kind of jar you out of the trance you were just put in, make you uneasy and perhaps squirm a bit, before being thrust into the next recreation.

What about the VFX? Can you talk about how they fit in and how you worked with them?
Many of the VFX were either in-camera or achieved through editorial, but there were spots — like where he’s in the corridor and snaps from the front to the back — that I needed something more than I could accomplish on my own, so I used our team at Utopic. However, when cutting the trailer, I relied heavily on our motion graphics team for support.

Psychogenic Fugue is such an odd title, so the writer/creative director, Stephen Sayadin, came up with the idea of using the dictionary definition. We took it a step further, beginning the piece with the phonetic spelling and then seamlessly transitioning the whole thing. They then tried different options for titling the characters. I knew I wanted to use the hallway shot, close-ups of the characters and ending on Lynch/Malkovich in the chair. They gave me several great options.

What was the film shot on, and what editing system did you use?
The film was shot on Red at 6K. I worked in Adobe Premiere, using the native Red files. All of our edit machines at Utopic are custom-built, high-performance PCs assembled by the editors themselves.

What about tools for the visual effects?
Our compositor/creative finisher used an Autodesk Flame, and our motion graphics team used Adobe After Effects.

Can you talk about the sound design?
I absolutely love working on sound design and music, so this was a dream come true for me. With both the film and the trailer, our composer Eric Alexandrakis provided me with long, odd, disturbing tracks, complete with stems. So I spent a lot of time just taking his music and sound effects and manipulating them. I then had our sound designer at Brian Lietner jump in and go crazy.

Is there a scene that you are most proud of, or that was most challenging, or both?
I really like the snap into the flame/cigarette at the very beginning. I spent a long time just playing with that shot, compositing a bunch of shots together, manipulating them, adjusting timing, coming back in the next morning and changing it all up again. I guess that and Eraserhead. We had so many passes of particles and layered so many throughout the piece. That shot was originally done with him speaking to camera, but we had this pass of him just looking around, and realized it was way more powerful to have the lines delivered as though they were internal monologue. It also allowed us to play with the timings in a way that we wouldn’t be able to with a one-take shot.

As far as what I’m most proud of, it’s the trailer. We worked really hard to get the recreations and full film done. Then I was able to take some time away from it all and come back fresh. I knew that there was a ton of great footage to work with and we had to do something that wasn’t just a cutdown. It was important to me that the trailer feel every bit as demented as the film itself, if not more. I think we accomplished that.

Check out the trailer here:

Checking In: HPA Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Herb Dow

The HPA Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be handed out at the HPA Awards ceremony in Los Angeles tonight, is intended “to give recognition to individuals who have, with great service, dedicated their careers to the betterment of the industry.” That sentence perfectly describes this year’s honoree, Herb Dow, ACE.

Not only a hands-on editor with an impressive resume — including cutting episodes of such classic series as Fantasy Island and WKRP in Cincinnati — Herb has spent much of his career helping to build community within the post production world, whether at his roasts during NAB, his now bi-weekly Friday lunches in LA or with his Website postproductionpro.com, a sort of LinkedIn for the post world.

We recently reached out to Herb to ask him about how he got started in the industry, trends he’s seen over the years, and so much more.

You began your career as a film editor. Can you talk about what you loved most about the job and how you got started?
My entry into the business was marrying a film editor’s daughter 51 years ago. My wife’s father, Robert Swanson, was cutting Mannix at Desilu and he recommended me for an apprentice position in commercial integration on the lot. I spent eight years there moving up to Group 1 — back then the joke was you could go to medical school and be cutting brains faster. I loved editing. Putting together stories on film is a great career, and I still miss that aspect of my life.

Can you tell us some of the projects you worked on, and what you were cutting on when you started?
My first editing job was at MGM on a show called Lucan about a guy who turned into a wolf and solved crimes. It lasted seven episodes. I worked on 12 different series (none of which were picked up beyond the original order), but out of eight pilots, seven were picked up for series. I also cut MOWs and a few features.

You are considered a pioneer in nonlinear editing. How did you get involved in the development of the Ediflex system?
I had spent four years working at Culver Studios with a first floor cutting room. It had big picture windows, a beach mural on the wall that made it look like I was cutting on the beach, and speakers hanging from the ceiling playing loud rock music. Then I went over to Universal to cut on a show called Street Hawk. No windows, small room and not a great show.

I went to the head of post and said that I would finish the episode, but I was leaving and my assistant could take over. He asked why and I said no windows, etc. He said they were starting a new series at the Oakwood apartments on Pass and that it had a new-fangled electronic editing system and there were windows.

I went over and met Adrian Ettlinger. He created the CMX 600, the very first nonlinear system. The system was called Vidicut and had six VHS decks all with the same material and a Commodore 64 controlled with a light pen. I jumped at the chance to work on it and cut 24 episodes of Still the Beavers while helping Adrian modify the system to work for editors like myself. We formed a company with Milt Forman, Andy Maltz, Adrian and me called Cinedco. Then we renamed the system to Ediflex.

How has the world of nonlinear editing changed over the years?
Not much has changed since Avid came on the scene 30 years, aside from the computers getting faster. The big change is what I am involved in now, BeBop Technology  — editing in the cloud, which gets rid of all the machines.

What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in production and post over your time in the industry?
HD and 4K were substantial. The growth of the business has been astronomical, with many more content providers and outlets. There are a lot more jobs in post.

Looking forward, where do you see the post industry heading?
Well, I might be prejudiced, but I think using the cloud environment for post will change the industry dramatically. Freeing artists to work from anywhere they want with faster processors and no machinery to worry about is going to change our world of post.

Herb at one of his industry gatherings.

What does being given the HPA Lifetime Achievement Award mean to you?
I am so proud to be awarded this honor in my 50th year in post. I was mentored by a lot of wonderful men and women in this industry, and it really is a thank you to all of them for helping me with my career.

You have always been involved in fostering relationships with pros in the industry, from your Las Vegas roasts to your Friday lunches. Why is this so important to you?
It has always been about the people. I love the fraternity/sorority I belong to. My roasts and lunches are a way to be among more of these people all the time. I love them.

You’ve accomplished so much over the years. What is your proudest moment?
No question, it was the Ediflex changing the art form as we knew it. That was an incredible moment for me. And, actually, getting to do it all again with BeBop at the other end of my career is a gift from the gods.

Quick Chat: Wipster’s Rollo Wenlock on Slack integration

By Randi Altman

Cloud-based review and approval tool Wipster, which lets you upload your latest edit, share it with clients and colleagues and have frame-accurate conversations directly on the video, now offers integration with Slack, allowing for realtime team messaging.

Wipster CEO/founder Rollo Wenlock says, “Now you can get your Wipster notifications directly in your team Slack channel, making it super-easy for the whole team to instantly see where a review is at.”

I reached out to Wenlock to find out more about Wipster, the Slack integration and what it means for users.

wipster-slack-comment-streamHow old is Wipster now, and can you describe how it works?
Wipster was born in 2013. Wipster is a content review and approval platform for creative teams and their stakeholders to rapidly iterate video projects by sharing work-in-progress for realtime pin-point comments right on the content. Teams speed up their production by up to 60 percent and get closer creative collaboration with their workmates, thus enhancing the work. We like to say that Wipster is the “Google Docs of video.”

How has the tool evolved over the years?
In the beginning we were very focused on creating a very specific user experience to prove people wanted to share work-in-progress and talk all over it. Wipster only worked for single users, only certain types of video could be uploaded, and at the very start, when comments were made, you had no way of knowing who made them!

Now Wipster works for multiple integrated teams, comments are realtime, with replies, added imagery and social “likes.” All commentary becomes automatic to-do lists, and you can have the whole Wipster experience right inside Adobe Creative Cloud.

What types of pros have been taking advantage of Wipster?
In the early days it was freelancers and small studios working for large agencies and brands. Now we have the large agencies and brands as customers as well. Companies like Red Bull, Delta Airlines and Intel. We have every type of creative team using Wipster every day to enhance their creative work.

There are many review and approval apps out there these days, what makes Wipster different? Is it suited to a particular workflow?
Since our launch there have been a number of other apps launch, some doing a great job, others not quite getting the user experience right. The reason why brands and studios are coming to Wipster is our relentless focus on making the review experience work seamlessly between the creative and the stakeholder.

Oftentimes, these people have never worked together before, and creating a very easy and memorable experience heightens their relationship. For our customers, Wipster is a new way of working, which takes them 100x beyond the process they had before, which usually involved a disconnected collection of social video apps and email.

Can you talk about your Slack integration? What does it offer users that they didn’t have before? How does it enhance the process?
We talk to our customers every day, multiple times a day — and they tell us about all the apps and workflows they already have, and what they would like them to do with Wipster — which is insanely helpful.

Our customers want to use Wipster as their “pre-publish” platform, and anything we can do to make their lives simpler and more enjoyable is top of our list. Thousands of our users are working in Slack every day, so it was a no-brainer that we create a Wipster activity channel for them to access right inside Slack.

When using Slack and Wipster together, you can access all your Wipster activity right inside a Slack channel in realtime. This means people in your team can see when videos have been uploaded and shared. You can see when teammates and clients have viewed work, and made comments. You can even see what frame of the video they commented on, with a green dot showing you where they had clicked. This workflow is just another way we are rapidly speeding up the process in which creatives and stakeholders can work together.

Main Photo Caption: Rollo Wenlock (far right) and the Wipster team.

Checking in With Mammal Studios

LA-based Mammal Studio is a full-service VFX house providing CG and 2D visual effects for feature film, television, commercials and music video. They opened their doors in the summer of 2013 and have some pretty high-profile work on their resume, including the films The Shallows, The 5th Wave, Concussion, Joy and Hardcore Henry.

Let’s find out more from Mammal’s partner/VFX supervisor Gregory Liegey.

What types of projects do you work on?
We mainly work on feature films, which is our team’s most extensive experience base. Nonetheless, with the freedom we have as a small independent house, we’re taking opportunities to fit in some smaller projects for TV, music video and commercial clients. Early on in our history, we did a few sequences for Eminem’s Rap God video, which was especially exciting because it was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award.

We also find TV and commercial work refreshing in the sense that they allow a greater contribution of creative input. Not everything is as extensively planned out and previously discussed as it is for features. The opportunity to help shape the look and ideas of the work is a welcome experience for us — allowing our senior team to draw upon their experience working directly for productions.

But studio features still occupy the bulk of our schedule. In the fourth quarter of 2015, we expanded our team and infrastructure to work on an independent feature set to release this year, and two studio-based Christmas releases: Concussion for Peter Landesman at Sony Pictures and Joy for David O. Russell at Fox.

Hardcore Harry

What is your typical workflow?
More and more of our projects start these days with pre-production meetings about concept and design. From there, one of our senior supervisors will attend the shoot to work with the director and other department heads. When the edits are roughed together, we’ll start to get plates. We ingest the plates into our servers and publish them to Shotgun using a custom tool written by our in-house developer Janice Collier.

Once everything is loaded into Shotgun, the supervisors and leads create the list of tasks needed for each shot and start assigning those jobs out to our artists. The artists use the Shotgun Pipeline Toolkit to run Maya, Mari, Nuke, etc. Shotgun’s Toolkit, with a bunch of custom modifications, helps us keep track of the assets and outputs from all the artists.

Our supervisors use Screening Room to review the artists’ work and enter notes into Shotgun for reference. This is a streamlined and efficient process for getting the artists the feedback they need. Thanks to Screening Room’s tight integration into Shotgun’s database of previous versions, cut sequences, concept artwork and original scans the supervisors deliver much-higher-quality direction. The supervisor notes are prioritized so the artist need only concentrate on the task at hand without worrying about larger issues of scheduling and workload — those issues are managed by the production team.

Once the artists’ work is approved for client review, we go back to the Shotgun Toolkit to process and export the shots as deliverable QuickTimes. A proprietary process uses Shotgun shot data to grab the per-shot color corrections needed to match Editorial sequence color and sends a Nuke job to our Deadline queue to render an Avid QuickTime in the client-requested framing and format.

What about delivery?
We deliver the client QTs (or 2Ks) using Shotgun’s Delivery request system, which keeps a record of what has been sent and where. Then we wait for client feedback.

You mentioned working on Joy. What was your workflow like on that film?
We ended up working on over 200 shots concurrent with another active show. Shotgun helped us keep track of the many editorial changes made during the run of the show. The artists would learn instantly of changes to the footage of their shots and could turn around those new versions quickly. That ability to accurately track editorial changes gave the production confidence that we could take on more and more work.

In addition the tools you mentioned earlier, what else do you call on?
We also use Modo, the Adobe Suite, Phoenix and Krakatoa for FX, and a few different Maya plug-ins for specialized tasks.  Deadline is our render queue.

The VFX industry has been in a weird place over the last few years. How are you guys succeeding in such a tough marketplace?
In strategic terms, we have what boils down to a two point plan: we aim to exceed the clients’ expectations and we work efficiently. Luckily, by being efficient, we give directors more options to choose from and more time to polish the work despite the shorter schedules and leaner budgets. So, point number two helps us consistently achieve point number one. Directors are happy to have more creative choices. Producers are happy to have competitive bids from a company who can be relied upon to deliver.

Of course, all of the above would be impossible without a crew of dedicated artists and technical support staff.  Their teamwork and creativity are the essential ingredients in all of our projects.

 

Quick Chat: Lost Planet editor Federico Brusilovsky

By Randi Altman

Buenos Aires native Federico Brusilovsky works as an editor at Lost Planet’s Los Angeles office, leading efforts on campaigns for Cadillac, Dodge, Heineken and HP. He joined Lost Planet’s New York studio four years ago as an intern, with production and assistant editorial experience already under his belt. From there, he worked his way up, learning from experienced editors, including the company’s Oscar-nominated editor and owner Hank Corwin (The Big Short).

Cadillac

We reached out to Brusilovsky, who studied film at New York’s City College after coming to the US, to talk about his path, the way he likes to work and tips for those just starting out.

How long have you been editing?
That’s a tough question. I guess my first experiences editing were all in-camera when I was shooting movies on VHS as a kid. Working in that linear format taught me a lot, especially how to recognize happy accidents: those coincidences and subconscious decisions that end up being some of the cooler parts of a film.

Once I was in college, I was working with Super 8 and 16mm and cutting with a guillotine. Working with your hands with such delicate materials teaches you a lot, too. There’s a craftsmanship to physically altering and moving around film that requires really sophisticated organization and patience. Those experiences are important to me now that I edit using digital, nonlinear systems. So, the short answer is probably “as long as I can remember.”

How did you get started in this business?
I was lucky to know editor Julie Monroe (Lolita, The Patriot), who offered me the chance to intern on the film she was working on, Mud. From there, Julie introduced me to Saar Klein (The Bourne Identity, Almost Famous), who introduced me to the studio that he’s on roster with, Hank Corwin’s Lost Planet.

After joining Lost Planet as an intern, it was easy stay focused on my goal of becoming an editor. I knew an internship wouldn’t naturally evolve into a lucrative editing career. I did lots of technical training on my own, so that the moment they needed me to step into a more challenging role, I would already have the skills.

Heineken

Heineken

How early did you know this would be your path?
I didn’t recognize it as a path early on, even though it was in front of me for a while, and I was always editing one way or another. It wasn’t until after meeting and talking to a bunch of feature editors that I was able to see it.

Was it much of a transition in terms of editing moving from Argentina to the US?
Speaking strictly in the commercial world, the biggest difference between the US and Argentina (and I guess most other countries as well) is the role of the editor and the director. For some reason, directors in the US are not as involved from start to finish as they are abroad. They tend to shoot and walk away, not always because they want to but because they have to.

Although we work with them at the beginning of the process, a lot of decisions that may be directorial end up in the hands of the editor. Which is great for me from a creative standpoint.

Overseas, directors are a good deal more involved in post production, and editors in production, which can be an advantage for strong collaborations but a disadvantage for editing objectively. It’s fun to get a feel for each shot while it’s happening on set, then work closely with the director in post, but that experience can make you married to footage that you would otherwise toss out in the edit room.

What system do you use?
Mostly Avid Media Composer. It’s the least user-friendly piece of software, probably because it pre-dates functions like drag-and-drop being available in every single app. But, with patience and the right training, it’s the most robust and attractive piece of non-linear software out there.

What’s your favorite shortcut?
CMD+Z (or CTRL+Z for the Windows crowd). Not only is “undo” possibly the most useful hotkey on a technical level, it has huge symbolic importance. Undo is a digital safety net. Knowing that I’m never more than two keys away from reverting to a previous version gives me the freedom and efficiency to take risks and experiment with different styles.

Cadillac

Cadillac

Do you use plug-ins?
With Avid I try not to, unless a specific project calls for it. If I’m using plug-ins, that means I’ve probably moved to After Effects.

What are some recent projects you have worked on?
Heineken’s “Soccer is Here” and Cadillac’s “CT6 Forward” are my two most recent campaigns. Cadillac was fantastic to be a part of. The material I had to work with was so rich and delicate. Each individual shot was successful on so many levels — color, light, movement, composition and so on. Some projects require a bit of strategy in the edit so high quality shots don’t call attention to less successful ones, but not with this project. It was like playing chess with a board full of queens and no pawns.

Do you have a favorite genre? If so, why?
Comedy. I know it’s a cliché to say that it’s my favorite because it’s the hardest genre to work in, but that’s probably why. One unique challenge to comedy is that the margin for error is so wide compared to other genres. The impact of a not-so-exciting fight scene is much less than the impact of a not-so-funny joke. Getting an audience to laugh is one of the biggest challenges in the industry, and so satisfying when you’re successful.

It’s also easy to get caught in an echo chamber of bad comedy in a writers’ room or on set. When you’re working with comedic premises and characters, trying out concepts and laughing with your coworkers, you can easily lose objectivity and convince yourself something is funny when it definitely isn’t.

I read somewhere that on the set of Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie, there was a real sense of seriousness and tension, despite it being one of Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray’s funniest movies. Maybe that’s a secret to great comedy… approach it seriously.

Any tips for new editors just starting out?
Listen! Not listening is a classic rookie mistake. Also, it’s more important to be in the right place than to be doing the most glamorous or rewarding tasks. Better to be low on the totem pole for a good film with good people than at the top directing for a bad film. Try to be around companies and projects you admire, then work hard to grow in those communities.

Quick Chat: Wildchild editor Richard Cooperman

By Randi Altman

As a young man, Wildchild editor Richard Cooperman loved watching movies, so much so that he decided to study film at Toronto’s Ryerson University, where he focused on direction and shot composition. It wasn’t until he was interning at a post house, which housed a music video company, that he became fascinated with the creative process of editing. “Watching directors edit… I was amazed how selecting a shot, its length and placement could evoke so many different emotions,” explains Cooperman.

He called editing his first project “a joyous, rewarding experience” and from that moment on he knew he had found his calling. “I would go on to edit hundreds of music videos and collaborate with major artists. That same sense of style, design, rhythm and experimentation would carry me over into the commercial world.”

Cooperman cut this spot for Thierry Mugler.

Cooperman is known for his distinctive storytelling style, whether it’s high-end fashion and beauty work, music videos or car commercials. We decided to throw some questions at Cooperman to find out more.

How has editing changed since you started in the business?
As far as technology, I’ve seen it go from tape to Avid to Final Cut and now to Premiere. I think the biggest change for editors is the increasing amount of footage we look through since production companies started shooting digital over film. What was once five to seven hours of dailies can now be 10 to 30 hours. That, coupled with tighter deadlines, has made the selecting process more challenging.

You have a diverse resume, working in music videos, fashion and car spots. Can you talk about how you approach each? Do you have a favorite type of project to work on?
My first step is always about organization. Watching and selecting, while not the sexiest part of the process, might be the most important. It’s like the painter, assembling all the colors on the palette. Even though I do work in different genres, I don’t tend to categorize the music videos/commercials I work on as fashion/beauty or automotive, but find a commonality between them — a visual/audio assault on the senses.

Lexus

Lexus

Two great examples of this can be found in spots for the Lexus IS brand (via Team One) that I had the pleasure of working on. The launch video Changing Lanes, directed by Melina Matsoukas (AICE winner for Best Editing), sees the IS as powerful, raw and sexy. Images of the car intercut with rapid, multilayered fashion/art/music video imagery are combined with aggressive title design and intense sound design. In Crowd, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, we see the IS car elegantly romanced in a succession of edits that seductively brings together the young hero lovers. Each edit is designed to intensely separate them from the crowd as they bask in a glowing light of beauty and luxury.

One of the many benefits of working in music videos was the opportunity to collaborate with so many visionary and talented music video directors that crossed over into commercials, bringing their unique styles and sensibilities. Such was the case with the ethereal Thierry Mugler Alien perfume ad, directed by Floria Sigismondi. This one depicts the awakening of a sun goddess.

Dove

Fashion and beauty sensibility can be applied to many brands, as in my recent collaboration with director Karina Taira on the latest campaign for Dove Chocolates out of BBDO. Shot on location in Chile, Taira captured stunning landscape visuals coupled with beautiful photography of a woman enjoying the most sensual chocolate experience.

How early do you like to get involved in the project?
I like to get involved as early on in the creative process as possible to hear everyone’s thoughts and ideas. This way I can start thinking about a mood and how music and sound design will shape the piece.

What’s your ideal collaboration with a director/client?
The ideal is to have a strong collaborative relationship with the director. To build a shorthand and to forge a trusting relationship. It’s been the basis of most of my creative projects.

What is your editing system of choice? Do you work on different systems?
I started on Avid, but I am always looking for ways to enhance the process, so I learned Final Cut, which proved to have many helpful tools for my style of editing. Recently, I started editing on Adobe Premiere, which is quite similar to Final Cut.

Favorite plug-ins?
My favorite tool is not a plug-in, but the composite mode, which can be found in Final Cut Pro and Premiere. It lets you quickly see different composites of the same shot without any rendering or keying. I use it a lot to create multi-layered graphical imagery.

Do you have any tips/advice for some young editors starting out in the business?
Being from Canada, I always say be polite! (Laughs). In all seriousness, stay true to your style and point of view. It is the reason they are choosing to work with you. Develop your own voice and constantly strive to push and learn new techniques. Watch a lot of films. Classic films. You will find they craft scenes in unexpected ways. It still inspires me. Always strive for excellence!

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You can check out Cooperman’s reel here.

Quick Chat: Reel FX’s EP/head of production Jim Riche

By Randi Altman

Industry veteran Jim Riche has witnessed the evolution of visual effects in his over 30 years in the business. He has seen the march from film to digital, many large VFX houses fall by the wayside, work leave the country, a crop of smaller VFX boutiques pop up and VFX houses diversifying with other services. The latter category fits Santa Monica- and Dallas-based Reel FX, where Riche recently has hung his hat as head of production for the studio’s commercial division. He brings with him experience in production management and consulting for feature films, commercials, visual effects, live action, dark ride production and design/graphics.

He comes to Reel FX from Blur Studio in Los Angeles, where he came up with a well-used and well-thought-of a bidding, cost-tracking and accounting structure. He also consulted on some big-name projects, including the VFX for Deadpool. Prior to that, he was working as a freelance VFX supervisor, VFX producer and VFX consultant for a number of post studios, handling top projects and strategies.

We reached out to Riche, who will be based in the company’s Dallas office, to find out more.

Reel FX Dallas

Why Reel FX, and why now?
I have known of Reel FX for many years and have always admired their work. The company is unique in today’s market in that it offers a full-service studio. Reel FX can work in commercials, features, interactive, live action and virtual reality. I have CG designers, designers, editors, Flame suites and audio suites, as well as a full team of development, interactive and virtual reality artists. I am intrigued with the possibilities of combining these disciplines to offer clients a complete media solution.

The days of the big VFX/animation companies in LA have slowly gone away. We have lost a number of the big shops to bankruptcy and to offshore tax incentives. Reel FX offers me all of the advantages of a big company and in a city where life and production is so much more affordable. I have been in this business for a long time, and Reel FX has put me in a position that will take advantage of my skill set.

What are some things you hope to accomplish in your new role?
My goals here are to grow the commercial division and to bring in clients from NY and LA. I have a wealth of talent here and I plan on attracting more creative leaders from the coasts. The addition of Colin McGreal from New York has shown the desire to grow this division. I feel I am the piece that has been missing. I’m the veteran that can bring this all together.

The offices at Reel FX Dallas

You have a pretty rich history in VFX. How have you seen the industry change over the years?
I got into this business well before digital technology came into the field. I started doing VFX when we did it all on film. So, you can say I have seen the complete evolution from film to CG and digital technology. I pride myself on the fact that I was interested in the latest technology and able to keep up with it. And I still do to this day.

Not only has the technology changed, but the commercial production industry has changed as well. Commercials are no longer a 30-second spot to run only on TV. They encompass all media— social media, interactive, user experience and much more. At Reel FX we are able to address all of the new platforms and take advantage of our capabilities to fulfill all of our clients needs. That is the biggest way I have seen the industry change. It’s all in the breadth of what commercial advertising means.

I know you’ve been involved with adjusting bidding practices. Do you intend to implement that at Reel FX as well?
Reel FX has a very strong system and certainly has a lot of experience and a strong support staff in this area. I will be bringing my experience to this team and together we will be making some changes in the process. There is always room for improvement that will benefit both Reel FX and our clients.

Hilton Barbados

Hilton Barbados

What projects are in the pipeline?
We’ve got lots of great projects wrapping up in the next few weeks, including Gold Bond (31,000 ft), Western Union (McGarry Bowen), Shinola (direct) and content for the Cleveland Cavaliers. On the VR front, we recently delivered a really cool experience for Hilton (GSD&M).

Finally, how was the move from LA to Dallas? I’m assuming Dallas is more laid back, in work and in life?
The move has been good. Dallas has a very large arts community, and that is very important to us. The city has the vitality of a large city and the demeanor and feel of a smaller town. Even in a city as large as Dallas, is it is much easier to exist than in LA or NYC. The highways are far less congested and the people are much more relaxed. The tempo is not that much different — it’s the personality of the people that takes the edge off and makes them appear less crazy.

Quick Chat: SGO CEO Miguel Angel Doncel

By Randi Altman

When I first happened upon Spanish company SGO, they were giving demos of their Mistika system on a small stand in the back of the post production hall at IBC. That was about eight years ago. Since then, the company has grown its Mistika DI finishing system, added a new product called Mamba FX, and brought them both to the US and beyond.

With NAB fast approaching, I thought I would check in with SGO CEO Miguel Angel Doncel to find out how the company began, where they are now and where they are going. I also checked in about some industry trends.

Can you talk about the genesis of your company and the Mistika product?
SGO was born out of a technically oriented mentality to find the best ways to use open architectures and systems to improve media content creation processes. That is not a challenging concept today, but it was an innovative view in 1993 when most of the equipment used in the industry was proprietary hardware. The idea of using computers to replace proprietary solutions was the reason SGO was founded.

It seems you guys were ahead of the curve in terms of one product that could do many things. Was that your goal from the outset?
Ten years ago, most of the manufacturers approached the industry with a set of different solutions to address different parts of the workflow; this gave us an opportunity to capitalize on improving the workflow, as disjointed solutions imply inefficient workflows due to their linearity/sequentiality.

We always thought that by improving the workflow, our technology would be able to play in all those arenas without having to change the tools. Making the workflow parallel and saving time when a problem is detected avoids going backwards in the pipeline, and we can focus moving forward.

I think after so many years, the industry is saying we were right, and all are going in that direction.

How is SGO addressing HDR?
We are excited about HDR, as it really improves the visual experience, but at the same time it is a big challenge to define a workflow that can work in both HDR and SDR in a smooth way. Our solution to that challenge is the four-dimensional grading that is implemented with our 4th ball. This allows the colorist to work not only in the three traditional dimensions — R, G and B — but also to work in the highlights as a parallel dimension.

What about VR?
VR pieces together all the requirements of the most demanding 3D with the requirements of 360. Considering what SGO already offers in stereo 3D production, we feel we are well positioned to provide a 360/VR solution. For that reason, we want to introduce a specific workflow for VR that helps customers to work on VR projects, addressing the most difficult requirements, such as discontinuities in the poles, or dealing with shapes.

The new VR mode we are preparing for Mistika 8.7 will be much more than a VR visualization tool. It will allow users to work in VR environments the same way they would work in a normal production. Not having to worry about circles ending up being highly distorted ellipses and so forth.

What do you see as the most important trends happening in post and production currently?
The industry is evolving in many different directions at the moment — 8K realtime, 4K/UHD, HDR, HFR, dual-stream stereo/VR. These innovations improve and enhance the audience’s experience in many different ways. They are all interesting individually, but the most vital aspect for us is that all of them actually have something in common — they all require a very smart way of how to deal with increasing bandwidths. We believe that a variety of content will use different types of innovation relevant to the genre.

Where do you see things moving in the future?
I personally envision a lot more UHD, HDR and VR material in the near future. The technology is evolving in a direction that can really make the entertainment experience very special for audiences, leaving a lot of room to still evolve. An example is the Quantum Break game from Remedy Studios/Microsoft, where the actual users’ experience is part of the story. This is where things are headed.

I think the immersive aspect is the challenge and goal. The reason why we all exist in this industry is to make people enjoy what they see, and all these tools and formulas combined together form a great foundation on which to build realistic experiences.

Quick Chat: Cut + Run’s Jay Nelson on editing ‘The Bronze’

Who doesn’t like the story of someone overcoming a physical injury in sport and succeeding? (Think Curt Schilling’s bloody ankle during the 2004 World Series.) It’s how legends are made, but what happens after the applause has stopped and the reporters stop requesting interviews? Well this is the premise of the new comedy, The Bronze, by Bryan Buckley.

The film focuses a light on gymnast Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch), whose performance on a ruptured Achilles during the Olympics clinched a bronze medal for the US team — but things went downhill from there. In the years since capturing the medal, she’s still living in her father’s basement, still wearing her Team USA gym suit and sporting some crazy bangs, a ponytail and a scrunchie. She spends most days at the mall enjoying her minor celebrity while being unpleasant and rude. All of that changes when she is asked to coach her hometown’s newest gymnastics prodigy.

Jay Nelson

Jay Nelson

Director Buckley called on Cut + Run’s Jay Nelson to edit The Bronze, from Sony Pictures Classics. We reached out to LA-based Nelson, who used Avid Media Composer on the film, to find out more about the workflow and how he collaborated with the director.

How did you get involved in the film?
I had been working with Bryan for a couple of years, and he had been developing the idea with Melissa and Winston Rauch for about six months and he asked me if I’d want to be involved. He gave me the script, but I didn’t really need to read it — if Bryan asks if you want to do a film with him, you do it. Then I read the script and I thought it was hilarious and bold.

What are some things you enjoy about working with Buckley?
He is always available for you, no matter how busy he is. Also, he covers exactly what I need to make an edit great, which makes my job a heck of a lot easier. We have a really amazing shorthand with each other. We have the same taste in comedy. But my favorite part about working with Bryan is that I am constantly learning from him, and not just about filmmaking… about life. And we laugh a hell of a lot

Can you talk about any challenges during the editing process?
The approval process was very long. We had to answer to a lot of masters. I showed an edit a week after they finished shooting, then we spent six months revising that cut. The hardest part about the revisions was shaving the last four minutes out of the film. It was a very painful process getting it to 90 minutes.

How was it to premiere at Sundance?
Exhilarating. I’ve submitted four films to Sundance over the years and none of them ever made the cut for one reason or another. It’s always a roll of the dice; there are so many factors that contribute to a films success with their review process. To finally be there after all these years and experience seeing a first run of the film with a massive crowd was truly incredible. And to see lines of people just to be on the waiting list to get in was total vindication for all the work we put into it.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned?
The lessons I learned on this film weren’t so much about the process of making a film, but rather the process of bringing a film to market. Just making a great movie doesn’t mean a film is going to have success. It was almost 16 months from the time we premiered at Sundance to the final release of The Bronze, and a lot of stuff happened during that time. Relativity went out of business, then Sony Classics rescued the film, and then there were several delays pertaining to the release date.

I say it on every film I do — there are no guarantees. If you’re going to do a film, you gotta be willing to do it for the love of making a picture. Success is not imminent. In the end, I’m really proud of The Bronze, and proud we were able to share it with a wide audience. I think it’s going to have a great long life down the road. I think that sex scene alone will be kept in a hall of fame of some sort (laughs). That is the great thing about making movies: you have the opportunity to create something that can stay around after your gone.

If you could compete in the Olympics, your sport would be?
I always dreamed of winning a gold in hockey. It certainly wouldn’t be gymnastics. After sitting in an editing chair for as long as I have been, maybe I’d be better off pursuing curling or something like that.

——–
Check out The Bronze’s trailer.

Quick Chat: The Foundation’s Gareth Cook

By Randi Altman

Not long ago, two industry veterans put their heads together and came up with a plan for a boutique-type post house that would offer clients the technology and workflows required for today’s productions in a comfortable and accommodating atmosphere. The result was Burbank-based The Foundation, which offers offline rentals, on-set, near-set and traditional dailies, online editing, color correction, visual effects, titling and delivery services for TV, OTT content, music videos, commercials and features. Whew!

Let’s dig in deeper with managing partner and senior colorist Gareth Cook, who over the past 20 years has worked at Technicolor, Laser Pacific Media Corp., MTI Film and Ascent Media. His credits include CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. His partner, Cliff Dugan, has spent over 25 years in the television and film industry focusing on post. Prior to The Foundation, Dugan was VP of technical sales at Technicolor, EVP of Laser Pacific’s television division and VP of sales and marketing at Ascent Media Group.

Your staff is made up of industry veterans. Who are they, and how did you come together?
Our team has an extensive background in post, from the days of film to the development of today’s file-based workflows. It might sound cliché, but the foundation of The Foundation is really our staff. As a new company, it is very important that we have the right team. Our core group has worked together a lot over many years, and we’re thrilled to be able to “get the band back together.”

In addition to myself, the team includes our other managing partner Cliff Dugan, who is heading business development; senior editor and technical director Dan Aguilar, who is a multiplatform editor and VFX artist; and our director of engineering, John Stevens, who is always looking to push the envelope of technology to increase efficiency and enhance a client’s experience.

How will The Foundation differ from the facilities you have worked at in the past? Did you sort of build your own “ideal” of a studio?
We really did. The Foundation is something Cliff and I wanted to start for several years — a boutique facility with big power. That means that we’re delivering high-quality services but also flexible enough to adjust as our clients need us to. We spent a lot of time planning and searching for the right partners, and we found them in Sixteen19 and Vortechs. We like to say that The Foundation is “powered by” Sixteen19, which has locations in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, London and Vancouver and provides location-based dailies, DI color and VFX and Vortechs, which is based in Los Angeles and has grown from an Avid rental and support company to a provider of post solutions.

Why is now the time to start something new?
Today’s technology allows us to offer the same services as the larger facilities, but within a more client-friendly environment.

Can you talk specifically about what gear you use?
Truthfully, equipment is equipment, but it’s how John and Dan put everything together that makes The Foundation unique. For example, every bay can access each piece of equipment, whether it’s Resolve, Avid, Flame, Smoke, etc., so if an editor finds a color “pop” during a session, he can access the Resolve and correct the issue. Or the colorist can step in make the correct right there in the edit bay. The guys have done an incredible job setting this place up.

Can you name some recent projects you’ve worked on and what you did?
We finished the color correction on The Real O’Neals for ABC, which premiered March 8, and we did VFX and color for Cinemax’s Banshee and Quarry. We’re currently doing the post for The CW’s iZombie, a CBS pilot called Furst Born and the new 20th Century Fox series, Shots Fired.

What haven’t I asked that’s important?
Our location! We’re located right across the street from Warner Bros, and half a mile from Disney, Universal and The Burbank Studios.

Quick Chat: DP Dejan Georgevich, ASC

By Randi Altman

Long-time cinematographer Dejan Georgevich, ASC, has been working in television, feature film production and commercials for over 35 years. In addition to being on set, Georgevich regularly shares his experience and wisdom as a professor of advanced cinematography at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

Georgevich’s TV credits include the series Mercy, Cupid, Hope & Faith, The Book of Daniel and The Education of Max Bickford. In the world of documentaries, he has worked on HBO’s Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, PBS’ A Wayfarer’s Journey: Listening to Mahler and The Perfumed Road.

One of his most recent projects was as DP on Once in a Lifetime, a 30-minute television pilot about two New Jersey rockers trying to make it in the music business. The show’s musical roots are real — Once in a Lifetime was written by Iron Maiden’s bass player and songwriter, Stephen Harris.

Georgevich, who was in Australia on a job, was kind enough to use some of his down time to answer our questions about shooting, lighting, inspiration and more. Enjoy…

How did you decide TV production and cinematography, in particular, would be your path?
Perhaps it all started when I hauled around a Bell & Howell projector half my size in elementary school, showing films to an assembly of kids transfixed to a giant screen. Working on the stage crew in middle school revealed to me that I was “a fish to water” when it came to lighting.

You work on a variety of projects. How does your process change, if at all, going from a TV spot to a TV series to a documentary, etc.?
Each genre informs the other and has made me a better storyteller. For example, my work in documentaries demands being sensitive to anticipating and capturing the moment. The same skills translate perfectly when shooting dramas, which require making the best choices that visually express the idea, mood and emotion of a scene.

How do you decide what is the right camera for each job? Or do you have a favorite that you use again and again?
I choose a camera that offers the widest dynamic range, renders lovely skin tones, a natural color palette, and is user-friendly and ergonomic in handling. My camera choice will also be influenced by whether the end result will be projected theatrically on a big or small screen.

Once in a Lifetime

You used the Panasonic Varicam 35 on the TV pilot Once in a Lifetime. Why was this the right camera for this project, and was most of the shooting outdoors?
Once in a Lifetime was an independently financed TV pilot, on a tight schedule and budget, requiring a considerable amount of shooting in low-light conditions. This production demanded speed and a limited lighting package because we were shooting on-location night interiors/exteriors, including nightclubs, rooftops, narrow tenement apartments and dimly-lit city streets. Panasonic Varicam 35’s dual ISO of 800 and 5000 provided unbelievable image capture in low-light conditions, rendering rich blacks with no noise!

What were some of the challenges of this project? Since it was a pilot, you were setting a tone for the entire series. How did you go about doing that?
The biggest challenge for me was to “re-educate my eye” working with the Panasonic Varicam 35, which sees more than what my eye sees, especially in darkness. To my eye, a scene would look considerably under-lit at times, but surpringly the picture on the monitor looked organic and well motivated. I was able to light predominately with LEDs and low-wattage lights augmenting the practicals or, in the case of the rooftop, the Manhattan night skyline. House power and/or portable put-put generators were all that was necessary to power the lights.

The pilot’s tone, or look, was achieved using the combination of wide-angle lenses and high-contrast lighting, not only with light and shadow but with evocative primary and secondary colors. This is a comedic story about two young rockers wanting to make it in the music business and their chance meeting with a rock ’n’ roll legend offering that real possibility of fulfilling their dreams.

How did you work with the DIT on this project, and on projects in general?
I always prefer and request a DIT on my projects. I see my role as the “guardian of the image,” and having a DIT helps preserve my original intent in creating the look of the show. In other words, with the help of my DIT, I like to control the look as much as possible in-camera during production. I was very fortunate to have Dave Satin as my DIT on the pilot — we have worked together for many years — and it’s very much like a visual  pitcher/catcher-type of creative relationship. What’s more, he’s my second set of eyes and technical insurance against any potential digital disaster.

Can you talk about lighting? If you could share one bit of wisdom about lighting, what would it be?
As with anything to do with the arts, I believe that lighting should be seamless. Don’t wear it on your sleeve. Keep it simple… less is best! Direction of light is important as it best describes a story’s soul and character.

What about working with colorists after the shoot. Do you do much of that?
As a DP, I believe it’s critically important that we are active participants in post color correction. I enjoy outstanding collaborations with some of the top colorists in the business. In order to preserve the original intent of our image we, as directors of photography, must be the guiding hand through all phases of the workflow. Today, with the advent of digital image capture, the cinematographer must battle against too many entities that threaten to change our images into something other than what was originally intended.

What inspires you? Fine art? Photography?
I make it a point to get my “creative fix” by visiting art museums as often as possible. I’m inspired by the works of the Grand Master painters and photographers — the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio, Georges de la Tour, Edward Hooper, Henri Cartier Bresson, William Eggelston — too many to name!  Recreating the world through light and perspective is magical and a necessary reminder of what makes us alive!

What haven’t I asked that you feel is important to talk about?
We’re currently experiencing a digital revolution that is being matched by an emerging revolution in lighting (i.e. LED technology). The tools will always change, but it’s our craft reflecting the heart and mind that remains constant and so important.

Catching up with Foundation Edit’s Jason Uson

By Kristine Pregot

Austin’s Foundation Editorial is a four-year-old editorial facility founded by editor Jason Uson. Nice Shoes and Foundation Edit have been working together since 2014, when our companies launched a remote partnership allowing clients in Austin to work with Nice Shoes colorists in New York, Chicago and Minneapolis. So, when it came time to pick a location for our 2016 SXSW party, which we hosted with our friends at Sound Lounge, Derby Content and Audio Network, Foundation Edit was a natural choice.

In-between the epic program of parties, panels and screenings, I was able to chat with Jason about his edit shop, SXSW, remote color, and the tattoo artist giving out real tattoos at our party…

What was the genesis of Foundation Editorial?
I started my career at Rock Paper Scissors, and spent four years there learning from the best. I then freelanced all over Los Angeles at the top shops and worked with some of the most talented editors in the industry, both in broadcast and film. I always dreamed of having my own shop and after years of building amazing relationships, it was time.

What platforms do you edit on?
I am an Media Composer editor. I always have been, but I haven’t touched it in over two years. Apple FCP 7 has been our go-to, as well as Adobe Premiere. They are both amazing tools, but there is something special about Avid Media Composer that I miss.

How many editors do you have at Foundation Edit?
We have two editors: myself and Blake Skaggs. Our styles are different, but our workflow is very similar. It’s nice to have someone with his caliber of talent working alongside me.

How do you usually spend SXSW?
I usually spend SXSW in my edit bay, typically booked on some fun projects. I was lucky enough this year to get Sunday off for the party. I hit up a few movies and shows.

How did the 2016 SXSW party come together?
It was a no-brainer. We are lucky to be in the heart of it all and surrounded by so much creativity. We have a great location that lends itself to hosting our clients, friends and colleagues, but with so many people involved and with SXSW being as big as it is, it was no small fete. It had its challenges, but in the end it was a great success.

The tattoo artist at the party was amazing. 
My partner, Transistor Studios, came up with the idea, and I thought it was a perfect fit for us. We all have tattoos and love the process, and we thought it would be a great addition to the party. Damon Meena, Aaron Baumle and Jamie Rockaway flew our tattoo artist, Mike Lucena, in from Brooklyn.

What’s your favorite thing about Austin?
That’s a loaded question. There is so much to love about Austin. I think it starts with the spirit of the city. Austin is a genuine community of people that celebrate and encourage talent, creativity and artistry. It’s in the DNA of who Austin is. Although the city is growing at a massive pace, and we all see and feel the changes, there is still that heart — that core Austin feeling. Let’s be honest though, the food is a major favorite! I’ll just leave you with some key words: barbeque and tacos.

Before I let you go, can you talk about the last collaboration between Nice Shoes and Foundation Edit?
Nice Shoes colorist Gene Curley outdid himself this time working on See What They See for Walgreens. We created six long-form pieces, three 30-second spots, and somewhere in the area of 50 social videos.

GSD&M’s Group creative director, Bryan Edwards, and his team — Joel Guidry, Gregg Wyatt and Barrett Michaels — worked with associate producer Dylan Heimbrock. They went to Uganda and put cameras in kids’ hands to, “See What They See.” So their campaign needed two “looks.” The beauty of Uganda for the first look, and then our second look needed to not only be beautiful and thoughtful, but different enough to tell the story through these kids’ eyes.

Gene really found that common thread that it needed to be successful. It’s really an amazing service to be able to collaborate with the entire team of Nice Shoes colorists in realtime between New York City and Austin.

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.

Quick Chat: Light Iron New York supervising colorist Steven Bodner

By Randi Altman

Turn your TV to any network or streaming channel any evening and you will immediately be reminded just how much television production is currently going on in New York City. This boon is directly related to New York’s inviting production tax incentives. And thanks to the state’s post production tax incentives, many of these shows are now staying in New York for finishing.

In response to this increase in work, Panavision’s Light Iron in New York has been growing its episodic division, most recently with the addition of supervising colorist Steven Bodner, who joins after eight years at Deluxe in New York.

Bodner’s extensive television resume includes Girls, Blue Bloods, Treme, True Detective and the new HBO series Vinyl. Bodner also works on features, including the recent Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba.

Considering his history and his new position, we figured there was no better time to reach out and learn more about Bodner and how he works.

Why was now the right time to make a move, and why was Light Iron the right choice?  
I was with Deluxe for the past eight years and felt I needed a change. I was approached by Light Iron and was impressed right off the bat with their technological know-how and advancements. The Panavision connection also influenced my decision. I love the fact that I can be involved from the early stages of choosing the camera and lenses to the final delivery.

What do you hope to accomplish in your new position at Light Iron? Your title says supervising colorist, but you will you be hands-on for shows as well?
I am 100 percent hands-on with all the projects I work on. I feel like I can connect more with the filmmakers and creatives by touching every frame of the show or film. My title is more for building a strong team and department. I want to help our new colorists polish their skills so that we can all grow together and collaborate. I have a lot of knowledge I can spread through our new department, and the title allows me to do that.

What is your color grading tool of choice?
I feel like we as artists use many tools to mold a picture. A great colorist can shape pretty pictures with whatever platform we are given — it’s more about the creative vision. That being said, I am currently using the latest version of Resolve from Blackmagic. (Light Iron’s New York facility just installed a Quantum StorNext 5 SAN (700 TB) and a Sony X300 for HDR monitoring.)

What is your ideal way of working on a TV show, and does that differ from how you work on a feature?
What I like to do, whether it be TV or a film, is get involved as early as possible. I like to get into the head of the DP and/or director and see what his or her visions are for the show. Then, during testing, I like to find time to sit and play around a bit and get some “look-book” stills done for reference going forward. When a delivery actually comes in, I like to do a quick pass unsupervised and get everything in a ballpark with my look-book stills and then go from there with the clients.

Do you prefer getting visual examples of looks or talking about the look and feel?
It’s always nice to get visual examples of what the DP or creative wants. However, there are situations when time doesn’t allow for that and a quick conversation is all you get. That’s why, for me, it’s important to be involved from the start and to communicate as often as possible or needed.

As a New York post veteran, it must be fun watching all this episodic work come to New York, and stay in NY for post. 
It’s been great watching the amount of NY work grow. I remember years ago only doing the dailies and hoping for a day when we could keep the finishing here as well. It’s a dream come true.

What changes/trends have you noticed over the past few years relating to color grading?
The biggest changes or trends I’ve noticed are related to speed and capabilities. With most projects being digital now, there is an expectation for speed. We have to be fast and precise while retaining the look and the feel of the show. I also feel like we are doing a fair amount of beauty work in color due to the stronger color tools and better trackers.

Finally, where do you find inspiration for looks? Photography? Museums? The streets of New York?
I get my inspiration from everyday life, photography and other shows or films. I also like to sit in my color suite and just try things that I normally wouldn’t do, when a client is present, to see what comes out of it.

Quick Chat: VFX Legion’s James Hattin on his visual effects collective

By Randi Altman

While VFX Legion does have a brick-and-mortar location in Burbank, California, their team of 50 visual effects artists is spread around the world. Started in 2012 by co-founder and VFX supervisor James Hattin and six others who were weary of the old VFX house model — including large overhead and long hours away from family — the virtual studio was set up to allow artists to work where they live, instead of having to move to where the work is.

VFX Legion has provided visual effects for television shows like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, as well as feature films such as Insidious: Chapter 3, Jem and the Holograms, and Sinister 2. We recently reached out to Hattin to find out more about his collective and how they make sure their remote collaboration workflow is buttoned up.

Sinister 2

Sinister 2

Can you talk about the work/services you provide?
VFX Legion full-service visual effects facility that provides on-set supervision, tracking, match move, animation, 3D, dynamics and compositing. We favor the compositing side of the work because we have so many skilled compositors on the team. However, we have talent all over the world for dynamics, lighting and animation as well.

You co-founded VFX Legion as a collective?
Legion was started by myself and six equal partners. We are mostly artists and production people. This has been the key to our early success — the partners alone could deliver a significant amount of work. Early on, Legion was designed to be a co-op, wherein, everyone who worked for the company would have a vested interest in getting projects done profitably. However, in researching how that could be done on a legal and business level, we found that we were going to have to change the industry one way at a time. A fully remote workflow was enough to get VFX Legion off the ground. We will have to wait for that change to take hold industry wide before we move into 100s of “owners.”

You have an official office, but you have artists working all over the world. Why did you guys opt to do that as opposed to expanding in Burbank?
The brick-and-mortar office is for the management and supervision. We have an expandable team that handles everything from IO to producing and supervising the artists around the world. We could expand this facility to house artists, but the goal of the company was to find the best artists around the world — not to open offices all over the world. We want people to be able to work wherever they want to live. We don’t mandate that they come in to the office and work a 9 to 5. Artists get to work on their own schedule in their own offices and personal spaces. It’s the new way of giving talent their lives back. VFX can be insanely demanding on the people who work in the industry.

What are the benefits?
The benefits are that artists take control over their lives. They can work all night if they are night owls. They can walk the dog or go out to eat with their families and not be chained to a desk in one of the most expensive cities in the world — which is where all VFX hubs are based. It takes a certain kind of artist, with a certain level of experience, to manage themselves in this atmosphere. Those who do it well can live pretty well by working full time for Legion on projects.

Are there any negatives?
If the artist isn’t the kind of person that can start and finish something, if they can’t manage their time very well, or don’t communicate well, this can be very challenging. We’ve had a few artists bow out over the last few years because they simply weren’t cut out for the type of work that we do. Self management is very important to this pipeline, and if someone isn’t up to it, it can be frustrating.

What kind of software do you use for your VFX work?
We use Nuke and Maya, along with Redshift and VRay for rendering. We also call on After Effects, Mocha, Zoom, Aspera and Shotgun.

With people spread around the world, how do you communicate and review and approve projects? Can you walk us through a typical workflow, starting with how early you get involved on a project?
On many projects, we start at the very beginning. We are there for production meetings and help drive the visual effects workflow so that it is easier to deal with in post. Once we are done on set, we work with the editorial staff to manage shot turnovers and ingesting plates into our system. Once we have plates in our system, we assign the work out to the artists who are a good fit for the work that needs to be done.

Jem and the Holograms

Jem and the Holograms

We let them know what the budget is for the shot and they can accept or refuse the work. Once the artist is kicked off, they will start sending shots through Shotgun for review by a supervisor in-house in Burbank. We generally look at the Shotgun media first to see if the basics are in place. If that looks good, we download the uploaded QuickTime from Shotgun. When that is approved, we pull the synced DPX frames and evaluate them through a QC process to make sure that they meet the quality standards we have as a company.

There are a lot of moving parts, and that is why we have a team of trained coordinators, project managers and producers here in Burbank, to make sure that we facilitate all the work and track all the progress.

Can you talk about some recent projects?
We have been working on Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder for ABC Television. There are a number of challenges working on shows like this. The schedule can be very tight and we are tasked with updating many older elements from previous vendors and previous seasons.

This can also be a lot of fun because we get a chance to make sure that the effects look as good as possible, but we slowly update each of the assets to be a little more ‘Legion-like.’ This can be little secondary animations that weren’t there originally or a change in seasons of a set extension. It is all very exciting and fast paced.

——–

For more on VFX Legion, check out James Hattin’s LinkedIn blog here.

Quick Chat: East Coast Digital’s Stina Hamlin on VR ‘Cardboard City’

New York City-based East Coast Digital believes in VR and has set up its studio and staff to be able to handle virtual reality projects. In fact, they recently provided editorial, 3D animation, color correction and audio post on the 60-second VR short Cardboard City, co-winner of the Samsung Gear Indie VR Filmmaker Contest. The short premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. You can check it out here.

Cardboard City, directed by Double Eye Productions’ Kiira Benzing, takes viewers inside the studio of Brooklyn-based stop-motion animator Danielle Ash, who has built a cardboard world inside her studio. There is a pickle vendor, a bakery and a neighborhood bar, all of which can be seen while riding a cardboard roller coaster.

East Coast Digital‘s Stina Hamlin was post producer on the project. We reached out to her to find out more about this project and how the VR workflow differs from the traditional production and post workflow.

Stina Hamlin

How did this project come about?
The project came about organically after being introduced to director Kiira Benzing by narrative designer Eulani Labay. We were all looking to get our first VR project under our belt.  In order to understand the post process involved, I thought it was vital to be involved in a project from the inception, through the production stage and throughout post.  I was seeking projects and people to team up with, and after I met Kiira this amazing team came together.

What direction did you get?
We were given the understanding of the viewer experience that the film should evoke and were asked to be responsible for the technical side of things on set and in editorial.

So you were you on set?
Yes, we were definitely on set. That was an important piece of the puzzle. We were able to consult on what we could do in color and we were able to determine file management and labeling of takes to make it easier to deal with when back in the edit room. Also, we were able to do a couple of stitches at the beginning of the day to determine best camera positioning, etc.

How does your workflow differ from a traditional project to a VR project?
A VR project is different because we are syncing and concerned with seven-plus cameras at a time. The file management has to be very detailed and the stitching process is tedious and uses new software that all editors are getting up to speed with.

Monitoring the cameras on set is tricky, so being able to stitch on set to make sure the look is true to the vision was huge.  That is something that doesn’t happen in the traditional workflow… the post team is definitely not on set.

Cardboard City

Can you elaborate on some of the challenges of VR in general and those you encountered on this project?
The challenges are dealing with multiple cameras and cards, battery or power, and media for every shot from every camera. Syncing the cameras properly in the field and in post can be problematic, and the file management has to uber-detailed.  Then there’s the stitching… there are different software options, no one is a master yet. It is tedious work, and all of this has to get done before you can even edit the clips together in a sequence.

Our project also used stop-motion animation, so we had the artist featured in our film experimenting with us on how to pull that off.  That was really fun and it turned out great!  I heard someone say recently at the Real Screen conference that you have to unlearn everything that you have learned about making a film.  It is a completely different way to tell a story in production and post.

What was your workflow like?
As I mentioned before, I thought that it was vital to be on set to help with media management and “shot looks” using only natural light and organically placed light in preparation for color. We were also able to stitch on set to get a sense of each set-up, which really helped the director and artist see their story and creatively do their job. We then had a better sense of managing the media and understanding how the takes were marked.

Once back in the edit room we used Adobe Premiere to clean up each take and sync each clip for each camera.  We then brought only those clips into the stitching software — Autopano and Giga software from Kolor.com — to stitch and clean up each scene. We rendered out each scene into a self contained QuickTime for color. We colored in DaVinci Resolve and edited the scenes together using Premiere.

What about the audio? 
We recorded nothing on location. All of the sound was designed in post using the mix from the animated short film Pickles for Nickels that was playing on the wall, in addition to the subway and roller coaster sound effects.

What tools were used on set?
We used GoPro Hero 4s with firmware 3.0 and shot in log, 2.7k/30fps. iPads and iPhones were used to wirelessly monitor the rig, which was challenging. We used a laptop with AutoPano and Giga software to stitch on set. This is the same software we used in the edit bay.

What’s next?
We are collaborating once more with Kiira Benzing on the follow-up to Cardboard City. It’s a full-fledged 360 VR short film. The sequel will be even more technically advanced and create additional possibilities for interaction with the user.

Postal grows staff with Uvphactory’s Damijan Saccio, Gene Nazarov

By Randi Altman

Industry vet and Uvphactory co-founder Damijan Saccio has joined New York City’s Postal as executive producer. Postal, Humble’s sister shop for design and VFX, also brought on creative director Gene Nazarov. He too arrives from motion design and visual effects studio UVPhactory, which Saccio co-founded in 2000.

I first met Saccio about 14 years ago. I remember talking to him about animation and how his role as a teacher at a variety of colleges in the New York area helped him find young talent trained on Softimage his studio’s software of choice at the time — while Saccio continues using Softimage, he did add Maya and Cinema 4D to his toolbox.

Saccio and I have kept in touch through the years — he has helped make me smarter about animation, motion graphics and stereo — so when I heard the news about his move, I decided to reach out.

This is a big move. Any hesitation at all about going from owning your own shop to working for someone else?
Yes, indeed, it was a big change. I’ve been my own boss for about 16 years now and it’s definitely going to be a bit of a change from having my own company. But I would always joke that I had the strictest boss, so I guess this new gig can only be an improvement. But, seriously, I’ve been very fortunate in finding the fine team at Humble. It turns out that the owners and head of new business all have a lot in common with me. We immediately got along and have the same goals. The best thing was that they had strengths I had been looking for and I have strength they had been looking for. It sounds like a soundbite, but if really seems like it’s a perfect match.

Does this allow you to focus more on the creative and less on the day to day?
Yeah, there’s definitely less of the “I need to make sure we order more toilet paper for the studio,” or “I need to re-wire that janky Ethernet connection,” and more about coordinating the delivering of nine versions of a set of soft drink spots on time and make sure all the crazy amount of awesome effects we’re adding are completely seamless.

What do you think you can accomplish at Postal that you might not have been able to do at Uvphactory?
Well, I think it’s mostly a question of scale. We will continue to be able to do a lot of cool artistic and experiential projects we were known for, but now we’ll be able to do more larger scale and higher-end projects that I think will really make people’s heads turn!

Humble has some amazing directors in their roster, and I look forward to helping them realize the height of their visions, in addition to doing some amazing new things that will really help define Postal as the design and creativity cauldron that it now is.

You brought some of your guys with you to Postal? Why was that important?
Well, my team is my family, and really it’s all about the individuals that make a team so good, so of course I wanted to make sure that our core crew was going to have an opportunity to really shine at this new location.

The guys at Postal are extraordinarily talented and we’re excited to work together to make cool new things. I’m all about taking people from myriad backgrounds and putting them together in one room.  I think this new mix is going to create some really cool stuff.

What tools do you use?
We’ll use whatever it takes to realize the visions of our creatives, but the usual tools that consistently get used are Maya/Softimage with Vray/Redshift, Nuke/After Effects, Flame and Final Cut Pro.  There are a lot of other bells and whistles we employ, but these are the ones that are consistently used.

What are you working on now?
Well, you know how it is, I can’t really talk about any of the things we’re in progress on, but suffice it to say there’s some super funky soft drink spots about to come out, and we’ve just started on some pretty hilarious bits for a St Patrick’s Day promo. There are a number of other commercials we’re starting on as well but I have to wait a bit longer before I can talk about those!

Main Image: Damijan Saccio and Gene Nazarov.

 

Quick Chat: FilmLight CEO Wolfgang Lempp on HDR

FilmLight, creator of the popular BaseLight color grading system, has been making products targeting color since 2002. Over the years they have added other products that surround the color workflow, such as image processing applications and on-set tools for film and television.

With high dynamic range (HDR) a hot topic among those making tools for production and post and those who believe in HDR’s future, we reached out to FilmLight CEO and co-founder Wolfgang Lempp to pick his brain about the benefits of HDR and extended color gamut, and what we need to do to make it a reality.

Are you a fan of HDR?
Definitely. It opens up more creative possibilities, and it adds depth to the picture. Not everything benefits from looking more real, but the real world is certainly HDR. There is a certain aesthetic to dim highlights, as there is to black-and-white photography, but that is no justification to stick with black-and-white television, or with dim displays.

And consumers will appreciate the benefit of HDR too. When they walk into an electronics store and see a couple of HDR televisions among the standard screens, they will leap out as being clearly better. That is very different from stereo 3D technology, and it will drive the adoption of HDR in a big way.

So, what will it take to get HDR to consumers?
High-end cameras have been HDR for quite a while. It is just that we have compressed the output to make it look okay on standard displays. We now have the displays, and we are starting to get the projectors, too. The biggest obstacle is the infrastructure in between, and the implications regarding the proposed standards.

So there will be a time of confusion, as well as a time for bad HDR, before the dust will settle. And sadly, like with 4K and UHD, we probably end up with two different standards for film and TV. The big question at the moment is whether the least disruptive method, which uses the same signal for both standard dynamic range and HDR displays, will be all we can realistically hope for in TV at this point, and whether that is actually good enough.

Samsung’s HDR-ready KS9500 SUHD TV with Quantum dot display.

Is the SMPTE PQ standard the answer?
SMPTE 2084 — which formalizes the Dolby Perceptual Quantization (PQ) concept — is already in use and has its merits, certainly for movies where you can send the right version to each cinema. But it is a bit too forward-looking for the broadcast industry, which prefers to send a common signal to both standard dynamic range and HDR displays at home.

The existing broadcast infrastructure can be made to work with the current generation of HDR displays, and that might well be good enough for many years to come. SMPTE PQ is looking further into the future, but ironically the projection technology for cinema is trailing behind in terms of absolute brightness, so for the foreseeable future there is even less of a need to provide for that extra dynamic range.

The critical issue in the short term is banding of contours, not in the very dark parts of the image which we are all familiar with, but in the mid-range. PQ is the safer bet in that respect, but it needs a higher bit depth than the broadcast distribution channels are offering.

BBC in the UK and NHK, the Japanese national broadcaster, have put forward a proposal for a hybrid logarithmic and gamma encoding that could be a reasonable compromise for broadcasting, but it remains to be seen if it is a compromise too far when a wide variety of HDR content becomes available. It would be a shame if we end up with a long list of do’s and don’ts to make the images look acceptable.

At FilmLight, we support both standards, and if the industry can agree on something better, we will of course support that too. Our interest is in taking the technical limitations away from post and allowing people to concentrate on creativity.

HDR broadcast at CES 2016.

HDR broadcast at CES 2016.

What happens when an HDR signal reaches televisions in the home?
The real concern is set up — because to see the benefits you have to set things up correctly. And a relatively subtle shift, like extended color gamut or a not-so-subtle shift like HDR, has the capability of being badly configured.

When we moved from 4×3 to 16×9 displays, many people didn’t bother to adjust the screens correctly, so 4×3 content was stretched, making everyone looked squashed and fat. Even today, that problem hasn’t gone away completely. Whatever system is in place for delivering HDR to the home, it has to be simple to set up accurately for whatever receiving device the consumer chooses to use.

Some colorists are expressing concern about working with HDR and eye strain. Is this a serious issue?
The real world is HDR. Go outside into the sunshine and see what extended color and dynamics really means. The new generation of displays deliver only a pale imitation of this reality. Our eyes and brain have the ability to adjust over an amazingly wide range.

The serious point is that HDR should help to create more realistic, as well as more engaging and enticing pictures. If all we do with HDR is make the highlights brighter then it has failed as an addition to the creative toolset.

Dolby's HDR offering at CES.

Dolby’s HDR offering at CES.

Colorists today are used to working in a very dim environment. It will be different in the future, and it will take some time to get used to, but I think we all have faced more serious challenges.

What do you think the timeframe is for HDR?
It is already happening. Movies are out there and television is ready to go. NAB 2015 saw the gee-whiz demonstrations and NAB 2016 will see workable, affordable, practical solutions. January’s CES featured many HDR-ready displays on show, so there is real pressure on the broadcasters to provide the content.

If it is used carefully and creatively, I am very excited by the prospect, and I believe viewers will absolutely love it.

 

Quick Chat: Scale Logic’s Bob Herzan talks storage

Can you imagine for a second what it would be like without proper storage in our datacentric production and post world? Anarchy! To say it’s a big part of the puzzle would be an understatement.

At postPerspective, we cover storage news, technology and usage in a variety of ways, so recently we reached out to Scale Logic, which provides RAID, SAN and NAS, as well as other archiving solutions, to find out about their products and process.

Some of you might remember that Minneapolis-based Scale Logic Inc. grew out of what was once Rorke Data, which offered products to the post industry for almost 30 years. Scale Logic president/CEO Bob Herzan and about 20 former Rorke Data employees took that technology and experience and built on it, creating new products targeting the media and entertainment space.

Let’s find out more.

Genesis Unlimited is new-ish, but the Genesis platform has been around for how long?
Genesis’ predecessors were released in 2008 as a NUMA programing technology that uses multi-thread processing. The Genesis development team has been building software RAID solutions for the M&E market for eight years, so Genesis Unlimited is a third-generation product. The Genesis RX was introduced over three years ago, and the Genesis Unlimited was announced at NAB 2015.

Genesis Unlimited

Genesis Unlimited

What should pros know about your Unlimited and RX products?
HyperFS and the Genesis RAID software have been combined and sold as a licensed “SAN in a box” solution for five years now, but Unlimited licensing began in April 2015. The Genesis RX series features unlimited connectivity, which allows facilities to connect all their various systems to the central storage with the correct network speed.

Can you talk about how this helps post users specifically?
Imagine having your fixed SAN or NAS solution at your facility, then having the ability to invite freelance editors to come into your facility and simply be able to connect to your shared storage via Fibre or Ethernet and begin collaborating immediately — without the need to purchase additional hardware or software. The peace of mind this offers allows users to stop thinking about the technology and focus on the creative.

How does Unlimited differ from your other offerings?
Unlimited is tailored for reliability and cost, and it aims to solve connectivity, application compatibility, file system and data storage issues in the one box. While all of our products are meant to scale well, Genesis Unlimited’s scalability is designed for independent scale-out in performance and capacity.

You say you target M&E. How is this system optimized for the workflows of post and VFX pros?
Rather than adapted for M&E use, the system was built from the ground up with M&E in mind. Genesis has features like the HyperFS file system, which can optimize its stripe pattern for either GOPs or iframes. The Realtime Initiator offers guaranteed throughput.

Post pros using our tools don’t want to worry about bandwidth control when it comes to mission critical applications. For example, you might have an important customer reviewing your most recent edits while you review your full resolution 4K output in another bay. Our users don’t want to worry about what other workloads are happening on the SAN — if the bandwidth is overtaxed it could cause poor playback. The Unlimited solves the guesswork by allowing your playout server to take priority on the bandwidth available while other workstations on the SAN will share the leftover bandwidth.

Genesis products installed at 4 Max Post in Los Angeles.

Genesis products installed at 4 Max Post in Los Angeles.

Can you further explain the Realtime Initiator?
Genesis Unlimited can detect client machines connected through its connection ports via iQN or WWN, at which point it’s simple to input recognizable names, like “edit bay1” or “Mac1.” After naming the edit bays, you can toggle on or off realtime, which guarantees an amount of bandwidth for that machine and creates two pools of users: those that are realtime and those that are non-realtime. The non-realtime group can get suppressed with either a bandwidth ceiling they can’t collectively go over or a number of IOPs.

There are many practical uses for this, such as ensuring uninterrupted use for a client coming in for review of a project or setting power editors to realtime while the facility’s ancillary stations are non-realtime.

The Realtime Initiator feature will also give a block-level client priority access to the storage to ensure that no matter what the current workload on the SAN is, the most important suite in a facility will be able to playback without dropping frames.

How have you made this product secure in terms of data protection?
RAID-6 protection is standard on Genesis Unlimited, but it also offers RAID-7 protection — we have a hardened, safe Linux kernel and RAID-7.3 capability, which makes it very secure. The partial restore feature further exemplifies our focus on data security by only degrading a small portion of the disk when bad sectors are detected.

How does this relate in real-world workflows?
Well, for the most part, RAID systems themselves are very secure. When you have an issue with a RAID it typically is going to be due to aging hard drives, so as your system gets older your drives begin to fail. RAID-5 allows one drive to fail, RAID-6 allows two and RAID-7 allows up to three before your facility starts to be at risk of loosing data.

Scale Logic's lab techs testing out product.

Scale Logic’s lab techs testing out product.

The creative industry for the most part are not IT professionals and don’t necessarily take the same types of preventive maintenance measures that you see in IT. Finding ways to simplify the users’ experience and building in extra protection lets everyone sleep better at night.

This is a scalable system, but what’s the cost of entry? Can the smaller guys take advantage of Genesis Unlimited?
Yes, Genesis Unlimited is built with the collaborative work group in mind; this could be smaller boutique post houses, on-set production, broadcast and cable stations, houses of worship, as well as corporate facilities moving some of their marketing in-house.

These types of companies may not have the ability, or want, to purchase a dedicated Fibre Channel switch or metadata controller, but with Genesis Unlimited they can scale their solution as they grow. The 12-bay Genesis Unlimited starts at $24K using 2TB drives.

If you were a medium-sized VFX house working on commercials, what kind of system would you need and how does this benefit you?
We would recommend our 24- or 36-bay Genesis Unlimited, depending on their storage and bandwidth needs. We also offer a full line of traditional shared SAN solutions if the customer requires things like a dedicated metadata controller or high availability. These can either be used initially or migrated from a Genesis Unlimited, using existing hardware and licenses.

Do you have an advisory committee?
In relation to the HyperFS and our RX Series RAID storage (RX, RX2 and Unlimited) we are qualified for Adobe Anywhere, and certified with Blackmagic, NewTek, Telestream, FileCatalyst, Levels Beyond, Axle Video, Digital Vision, CatDV and others.

We also have developed an advisory board that will meet four times a year. This board is made up of eight industry veterans who currently hold executive positions at some of the industries leading storage manufacturing companies. We believe this committee and its dedication to the media and entertainment market will not only help drive HyperFS and our solutions sets, but will help us develop more focused features that continues to build efficiencies into our solution set.

 

Quick Chat: GoPro EP/showrunner Bill McCullough

By Randi Altman

The first time I met Bill McCullough was on a small set in Port Washington, New York, about 20 years ago. He was directing NewSport Talk With Chet Coppock, who was a popular sports radio guy from Chicago.

When our paths crossed again, Bill — who had made some other stops along the way — was owner of the multiple Emmy Award-winning Wonderland Productions in New York City. He remained there for 11 years before heading over to HBO Sports as VP of creative and operations. Bill’s drive didn’t stop there. Recently, he completed a move to the West Coast, joining GoPro as executive producer of team sports and motor sports.

Let’s find out more:

You were most recently at HBO Sports in New York. Why the jump to GoPro, and why was this the right time?
I was fortunate enough to have a great and long career with HBO, a company that has set the standard for quality storytelling, but when I had the opportunity to join the GoPro team I could not pass it up.

GoPro has literally changed the way we capture and share content. With its unique perspective and immersive style, the capture device has given filmmakers the ability to tell stories and capture visuals that have never existed before. The size of the device makes it virtually invisible to the subject and creates an atmosphere that is much more organic and authentic. GoPro is also a leader in VR capture and we’re excited for 2016.”

What will you be doing in your new role? What will it entail?
I am an executive producer in the entertainment division. I will be responsible for creating, developing and producing content for all platforms.

What do you hope to accomplish in this new role?
I am excited for my new role because I have the opportunity to make films from a completely new perspective. GoPro has done an amazing job capturing and telling stories. My goal is to raise the bar and grow the brand even more.

You have a background in post and production. Will this new job incorporate both?
Yes. I will oversee the creative and production process from concept to completion for my projects.

Quick Chat: Interstate director Laurent Barthelemy

It wasn’t long ago that Laurent Barthelemy joined the new directors group Interstate — founded by executive producer Danny Rosenbloom and director Yann Mabille — as a partner and a director.

Barthelemy is probably best known for his work as a CG artist/designer at Pysop. While there worked he on the AICP Award-winning spot Crow for MTV, as well as the Clio and Cannes Lion Award-winning spot Human Chain for Nike. He later went on to direct projects for Michelin, British Gas, American Express, Showtime and TED.

As an independent director, he has helmed commercials for Google and Xerox, as well as the Heather documentary via production company Smuggler.

Let’s find out more about his move to Interstate and how he will us both his CG background and directing skills in his new role.

Why Interstate, and why now?
Interstate was launched by Danny and Yann, who are among my favorite people in the industry. They’re really great guys with tons of drive and passion. We are getting together with a tight group of like-minded artists to make something fun.

Can you talk about the differences of directing VFX/CG versus live action?
Time is the main difference. Do you like to improv on the fly and jam with your band? Or, like a classical music conductor, do you like to craft each musical queue with your orchestra before you play? I like the idea of a classically trained conductor jamming with a metal band!

How do you pick a VFX supervisor, especially since you are a CG artist yourself?
I am, indeed, demanding since I’ve been a VFX supervisor myself. But the most important factor for me is to find a supervisor who understands that it’s all about the emotion and the story we are telling. It doesn’t really matter how we get there. If they are solid technically and approach their craft with creative flexibility and a fresh eye every time, I love them.

Is there a particular camera you like to work with, or does it depend on DP or project?
Recently, I really enjoyed filming with the Red Dragon. It handles colors from nature beautifully. We were shooting a film called Campers in the middle of the French countryside, and the range of greens we captured is gorgeous. Of course, it all depends on the project and my collaborators. When we shot the documentary Heather, an intimate portrait of a female boxer from Brooklyn, we used a nimble little Sony F3 with older, slightly beat-up lenses and I think it worked well.

Laurent Barthelemy on set (left).

You have talked in the past about how you like working with actors. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
There is a bit of wanting to be an actor myself (smiles). Remembering my own stage fright, I know viscerally how vulnerable it is to be an actor. You put yourself out there entirely. It’s you bringing something out from your soul and your body. So I guess the first part of my answer would be that I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for each actor I work with. Then there is something truly magical in seeing a scene unfold in many different ways; a new world being created every time the actors and I have a quick word before a take.

Can you talk about a project you either just finished or are about to start?
The project Campers I mentioned earlier is very dear to me. It is a naturalistic film with a supernatural twist. We had a six-day shoot deep in Ardeche, a part of the French countryside we rarely see on screen. We came with our star cast from Paris and found a few non-professional actors there who were trusting and very generous with their emotions. We are now crafting some crazy VFX sequences on top of that world. It’s very exciting.

What are your roots? How did you get started in this business, and how did it evolve to where you are now?
I got started in this business after I did my first short film. The guys at Psyop saw it and gave me a chance. I owe a lot to Marco Spier and Marie Hyon, in particular, who believed in me.

My roots are in Japanese anime, French new wave and American cinema. Pretty different influences, but in a way their collective stimulations resembles my work today; mixing different inspirations and having a lot of fun doing it.

Looking back on your career, if you could change one thing or do one thing differently, what would it be?
I’d probably have kept working with actors the entire time. I took a hiatus to focus on animation and design, but I’m grateful for the experience and exposure to these different skills, which have brought me to where I am now.

Quick Chat: Sony’s Tom McCarthy talks about new MPSE role

By Randi Altman

Tom McCarthy is an Oscar-winning sound supervisor (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and industry veteran who comes from a line of industry veterans. In addition to his role as EVP of post production facilities at Sony Pictures Studios, he was recently elected president of the MPSE (Motion Picture Sound Editor).

So why did this already busy man take on this additional role? Well, as he explains it, it is a way to give back to an industry he loves and that is in his blood. Let find out more about McCarthy and what he hopes to accomplish as MPSE president.

Why is this new role with MPSE so important to you?
My family has had a wide range of careers in the movie business. I spent my childhood in my father’s picture editorial room. I had an uncle who was a cinematographer and another uncle, Milo Lory, who was a sound effects editor. Milo won an Academy Award for Ben Hur. The movie industry has been a major part of my life and provided me with great memories and an amazing career. It is simply time to give back to an industry and community that I have been so blessed to be a part of.

What do you hope to tackle first?
The Motion Picture Sound Editors has been in existence for 63 years, promoting the art of sound and supporting its membership. It is my hope to expand its membership offering by increasing awareness and by creating new events and seminars to stimulate collaboration and mentoring of new talent. The board is considering the name “Sound Advice” for these events.

They will be hosted at different studios and facilities. I have already reached out to the management at many facilities for their support, and they have been extremely receptive. In addition, I have started to reach out to technology companies to sponsor an event where their hardware and software solutions can be presented and tested on-site by MPSE members, a kind of one-on-one NAB where companies share their tools and answer questions from the membership.

So educating and sharing information?
We are also considering the possibility of opening up a chat room on the MPSE website where members can ask and answer questions about new tools and hardware solutions, better ways to create sound elements or recordings, the ins and outs of gaming sound, and so forth. It would be a support mechanism for our membership. It would also allow students and up-and -coming talent to gain valuable knowledge early on in their careers, creating a stronger talent base for filmmakers and gaming producers. In that regard, it is my hope that sound editors in areas outside theatrical and television entertainment will increase their involvement in MPSE and provide their knowledge and experience to the organization.

Times are changing. So are the distribution methods and digital devices that share entertainment around the world. The MPSE needs to evolve with these changes and our current board is ready to do so. Most importantly, it is time for our community to share our knowledge and collaborate better to nurture new and upcoming talent. It is important for our professional members to mentor our student members.

You are clearly a believer in education and sharing information. Can you talk about how that has helped you in your career?
It doesn’t happen enough. People want to protect themselves and their careers. I hope we can change that. It is one reason that I ran for president. But this goal will not be realized unless our membership becomes more involved in the organization. Everyone must contribute to make big things happen. Our board wants it. Our membership wants it. I believe they have wanted it for a long time. It just needs a push. I strongly encourage our members — new and old — to get involved, to join the board. New ideas and fresh management is needed for the organization to evolve and diversify.

What is something about the MPSE that people might not know about, but should?

The MPSE organization is more than sound editors who work in features and television. It is a professional organization of sound supervisors, designers and editors, who are also re-recording mixers and Foley artists. Our talent supports and creates sound for all multimedia products, including features and television, and for a gaming industry that is increasing in size by leaps and bounds. Its membership is worldwide and offers anybody interested in entertainment sound the resources to expand their careers.


You started in this biz as a hands-on audio pro, do you ever get the itch to do that again?
I have to admit that it was difficult at first to turn my artistic hat in for an executive position. I still throw in my two cents on a soundtrack when asked and, yes, even sometimes when not asked.

I have been in my management role for roughly 22 years and I have enjoyed every minute. I learn something new every day about the business side of entertainment and try to incorporate that knowledge with my creative background. It helps to round out my decision-making and do what is best for filmmakers and the studios as a whole. Having the creative and business background is extremely helpful in running a post facility. I hope to use my creative knowledge and business experience to expand and strengthen the Motion Picture Sound Editors.

Quick Chat: Co3 senior colorist Greg Fisher talks ‘Spectre’

By Randi Altman

Senior colorist Greg Fisher, who works out of Company 3’s London studio, teamed up with director Sam Mendes and director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema on the latest James Bond film, Spectre.

In typical Bond fashion this film is a great-looking roller coaster ride of action and sights. We recently had the opportunity to throw some questions at Fisher about his work on the film, which stars Daniel Craig as Bond.

Can you talk about working with Sam Mendes? Had you worked with him before?
No, we never worked together before. He definitely has a lot of visual ideas about what he wants the Bond films to look like. I enjoyed working with him.

How did you work with the DP on this film?

I worked closely with Hoyte [Van Hoytema]. He shot the movie mostly on 35mm film because he loves the look of film. Sometimes people want to suppress grain or particular facets of the look of film, but he wants to see all that. He loves it.

How early did he bring you on the film?
I came onboard about a year before we actually did the final color. Company 3 scanned all the film and did the digital dailies, and I was part of the process from the start. We built looks that could be applied in dailies.

As you mentioned, this was mostly a 35mm shoot. What else was it shot on?
It was 35mm spherical [super 35], anamorphic 35mm and Arri 65. We would get processed rolls of film and scan everything with the ArriScan scanners. The ArriRaw from the 65mm was processed by our dailies department, which set up near wherever the unit was shooting.
What was the workflow on this like? What direction were you given in terms of the look and feel?

Hoyte wanted to maintain the look and feel of film, even where he used the digital camera. The spherical scenes were shot that way to have a distinctly different look from the anamorphic portions, which are designed to feel more polished and classical. I worked in post to match the look of the Alexa 65 material to the anamorphic film shots.

Overall, we were looking for a kind of “creaminess,” but within that a clear distinction among the locations. Rome needed to feel warm and romantic. The Lair was uncomfortable and unnatural. Austria was colder, but not too blue and a little overcast. Mexico — hot, harsh and dusty.

What is your tool of choice, and what is it about that system that helps your creative process?
We’re a DaVinci Resolve company, so everybody uses it. I find it lets me do anything I want to and the way it’s laid out is very conducive to working quickly and being able to quickly make changes to very specific attributes of the frame.

Can you briefly describe your workflow for final color?
The basic primary grading is very important. That’s where you get the most out of the neg and balance the scenes. Other than that, it was the usual things, primary, log, curves, keys, windows and mattes.

SPECTRE

It was really wonderful that I was onboard from before they started shooting and was able to monitor the dailies and discuss them with Hoyte. By the time we got into the final grade, we were all on the same page.

Was there one particular scene that was more challenging on this one? Or a scene that you are most proud of?
Probably the “Day of the Dead” sequence. It happened to be one of the last scenes delivered by VFX. It is one of the stronger looks in the film and has hundreds of visual effects within it, so as the iterations arrived, they sometimes included big changes from the background plates or previous versions.

We thankfully had mattes where necessary, which helped me fine-tune the live action and the various plates in the theater. Resolve is very good at working with multiple mattes. Projects don’t always deliver separate mattes to the final color session but it’s always helpful when they do because the DI theater is really the first place you can see the whole image projected in context.

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