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Category Archives: Training

Filmmaker Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull talks masterclass on sci-fi filmmaking

By Randi Altman

Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is a producer/director and a hands-on VFX and post pro. His most recent credits include the features films 2036 Origin Unknown and The Beyond, the Disney TV series Fast Layne and the Disney Channel original movies Under the Sea — A Descendants Story, which takes place between Descendants 2 and 3. Recently, Dulull developed a masterclass on Sci-Fi Filmmaking, which can be bought or rented.

Why would this already very busy man decide to take on another project and one that is a little off his current path? Well, we reached out to find out.

Why, at this point in your career, did you think it was important to create this masterclass?
I have seen other masterclasses out there to do with filmmaking and they were always academic based, which turned me off. The best ones were the ones that were taught by actual filmmakers who had made commercial projects, films or TV shows… not just short films. So I knew that if I was to create and deliver a masterclass, I would do it after having made a couple of feature films that have been released out there in the world. I wanted to lead by example and experience.

When I was in LA explaining to studio people, executives and other filmmakers how I made my feature films, they were impressed and fascinated with my process. They were amazed that I was able to pull off high-concept sci-fi films on tight budgets and schedules but still produce a film that looked expensive to make.

When I was researching existing masterclasses or online courses as references, I found that no one was actually going through the entire process. Instead they were offering specialized training in either cinematography or VFX, but there wasn’t anything about how to break down a script and put a budget and schedule together; how to work with locations to make your film work; how to use visual effects smartly in production; how to prepare for marketing and delivering your film for distribution. None of these things were covered as a part of a general masterclass, so I set out to fill that void with my masterclass series.

Clearly this genre holds a special place in your heart. Can you talk about why?
I think it’s because the genre allows for so much creative freedom because sci-fi relies on world-building and imagination. Because of this freedom, it leads to some “out of this world” storytelling and visuals, but on the flip side it may influence the filmmaker to be too ambitious on a tight budget. This could lead to making cheap-looking films because of the over ambitious need to create amazing worlds. Not many filmmakers know how to do this in a fiscally sensible way and they may try to make Star Wars on a shoestring budget. So this is why I decided to use the genre of sci-fi in this masterclass to share my experience of smart filmmaking to achieve commercially successful results.

How did you decide on what topics to cover? What was your process?
I thought about the questions the people and studio executives were asking me when I was in those LA meetings, which pretty much boiled down to, “How did you put the movie together for that tight budget and schedule?” When answering that question, I ended up mapping out my process and the various stages and approaches I took in preproduction, production and post production, but also in the deliverables stage and marketing and distribution stage too. As an indie filmmaker, you really need to get a good grasp on that part to ensure your film is able to be released by the distributors and received commercially.

I also wanted each class/episode to have a variety of timings and not go more than around 10 minutes (the longest one is around 12 minutes, and the shortest is three minutes). I went with a more bite-sized approach to make the experience snappy, fun yet in-depth to allow the viewers to really soak in the knowledge. It also allows for repeat viewing.

Why was it important to teach these classes yourself?
I wanted it to feel raw and personal when talking about my experience of putting two sci-fi feature films together. Plus I wanted to talk about the constant problem solving, which is what filmmaking is all about. Teaching the class myself allowed me to get this all out of my system in my voice and style to really connect with the audience intimately.

Can you talk about what the experience will be like for the student?
I want the students to be like flies on the wall throughout the classes — seeing how I put those sci-fi feature films together. By the end of the series, I want them to feel like they have been on an entire production, from receiving a script to the releasing of the movie. The aim was to inspire others to go out and make their film. Or to instill confidence in those who have fears of making their film, or for existing filmmakers to learn some new tips and tricks because in this industry we are always learning on each project.

Why the rental and purchase options? What have most people been choosing?
Before I released it, one of the big factors that kept me up nights was how to make this accessible and affordable for everyone. The idea of renting is for those who can’t afford to purchase it but would love to experience the course. They can do so at a cut-down price but can only view within the 48-hour window. Whereas the purchase price is a little higher price-wise but you get to access it as many times as you like. It’s pretty much the same model as iTunes when you rent or buy a movie.

So far I have found that people have been buying more than renting, which is great, as this means audiences want to do repeat viewings of the classes.

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

Rising Sun Pictures’ Anna Hodge talks VFX education and training

Based in Adelaide, South Australia, Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) has created stunning visual effects for films including Spider-Man: Far From Home, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok and Game of Thrones.

It also operates a visual effects training program in conjunction with the University of South Australia in which students learn such skills as compositing, tracking, effects, lighting, look development and modeling from working professionals. Thanks to this program, many students have landed jobs in the industry.

We recently spoke with RSP’s manager of training and education, Anna Hodge, about the school’s success.

Tell us about the education program at Rising Sun Pictures.
Rising Sun Pictures is an independently owned visual effects company. We’ve worked on more than 130 films, as well as commercials and streaming series, and we are very much about employing locals from South Australia. When this is not possible, we hire staff from interstate and overseas for key senior positions.

Our education program was established in 2015 in conjunction with the University of South Australia (UniSA) in order to directly feed our junior talent pool. We found there was a gap between traditional visual effects training and the skills young artists needed to hit the ground running in a studio.

How is the program structured?
We began with a single Graduate Certificate in Visual Effects program of 12 weeks duration that was designed for students coming out of vocational colleges and universities wanting to improve their skills and employability. Students apply through a portfolio process. The program accepts 10 students each term and are exposes them to Foundry Nuke and other visual effects software. They gain experience by working on shots from past movies and creating a short film.

The idea is to give them a true industry experience, develop a showreel in the process and gain a qualification through a prestigious university. Our students are exposed to the studio floor from day one. They attend RSP five days a week. They work in our training rooms and are immersed in the life of the company. We want them to feel as much a part of RSP as our regular employees.

Our program has grown to include two graduate certificate streams. The Graduate Certificate in Effects and Lighting and our first graduate certificate was rebadged into the Graduate Certificate of Compositing and Tracking. Both have been highly successful for our graduates acquiring employment post studies at RSP.

Anna Hodge and students

We also offer course work toward the university’s media arts degree. We teach two elective courses in the second year, specializing in modeling and texturing and look development and lighting. The university students attend RSP as part of their studies at UniSA. It gives them exposure to our artists, industry-type projects and expectations of the industry through workshop-based delivery.

In 2019, our education program expanded, and we introduced “visual effects specialization” as part of the media arts degree. Unlike any other degree, the students spend their entire last year of studies at RSP. They are integrated with the graduate certificate classes, and learning at RSP for the whole year enables them to build skills in both compositing and tracking and effects and lighting, making them highly skilled and desirable employees at the end of their studies.

What practical skills do students learn?
In the Media Arts Modeling and Texturing elective course, they are exposed to Maya and are introduced to Pixologic ZBrush. In the second semester, they can study look development and lighting and learn Substance Painter and how to light in SideFX Houdini.

Both degree and graduate certificate students in the dynamic effects and lighting course receive around nine weeks of Houdini training and then move onto lighting. Those in the compositing and tracking stream learn Nuke, as well as 3D Equalizer and Silhouette. All our degree and graduate certificate students are also exposed to Autodesk’s Shotgun. They learn the tools we use on the floor and apply them in the same workflow.

Skills are never taught in isolation. They learn how they fit into the whole movie-making process. Working on the short film project, run in conjunction with We Made a Thing Studios (WEMAT), students learn how to work collaboratively, take direction and gain other necessary skills required for working in a deadline-driven environment.

Where do your students come from?
We attract applications from South Australia. Over the past few years, applications from interstate and overseas have significantly increased. The benefit of our program is that it’s only 12-weeks long, so students can pick up the skills they require without a huge investment in time. There is strong growth of jobs in South Australia so they are often employed locally or sometimes return to their hometowns to gain employment.

What are the advantages of training in a working VFX studio?
Our training goes beyond simple software skills. Our students are taught by some of our best artists in the world and professionals who have been working in the industry for years. Students can walk around the studio, talk to and shadow artists, and attend a company staff meeting. We schedule what we call “Day in the Life Of” presentations so students can gain an understanding of the various roles that make up our company. Students hear from department heads, senior artists, producers and even juniors. They talk about their jobs and their pathways into the industry. They provide students with sound practical advice on how to improve their skills and present themselves. We also run sessions with recruiters, who share insights in building good resumes and showreels.

We are always trying to reinvent and improve what we do. I have one-on-ones with students to find out how they are doing and what we can do to improve their learning experience. We take feedback seriously. Our instructors are passionate artists and educators. Over time, I think we’ve built something quite unique and special at RSP.

How do you support your students in their transition from the program into the professional world?
We have an excellent relationship with recruiters at other visual effects companies in South Australia, interstate and globally, and we use those connections to help our students find work. A VFX company that opened in Brisbane recently hired two of our students and wants to hire more.

Of course, one reason we created the program was to meet our own need for juniors. So I work closely with our department heads to meet their needs. If a job lands and they have positions open, I will refer students for interviews. Many of our students stay in touch after they leave here. Our support doesn’t stop after 12 weeks. When former students add new material to their showreels, I encourage them to send them in and I forward them to the relevant heads of department. When one of our graduates secures his or hers first VFX job, it’s the best news. This really makes my day.

How do you see the program evolving over the next few years?
We are working on new initiatives with UniSA. Nothing to reveal yet, but I do expect our numbers to grow simply because our graduate results are excellent. Our employment rate is well above 70 percent. I spoke with someone yesterday who is looking to apply next year. She was at a recent film event and met a bunch of our graduates who raved about the programs they studied at RSP. Hearing that sort of thing is really exciting and something that we are really proud of.

RSP and UniSA are both mindful that when scaling up we don’t compromise on quality delivery. It is important to us that students consistently receive the same high-quality training and support regardless of class size.

Do you feel that visual effects offer a strong career path?
Absolutely. I am constantly contacted by recruiters who are looking to hire our graduates. I don’t foresee a lack of jobs, only a lack of qualified artists. We need to keep educating students to avoid a skill shortage. There has never been a better time to train for a career in visual effects.

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Review: Warren Eagles’ Blackmagic Resolve training

By Brady Betzel

With Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 15 released at this year’s NAB, a lot of editors, colorists and now audio mixers want to dive in and see what all of the fuss is about.

Resolve 15 is now a Pro Tools competitor thanks to Fairlight and an After Effects competitor thanks to Fusion. There are dozens of new features and changes that will make many colorists want to upgrade.

Even though Resolve 15 is out in the wild, it is in Beta form — meaning there are most likely bugs and other issues still being ironed out. For those wanting to dive in and edit or color a project you still have non-Beta versions of Resolve such as 14.3, which I will be referring to in this review of Warren Eagle’s Resolve 14 training series on www.fxphd.com.

While some of the tools are new and improved in Resolve 15, about 95% of Warren’s training, especially in the Looks and Matching Masterclass, are universal and can be applied not only to any version of Resolve, but any color correction application.

If you are new to Resolve, an experienced colorist or even just a curious post enthusiast, then you will want to brush up quickly. Warren Eagles is an international colorist with almost 30 years of experience. He calls Brisbane, Australia, home.

If you troll around the www.liftgammagain.com forums you will recognize him as being the preeminent voice for color correction both online and in the classroom. Along with colorist Kevin Shaw, Eagles started the colorist education community www.icolorist.com (@icolorist), which travels the world leading classes in color correction, color science, Resolve, looks and matching, and many more subjects.

All that being said, classes with www.icolorist.com are expensive (anywhere from $900 to $1,500 per class) and are also in person, so while you will learn a lot in person you can’t necessarily learn at your convenience and pace. This is where Eagle’s classes over at www.fxphd.com come into play.

Online Training
Some background on fxphd.com. This is an online learning website much like Lynda.com, but it has a much deeper learning library that covers niche subjects and is geared heavily toward VXF artists, editors, colorists, online editors and many other jobs in the post world.

Typically, you would pay $79/month for standard membership, which includes streaming of all the classes. But $99/month gets you the premium membership, which allows for downloading of classes, any media used in the class to play with, as well as access to their VPN software.

Eagle’s Resolve 14 class is an all-upfront pricing offering and is not included in the memberships. Resolve 14 Fundamentals will cost $149, Resolve 14 Advanced will cost $149 and Looks and Matching Masterclass with Resolve will cost $199. The best deal in my opinion is $299 for all three classes, dubbed the Resolve Mega Pack.

I’m going to go through all three courses in this review one at a time, so you know exactly what you should buy if you don’t want to purchase all three. In my head I am pretty comfortable in post apps such as Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects and Resolve, but am always wondering what I might miss if I don’t go through the fundamental classes and skip to the advanced. So, if you are like me or are wondering if you should just grab the Looks and Matching Class or purchase all three courses, keep reading.

One thing I will tell you is that after running through all three of Eagle’s classes, I feel way more at ease with not only Resolve but where I stand in comparison to other colorists, including Warren. In fact, I really want to sign up for one of his in-person classes on www.icolorist.com when he comes to Los Angeles.

Resolve 14 Fundamentals
Up first is the Resolve 14 Fundamentals class, which is a foundational course meant to provide you with a broad overview of Resolve 14, but also sprinkles in a few advanced subjects.

I really like the way Eagles teaches. He asks himself a lot of rhetorical questions, which I often do in my own head when editing or coloring. He lays out the thought pattern of a colorist in a practical and not obnoxious way. Overall, he has a great teaching style, and I don’t say that easily. I watch a lot of tutorials, and there are plenty of people who are not made to teach on camera, but you can sit and watch all of Eagles’ over 24 hours worth of tutorials without feeling yelled at or preached to.

Alright, let’s dive into the classes. The first three could probably have been consolidated into one class since they essentially cover the interface, some settings and best practices, as well as how the media management works inside of Resolve.

These videos will introduce you to (or remind you) how useful Resolve is as a DIT/transcoding solution. Class 4 covers how you might receive an offline edit in Resolve for conform and finishing once it is “locked” (or final locked, locked version 2, un-locked, etc.). In this class you focus on getting a clip-based sequence from Premiere via an XML, or exporting a “flat” QuickTime with an EDL for Resolve, to chop up into edits and see where any pitfalls or technicalities lie.

I think you could fast forward to Class 12 here and watch that as well, Eagles talks about traps that you might run into, and really focuses on what an online editor would do to prep a sequence before sending it over to a colorist. While the classes are short (around 25 minutes each), they present only a few of the issues you may run into when prepping your sequence from online and color correction.

Classes 5 through 11 are really where the “creative” learning happens. These classes lay out a basic understanding of color correction and how it works inside of Resolve, including how to read basic scopes, differences between LOG color and Rec709 and much more. Class 8 covers secondary color corrections, including how and what a qualifier does, the new face refinement tool and keying objects such as a sky.

Class 9 is a great class that covers power windows and sizing, one of the key subjects to concentrate on in my opinion. Class 10 covers keyframing, which could have a course on its own. Class 11 covers node operation, which is imperative when learning how to work in a node-based color corrector, such as Resolve. Learning why certain nodes don’t work in linear order and when to use nodes like a parallel node versus a layer node is important.

Finally, Class 12 covers how to round trip your sequence to and from Premiere Pro. Class 12 is a tough one because while it is meant to give you a broad overview, there are so many problems inherent with clip-based round trips in Premiere that you would probably need a day-long class to even get close to starting to understand the pitfalls.

The Advanced Resolve 14
The Advanced Resolve 14 class is where things start to get interesting for someone like me — experienced in Resolve and other NLEs, but who likes to find little gems of knowledge or shortcuts. Like in the Fundamentals course, Eagles usually shows an example of the topic he is covering and then offers a few reasons why you would do something like crush the black levels or blow out the highlights as opposed to just doing it because he said so. At the end of each lesson you can use the downloadable footage to practice techniques and even experiment with ideas Eagles talks about.

Class 1 is another overview of Resolve 14, and it feels like this was made just in case you didn’t buy the Fundamentals class. Class 2 begins with LOG vs. Lift Gamma Gain grading. He uses a B&W gradient to easily show how the different tools work within Resolve, such as pivot, offset, color boost, etc. This is a great class to start with. Class 3 covers primary grading, including how to apply a LUT. This is great because you are working with actual footage from a GMC commercial that is high quality. The footage is ProRes, so it isn’t RAW Red R3D files, but it still works great to understand key elements.

Classes 4 through 6 cover workflows from NLEs, such as Premiere Pro, using XMLs to conform, how to interpret speed changes, how to use the scene detector to cut single file QuickTimes into their individual scenes without an EDL and also the basic differences between a baked-in (flat) QuickTime workflow versus clip-based. Keep in mind the clip-based workflow in Premiere is not straightforward and does not always work well (in any scenario) — this class could be a three-day seminar on its own.

Class 7 dives deeper into secondary color by way of the 3D keyer and other amazing tools inside of Resolve. Class 8 covers advanced tracking and how to fix broken tracks. With Boris FX’s Mocha Pro tracking plugin now compatible with Resolve as an OFX plugin, this may be a nice update to the Advanced Resolve course in the future. Class 9 covers some higher-end coloring workflows such as ACES and RAW grading.

Class 10 covers all of the nodes in Resolve and is my favorite class. Resolve’s true power is in its nodal structure and how you can work in a linear way and also in a nonlinear way by using parallel or layer nodes when coloring. If you are coming from a layer-based color corrector, this class is where you will learn the power of Resolve’s node-based hierarchy.

Class 11 goes over some issues and how to resolve (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) them such as 8-bit banding and how to try and band-aid using a plugin appropriately called Deband, how temporal vs. spatial noise reduction works and many other issues. In Class 12, Eagles covers different hardware control surfaces from companies like Tangent, as well as Blackmagic. It is interesting if you’ve never seen control panels, but feels a little like a commercial.

The Looks and Matching Masterclass
To be honest, when I said I would review this course, the Looks class was what I was really interested in. While Eagles does a great job at going through the tools of Resolve, the hardest thing when learning color correction technique is finding someone who will just let you observe them while grading to see how they approach their work.

It can understandably be a secretive industry. Since there are few colorists in comparison to other positions, they often keep their “secret sauce” color correction secrets to themselves. I tend to think that sharing the secrets of your success helps other people and can eventually help you get hired in the future.

Fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to watch a few editors work and I learned a lot. You might get answers to questions that you are afraid to ask out loud, such as, “Should you use a primary grade all on one node?” Or, “Should you color before or after a LUT?” Eagles’ classes let you behind the curtain into the world of the elusive colorist. Especially the Looks and Matching Masterclass.

The Looks and Matching Masterclass, like the Fundamentals and Advanced classes, comes with downloadable footage to follow along and practice with. In Class 1 and 2, Eagles covers one of the most critical components of color correction: shot matching.

These days there are so many cameras — from the iPhone in your pocket to Blackmagic’s own Pocket Cinema Camera (or even the forthcoming 4K version of the Pocket Cinema Camera) to the high-end Arri Alexas or Red Monstros —it can be hard to keep track of each of their looks and or techniques to color grade them.

Sometimes, as a colorist, you may even be asked to match a GoPro Hero 6 to an Arri Alexa, or maybe even a film camera! That is obviously (or maybe) an insane question. However, as a colorist you will need to understand what the client is really asking (or wanting) and how you can offer suggestions to getting your shots at least close — and if you can’t, why can’t you?

In Class 1, Eagles goes over the inspirational side to color correcting and grading by finding images and videos that might inspire you. Class 2 gets more technical by covering things like correcting using only the Lift, Gamma and Gain functions to get a simple base grade all the way up to using the Match Move effect to replace a sky in a scene with a dull sky.

Classes 3, 4 and 5 cover different color scenarios such as a car commercial, a music video or a product commercial — each presenting interesting challenges that Eagles goes over. One of my favorites is in Class 4, which covers music video color correction. Eagles walks us through his approach to fixing things like hues or lighting tints that might be caused by improper white balance or even just the camera sensor itself. He starts by pulling a key of the shadows and dialing in a proper black shadow using hue v. saturation controls, or even adding blue into the shadows to give the video an overall cooler (temperature) look.

In the Looks Masterclass, there is some duplicate content from the Advanced, but Eagles goes way further down the rabbit hole, giving inside tips you would only get being in the color bay with a professional colorist.

Also, if you are deciding between these classes and some tutorials you have found on YouTube, there is a distinct knowledge set that Eagles has that you most likely won’t find for free. While you are paying FXPHD for his information, you are also getting his years of experience, which can guide you through complex issues without having to go through the failure yourself. This is an invaluable experience that you most likely won’t find in many YouTube tutorials. Not to say YouTube tutorials are bad or not-informative, but take them for what they are.

Classes 6 and 7 cover the ever-popular beauty and fashion techniques. In particular, skin touch-up techniques by using Mist, keying hot spots and even the new to Resolve 14 Face Refinement tool, which is a remarkably easy tool that automatically creates a matte for eyes, nose, mouth and face to adjust individual parts of the face. Combined with a power window and you can isolate the face from the rest of the image.

Class 8 covers action footage and the inherent issues that come when filming scenes outdoors as well as the color casts that can happen underwater. Class 9 covers LUTs, Power Grades, Tools and how they relate or differ from each other. Eagles touches on if you should use a LUT or a Power Grade and the differences, as well as how to achieve the infamous orange/teal look that everyone uses.

Whether you think it is a good or a bad technique, clients will always request a version of an orange and teal look. Eagles works in his way of doing it while trying to not just simply add orange the mid-tones and highlights and teal to the shadows. What I really like about this lesson, in particular, is that Eagles doesn’t just simply do step 1 through 5 He will work on step 1, jump around to step 3, experiment with a new step and end up with a crazy look that might not be the best, but he helps you see where that look could go. At the end you can pick up where he left off and come up with something unexpected that even Eagles might not come up with.

Class 10 is a very important because it covers subjects not often taught: color grading for the web. If you’re coloring for platforms like as YouTube or Instagram, you aren’t held to the same standards that television or film are. In fact, the color space is different.

Typically, you will want to color in an sRGB output color space. However, inside of Resolve it isn’t necessarily straightforward on how you set up your input, output and timeline color spaces. Eagles runs through options for setting up Resolve to color in an sRGB color space, including how to set up your GUI monitor if you aren’t using external reference monitors that are calibrated.

He also runs through how to set up your Resolve project for special aspect ratios, like Instagram’s 4×3 ratio, for the best possible result and viewing while coloring. While it is being taught in Resolve 14, this knowledge can also translate to other versions, and even other software apps.

Eagles even gives awesome tips, like why you should be careful when crushing the black levels for the web, or even when and why artifacting can happen. In the end of Class 10, the lesson is to always test your output, so you can compensate for things such as YouTube slightly flattening your color, before you deliver your final product.

Classes 11 and 12 of the Looks and Matching Masterclass cover a drama workflow. Watching entire workflows from start to finish have been very beneficial in my work. Sometimes you will catch a shortcut or a technique that you have never seen before.

In this particular set of classes, Eagles goes through a few shots from a bunch of different cameras, including the Arri Alexa, Blackmagic Ursa, GoPro and others. Matching cameras is the focus here. There are even some very tricky shots that might have an incorrect white balance or something else to try and salvage. What I love about these last few classes is that you aren’t being given a list of ways to color correct. Instead, Eagles gives you ways he might or might not approach a session and tells you why he may or may not do it that way. And because every session is unique, practicing is the most important takeaway from the lessons.

Summing Up
Warren Eagles trains many colorists all over the world — just check out the class schedule over at www.icolorist.com. They teach everywhere from Chicago to New York to Germany and Singapore.

Eagles’ www.FXPHD.com course is a great foundation to supplement your Resolve learning.

A key concept that you may discover through Eagles’ lessons is that you may not always find success in a color grade, but you will always be able to take something away from it.

You can check out Warren Eagle’s FXPHD Resolve 14 classes here. And since Resolve 15 is set to deliver some time in 2018, we assume a new class is on the horizon.

Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.