Audionamix – 7.1.20

Category Archives: TV Series

This is Us: Talking with showrunner Dan Fogelman

By Iain Blair

In a time when issues of diversity and social change are at the forefront of society’s collective conversation, the Emmy Award-winning series This Is Us has proved to be very timely. Created by Dan Fogelman, produced by 20th Century Fox Television and airing on NBC and Hulu, the show chronicles the Pearson family across the decades: from Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) as young parents in the 1980s to their kids Kevin, Kate and Randall searching for love and fulfillment in the present day.

Dan Fogelman

Fogelman’s TV credits include The Neighbors, Pitch and Like Family. He’s written film screenplays for Pixar’s Cars and Disney’s Bolt and Tangled. His live-action film credits include the screenplays for Last Vegas; Crazy, Stupid, Love; and the semi-autobiographical The Guilt Trip. He also directed and wrote the features Danny Collins and Life Itself.

I recently talked with Fogelman about making the show, the challenges and why he loves post. In fact, post supervisor Nick Pavonetti also joined in the conversation.

You finished Season 4 just before the COVID crisis. Have you started Season 5?
Yes, and we have a pretty unusual process. We’ve had early pickups for the show, which allows us to jump right into the next season at the end of the last one in terms of storytelling. So we’ve already mapped out a lot of it and written quite a lot, and we’re way ahead, which helps us with both production and post.

Where do you shoot, and what cameras do you shoot on?
We shoot on stages at Paramount using ARRI Alexa cameras. It’s a two-camera setup — A and B — and our shooting style is pretty voyeuristic. This was established right back in the pilot. We like to put you right inside the room with the family. It’s not that super-hand-held, shaky, on-the-ground action look.

We try to really get inside with the characters and cross-shoot where possible, as it allows for the natural moments to play out with multiple angles, as opposed to trying to manufacture them for a second position. We have an amazing DP, Yasu Tanida, who works with the directors to find the frames that allow us to use this setup. But for specialized episodes — like the Vietnam battle sequence the concert or the episode that was set entirely in a waiting room — we’ll use three or four cameras, but that’s very rare.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I love it. It’s the best job ever, but it’s difficult, challenging and relentless in terms of the schedule. When I’m exhausted, I often fantasize about jobs that allow you to clock off at 5pm. That’s not this gig. But I started down this path because I wanted to be the final word on the page and the final edit of this thing you love.

You have a giant crew and giant cast. Are those the big challenges of running this show?
Yeah, it’s a huge army of super-talented people. The big challenge is storytelling because on this show it’s really complicated since you’re not just telling one linear story a week, but often five or six, all in just 42 minutes. And we have seasons that are interconnected in time periods and multiple time periods — up to six. So keeping track of all that when we should be focused on one character, one storyline, one time period, is the real challenge.

Where do you post?
We do the editing on the lot at Paramount and have three editors and their Avid bays, which are conveniently close to our writers’ room and Nick Pavonetti’s post team. We do our mixing at Technicolor on the lot and the color timing at Technicolor at Sunset Gower; our sound editorial is done at Smart Post Sound with supervising sound editor Randy Thomas.

Do you like post?
Honestly, it’s my favorite part of the whole process. I’m a writer by trade, and post is all about rewriting. I spend very little time on set because when I go, I find very little I can add, as everyone knows what they’re doing. I spend a lot of time writing the scripts and working with writers on theirs, and then with the editors, as you’re essentially writing in the edit bay sometimes. I have a hard time letting anyone else take control in the edit bay.

Besides dealing with all the characters, storylines and time periods, what are the big editing challenges?
Timing and pacing, since after a first cut, a typical episode tends to come in about 10 minutes longer than NBC’s very strict run time of 42 minutes and 30 seconds, which is what we have to hit. So we have to reshape the story and maybe cut down my overly long monologues — but they still have to feel part of a whole with the piece.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Talk about the importance of sound and music, and working supervising sound editor Randy Thomas.
That’s another part of post I love — playing with the score by composer Siddhartha Khosla, which is such a vital part of the show’s emotion and power. Even without picture, it stirs real emotion. Then I drive Nick crazy talking about the mix since we have a lot of music — a lot of needle drops, a lot of score — but all the dialogue is crucial too, so finding that balance in the mix takes a lot of time and effort to make it all sing together. Randy is so good at all that.

What about all the VFX? What’s involved?
Nick Pavonetti: It’s quite complicated. We’re this little family drama, but there’s a huge amount of VFX that are quite delicate and subtle — ageing and de-ageing characters. We have an in-house VFX coordinator, Jim Owens, and an in-house artist, Josh Bryson, who’ve really helped us get the VFX to the high level we want. That team will probably grow next year. So they’re right with us in the edit room and going through cuts in progress. We use a bunch of VFX companies — Ingenuity, Technicolor, CBS Digital, Big Little Panda, Inviseffects and Parker Mountain.

Nick, what are the big challenges in post for you?
It’s a big show and just getting all the pieces together on time in post is very demanding. As Dan said, we’re always trying to cut stuff down and we may be doing reshoots at the last minute and then having to drop that in. It’s not like a Netflix show where it’s all done six months in advance. We’ve mixed Saturday and Sunday for Tuesday air. That’s a very tight schedule.

Dan, where do you do the DI, and how closely do you work with colorist Tom Forletta?
It’s not really in my wheelhouse, so I trust Nick, Tom and our DP and their judgment on all that. But if we’re doing an episode set in Vietnam, for instance, where we’re doing a lot of really heavy VFX, I want to make sure it all looks real and realistic in the final color, so I’ll be more involved.

There’s a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in the entertainment business, but you recruited behind-the-scenes diverse talent, including black directors like George Tillman Jr. and Regina King, and black female writers like Kay Oyegun and Jas Waters. Why did that matter to you?
Well, this show is meant to be about the collective human experience in this country, so you’d like the people working on it to reflect that — and you’d like it to be like that on any show, and I feel we all still have a ways to go.


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

VFX supervisors talk Amazing Stories and Stargirl

By Iain Blair

Even if you don’t know who Crafty Apes are, you’ve definitely seen their visual effects work in movies such as Deadpool 2, La La Land, Captain America: Civil War and Little Women, and in episodics like Star Trek: Picard and Westworld. The full-service VFX company was founded by Chris LeDoux, Jason Sanford and Tim LeDoux and has locations in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, Vancouver, Albuquerque and New York, and its roster of creative and production supervisors offers a full suite of services, including set supervision, VFX consultation, 2D compositing and CG animation, digital cosmetics, previsualization and look development.

Aldo Ruggiero

Recently, Crafty Apes worked on two high-profile projects — the reboot of Steven Spielberg’s classic TV series Amazing Stories for Apple TV+ and the Disney+’s Stargirl.

Let’s take a closer look at their work on both. First up is Amazing Stories and Crafty Apes VFX supervisor Aldo Ruggiero.

How many VFX did you have to create for the show?
The first season has five episodes, and we created VFX for two episodes — “The Heat” and “Dynoman and the Volt!!” I was on the set for the whole of those shoots, and we worked out all the challenges and problems we had to solve day by day. But it wasn’t like we got the plates and then figured out there was a problem. We were very well-prepared and we were all based in Atlanta where all the shooting took place, which was a big help. We worked very closely with Mark Stetson, who was the VFX supervisor for the whole show, and because they were shooting three shows at once, he couldn’t always be on set, so he wanted us there every day. Mark really inspired me just to take charge and to solve any problems and challenges.
What were the main challenges?
Of the two episodes, “Dynoman and the Volt!” was definitely the most challenging to do, as we had this entire rooftop sequence, and it was quite complicated, as half was done with bluescreen and half was done using a real roof. We had about 40 shots cutting back and forth between them, and we had to create this 360-degree environment that matched the real roof seamlessly. Doing scenes like that, with all the continuity involved and making it totally photo-real, is very challenging. To do a one-off shot is really easy compared with that, as it may take 20 man-days to do. But this took about 300 man-days to get it done — to match every detail exactly and all the color and so on. The work we did for the other episode, “The Heat,” was less challenging technically and more subtle. We did a lot of crowd replacement and a lot of clean-up, as Atlanta was doubling for other locations.

It’s been 35 years since the original Amazing Stories first aired. How involved was Spielberg, who also acts as EP on this?
He was more involved with the writing than the actual production, and I think the finale of “Dynoman and the Volt!!” was completely his idea. He wasn’t on the set, but he gave us some notes, which were very specific, very concise and pointed. And of course, visual effects and all the technology have advanced so much since then.

Gabriel Sanchez

What tools did you use?
We used Foundry Nuke for compositing and Autodesk Maya for 3D animation, plus a ton more. We finished all the work months ago, so I was happy to finally just see the finished result on TV. It turned out really well I think.

Stargirl
I spoke with VFX supervisor Gabriel Sanchez, a frequent collaborator with Wes Anderson. He talked about creating the VFX and the pipeline for Stargirl, the musical romantic drama about teenage angst and first love, based on the best-selling YA novel of the same name, and directed by Julia Hart (Fast Color).

How many VFX did you have to create for the film, and how closely did you work with Julia Hart?
While you usually meet the director in preproduction, I didn’t meet Julia until we got on set since I’d been so busy with other jobs. We did well over 200 shots at our offices in El Segundo, and we worked very closely together, especially in post. Originally, I was brought on board to be on the set to oversee all the crowd duplication for the football game, but once we got into post, it evolved into something much bigger and more complex.

Typically during bidding and even doing the script breakdown, we always know there’ll be invisible VFX, but you don’t know exactly what they’ll be until you get into post. So during preproduction on this, the big things we knew we’d have to do up front were the football and crowd scenes, maybe with some stunt work, and the CG pet rat.

What were the main challenges?
The football game was complex, because they wanted not just the crowd duplication, but also to create one long, seamless take because it’s the half-time performance. So we blocked it and did it in sections, trying to create the 360 so we could go around the band and so on.

The big challenge was then doing all those cuts together in a seamless take, but there were issues, like where the crowd would maybe creep in during the 360, or we’d have a shadow or we’d see the crane or a light. So that kind of set the tone, and we’d know what we had to clean up in post.

Another issue was a shot wherein it was raining and we had raindrops bouncing off a barn door onto the camera, which created this really weird long streak on the lens, and we had to remove that. We also had to change the façade of the school a bit, and we had a do a lot of continuity fixes. So once we began doing all that stuff, which is fairly normal in a movie, then it all evolved in post into a lot more complex and creative work.

What did it entail?
Sometimes, in terms of performance, you might like a take of how an actress speaks her lines technically, but prefer another take of how an actor replies or responds, so we had a lot of split screens to make the performance come together. We also had to re-adjust the timing of the actors’ lip movements sometimes to sync up with the audio, which they wanted to off-set. And there were VFX shots we created in post where we had no coverage.

For instance, Julia needed a bike in front of a garage for a shot that was never filmed, so I had to scan through everything, find footage, then basically create a matte painting of the garage and find a bike from another take, but it still didn’t quite work. In the end, I had to take the bike frame from one take, the wheels from another and then assemble it all. When Julia saw it, she said, ‘Perfect!’ That’s when she realized what was feasible with VFX, depending on the time and budget we had.

How many people were on your team?
I had about 10 artists and two teams. One worked on the big long seamless 360 shot, and then another team worked on all the other shots. I did most of the finishing of the long halftime show sequence on Autodesk Flame, with assistance from three other artists on Nuke, and I parceled out various bits to them — “take out this shadow,” “remove this lens flare” and so on — and did the complete assembly to make it feel seamless on Flame. I also did all the timing of the crowd plates on Flame. Ultimately, the whole job took us about two months to complete, and it was demanding but a lot of fun to work on.


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

Audionamix – 7.1.20

Creating the soundscape for Hulu’s Normal People

By Patrick Birk

Normal People, a new Hulu series based on Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel of the same name, details the intense yet strained romance between Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal). The athletic and popular Connell and the witty and socially outcast Marianne attend the same high school in County Sligo, Ireland. When the wealthy Marianne reveals her feelings for Connell — whose mother works as housekeeper for Marianne’s family — he begins a relationship with her on the condition of it being a secret. After a turbulent final year in their hometown, the two reconnect at Trinity College Dublin, where the tables have turned socially.

Steve Fanagan

The series was written by Rooney, Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe and directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald. (You can see our interview with director/EP Abrahamson about the series here.)

I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Fanagan (Game of Thrones, Room), who was the supervising sound editor, sound designer and re-recording mixer on the series. Fanagan also contributed to the source music on Normal People, which seamlessly interacts with both the design and a phenomenal licensed soundtrack. From Ireland but now based in London, Fanagan had a lot of knowledge to share on building the soundscape of this world.

Fanagan began his process working on the sound design and editorial at his studio in London before heading to Dublin to mix at picture and sound house Outer Limits, which is owned by Abrahamson’s longtime colorist Gary Curran. Fanagan finds that coordinating with the picture editors prior to the shoot is often helpful. In the case of Normal People, second director Macdonald worked with her editor, Stephen O’Connell, in London. Abrahamson worked with his editor, Nathan Nugent, in Dublin at Outer Limits. O’Connell assembled at Outer Limits then came over to London for the fine cutting.

Let’s find out more from Fanagan, how he works with the picture editors and his workflow on the series.

Let’s talk about working with picture editors. In Episode 5, there’s a shot where the music stops with a sudden cut to Jamie cracking a pool ball with his cue, right on the transient. I’ve met a few sound designers that use transients on cuts as a technique.
It’s a funny thing there. I have to put my hands up and say all credit goes to Nathan Nugent, who cut that episode. That was very much his design. In editorial and then in the mix, we worked on enhancing and expanding on that idea. One of the lovely things about working with a film editor like Nathan is that he is really sophisticated with sound and music.

The way I tend to work is to get my hands on the script at the beginning of the process, which always happens on Lenny’s projects. I then build a library of stuff I think will be useful. I might start mocking up some tonal, more abstract sound design, but I’m also thinking about all the fundamentals: room tone, wind or whatever environmental material they might need. I always make sure to give that to the editor in advance. Then, as the cutting begins, there is a library to pull from rather than the editor having to go search for things. Hopefully, in doing that, we’ve begun a bit of a conversation, and, hopefully, it means the editor is using stuff that I think is useful.

There’s something about a guide track that can become very loved because it’s working as they assemble a cut. It’s also a good way around copyright issues with temp effects while supplying the cutting room with high-quality material. I also always try to go and record material specifically for the show. For this series, I spent four days at the locations and got access to all the different houses, to the school, to parts of Trinity College.

A lot of the extras are actual Trinity students?
Yes, absolutely. They had about 130 extras, and from what I know, a bunch of those were actual Trinity students. That meant that I got some really good crowd material with that specific crowd, but I also got to just wander around the campus freely with my recording equipment, which you wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed to do.

On Connell’s first day in Trinity, he comes off Dame Street, which is a busy front road. He walks through the front arch into the front square, and there is something quite magical about leaving this busy city street. As you go through the front arch, it’s an echo-y space, and there’s quite a lovely acoustic to that. There’s always life in it. And when you come into the front square, a lot of the city disappears. Those three locations have such different acoustic properties to them. To be able to record a whole lot of options for those and build a piece that hopefully does that experience justice felt like a real gift.

I noticed a lot of character in the reverbs on each of the voices. Did you take impulse responses of the spaces?
I did. We started to do that with Lenny on his last film, The Little Stranger, and it worked really well. For Normal People, I captured an impulse response from every location I went to. Sometimes they work brilliantly, and sometimes they give you a really good idea of the kind of reverb you’re looking for. So reverb on this series is very much a mixture of Altiverb and those impulse responses, plus Exponential Audio PhoenixVerb for interiors. I’d also used Slapper from The Cargo Cult for exteriors and Avid’s ReVibe as another option on the buss. I try not to be purist about anything.

When you get to hang out in the places where they’re shooting, you have a bit of a feel for how they sound. And you remember that if you were speaking at that level in that space, there would be a kind of this size reverb on it. If I’m quieter or louder, that changes.

How else do you prepare for a project, apart from building that ambience library?
I love building a session template with plugins that I think will be appropriate for the show. With this, it was like, what do I think will be useful to us across all 12 episodes? For the noise reduction, dialogue/ADR supervisor Niall Brady is an iZotope RX wiz, and he used a lot of that on the dialogue track. I tend to use a mixture of Cedar and Waves WNS. I really love FabFilter Pro-Q 3 as an EQ. I love the versatility of it. If I want to put an extra notch or something in there, I can just keep adding to it. I also love their de-esser.

I always have some sort of compression available, but I don’t have it turned on as a default. In this case, I was using Avid Pro Compressor and more often than not, that’s turned off. I love the idea of trying to figure out the simplest approach to the cleanup and to the EQ end of things, and then trying to figure out what I can do with volume automation. After that, it’s just about figuring out if there’s a little bit of extra polish that’s needed through compression.

I always have multi-band compression available to me. On my dialogue auxes, I’ll have some extra compression or de-essing and limiting available if I need it. The one thing that I might leave on the buss is a limiter, but it’s doing almost nothing except managing the peaks. I keep all of my plugins and inserts bypassed and only enable them as I feel I need them.

How did you handle metering?
What’s interesting with the BBC spec is that they don’t just want, for example in our case, a -23 LUFS with a -3 dB true peak. They also want to make sure that the internal dynamic of that spec isn’t too broad for broadcast television — to make sure that at no point are you really hammering music at a very high level or allowing the quiet scenes to be so quiet that people volume surf. We worked hard to keep a good dynamic within that spec. I use VisLM to do those measurements because I quite like the Nugen interfaces. I also use their LMCorrect.

Dynamic range was used to great effect in Normal People. In a show like this where so much of the drama is unspoken, when explosions happen — like Marianne’s brother becoming physically abusive happened — they rocked me.
I think it’s that beautiful idea in sound — quiet and loud are always relative. If something needs to feel loud, then if you can have near-silence before it, you’ll get more of that jump in the moment when the loud bit happens.

It’s also true with the quiet stuff. An example of this in the series is their first kiss in Episode 1. It begins as a normal scene, wherein we’re hearing the ambience outside and inside Marianne’s house. The room tones and that environment are all very live and present, but as the actors lean into each other, it feels natural to start to pull that material away to create some space. This allows us to focus on their breathing and tiny movements because, if you were in that situation, you’re not going to be thinking about the birds outside. I can’t really overstate how much of a joy it was to work on this because all of that material is there. You’re working with this beautiful source material and the book — these beautifully realized scripts — and with directors who’ve really thought that space out. And they’re working with these actors, Paul and Daisy, who just are those characters.

There’s a beautiful moment, the morning after Marianne meets Connell at Trinity. She’s in her boyfriend’s flat and he gets up and asks her if there’s coffee. The look she gives him, you know he’s a dead man walking. It’s just that idea of being allowed to sit in people’s space, being trusted in a lot of ways as an audience member to observe and to infer rather than sort of being hammered over the head with exposition.

The screeners I received for this interview were not finalized in terms of picture or sound. As a sound designer I was grateful, because I could see behind the curtain and get insight into your process. It was like hearing a song you can already tell is good before the final mix. Apart from building ambience banks and templates at first, how do you whittle down a project to its final, most polished form?
What you’re always trying to do is to be open to the project that’s in front of you. Obviously, the sound work is always a team effort, so Niall Brady, our dialogue and ADR supervisor, is very involved in this as well.

I really love sound but also cinema and storytelling. The work that we get to do as sound designers is an amazing alchemy of all of those things. As you approach the work, you’re just trying to find the way into a scene or a character. If you can find small sounds that help you begin that process, some simple building blocks, then hopefully you can go on a journey with the sound work that will help your director realize the vision that he or she has for the work.

A lot of the time, that can be about really subtle stuff. At times it’s adding things like breath and very close-up breath and nonverbal utterances. The impetus for this in Normal People is intimacy — the idea that these characters are so close together and so inhabiting each other’s space that you’d hear those kinds of noises. A really lovely thing about sound is that it’s a very subconscious experience in a funny way.

Often, the moments where we become aware of sound in film is when it’s not working. So you’re trying to find the things that feel natural, honest and true to what you’re watching. Here, that began with trying to figure out what the environments might sound like. You’ve got this lovely contrast that is a real feature of the book and the series, which is that these two people have quite different backgrounds and quite different home lives.

The Foley crew that worked on this was Caoimhe Doyle and Jonathan Reynolds, and their work is incredibly specific in that way as well. From trying to pick the right shoes for a character to the right surface to miking techniques, all so that the right acoustic is on that sound.

This exploration is also facilitated by the collaboration that you have with the entire production. In this case, the collaboration is very much led and directed by Lenny, who has an amazing insight into everything that we’re working on, and his editor Nathan Nugent, who always has a really clear sound and music pass done on an episode. We always have a very interesting place to start. A lot of the time, rather than doing formal spotting sessions, we’ll have conversations. Lenny likes to talk to us in preproduction. I was in touch with the location sound mixer Niall O’Sullivan, who also worked on Lenny’s film Frank, to get ahead of any challenging shoot locations.

Then, what begins to happen is that Lenny and Nathan will share some of the picture with us, whether it’s some scenes that they’ve assembled or full episodes that are work in progress, and we tend to just start working on them. We’ll send some dialogue, music and effects bounces to them, so we’re starting to build the track a little bit. I’m always mixing as I cut because I feel like it’s the best way for me to present the work and figure out what it is. So we’re developing the mix from the beginning of editorial through to the end of the final mix. Sometimes you’re having conversations with them about what they liked or didn’t like, and sometimes you’re getting the next version of the cut back, and you can see from their AAF what they’ve used or haven’t used.

Also, as you’re watching the cuts, you’re looking for those notes from them that may appear on a card or a subtitle on the screen. So it’s a really helpful way to work.


Patrick Birk is a musician, sound engineer and post pro at Silver Sound, a boutique sound house based in New York City.


How CBS’ All Rise went remote for season finale

By Daniel Restuccio

When the coronavirus forced just about everything to shut down back in mid-March, many broadcast television series had no choice but to make their last-shot episodes their season finales. Others got creative.

Producer Dantonio Alvarez

While NBC’s The Blacklist opted for a CG/live-action hybrid to end its season, CBS’ courtroom drama, All Rise, chose to address the shutdown head-on with a show that was shot remotely. When CBS/Warner Bros. shut down production on All Rise, EPs Michael M. Robin and Len Goldstein — along with EP/co-showrunners Greg Spottiswood and Dee Harris-Lawrence — began brainstorming the idea of creating an episode that reflected the current pandemic crisis applied to the justice system.

Co-producer Dantonio Alvarez was deep into remote post on the already-shot episodes 19 and 20 when Robin called him. He and consultant Gil Garcetti had looked into how the court system was handling the pandemic and decided to pitch an idea to Warner Bros.: a remote episode of All Rise done via a Zoom-like setup. Alvarez was relieved; it meant a lot of the crew — 50 from the usual 90-person team — could keep working.

In a week’s time, Spottiswood and co-executive producer Greg Nelson wrote the 64-page script that focused on the complications around a virtual bench trial and the virus-jammed court system.

The Logistics
Producer Ronnie Chong reached out to Jargon Entertainment’s Lucas Solomon to see how he could help. Jargon, which provides on-set playback and computer graphics, had been working with network solutions company Straight Up Technologies (SUT) on other projects. Solomon brought SUT into the mix. “We figured out a way to do everything online and to get it to a point where Mike Robin could be at home directing everybody,” he explains.

Straight Up Technologies offers a secure and proprietary broadband network with a broadcast-quality ISP backbone that can accommodate up to 200 simultaneous video feeds at 1920×1080 at 30fps and do 4K (3840×2160 or 4096×2160). For All Rise to record at 1920×1080, each actor needed a network upload speed of 5Mb/s for no lag or packet loss. If the producers had decided to go 4K, it would have needed to be triple that.

Prep started the week of April 10, with Solomon, Alvarez, DP David Harp, Robin and the SUT IT team doing Zoom or WebEx scouts of the actors’ homes for suitable locations. They also evaluated each home’s bandwidth, making a list of what computers and mobile devices everyone had.

“You’re only as good as the connection out of your house and the traffic around your house,” explains SUT’s John Grindley. They used what was in the actors’ houses and enhanced the connection to their network when necessary. This included upgrading the basic download/upload data plan, going from 4G to 5G, putting in signal boosters, adding hard lines to computers and installing “cradle points” — high-end Wi-Fi hotspots — if needed.

The cast got small battery-powered ring lights for their devices.

Cinematographer Harp set out to find what area of the casts’ houses helped tell the story. He asked things like, “What was the architecture? What kind of lights did they have in the room? Were they on dimmers? Where were the windows, and what are the window treatments like?” The answers to those questions determined Harp’s lighting package. He sent small battery-powered ring lights to the cast along with tripods for their iPhones, but mostly they worked with what they had. “We decided that we’re not going to get cameras out to anybody,” explains Alvarez. “We were going to use people’s phones and their home computers for capture.”

As a result, all 22 cast members became camera operators, grips and essentially one-person guerrilla film crews. Their gear was MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, iPhones, and Cisco DX70s. Harp controlled exposure on the computers by moving lights around and positioning the actors.

Solomon set up his video assist system, QTake, at his shop in Valencia. It was equipped with a bandwidth of 400Mb/s download and 20Mb/s upload to record all the feeds. “We set up two other recording locations — one in Hollywood and one in Chatsworth — as redundancy.”

Production Begins
On Friday, April 17, day one of the six-day shoot, a five-person engineering crew at the COVID-safe SUT offices in San Francisco, Seattle and El Segundo fired up the network, checked the call sheet and connected to the crew.

Actors, Jessica Camacho (Emily Lopez) and Lindsay Mendez (Sara Castillo) logged into the join.sutvideo.com on their MacBook Pro laptop and iPhone, respectively. Their signal strength was good, so they shot their scene.

According to Straight Up Technologies CTO Reinier Nissen, the engineers set up virtual spaces, or “talent rooms,” for each actor and a “main stage” room where “talent rooms” were nested and scenes were played out. Every actor’s camera and mic feeds were married and recorded as individual signals. The “main stage” could be configured into a split-screen “Zoom-like” grid with inputs from any of the actors’ feeds. Some of the virtual spaces were control rooms, like a video village, where crew and IT could see all the actors, give technical and creative direction, monitor the signals, manage network traffic and control whose video and audio were on or muted.

The Cisco DX70s natively output 1920×1080 at 30fps. The MacBook Pro and Air 1280×720 camera feeds were upscaled in the sutvideo.com system to 1920×1080 30fps. The iPhones, 4K capable, were set to 1920×1080 30fps. Solomon recorded both the split-screen main stage and individual actor talent room streams to his QTake system in QuickTime ProRes 1920×1080, recalibrated the frame rate to 23.97 and added timecode.

DP David Harp

Each take was slated just like a normal shoot. From his LA home, director Robin could see everyone in the scene on the main stage and decide how to arrange them in the grid, set their eyelines and even pop into the grid during rehearsal and between takes to give notes.

Staging the scene, you would think that the actor should look straight at the camera so you could see their eyes. However, they noticed that there was “less of a connection when looking at the lens,” says Harp. “When they’re looking around the screen, you can feel a connection because they’re looking at each other.”

In addition to the virtual first unit footage, Harp shot eight days of second unit footage of Los Angeles streets during COVID. With four suction cups, he attached his Sony A7 to the roof of his son’s car and drove around for four or five hours a day shooting essentially a stock library of Los Angeles during a pandemic.

Post Production
Alvarez used the remote post infrastructure he set up for Episodes 19 and 20 for the new show. All of the editors, assistant editors, visual effects artists and audio team were working from home on their own systems or ones provided by Warner Bros. Since there was no Avid Unity shared storage, they did old-school shuttling of drives from location to location.

“We had three teams tackling this thing because our schedule was ridiculously short,” says Alvarez. “Every single day, feeding everybody material, we were able to get everyone cutting. We’d send live feeds or links to producers to get their eyes on editorial approvals on scenes in real time. We just moved.”

MTI Film EP Barbara Marshall reports that all the footage was ingested into the post house’s Signiant server system. From those masters, they made DNxHD 36 dailies using the MTI Cortex v5 software and sent them to the editors and assistant editors.

The edit team included Craig Bench, Leah Breuer and Chetin Chabuk, who worked with three assistants: Bradford Obie, Diana Santana and Douglas Staffield. They edited from home on six Avid Media Composers. They worked 13-hour days for 14 days in a row, says Bench.

Everyone on the editorial team got the same pool of dailies and started editing Saturday morning, April 18. Once they reviewed the footage, the team decided to rebuild the split-screen grids from scratch to get the pace of the show right. They wanted to retain, as much as possible, both the cadence of the dialog and the syncopated cutting style that Spottiswood and Bench had set in the pilot.

Rebuilding the grids, explains Bench, “gave us the freedom to treat everyone’s coverage separately. Even though the grid appears to be one take, it’s really not. We were creating our own world.” Rough cuts were sent every night to Robin.

During the first couple of production days, all three teams would jump on cutting the dailies as well as working through the previous day’s notes. As the show came together, Bench worked on the teaser and Act 1, Chabuk did Acts 2 and 3, and Breuer did Act 4 and the party scene at the end.

“There was a lot of experimenting,” explains Bench. “In the grid, should the actors be side by side or one on top of the other? There was also a lot of back and forth about grid background colors and textures.”

The assistants had their bins full setting up grid templates. This would allow them to drop an iso shot on a track so it would go to that spot on the grid and keep it consistent. They also built all the sound effects of the frames animating on and off.

Editorial gave MTI online editor Andrew Miller a “soft lock” of the episode early on April 30. Miller got the Avid project file that was “a big stack of split screens” and a reference video from Bench.

MTI colorist Greg Strait

Miller worked over the weekend with post supervisor Cat Crimins putting the episode together remotely. They replaced all the proxies with the high-res masters in the timeline and made necessary last-minute adjustments.

MTI colorist Greg Strait got a baked, uncompressed 10-bit MXF mixdown of the Avid timeline from Miller. Strait, who graded virtually the entire season of All Rise in Digital Vision’s Nucoda, had a good idea where the look was going. “I tried to keep it as familiar as possible to the other 20 episodes,” he says. “Sharpening some things, adding contrast and putting a lot of power windows around things had the best result.”

After laying in the audio stems, post was wrapped Sunday night at 11pm. Alvarez did a quality-control review of the episode. On Monday, May 4, they output XDCAM as the network deliverable.

Despite the tight time crunch, things went pretty smoothly, which MTI Film’s Marshall attributes to the trust and longtime relationship MTI has with Robin and the show. “That’s the cool thing about Mike. He definitely likes to push the envelope,” she says.

All Rise has been renewed for Season 2, and the team promises the innovations will continue.


DP Chat: Defending Jacob’s Jonathan Freeman

When the Apple TV+ crime drama Defending Jacob begins, viewers meet the seemingly perfect Barber family — assistant DA Andy, teacher Laurie and their teenage son, Jacob. Fairly quickly, things start falling apart after a local boy is found murdered in a park, and Jacob becomes the prime suspect.

Jonathan Freeman

Andy and Laurie both lose their jobs, and the family is ostracized as Jacob is presumed guilty before his trial even begins. The series, which stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell, keeps viewers asking, “Did he or didn’t he?” until the very end.

For the most part, Defending Jacob takes place in winter, and the look of the show reflects that cold. To find out more about Defending Jacob’s look, we reached out to the show’s cinematographer, Jonathan Freeman, ASC, (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire) to talk about working with the show’s director, Morten Tyldum, and showrunner Mark Bomback.

The show is set in an affluent suburb of Boston. Where did you shoot?
The series was shot in many of the locations that take place in the story. We were inspired by real locations and had tremendous support by our local crew. The lighting, grip and camera team worked extremely fast, often shooting the rehearsals. We rarely had to shoot a take again for technical reasons. I can honestly say it was one of the best production teams I’ve ever worked with. And our cast was phenomenal. Capturing performance was the most critical aspect of our storytelling.

What cameras did you use, and did you do camera tests?
We used the Panavision XL II. We also tested the Sony Venice and ARRI Alexa LF (both beautiful cameras as well), but the XL II provided the most resolution, which was needed for Apple’s delivery, once the anamorphic image was unsqueezed.

Can you talk about shooting with multiple cameras?
Working on television shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, we had to achieve quite a lot in a short period of time. On GoT we shot only 10-hour days with almost no overtime, so I got used to shooting with multiple cameras. That experience helped me when capturing the scenes in Defending Jacob, which is primarily a character-driven story.

It was important for director Morten Tyldum and I to have as many simultaneously running cameras as possible in order to capture performances. Shooting this without it feeling like conventional television was a challenge because we often wanted the camera to be physically close to the characters; finding a second camera angle when shooting a close-up of an actor was sometimes difficult.

When we were not able to get a strong camera angle for the B camera, they would either pick up a detail of that same performance or prep for the next setup. This leapfrogging helped us immensely, but one key motif we frequently used the B camera for was shooting close-ups, where the camera was just a few inches higher than the character’s eyeline. It created a very intimate feeling — almost as if we were sharing the character’s perspective.

Can you talk about lenses?
These internal close-ups became a critical element in our storytelling. For Morten and me, the optical quality of the glass, the lenses, was paramount. We chose to shoot with anamorphic lenses. Even though we composed for a 2:1 aspect ratio, we wanted the benefits anamorphic provides aesthetically.

Since so much of our storytelling would be close-ups of our actors, anamorphic served three critical aspects. The anamorphic bokeh (out of focus distortion) became a skewed backdrop, a subtle depiction of their deteriorating world. It also smoothed out the inherent crispness of digital cinematography. And, frankly, it just looked more cinematic.

Panavision was extremely helpful in getting us the G series, which are particularly beautiful and unique in character. And Apple was very supportive throughout the process, working with us to ensure we kept the aesthetic vision Morten and I had while also delivering the highest-quality image.

You brought up the characters’ perspectives earlier. Can you expand on that?
Because the story is such an internal piece, Morten wanted the audience to experience the story through the characters’ eyes. We became very committed to POV. We referenced films like Michael Clayton, Mystic River and the films of Bergman and Polanski.

For every scene, we determined whose perspective we wanted to take. So in a scene with Andy, we might have shot with the camera close to him and potentially wrapping around him, over his shoulder, to see the rest of the scene play out from his perspective. We would often take the same approach with Laurie. But the critical difference that Morten wanted to convey was how the audience saw Jacob.

As the story unfolded, we wanted to create an enigma around him, just as the characters in our story start to wonder whether Jacob is guilty or innocent. We maintained a less subjective perspective with Jacob by keeping the camera more distant. If we did occasionally come in for a close-up, it was to capture another beautifully ambiguous performance by our actor playing Jacob, Jaeden Martell. We hoped this approach translated a sense of uncertainty for the audience.

Can you talk about the look and tone?
Mark Bomback’s scripts were so compelling. I read almost the entire eight hours in one sitting. Even though it was set in contemporary Boston, in the most familiar settings, it had a somber, elegiac quality to it — like a requiem. For the look and tone, we were inspired by Nordic paintings and the films of Bergman — a cool, wintery chiaroscuro light. To amplify a sense of isolation, we framed our characters against windows showing the world they were increasingly being separated from. We also shot our characters through layers of glass or partially obscured them from view using architecture, emphasizing their prison.

What about the lighting?
We wanted to take a naturalistic approach but with a slightly heightened reality — slightly expressionistic. So a cold, rainy day might be pushed toward cyan a bit more and the color desaturated. And since much of our storytelling would be conveyed by the performances of our brilliant actors, it was important to capture performance but also reflect that tone in their close-ups. Light might fall off to shadow more dynamically, but it was always critical to retain detail in the eyes of the actors.

Defending Jacob was the first production where I shot almost entirely with LEDs. The advancement of LED lighting has been a game-changer for me. I often use mini dimmer boards, where I can adjust the key and fill light ratio on the fly. This was more challenging when shooting with tungsten — as the light dimmed, the color temperature shifted warmer. Before LED, I wasn’t able to do the dynamic adjustments that I can now. It also means that I feel more comfortable shooting a rehearsal wherein I can adjust to the actors’ positions immediately without disrupting the set by tweaking between takes.

ARRI SkyPanels were the workhorses for our lighting, often bouncing them through book lights or lighting sections of our night exteriors. We also used Litepanels through diffusion as key or fill in tight spaces. My gaffer, Josh Dreyfus, introduced me to Quasar tubes, which became very versatile. We would use them in the standard way one would use tubes for lighting, but Josh and our key grip, Woody Bell, built substantial softboxes made of eight-foot Quasars, which we used instead of 18K HMIs through diffusion in cherry pickers. They weighed slightly less, drew less power, were aesthetically more pleasing, and were fully RGB and dimmable.

Talk about the color workflow.
When setting a look, I like to keep the variables to a minimum. By limiting the LUTs, I feel it helps reduce inconsistency across the workflow. Luckily, I had a fantastic team of people who translated the look that we captured on set down to the final color. DIT Nic Pasquariello and I established a few basic LUTs during testing and tweaked them slightly on set from scene to scene.

Jonathan Freeman

One was slightly cool, another slightly warm, but we made them all denser than the standard Rec. 709. I prefer to have darker LUTs, like rating the ASA of a film stock lower to get more exposure in a negative. This ensures that we were capturing more detail in the shadows, so when we got to the final color, we could “print down” most of the image but still extract information we wanted through power windows.

The workflow was seamless between our on-set look and dailies, which was graded by Rob Bessette from Finish Post in Boston. Rob and Nic were in constant communication, ensuring what we were seeing on set was delivered accurately to the editorial department. They were extremely consistent, which helped us greatly when it came to doing the final color timing with Joe Finley at Chainsaw in LA, with whom I have worked over numerous projects, including Game of Thrones.

Morten has a very strong eye, so for him, having great latitude in the color grade was as important as shooting, which was another reason why a dense capture was critical. One addition to the look that Morten made in post was creating a subtle color adjustment to the cool look we established in the dailies. He added yellow to the highlights, which gave it a gritty, almost aged quality and provided a color contrast to the overall cool tone.


Back to the ‘70s to edit Hulu’s Mrs. America

By Randi Altman

The ‘70s in America was a lot of things, but boring wasn’t one of them. There was the on-going war in Vietnam; there were widespread protests against that war; there was a developing major political scandal; and the feminist movement was in full swing. It’s also when Hulu’s Mrs. America, an FX Original Series, takes place.

Robert Komatsu

The nine-part limited series, created by Dahvi Waller, follows Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett) and her quest to get the Equal Rights Amendment squashed. Yes, you read that correctly. Schlafly didn’t want equal rights for women — so much so that she started the national Stop ERA campaign, which told women that their “privileges,” like spousal support, would be taken away and that their daughters would be drafted.

Conversely, the series also tells the story of the women who were fighting to get the amendment ratified, including Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and one-time presidential hopeful Shirley Chisholm. The show deftly weaves the stories of these very strong-willed and diverse women and the political and personal battles they were fighting.

Mrs. America was cut by three editors working out of 16:9 Post in Sherman Oaks — Robert Komatsu, Emily Greene and Todd Downing. We recently spoke with Komatsu, who cut the pilot and two other episodes, about his workflow. We also spoke with Downing and Greene, who edited three episodes each as well.

How early did you get involved with the show?
Robert Komatsu: Officially, I started about 10 days before shooting. There was going to be a lot of archival footage in the show, and the producers and I thought it would be good to get a head start on it. In fact, I edited my first versions of the archival sequences for the pilot and the seventh episode during this time.

For the seventh episode, I cut together this entire sequence of the 1977 New York blackout, which depicted the looting, the riots, the arrests. Unfortunately, that storyline was cut from the script before shooting started. You win some, you lose some. I was also editing the makeup tests for all of our actors during pre-production.

Emily Greene: I started a few days before the show started shooting. As Episodes 1 (“Phyllis”) and 2 (“Gloria”) were block shot, and Rob was cutting the first episode, we were both asked to come on a little earlier to familiarize ourselves with the archive material. It was wonderful to have the time to get situated — more often than not, I start a project the day my episode starts shooting, and I hit the ground running as I cut dailies and scramble to keep up to camera. Luckily, because we came on a little earlier and material was simultaneously arriving for both episodes, I had more time to really curate the material.

You were one of three editors, but you cut the pilot. Can you talk about setting tone in terms of editing throughout the series? And how did you work with the producers, directors and show creator?
Komatsu: Even though this was a limited series for television, we treated it as if we were working on a feature. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck had mostly directed features. Stacey Sher and Coco Francini mostly produced features. I had come from features. No one explicitly said, “We’re going to work on this as if we were working on a feature,” but yes, we were indeed working on it as if we were working on a feature.

Emily Greene

The first two episodes were shot as one block. I was editing the first episode and Emily Greene was editing the second. We were scheduled for 25 days, although there would be sections of our episodes that were scheduled to be shot later. Every few days, we would send our cut scenes to Anna and Ryan for feedback. They would give notes and we’d do revisions. At the same time, we’d be editing fresh scenes from dailies, and then we’d send those along with our revised scenes. By the time Anna and Ryan came to the cutting room for their directors’ cut, we weren’t screening an editor’s cut. It was more like we were screening a directors’ cut work in progress.

Normally, on a one-hour drama, the director has four days in the cutting room for their cut. Anna and Ryan had 10 days. Technically, five days were allotted for Episode 1 and five days for Episode 2. But in reality, Anna and Ryan bounced back and forth between my room and Emily’s room every day for 10 days. Then we screened the directors’ cut for Dahvi Waller, the show’s creator, Stacey and Coco. We’d discuss the episodes and then for the most part, we’d work with Anna and Ryan again in the room.

The division of producing was that if it was an episode that Anna and Ryan directed, they were our point people until we were all satisfied, and then we’d share it with Dahvi, Stacey and Coco for their input. And if it was an episode that was not directed by Anna and Ryan, then our point person was Dahvi. And we’d work with her until we were satisfied and then we’d share it with the rest of the group.

At least for the pilot, we continued refining for months, just like on a feature. We even had friends and family screenings booked in a screening room so we could continue to get feedback. I started mid-June and I locked the first episode toward the end of January.

Tell us about working with the showrunner and editing team on this project?
Todd Downing: I had so much fun working with (showrunner) Dahvi Waller; she’s very intelligent and doesn’t dumb things down. We’d geek out together on weird old films like Town Bloody Hall and Chantal Akerman’s work (which she references in the show twice). She has a really good sense of humor so I think she appreciated my comedy-editing background (Russian Doll, SMILF, Difficult People) and what I could bring to the series.

How did the editors work together?
Komatsu: In terms of how the three of us worked as an editorial team, it was very collaborative. At first, it was just Emily and me, along with our assistants, Matt Crawford and Phil Hamilton. In the beginning, Anna and Ryan would send me and Emily emails from their joint email account. Kind of as a lark, I suggested to Emily that we confer and send them one email back, signing it Emily and Rob. This started the great team of “Robily,” as she put it. We were constantly deferring to the other. Emily and I teamed up to put together a complete temp score package that we sent to Anna and Ryan for their feedback. And we would screen cut scenes for each other.

Todd Downing

Todd Downing came on board when Episode 3 started shooting, and we incorporated him into this group as well. He watched our editors’ cuts alongside us before we sent them off to Anna and Ryan. This continued throughout the season. There was a screening room right down the hall from us that was rarely used. So we could spontaneously book it and ask each other to watch our cuts. Not only could we give handy feedback to each other, watching the other’s episodes would help inform us how we should cut our next episodes.

Downing: It was great to work with two talented editors that I could trust to bounce ideas off of. I think we each brought our own style to our episodes and were also very collaborative. We actually had lunch together every day of the edit and talked about our cuts, what music we were using, etc., so it really felt like a team.

What drew you to this project?
Downing: I loved the concept of how they wanted to tell the story of the ERA with a chapter-like structure focusing on different characters and really playing with the audience’s expectations on who they are rooting for. You really don’t see female anti-heroes much on American television so it felt very original. I’m also a big fan of the 1970s: the film, the design, the fashion, the politics. Spending time in that world was big draw as well.

Greene: I had my eye on the project for months before I interviewed for it. Every week, through my agency, we receive information on upcoming projects. The day that the grid for the upcoming project of Mrs. America came out, I hounded my agent to get me an interview. Through a series of coincidences however, my dear editor friend Chi-Yoon Chung was ultimately the one who helped me get the interview with producing directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and then with showrunner Dahvi Waller.

So many aspects of the show were a draw: the stellar cast and crew, the sadly still relevant subject matter, and the fact that it was being told from an unexpected point of view. I loved the notion of telling a story about feminists and their plight to get the ERA passed, but from ultra-conservative Phyllis Schlafly’s point of view. I couldn’t wait to see the product that would come of it, and luckily, I got to be a part of all of that!

MRS. AMERICA — Pictured: Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

In the pilot, you created a split screen. How did that come about, and how was that used later within the series?
Komatsu: The split-screen sequence in the pilot was not scripted but it became a style for the season as a whole. When we were about to start shooting the section where Phyllis was going to recruit other housewives to help her stop the ERA, Anna and Ryan called me to say they were planning on shooting it as a split-screen sequence. I asked them, “What kind of split screen?” They didn’t know. So I created three different concepts and sent them to Anna and Ryan. This started a conversation, and we eventually ended up creating one that evoked the The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Steve McQueen. Our split screens had panels of different sizes, arranged asymmetrically in the frame.

Everyone loved the split-screen sequence and that’s why it started to be used in other episodes. In fact, by the time we got to Episode 7, the script called out for a split-screen sequence. I edited that episode, which was also directed by Anna and Ryan. I didn’t want to copy what I did from the pilot, so I evolved it from where I left off.

At the end of the first split screen, we have a shot of nine panels showing nine different housewives. Those panels individually cut to nine panels of Phyllis’ newsletter, the envelopes, and the typing. And those nine panels then cut to nine identical panels of Phyllis. The center panel expanded, pushing the other eight off the frame until it was full frame. That’s where the sequence ended. So, for the seventh episode, in terms of style, that’s where I started. This split-screen sequence was all about panels pushing other panels either halfway or fully off the screen. Or panels that flew off the screen to reveal other panels underneath it.

How were the episodes broken up between you, Emily and Todd?
Komatsu: The episodes were split up in a rotation. Normally, on a season with nine episodes, I’d edit one, four and seven. Emily would edit two, five and eight, and Todd would edit three, six and nine. However, due to scheduling, Episode 8 was shot after Episode 9. So, Emily edited nine and Todd edited eight.

This is clearly a period piece. How did that affect the pacing of the story, if at all?
Komatsu: I’m not sure it did. We are 2020 editors with a 2020 editing sensibility. I’d say that we created a period piece through a contemporary lens.

Greene: No. I read an interesting article where the brilliant costume designer Bina Daigeler was interviewed, and was asked about the costumes for the show. She said something along the lines about how clothes were made specifically for the characters, even when there was the possibility to purchase vintage items. The idea was to have the show feel as though we’re living that in very moment, even though it happened 50 years ago. I think somehow, that also applies to the pace. We didn’t want it to “feel” like something from the ’70s with a different pace that might not reach a contemporary audience, so we kept it at a 2020 pace while also integrating methods that recall the past such as split screens and groovy fonts.

Also, was I imagining it, or were there cuts in the first episode that focused on phones, clocks and other items?
Komatsu: You weren’t imaging them. There were times we set up the world with static shots, especially since it’s a period piece. Before we realize we are in Phyllis’ house for the first time, we cut to a radio and a statue of an eagle, a bust of Barry Goldwater and then an insert of Phyllis’ newsletter, which is taken by a hand, and we realize we are in Phyllis’ home office.

We get into the beauty parlor by showing shots of a wig, nail polish, a phone and mail. And we introduce Barry Goldwater’s office by showing a ringing business phone and then an ash tray.

Todd, what discussions did you have about the “Alice tripping” sequence in Episode 8 (“Houston”)?
Downing: I think the big discussions we had were how “trippy” was it going to be. Dahvi, (director) Janicza Bravo and I were all in agreement; we didn’t want it to be this overtly psychedelic acid horror show, but rather do it in more subtle ways, with the pacing, the sound, maybe using takes that were a little “off” or takes that were too long even. Sarah Paulson, who plays Alice McCray, is in every scene, and we wanted the audience to get in her head and have the audience take this journey with her, not be distracted by flashy editing or VFX.

Can you talk about the use of archival footage in the show?
Komatsu: The archival footage wasn’t scripted, but it was planned for in pre-production. We would know the general topic of the archival footage, and it was dependent on a central theme of an episode. In Episode One, “Phyllis,” it was a no-brainer where the footage would go. The topic was Shirley Chisholm after she announced that she was running for president.

So naturally, we would put the footage right after the scene where Shirley Chisholm announced she was running for president. But what would we use? We got hours and hours of footage, but I immediately gravitated toward a reporter asking people on the street whether or not they would vote for a woman running for president. It was fascinating to see the different opinions and the people had succinct sound bites — or at least I could make them succinct. I could also juxtapose what they said to show differing opinions or to have one person finish another person’s sentence.

When I did Episode 4, “Betty,” it wasn’t as easy. We knew we wanted the topic to be abortion, and we knew we wanted it toward the beginning of the episode, in the teaser, but we didn’t know exactly where. And it was hard to find compelling footage that we wanted to use. At one point, Dahvi asked me if we could find a reporter asking people on the street what they thought about abortion, like we did in “Phyllis.” After all, it worked in Episode 1. Unfortunately, our researcher just couldn’t find footage that existed of that nature.

When I did Episode 7, “Bella,” it also wasn’t easy. We knew we wanted archival footage of the state conferences that would lead up to the National Women’s Convention. I found some great footage of Tom Brokaw explaining how the state conferences worked, and how you would elect delegates to send to the national convention. I thought that was effective, especially since I figured there might be a lot of viewers not familiar with the National Women’s Convention and its process. So I cut that together.

Anna pointed out that it seemed a little repetitive, since we had a scripted scene where Alice explains that the state conferences were like the local Pillsbury Bake-Off Contests, where the winners could compete in the national contest to see who had the best recipes. So instead, I used footage from the individual state conferences, and it showed how although some of the conferences were peaceful, some were contentious, with the women almost coming to blows. Then it became a process of where to put this scene. There were some potential areas, but when trying them, we would find that putting the archival after a particular scene might ruin the momentum we had been building. So it was definitely an editorial process.

What scenes are you most proud of?
Komatsu: I am definitely proud of the split-screen sequence in Episode 1, especially since it was the first one in the series. I’m also proud of the scene in the pilot where Phyllis has a meeting with Barry Goldwater. After initially bringing up her views on defense, she is asked to take notes and gets sent to get a pen and pad of paper. It’s here that she decides to pivot and start focusing on the ERA, and when she returns to the office, she lets the men have it. It’s such a showcase for Cate Blanchett, and we got to play with a lot of sound design as well, as she hears the ERA chant through the window, giving her the impetus of focusing on the ERA.

Greene: One of my most favorite scenes is from Episode 5 “Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc ” It’s the debate between the couples. The scene just came together like butter, and didn’t change very much from the editor’s cut, so I suppose I can say I’m proud of that. It was directed beautifully by director Laure de Clermont-Tonnere, but I definitely had lots of choices of how to assemble it. Both actors (Cate Blanchett and Ari Graynor) really brought it, and it was a lot of fun figuring out who to feature when in order to make the shift of power and the total humiliation most effective.

What do you use to edit?
Komatsu: We edited on Avid Media Composers networked to a Nexis.

Do you have any special tricks, like speed ramps, VFX, sound effects, transitions, etc.?
Komatsu: One thing I do often, probably too often, since it leads to VFX costs, is split the screen. I’m not talking about the ‘70s-style split screens. I’m talking about splitting apart the frame into sections to manipulate the sections individually.

For example, if there’s a two-shot, and Phyllis said something that Alice was supposed to react to, I could split the frame so Alice reacted quicker or slower to Phyllis. Or I could fix continuity. Or I could even use a performance of Phyllis from Take 1 and a performance of Alice from Take 2 and comp them together to look like one seamless shot. I do this a lot on every project, just to make things as perfect as possible.

Greene: I am a huge advocate of sound as transition. I’ve got a soft spot for a door close to get us from one scene to another, or anything that either dynamically brings us to the next scene or does it subtly but effectively.

This show, in particular, was important as we transitioned between the two worlds, and wanting to distinguish yet unite the two was key. I also snuck in quite a few fluid morphs if I needed the actor to say something a little sooner. I did a few speed ramps as well, but those were also shot both ways (24fps, 36fps, 48fps). The trick was finding the right frame to ramp to so it felt seamless and effective.

Any tips for younger editors who are starting out?
Komatsu: It’s easy for me to say, but try to work for an editor who is willing to mentor you. I try to do this for my assistant, Matt Crawford. I’ll give him scenes to cut and I’ll give him notes until I feel it’s ready to show the directors and producers. I tell them that Matt cut these scenes.I also ask them if, when it comes time to make changes on these scenes, they would be willing to work with Matt. It’s very different for me to sit on the couch and give notes to Matt and for Matt to be in the big chair while Anna, Ryan, Dahvi, Stacey and Coco are sitting on the couch. An aspiring editor definitely needs that experience..


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


DP Chat: Cinematographer John Grillo talks Westworld, inspiration

By Randi Altman

HBO’s Westworld ended its third season in early May, and it was quite a ride. There was anarchy, rioting, robots, humans, humans who are really robots, robots who had other robots’ brains. Let’s just say there was a lot going on. This season took many of our characters — including Dolores, Maeve, Bernard and the Man in Black — out of the Westworld park and into the real world, meaning the look of the show needed to feel different.

John Grillo on set

Cinematographer John Grillo has shot eight Westworld episodes spanning Seasons 2 and 3. In fact, he earned an Emmy nomination for his work on Season 2. His resume is full of episodic work and includes TNT’s new series Snowpiercer, The Leftovers and Preacher, among many others.

We reached out to Grillo to find out about his process on Westworld and how he found his way to cinematography.

The most current season of Westworld has completely different locations than in previous years — we are now in the outside world. How did this change the look?
We introduced more LED practical fixtures in both interior and exterior sets. The idea was to create more linear patterns of illumination. Production designer Howard Cummings created sets that incorporated this futuristic motif, whether built on stage or added them to existing locations.

We relied much more on the art department and post VFX to help us eliminate certain elements in the background that would bump against the story. Beyond that, we endeavored to find locations in Los Angeles, Spain and Singapore that either already had a futuristic vibe about them or that we could touch up with VFX. There were some that needed no extra work, like the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, which became Delos Headquarters, and another location in Barcelona called La Fabrica, which used to be a cement factory that architect Ricardo Bofill converted into his offices and living quarters. This would become the character Serac’s home. In the near future, not everything has changed so dramatically, so we focused on key elements like vehicles and buildings.

DP Paul Cameron, who shot the show’s pilot, directed Episode 4 this season, which you shot for him. Tell us about working together on that episode.
I’ve known Paul Cameron for many years and assisted him on a few occasions, most notably on Collateral. I’ve always admired his lighting, so needless to say there was a healthy mix of excitement and fear on my part when I heard I’d be shooting his directorial debut!

I have shot episodic TV for other DP-directors and I’ve been in that situation myself — recently directing episodes for Preacher — so I came in with a new appreciation of how difficult it is to direct.

Working with a fellow cinematographer makes the communication a lot smoother; if he asked me for a specific look or feel we were able to speak in shorthand. He was very respectful of my opinions and let me do my thing, and at the same time I was able to help him like I would any director. He came up with some great ideas that were not in the script, particularly for the opening sequence with Ed Harris. Anybody directing for the first time with actors of the caliber that we have in Westworld would be a nervous wreck, but Paul was very much in control, and we managed to have fun in the process.

What camera was Westworld shot on? What about lenses?
We shot on Kodak 35mm stock with ARRICAM ST and LT, 435 and 235 cameras using ARRI Master Primes serviced from Keslow Camera. They were very helpful in securing HD video taps for us, which were invaluable. We also shot anamorphic sequences with Cooke Anamorphic primes. We did shoot a little bit of digital here and there for wide-angle night exteriors of skylines just to make the buildings pop. For that we used the Sony Venice camera with ARRI Signature Primes. We also used the Rialto extension on the Venice to create a camera rig we mounted on a DJI Ronin-S that we called the Hobo Cam. This allowed us to shoot in the crowded streets of Singapore unnoticed — the idea being that it was a one-man operation with the body of the camera in a backpack and the sensor module mounted on the Ronin. We used Zeiss Super Speeds to keep the weight down.

Tell us about the color grade. How do you work with the colorist?
I worked remotely with Kostas Theodosiou, who was our final colorist at FotoKem. He is new to the show this season, so we had some conversations over the phone early on. I would send reference stills to dailies colorist Jon Rocke after each shoot day in an effort to lock down the look we were going for ahead of time.

We were tweaking as we went along, even retransferring some dailies when we didn’t feel they were right. For me skin tones are very important. We spent a lot of time correcting them. Film is amazing in that respect, but when you transfer it to the digital domain, it takes a lot of know-how from the colorist to dig for them.

You also shot TNT’s new Snowpiercer series. Both shows feature a lot of visual effects. How does that affect your work?
It’s like working with a ghost. You know it’s there, but you can’t see it. I’ve worked with some great VFX artists, so I depend on them to keep me on the right track. Sometimes I affect what they do by suggesting a certain look or vice versa, but it’s all worked out in prep, so usually we are on the same page when it comes time to shoot.

It used to be more complicated when I was coming up in terms of the execution, locking down cameras with 20 C-stands and such. Now they’ve come a long way, and there’s nothing they can’t do. I usually don’t even see their work until the show comes out, so it’s always a pleasant surprise.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
It was by happenstance. My dad is a jazz guitarist, and my mother is a painter. Growing up, I was surrounded by music and painting. There were plenty of art books in my mom’s house in Acapulco, where I was raised, so early on I had an interest in the visual arts.

When I was living in Mexico City, I got a job on an American film that was shooting in town. After working as a PA in various departments, I ended up with the VFX crew, and that was my first time being near a film camera. The assistants began teaching me how to load the old Mitchell and VistaVision cameras, and after principal photography was done, they offered me a job in LA as a loader.

After that I worked as an assistant for many years and was lucky to work for some of the best cinematographers around. What really turned me on to the art of cinematography was discovering the connection to my childhood interests and seeing how certain cinematographers were, in fact, painting with light. Vittorio Storaro, Sven Nykvist, Nestor Almendros and Conrad Hall were channeling Rembrandt, Vermeer and Caravaggio. I began paying more attention to the craft as I continued assisting DPs and then decided to make the leap.

What inspires you artistically?
I draw a lot of inspiration from the other arts. Paintings, photography, music and dance are great tools for learning about color, composition, rhythm and movement. For example, music is very helpful for camera choreography. How slow or how fast the dolly moves or how long a focus rack takes is always linked to the rhythm of a scene, so it becomes a beautiful dance with the actors. That’s why we always talk about beats in a scene like we do with music.

Looking back over the past few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Probably the advent of LED lights. It’s been a game-changer, particularly on tight schedules. Having a dimmer board able to control not just the intensity but also color and angle has freed up time to think about the other dozen things that go into creating an image.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
For me it’s about paying attention. Having your antennas up. Listening to the director. Working on a film is a group effort and I like being involved in the process and want my crew to feel the same way. We spend more time with each other than with our families, so it’s important that everyone is inspired to do their best work but also have fun doing it. The rule is always to serve the story and the director’s vision.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
It all depends on the project. Lately I’ve been impressed with the Sony Venice camera. I love the high ISO setting for low-light scenes. Also, I’ve grown quite dependent on the Astera Titan tubes for lighting. They are like Kino Flos but wireless, battery-powered and color-controlled. They can quickly get you out of a jam.


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


Hulu’s The Great: Creator and showrunner Tony McNamara

By Iain Blair

Aussie writer/director Tony McNamara is the creator, showrunner and executive producer of Hulu’s The Great, the new 10-episode series starring Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and Nicholas Hoult as Russian Emperor Peter III. The Great is a comedy-drama about the rise of Catherine the Great — from German outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history (from 1762 until 1796).

Season 1 is a fictionalized and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court on her side. A very modern story about the past, which incorporates historical facts occasionally, it encompasses the many roles she played over her lifetime — as lover, teacher, ruler, friend and fighter.

L-R: Tony McNamara and cinematographer John Brawley

McNamara most recently wrote the Oscar-winning film The Favourite, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His other feature film credits include The Rage in Placid Lake, which he wrote and directed, and Ashby.

McNamara has writen some Australia’s most memorable television series, including The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way, Doctor Doctor and Spirited. He also served as showrunner of the popular series Puberty Blues.

I recently spoke with McNamara, who was deep in post, about making the show and his love of editing and post.

When you wrote the stage play this is based on, did you also envision it as a future TV series?
Not at all. I was just a playwright and I’d worked a bit in TV but I never thought of adapting it. But then Marian Macgowan, my co-producer on this, saw it and suggested making a movie of it, and I began thinking about that

What did the stage version teach you?
That it worked for an audience, that the characters were funny, and that it was just too big a story for a play or a film.

It’s like a Dickensian novel with so many periods and great characters and multiple storylines.
Exactly, and as I worked more and more in TV, it seemed like the perfect medium for this massive story with so many periods and great characters. So once the penny dropped about TV, it all went very fast. I wrote the pilot and off we went.

I hear you’re not a fan of period pieces, despite this and all the success you had with The Favourite. So what was the appeal of Catherine and what sort of show did you set out to make?
I love period films like Amadeus and Barry Lyndon, but I don’t like the dry, polite, historically accurate, by-the-numbers ones. So I write my things thinking, “What would I want to watch?” And Catherine’s life and story are so amazing, and anything but polite.

What did Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult bring to their roles?
They’re both great actors and really funny, and that was important. The show’s a drama in terms of narrative, but it also feels like a comedy, but then it also gets very dark in places. So they had to be able to do both — bring a comic force to it but also be able to put emotional boots on the ground… and move between the two very easily, and they can do that. They just got it and knew the show I wanted to make before we even got going. I spent time with them discussing it all, and they were great partners.

Where do you shoot?
We did a lot of it on stages at 3 Mills Studios in London and shot some exteriors around London. We then went to this amazing palace near Naples, Italy, where we shot exteriors and interiors for a couple of weeks. We really tried to give the show a bit more of a cinematic feel and look than most TV shows, and I think the production design is really strong. We all worked very hard to not make it feel at all like sets. We planned it out so we could move between a lot of rooms so you didn’t feel trapped by four walls in just one set. So even though it’s a very character-driven story, we also wanted to give it that big epic sweep and scope.

Do you like being a showrunner?
(Laughs) It depends what day it is. It’s a massive job and very demanding.

What are the best parts of the job and the worst?
I love the writing and working with the actors and the director. Then I love all the editing and all the post — that’s really my favorite thing in the whole process after the writing. I’ve always loved editing, as it’s just another version of writing. And I love editors, and ours are fun to hang out with, and it’s fun to try and solve problems. The worst parts are having to deal with all the scheduling and the nuts and bolts of production. That’s not much fun.

Where do you post?
We do it all in London, with all the editing at Hireworks and all the sound at Encore. When we’re shooting at the studios we set up an edit suite on site, so we start working on it all right away. You have to really, as the TV schedule doesn’t allow much time for post compared with film.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We had three editors, who are all so creative and inventive. I love getting all the material and then editing and tweaking things, particularly in comedy. There’s often a very fine line in how you make something funny and how you give the audience permission to laugh.

I think the main editing challenges were usually the actual storytelling, as we tell a lot of stories really fast, so it’s managing how much story you tell and how quickly. It’s a 10-hour story; you’re also picking off moments in an early episode that will pay off far later in the series. Plus you’re dealing with the comedy factor, which can take a while to get up and running in terms of tone and pace. And if there’s a darker episode, you still want to keep some comedy to warm it up a bit.

But I don’t micro-manage the editors. I watch cuts, give some notes and we’ll chat if there are big issues. That way I keep fresh with the material. And the editors don’t like coming on set, so they keep fresh too.

How involved are you with the sound?
I’m pretty involved, especially with the pre-mix. We’ll do a couple of sessions with our sound designer, Joe Fletcher, and Marian will come in and listen, and we’ll discuss stuff and then they do the fixes. The sound team really knows the style of the soundscape we want, and they’ll try various things, like using tones instead of anything naturalistic. They’re very creative.

Tony McNamara and Elle Fanning on set

There’s quite a lot of VFX. 
BlueBolt and Dneg did them all — and there are a lot, as period pieces always need a ton of small fixes. Then in the second half, we had a lot of stuff like dogs getting thrown off roofs, carriages in studios that had to be running through forests, and we have a lot of animals — bears, butterflies and so on. There’s also a fair whack of violence, and all of it needed VFX.

Where do you do the DI?
We did the grading at Encore, and we spent a lot of time with DP John Brawley setting the basic look early on when we did the pilot, so everyone got it. We had the macro look early, and then we’d work on specific scenes and the micro stuff.

Are you already planning Season 2?
I have a few ideas and a rough arc worked out, but with the pandemic we’re not sure when we’ll even be able to shoot again.


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


Due to COVID, The Blacklist turns to live-action/animation season finale

By Daniel Restuccio

When the COVID-19 crisis shut down production in New York City, necessity became the mother of invention for The Blacklist showrunners. They took the 21 minutes of live-action footage they had shot for Episode 19, “The Kazanjian Brothers,” and combined it with 21 minutes of graphic-novel-style animation to give viewers the season finale they deserved.

Adam Coglan

Thanks to previs/visual effects company Proof, the producers were able to transition from scenes that were shot traditionally to a world where FBI agent Elizabeth Keane and wanted fugitive Raymond Reddington lived as animated characters.

The Blacklist team reached out to Proof the week everyone at the studio was asked to start working from home. In London, artists were given workstations as needed; in the US, they had all the computers set up in the office while the team remoted into those workstations based on the different proprietary and confidentiality rules, and to keep everything on the same servers.

Over six weeks, 29 people in London, including support staff and asset people, worked on the show. While in the US, the numbers varied between 10 to 15 people. As you can imagine, it’s a big undertaking.

Patrice Avery

We reached out to Adam Coglan and Matt Perrin, Proof animation supervisors based in London, and Patrice Avery global head of production for Proof, about the production and post workflow.

How did you connect with the producers on the show?
Patrice Avery: Producer Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath knew Proof’s owner and president, Ron Frankel. After The Blacklist shut down, they brainstormed ideas, and animation was one they thought might make sense.

Adam Coglan: The Proof US offices tend to work using toon shaders on models, and the producers had seen our previs work on the Hunger Games, Guardians of the Galaxy and Wrinkle in Time.

Can you walk us through the workflow?
Coglan: Everybody was working in parallel. There was no time to wait for the models to get built, then start texturing, then start rigging, then start animating. Animation had to start from the beginning, so we started out using proxy geometry for the characters.

Matt Perrin

Character build and animation was going on at the same time. We were building the sequences, blocking them out, staging them. We had a client call every day, so we’d be getting notes every day. The clients wouldn’t be looking at anything that resembled their main actors until a good three or four weeks into the actual project.

Avery: It meant they had to run blind a bit with their animation. They got scratch dialog, and then they got final. They didn’t get the real dialogue until almost the end because they still were trying to figure out how to get the best quality dialogue recorded from their actors.

Obviously, the script had been written, so you essentially animated the existing script?
Coglan: Yes. We were given the script early on and it did evolve a little bit, but not wildly. We managed to stick to the sequences that we’d actually blocked out from the start. There were no storyboards; we basically just interpreted what their script gave us.

Can you talk a bit about some of the scenes you enhanced?
Coglan: There’s a helicopter sequence at the end of the show that they hadn’t planned to shoot with live action, because of safety issues with the helicopter. They brought it back when they realized they could do all of those shots in animation. So there are big aerials over the helicopter landing pad. The helicopter is going while the main villain approaches the helicopter.

Matt Perrin: There are shots peppered throughout the whole thing that would have been tricky to fit into the timescales that they normally shoot the show in. Throughout the show, there are angles and camera work that were easier in animation. In the pilot episode, they visited Washington Mall and the Capitol building, so we got to return to that.

You used Autodesk Maya as your main tool? What else was used?
Coglan: Yes, predominantly Maya. Character heads were built in Z-Brush and then brought into Maya and textured using Substance and Photoshop. The toon shader is a set of proprietary shaders that Proof developed in Maya with filters on the textures to give them the toon shaded look.

Your networks are obviously connected?
Coglan: Absolutely. We’ve been using Teradici, which has really saved our skin on this show. It’s been a godsend and offers really good remote access.

Aside from the truncated production schedule, what were some of the other challenges that you had?
Coglan: Working completely remotely with a team of over 20 odd people was a big challenge.

Perrin: Yes. Everything slows down. Coordinating the work from home with all the artists, the communication that you have face-to-face with the team being in the same room as you is, obviously, stretched. We would communicate over Zoom chats daily, multiple times a day with them, and with the producers.

On the flip side, it felt like we had more access to the producers of the show than we might under normal circumstances, because we had a scheduled meeting with them every day as well. It was great to tap directly into their taste and get their feedback so immediately.

Can you describe how the animation was done? Keyframe, rotoscoping, motion capture, or some combination of those?
Perrin: We started with very simple blockouts of action and cameras for each scene. This allowed us to get the layout and timing approved fast, saving as much time as possible for the keyframe animation stage. There are a couple of transitions between live action and animation that required some rotoanimation. We also did a little mocap (mostly for background character motions.) On the whole though, it was a lot of keyframe animation.

How were the editors involved?
Perrin: Chris Brookshire and Elyse Holloway “got it” from the beginning. They gave us the cut of the live-action show with placeholders slugged in for the scenes we would be animating. Between watching that and the script, which was already pretty tight, it gave us an idea of what the scope of our role was going to be.

We decided to go straight into a very basic blocking pass rendered in gray scale 3D so they could see the space and start testing angles with faster iterations. It allowed them to start cutting earlier and give us those edits back. They never got an excess of footage from us.

When they shoot the show, they’ve got reels of footage to go through, whereas with us they get the shots we created and not many spare. But the editors and showrunners got the idea that they could actually start calling out for shots too. They’d ask us to change the layout in some instances because they want to shuffle the shots around from what we’d initially intended.

From that point it allowed our asset makers and R&D teams to be looking into what the character should look like in the environments and building that parallel with us. Then we were ready to go into animation.

How did you set the style for the final look of the piece?
Perrin: The client had a strong idea. They already had done a spinoff comic book series. We’d seen what they’ve done with that, and they talked about the kind of styling of The Blacklist being quite noir.

Coglan: They gave the current episode and past episodes. So they could always reference scenes that were similar to other episodes. As soon as one of the show runners started talking about leaning into the graphic novel styling of things a little light went off and we thought, okay, we know exactly what they’re after for this now. It gave us a really good creative direction.

That was the biggest development on the project — to get the fidelity of the toon shaders to stand up to broadcast quality, better than we’ve been used to in the past. Because normally these don’t go past producers and directors when we work in previs.

When you say better quality what is that actually?
Coglan: There are some extreme close-ups in this where we were right on the main characters’ faces. They had detail actually hand-painted in Photoshop and then Substance. A lot of the lines to define features were actually painted by hand.

Avery: When using the toon shading in previs, we didn’t really do much to the backgrounds, it was all character line toon shaded, and in this one we created a process for the background sets to also make them look toon shaded.

Did you recreate any of the existing sets?
Coglan: They gave us blueprints for a lot of their set builds, so, yes, some of the sets were straight from the show.

Perrin: One set, a medical facility, we’d built already from their blueprints, so that when we transition out of the live-action into the animation it’s kind of seamless.

What other things did you accomplish that you’re proud of that you haven’t mentioned yet?
Coglan: I think for me really, the amount of work that we did in the compressed amount of time really was the big takeaway for me. Dealing with people totally remotely I just didn’t know whether that could work and we made it work.

Perrin: The whole way through was very exciting, because of the current situation everybody’s in, and the time constraints. It was very liberating for us. We didn’t have the multi-tiered approval stages or the normal infrastructure. It was immediate feedback and fast results.

Avery: What was cool for me was watching the creative discussions. There was a point a few weeks in when the client was giving more notes about the comic book-style and leaning into that. Our teams are so used to the constraints of live-action and the rules that they need to follow. There was this switch when they finally were like, “Oh, we can do really cool comic book angles. Oh, we could do this and that.” To just see the team really embracing, untethered a bit, to just go for it. It was really cool to see.

What would you do if you got a call, “Hey, we’ve got an entire series that wants to go this route?”
Perrin: I think I’d jump at it really. Although I don’t think I could do it in the same timescale for everything. I think there needs to be slightly more planning involved, but it’s been pretty enjoyable.


Dan Restuccio is a writer/director with Realwork Entertainment and part of the Visual Arts faculty at California Lutheran University. He is a former Disney Imagineer. You can reach him at dansweb451@gmail.com.

DP Chat: Jeffrey Waldron on Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere

By Randi Altman

Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere stars Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as, well, frenemies? Maybe? It’s hard to describe their relationship, other than a powderkeg covered with a fake smile. From the minute Washington’s Mia, a wandering artist and single mom, pulls into the upper-class Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights and meets Witherspoon’s Elena, an uptight and OCD mother of four, you know the close-knit town won’t ever be the same.

Jeffrey Waldron

Set in the 1990s, this limited series, based on Celeste Ng’s book of the same name, puts a microscope on just-under-the-surface racism combined with your everyday, run-of-the-mill mother’s remorse.

We reached out to DP Jeffrey Waldron to find out about the look of the show and how he worked with his alternating DP Trevor Forrest, the directors and the EPs.

How early did you get involved on the show?
I was brought on with the other DP Trevor Forrest several weeks before principal photography began. We hit it off in an initial meeting that included the pilot director and the executive producers.

Can you talk about the look they wanted for the show?
My initial instincts for the show, based on the book and the first two scripts, turned out to be really in sync with what they’d been discussing. In the early stages we were all bringing visual references to the table and deciding on the overall visual arc of the eight episodes.

Ultimately, the visual ideas we landed on held that the character of Elena represented a sense of order — tight control of her life and family — and that Mia represented chaos. She’s a strong mother and a wandering artist, but there’s a lot we don’t know about her, and that’s where much of the early tension comes from.

Can you talk about the different looks?
Sure. The other key visual idea was the changing of the seasons, from August to December — which we represented through color in lighting and LUTs — warmer to cooler. In the late summer we see warmer highlights and maintain a bit of cyan in the shadows. But as the days grow shorter, they also grow bluer in the shadows, and the lighting becomes darker and more edgy, and the camerawork starts to loosen and become more reactive.

You mentioned the novel earlier. Did the look described in the book translate to the show?
There’s nothing super-specific to the novel that plays a big role in our approach to the look. But I have now done a couple of book adaptations as limited series and I do try to absorb the author’s prose style to see if there is a visual equivalent. The “voice” of the dialogue is most easily brought to life in a script, but the descriptive style of the novel is an interesting place for the cinematographer to look for tonal cues. What’s the tense? Who’s point of view? Is the narrator omniscient? Is it told loosely? Formally? Beautifully? Gritty? I feel that we did bring a sense of this voice to the show’s look — even if subconsciously.

It takes place in the 1990s. How did that affect how you shot it?
The ‘90s played into every aspect inside of the frames — the amazing production design, cars, costumes, hair and makeup — so there wasn’t a huge responsibility for the look of the show to scream 1990s.

That said, the combination of all of these elements and a more neutral, soft, formal style for Elena — especially in the first couple of episodes — does result in an overwhelmingly ‘90s vibe that we start to undo as her life gets tangled up with Mia’s. You’ll start to see darker, moodier, bluer lighting and a more handheld sense in the camera work as the plot thickens!

Where was it shot?
The show is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but we shot in Los Angeles. This brought the challenge of finding locations that looked right for the written scene, but also for the 1990s, and Ohio. As mentioned, the story begins in August but ends in December, so this meant bringing in rain and snow and giant silks to create overcast-feeling skies.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
The DP for Episode 1, Trevor Forrest, and Panavision magician Dan Sasaki had customized a few versions of Panavision’s Sphero 65 primes to differing strengths of flare, veiling glare and diffusion characteristics.

We tested them on the Alexa LF and ended up really loving the heaviest strength — tasking Panavision to create us an extended set. As we ventured into flashback sequences and ultimately the sixth episode, we brought on a mix of Panavision T and C series anamorphic primes to establish a different feel for seeing “memory.”

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of, or ones that you found more challenging?
Every day is truly a challenge on a television schedule — even scenes that don’t look technically difficult can be Herculean to pull off when you see what else has to be shot on the same day.

All of the homecoming dance scenes in the third episode had to be shot in one day. When you consider the size of the space, the amount of extras and the limited hours of the minor actors, it was quite a task. We built two giant soft boxes that we could control on the lighting board allowing us to create contrast by turning sides of the boxes on and off as we moved the camera around the gymnasium. We had a Technocrane that allowed us to move the camera around the gym quite easily. Even if we weren’t using it for a high-angle crane-style shot, we’d use it like a Steadicam for moving masters. These tools definitely help to make the day.

Who did the color grade on the show?
Company 3’s Stefan Sonnenfeld using Blackmagic Resolve.

Now, moving away from the show, how did you become interested in cinematography?
As a kid I was obsessed with animation and wanted to be a hand-drawn animator. In fifth grade I joined an animation club. My mom would drop me off at their studio, you’d pay like $20 a month and you could use their 16mm camera and everything. This got me wanting to know more about film, which led me to still photography and ultimately to live-action film cinematography. I still love animation!

What inspires you artistically?
The work of other great cinematographers in the episodic realm really does inspire me. I know we share limitations of budget and time, and when I see incredibly beautiful and consistent imagery across a show, I’m excited to learn from them. Right now in episodic, it’s Igor Martinovic’s work on The Outsider. I’m also always excited to see whatever Christian Sprenger or Tim Ives is up to.

What about keeping up with new technology?
I’m not the most camera tech-y DP — my world is generally more affected by advances in the lighting realm. A new set of lenses is always interesting to me, but how it affects my work? A super-versatile new lighting instrument is far more likely to help my craft.

What new technology has changed the way you work over the past few years?
The cameras have obviously changed a bit, but these advances don’t usually change the way I work. The Sony Venice has to some extent — the ability to swap NDs so quickly and the dual native ISO, allowing a 2500 base ISO, have impacted how I put scenes together on set.

Lighting instruments like LiteMats, Astera tubes and SkyPanels have probably had the bigger effect on how I work, making it easier (and cooler) to create soft sources, choose colors without the need for gel and dim without affecting color. The ability to dim everything alone is such a game changer versus Kinos and hot lights.

Jeffrey Waldron on set

Care to share some of your best practices?
I have an ever-growing personal list of best practices — many super-specific to situations I’ve found a good solution for in the past or things to avoid. But the big thing for me is starting the day with some personal time at home to journal about the previous day’s work and the work ahead, and taking some deep breaths and thinking about the challenges coming up.

A film set can be a stressful place, so I try to set a calm and fun vibe and let people know I appreciate them. I honestly have so much fun on a film set; it’s long hours, but the time just flies for me. I love my crews, and I love creating with them.

Does your process change at all when working on a film versus an episodic or vice versa?
On a show like Little Fires Everywhere, with alternating DPs, my process is exactly the same as it would be on a feature. You intimately prep with your director, visiting locations together, craft your specific approach; work with your AD to assure the timing makes sense and meet with the production designer to look at plans.

On a show without an alternating DP, it’s quite different. You treat the first episode or episode block like a feature, but then you start shooting… and you’re juggling future episodes as you shoot. You’re generally not visiting locations with the director, instead relying on your crew to help relay the pertinent information. It’s different, it requires a bit more improvisation to pull things together on the day, but I actually love it too.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
The ideal collaboration is one where it quickly becomes apparent that you have similar instincts — this allows you to run with your best and most ambitious ideas, knowing that they’ll be met with a sense of co-ownership and excitement.

With solid pre-production, shared instincts give way to a shorthand on set that just makes things come together more easily and more beautifully. It’s a lot harder when you’re not on the same page. You may read the same scene and have opposite ideas for what it should look like or how the blocking might look or what focal lengths might feel right. In these situations, it’s all about remaining flexible. I’ve had great collaborations with wonderful directors where we weren’t in sync visually, and we did wonderful work by finding a balance, but it’s harder.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I don’t have any go-tos really. I love prime lenses of all sorts — getting to know their inherent strengths and flaws and exploiting them to tell the story is an exciting part of the job. I love ARRI cameras, and I’m also a big fan of Sony’s Venice camera. There isn’t anything I can’t live without camera-wise — I really feel that amazing images can be made on any of the common cameras and lenses that people are using.

I feel there are lighting tools I can’t live without: LiteMats, Astera tubes, SkyPanels — easy tweaks of color, everything is dimmable. It’s truly amazing the extra trouble we used to go through in lighting. I wouldn’t want to go back.


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

Director/EP Lenny Abrahamson on Hulu’s Normal People

By Iain Blair

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson first burst onto the international scene in 2015 with the harrowing drama Room, which picked up four Oscar nominations, including for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. Abrahamson’s latest project is Hulu’s Normal People, based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel of the same name.

 (Photo by: Enda Bowe)

Lenny Abrahamson

The series focuses on the passionate, tender and complicated relationship of Marianne and Connell — from the end of their school days in a small town in the west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Trinity College. At school, he’s a popular sports hero, while she’s upper class, lonely, proud and intimidating. But when Connell comes to pick up his mother from her cleaning job at Marianne’s house, a strange connection grows between the two teenagers… one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying in Dublin and Marianne has found her feet in a new social world but Connell hangs on the sidelines, shy and uncertain as the tables are turned.

The series stars Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds, Cold Feet) as Marianne and Paul Mescal, in his first television role, as Connell. Adapted by Sally Rooney alongside writers Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe, Normal People is a 12-episode 30-minute drama series produced by Element Pictures for Hulu and BBC Three. Rooney and Abrahamson also serve as executive producers and Endeavour Content is the international distributor.

I spoke with Abrahamson — whose credits also include The Little Stranger, Frank, Garage, What Richard Did and Adam & Paul — about making the show, his workflows and his love of editing.

You’ve taken on quite a few book projects in the past. What was the appeal of this one?
It’s always an instinctual thing — something chimes with me. Yeah, I’ve done a number of literary adaptations, and I wasn’t really looking to do another. In fact, I was setting out not do another one, but in this case the novel just struck me so much, with such resonance, and it’s very hard not to do it when that happens. And it’s an Irish project and I hadn’t shot in Ireland for some seven years, and it was great to go back and do something that felt so fresh, so all of that was very attractive to me.

(Photo by Enda Bowe/Hulu)

Rooney co-wrote the script with Alice Birch, but translating any novel to a visual medium is always tricky, especially this book with all its inner psychological detail. As a director, how challenging was it to translate the alternating sections of the book while maintaining forward motion of the narrative?
It was pretty challenging. The writing is so direct and honest, yet deep, which is a rare combination. And Sally’s perspective is so fresh and insightful, and all that was a challenge I tried to take on and capture in the filming. How do you deal with something so interior? When you really care about the characters as I did, how do you do justice to them and their extraordinary relationship? But I relished the challenge.

Obviously, casting the right actors was crucial. What did Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal bring to their roles and the project?
I feel very lucky to have found them. We actually found Paul first, very early on. He’d been making some waves in theater in Ireland, but he’d never been on screen in anything. What I saw in him was a combination of intelligence, which both characters had to have, and brilliant choices in playing Connell. He really captured that mix of masculinity and anxiety which is so hard to do. There is a sensitivity but also an inarticulateness, and he has great screen presence. Daisy came later, and it was harder in that you had to find someone who works well with Paul. She’s brilliant too, as she found a way of playing Marianne’s spikiness in a very un-clichéd and delicate way that allows you to see past it. They ended up working so well together and became good friends, too.

You co-directed with Hettie Macdonald (Doctor Who, Howard’s End), with you directing the first six episodes and Macdonald directing the final six. How did that work in terms of maintaining the same naturalistic tone and feel you set?
We spoke a lot at the beginning when she came on board. The whole idea was for her to bring her own sensibility to it. We’d already cast and shot the first half and we knew a director of her caliber wasn’t going to break that. We had two DPs: Suzie Lavelle and she had had Kate McCullough. During the shooting I had the odd note, like, “It looks great,” but I was more involved with her material during editing, which is natural as the EP. We had a great relationship.

Tell us about post and your approach.
We did it all — the editing, sound and VFX — at Outer Limits, which is on the coast about 30 minutes outside Dublin. It’s run by two guys who used to be at Screen Scene, where I posted my last five or six films. I followed them over there as I like them so much. It’s a lovely place, very quiet. The editor and I were based out there for the whole thing.

Our VFX supervisor was Andy Clarke, and it’s all pretty invisible stuff, like rain and all the fixes. I also did all the grading and picture finishing at Outer Limits with my regular colorist Gary Curran, who’s done nearly all my projects. He knows what I like, but also when to push me into bolder looks. I tend toward very low-contrast, desaturated looks, but over the years he’s nudged me into more saturated, vivid palettes, which I now really like. And we’ll be doing a 4K version.

I love post, as after all the stress of the shoot and all the instant decisions you have to make on the set, it’s like swimming ashore. You reach ground and can stand up and get all the water out of your lungs and just take your time to actually make the film. I love all the creative possibilities you get in post, particularly in editing.

You edited with your go-to editor Nathan Nugent. Was he on set?
No, we sent him dailies. On a film, he might be cutting next door if we’re in a studio, but not on this. He’s very fast and I’d see an assembly of stuff within 24 hours of shooting it. We like to throw everything up in the air again during the edit. Whatever we thought as we shot, it’s all up for grabs.

What were the main editing challenges?
I think choosing to work with short episodes was really good as it takes away some of the pressure to have lots of plot and story, and it allows you to look really closely at the shifts in their relationship. But there’s nowhere to hide, and you have to absolutely deeply care about the two of them. But if you do, then all the losses and gains, the highs and lows, become as big a story as any you could tell. That’s what gives it momentum. But if you don’t get that right, or you miscast it, then the danger is that you do lose that momentum.

So it’s a real balancing act… to feel that you’re spending time with them but also letting the story move forward in a subtle way. It’s the challenge of all editing — maintaining the tension and pace while letting an audience get a deep and close enough look at the characters.

Lenny Abrahamson

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the show.
I’ve had the same team ever since What Richard Did, including my supervising sound designer and editor Steve Fanagan and sound mixer Niall O’Sullivan. They’re so creative. Then I had composer Stephen Rennicks who’s also done all my projects. What was different this time was that we also licensed some tracks, as it just felt right. Our music supervisors Juliet Martin and Maggie Phillips were great with that.

So it was a core team of five, and I did what I always like to do — get all of that involved far earlier than you’d normally do. We don’t just lock picture and hand it over, so this way you have sound constantly interacting with editorial, and they both develop organically at the same time.

What’s next?
Another collaboration with Sally on her first novel, “Conversations With Friends,” with the same team I had on this. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, who knows when we’ll be able to start shooting.


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

Showrunner Derek Simonds talks USA Network’s The Sinner

By Iain Blair

Three years ago, USA Network’s Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated series The Sinner snuck up behind viewers, grabbed them by the throat and left them gasping for air while they watched a seemingly innocent man stabbed to death at the beach. The second season pulled no punches either, focusing on the murder of a couple by a young boy.

Derek Simonds (right) on set with Bill Pullman.

Now the anthology is back with a third installment, which once again centers around Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) as he begins a routine investigation of a tragic car accident on the outskirts of Dorchester, in upstate New York. Piece by piece, Ambrose gradually uncovers a hidden crime that pulls him into another dangerous and disturbing case focusing on Jamie Burns (Matt Bomer), a Dorchester resident, high school teacher and expectant father. The Season 3 finale airs at the end of the month on USA Network.

Also back is the show’s creator and showrunner Derek Simonds, whose credits include ABC’s limited series When We Rise, and ABC’s 2015 limited series The Astronaut Wives Club. He has developed television pilots, wrote, directed and composed the score for his feature film Seven and a Match, and has developed many independent film projects as a writer/producer, including the Oscar-Nominated Sony Pictures Classics release Call Me by Your Name.

I recently spoke with Simonds about making the show — which is executive-produced by Jessica Biel (who starred in Season 1) and Michelle Purple through their company Iron Ocean — the Emmys, and his love of post.

THE SINNER -- "Part II" Episode 302 -- Pictured: Bill Pullman as Detective Lt. Harry Ambrose -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

When you created this show, did you always envision it as a tortured human drama, a police procedural, or both?
(Laughs) Both, I guess. My previous writing and developing stuff for film and TV was never procedural-oriented. The opportunity with this show came with the book being developed and Jessica Biel being attached.  I was one of many writers vying for the chance to adapt it, and they chose my pitch. The reason the book and the bones of the show appealed to me was the “whydunnit” aspect at the core of Season 1. That really sold me, as I wasn’t very interested in doing a typical procedural mystery or a serial killer drama that was really plot-oriented.

The focus on motive and what trauma could have led to such a rash act — Cora (in Season 1) stabbing the stranger on the beach — that is essentially the mystery, the psychological mystery. So I’ve always been character-oriented in my writing. I love a good story and watching a plot unfold, but really my main interest as a writer and why I came onto the show is because it delves so deeply into character.

Fair to say that Season 3 marks a bit of a shift in the show?
Yes, and I’d say this season is less of a mystery and more of a psychological thriller. It really concerns Detective Harry Ambrose, who’s been in the two earlier seasons, and he encounters this more mundane event — a fatal, tragic car crash — but a car crash, and something that happens all the time.

As he starts looking into it, he realizes that the survivor is not telling the whole story, and that some of the details just don’t add up. His intuition makes him look deeper, and he ends up getting into this relationship that is part suspect, part detective, part pursuer, part pursuee and part almost-friendship with this character played by Matt Bomer.

It also seems more philosophical in tone than the previous two seasons.
I think you’re right. The idea was born out of thinking about Dostoevsky and questions about “why do we kill?” Could it be for philosophical reasons, not just the result of trauma? Could it be that kind of decision? What is morality? Is it learned or is it invented? So there were all these questions and ideas, and I was also very excited to create a male character — not a helpless child or a woman, not someone so innocent — as the new character and have that character reflect Ambrose’s darker side and impulses back to him. So there was this doppelganger-y twinning going on.

Where do you shoot?
All out of New York City. We have stages in Brooklyn where we have our sets, and then we do a lot of location work all over the city and also just outside in Westchester and Rockland counties. They offer us great areas where we can cheat a more bucolic setting than we’re actually in.

It has more of a cinematic feel and look than most TV shows.
Thank you for noticing! As the creator, I’m biased about that, but I spend a lot of time and energy with my team and DP Radium Cheung and designers to really try and avoid the usual TV tropes and clichés and TV-style lighting and shooting every step of the way.

We try to think of every episode as a little film. In fact, every season is like a long film, as they’re stand-alone stories, and I embark on each season like, “OK, we’re making a 5½-hour movie,” and all the decisions we make are kind of holistic.

Do you like being a showrunner?
It’s a great privilege to be able to tell a story and make the decisions about what that story says, and to be able to make it on the scale that we do. It’s totally thrilling, and I love having a moment at the podium to talk about the culture and what’s on my mind through the characters. But I think it’s also one of the hardest jobs you could ever have. In fact, it’s really like having four or five jobs rolled into one, and it’s really, really exhausting, as you’re running between them at all times. So there’s this feeling that you never have enough time, or enough time to think as deeply in every area as you’d like. It takes its toll physically, but it’s so gratifying to get a new season done and out in the world.

Where do you post?
All in New York at Technicolor Postworks, and we do most of the editing there too, and all of our online work. We do all the sound work at Decibel 11, which is also in Manhattan. As for our VFX, we switch year to year, and this year we’re working with The Molecule.

Do you like the post process?
I love post. There’s so much relief once you finish production and that daily stress of worrying about whether you’ll get what you need is over. You can see what you have.

But you don’t have much time for post in TV as compared with film.
True.  it’s an incredibly fast schedule, and as the EP I only have about four or five full days to sit down with the editor and re-cut an episode and consider what the best possible version of it is.

Let’s talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
I really love the whole editing process, and I spend a lot of time cutting the episodes — 10 hours a day, or more, for those five days, fine-tuning all the cuts before we have to lock them. I’m not the type of showrunner who gives a few notes and goes off to the next room. I’m very hands-on, and we’ve had the same three editors except for one new guy this season.

Everyone comes back, so there’s a growing understanding of the tone and what the show is. So all three editors rotate on the eight episodes. The big editing challenges are refining performance as things become clearer from previous episodes, and running time. We’re a broadcast show, so we don’t have the leeway of a streaming show, and there’s a lot of hair-pulling over how to cut episodes down. That can be very stressful for me, as I feel we might be losing key content that brings a lot of nuance. There’s also keeping a consistent tone and rhythm, and I’m very specific about that.

You’re also a musician, so I assume you must spend a lot of time on sound and the music?
I do. I work in depth on the score with composer Ronit Kirchman, so that’s an aspect of post I really, really love, and where I spend far more time than a typical showrunner does. I understand it and can talk about it, and I have very specific ideas about what I want. But TV’s so different from movies. We do our final mix review in four hours per episode. With a movie you’d have four, five days. So there’s very little time for experimentation, and you have to have a very clear vision of what works.

Derek Simonds

How important are the Emmys to a show like this?
Very, and Jessica Biel was nominated for her role in Season 1, but we haven’t won yet. We have a lot of fans in the industry, but maybe we’re also a bit under the radar, a bit cultish.

The show could easily run for many more years. Will you do more seasons?
I hope so. The beauty of an anthology is that you can constantly refresh the story and introduce new characters, which is very appealing. If we keep going, I think it’ll pivot in a larger way to keep it really fresh. I just never want it to become predictable, where you sense a pattern.


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

Colorist Chat: Keith Shaw on Showtime’s Homeland and the process

By Randi Altman

The long wait for the final season of Showtime’s Homeland seemed to last an eternity, but thankfully the series is now airing, and we here at postPerspective are pretty jazzed about it. Our favorite spies, Carrie and Saul, are back at it, with this season being set in Afghanistan.

Keith Shaw

Year after year, the writing, production and post values on Homeland have been outstanding. One of those post folks is colorist Keith Shaw from FotoKem’s Keep Me Posted, which focuses on finishing services to television.

Shaw’s credits are impressive. In addition to Homeland, his work can be seen on Ray Donovan, Shameless, Animal Kingdom and many others. We reached out to Shaw to find out more about working on Homeland from the first episode to the last. Shaw shares his workflow and what inspires him.

You’ve been on Homeland since the beginning. Can you describe the look of the show and how you’ve worked with DPs David Klein, ASC, and Giorgio Scali, ASC, as well as producer Katie O’Hara?
Working on Homeland from Episode 1 has been a truly amazing experience. Katie, Dave, Giorgio and I are an extremely collaborative group.

One consistent factor of all eight seasons has been the need for the show to look “real.” We don’t have any drastic or aggressively stylized looks, so the goal is to subtly manipulate the color and mood yet make it distinct enough to help support the storyline.

When you first started on the show, how would you describe the look?
The first two seasons were shot by Nelson Cragg, ASC. For those early episodes, the show was a bit grittier and more desaturated. It had a darker, heavier feel to it. There was not as much detail in the dark areas of the image, and the light fell off more quickly on the edges.

Although the locations and looks have changed over the years, what’s been the common thread?
As I mentioned earlier, the show has a realism to it. It’s not super-stylized and affected.

Do the DPs come to the color suite? What kind of notes do you typically get from them?
They do when they are able (which is not often). They are generally on the other side of the world. As far as notes, it depends on the episode. When I’m lucky, I get none. Generally, there are not a lot of notes. That’s the advantage of collaborating on a show from the beginning. You and the DP can “mold” the look of the show together.

You’ve worked on many episodics at Keep Me Posted. Prior to that you were working on features at Warner Bros. Can you talk about how that process differs for you?
In remastering and restoration of feature films, the production stage is complete. It’s not happening simultaneously, and that means the timeline and deadlines aren’t as stressful.

Digital intermediates on original productions, on the other hand, are similar to television because multiple things are happening all at once. There is an overlap between production and post. During color, the cut can be changing, and new effects could be added or updated, but with much tighter deadlines. DI was a great stepping stone for me to move from feature films to television.

Now let’s talk about some more general aspects of the job…

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
First of all, most people don’t have a clear understanding of what a colorist is or does. Even after 25 years and multiple explanations, my father-in-law still tells everyone I’m an editor.

Being a colorist means you wear many hats — confidante, mediator, therapist, VFX supervisor, scheduler and data manager — in addition to that color thing. For me, it boils down to three main attributes. One, you need to be artistic/creative. Two, you need to be technical. Finally, you need to mediate the decision-making processes. Sometimes that can be the hardest part of all, when there are competing viewpoints and visions between all the parties involved.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Digital Vision’s Nucoda.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Today’s color correctors are incredibly powerful and versatile. In addition to color, I can do light VFX, beauty work, editing or technical fixes when necessary. The clients appreciate the value of saving time and money by taking care of last-minute issues in the color suite.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Building relationships with clients, earning their trust and helping them bring their vision to the screen. I love that special moment when you and the DP are completely in sync — you’re reaching for the knobs before they even ask for a change, and you are finishing each other’s sentences.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Deadlines. However, they are actually helpful in my case because otherwise I would tweak and re-tweak the smallest details endlessly.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Ray Donovan, Shameless, Animal Kingdom, Single Parents and Bless This Mess are my current shows.

ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A PROJECT FROM A COLOR PERSPECTIVE?
Become a part of the process as early as possible. Establishing looks, LUTs and good communication with the cinematographer are essential.

HOW DO YOU PREFER THE DP OR DIRECTOR TO DESCRIBE THE LOOK THEY WANT?
Each client has a different source of inspiration and way of conveying their vision. I’ve worked from fabric and paint samples, YouTube videos, photographs, magazine ads, movie or television show references, previous work (theirs and/or mine) and so on.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I can’t pick just one, so I’ll pick two. From my feature mastering work, The Shawshank Redemption. From television, Homeland.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Definitely in photography. My father was a professional photographer and we had our own darkroom. As a kid, I spent countless hours after school and on weekends learning how to plan, take and create great photographs. It is still a favorite hobby of mine to this day.


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

Matt Shaw on cutting Conan Without Borders: Ghana and Greenland

By Randi Altman

While Conan O’Brien was airing his traditional one-hour late night talk show on TBS, he and his crew would often go on the road to places like Cuba, South Korea and Armenia for Conan Without Borders — a series of one-hour specials. He would focus on regular folks, not celebrities, and would embed himself into the local culture… and there was often some very mediocre dancing, courtesy of Conan. The shows were funny, entertaining and educational, and he enjoyed doing them.

Conan and Matt on the road.

In 2019, Conan and his crew, Team Coco, switched the nightly show from one hour to a new 30-minute format. The format change allowed them to produce three to four hour-long Conan Without Borders specials per year. Two of the places the show visited last year were Ghana and Greenland. As you might imagine, they shoot a lot of footage, which all must be logged and edited, often while on the road.

Matt Shaw is one of the editors on Conan, and he went on the road with the show when it traveled to Greenland. Shaw’s past credits include Deon Cole’s Black Box and The Pete Holmes Show (both from Conan O’Brien’s Conaco production company) and The Late Late Show with James Corden (including Carpool Karaoke). One of his first gigs for Team Coco was editing Conan Without Borders: Made in Mexico. That led to a full-time editing gig on Conan on TBS and many fun adventures.

We reached out to Shaw to find out more about editing these specials and what challenges he faced along the way.

You recently edited Conan Without Borders — the Greenland and Ghana specials. Can you talk about preparing for a job like that? What kind of turnaround did you have?
Our Ghana special was shot back in June 2019, with the original plan to air in August, but it was pushed back to November 7 because of how fast the Greenland show came up.

In terms of prep for a show like Ghana, we mainly just know the shooting specs and will handle the rest once the crew actually returns. For the most part, that’s the norm. Ideally, we’ll have a working dark week (no nightly Conan show), and the three editors — me, Rob Ashe and Chris Heller — will take the time to offload, sync and begin our first cuts of everything. We’ll have been in contact with the writers on the shoot to get an idea of what pieces were shot and their general notes from the day.

With Greenland, we had to mobilize and adjust everything to accommodate a drastically different shoot/delivery schedule. The Friday before leaving, while we were prepping the Ghana show to screen for an audience, we heard there might be something coming up that would push Ghana back. On Monday, we heard the plan was to go to Greenland on Wednesday evening, after the nightly show, and turn around Greenland in place of Ghana’s audience screening. We had to adjust the nightly show schedule to still have a new episode ready for Thursday while we were in Greenland.

How did you end up on the Greenland trip?
Knowing we’d only have six days from returning from Greenland to having to finish the show broadcast, our lead editor, Rob Ashe, suggested we send an editor to work on location. We were originally looking into sending footage via Aspera from a local TV studio in Nuuk, Greenland, but we just wouldn’t have been able to turn it around fast enough. We decided about two days before the trip began that I’d go and do what I could to offload, backup, sync and do first cuts on everything.

How much footage did you have per episode, and what did they shoot on?
Ghana had close to 17 hours of material shot over five days on Sony Z450s at 4K XAVC, 29.97. Greenland was closer to 12 hours shot over three days on Panasonic HPX 250s, P2 media recording at 1080 60i.

We also used iPhone/iPad/GoPro footage picked up by the rest of the crew as needed for both shows. I also had a DJI Osmo pocket camera to play with when I had a chance, and we used some of that footage during the montage of icebergs.

So you were editing segments while they were still shooting?
In Greenland, I was cutting daily in the hotel. Midday, I’d get a drop of cards, offload, sync/group and the first cuts on everything. We had a simple offline edit workflow set up where I’d upload my cuts to Frame.io and email my project files to the team — Rob and Chris — in Burbank. They would then download and sync the Frame.io file to a top video layer in the timeline and continue cutting down, with any additional notes from the writers.

Generally, I’d have everything from Day One uploaded by the start of Day Two, etc. It seemed to work out pretty well to set us up for success when we returned. I was also getting notes on requests to help cut a few highlights from our remotes and to put on Team Coco’s Instagram account.

On our return day, we flew to Ilulissat for an iceberg expedition. We had about two hours on the ground before having to return to the airport and fly to Kangerlussuaq, where our chartered plane was waiting to take us back to California. On the flight back, I worked for another four hours or so to sort through the remaining segments and prep everything so we could hit the ground running the following morning. During the flight home, we screened some drone footage from the iceberg trip for Conan, and it really got everyone excited.

What are the challenges of working on the road and with such tight turnarounds?
The night we left for Greenland was preceded by a nightly show in Burbank. After the show ended, we hopped on a plane to fly eight hours to Kangerlussuaq for customs, then another to Nuuk. The minute we landed, we were filming for about three hours before checking into the hotel. I grabbed the morning’s camera cards, went to my room and began cutting. By the time I went to bed, I had cuts done of almost everything from the first day. I’m a terrible sleeper on planes, so the marathon start was pretty insane.

Outside of the little sleep, our offload speeds were slower because we were using different cameras than usual — for the sake of traveling lighter — because the plane we flew in had specific weight restrictions. We actually had to hire local crew for audio and B and C camera because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the plane to start.

In general, I think the overall trip went as smooth as it could have. It would be interesting to see how it would play out for a longer shoot schedule.

What editing system did you use? What was your setup like? What kind of storage were you using?
On the road I had my MacBook Pro (2018 model), and we rented an identical backup machine in case mine died. For storage, we had four 1TB G-Tech USB-C drives and a 4TB G-RAID to back everything up. I had a USB-3.0 P2 card reader as well and multiple backup readers. A Bluetooth mouse and keyboard rounded out the kit, so I could travel with everything in a backpack.

We had to charter a plane in order to fly directly to Greenland. With such a tight turnaround between filming and delivering the actual show, this was the only way to actually make the special happen. Commercial flights fly only a few days per week out of neighboring countries, and once you’re in Greenland, you either have to fly or take a boat from city to city.

Matt Shaw editing on plane.

On the plane, there was a conference table in the back, so I set up there with one laptop and the G-RAID to continue working. The biggest trouble on the plane was making sure everything stayed secure on the table while taking off and making turns. There were a few close calls when everything started to slide away, and I had to reach to make sure nothing was disconnected.

How involved in the editing is Conan? What kind of feedback did you get?
In general, if Conan has specific notes, the writers will hear them during or right after a shoot is finished. Or we’ll test-screen something after a nightly show taping and indirectly get notes from the writers then.

There will be special circumstances, like our cold opens for Comic-Con, when Conan will come to edit and screen a close-to-final cut. And there just might be a run of jokes that isn’t as strong, but he lets us work with the writers to make what we all think is the best version by committee.

Can you point to some of the more challenging segments from Greenland or Ghana?
The entire show is difficult with the delivery-time constraints while handling the nightly show. We’ll be editing the versions for screening sometimes up to 10 minutes before they have to screen for an audience as well as doing all the finishing (audio mix, color as needed, subtitling and deliverables).

For any given special, we’re each cutting our respective remotes during the day while working on any new comedy pieces for that day’s show, then one or two of us will split the work on the nightly show, while the other keeps working with the travel show writers. In the middle of it all, we’ll cut together a mini tease or an unfinished piece to play into that night’s show to promote the specials, so the main challenge is juggling 30 things at a time.

For me, I got to edit this 1980s-style action movie trailer based on an awesome poster Conan had painted by a Ghanaian artist. We had puppets built, a lot of greenscreen and a body double to composite Conan’s head onto for fight scenes. Story-wise, we didn’t have much of a structure to start, but we had to piece something together in the edit and hope it did the ridiculous poster justice.

The Thursday before our show screened for an audience was the first time Mike Sweeney (head writer for the travel shows) had a chance to look at any greenscreen footage and knew we were test-screening it the following Monday or Tuesday. It started to take shape when one of our graphics/VFX artists, Angus Lyne, sent back some composites. In the end, it came together great and killed with the audience and our staff, who had already seen anything and everything.

Our other pieces seem to have a linear story, and we try to build the best highlights from any given remote. With something like this trailer, we have to switch our thought process to really build something from scratch. In the case of Greenland and Ghana, I think we put together two really great shows.

How challenging is editing comedy versus drama? Or editing these segments versus other parts of Conan’s world?
In a lot of the comedy we cut, the joke is king. There are always instances when we have blatant continuity errors, jump cuts, etc., but we don’t have to kill ourselves trying to make it work in the moment if it means hurting the joke. Our “man on the street” segments are great examples of this. Obviously, we want something to be as polished and coherent as possible, but there are cases when it just isn’t best, in our opinion, and that’s okay.

That being said, when we do our spoofs of whatever ad or try to recreate a specific style, we’re going to do everything to make that happen. We recently shot a bit with Nicholas Braun from Succession where he’s trying to get a job from Conan during his hiatus from Succession. This was a mix of improv and scripted, and we had to match the look of that show. It turned out well and funny and is in the vein of Succession.

What about for the Ghana show?
For Ghana, we had a few segments that were extremely serious and emotional. For example, Conan and Sam Richardson visited Osu Castle, a major slave trade port. This segment demands care and needs to breathe so the weight of it can really be expressed, versus earlier in the show, when Conan was buying a Ghana shirt from a street vendor, and we hard-cut to him wearing a shirt 10 sizes too small.

And Greenland?
Greenland is a place really affected by climate change. My personal favorite segment I’ve cut on these travel specials is the impact the melting icecaps could have on the world. Then there is a montage of the icebergs we saw, followed by Conan attempting to stake a “Sold” sign on an iceberg, signifying he had bought property in Greenland for the US. Originally, the montage had a few jokes within the segment, but we quickly realized it’s so beautiful we shouldn’t cheapen it. We just let it be beautiful.

Comedy or drama, it’s really about being aware of what you have in front of you and what the end goal is.

What haven’t I asked that’s important?
For me, it’s important to acknowledge how talented our post team is to be able to work simultaneously on a giant special while delivering four shows a week. Being on location for Greenland also gave me a taste of the chaos the whole production team and Team Coco goes through, and I think everyone should be proud of what we’re capable of producing.


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

ILM’s virtual production platform used on The Mandalorian

To bring The Mandalorian to life, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Epic Games — along with production technology partners Fuse, Lux Machina, Profile Studios, Nvidia and ARRI — have introduced a new way to shoot VFX-heavy projects in collaboration with Jon Favreau’s Golem Creations.

The new virtual production workflow allows filmmakers to capture a significant amount of complex visual effects shots in-camera using realtime game engine technology (Epic’s Unreal Engine) and LED screens to represent dynamic photoreal digital landscapes and sets with creative flexibility previously unimaginable.

Also part of the news, ILM has made its new end-to-end virtual production solution, ILM StageCraft, available for use by filmmakers, agencies and showrunners worldwide.

Over 50 percent of The Mandalorian Season 1 was filmed using this new methodology, eliminating the need for location shoots entirely. Instead, actors in The Mandalorian performed in an immersive and massive 20-foot-high by 270-degree semicircular LED video wall and ceiling with a 75-foot-diameter performance space, where the practical set pieces were combined with digital extensions on the screens.

Digital 3D environments created by ILM played back interactively on the LED walls, edited in realtime during the shoot, which allowed for pixel-accurate tracking and perspective-correct 3D imagery rendered at high resolution via systems powered by Nvidia GPUs.

L-R: Jon Favreau and Richard Bluff

The environments were lit and rendered from the perspective of the camera to provide parallax in real time, as if the camera were really capturing the physical environment with accurate interactive light on the actors and practical sets, giving showrunner Favreau; executive producer/director Dave Filoni; visual effects supervisor Richard Bluff; cinematographers Greig Fraser and Barry “Baz” Idoine and the episodic directors the ability to make concrete creative choices for visual effects-driven work during photography and achieve realtime in-camera composites on set.

The technology and workflow required to make in-camera compositing and effects practical for on-set use combined the ingenuity of all the partners involved.

“We’ve been experimenting with these technologies on my past projects and were finally able to bring a group together with different perspectives to synergize film and gaming advances and test the limits of realtime, in-camera rendering,” explains Favreau adding, “We are proud of what was achieved and feel that the system we built was the most efficient way to bring The Mandalorian to life.”

“Merging our efforts in the space with what Jon Favreau has been working toward using virtual reality and game engine technology in his filmmaking finally gave us the chance to execute the vision,” says Rob Bredow, executive creative director and head of ILM. “StageCraft has grown out of the culmination of over a decade of innovation in the virtual production space at ILM. Seeing our digital sets fully integrated, in real time on stage, providing the kind of in-camera shots we’ve always dreamed of while also providing the majority of the lighting was really a dream come true.”

Bluff adds, “Working with Kim Libreri and his Unreal team, Golem Creations, and the ILM StageCraft team has opened new avenues to both the filmmakers and my fellow key creatives on The Mandalorian, allowing us to shoot principal photography on photoreal, virtual sets that are indistinguishable from their physical counterparts while incorporating physical set pieces and props as needed for interaction. It’s truly a game-changer.”

ILM StageCraft’s production tools provide filmmakers with the combination of traditional filmmaking equipment and methodologies with all of the advantages of a fully digital workflow. With ILM StageCraft, a production can acquire many in-camera finals, allowing filmmakers immediate and complete creative control of work typically handed off and reinterpreted in post, improving the quality of visual effects shots with perfectly integrated elements and reducing visual effects requirements in post, which is a major benefit considering today’s compressed schedules.

DP Chat: Watchmen cinematographer Greg Middleton

By Randi Altman

HBO’s Watchmen takes us to new dimensions in this recent interpretation of the popular graphic novel. In this iteration, we spend a lot of our time in Tulsa, Oklahoma, getting to know Regina King’s policewoman Angela Abar, her unconventional family and a shadowy organization steeped in racism called the Seventh Kavalry. We also get a look back — beautiful in black and white — at Abar’s tragic family back story. It was created and written for TV by Lost veteran Damon Lindelof.

Greg Middleton

Greg Middleton, ASC, CSC, who also worked on Game of Thrones and The Killing, was the series cinematographer. We reached out to him to find out about his process, workflow and where he gets inspiration.

When were you brought on to Watchmen, and what type of looks did the showrunner want from the show?
I joined Watchmen after the pilot for Episode 2. A lot of my early prep was devoted to discussions with the showrunner and producing directors on how to develop the look from the pilot going forward. This included some pilot reshoots due to changes in casting and the designing and building of new sets, like the police precinct.

Nicole Kassell (director of Episodes 1, 2 and 8) and series production designer Kristian Milstead and I spent a lot of time breaking down the possibilities of how we could define the various worlds through color and style.

How was the look described to you? What references were you given?
We based the evolution of the look of the show on the scripts, the needs of the structure within the various worlds and on the graphic novel, which we commonly referred to as “the Old Testament.”

As you mention, it’s based on a graphic novel. Did the look give a nod to that? If so, how? Was that part of the discussion?
We attempted to break down the elements of the graphic novel that might translate well and those that would not. It’s an interesting bit of detective work because a lot of the visual cues in the comic are actually a commentary on the style of comics at the time it was published in 1985.

Those cues, if taken literally, would not necessarily work for us, as their context would not be clear. Things like color were very referential to other comics of the time. For example, they used only secondary color instead of primaries as was the norm. The graphic novel is also a film noir in many ways, so we got some of our ideas based on that.

What did translate well were compositional elements — tricks of transition like match cuts and the details of story in props, costumes and sets within each frame. We used some split diopters and swing shift lenses to give us some deep focus effects for large foreground objects. In the graphic novel, of course, everything is in focus, so those type of compositions are common!

This must have been fun because of the variety of looks the series has — the black-and-white flashbacks, the stylized version of Tulsa, the look of the mansion in Wales (Europa), Vietnam in modern day. Can you talk about each of the different looks?
Yes, there were so many looks! When we began prep on the series with the second episode, we were also simultaneously beginning to film the scenes in Wales for the “blond man” scenes. We knew that that storyline would have its own particular feel because of the location and its very separateness from the rest of the world.

A more classic traditional proscenium-like framing and style seemed very appropriate. Part of that intent was designed to both confuse and to make very apparent to the audience that we were definitely in another world. Cinematographer Chris Seager, BSC, was filming those scenes as I was still doing tests for the other looks and the rest of our show in Atlanta.

We discussed lenses, camera format, etc. The three major looks we had to design that we knew would go together initially were our “Watchmen” world, the “American hero story” show within the show, and the various flashbacks to 1921 Tulsa and World War I. I was determined to make sure that the main world of the show did not feel overly processed and colorized photographically. We shot many tests and developed a LUT that was mostly film-like. The other important aspects to creating a look are, of course, art direction and production design, and I had a great partner in Kristian Milstead, the production designer who joined the show after the pilot.

This was a new series. Do you enjoy developing the look of a show versus coming on board after the look was established?
I enjoy helping to figure out how to tell the story. For series, helping develop the look photographically in the visual strategy is a big part of that. Even if some of those are established, you still do similar decision-making for shooting individual scenes. However, I much prefer being engaged from the beginning.

So even when you weren’t in Wales, you were providing direction?
As I mentioned earlier, Chris Seager and I spoke and emailed regarding lenses and those choices. It was still early for us in Atlanta, but there were preliminary decisions to be made on how the “blond man” (our code name for Jeremy Irons) world would be compared to our Watchmen world. What I did was consult with my director, Nicole Kassell, on her storyboards for her sequences in Wales.

Were there any scenes or looks that stood out as more challenging than others? Can you describe?
Episode 106 was a huge challenge. We have a lot of long takes involving complex camera moves and dimmer cues as a camera would circle or travel between rooms. Also, we developed the black-and-white look to feel like older black-and-white film.
One scene in June’s apartment involved using the camera on a small Scorpio 10-foot crane and a mini libre head to accomplish a slow move around the room. Then we had to push between her two actors toward the wall as an in-camera queue of a projected image of the black-and-white movie Trust in the Law reveals itself with a manual iris.

This kind of shot ends up being a dance with at least six people, not including the cast. The entire “nostalgia” part of the episode was done this way. And none of this would’ve been possible without incredible cast being able to hit these incredibly long takes and choreograph themselves with the camera. Jovan Adepo and Danielle Deadwyler were incredible throughout the episode.

I assume you did camera tests. Why did you choose the ARRI Alexa? Why was it right for this? What about lenses, etc.?
I have been working with the Alexa for many years now, so I was aware of what I could do with the camera. I tested a couple of others, but in the end the Alexa Mini was the right choice for us. I also needed a camera that was small so I could go on and off of a gimbal or fit into small places.

How did you work with the colorist? Who was that on this show? Were you in the suite with them?
Todd Bochner was our final colorist at Sim in LA. I shot several camera tests and worked with him in the suite to help develop viewing LUTs for the various worlds of the show. We did the same procedure for the black and white. In the end, we mimicked some techniques similar to black-and-white film (like red filters), except for us, it was adjusting the channels accordingly.

Do you know what they used on the color?
Yes, it was Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 16.

How did you get interested in cinematography?
I was always making films as a kid, and then in school and then in university. In film school, at some point splitting apart the various jobs, I seemed to have some aptitude for the cinematography, so after school I decided to try making my focus. I came to it more out of a love of storytelling and filmmaking and less about photography.

Greg Middleton

What inspires you? Other films?
Films that move me emotionally.

What’s next for you?
A short break! I’ve been very fortunate to have been working a lot lately. A film I shot just before Watchmen called American Woman, directed by Semi Chellas, should be coming out this year.

And what haven’t I asked that’s important?
I think the question all filmmakers should ask themselves is, “Why am I telling this story, and what is unique about the way in which I’m telling it?”


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

VES Awards: The Lion King and Alita earn five noms each

The Visual Effects Society (VES) has announced its nominees for the 18th Annual VES Awards, which recognize outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials and video games and the VFX supervisors, VFX producers and hands-on artists who bring this work to life. Alita: Battle Angel and The Lion King both have five nominations each; Toy Story 4 is the top animated film contender with five nominations, and Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian tie to lead the broadcast field with six nominations each.

Nominees in 25 categories were selected by VES members via events hosted by 11 VES sections, including Australia, the Bay Area, Germany, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, New Zealand, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington.

The VES Awards will be held on January 29 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The VES Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Academy, DGA and Emmy-Award winning director-producer-screenwriter Martin Scorsese. The VES Visionary Award will be presented to director-producer-screenwriter Roland Emmerich. And the VES Award for Creative Excellence will be given to visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal. Award-winning actor-comedian-author Patton Oswalt will once again host the event.

The nominees for the 18th Annual VES Awards in 25 categories are:

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Richard Hollander

Kevin Sherwood

Eric Saindon

Richard Baneham

Bob Trevino

 

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Daniel DeLeeuw

Jen Underdahl

Russell Earl

Matt Aitken

Daniel Sudick

 

GEMINI MAN

Bill Westenhofer

Karen Murphy-Mundell

Guy Williams

Sheldon Stopsack

Mark Hawker

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Roger Guyett

Stacy Bissell

Patrick Tubach

Neal Scanlan

Dominic Tuohy

 

THE LION KING

Robert Legato

Tom Peitzman

Adam Valdez

Andrew R. Jones

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

 

1917

Guillaume Rocheron

Sona Pak

Greg Butler

Vijay Selvam

Dominic Tuohy

 

FORD V FERRARI

Olivier Dumont

Kathy Siegel

Dave Morley

Malte Sarnes

Mark Byers

 

JOKER

Edwin Rivera

Brice Parker

Mathew Giampa

Bryan Godwin

Jeff Brink

 

THE AERONAUTS

Louis Morin

Annie Godin

Christian Kaestner

Ara Khanikian

Mike Dawson

 

THE IRISHMAN

Pablo Helman

Mitch Ferm

Jill Brooks

Leandro Estebecorena

Jeff Brink

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

 

FROZEN 2

Steve Goldberg

Peter Del Vecho

Mark Hammel

Michael Giaimo

 

KLAUS

Sergio Pablos

Matthew Teevan

Marcin Jakubowski

Szymon Biernacki

 

MISSING LINK

Brad Schiff

Travis KnightSteve Emerson

Benoit Dubuc

 

THE LEGO MOVIE 2

David Burgess

Tim Smith

Mark Theriault

John Rix

 

TOY STORY 4

Josh Cooley

Mark Nielsen

Bob Moyer

Gary Bruins

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Joe Bauer

Steve Kullback

Ted Rae

Mohsen Mousavi

Sam Conway

 

HIS DARK MATERIALS; The Fight to the Death

Russell Dodgson

James Whitlam

Shawn Hillier

Robert Harrington

 

LADY AND THE TRAMP

Robert Weaver

Christopher Raimo

Arslan Elver

Michael Cozens

Bruno Van Zeebroeck

 

LOST IN SPACE – Episode: Ninety-Seven

Jabbar Raisani

Terron Pratt

Niklas Jacobson

Juri Stanossek

Paul Benjamin

 

STRANGER THINGS – Chapter Six: E Pluribus Unum

Paul Graff

Tom Ford

Michael Maher Jr.

Martin Pelletier

Andy Sowers

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Child

Richard Bluff

Abbigail Keller

Jason Porter

Hayden Jones

Roy Cancinon

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

 

CHERNOBYL; 1:23:45

Max Dennison

Lindsay McFarlane

Clare Cheetham

Paul Jones

Claudius Christian Rauch

 

LIVING WITH YOURSELF; Nice Knowing You

Jay Worth

Jacqueline VandenBussche

Chris Wright

Tristan Zerafa

 

SEE; Godflame

Adrian de Wet

Eve Fizzinoglia

Matthew Welford

Pedro Sabrosa

Tom Blacklock

 

THE CROWN; Aberfan

Ben Turner

Reece Ewing

David Fleet

Jonathan Wood

 

VIKINGS; What Happens in the Cave

Dominic Remane

Mike Borrett

Ovidiu Cinazan

Tom Morrison

Paul Byrne

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare

Charles Chabert

Chris Parise

Attila Zalanyi

Patrick Hagar

 

Control

Janne Pulkkinen

Elmeri Raitanen

Matti Hämäläinen

James Tottman

 

Gears 5

Aryan Hanbeck

Laura Kippax

Greg Mitchell

Stu Maxwell

 

Myth: A Frozen Tale

Jeff Gipson

Nicholas Russell

Brittney Lee

Jose Luis Gomez Diaz

 

Vader Immortal: Episode I

Ben Snow

Mike Doran

Aaron McBride

Steve Henricks

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

 

Anthem Conviction

Viktor Muller

Lenka Likarova

Chris Harvey

Petr Marek

 

BMW Legend

Michael Gregory

Christian Downes

Tim Kafka

Toya Drechsler

 

Hennessy: The Seven Worlds

Carsten Keller

Selcuk Ergen

Kiril Mirkov

William Laban

 

PlayStation: Feel The Power of Pro

Sam Driscoll

Clare Melia

Gary Driver

Stefan Susemihl

 

Purdey’s: Hummingbird

Jules Janaud

Emma Cook

Matthew Thomas

Philip Child

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

 

Avengers: Damage Control

Michael Koperwas

Shereif Fattouh

Ian Bowie

Kishore Vijay

Curtis Hickman

 

Jurassic World: The Ride

Hayden Landis

Friend Wells

Heath Kraynak

Ellen Coss

 

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

Asa Kalama

Rob Huebner

Khatsho Orfali

Susan Greenhow

 

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Jason Bayever

Patrick Kearney

Carol Norton

Bill George

 

Universal Sphere

James Healy

Morgan MacCuish

Ben West

Charlie Bayliss

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL; Alita

Michael Cozens

Mark Haenga

Olivier Lesaint

Dejan Momcilovic

 

AVENGERS: ENDGAME; Smart Hulk

Kevin Martel

Ebrahim Jahromi

Sven Jensen

Robert Allman

 

GEMINI MAN; Junior

Paul Story

Stuart Adcock

Emiliano Padovani

Marco Revelant

 

THE LION KING; Scar

Gabriel Arnold

James Hood

Julia Friedl

Daniel Fortheringham

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature

 

FROZEN 2; The Water Nøkk

Svetla Radivoeva

Marc Bryant

Richard E. Lehmann

Cameron Black

 

KLAUS; Jesper

Yoshimishi Tamura

Alfredo Cassano

Maxime Delalande

Jason Schwartzman

 

MISSING LINK; Susan

Rachelle Lambden

Brenda Baumgarten

Morgan Hay

Benoit Dubuc

 

TOY STORY 4; Bo Peep

Radford Hurn

Tanja Krampfert

George Nguyen

Becki Rocha Tower

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project

 

LADY AND THE TRAMP; Tramp

Thiago Martins

Arslan Elver

Stanislas Paillereau

Martine Chartrand

 

STRANGER THINGS 3; Tom/Bruce Monster

Joseph Dubé-Arsenault

Antoine Barthod

Frederick Gagnon

Xavier Lafarge

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Child; Mudhorn

Terry Bannon

Rudy Massar

Hugo Leygnac

 

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY; Pilot; Pogo

Aidan Martin

Craig Young

Olivier Beierlein

Laurent Herveic

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial

 

Apex Legends; Meltdown; Mirage

Chris Bayol

John Fielding

Derrick Sesson

Nole Murphy

 

Churchill; Churchie

Martino Madeddu

Philippe Moine

Clement Granjon

Jon Wood

 

Cyberpunk 2077; Dex

Jonas Ekman

Jonas Skoog

Marek Madej

Grzegorz Chojnacki

 

John Lewis; Excitable Edgar; Edgar

Tim van Hussen

Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Amir Bazzazi

Michael Diprose

 

 

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

 

ALADDIN; Agrabah

Daniel Schmid

Falk Boje

Stanislaw Marek

Kevin George

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL; Iron City

John Stevenson-Galvin

Ryan Arcus

Mathias Larserud

Mark Tait

 

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN; Penn Station

John Bair

Vance Miller

Sebastian Romero

Steve Sullivan

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER; Pasaana Desert

Daniele Bigi

Steve Hardy

John Seru

Steven Denyer

 

THE LION KING; The Pridelands

Marco Rolandi

Luca Bonatti

Jules Bodenstein

Filippo Preti

 

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

 

FROZEN 2; Giants’ Gorge

Samy Segura

Jay V. Jackson

Justin Cram

Scott Townsend

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD; The Hidden World

Chris Grun

Ronnie Cleland

Ariel Chisholm

Philippe Brochu

 

MISSING LINK; Passage to India Jungle

Oliver Jones

Phil Brotherton

Nick Mariana

Ralph Procida

 

TOY STORY 4; Antiques Mall

Hosuk Chang

Andrew Finley

Alison Leaf

Philip Shoebottom

 

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Iron Throne; Red Keep Plaza

Carlos Patrick DeLeon

Alonso Bocanegra Martinez

Marcela Silva

Benjamin Ross

 

LOST IN SPACE; Precipice; The Trench

Philip Engström

Benjamin Bernon

Martin Bergquist

Xuan Prada

 

THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE; The Endless Forest

Sulé Bryan

Charles Chorein

Christian Waite

Martyn Hawkins

 

THE MANDALORIAN; Nevarro Town

Alex Murtaza

Yanick Gaudreau

Marco Tremblay

Maryse Bouchard

 

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a CG Project

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Emile Ghorayeb

Simon Jung

Nick Epstein

Mike Perry

 

THE LION KING

Robert Legato

Caleb Deschanel

Ben Grossmann

AJ Sciutto

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Prisoner; The Roost

Richard Bluff

Jason Porter

Landis Fields IV

Baz Idione

 

 

TOY STORY 4

Jean-Claude Kalache

Patrick Lin

 

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

 

LOST IN SPACE; The Resolute

Xuan Prada

Jason Martin

Jonathan Vårdstedt

Eric Andersson

 

MISSING LINK; The Manchuria

Todd Alan Harvey

Dan Casey

Katy Hughes

 

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE; Rocket Train

Neil Taylor

Casi Blume

Ben McDougal

Chris Kuhn

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Sin; The Razorcrest

Doug Chiang

Jay Machado

John Goodson

Landis Fields IV

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

 

DUMBO; Bubble Elephants

Sam Hancock

Victor Glushchenko

Andrew Savchenko

Arthur Moody

 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME; Molten Man

Adam Gailey

Jacob Santamaria

Jacob Clark

Stephanie Molk

 

 

 

 

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Don Wong

Thibault Gauriau

Goncalo Cababca

Francois-Maxence Desplanques

 

THE LION KING

David Schneider

Samantha Hiscock

Andy Feery

Kostas Strevlos

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature

 

ABOMINABLE

Alex Timchenko

Domin Lee

Michael Losure

Eric Warren

 

FROZEN 2

Erin V. Ramos

Scott Townsend

Thomas Wickes

Rattanin Sirinaruemarn

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD; Water and Waterfalls

Derek Cheung

Baptiste Van Opstal

Youxi Woo

Jason Mayer

 

TOY STORY 4

Alexis Angelidis

Amit Baadkar

Lyon Liew

Michael Lorenzen

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Marcel Kern

Paul Fuller

Ryo Sakaguchi

Thomas Hartmann

 

Hennessy: The Seven Worlds

Selcuk Ergen

Radu Ciubotariu

Andreu Lucio

Vincent Ullmann

 

LOST IN SPACE; Precipice; Water Planet

Juri Bryan

Hugo Medda

Kristian Olsson

John Perrigo

 

STRANGER THINGS 3; Melting Tom/Bruce

Nathan Arbuckle

Christian Gaumond

James Dong

Aleksandr Starkov

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Child; Mudhorn

Xavier Martin Ramirez

Ian Baxter

Fabio Siino

Andrea Rosa

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Feature

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Adam Bradley

Carlo Scaduto

Hirofumi Takeda

Ben Roberts

 

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Tim Walker

Blake Winder

Tobias Wiesner

Joerg Bruemmer

 

CAPTAIN MARVEL; Young Nick Fury

Trent Claus

David Moreno Hernandez

Jeremiah Sweeney

Yuki Uehara

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Jeff Sutherland

John Galloway

Sam Bassett

Charles Lai

 

THE IRISHMAN

Nelson Sepulveda

Vincent Papaix

Benjamin O’Brien

Christopher Doerhoff

 

 

Outstanding Compositing in an Episode

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Sean Heuston

Scott Joseph

James Elster

Corinne Teo

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Long Night; Dragon Ground Battle

Mark Richardson

Darren Christie

Nathan Abbott

Owen Longstaff

 

STRANGER THINGS 3; Starcourt Mall Battle

Simon Lehembre

Andrew Kowbell

Karim El-Masry

Miklos Mesterhazy

 

WATCHMEN; Pilot; Looking Glass

Nathaniel Larouche

Iyi Tubi

Perunika Yorgova

Mitchell Beaton

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Commercial

 

BMW Legend

Toya Drechsler

Vivek Tekale

Guillaume Weiss

Alexander Kulikov

 

Feeding America; I Am Hunger in America

Dan Giraldo

Marcelo Pasqualino

Alexander Koester

 

Hennessy; The Seven Worlds

Rod Norman

Guillaume Weiss

Alexander Kulikov

Alessandro Granella

 

PlayStation: Feel the Power of Pro

Gary Driver

Stefan Susemihl

Greg Spencer

Theajo Dharan

 

Outstanding Special (Practical) Effects in a Photoreal or Animated Project

 

ALADDIN; Magic Carpet

Mark Holt

Jay Mallet

Will Wyatt

Dickon Mitchell

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Sam Conway

Terry Palmer

Laurence Harvey

Alastair Vardy

 

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Neil Corbould

David Brighton

Ray Ferguson

Keith Dawson

 

THE DARK CRYSTAL: THE AGE OF RESISTANCE; She Knows All the Secrets

Sean Mathiesen

Jon Savage

Toby Froud

Phil Harvey

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project

 

DOWNFALL

Matias Heker

Stephen Moroz

Bradley Cocksedge

 

LOVE AND FIFTY MEGATONS

Denis Krez

Josephine Roß

Paulo Scatena

Lukas Löffler

 

OEIL POUR OEIL

Alan Guimont

Thomas Boileau

Malcom Hunt

Robin Courtoise

 

THE BEAUTY

Marc Angele

Aleksandra Todorovic

Pascal Schelbli

Noel Winzen

 

 

Alkemy X adds Albert Mason as head of production

Albert Mason has joined VFX house Alkemy X as head of production. He comes to Alkemy X with over two decades of experience in visual effects and post production. He has worked on projects directed by such industry icons as Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tim Burton on Alice in Wonderland and Robert Zemeckis on The Polar Express. In his new role at Alkemy X, he will use his experience in feature films to target the growing episodic space.

A large part of Alkemy X’s work has been for episodic visual effects, with credits that include Amazon Prime’s Emmy-winning original series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, USA’s Mr. Robot, AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, Netflix’s Maniac, NBC’s Blindspot and Starz’s Power.

Mason began his career at MTV’s on-air promos department, sharpening his production skills on top series promo campaigns and as a part of its newly launched MTV Animation Department. He took an opportunity to transition into VFX, stepping into a production role for Weta Digital and spending three years working globally on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He then joined Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he contributed to features including Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider. He has also produced work for such top industry shops as Logan, Rising Sun Pictures and Greymatter VFX.

“[Albert’s] expertise in constructing advanced pipelines that embrace emerging technologies will be invaluable to our team as we continue to bolster our slate of VFX work,” says Alkemy X president/CEO Justin Wineburgh.

De-aging John Goodman 30 years for HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones

For HBO’s original series The Righteous Gemstones, VFX house Gradient Effects de-aged John Goodman using its proprietary Shapeshifter tool, an AI-assisted tool that can turn back the time on any video footage. With Shapeshifter, Gradient sidestepped the Uncanny Valley to shave decades off Goodman for an entire episode, delivering nearly 30 minutes of film-quality VFX in six weeks.

In the show’s fifth episode, “Interlude,” viewers journey back to 1989, a time when the Gemstone empire was still growing and Eli’s wife, Aimee-Leigh, was still alive. But going back also meant de-aging Goodman for an entire episode, something never attempted before on television. Gradient accomplished it using Shapeshifter, which allows artists to “reshape” an individual frame and the performers in it and then extend those results across the rest of a shot.

Shapeshifter worked by first analyzing the underlying shape of Goodman’s face. It then extracted important anatomical characteristics, like skin details, stretching and muscle movements. With the extracted elements saved as layers to be reapplied at the end of the process, artists could start reshaping his face without breaking the original performance or footage. Artists could tweak additional frames in 3D down the line as needed, but they often didn’t need to, making the de-aging process nearly automated.

“Shapeshifter an entirely new way to de-age people,” says Olcun Tan, owner and visual effects supervisor at Gradient Effects. “While most productions are limited by time or money, we can turn around award-quality VFX on a TV schedule, opening up new possibilities for shows and films.”

Traditionally, de-aging work for film and television has been done in one of two ways: through filtering (saves time, but hard to scale) or CG replacements (better quality, higher cost), which can take six months to a year. Shapeshifter introduces a new method that not only preserves the actor’s original performance, but also interacts naturally with other objects in the scene.

“One of the first shots of ‘Interlude’ shows stage crew walking in front of John Goodman,” describes Tan. “In the past, a studio would have recommended a full CGI replacement for Goodman’s character because it would be too hard or take too much time to maintain consistency across the shot. With Shapeshifter, we can just reshape one frame and the work is done.”

This is possible because Shapeshifter continuously captures the face, including all of its essential details, using the source footage as its guide. With the data being constantly logged, artists can extract movement information from anywhere on the face whenever they want, replacing expensive motion-capture stages, equipment and makeup teams.

Bernie Su: Creator of Twitch’s live and interactive show, Artificial

By Randi Altman

Thanks to today’s available technology, more and more artists are embracing experimental storytelling. One of those filmmakers is Bernie Su, creator, executive producer and director on the Twitch series, Artificial.

Bernie Su

Artificial, which won Twitch its first Primetime Emmy for “Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media, features a doctor and his “daughter — a human-looking artificial intelligence creation named Sophie. Episodes air live with actors reacting to audience input in realtime. This is later edited into clips that live on Twitch.

The unique live broadcast and “choose your own adventure” aspects of the show created a need for a very specific workflow. We reached out to Su to talk about the show, his workflow and his collaboration with show editor Melanie Escano.

Where did the idea for Artificial come from, and what was its path to its production?
The original story came from my co-creator Evan Mandery. When we partnered, we looked at how we could present it in an innovative way. We identified Twitch pretty early in the process as a place to really push some groundbreaking storytelling methods. What would an original series on Twitch look like? What makes it Twitch and not Amazon video (Amazon owns Twitch by the way)? Once we pitched it to Twitch it was all systems go.

Can you talk about what it’s shot on and how you work with your DP to get the look you were after?
We shot on Panasonic Lumix GH4 cameras. We kept it pretty simple. DP Allen Ho and I have worked together a lot, and we tried to make Artificial feel real-yet-polished. Because we were on Twitch and that’s a platform where everything is livestreamed, we wanted it to feel like a real livestream yet have touches of a cinematic look. Every scene we shot in our show… we would always discuss why the camera is even there in the first place and how the characters react to them. The show called Artificial had to feel immersive.

Were you at all intimated by the interactive aspect of the show?
Nervous but not intimidated. I’ve done several interactive shows, but the live element is a different animal. A live interactive series is built around chaos, and if you aren’t embracing that chaos that the audience is going to throw at you, then you shouldn’t be making a live interactive series.

What went into making this interactive? Can you talk about the challenges and how you overcame those?
Well the first step is figuring how you’re building the audience into the story while still maintaining an arc. The second is how you make that audience consequential. You can always let the audience choose something non-consequential, like should someone drink tea or coffee.

Yes the audience made a choice, but it’s not consequential to the story. Now when we have the audience choose what a character’s relationship to another will be, or even if a relationship will end or not, now you’re letting the audience play with fire, and once they do it’s our responsibility to honor the consequences of that. The simplest way I can describe our solution is that we as the storytellers accepted every result we presented. We dared the audience to play with fire and if they burned a character, then that’s the consequences.

Your team used Adobe Creative Cloud to make this a reality. Can you talk about that and how you worked with your editor and post team? How involved were you?
Oh yeah, Premiere, Photoshop, After Effects and Audition were all in play for us. We don’t have a big team, but we have an incredibly versatile team. Any of us could comfortably jump into several of those tools and be able to knock something out quickly. We were all about speed and efficiency.

Once we got the systems in place, I wanted to stay at a very high level and let my team play. I trust them, if I didn’t, they wouldn’t be on my team. Co-producer Jen Enfield-Kane worked closely with our editor Melanie Escano and our writer/sound editor Micah McFarland. They would go back and forth with cuts and mixes. Then upon approval, it would go to creative producer Rachel Williams, who could implement final effects for broadcast. If everything is going smoothly, then we’re good to go.

But because of the speed of weekly broadcasts consisting of 30 to 45 minutes of edited content a week, and the fact that the post-team is literally four people, there were many times that someone would have to assist, and that’s fine. That’s what a great team does.

How did you work with the editor, specifically? What was your workflow?
Pretty straight forward. When you’re innovating in the live format, you purposely make the post system as simple and easy as possible. If the show is chaotic, you don’t want your post to be that. Melanie would do a rough pass using the script supervisor notes, Jen would give her notes on that and she would come back with another cut. After that, they might discuss color correction on a particular scene and get that done but that was rare. We always kept it simple.

Where can people go to experience Artificial?
Please visit https://www.twitch.tv/artificialnext.

Mavericks VFX provides effects for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

By Randi Altman

Season 3 episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale are available for streaming, and if you had any illusions that things would lighten up a bit for June (Elizabeth Moss) and the ladies of Gilead, I’m sorry to say you will be disappointed. What’s not disappointing is that, in addition to the amazing acting and storylines, the show’s visual effects once again play a heavy role.

Brendan Taylor

Toronto’s Mavericks VFX has created visual effects for all three seasons of the show, based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian view of the not-too-distant future. Its work has earned two Emmy nominations.

We recently reached out to Maverick’s founder and visual effects supervisor, Brendan Taylor, to talk about the new season and his workflow.

How early did you get involved in each season? What sort of input did you have regarding the shots?
The Handmaid’s Tale production is great because they involve us as early as possible. Back in Season 2, when we had to do the Fenway Park scene, for example, we were in talks in August but didn’t shoot until November. For this season, they called us in August for the big fire sequence in Episode 1, and the scene was shot in December.

There’s a lot of nice leadup and planning that goes into it. Our opinions are sought after and we’re able to provide input on what’s the best methodology to use to achieve a shot. Showrunner Bruce Miller, along with the directors, have a way of how they’d like to see it, and they’re great at taking in our recommendations. It was very collaborative and we all approach the process with “what’s best for the show” in mind.

What are some things that the showrunners asked of you in terms of VFX? How did they describe what they wanted?
Each person has a different approach. Bruce speaks in story terms, providing a broader sense of what he’s looking for. He gave us the overarching direction of where he wants to go with the season. Mike Barker, who directed a lot of the big episodes, speaks in more specific terms. He really gets into the details, determining the moods of the scene and communicating how each part should feel.

What types of effects did you provide? Can you give examples?
Some standout effects were the CG smoke in the burning fire sequence and the aftermath of the house being burned down. For the smoke, we had to make it snake around corners in a believable yet magical way. We had a lot of fire going on set, and we couldn’t have any actors or stunt person near it due to the size, so we had to line up multiple shots and composite it together to make everything look realistic. We then had to recreate the whole house in 3D in order to create the aftermath of the fire, with the house being completely burned down.

We also went to Washington, and since we obviously couldn’t destroy the Lincoln Memorial, we recreated it all in 3D. That was a lot of back and forth between Bruce, the director and our team. Different parts of Lincoln being chipped away means different things, and Bruce definitely wanted the head to be off. It was really fun because we got to provide a lot of suggestions. On top of that, we also had to create CGI handmaids and all the details that came with it. We had to get the robes right and did cloth simulation to match what was shot on set. There were about a hundred handmaids on set, but we had to make it look like there were thousands.

Were you able to reuse assets from last season for this one?
We were able to use a handmaids asset from last season, but it needed a lot of upgrades for this season. Because there were closer shots of the handmaids, we had to tweak it and made sure little things like the texture, shaders and different cloth simulations were right for this season.

Were you on set? How did that help?
Yes, I was on set, especially for the fire sequences. We spent a lot of time talking about what’s possible and testing different ways to make it happen. We want it to be as perfect as possible, so I had to make sure it was all done properly from the start. We sent another visual effects supervisor, Leo Bovell, down to Washington to supervise out there as well.

Can you talk about a scene or scenes where being on set played a part in doing something either practical or knowing you could do it in CG?
The fire sequence with the smoke going around the corner took a lot of on-set collaboration. We had tried doing it practically, but the smoke was moving too fast for what we wanted, and there was no way we could physically slow it down.

Having the special effects coordinator, John MacGillivray, there to give us real smoke that we could then match to was invaluable. In most cases on this show, very few audible were called. They want to go into the show knowing exactly what to expect so we were prepared and ready.

Can you talk about turnaround time? Typically, series have short ones. How did that affect how you worked?
The average turnaround time was eight weeks. We began discussions in August, before shooting, and had to delivery by January. We worked with Mike to simplify things without diminishing the impact. We just wanted to make sure we had the chance to do it well given the time we had. Mike was very receptive in asking what we needed to do to make it the best it could be in the timeframe that we had. Take the fire sequence, for example. We could have done full-CGI fire but that would have taken six months. So we did our research and testing to find the most efficient way to merge practical effects with CGI and presented the best version in a shorter period of time.

What tools were used?
We used Foundry Nuke for compositing. We used Autodesk Maya to build all the 3D houses, including the burned-down house, and to destroy the Lincoln Memorial. Then we used Side Effects Houdini to do all the simulations, which can range from the smoke and fire to crowd and cloth.

Is there a shot that you are most proud of or that was very challenging?
The shot where we reveal the crowd over June when we’re in Washington was incredibly challenging. The actual Lincoln Memorial, where we shot, is an active public park, so we couldn’t prevent people from visiting the site. The most we could do was hold them off for a few minutes. We ended up having to clean out all of the tourists, which is difficult with moving camera and moving people. We had to reconstruct about 50% of the plate. Then, in order to get the CG people to be standing there, we had to create a replica of the ground they’re standing on in CG. There were some models we got from the US Geological Society, but they didn’t completely line up, so we had to make a lot of decisions on the fly.

The cloth simulation in that scene was perfect. We had to match the dampening and the movement of all the robes. Stephen Wagner, who is our effects lead on it, nailed it. It looked perfect, and it was really exciting to see it all come together. It looked seamless, and when you saw it in the show, nobody believed that the foreground handmaids were all CG. We’re very proud.

What other projects are you working on?
We’re working on a movie called Queen & Slim by Melina Matsoukas with Universal. It’s really great. We’re also doing YouTube Premium’s Impulse and Netflix’s series Madam C.J. Walker.


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

VFX in Series: The Man in the High Castle, Westworld

By Karen Moltenbrey

The look of television changed forever starting in the 1990s as computer graphics technology began to mature to the point where it could be incorporated within television productions. Indeed, the applications initially were minor, but soon audiences were witnessing very complicated work on the small screen. Today, we see a wide range of visual effects being used in television series, from minor wire and sign removal to all-CG characters and complete CG environments — pretty much anything and everything to augment the action and story, or to turn a soundstage or location into a specific locale that could be miles away or even non-existent.

Here, we examine two prime examples where a wide range of visual effects are used to set the stage and propel the action for a pair of series with very unique settings. For instance, The Man in the High Castle uses effects to turn back the clock to the 1960s, but also to create an alternate reality for the period, turning the familiar on its head. In  Westworld, effects create a unique Wild West of the future. In both series, VFX also help turn up the volume on these series’ very creative storylines.

The Man in the High Castle

What would life in the US be like if the Axis powers had defeated the Allied forces during World War II? The Amazon TV series The Man in the High Castle explores that alternate history scenario. Created by Frank Spotnitz and produced by Amazon Studios, Scott Free Productions, Headline Pictures, Electric Shepherd Productions and Big Light Productions, the series is scheduled to start its fourth and final season in mid-November. The story is based on the book by Philip K. Dick.

High Castle begins in the early 1960s in a dystopian America. Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan have divvied up the US as their spoils of war. Germany rules the East, known as the Greater Nazi Reich (with New York City as the regional capital), while Japan controls the West, known as the Japanese Pacific States (whose capital is now San Francisco). The Rocky Mountains serve as the Neutral Zone. The American Resistance works to thwart the occupiers, spurred on after the discovery of materials displaying an alternate reality where the Allies were victorious, making them ponder this scenario.

With this unique storyline, visual effects artists were tasked with turning back the clock on present-day locations to the ’60s and then turning them into German- and Japanese-dominated and inspired environments. Starting with Season 2, the main studio filling this role has been Barnstorm Visual Effects (Los Angeles, Vancouver). Barnstorm operated as one of the vendors for Season 1, but has since ramped up its crew from a dozen to around 70 to take on the additional work. (Barnstorm also works on CBS All Access shows such as The Good Fight and Strange Angel, in addition to Get Shorty, Outlander and the HBO series Room 104 and Silicon Valley.)

According to Barnstorm co-owner and VFX supervisor Lawson Deming, the studio is responsible for all types of effects for the series — ranging from simple cleanup and fixes such as removing modern objects from shots to more extensive period work through the addition of period set pieces and set extensions. In addition, there are some flashback scenes that call for the artists to digitally de-age the actors and lots of military vehicles to add, as well as science-fiction objects. The majority of the overall work entails CG set extensions and world creation, Deming explains, “That involves matte paintings and CG vehicles and buildings.”

The number of visual effects shots per episode also varies greatly, depending on the story line; there are an average of 60 VFX shots an episode, with each season encompassing 10 episodes. Currently the team is working on Season 4. A core group of eight to 10 CG artists and 12 to 18 compositors work on the show at any given time.

For Season 3, released last October, there are a number of scenes that take place in the Reich-occupied New York City. Although it was possible to go to NYC and photograph buildings for reference, the city has changed significantly since the 1960s, “even notwithstanding the fact that this is an alternate history 1960s,” says Deming. “There would have been a lot of work required to remove modern-day elements from shots, particularly at the street level of buildings where modern-day shops are located, even if it was a building from the 1940s, ’50s or ’60s. The whole main floor would have needed replaced.”

So, in many cases, the team found it more prudent to create set extensions for NYC from scratch. The artists created sections of Fifth and Sixth avenues, both for the area where American-born Reichmarshall and Resistance investigator John Smith has his apartment and also for a parade sequence that occurs in the middle of Season 3. They also constructed a digital version of Central Park for that sequence, which involved crafting a lot of modular buildings with mix-and-match pieces and stories to make what looked like a wide variety of different period-accurate buildings, with matte paintings for the backgrounds. Elements such as fire escapes and various types of windows (some with curtains open, some closed) helped randomize the structures. Shaders for brick, stucco, wood and so forth further enabled the artists to get a lot of usage from relatively few assets.

“That was a large undertaking, particularly because in a lot of those scenes, we also had crowd duplication, crowd systems, tiling and so on to create everything that was there,” Deming explains. “So even though it’s just a city and there’s nothing necessarily fantastical about it, it was almost fully created digitally.”

The styles of NYC and San Francisco are very different in the series narrative. The Nazis are rebuilding NYC in their own image, so there is a lot of influence from brutalist architecture, and cranes often dot the skyline to emphasize all the construction taking place. Meanwhile, San Francisco has more of a 1940s look, as the Japanese are less interested in influencing architectural changes as they are in occupation.

“We weren’t trying to create a science-fiction world because we wanted to be sure that what was there would be believable and sell the realistic feel of the story. So, we didn’t want to go too far in what we created. We wanted it to feel familiar enough, though, that you could believe this was really happening,” says Deming.

One of the standout episodes for visual effects is “Jahr Null” (Season 3, Episode 10), which has been nominated for a 2019 Emmy in the Outstanding Special Visual Effects category. It entails the destruction of the Statue of Liberty, which crashes into the water, requiring just about every tool available at Barnstorm. “Prior to [the upcoming] Season 4, our biggest technical challenge was the Statue of Liberty destruction. There were just so many moving parts, literally and figuratively,” says Deming. “So many things had to occur in the narrative – the Nazis had this sense of showmanship, so they filmed their events and there was this constant stream of propaganda and publicity they had created.”

There are ferries with people on them to watch the event, spotlights are on the statue and an air show with music prior to the destruction as planes with trails of colored smoke fly toward the statue. When the planes fire their missiles at the base of the statue, it’s for show, as there are a number of explosives planted in the base of the statue that go off in a ring formation to force the collapse. Deming explains the logistics challenge: “We wanted the statue’s torch arm to break off and sink in the water, but the statue sits too far back. We had to manufacture a way for the statue to not just tip over, but to sort of slide down the rubble of the base so it would be close enough to the edge and the arm would snap off against the side of the island.”

The destruction simulation, including the explosions, fire, water and so forth, was handled primarily in Side Effects Houdini. Because there was so much sim work, a good deal of the effects work for the entire sequence was done in Houdini as well. Lighting and rendering for the scene was done within Autodesk’s Arnold.

Barnstorm also used Blender, an open-source 3D program for modeling and asset creation, for a small portion of the assets in this sequence. In addition, the artists used Houdini Mantra for the water rendering, while textures and shaders were built in Adobe’s Substance Painter; later the team used Foundry’s Nuke to composite the imagery. “There was a lot of deep compositing involved in that scene because we had to have the lighting interact in three dimensions with things like the smoke simulation,” says Deming. “We had a bunch of simulations stacked on top of one another that created a lot of data to work with.”

The artists referenced historical photographs as they designed and built the statue with a period-accurate torch. In the wide aerial shots, the team used some stock footage of the statue with New York City in the background, but had to replace pretty much everything in the shot, shortening the city buildings and replacing Liberty Island, the water surrounding it and the vessels in the water. “So yeah, it ended up being a fully digital model throughout the sequence,” says Deming.

Deming cannot discuss the effects work coming up in Season 4, but he does note that Season 3 contained a lot of digital NYC. This included a sequence wherein John Smith was installed as the Reichmarshall near Central Park, a scene that comprised a digital NYC and digital crowd duplication. On the other side of the country, the team built digital versions of all the ships in San Francisco harbor, including CG builds of period Japanese battleships retrofitted with more modern equipment. Water simulations rounded out the scene.

In another sequence, the Japanese performed nuclear testing in Monument Valley, blowing the caps off the mesas. For that, the artists used reference photos to build the landscape and then created a digital simulation of a nuclear blast.

In addition, there were a multitude of banners on the various buildings. Because of the provocative nature of some of the Nazi flags and Fascist propaganda, solid-color banners were often hung on location, with artists adding the offensive VFX image in post as to not upset locals where the series was filmed. Other times, the VFX artists added all-digital signage to the scenes.

As Deming points out, there is only so much that can be created through production design and costumes. Some of the big things have to be done with visual effects. “There are large world events in the show that happen and large settings that we’re not able to re-create any other way. So, the visual effects are integral to the process of creating the aesthetic world of the show,” he adds. “We’re creating things that while they are visually impressive, also feel authentic, like a world that could really exist. That’s where the power and the horror of the world here comes from.”

High Castle is up for a total of three Emmy awards later this month. It was nominated for three Emmys in 2017 for Season 2 and four in 2016 for Season 1, taking home two Emmys that year: one for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series and another for Outstanding Title Design.

Westworld

What happens when high tech meets the Wild West, and wealthy patrons can indulge their fantasies with no limits? That is the premise of the Emmy-winning HBO series Westworld from creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who executive produce along with J.J. Abrams, Athena Wickham, Richard J. Lewis, Ben Stephenson and Denise Thé.

Westworld is set in the fictitious western theme park called Westworld, one of multiple parks where advanced technology enables the use of lifelike android hosts to cater to the whims of guests who are able to pay for such services — all without repercussions, as the hosts are programmed not to retaliate or harm the guests. After each role-play cycle, the host’s memory is erased, and then the cycle begins anew until eventually the host is either decommissioned or used in a different narrative. Staffers are situated out of sight while overseeing park operations and performing repairs on the hosts as necessary. As you can imagine, guests often play out the darkest of desires. So, what happens if some of the hosts retain their memories and begin to develop emotions? What if some escape from the park? What occurs in the other themed parks?

The series debuted in October 2016, with Season 2 running from April through June of 2018. The production for Season 3 began this past spring and it is planned for release in 2020.

The first two seasons were shot in various locations in California, as well as in Castle Valley near Moab, Utah. Multiple vendors provide the visual effects, including the team at CoSA VFX (North Hollywood, Vancouver and Atlanta), which has been with the show since the pilot, working closely with Westworld VFX supervisor Jay Worth. CoSA worked with Worth in the past on other series, including Fringe, Undercovers and Person of Interest.

The number of VFX shots per episode varies, depending on the storyline, and that means the number of shots CoSA is responsible for varies widely as well. For instance, the facility did approximately 360 shots for Season 1 and more than 200 for Season 2. The studio is unable to discuss its work at this time on the upcoming Season 3.

The type of effects work CoSA has done on Westworld varies as well, ranging from concept art through the concept department and extension work through the studio’s environments department. “Our CG team is quite large, so we handle every task from modeling and texturing to rigging, animation and effects,” says Laura Barbera, head of 3D at CoSA. “We’ve created some seamless digital doubles for the show that even I forget are CG! We’ve done crowd duplication, for which we did a fun shoot where we dressed up in period costumes. Our 2D department is also sizable, and they do everything from roto, to comp and creative 2D solutions, to difficult greenscreen elements. We even have a graphics department that did some wonderful shots for Season 2, including holograms and custom interfaces.”

On the 3D side, the studio’s pipeline js mainly comprised of Autodesk’s Maya and Side Effects Houdini, along with Adobe’s Substance, Foundry’s Mari and Pixologic’s ZBrush. Maxon’s Cinema 4D and Interactive Data Visualization’s SpeedTree vegetation modeler are also used. On the 2D side, the artists employ Foundry’s Nuke and the Adobe suite, including After Effects and Photoshop; rendering is done in Chaos Group’s V-Ray and Redshift’s renderer.

Of course, there have been some recurring effects each season, such as the host “twitches and glitches.” And while some of the same locations have been revisited, the CoSA artists have had to modify the environments to fit with the changing timeline of the story.

“Every season sees us getting more and more into the characters and their stories, so it’s been important for us to develop along with it. We’ve had to make our worlds more immersive so that we are feeling out the new and changing surroundings just like the characters are,” Barbera explains. “So the set work gets more complex and the realism gets even more heightened, ensuring that our VFX become even more seamless.”

At center stage have been the park locations, which are rooted in existing terrain, as there is a good deal of location shooting for the series. The challenge for CoSA then becomes how to enhance it and make nature seem even more full and impressive, while still subtly hinting toward the changes in the story, says Barbera. For instance, the studio did a significant amount of work to the Skirball Cultural Center locale in LA for the outdoor environment of Delos, which owns and operates the parks. “It’s now sitting atop a tall mesa instead of overlooking the 405!” she notes. The team also added elements to the abandoned Hawthorne Plaza mall to depict the sublevels of the Delos complex. They’re constantly creating and extending the environments in locations inside and out of the park, including the town of Pariah, a particularly lawless area.

“We’ve created beautiful additions to the outdoor sets. I feel sometimes like we’re looking at a John Ford film, where you don’t realize how important the world around you is to the feel of the story,” Barbera says.

CoSA has done significant interior work too, creating spaces that did not exist on set “but that you’d never know weren’t there unless you’d see the before and afters,” Barbera says. “It’s really very visually impressive — from futuristic set extensions, cars and [Westworld park co-creator] Arnold’s house in Season 2, it’s amazing how much we’ve done to extend the environments to make the world seem even bigger than it is on location.”

One of the larger challenges in the first seasons came in Season 2: creating the Delos complex and the final episodes where the studio had to build a world inside of a world – the Sublime –as well as the gateway to get there. “Creating the Sublime was a challenge because we had to reuse and yet completely change existing footage to design a new environment,” explains Barbera. “We had to find out what kind of trees and foliage would live in that environment, and then figure out how to populate it with hosts that were never in the original footage. This was another sequence where we had to get particularly creative about how to put all the elements together to make it believable.”

In the final episode of the second season, the group created environment work on the hills, pinnacles and quarry where the door to the Sublime appears. They also did an extensive rebuild of the Sublime environment, where the hosts emerge after crossing over. “In the first season, we did a great deal of work on the plateau side of Delos, as well as adding mesas into the background of other shots — where [hosts] Dolores and Teddy are — to make the multiple environments feel connected,” adds Barbera.

Aside from the environments, CoSA also did some subtle work on the robots, especially in Season 2, to make them appear as if they were becoming unhinged, hinting at a malfunction. The comp department also added eye twitches, subtle facial tics and even rapid blinks to provide a sense of uneasiness.

While Westworld’s blending of the Old West’s past and the robotic future initially may seem at thematic odds, the balance of that duality is cleverly accomplished in the filming of the series and the way it is performed, Barbera points out. “Jay Worth has a great vision for the integrated feel of the show. He established the looks for everything,” she adds.

The balance of the visual effects is equally important because it enhances the viewer experience. “There are things happening that can be so subtle but have so much impact. Much of our work on the second season was making sure that the world stayed grounded, so that the strangeness that happened with the characters and story line read as realistic,” Barbera explains. “Our job as visual effects artists is to help our professional storytelling partners tell their tales by adding details and elements that are too difficult or fantastic to accomplish live on set in the midst of production. If we’re doing our job right, you shouldn’t feel suddenly taken out of the moment because of a splashy effect. The visuals are there to supplement the story.”


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran writer/editor covering VFX and post production.

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

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

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

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

Avengers: End Game courtesy of Marvel

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

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Silhouette

DP Chat: Peaky Blinders‘ Si Bell ramps up the realism for Season 5

By Randi Altman

UK-based cinematographer Si Bell is known for his work on the critically acclaimed feature films Electricity (2015), In Darkness (2019) and Tiger Raid (2016), as well as high-profile TV shows such as Fortitude, Hard Sun, Britannia and Ripper Street. He is currently working on the new Steven Knight drama special, A Christmas Carol.

Si Bell

He also shot the new season of Peaky Blinders, which begins airing on BBC One on August 25 and then makes its way to Netflix on October 4. Peaky Blinders takes place in Birmingham, England not long after World War I, and follows the Shelby family and its mafia-like business. The show is often dark, brutally violent and completely compelling. It stars Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby.

We recently reached out to Bell to ask him about his work on this current season of the edgy crime drama, followed by a look at his career in cinematography.

Tell us about Peaky Blinders Season 5. How early did you get involved in planning for the season? What direction did the showrunners give you about the look they wanted this season?
I got involved pretty early on and ended up having over 10 weeks prep, which is a long time for a TV show. I worked closely with Anthony Byrne, our director, whom I know very well. As the scripts came in, we began to discuss and plan how we were going to tackle the story.

I met with the showrunners early on as well, and they really loved the work Anthony and I had done in the past together on the movie In Darkness and on Ripper Street. Anthony is a very visual director and they trusted us both, so that was really amazing. They wanted us to do Peaky but also to bring our own style and way of working to the table. We were massive fans of the show and had big respect for what the previous directors and cinematographers had done. We knew we had big shoes to fill!

How would you describe the look?
I would describe the Peaky Blinders look as very stylized and larger than life. Lighting wise, it’s known for beams of light, smoke and atmosphere and an almost theatrical look with over cranked camera moves and speed ramps. I wanted to push some realism into the show and not make things quite as theatrical this season yet still keep that Peaky vibe. Tommy (Cillian Murphy) is battling with himself and his own demons more than anyone else in our story.

I wanted to try and show this with the lighting and the camera style. We also tried to use more developing shots in certain scenes to put the audience right in the center of the action and create this sense of visceral realism. We tried to motivate every decision based on how to tell the story in the best and most powerful way to bring out the emotional aspects and really connect with audience.

How did you work with the directors and colorist to achieve the intended look?
I used my DIT James Shovlar to create a look on set for the offline edit and we used that as a starting point for the grade. Then Anthony and I worked with grader Paul Staples at Deluxe in London, whom we had worked with on Ripper Street, and from the reference grade Paul created the finished look. Paul really understood where we wanted to take it, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. We didn’t want it to feel too pushed but we still wanted it to look like Peaky Blinders.

Where was it shot, and how long was the shoot?
We shot around the northwest of England. We were based mainly in Manchester where we built a number of sets, including the Garrison, Houses of Parliament and Shelby HQ. We also shot in Birmingham, Liverpool, Rochdale and Bradford. We shot 16 five-day weeks in total.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
We had to shoot 4K, so the standard ARRI Alexa was off the table. A friend of mine, Sam McCurdy, BSC, had mentioned he had been shooting on the new Red Monstro and said he was really blown away by the images. I tested it and thought it was perfect for us. We coupled that with Cooke Anamorphic lenses and delivered in a 2:1 ratio.

Can you describe the lighting?
The lighting is a big part of Peaky Blinders, and it had to be right. My gaffer Oliver Whickman and I used our prep time to draw up detailed lighting plans, which included all of our machine and rigging requirements. We had 91 different lighting diagrams, and because we were scouting and planning the whole six episodes, it was very important that everything had to be written down in a clear, accurate way that could be passed on to our rigging crews.

We were scouting in September 2018, but some of the locations we weren’t shooting until January 2019 and we weren’t going to come back to them because we were so busy shooting. Oliver used the Shot Designer app to make the plans and we made printed books for the rigging gaffer and our best boy Alan Millar. It was certainly the most technically difficult job I have ever done in terms of planning, but everything went very smoothly.

Are there any scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging?
There were many challenging scenes and sets. I’m really pleased how the opening sequence in Chinatown turned out. Also, there’s a big sequence set around a ballet, and I loved how that came together. I thought the design was great, with all the practicals that our designer Nicole Northridge installed in the set. There’s so much in this series, it’s hard to mention one thing.

I’m very proud of all our team. Everyone worked so hard and put so much into it, and I really think it shows. My camera operator Andrew Fletcher, focus puller Tom Finch and key grip Paul Kemp provided exceptional talent to the project. Not only are they great friends, they are the best of the best at what they do and I’m very proud of everything they did on Peaky.

Now let’s dig into some general DP questions. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I used to make skate videos, and then I studied photography in college and started to get interested in the idea of making films. I studied film production at university, and then started to work as a camera trainee once I left. At first I thought I wanted to be a director and made some short films, but after training under some great DPs — Sam McCurdy, BSC, and Lol Crawley, BSC — I realized that’s what I wanted to do, so I started shooting as much as I could and went from there.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology?
I am inspired by watching movies or TV with great stories. I’m also inspired by working with talented people, great directors, great producers and people with a great passion for what they do. Peaky Blinders was massively inspiring as we got to work with some of the greatest actors of our age who are at the top of their game. Working at that level, you need to up your game and that also was massively inspiring.

I always stay on top of new technology by going to trade shows and reading trade magazines.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
I think the camera getting smaller has been the biggest change, as we can use drones, Trinity rigs and other gimbals to move the camera in ways we could never even have dreamed of five years ago.

What are some of your best practices you try to follow on each job?
I always try to bring all my own crew if I can. We have a tight team and it’s so much easier if I can bring all of my guys onto a job as we all have a shorthand with each other. Additionally, I always do detailed lighting diagrams with my gaffer and put in lots of prep and time into the planning of the lighting so we can move quickly and adapt on the day. I also try to build a good relationship with the director as much as I can before shooting.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director or showrunner when starting a new project.
For me it’s ideal when you work with someone who wants to hear your ideas and bounces off you creatively. It should be a collaboration, and you should be able to talk openly about ideas and feel like you’re valued. That connection is very important — sometimes you click, and sometimes you don’t — it’s about chemistry.

What’s your go-to gear? Things you can’t live without?
Things change depending on the show, but I love a Technocrane and a good remote head. If the show has the budget, they are such brilliant tools to move a camera and find the shot quickly.

On Peaky Blinders we used the ARRI Trinity camera stabilizer quite a lot, which is especially great if you have operator Andrew Fletcher, who is a master!


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

The sounds of HBO’s Divorce: Keeping it real

HBO’s Divorce, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church, focuses on a long-married couple who just can’t do it anymore. It follows them from divorce through their efforts to move on with their lives, and what that looks like. The show deftly tackles a very difficult subject with a heavy dose of humor mixed in with the pain and angst. The story takes place in various Manhattan locations and a nearby suburb. And as you can imagine the sounds of the neighborhoods vary.

                           
Eric Hirsch                                                              David Briggs

Sound post production for the third season of HBO’s comedy Divorce was completed at Goldcrest Post in New York City. Supervising sound editor David Briggs and re-recording mixer Eric Hirsch worked together to capture the ambiances of upscale Manhattan neighborhoods that serve as the backdrop for the story of the tempestuous breakup between Frances and Robert.

As is often the case with comedy series, the imperative for Divorce’s sound team was to support the narrative by ensuring that the dialogue is crisp and clear, and jokes are properly timed. However, Briggs and Hirsch go far beyond that in developing richly textured soundscapes to achieve a sense of realism often lacking in shows of the genre.

“We use sound to suggest life is happening outside the immediate environment, especially for scenes that are shot on sets,” explains Hirsch. “We work to achieve the right balance, so that the scene doesn’t feel empty but without letting the sound become so prominent that it’s a distraction. It’s meant to work subliminally so that viewers feel that things are happening in suburban New York, while not actually thinking about it.”

Season three of the show introduces several new locations and sound plays a crucial role in capturing their ambience. Parker’s Frances, for example, has moved to Inwood, a hip enclave on the northern tip of Manhattan, and background sound effects help to distinguish it from the woodsy village of Hastings-on-Hudson, where Haden Church’s Robert continues to live. “The challenge was to create separation between those two worlds, so that viewers immediately understand where we are,” explains series producer Mick Aniceto. “Eric and David hit it. They came up with sounds that made sense for each part of the city, from the types of cars you hear on the streets to the conversations and languages that play in the background.”

Meanwhile, Frances’ friend, Diane, (Molly Shannon) has taken up residence in a Manhattan high-rise and it, too, required a specific sonic treatment. “The sounds that filter into a high-rise apartment are much different from those in a street-level structure,” Aniceto notes. “The hum of traffic is more distant, while you hear things like the whirl of helicopters. We had a lot of fun exploring the different sonic environments. To capture the flavor of Hudson-on-Hastings, our executive producer and showrunner came up the idea of adding distant construction sounds to some scenes.”

A few scenes from the new season are set inside a prison. Aniceto says the sound team was able to help breathe life into that environment through the judicious application of very specific sound design. “David Briggs had just come off of Escape at Dannemora, so he was very familiar with the sounds of a prison,” he recalls. “He knew the kind of sounds that you hear in communal areas, not only physical sounds like buzzers and bells, but distant chats among guards and visitors. He helped us come up with amusing bits of background dialogue for the loop group.”

Most of the dialogue came directly from the production tracks, but the sound team hosted several ADR sessions at Goldcrest for crowd scenes. Hirsch points to an episode from the new season that involves a girls basketball team. ADR mixer Krissopher Chevannes recorded groups of voice actors (provided by Dann Fink and Bruce Winant of Loopers Unlimited) to create background dialogue for a scene on a team bus and another that happens during a game.

“During the scene on the bus, the girls are talking normally, but then the action shifts to slo-mo. At that point the sound design goes away and the music drives it,” Hirsch recalls. “When it snaps back to reality, we bring the loop-group crowd back in.”

The emotional depth of Divorce marks it as different from most television comedies, it also creates more interesting opportunities for sound. “The sound portion of the show helps take it over the line and make it real for the audience,” says Aniceto. “Sound is a big priority for Divorce. I get excited by the process and the opportunities it affords to bring scenes to life. So, I surround myself by smart and talented people like Eric and David, who understand how to do that and give the show the perfect feel.”

All three seasons of Divorce are available on HBO Go and HBO Now.

ADR, loop groups, ad-libs: Veep‘s Emmy-nominated audio team

By Jennifer Walden

HBO wrapped up its seventh and final season of Veep back in May, so sadly, we had to say goodbye to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ morally flexible and potty-mouthed Selina Meyer. And while Selina’s political career was a bit rocky at times, the series was rock-solid — as evidenced by its 17 Emmy wins and 68 nominations over show’s seven-year run.

For re-recording mixers William Freesh and John W. Cook II, this is their third Emmy nomination for Sound Mixing on Veep. This year, they entered the series finale — Season 7, Episode 7 “Veep” — for award consideration.

L-R: William Freesh, Sue Cahill, John W. Cook, II

Veep post sound editing and mixing was handled at NBCUniversal Studio Post in Los Angeles. In the midst of Emmy fever, we caught up with re-recording mixer Cook (who won a past Emmy for the mix on Scrubs) and Veep supervising sound editor Sue Cahill (winner of two past Emmys for her work on Black Sails).

Here, Cook and Cahill talk about how Veep’s sound has grown over the years, how they made the rapid-fire jokes crystal clear, and the challenges they faced in crafting the series’ final episode — like building the responsive convention crowds, mixing the transitions to and from the TV broadcasts, and cutting that epic three-way argument between Selina, Uncle Jeff and Jonah.

You’ve been with Veep since 2016? How has your approach to the show changed over the years?
John W. Cook II: Yes, we started when the series came to the states (having previously been posted in England with series creator Armando Iannucci).

Sue Cahill: Dave Mandel became the showrunner, starting with Season 5, and that’s when we started.

Cook: When we started mixing the show, production sound mixer Bill MacPherson and I talked a lot about how together we might improve the sound of the show. He made some tweaks, like trying out different body mics and negotiating with our producers to allow for more boom miking. Notwithstanding all the great work Bill did before Season 5, my job got consistently easier over Seasons 5 through 7 because of his well-recorded tracks.

Also, some of our tools have changed in the last three years. We installed the Avid S6 console. This, along with a handful of new plugins, has helped us work a little faster.

Cahill: In the dialogue editing process this season, we started using a tool called Auto-Align Post from Sound Radix. It’s a great tool that allowed us to cut both the boom and the ISO mics for every clip throughout the show and put them in perfect phase. This allowed John the flexibility to mix both together to give it a warmer, richer sound throughout. We lean heavily on the ISO mics, but being able to mix in the boom more helped the overall sound.

Cook: You get a bit more depth. Body mics tend to be more flat, so you have to add a little bit of reverb and a lot of EQing to get it to sound as bright and punchy as the boom mic. When you can mix them together, you get a natural reverb on the sound that gives the dialogue more depth. It makes it feel like it’s in the space more. And it requires a little less EQing on the ISO mic because you’re not relying on it 100%. When the Auto-Align Post technology came out, I was able to use both mics together more often. Before Auto-Align, I would shy away from doing that if it was too much work to make them sound in-phase. The plugin makes it easier to use both, and I find myself using the boom and ISO mics together more often.

The dialogue on the show has always been rapid-fire, and you really want to hear every joke. Any tools or techniques you use to help the dialogue cut through?
Cook: In my chain, I’m using FabFilter Pro-Q 2 a lot, EQing pretty much every single line in the show. FabFilter’s built-in spectrum analyzer helps get at that target EQ that I’m going for, for every single line in the show.

In terms of compression, I’m doing a lot of gain staging. I have five different points in the chain where I use compression. I’m never trying to slam it too much, just trying to tap it at different stages. It’s a music technique that helps the dialogue to never sound squashed. Gain staging allows me to get a little more punch and a little more volume after each stage of compression.

Cahill: On the editing side, it starts with digging through the production mic tracks to find the cleanest sound. The dialogue assembly on this show is huge. It’s 13 tracks wide for each clip, and there are literally thousands of clips. The show is very cutty, and there are tons of overlaps. Weeding through all the material to find the best lav mics, in addition to the boom, really takes time. It’s not necessarily the character’s lav mic that’s the best for a line. They might be speaking more clearly into the mic of the person that is right across from them. So, listening to every mic choice and finding the best lav mics requires a couple days of work before we even start editing.

Also, we do a lot of iZotope RX work in editing before the dialogue reaches John’s hands. That helps to improve intelligibility and clear up the tracks before John works his magic on it.

Is it hard to find alternate production takes due to the amount of ad-libbing on the show? Do you find you do a lot of ADR?
Cahill: Exactly, it’s really hard to find production alts in the show because there is so much improv. So, yeah, it takes extra time to find the cleanest version of the desired lines. There is a significant amount of ADR in the show. In this episode in particular, we had 144 lines of principal ADR. And, we had 250 cues of group. It’s pretty massive.

There must’ve been so much loop group in the “Veep” episode. Every time they’re in the convention center, it’s packed with people!
Cook: There was the larger convention floor to consider, and the people that were 10 to 15 feet away from whatever character was talking on camera. We tried to balance that big space with the immediate space around the characters.

This particular Veep episode has a chaotic vibe. The main location is the nomination convention. There are huge crowds, TV interviews (both in the convention hall and also playing on Selina’s TV in her skybox suite and hotel room) and a big celebration at the end. Editorially, how did you approach the design of this hectic atmosphere?
Cahill: Our sound effects editor Jonathan Golodner had a lot of recordings from prior national conventions. So those recordings are used throughout this episode. It really gives the convention center that authenticity. It gave us the feeling of those enormous crowds. It really helped to sell the space, both when they are on the convention floor and from the skyboxes.

The loop group we talked about was a huge part of the sound design. There were layers and layers of crafted walla. We listened to a lot of footage from past conventions and found that there is always a speaker on the floor giving a speech to ignite the crowd, so we tried to recreate that in loop group. We did some speeches that we played in the background so we would have these swells of the crowd and crowd reactions that gave the crowd some movement so that it didn’t sound static. I felt like it gave it a lot more life.

We recreated chanting in loop group. There was a chant for Tom James (Hugh Laurie), which was part of production. They were saying, “Run Tom Run!” We augmented that with group. We changed the start of that chant from where it was in production. We used the loop group to start that chant sooner.

Cook: The Tom James chant was one instance where we did have production crowd. But most of the time, Sue was building the crowds with the loop group.

Cahill: I used casting director Barbara Harris for loop group, and throughout the season we had so many different crowds and rallies — both interior and exterior — that we built with loop group because there wasn’t enough from production. We had to hit on all the points that they are talking about in the story. Jonah (Timothy Simons) had some fun rallies this season.

Cook: Those moments of Jonah’s were always more of a “call-and-response”-type treatment.

The convention location offered plenty of opportunity for creative mixing. For example, the episode starts with Congressman Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) addressing the crowd from the podium. The shot cuts to a CBSN TV broadcast of him addressing the crowd. Next the shot cuts to Selina’s skybox, where they’re watching him on TV. Then it’s quickly back to Furlong in the convention hall, then back to the TV broadcast, and back to Selina’s room — all in the span of seconds. Can you tell me about your mix on that sequence?
Cook: It was about deciding on the right reverb for the convention center and the right reverbs for all the loop group and the crowds and how wide to be (how much of the surrounds we used) in the convention space. Cutting to the skybox, all of that sound was mixed to mono, for the most part, and EQ’d a little bit. The producers didn’t want to futz it too much. They wanted to keep the energy, so mixing it to mono was the primary way of dealing with it.

Whenever there was a graphic on the lower third, we talked about treating that sound like it was news footage. But we decided we liked the energy of it being full fidelity for all of those moments we’re on the convention floor.

Another interesting thing was the way that Bill Freesh and I worked together. Bill was handling all of the big cut crowds, and I was handling the loop group on my side. We were trying to walk the line between a general crowd din on the convention floor, where you always felt like it was busy and crowded and huge, along with specific reactions from the loop group reacting to something that Furlong would say, or later in the show, reacting to Selina’s acceptance speech. We always wanted to play reactions to the specifics, but on the convention floor it never seems to get quiet. There was a lot of discussion about that.

Even though we cut from the convention center into the skybox, those considerations about crowd were still in play — whether we were on the convention floor or watching the convention through a TV monitor.

You did an amazing job on all those transitions — from the podium to the TV broadcast to the skybox. It felt very real, very natural.
Cook: Thank you! That was important to us, and certainly important to the producers. All the while, we tried to maintain as much energy as we could. Once we got the sound of it right, we made sure that the volume was kept up enough so that you always felt that energy.

It feels like the backgrounds never stop when they’re in the convention hall. In Selina’s skybox, when someone opens the door to the hallway, you hear the crowd as though the sound is traveling down the hallway. Such a great detail.
Cook and Cahill: Thank you!

For the background TV broadcasts feeding Selina info about the race — like Buddy Calhoun (Matt Oberg) talking about the transgender bathrooms — what was your approach to mixing those in this episode? How did you decide when to really push them forward in the mix and when to pull back?
Cook: We thought about panning. For the most part, our main storyline is in the center. When you have a TV running in the background, you can pan it off to the side a bit. It’s amazing how you can keep the volume up a little more without it getting in the way and masking the primary characters’ dialogue.

It’s also about finding the right EQ so that the TV broadcast isn’t sharing the same EQ bandwidth as the characters in the room.

Compression plays a role too, whether that’s via a plugin or me riding the fader. I can manually do what a side-chained compressor can do by just riding the fader and pulling the sound down when necessary or boosting it when there’s a space between dialogue lines from the main characters. The challenge is that there is constant talking on this show.

Going back to what has changed over the last three years, one of the things that has changed is that we have more time per episode to mix the show. We got more and more time from the first mix to the last mix. We have twice as much time to mix the show.

Even with all the backgrounds happening in Veep, you never miss the dialogue lines. Except, there’s a great argument that happens when Selina tells Jonah he’s going to be vice president. His Uncle Jeff (Peter MacNicol) starts yelling at him, and then Selina joins in. And Jonah is yelling back at them. It’s a great cacophony of insults. Can you tell me about that scene?
Cahill: Those 15 seconds of screen time took us several hours of work in editorial. Dave (Mandel) said he couldn’t understand Selina clearly enough, but he didn’t want to loop the whole argument. Of course, all three characters are overlapped — you can hear all of them on each other’s mics — so how do you just loop Selina?

We started with an extensive production alt search that went back and forth through the cutting room a few times. We decided that we did need to ADR Selina. So we ended up using a combination of mostly ADR for Selina’s side with a little bit of production.

For the other two characters, we wanted to save their production lines, so our dialogue editor Jane Boegel (she’s the best!) did an amazing job using iZotope RX’s De-bleed feature to clear Selina’s voice out of their mics, so we could preserve their performances.

We didn’t loop any of Uncle Jeff, and it was all because of Jane’s work cleaning out Selina. We were able to save all of Uncle Jeff. It’s mostly production for Jonah, but we did have to loop a few words for him. So it was ADR for Selina, all of Uncle Jeff and nearly all of Jonah from set. Then, it was up to John to make it match.

Cook: For me, in moments like those, it’s about trying to get equal volumes for all the characters involved. I tried to make Selina’s yelling and Uncle Jeff’s yelling at the exact same level so the listener’s ear can decide what it wants to focus on rather than my mix telling you what to focus on.

Another great mix sequence was Selina’s nomination for president. There’s a promo video of her talking about horses that’s playing back in the convention hall. There are multiple layers of processing happening — the TV filter, the PA distortion and the convention hall reverb. Can you tell me about the processing on that scene?
Cook: Oftentimes, when I do that PA sound, it’s a little bit of futzing, like rolling off the lows and highs, almost like you would do for a small TV. But then you put a big reverb on it, with some pre-delay on it as well, so you hear it bouncing off the walls. Once you find the right reverb, you’re also hearing it reflecting off the walls a little bit. Sometimes I’ll add a little bit of distortion as well, as if it’s coming out of the PA.

When Selina is backstage talking with Gary (Tony Hale), I rolled off a lot more of the highs on the reverb return on the promo video. Then, in the same way I’d approach levels with a TV in the room, I was riding the level on the promo video to fit around the main characters’ dialogue. I tried to push it in between little breaks in the conversation, pulling it down lower when we needed to focus on the main characters.

What was the most challenging scene for you to mix?
Cook: I would say the Tom James chanting was challenging because we wanted to hear the chant from inside the skybox to the balcony of the skybox and then down on the convention floor. There was a lot of conversation about the microphones from Mike McLintock’s (Matt Walsh) interview. The producers decided that since there was a little bit of bleed in the production already, they wanted Mike’s microphone to be going out to the PA speakers in the convention hall. You hear a big reverb on Tom James as well. Then, the level of all the loop group specifics and chanting — from the ramp up of the chanting from zero to full volume — we negotiated with the producers. That was one of the more challenging scenes.

The acceptance speech was challenging too, because of all of the cutaways. There is that moment with Gary getting arrested by the FBI; we had to decide how much of that we wanted to hear.
There was the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” that played over all the characters’ banter following Selina’s acceptance speech. We had to balance the dialogue with the desire to crank up that track as much as we could.

There were so many great moments this season. How did you decide on the series finale episode, “Veep,” for Emmy consideration for Sound Mixing?
Cook: It was mostly about story. This is the end of a seven-year run (a three-year run for Sue and I), but the fact that every character gets a moment — a wrap-up on their character — makes me nostalgic about this episode in that way.

It also had some great sound challenges that came together nicely, like all the different crowds and the use of loop group. We’ve been using a lot of loop group on the show for the past three years, but this episode had a particularly massive amount of loop group.

The producers were also huge fans of this episode. When I talked to Dave Mandel about which episode we should put up, he recommended this one as well.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add on the sound of Veep?
Cook: I’m going to miss Veep a lot. The people on it, like Dave Mandel, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Morgan Sackett … everyone behind the credenza. They were always working to create an even better show. It was a thrill to be a team member. They always treated us like we were in it together to make something great. It was a pleasure to work with people that recognize and appreciate the time and the heart that we contribute. I’ll miss working with them.

Cahill: I agree with John. On that last playback, no one wanted to leave the stage. Dave brought champagne, and Julia brought chocolates. It was really hard to say goodbye.

Game of Thrones’ Emmy-nominated visual effects

By Iain Blair

Once upon a time, only glamorous movies could afford the time and money it took to create truly imaginative and spectacular visual effects. Meanwhile, television shows either tried to avoid them altogether or had to rely on hand-me-downs. But the digital revolution changed all that with its technological advances, and new tools quickly leveling the playing field. Today, television is giving the movies a run for their money when it comes to sophisticated visual effects, as evidenced by HBO’s blockbuster series, Game of Thrones.

Mohsen Mousavi

This fantasy series was recently Emmy-nominated a record-busting 32 times for its eighth and final season — including one for its visually ambitious VFX in the penultimate episode, “The Bells.”

The epic mass destruction presented Scanline’s VFX supervisor, Mohsen Mousavi, and his team many challenges. But his expertise in high-end visual effects, and his reputation for constant innovation in advanced methodology, made him a perfect fit to oversee Scanline’s VFX for the crucial last three episodes of the final season of Game of Thrones.

Mousavi started his VFX career in the field of artificial intelligence and advanced-physics-based simulations. He spearheaded designing and developing many different proprietary toolsets and pipelines for doing crowd, fluid and rigid body simulation, including FluidIT, BehaveIT and CardIT, a node-based crowd choreography toolset.

Prior to joining Scanline VFX Vancouver, Mousavi rose through the ranks of top visual effects houses, working in jobs that ranged from lead effects technical director to CG supervisor and, ultimately, VFX supervisor. He’s been involved in such high-profile projects as Hugo, The Amazing Spider-Man and Sucker Punch.

In 2012, he began working with Scanline, acting as digital effects supervisor on 300: Rise of an Empire, for which Scanline handled almost 700 water-based sea battle shots. He then served as VFX supervisor on San Andreas, helping develop the company’s proprietary city-generation software. That software and pipeline were further developed and enhanced for scenes of destruction in director Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence. In 2017, he served as the lead VFX supervisor for Scanline on the Warner Bros. shark thriller, The Meg.

I spoke with Mousavi about creating the VFX and their pipeline.

Congratulations on being Emmy-nominated for “The Bells,” which showcased so many impressive VFX. How did all your work on Season 4 prepare you for the big finale?
We were heavily involved in the finale of Season 4, however the scope was far smaller. What we learned was the collaboration and the nature of the show, and what the expectations were in terms of the quality of the work and what HBO wanted.

You were brought onto the project by lead VFX supervisor Joe Bauer, correct?
Right. Joe was the “client VFX supervisor” on the HBO side and was involved since Season 3. Together with my producer, Marcus Goodwin, we also worked closely with HBO’s lead visual effects producer, Steve Kullback, who I’d worked with before on a different show and in a different capacity. We all had daily sessions and conversations, a lot of back and forth, and Joe would review the entire work, give us feedback and manage everything between us and other vendors, like Weta, Image Engine and Pixomondo. This was done both technically and creatively, so no one stepped on each other’s toes if we were sharing a shot and assets. But it was so well-planned that there wasn’t much overlap.

[Editor’s Note: Here is the full list of those nominated for their VFX work on Game of Thrones — Joe Bauer, lead visual effects supervisor; Steve Kullback, lead visual effects producer; Adam Chazen, visual effects associate producer; Sam Conway, special effects supervisor; Mohsen Mousavi, visual effects supervisor; Martin Hill, visual effects supervisor; Ted Rae, visual effects plate supervisor; Patrick Tiberius Gehlen, previz lead; and Thomas Schelesny, visual effects and animation supervisor.]

What were you tasked with doing on Season 8?
We were involved as one of the lead vendors on the last three episodes and covered a variety of sequences. In episode four, “The Last of the Starks,” we worked on the confrontation between Daenerys and Cersei in front of the King’s Landing’s gate, which included a full CG environment of the city gate and the landscape around it, as well as Missandei’s death sequence, which featured a full CG Missandei. We also did the animated Drogon outside the gate while the negotiations took place.

Then for “The Bells” we were responsible for most of the Battle of King’s Landing, which included full digital city, Daenerys’ army camp site outside the walls of King’s Landing, the gathering of soldiers in front of the King’s Landing walls, Danny’s attack on the scorpions, the city gate, streets and the Red Keep, which had some very close-up set extensions, close-up fire and destruction simulations and full CG crowd of various different factions — armies and civilians. We also did the iconic Cleaganebowl fight between The Hound and The Mountain and Jamie Lannister’s fight with Euron at the beach underneath the Red Keep. In Episode 5, we received raw animation caches of the dragon from Image Engine and did the full look-dev, lighting and rendering of the final dragon in our composites.

For the final episode, “The Iron Throne, we were responsible for the entire Deanerys speech sequence, which included a full 360 digital environment of the city aftermath and the Red Keep plaza filled with digital unsullied Dothrakies and CG horses leading into the majestic confrontation between Jon and Drogon, where it revealed itself from underneath a huge pile of snow outside Red Keep. We were also responsible for the iconic throne melt sequence, which included some advance simulation of high viscous fluid and destruction of the area around the throne and finishing the dramatic sequence with Drogon carrying Danny out of the throne room and away from King’s Landing into the unknown.

Where was all this work done?
The majority of the work was done here in Vancouver, which is the biggest Scanline office. Additionally we had teams working in our Munich, Montreal and LA offices. We’re a 100% connected company, all working under the same infrastructure in the same pipeline. So if I work with the team in Munich, it’s like they’re sitting in the next room. That allows us to set up and attack the project with a larger crew and get the benefit of the 24/7 scenario; as we go home, they can continue working, and it makes us far more productive.

How many VFX did you have to create for the final season?
We worked on over 600 shots across the final three episodes which gave us approximately over an hour of screen time of high-end consistent visual effects.

Isn’t that hour length unusual for 600 shots?
Yes, but we had a number of shots that were really long, including some ground coverage shots of Arya in the streets of King’s Landing that were over four or five minutes long. So we had the complexity along with the long duration.

How many people were on your team?
At the height, we had about 350 artists on the project, and we began in March 2018 and didn’t wrap till nearly the end of April 2019 — so it took us over a year of very intense work.

Tell us about the pipeline specific to Game of Thrones.
Scanline has an industry-wide reputation for delivering very complex, full CG environments combined with complex simulation scenarios of all sort of fluid dynamics and destruction based on our simulation framework “Flowline.” We had a high-end digital character and hero creature pipeline that gave the final three episodes a boost up front. What was new were the additions to our procedural city generation pipeline for the recreation of King’s Landing, making sure it can deliver both in wide angle shots as well as some extreme close-up set extensions.

How did you do that?
We used a framework we developed back for Independence Day: Resurgence, which is a module-based procedural city generation leveraging some incredible scans of the historical city of Dubrovnik as a blueprint and foundation of King’s Landing. Instead of doing the modeling conventionally, you model a lot of small modules, kind of like Lego blocks. You create various windows, stones, doors, shingles and so on, and once it’s encoded in the system, you can semi-automatically generate variations of buildings on the fly. That also goes for texturing. We had procedurally generated layers of façade textures, which gave us a lot of flexibility on texturing the entire city, with full control over the level of aging and damage. We could decide to make a block look older easily without going back to square one. That’s how we could create King’s Landing with its hundreds of thousands of unique buildings.

The same technology was applied to the aftermath of the city in Episode 6. We took the intact King’s Landing and ran a number of procedural collapsing simulations on the buildings to get the correct weight based on references from the bombed city of Dresden during WWII, and then we added procedurally created CG snow on the entire city.

It didn’t look like the usual matte paintings were used at all.
You’re right, and there were a lot of shots that normally would be done that way, but to Joe’s credit, he wanted to make sure the environments weren’t cheated in any way. That was a big challenge, to keep everything consistent and accurate. Even if we used traditional painting methods, it was all done on top of an accurate 3D representation with correct lighting and composition.

What other tools did you use?
We use Autodesk Maya for all our front-end departments, including modeling, layout, animation, rigging and creature effects, and we bridge the results to Autodesk 3ds Max, which encapsulates our look-dev/FX and rendering departments, powered by Flowline and Chaos Group’s V-Ray as our primary render engine, followed by Foundry’s Nuke as our main compositing package.

At the heart of our crowd pipeline, we use Massive and our creature department is driven with Ziva muscles which was a collaboration we started with Ziva Dynamics back for the creation of the hero Megalodon in The Meg.

Fair to say that your work on Game of Thrones was truly cutting-edge?
Game of Thrones has pushed the limit above and beyond and has effectively erased the TV/feature line. In terms of environment and effects and the creature work, this is what you’d do for a high-end blockbuster for the big screen. No difference at all.


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

DP Chat: Dopesick Nation cinematographer Greg Taylor

By Randi Altman

Dopesick Nation is a documentary series on Vice Media’s Viceland that follows two recovering heroin addicts, Frankie and Allie, in South Florida as they try to help others while taking a look at corruption and exploitation in the rehab industry. The series was inspired by the feature film American Relapse.

Dopesick Nation

As you might imagine, the shoot was challenging, often taking place at night and in dubious locales, but cinematographers Greg Taylor and Mike Goodman were up for the challenge. Both had worked with series co-creator/executive producer Patrick McGee previously and were happy to collaborate once more.

We reached out to DP Taylor to talk about working with McGee and Goodman and the show’s workflow.

Tell us about Dopesick Nation. How early did you get involved in this series, and how did you work with the director?
Pat McGee tapped myself and Mike Goodman to shoot American Relapse. We were just coming off another show and had a finely tuned team ready to spend long nights on this new project. The movie turned out to have a familiar gritty feel you see in the show but in a feature documentary format.

I imagine it was a natural progression to use us again once the TV show was greenlit by Viceland. Pat would keep on our heels to find the best moments for every story and would push us to go out and produce intimate moments with the subjects on the fly. He and producer Adam Linkenhelt (American Relapse) were with us almost every step of the way, offering advice, watching our backs and looking out for incoming storylines. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about that whole crew.

(L-R) Mike Goodman, supervising producer Adam Linkenhelt and showrunner Pat McGee (Photo by Greg Taylor)

How did you work with fellow DP Mike Goodman? How did you divvy up the shots?
Mike and I have worked long enough together that we have an efficient shorthand. A gesture or look can set up an entire scene sometimes, and I often can’t tell my shots from his. We both put a lot of effort into creativity in our imagery and pushing the bar as much as we can handle. During rare downtimes, we might brainstorm on a new way to shoot b-roll or decide what “gritty” should look and feel like.

Covering the often late and challenging days took a bit of baton-passing back and forth. Some days, we would split up and shoot single camera as well. It was decided at some point that I would cover more of Frankie’s story, while Mike would cover Allie. When the two met up at the end of the day, we would cover them together. Most of the major scenes we shot together, but there were times when too much was happening to cover it all. We were really in the addicts’ world, so some events were completely unexpected.

How would you describe the look of the doc?
I’d say gritty would be the best single word, but that can be nuanced quite a bit. There was an overall aim to keep some frames dirty during dialogue scenes to achieve a slightly voyeuristic feel but still leave lots of room for intimate, in-your-face, bam-type moments when the story dictated. We always paid attention to our backgrounds, and there was a focus on the contrast between beautiful southeast Florida and the dark underbelly lurking just next to it. The show had to be so real that no one would ever question the legitimacy of what we were showing. No-filter, behind-the-veil type thinking in every shot.

Dopesick Nation

How does your process change when shooting a documentary versus a fictional piece? Or does it not?
Story is king, and I’d say character arcs for the feature American Relapse were different from the TV version. In the film, we gave an overview of the treatment industry told through the eyes of our two main characters, Allie and Frank. It is structured somewhat around their typical day and sit-down interviews.

The TV show did not have formal interviews but did allow us to dig deeper into accounts from individuals with addiction, the world they live in and the hosts themselves. The 10 one-hour episodes and three-plus months spent shooting gave us a little more time to build up a library of transition pieces and specialty b-roll.

Where was it shot?
Almost all of the shooting took place in and around southeast Florida. A few short scenes were picked up in Ohio and LA.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project? Can you talk about camera tests?
It’s funny because Mike and I both independently came up with using the Panasonic VariCam LT after the director came to us asking what we wanted to shoot with. We chatted and decided that we needed solutions for potentially tougher nighttime setups than we had been used to. When we gathered for a meeting and started up the gear list, Mike and I both had the LT on the top of our requests.

Dopesick Nation

I think that signaled to the preproduction team we were unanimous on what the best system was to use and production manager Keith Plant made it happen. I had seen the camera in action at NAB and watched some tests a friend had shot on it a few months before. I was easily sold on its rich blacks and dual native ISO. That camera could see into the dark and wasn’t so heavy we would collapse at the end of the day; it worked out very well.

Can you talk about the lighting and how the camera worked while grabbing shots when you could?
Lighting on this show was minimal, but we did use fills and background illumination to enhance some scenes. Working mostly at night — in dubious surroundings — often meant we couldn’t light scenes. Lights bring unwanted attention to the crew and subjects, and we found it changed the feel of the scene in a negative way.

Using the available light at each location quickly became fundamentally important to maintain the unfiltered nature of the show. Every bright spot in the darkness was carefully considered, and if we could pull subjects slightly toward a source, even to get 1/3 a stop more, we would take it.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging?
There were a lot of scenes that were challenging to shoot technically, but that happens on any project. You don’t always want to see what you are standing next to, but the story needs to be told. There are a lot of people out there really struggling with addiction, and it can be really painful to watch. Being present with everyone and being real with them had to be in your mind constantly. I kept thinking the whole time, “Am I doing them justice? What can I do better? How can I help?”

DPs Mike Goodman and Greg Taylor shoot Ally interviewing one of the subjects (Photo by Tara Sarzen)

Let’s move on to more some more general questions. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I’ve always loved working with celluloid and photography and was brought up with a darkroom in the house. I remember taking a filmmaking summer camp when I was 14 in Oxford, Mississippi, and was basically blown away. I’ve been aiming for a career in cinematography ever since.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
Artistically, I love Dali, Picasso and the works of Caravaggio and Rembrandt. The way light plays in a chiaroscuro painting is really something worth studying and it isn’t easy to replicate.

I like to try and pay homage to the films I enjoy and artworks I’ve visited by incorporating some of their ideas into my own work. With film cameras, things changed slower over the years, and it was often the film stock that became the technological advancement of its day. Granular structure turned to crystal structures, higher ISO/ASA were achieved, color reproduction improved. The same is with the new camera systems coming out. Sensors are the new film stock. You pick what is appropriate to the story.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
I rarely go anywhere nowadays without a drone. The advancements in drone technology have changed the aerial world entirely, and I’m happy to see these new angles open up in an increasingly responsible and licensed way.

DP Greg Taylor shooting in SE Florida. (Photo by Evan Parquette)

Gimbals are a game changer in the way the Steadicam came onto the scene, and I don’t expect them to go anywhere. Also motion-control devices and newer, more sensitive sensors are certainly fitting the bill of ever-evolving and improving tech.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Be aware and attentive of your surroundings and safety. Treat others with respect. Maintain a professional attitude under stress. If you are five minutes early, you’re late.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
I love discussing what the heart of the script or concept really means and trying to find the deeper connection with how it can be told visually. Referencing other films/art/ TV we both have experience with and finding a common language that makes sense for the vision.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I have an old Nikkor 55mm f1.2 lens I love, and I often shoot personal projects on prime vintage glass. The edges aren’t quite as sharp as modern lenses so in the case of the 55mm, you get a lovely yet subtle sharpness vignette along with a warm overall feel.

It’s great for interviews because it softens the digital crispness newer sensors exhibit without the noticeable changes you might see with certain filtration. The Hip Shot belt has been one of my best friends over the past while, and it saves you on the long days and low, long dialogue scenes when handholding seated subjects.


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

GLOW’s DP and colorist adapt look of new season for Vegas setting

By Adrian Pennington

Netflix’s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) are back in the ring for a third round of the dramatic comedy, but this time the girls are in Las Vegas. The glitz and glamour of Sin City seems tailor-made for the 1980s-set GLOW and provided the main creative challenge for Season 3 cinematographer Chris Teague (Russian Doll, Broad City).

DP Chris Teague

“Early on, I met with Christian Sprenger, who shot the first season and designed the initial look,” says Teague, who was recently nominated for an Emmy for his work on Russian Doll. “We still want GLOW to feel like GLOW, but the story and character arc of Season 3 and the new setting led us to build on the look and evolve elements like lighting and dynamic range.”

The GLOW team is headlining the Fan-Tan Hotel & Casino, one of two main sets along with a hotel built for the series and featuring the distinctive Vegas skyline as a backdrop.

“We discussed compositing actors against greenscreen, but that would have turned every shot into a VFX shot and would have been too costly, not to mention time-intensive on a TV schedule like ours,” he says. “Plus, working with a backdrop just felt aesthetically right.”

In that vein, production designer Todd Fjelsted built a skyline using miniatures, a creative decision in keeping with the handcrafted look of the show. That decision, though, required extensive testing of lenses, lighting and look prior to shooting. This testing was done in partnership with post house Light Iron.

“There was no overall shift in the look of the show, but together with Light Iron, we felt the baseline LUT needed to be built on, particularly in terms of how we lit the sets,” explains Teague.

“Chris was clear early on that he wanted to build upon the look of the first two seasons,” says Light Iron colorist Ian Vertovec. “We adjusted the LUT to hold a little more color in the highlights than in past seasons. Originally, the LUT was based on a film emulation and adjusted for HDR. In Season 1, we created a period film look and transformed it for HDR to get a hybrid film emulation LUT. For Season 3, for HDR and standard viewing, we made tweaks to the LUT so that some of the colors would pop more.”

The show was also finished in Dolby Vision HDR. “There was some initial concern about working with backdrops and stages in HDR,” Teague says. “We are used to the way film treats color over its exposure range — it tends to desaturate as it gets more overexposed — whereas HDR holds a lot more color information in overexposure. However, Ian showed how it can be a creative tool.”

Colorist Ian Vertovec

“The goal was to get the 1980s buildings in the background and out the hotel windows to look real — emulating marquees with flashing lights,” adds Vertovec. “We also needed it to be a believable Nevada sky and skyline. Skies and clouds look different in HDR. So, when dialing this in, we discussed how they wanted it to look. Did it feel real? Is the sky in this scene too blue? Information from testing informed production, so everything was geared toward these looks.”

“Ian has been on the first two seasons, so he knows the look inside and out and has a great eye,” Teague continues. “It’s nice to come into a room and have his point of view. Sometimes when you are staring at images all day, it’s easy to lose your objectivity, so I relied on Ian’s insight.” Vertovec grades the show on FilmLight’s Baselight.

As with Season 2, GLOW Season 3 was a Red Helium shoot using Red’s IPP2 color pipeline in conjunction with Vertovec’s custom LUTs all the way to post. Teague shot full 8K resolution to accommodate his choice of Cooke anamorphic lenses, desqueezed and finished in a 2:1 ratio.

“For dailies I used an iPad with Moxion, which is perhaps the best dailies viewing platform I’ve ever worked with. I feel like the color is more accurate than other platforms, which is extremely useful for checking out contrast and shadow level. Too many times with dailies you get blacks washed out and highlights blown and you can’t judge anything critical.”

Teague sat in on the grade of the first three of the 10 episodes and then used the app to pull stills and make notes remotely. “With Ian I felt like we were both on the same page. We also had a great DIT [Peter Brunet] who was doing on-set grading for reference and was able to dial in things at a much higher level than I’ve been able to do in the past.”

The most challenging but also rewarding work was shooting the wrestling performances. “We wanted to do something that felt a little bigger, more polished, more theatrical,” Teague says. “The performance space had tiered seating, which gave us challenges and options in terms of moving the cameras. For example, we could use telescoping crane work to reach across the room and draw characters in as they enter the wrestling ring.”

He commends gaffer Eric Sagot for inspiring lighting cues and building them into the performance. “The wrestling scenes were the hardest to shoot but they’re exciting to watch — dynamic, cinematic and deliberately a little hokey in true ‘80s Vegas style.”


Adrian Pennington is a UK-based journalist, editor and commentator in the film and TV production space. He has co-written a book on stereoscopic 3D and edited several publications.

Dick Wolf’s television empire: his production and post brain trust

By Iain Blair

The TV landscape is full of scripted police procedurals and true crime dramas these days, but the indisputable and legendary king of that crowded landscape is Emmy-winning creator/producer Dick Wolf, whose name has become synonymous with high-quality drama.

Arthur Forney

Since it burst onto the scene back in 1990, his Law & Order show has spawned six dramas and four international spinoffs, while his “Chicago” franchise gave birth to another four series — the hugely popular Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. His Chicago Justice was cancelled after one season.

Then there’s his “FBI” shows, as well as the more documentary-style Cold Justice. If you’ve seen Cold Justice — and you should — you know that this is the real deal, focusing on real crimes. It’s all the more fascinating and addictive because of it.

Produced by Wolf and Magical Elves, the real-life crime series follows veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler, who gets help from seasoned detectives as they dig into small-town murder cases that have lingered for years without answers or justice for the victims. Together with local law enforcement from across the country, the Cold Justice team has successfully helped bring about 45 arrests and 20 convictions. No case is too cold for Siegler, as the new season delves into new unsolved homicides while also bringing updates to previous cases. No wonder Wolf calls it “doing God’s work.” Cold Justice airs on true crime network Oxygen.

I recently spoke with Emmy-winning Arthur Forney, executive producer of all Wolf Entertainment’s scripted series (he’s also directed many episodes), about posting those shows. I also spoke with Cold Justice showrunner Liz Cook and EP/head of post Scott Patch.

Chicago Fire

Dick Wolf has said that, as head of post, you are “one of the irreplaceable pieces of the Wolf Films hierarchy.” How many shows do you oversee?
Arthur Forney: I oversee all of Wolf Entertainment’s scripted series, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, FBI and FBI: Most Wanted.

Where is all the post done?
Forney: We do it all at NBCUniversal StudioPost in LA.

How involved is Dick Wolf?
Forney: Very involved, and we talk all the time.

How does the post pipeline work?
Forney: All film is shot on location and then sent back to the editing room and streamed into the lab. From there we do all our color corrections, which takes us into downloading it into Avid Media Composer.

What are the biggest challenges of the post process on the shows?
Forney: Delivering high-quality programming with a shortened post schedule.

Chicago Med

What are the editing challenges involved?
Forney: Trying to find the right way of telling the story, finding the right performances, shaping the show and creating intensity that results in high-quality television.

What about VFX? Who does them?
Forney: All of our visual effects are done by Spy Post in Santa Monica. All of the action is enhanced and done by them.

Where do you do the color grading?
Forney: Coloring/grading is all done at NBCUniversal StudioPost.

Now let’s talk to Cook and Patch about Cold Justice:

Liz and Scott, I recently saw the finale to Season 5 of Cold Justice. That was a long season.
Liz Cook: Yes, we did 26 episodes, so it was a lot of very long days and hard work.

It seems that there’s more focus than ever on drug-related cases now.
Cook: I don’t think that was the intention going in, but as we’ve gone on, you can’t help but recognize the huge drug problem in America now. Meth and opioids pop up in a lot of cases, and it’s obviously a crisis, and even if they aren’t the driving force in many cases, they’re definitely part of many.

L-R: Kelly Siegler, Dick Wolf, Scott Patch and Liz Cook. Photo by Evans Vestal Ward

How do you go about finding cases for the show?
Cook: We have a case-finding team, and they get the cases various ways, including cold-calling. We have a team dedicated to that, calling every day, and we get most of them that way. A lot come through agencies and sheriff’s departments that have worked with us before and want to help us again. And we get some from family members and some from hits on the Facebook page we have.

I assume you need to work very closely with local law agencies as you need access to their files?
Cook: Exactly. That’s the first part of the whole puzzle. They have to invite us in. The second part is getting the family involved. I don’t think we’d ever take on a case that the family didn’t want us to do.

What’s involved for you, and do you like being a showrunner?
Cook: It’s a tough job and pretty demanding, but I love it. We go through a lot of steps and stuff to get a case approved, and to get the police and family on board, and then we get the case read by one of our legal readers to evaluate it and see if there’s a possibility that we can solve it. At that point we pitch it to the network, and once they approve it and everyone’s on board, then if there are certain things like DNA and evidence that might need testing, we get all that going, along with ballistics that need researching, and stuff like phone records and so on. And it actually moves really fast – we usually get all these people on board within three weeks.

How long does it take to shoot each show?
Cook: It varies, as each show is different, but around seven or eight days, sometimes longer. We have a case coming up with cadaver dogs, and that stuff will happen before we even get to the location, so it all depends. And some cases will have 40 witnesses, while others might have over 100. So it’s flexible.

Cold Justice

Where do you post, and what’s the schedule like?
Scott Patch: We do it all at the Magical Elves offices here in Hollywood — the editing, sound, color correction. The online editor and colorist is Pepe Serventi, and we have it all on one floor, and it’s really convenient to have all the post in house. The schedule is roughly two months from the raw footage to getting it all locked and ready to air, which is quite a long time.

Dailies come back to us and we do our first initial pass by the story team and editors, and they’ll start whittling all the footage down. So it takes us a couple of weeks to just look at all the footage, as we usually have about 180 hours of it, and it takes a while to turn all that into something the editors can deal with. Then it goes through about three network passes with notes.

What about dealing with all the legal aspects?
Patch: That makes it a different kind of show from most of the others, so we have legal people making sure all the content is fine, and then sometimes we’ll also get notes from local law agencies, as well as internal notes from our own producers. That’s why it takes two months from start to finish.

Cook: We vet it through local law, and they see the cuts before it airs to make sure there are no problems. The biggest priority for us is that we don’t hurt the case at all with our show, so we always check it all with the local D.A. and police. And we don’t sensationalize anything.

Cold Justice

Patch: That’s another big part of editing and post – making sure we keep it authentic. That can be a challenge, but these are real cases with real people being accused of murder.

Cook: Our instinct is to make it dramatic, but you can’t do that. You have to protect the case, which might go to trial.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
Patch: Some of these cases have been cold for 25 or 30 years, so when the field team gets there, they really stand back and let the cops talk about the case, and we end up with a ton of stuff that you couldn’t fit into the time slot however hard you tried. So we have to decide what needs to be in, what doesn’t.

Cook: On day one, our “war room” day, we meet with the local law and everyone involved in the case, and that’s eight hours of footage right there.

Patch: And that gets cut down to just four or five minutes. We have a pretty small but tight team, with 10 editors who split up the episodes. Once in a while they’ll cross over, but we like to have each team and the producers stay with each episode as long as they can, as it’s so complicated. When you see the finished show, it doesn’t seem that complicated, but there are so many ways you could handle the footage that it really helps for each team to really take ownership of that particular episode.

How involved is Dick Wolf in post?
Cook: He loves the whole post process, and he watches all the cuts and has input.

Patch: He’s very supportive and obviously so experienced, and if we’re having a problem with something, he’ll give notes. And for the most part, the network gives us a lot of flexibility to make the show.

What about VFX on the show?
Patch: We have some, but nothing too fancy, and we use an outside VFX/graphics company, LOM Design. We have a lot of legal documents on the show, and that stuff gets animated, and we’ll also have some 3D crime scene VFX. The only other outside vendor is our composer, Robert ToTeras.


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

Beecham House‘s VFX take viewers back in time

Cambridge, UK-based Vine FX was the sole visual effects vendor on Gurinder Chadha’s Beecham House, a new Sunday night drama airing on ITV in the UK. Set in the India of 1795, Beecham House is the story of John Beecham (Tom Bateman), an Englishman who resigned from military service to set up as an honorable trader of the East India Company.

The series was shot at Ealing Studios and at some locations in India, with the visual effects work focusing on the Port of Delhi, the emperor’s palace and Beecham’s house. Vine FX founder Michael Illingworth assisted during development of the series and supervised his team of artists, creating intricate set extensions, matte paintings and period assets.

To make the shots believable and true to the era, the Vine FX team consulted closely with the show’s production designer and researched the period thoroughly. All modern elements — wires, telegraph poles, cars and lamp posts — had to be removed from the shoot footage, but the biggest challenge for the team was the Port of Delhi itself, a key location in the series.

Vine FX created a digital matte painting to extend the port and added numerous 3D boats and 3D people people working on the docks to create a busy working port of 1795 — a complex task and achieved by the expert eye of the Vine team.

“The success of this type of VFX is in its subtlety. We had to create a Delhi of 1795 that the audience believed, and this involved a great deal of research into how this would have looked that was essential to making it realistic,” says Illingworth. “Hopefully, we managed to do this.  I’m particularly happy with the finished port sequences as originally there were just three boats.

“I worked very closely with on-set supervisor Oliver Milburn while he was on set in India so was very much part of the production process in terms of VFX,” he continues. “Oliver would send me reference material from the shoot; this is always fundamental to the outcome of the VFX, as it allows you to plan ahead and work out any potential upcoming challenges. I was working on the VFX in Cambridge while Oliver was on set in Delhi — perfect!”

Vine FX used Photoshop and Nuke are its main tools. The artists modeled assets with Maya and Zbrush and painted assets using Substance painter. They rendered with Arnold.

Vine FX is currently working on War of the Worlds for Fox Networks and Canal+, due for release next year.

The Umbrella Academy‘s Emmy-nominated VFX supe Everett Burrell

By Iain Blair

If all ambitious TV shows with a ton of visual effects aspire to be cinematic, then Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy has to be the gold standard. The acclaimed sci-fi, superhero, adventure mash-up was just Emmy-nominated for its season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased a full range of spectacular VFX. This included everything from the fully-CG Dr. Pogo to blowing up the moon and a mansion to the characters’ varied superpowers. Those VFX, mainly created by movie powerhouse Weta Digital in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto, indeed rival anything in cinema. This is partly thanks to Netflix’s 4K pipeline.

The Umbrella Academy is based on the popular, Eisner Award-winning comics and graphic novels created and written by Gerard Way (“My Chemical Romance”), illustrated by Gabriel Bá, and published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story starts when, on the same day in 1989, 43 infants are born to unconnected women who showed no signs of pregnancy the day before. Seven are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a billionaire industrialist, who creates The Umbrella Academy and prepares his “children” to save the world. But not everything went according to plan. In their teenage years, the family fractured and the team disbanded. Now, six of the surviving members reunite upon the news of Hargreeves’ death. Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Vanya and Number Five work together to solve a mystery surrounding their father’s death. But the estranged family once again begins to come apart due to divergent personalities and abilities, not to mention the imminent threat of a global apocalypse.

The live-action series stars Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, David Castañeda, Aidan Gallagher, Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige. It is produced by Universal Content Productions for Netflix. Steve Blackman (Fargo, Altered Carbon) is the executive producer and showrunner, with additional executive producers Jeff F. King, Bluegrass Television, and Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg from Dark Horse Entertainment.

Everett Burrell

I spoke with senior visual effects supervisor and co-producer Everett Burrell (Pan’s Labyrinth, Altered Carbon), who has an Emmy for his work on Babylon 5, about creating the VFX and the 4K pipeline.

Congratulations on being nominated for the first season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased so many impressive visual effects.
Thanks. We’re all really proud of the work.

Have you started season two?
Yes, and we’re already knee-deep in the shooting up in Canada. We shoot in Toronto, where we’re based, as well as Hamilton, which has this great period look. So we’re up there quite a bit. We’re just back here in LA for a couple of weeks working on editorial with Steve Blackman, the executive producer and showrunner. Our offices are in Encino, in a merchant bank building. I’m a co-producer as well, so I also deal a lot with editorial — more than normal.

Have you planned out all the VFX for the new season?
To a certain extent. We’re working on the scripts and have a good jump on them. We definitely plan to blow the first season out of the water in terms of what we come up with.

What are the biggest challenges of creating all the VFX on the show?
The big one is the sheer variety of VFX, which are all over the map in terms of the various types. They go from a completely animated talking CG chimpanzee Dr. Pogo to creating a very unusual apocalyptic world, with scenes like blowing up the moon and, of course, all the superpowers. One of the hardest things we had to do — which no one will ever know just watching it — was a ton of leaf replacement on trees.

Digital leaves via Montreal’s Folks.

When we began shooting, it was winter and there were no leaves on the trees. When we got to editorial we realized that the story spans just eight days, so it wouldn’t make any sense if in one scene we had no leaves and in the next we had leaves. So we had to add every single leaf to the trees for all of the first five episodes, which was a huge amount of work. The way we did it was to go back to all the locations and re-shoot all the trees from the same angles once they were in bloom. Then we had to composite all that in. Folks in Montreal did all of it, and it was very complicated. Lola did a lot of great work on Hargreeves, getting his young look for the early 1900s and cleaning up the hair and wrinkles and making it all look totally realistic. That was very tricky too.

Netflix is ahead of the curve thanks to its 4K policy. Tell us about the pipeline.
For a start, we shoot with the ARRI Alexa 65, which is a very robust cinema camera that was used on The Revenant. With its 65mm sensor, it’s meant for big-scope, epic movies, and we decided to go with it to give our show that great cinema look. The depth of field is like film, and it can also emulate film grain for this fantastic look. That camera shoots natively at 5K — it won’t go any lower. That means we’re at a much higher resolution than any other show out there.

And you’re right, Netflix requires a 4K master as future-proofing for streaming and so on. Those very high standards then trickle down to us and all the VFX. We also use a very unique system developed by Deluxe and Efilm called Portal, which basically stores the entire show in the cloud on a server somewhere, and we can get background plates to the vendors within 10 minutes. It’s amazing. Back in the old days, you’d have to make a request and maybe within 24 or 48 hours, you’d get those plates. So this system makes it almost instantaneous, and that’s a lifesaver.

   
Method blows up the moon.

How closely do you work with Steve Blackman and the editors?
I think Steve said it best:”There’s no daylight between the two of us” We’re linked at the hip pretty much all the time. He comes to my office if he has issues, and I go to his if we have complications; we resolve all of it together in probably the best creative relationship I’ve ever had. He relies on me and counts on me, and I trust him completely. Bottom line, if we need to write ourselves out of a sticky situation, he’s also the head writer, so he’ll just go off and rewrite a scene to help us out.

How many VFX do you average for each show?
We average between 150 and 200 per episode. Last season we did nearly 2,000 in total, so it’s a huge amount for a TV show, and there’s a lot of data being pushed. Luckily, I have an amazing team, including my production manager Misato Shinohara. She’s just the best and really takes care of all the databases, and manages all the shot data, reference, slates and so on. All that stuff we take on set has to go into this massive database, and just maintaining that is a huge job.

Who are the main VFX vendors?
The VFX are mainly created by Weta in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto. Weta did all the Pogo stuff. Then we have Folks, Lola, Marz, Deluxe Toronto, DigitalFilm Tree in LA… and then Method Studios in Vancouver did great work on our end-of-the-world apocalyptic sequence. They blew up the moon and had a chunk of it hitting the Earth, along with all the surrounding imagery. We started R&D on that pretty early to get a jump on it. We gave them storyboards and they did previz. We used that as a cut to get iterations of it all. There were a lot of particle simulations, which was pretty intense.

Weta created Dr. Pogo

What have been the most difficult VFX sequences to create?
Just dealing with Pogo is obviously very demanding, and we had to come up with a fast shortcut to dealing with the photo-real look as we just don’t have the time or budget they have for the Planet of the Apes movies. The big thing is integrating him in the room as an actor with the live actors, and that was a huge challenge. We used just two witness cameras to capture our Pogo body performer. All the apocalyptic scenes were also very challenging because of the scale, and then those leaves were very hard to do and make look real. That alone took us a couple of months. And we might have the same problem this year, as we’re shooting in the summer through fall, and I’m praying that the leaves don’t start falling before we wrap.

What have been the main advances in technology that have really helped you pull off some of the show’s VFX?
I think the rendering and the graphics cards are the big ones, and the hardware talks together much more efficiently now. Even just a few years ago, and it might have taken weeks and weeks to render a Pogo. Now we can do it in a day. Weta developed new software for creating the texture and fabric of Pogo’s clothes. They also refined their hair programs.

 

I assume as co-producer that you’re very involved with the DI?
I am… and keeping track of all that and making sure we keep pushing the envelope. We do the DI at Company 3 with colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, who’s a partner in all of this. She brings so much to the show, and her work is a big part of why it looks so good. I love the DI. It’s where all the magic happens, and I get in there early with Jill and take care of the VFX tweaks. Then Steve comes in and works on contrast and color tweaks.By the time Steve gets there, we’re probably 80% of the way there already.

What can fans expect from season two?
Bigger, better visual effects. We definitely pay attention to the fans. They love the graphic novel, so we’re getting more of that into the show.


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

DP Chat: David Makes Man’s Todd A. Dos Reis, ASC

The series David Makes Man follows a 14-year-old boy attending a prestigious magnet school and his formerly drug-addicted mother, who is relying on him and his potential to get them out of the rough Miami neighborhood they live in. David is torn between the streets he grew up on and the life he’s capable of living.

Written by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, an Oscar winner for co-writing Moonlight, David Makes Man will be premiere on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network on August 14. Along with McCraney, some of the show’s producers include Nantale Corbett, Mike Kelley, Michael B. Jordan, Oprah Winfrey. Dee Harris-Lawrence is a showrunner, along with McCraney.

The series depicts David’s two very different worlds — home and school — each of which  McCraney wanted to have different looks. He called on cinematographer Todd A. Dos Reis, ASC, to help create those two worlds. We reached out to Dos Reis to find out how he accomplished this and his workflow.

Tell us about David Makes Man. How would you describe the overarching look of the film?
Early on in pre-production, showrunner Tarell McCraney and I came up with the idea to have our young protagonist, David, live in two worlds and give each world its own distinct look.

One world was The Ville, the Miami housing project where he lived with his mother and younger brother. David’s home life was unpredictable, and we wanted the viewer to be on edge as David was on a daily basis. The Ville had low-income families and drug dealers that ran their business out of the projects. The Ville would not have the typical lushness dripping with color that everyone is used to seeing in Miami. Our Miami would be a desaturated limited color palette leaning toward the cool blue side of the color wheel.

David’s other world was his middle school that encompassed a warmer tone, with natural lighting that you would see in the early morning and the late afternoon. David is a prodigy and excels in this world, so we wanted to make this environment more welcoming.

How did the director tell you about the look that was wanted?
In our initial meeting, Tarell McCraney, the EP, showrunner and writer, talked about Fresh (1994) and Juice (1992) being a good place to start when discussing the tone of the show. He said he wanted David Makes Man to be a 10-hour film versus 10 one-hour episodes.

We also discussed the works of artist Kerry James Marshall when looking at the blackness of a frame. In David Makes Man, we wanted to accept darkness as a point of expression versus a deficit. Director Michael Williams came in with an amazing look book that referenced images from Mother of George, Daughters of the Dust, Selma and Belly.

How early did you get involved in the production?
As soon as I got the call from producer Wayne Morris that I was their choice for DP, I made myself available for discussions with the showrunners Tarell McCraney and Dee Lawrence Harris. I had three weeks of unofficial prep in Los Angeles and three weeks of prep in Orlando.

It was shot in Orlando?
The story of David Makes Man takes place in Miami, but we filmed in Orlando. We were based at Universal Studios Orlando, where we built the interiors of The Ville housing project apartments (David’s family apartment and friend of the family Elijah’s apartment) and any swing sets that appeared in various episodes. There was one day of filming in Miami with a second unit.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses?
There were many factors that I had to consider. First, how to visually create the two worlds of David. The Ville, where David lived, was going to be hand-held, subjective, wider lenses in your face, and more intimate and chaotic.

His school and outside The Ville world were going to be photographed on a stable platform, i.e. dollies, cranes and SteadiCam. This world was going to have a natural calming feel to offset his home life. I needed a camera that could be used hand-held, on a dolly and on a SteadiCam and switched back and forth quickly. I chose three ARRI Alexa Minis.

David’s two worlds were also enhanced by filming in both spherical and anamorphic. Discussions with the director of Episode 1, Michael Williams, led us to film The Ville with Cooke anamorphic lenses. Because many scenes in the story take place in David’s alternate reality, and I was going to be using the Lensbaby lenses to heighten David’s visions, the Cooke anamorphics created a great foundation to have under David’s visions. The spherical lenses, Cooke Panchro/i Classics, would be used to show the normalcy of David’s school and anything outside of The Ville.

Are there any scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging?
Our most challenging scenes usually took place at The Ville. We built a two-story section of a housing project where some of the interior apartments were practical. For day exteriors in the ever-changing Florida sky and weather, we used a 40×40 quarter silk to cover the courtyard. We could have used an 80×80. Key grip Joel Wheatley and his crew managed the silk like a sail on a yacht, constantly trimming and adjusting for weather changes and shot selection.

Night exteriors at The Ville called for an array of lighting instruments. Working from the inner circle of the hallways, we built fluorescent housings to hang above the exterior hallways and hold two 4-foot cool white fluorescents with cyan 60. This would give our wide range of African American skin tones an unnatural and eerie color. The next circle of color is what lit The Ville courtyard and exterior.

Gaffer Marc Wostak bought safety lights at a local hardware store, and we gelled them with high sodium gel. We built four poles for inside the courtyard and hung the gelled safety lights on the outside corners of each housing project building. The final outside diameter of The Ville had a sprinkling of mercury vapor lighting (1/2 blue and ¼ plus green). To give moonlight ambience, we always used one or two helium balloons above the courtyard and parking area at The Ville. Because helium was a rare commodity on our budget, we usually hung the balloons without helium from 80-foot Condors.

Without giving any story points away, there were night interior scenes where there was no electricity and we were blocked out of any possible moonlight. Being a big fan of John Alcott, BSC, and the film Barry Lyndon, I took my impetus from here. Not having the fast T1.3 lens that Mr. Alcott used, I had the art department buy every three-wick and two-wick candle they could find in Orlando. I augmented the scenes with small china balls and LED Light Gear patches that I could tape to candles and hide behind objects in the room. In some scenes we had the luxury of a character carrying a flashlight, but that was rare.

The most challenging scene would have to be when two characters have a heated discussion with someone holding a Zippo lighter. We taped four dots of tungsten LED Light Gear to the back side of the Zippo and ran the cable down the actor’s wardrobe with my gaffer Marc Wostak walking and adjusting as the actor moved around the room. The choreography between camera operator Bob Scott, Marc Wostak and the actors was something out of a Bob Fosse film.

Can you talk about shooting anamorphic for The Ville housing project scenes?
We wanted to shoot David’s world at The Ville with anamorphic lenses because this is the place he did not want to be. One of David’s main goals in the story is to get out of this life at The Ville. I felt the anamorphic lenses would help isolate David from his surroundings and the drug dealers he didn’t want to be associated with.

The shallow depth of field that the lenses give you was a characteristic that we wanted to create visually. We wanted to show the emotions on his face that David was going through as well as heighten the tension of what was lurking around the dark corners of The Ville. The lenses also helped in giving us a more filmic quality and made all the episodes feel more like a feature film instead of 10 episodes.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
From an early age, I watched a great deal of TV and frequented the local movie theater to see any film that hit my small city of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It started with Disney films with my family, then went to Bruce Lee triple features and the Blaxploitation genre.

When I was 13, my grandparents bought me my first Canon still camera and I was fascinated. This led me to photography classes and running the TV studio at my high school. My love for the image grew, and I researched the best film schools for college. I ended up at USC Cinema. I started focusing on cinematography and learned that I could tell a story with just the visual image.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
I am inspired artistically by the journey to be original. I am constantly trying to never repeat myself, and I never want to imitate anyone else in this industry. I use other DPs and directors that I admire as inspirations.

I try to stay on top of advancing technology that serves my vision by always educating myself and surrounding myself with artists and craftsmen who are willing to take chances and are not afraid of failing.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years)?
I think all the advancements in the LED lighting category have opened up amazing opportunities for filmmakers. In productions where space is always a factor, there is always some nook and cranny to create beautiful, artistic or dramatic lighting.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
On every project, I use the script as my bible. What is the story? What is the auteur trying to convey? What is the emotion of each scene? My job is to visually collaborate with the director, showrunner or writer to get their vision to the screen. The rule I try to follow is that there are no rules in filmmaking. The more rules I can break, the more original I will be as an artist.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It starts with the script. I like to meet with a director as early and as often as possible. If a director is open to ideas that are not his/hers, then I know I am in a good place. Sharing ideas, watching films together and collaborating and experimenting on the set opens up my creativity.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories) — things you can’t live without?
My most recent go-to gear is a set of Lensbaby lenses that my camera house, Otto Nemenz, created for me. I am also a big fan of Tiffen and Schneider streak filters. The lighting instrument that I can’t do without is a Source Four Leko. I would like to do a project with all Lekos, daylight and tungsten.


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

Creating and mixing authentic sounds for HBO’s Deadwood movie

By Jennifer Walden

HBO’s award-winning series Deadwood might have aired its final episode 13 years ago, but it’s recently found new life as a movie. Set in 1889 — a decade after the series finale — Deadwood: The Movie picks up the threads of many of the main characters’ stories and weaves them together as the town of Deadwood celebrates the statehood of South Dakota.

Deadwood: The Movie

The Deadwood: The Movie sound team.

The film, which aired on HBO and is available on Amazon, picked up eight 2019 Emmy nominations including in the categories of sound editing, sound mixing and  best television movie.

Series creator David Milch has returned as writer on the film. So has director Daniel Minahan, who helmed several episodes of the series. The film’s cast is populated by returning members, as is much of the crew. On the sound side, there are freelance production sound mixer Geoffrey Patterson; 424 Post’s sound designer, Benjamin Cook; NBCUniversal StudioPost’s re-recording mixer, William Freesh; and Mind Meld Arts’ music editor, Micha Liberman. “Series composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek — who haven’t been a composing team in many years — have reunited just to do this film. A lot of people came back for this opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to go back to Deadwood?” says Liberman.

Freelance supervising sound editor Mandell Winter adds, “The loop group used on the series was also used on the film. It was like a reunion. People came out of retirement to do this. The richness of voices they brought to the stage was amazing. We shot two days of group for the film, covering a lot of material in that limited time to populate Deadwood.”

Deadwood (the film and series) was shot on a dedicated film ranch called Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Newhall, California. The streets, buildings and “districts” are consistently laid out the same way. This allowed the sound team to use a map of the town to orient sounds to match each specific location and direction that the camera is facing.

For example, there’s a scene in which the town bell is ringing. As the picture cuts to different locations, the ringing sound is panned to show where the bell is in relation to that location on screen. “We did that for everything,” says co-supervising sound editor Daniel Colman, who along with Freesh and re-recording mixer John Cook, works at NBCUniversal StudioPost. “You hear the sounds of the blacksmith’s place coming from where it would be.”

“Or, if you’re close to the Chinese section of the town, then you hear that. If you were near the saloons, that’s what you hear. They all had different sounds that were pulled forward from the series into the film,” adds re-recording mixer Freesh.

Many of the exterior and interior sounds on set were captured by Benjamin Cook, who was sound effects editor on the original Deadwood series. Since it’s a practical location, they had real horses and carriages that Cook recorded. He captured every door and many of the props. Colman says, “We weren’t guessing at what something sounded like; we were putting in the actual sounds.”

The street sounds were an active part of the ambience in the series, both day and night. There were numerous extras playing vendors plying their wares and practicing their crafts. Inside the saloons and out in front of them, patrons talked and laughed. Their voices — performed by the loop group in post — helped to bring Deadwood alive. “The loop group we had was more than just sound effects. We had to populate the town with people,” says Winter, who scripted lines for the loopers because they were played more prominently in the mix than what you’d typically hear. “Having the group play so far forward in a show is very rare. It had to make sense and feel timely and not modern.”

In the movie, the street ambience isn’t as strong a sonic component. “The town had calmed down a little bit as it’s going about its business. It’s not quite as bustling as it was in the series. So that left room for a different approach,” says Freesh.

The attenuation of street ambience was conducive to the cinematic approach that director Minahan wanted to take on Deadwood: The Movie. He used music to help the film feel bigger and more dramatic than the series, notes Liberman. Re-recording mixer John Cook adds, “We experimented a lot with music cues. We saw scenes take on different qualities, depending on whether the music was in or out. We worked hard with Dan [Minahan] to end up with the appropriate amount of music in the film.”

Minahan even introduced music on set by way of a piano player inside the Gem Saloon. Production sound mixer Patterson says, “Dan was very active on the set in creating a mood with that music for everyone that was there. It was part and parcel of the place at that time.”

Authenticity was a major driving force behind Deadwood’s aesthetics. Each location on set was carefully dressed with era-specific props, and the characters were dressed with equal care, right down to their accessories, tools and weapons. “The sound of Seth Bullock’s gun is an actual 1889 Remington revolver, and Calamity Jane’s gun is an 1860’s Colt Army cavalry gun. We’ve made every detail as real and authentic as possible, including the train whistle that opens the film. I wasn’t going to just put in any train whistle. It’s the 1880s Black Hills steam engine that actually went through Deadwood,” reports Colman.

The set’s wooden structures and elevated boardwalk that runs in front of the establishments in the heart of town lent an authentic character to the production sound. The creaky wooden doors and thumpiness of footsteps across the raised wooden floors are natural sounds the audience would expect to hear from that environment. “The set for Deadwood was practical and beautiful and amazing. You want to make sure that you preserve that realness and let the 1800s noises come through. You don’t want to over sterilize the tracks. You want them to feel organic,” says Patterson.

Freesh adds, “These places were creaky and noisy. Wind whistled through the windows. You just embrace it. You enhance it. That was part of the original series sound, and it followed through in the movie as well.”

The location was challenging due to its proximity to real-world civilization and all of our modern-day sonic intrusions, like traffic, airplanes and landscaping equipment from a nearby neighborhood. Those sounds have no place in the 1880s world of Deadwood, but “if we always waited for the moment to be perfect, we would never make a day’s work,” says Patterson. “My mantra was always to protect every precious word of David Milch’s script and to preserve the performances of that incredible cast.”

In the end, the modern-day noises at the location weren’t enough to require excessive ADR. John Cook says, “Geoffrey [Patterson] did a great job of capturing the dialogue. Then, between the choices the picture editors made for different takes and the work that Mandell [Winter] did, there were only one or two scenes in the whole movie that required extra attention for dialogue.”

Winter adds, “Even denoising the tracks, I didn’t take much out. The tracks sounded really good when they got to us. I just used iZotope RX 7 and did our normal pass with it.”

Any fan of Deadwood knows just how important dialogue clarity is since the show’s writing is like Shakespeare for the American West — with prolific profanity, of course. The word choices and their flow aren’t standard TV script fare. To help each word come through clearly, Winter notes they often cut in both the boom and lav mic tracks. This created nice, rich dialogue for John Cook to mix.

On the stage, John Cook used the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 to work each syllable, making sure the dialogue sounded bright and punchy and not too muddy or tubby. “I wanted the audience to hear every word without losing the dynamics of a given monologue or delivery. I wanted to maintain the dynamics, but make sure that the quieter moments were just as intelligible as the louder moments,” he says.

In the film, several main characters experience flashback moments in which they remember events from the series. For example, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) recalls the death of Jen (Jennifer Lutheran) from the Season 3 finale. These flashbacks — or hauntings, as the post team refers to them — went through several iterations before the team decided on the most effective way to play each one. “We experimented with how to treat them. Do we go into the actor’s head and become completely immersed in the past? Or, do we stay in the present — wherever we are — and give it a slight treatment? Or, should there not be any sounds in the haunting? In the end, we decided they weren’t all going to be handled the same,” says Freesh.

Before coming together for the final mix on Mix 6 at NBCUniversal StudioPost on the Universal Studios Lot in Los Angeles, John Cook and Freesh pre-dubbed Deadwood: The Movie in separate rooms as they’d do on a typical film — with Freesh pre-dubbing the backgrounds, effects, and Foley while Cook pre-dubbed the dialogue and music.

The pre-dubbing process gave Freesh and John Cook time to get the tracks into great shape before meeting up for the final mix. Freesh concludes, “We were able to, with all the people involved, listen to the film in real good condition from the first pass down and make intelligent decisions based on what we were hearing. It really made a big difference in making this feel like Deadwood.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney.

Creating Foley for FX’s Fosse/Verdon

Alchemy Post Sound created Foley for Fosse/Verdon, FX’s miniseries about choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his collaborator and wife, the singer/dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Working under the direction of supervising sound editors Daniel Timmons and Tony Volante, Foley artist Leslie Bloome and his team performed and recorded hundreds of custom sound effects to support the show’s dance sequences and add realistic ambience to its historic settings.

Spanning five decades, Fosse/Verdon focuses on the romantic and creative partnership between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The former was a visionary filmmaker and one of the theater’s most influential choreographers and directors, while the latter was one of the greatest Broadway dancers of all time.

Given the subject matter, it’s hardly surprising that post production sound was a crucial element in the series. For its many musical scenes, Timmons and Volante were tasked with conjuring intricate sound beds to match the choreography and meld seamlessly with the score. They also created dense soundscapes to back the very distinctive environments of film sets and Broadway stages, as well as a myriad of other exterior and interior locations.

For Timmons, the project’s mix of music and drama posed significant creative challenges but also a unique opportunity. “I grew up in upstate New York and originally hoped to work in live sound, potentially on Broadway,” he recalls. “With this show, I got to work with artists who perform in that world at the highest level. It was not so much a television show as a blend of Broadway music, Broadway acting and television. It was fun to collaborate with people who were working at the top of their game.”

The crew drew on an incredible mix of sources in assembling the sound. Timmons notes that to recreate Fosse’s hacking cough (a symptom of his overuse of prescription medicine), they poured through audio stems from the classic 1979 film All That Jazz. “Roy Scheider, who played Bob Fosse’s alter ego in the film, was unable to cough like him, so Bob went into a recording studio and did some of the coughing himself,” Timmons says. “We ended up using those old recordings along with ADR of Sam Rockwell. When Bob’s health starts to go south, some of the coughing you hear is actually him. Maybe I’m superstitious, but for me it helped to capture his identity. I felt like the spirit of Bob Fosse was there on the set.”

A large portion of the post sound effects were created by Alchemy Post Sound. Most notably, Foley artists meticulously reproduced the footsteps of dancers. Foley tap dancing can be heard throughout the series, not only in musical sequences, but also in certain transitions. “Bob Fosse got his start as a tap dancer, so we used tap sounds as a motif,” explains Timmons. “You hear them when we go into and out of flashbacks and interior monologues.”Along with Bloome, Alchemy’s team included Foley artist Joanna Fang, Foley mixers Ryan Collison and Nick Seaman, and Foley assistant Laura Heinzinger.

Ironically, Alchemy had to avoid delivering sounds that were “too perfect.”  Fang points out that scenes depicting musical performances from films were meant to represent the production of those scenes rather than the final product. “We were careful to include natural background sounds that would have been edited out before the film was delivered to theaters,” she explains, adding that those scenes also required Foley to match the dancers’ body motion and costuming. “We spent a lot of time watching old footage of Bob Fosse talking about his work, and how conscious he was not just of the dancers’ footwork, but their shuffling and body language. That’s part of what made his art unique.”

Foley production was unusually collaborative. Alchemy’s team maintained a regular dialogue with the sound editors and were continually exchanging and refining sound elements. “We knew going into the series that we needed to bring out the magic in the dance sequences,” recalls production Foley editor Jonathan Fuhrer. “I spoke with Alchemy every day. I talked with Ryan and Nick about the tonalities we were aiming for and how they would play in the mix. Leslie and Joanna had so many interesting ideas and approaches; I was ceaselessly amazed by the thought they put into performances, props, shoes and surfaces.”

Alchemy also worked hard to achieve realism in creating sounds for non-musical scenes. That included tracking down props to match the series’ different time periods. For a scene set in a film editing room in the 1950s, the crew located a 70-year-old Steenbeck flatbed editor to capture its unique sounds. As musical sequences involved more than tap dancing, the crew assembled a collection of hundreds of pairs of shoes to match the footwear worn by individual performers in specific scenes.

Some sounds undergo subtle changes over the course of the series relative to the passage of time. “Bob Fosse struggled with addictions and he is often seen taking anti-depression medication,” notes Seaman. “In early scenes, we recorded pills in a glass vial, but for scenes in later decades, we switched to plastic.”

Such subtleties add richness to the soundtrack and help cement the character of the era, says Timmons. “Alchemy fulfilled every request we made, no matter how far-fetched,” he recalls. “The number of shoes that they used was incredible. Broadway performers tend to wear shoes with softer soles during rehearsals and shoes with harder soles when they get close to the show. The harder soles are more strenuous. So the Foley team was always careful to choose the right shoes depending on the point in rehearsal depicted in the scene. That’s accuracy.”

The extra effort also resulted in Foley that blended easily with other sound elements, dialogue and music. “I like Alchemy’s work because it has a real, natural and open sound; nothing sounds augmented,” concludes Timmons. “It sounds like the room. It enhances the story even if the audience doesn’t realize it’s there. That’s good Foley.”

Alchemy used Neumann KMR 81 and U 87 mics, Millennia mic pres, Apogee converters, and C24 mixer into Avid Pro Tools.

DP Chat: Good Omens cinematographer Gavin Finney

By Randi Altman

London-born cinematographer Gavin Finney, BSC, has a wealth of television series and film experience under his belt, including Wolf Hall, The Fear and the upcoming series based on the film of the same name, Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. One of his most recent projects was the six-episode Amazon series Good Omens, starring Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) and David Tennant (Crowley) as an angel and a demon with a very long history, who are tasked with saving the world. It’s based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Finney was drawn to cinematography by his love of still photography and telling stories. He followed that passion to film school and fell in love with what could be done with moving images.

Let’s find out more about Finney and his work on Good Omens.

How would you describe the look of Good Omens? How did you work with the director/s/producers to achieve the look they wanted?
There is a progression through the story where things get increasingly strange as Adam (who our main characters believe is the antichrist) comes into his powers, and things in his head start manifesting themselves. It is also a 6,000-year-long buddy movie between an angel and a demon! There is Adam’s world — where everything is heightened and strangely perfect — and Aziraphale and Crowley’s world of heaven and hell. At some point, all these worlds intersect. I had to keep a lot of balls in the air in regard to giving each section its own look, but also making sure that when these worlds collide, it still makes sense.

Each era depicted in the series had a different design treatment — obviously in the case of costume and production design — but also in the way we shot each scene and the way they were lit. For instance, Neil Gaiman had always imagined the scene in the church in the blitz in Episode 3 to be an homage to the film noir style of the time, and we lit and photographed it in that style. Ancient Rome was given the patina of an Alma-Tadema oil painting, and we shot Elizabethan London in an exact recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The ‘60s were shot mainly on our Soho set, but redressed with posters from that time, and we changed the lighting to use more neon and used bare bulbs for signage.

I also graded the dailies throughout production on DaVinci Resolve, adding film grain and different looks to different time periods to help anchor where we were in the story. Neil wanted heaven and hell to feel like two parts of the same celestial building, so heaven occupied the best penthouse offices, and hell was stuck in the damp, moldy basement where nothing works properly.

We found a huge empty building for the heaven set that had shiny metal flooring and white walls. I frosted all the windows and lit them from outside using 77 ARRI Skypanels linked to a dimmer desk so we could control the light over the day. We also used extremely wide-angle lenses such as the Zeiss rectilinear 8mm lens to make the space look even bigger. The hell set used a lot of old, slightly greenish fluorescent fittings, some of them flickering on and off. Slimy dark walls and leaking pipes were added into the mix.

For another sequence Neil and Douglas wanted an old-film look. To do this, ARRI Media in London constructed a hand-cranked digital camera out of an old ARRI D21 camera and connected it to an ARRI 435 hand-crank wheel and then to a Codex recorder. This gave us a realistic, organic varis-peed/vari-exposure look. I added a Lensbaby in a deliberately loose mount to emulate film weave and vignetting. In this way I was able to reproduce very accurately the old-style, hand-cranked black and white look of the first days of cinema.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’d worked with the director Douglas Mackinnon a few times before (on Gentlemen’s Relish and The Flying Scotsman), and I’d wanted to work with him again a number of times but was never available. When I heard he was doing this project, I was extremely keen to get involved, as I loved the book and especially the kind of world that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were so good at creating. Fortunately, he asked me to join the team, and I dropped everything I was doing to come on board. I joined the show quite late and had to fly from London to Cape Town on an early scout the day after getting the job!

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
We shot on Leica Summilux Primes and ARRI Alura zooms (15.5-45mm and 45-
250mm) and ARRI Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini cameras outputting UHD 4K files. The Alexa camera is very reliable, easy to work with, looks great and has very low noise in the color channels, which is useful for green/bluescreen work. It can also shoot at 120fps without cutting into the sensor size. We also had to make sure that both cameras and lenses were easily available in Cape Town, where we filmed after the
UK section.

The Alexa output is also very flexible in the grade, and we knew we were going to be pushing the look in a number of directions in post. We also shot with the Phantom Flex 4K high-speed camera at 1,000fps for some scenes requiring ultra-slo motion, and for one particular sequence, a specially modified ARRI D-21 that could be “hand-cranked” like an old movie camera.

You mentioned using Resolve on set. Is this how you usually work? What benefit did you get from doing this?
We graded the dailies on Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve with our DIT Rich
Simpson. We applied different looks to each period of the story, often using a modified film emulation plugin. It’s very important to me that the dailies look great and that we start to establish a look early on that can inform the grade later.

Rich would bring me a variety of looks each day and we’d pick the one we liked for that day’s work. Rich was also able to export our selected looks and workflow to the South African DIT in Cape Town. This formed the starting point of the online grade done at Molinare on FilmLight Baselight under the hugely capable hands of Gareth Spensley. Gareth had a big influence on the look of the series and did some fantastic work balancing all the different day exteriors and adding some magic.

Any challenging scenes you are particularly proud of?
We had some very big sets and locations to light, and the constantly moving style of photography we employed is always a challenge to light — you have to keep all the fixtures out of shot, but also look after the actors and make sure the tone is right for the scene. A complicated rig was the Soho street set that Michael Ralph designed and built on a disused airbase. This involved four intersecting streets with additional alleyways, many shops and a main set — the bookshop belonging to Aziraphale.

This was a two-story composite set (the interior led directly to the exterior). Not only did we have to execute big crane moves that began looking down at the whole street section and then flew down and “through” the windows of the bookshop and into an interior scene. We also had to rig the set knowing that we were going to burn the whole thing down.

Another challenge was that we were filming in the winter and losing daylight at 3:30pm but needing to shoot day exterior scenes to 8pm or later. My gaffer (Andy Bailey) and I designed a rig that covered the whole set (involving eight cranes, four 18Kw HMIs and six six-meter helium hybrid balloons) so that we could seamlessly continue filming daylight scenes as it got dark and went to full night without losing any time. We also had four 20×20-foot mobile self-lighting greenscreens that we could move about the set to allow for the CGI extensions being added later.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
The script inspires me artistically. If I don’t love the story and can’t immediately “see” how it might look, I don’t do it. After that, I’m inspired by real life and the way changing light utterly transforms a scene, be it a landscape or an interior. I also visit art galleries regularly to understand how other people see, imagine and communicate.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years)?
Obviously, digital cinematography has had a huge impact. I trained in film and spent the first 16 years of my career shooting film exclusively, but I was happy to embrace digital when it came in. I love keeping up with all the advances.

Lighting is also going digital with the advent of LED fixtures with on-board computers. I can now dial any gel color or mix my own at any dimmer level from an app on my phone and send it to dozens of fixtures. There is an incredible array of tools now at our disposal, and I find that very exciting and creatively liberating.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I tend to work on quite long jobs — my last two shows shot for 109 and 105 days, respectively. So keeping to sensible hours is critical. Experienced producers who are concerned with the welfare, health and safety of their crew keep to 10 hours on camera, a one-hour lunch and five-days weeks only. Anything in excess of that results in diminishing returns and an exhausted and demoralized crew.

I also think prep time is incredibly important, and this is another area that’s getting squeezed by inexperienced producers to the detriment of the production. Prep time is a comparatively cheap part of the process but one that reaps huge dividends on the shoot. Being fully prepared, making the right location and set design choices, and having enough to time to choose equipment and crew and work out lighting designs all make for a smooth-running shoot.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
This goes back to having enough prep time. The more time there is to visit possible locations and simply talk through all the options for looks, style, movement and general approach the better. I love working with visual directors who can communicate their ideas but who welcome input. I also like being able to ditch the plan on the day and go with something better if it suddenly presents itself. I like being pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to come up with something wonderful and fresh.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I always start a new production from scratch, and I like to test everything that’s available and proven in the field. I like to use a selection of equipment — often different cameras and lenses that I feel suit the aesthetic of the show. That said, I think
ARRI Alexa cameras are reliable and flexible and produce very “easy to work with” images.

I’ve been using the Letus Helix Double and Infinity (provided by Riz at Mr Helix) with an Exhauss exoskeleton support vest quite a lot. It’s a very flexible tool that I can operate myself and it produces great results. The Easyrig is also a great back-saver when doing a lot of handheld-work, as the best cameras aren’t getting any lighter.

Apart from that, comfortable footwear and warm, waterproof clothing are essential!


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

Editing for Episodics

By Karen Moltenbrey

Consistency is important when editing series. Initially, the editor may collaborate with the director and DP on the style of the show, and once it is set, the focus is on supporting that direction, reflecting the essence and feel of the show and the performance of the characters.

However, not every series is the same, and editors adapt their editing pattern and pacing based on the project’s genre. For instance, the pacing of a comedy should elevate the punchline, not detract from it, whereas with a drama, choosing the best performance that fits the story is paramount. Additionally, the use of music and sound design can heighten the emotion or tension far more than, say, in a comedy.

Here we look at two very different series — a comedy and a drama — and examine how the editors approached the cut on their respective shows.

Insecure
Life is complicated, especially for the main characters of HBO’s Insecure, which focuses on two African American women as they navigate modern-day life in Los Angeles. Best friends since college and now in their late 20s, they are trying to find their footing both personally and professionally, with Issa Dee working at a nonprofit school and living with her longtime boyfriend, and Molly Carter finding success as a lawyer but less so in her dating life.

The comedy has been renewed for a fourth season, which will be released sometime in 2019. The series debuted in 2016 and is created by Issa Rae — who plays the main character Issa Dee — and Larry Wilmore. A number of people have directed and served as DP, and there have been four editors, including Nena Erb, ACE, who came aboard during Season 3.

“The series is built around [Issa’s and Molly’s] experiences as they try to find their place in the world. When I approach a scene, I do so from their point of view,” says Erb. “South LA is also portrayed as a character in the series; we do our best to incorporate shots of the various neighborhoods in each episode so viewers get a flavor of the city.”

According to Erb, the composition for the series is cinematic and unconventional from the typical television series. “The editing pattern is also not the typical start with a master, go to medium shots, close-up and so forth,” she says. “Having unique composition and coming up with interesting ways to transition in and out of a scene give this series a distinct visual style that’s unlike other television shows out right now.”

Nena Erb

Scenes wherein Issa is the focus are shot mostly handheld. The shots have more movement and convey a sense of uncertainty and flux, which is in keeping with the character, who is trying to find herself when it comes to her career. On the other hand, Molly’s scenes are typically locked-off to convey steadiness, as she is a little more settled in her career as an attorney. For example, in “Fresh-Like” (Season 3 Episode 4), Molly has a difficult time establishing herself after taking a job at a new law firm, and things are not going as smoothly as she had hoped. When she discusses her frustrations with her therapist, the scene was shot with locked-off cameras since it focuses on Molly, but camera moves were then added in the edit to give it a handheld look to convey she was on unsteady ground at that moment.

Erb edits the series on an Avid Media Composer, and temp effects are done in Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.

Erb’s workflow for Insecure is similar to other series she has edited. She reads the script a few times, and before starting dailies, will re-read the scene she is working on that day, paying particular attention to the screen direction. “That is extremely helpful in letting me know the tone of the scene. I like having that fresh in my mind when I watch the dailies,” says Erb. She also reviews all the circle as well as non-circle takes — a step that is time-consuming but ensures she is using all the best performances. “And sometimes there are hidden gems in the non-circle takes that make all the difference, so I feel it’s worth the time to watch them all,” she adds.

While watching the dailies, Erb often jots down notes while cutting it in her head. Then she sits down and starts putting the scene together in the actual edit.

When Erb signed on to do the series, the style and tone were already established, and the crew had been together since the beginning. “It’s never easy to come into a show like that,” she says. “I was the new kid on the block who had to figure out team dynamics in addition to learning the style of the show. My biggest challenge was to make sure my work was in the language of the series, while still maintaining my own sense of style.”

Insofar as social media has become a big part of everyone’s life, it is now turning up in series such as Insecure, where it has become a recurring character — although in the episode titled “Obsessed-Like,” it is much more. As Erb explains, Insecure uses social media graphics as elements that play on the screen next to the person texting or tweeting. But in that episode, the editor wanted the audience alongside Issa as she checks on her new love interest Nathan and used social media graphics in a completely different way than had been done previously on the show.

“I told my assistant editor, Lynarion Hubbard, that I wanted her to create all these graphics in a way that they could be edited as if they were dailies. Doing so enabled me to use them full-screen, and I could animate them so they could crash-zoom into the shot of this woman kissing Nathan and then tilt down to the caption, which is when you realize the woman is his mom, as she delivers the punchline, ‘Oh, it’s your mom. She looks young for 50,’” says Erb.

“I felt the graphics made me more invested and allowed me to experience the emotional roller coaster with Issa as she obsesses over being ghosted. It was a risk to use them that way because it wasn’t in the language of the show. Fortunately for me, the producers loved it, and that episode was nominated for an ACE Eddie Award earlier this year.”

Erb might be new to Insecure, but she feels a personal connection to the series: When she and her family first immigrated to the US, they settled in Ladera Heights, and she attended school in Inglewood. “I remember this awkward girl who didn’t speak a word of English, and yet the neighbors welcomed us with open arms,” she recalls. “That community will always be special to me. The series pokes fun at Ladera Heights, but I think it’s great that they are highlighting a part of South LA that was my first connection in the US.”

Erb predominantly edits television series, but she has also edited feature films and documentaries. “I’d say I am drawn to powerful stories and captivating characters rather than a genre or format. Performance is paramount. Everything is in service of the story and the characters, regardless of whether it’s a series or a film,” she states.

On a series, “it’s a sprint to the finish, especially if it’s a series that has started airing while you’re still shooting and editing the later episodes. You’ll have anywhere from one to three days after the last day of dailies to do your editor’s cut, and then it’s off to the director, producers, the studio and so forth,” Erb explains. Conversely, with the features she has done, the schedule has offered more wiggle room – more time to do the editor’s cut and more time for the directors’ involvement. “And you have the luxury to experiment and sit with the cut to make sure it is working.”

In addition to Insecure, Erb has worked on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Being Mary Jane and Project Greenlight, to name a few. And each has its own recipe. For instance, Crazy Ex has music videos in each episode that run the gamut from the ’50s to present day, from a Fosse-inspired number to ’80s rock, ’90s hip-hop and three decades of the Beach Boys. “In an industry where it is easy to get pigeonholed, being able to work on a show that allows you to challenge yourself with different genres is rare, and I loved the experience.”

Ozark
At first glance, the Ozarks seem to be a tranquil place, a wholesome, idyllic location to raise a family. But, looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to the Netflix family crime drama Ozark, which will be starting its third season sometime this year.

The series follows financial planner Marty Byrde, who relocates with his family from Chicago to the summer resort area of Osage Beach, Missouri, in the Ozark Mountains. The move is not voluntary. To make amends for a scheme that went awry, he must launder millions of dollars belonging to a Mexican drug cartel through the Ozarks. Soon he becomes entangled with local criminals.

Jason Bateman, who plays Marty, directed some of the episodes in Season 1 and 2, with other directors filling that role as well. Editing the series since it began is Cindy Mollo, ACE, and Heather Goodwin Floyd, who have a longtime working relationship. Goodwin Floyd, who was Mollo’s assistant editor for many years, started on both seasons of Ozark in the assistant role but also edited and co-edited episodes in each season.

Cindy Mollo

When Mollo first met with Bateman to talk about the project, they discussed the series as being akin to a 10-hour feature. “He wanted to spend time in moments, giving time to the performances, and not be too ‘cutty’ or too manipulative,” she says. “There’s a tendency with someone like Bateman to always be looking for the comedy and to cut for comedy, but ours is a dramatic show where sometimes things just happen to be funny; we don’t cut for that.”

The show has a naturalistic feel, and many scenes are shot outdoors, but there is always a lingering sense of threat, played up with heavy shadows. The look, as the humor, is dark, in a figurative and literal way. And the editors play into the suspense. “By letting moments play out, it helps put you in the head of the character, figuring things out as you go along. So, you’re not ever letting the audience get ahead of the character by showing them something that the character doesn’t see,” explains Mollo. “There’s a little bit of a remoteness in that, so you’re not really spoon-feeding the audience.”

On Ozark, the editors make sure they do not get in the way of the material. The writing is so solid, says Mollo, and the performances are so good, “the challenge is to resist the temptation to impose too much on the material and to just achieve the goals of the scene. Doing things simply and elegantly, that is how I approach this series.”

Goodwin Floyd agrees. “We support the material and let it speak for itself, and tell the story in the most authentic way possible,” she adds.

The series is set in the Ozarks but is filmed outside Atlanta, where the dailies are processed before they are sent to editorial. Assistants pull all the media into a Media Composer, where the cut is done.

Heather Goodwin Floyd

According to Mollo, she and Goodwin Floyd have four days to work on their cut. Then the directors have four days per episode to work with them. “We’re cross-boarded, so that ends up being eight days with the director for two episodes, for the most part,” she says. After that, the producers are brought in, and as Mollo points out, Bateman is very involved in the edit. Once the producers sign off, the final cut is sent to producer Media Rights Capital (MRC) and Netflix.

The first two seasons of Ozark were shot at 4K; this season, it is shot at nearly 6K, though delivery to Netflix is still at 4K.

Both editors have a range of experience in terms of genres. Goodwin Floyd started out in features and now primarily edits TV dramas. Mollo got her start in commercials and then migrated to dramatic series, with some TV movies and features, as well. “I love the mix. Honestly, I love doing both [series and films]. I have fun when I’m on a series, and then it seems like every two years or so I get to do a feature. With everyone editing digitally, the feature process has become very similar to the television process,” she says. “It’s just a little more director-focused rather than producer/writer-focused.”

For Goodwin Floyd, she’s drawn more to the content as opposed to the format. “I started in features and at the time thought I wanted to stay in features, but the quality of series on television has evolved and gotten so great that I love working in TV as much as in features,” she says.

With the rise of cable, then premium movie channels and now streaming services, Mollo says there is a feeling that the material can be trusted more, that there is no longer the need to feel like you have to be cutting every couple of seconds to keep the audience excited and engaged. For instance, when she worked on House of Cards, the MRC and Netflix executives were very hands-off — they wanted to have a fantastic opening episode every season and a really compelling cliffhanger, and for everything in between, they trusted the filmmakers to take care of it.

“I really gravitated toward that trend of trusting the filmmakers, and it is resulting in some really great television,” says Mollo.

In as much as we are in a golden age of television, Mollo also believes we are in a golden age of editing, where people understand more of what an editor does and appreciates the results more. Editing is basically a final rewrite of the script, she says. “You’re the last line of defense; sometimes you need to guide the story back to its original direction [if it veers off course].”


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran writer/editor covering VFX and post production.

DP Chat: Catch-22’s Martin Ruhe, ASC

By Randi Altman

For the bibliophiles out there, you know Catch-22 as the 1961 book by Joseph Heller. Cinephiles might remember the 1970 film of the same name starring Alan Arkin. And for those who are familiar with the saying, but not its origins, a Catch-22 is essentially a no-win situation. The famous idiom comes from the book — specifically the main character, Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who finds himself needing to escape the war, but rules and regulations hold him back.

Martin Ruhe (right) on-set with George Clooney.

Now there is yet another Catch-22 to point to: Hulu’s miniseries, which stars Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie and George Clooney. Clooney is also an executive producer, alongside Grant Heslov, Luke Davies, David Michôd, Richard Brown, Steve Golin and Ellen Kuras. The series was written by Davies and Michôd and directed by Clooney, Heslov and Kuras, who each directed two episodes. It was shot entirely in Italy.

We recently reached out to the show’s German-born DP, Martin Ruhe, ASC, to find out about his workflow on the series and how he became a cinematographer.

Tell us about Catch-22. How would you describe the look of the film that you and the directors wanted to achieve?
George was very clear — he wanted to push the look of the show toward something we don’t see very often these days in TV or films. He wanted to feel the heat of the Italian summer.

We also wanted to contrast the absurdity of what happens on the ground with the claustrophobic and panic of the aerial work. We ended up with a strong warm tone and a lot of natural light. And we move the camera as if we‘re always with our hero (Abbott). Very often we travel with him in fluent camera moves, and then we contrast that with shaky hand-held camera work in the air. It was good fun to be able to have such a range to work with.

Were you given examples of the look that was wanted?
We looked at newsreel footage from the period and at stills and benefitted from production designer David Gropman‘s research. Then I took stills when we did camera tests with our actors in costume. I worked on those on my computer until we got to a place we all liked.

Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 did the grading for the show and loved it. He gave us a LUT that we used for our dailies. Later, when we did the final grade, we added film grain and refined our look to what it is now.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I spoke with George Clooney and Grant Heslov for the first time four months before we started to shoot. I had eight weeks of prep.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
A lot of the scenes were happening in very small spaces. I did a lot of research on smaller cameras, and since we would have a lot of action scenes in those planes, I did not want to use any cameras with a rolling shutter.

I ended up using Arri Alexa Minis with Cooke S4 lenses and also some Flare cameras by IO industries, which could record 4K raw to Q7 Odyssey recorders. We mounted those little ones on the planes whenever they were flying for real. We also used it for the parachute jump.

This is a period piece. How did that affect your choices?
The main effect was the choice of light sources when we shot interiors and night scenes. I love fluorescents, and they existed in the period, but just not in those camps and not in the streets of Rome at night. We used a lot of practicals and smaller sources, which we spread out in the little streets of a small town where we shot, called Viterbo (standing in for Rome).

Another thing I learned was that in those camps at night, lights were blacked out. That meant we were stuck with moonlight and general ambience for night scenes, which we created with HMI sources — sometimes direct if we needed to cover big areas, like when the air base gets attacked at night in Episode 5.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging? 
In the end of Episode 5, Yossarian’s plane loses both engines in combat and goes down. We see YoYo and others escape the plane, while the pilot takes the plane over water and tries to land it. It’s a very dramatic scene.

We shot some exteriors of the real B25 Mitchell over Sardinia. We mounted camera systems in a DC3 and our second Mitchell to get the shots with the real planes. The destruction on the engines and the additional planes were added in post. The interiors of our actors in the plane were shot at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. We had a fuselage of a real B-25 on a gimbal. The studio was equipped with a 360-degree screen and a giant top light.

In the plane, we shot with a hand-held ARRI Alexa Mini camera. It was only the actors, myself and my focus puller inside. We never altered the physical space of the plane but instead embraced the claustrophobia. We see all of the crew members getting out — only the pilot stays on board. There was so little physical space for our actors since the fuselage was rigged to the gimbal, and then we also had to create the lighting for them to jump into within a couple of feet of space.

Then, when Yossarian leaves the plane, we actually put a small camera on a stuntman while another stuntman in Yossarian’s wardrobe did a real jump. We combined that with some plate shots from a helicopter (with a 3D plane in it) and some shots of our actor on a rig on the backlot of Cinecitta.

It all worked out. It was always our goal to shoot as many real elements as we could and leave the rest with post.

Stepping away from Catch-22. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I grew up in a small town in western Germany. No one in my family had anything to do with film. I loved movies and wanted to work on them as a director. After a little journey, I got an internship at a camera rental in London. It was then I saw for the first time what cinematographers do. I loved it and knew that was it. Then I studied in Berlin, became a focus puller for a couple of years and started working as a DP on music videos, then commercials and then, a little later, films.

What inspires you artistically?
Photography and movies. There is a lot of good work out there by a lot of talented DPs. I love to look at photographers I like as well as some documentary stills like the ones you see in the World Press Photo contest once a year. I love it when it is real. There are so many images around us every day, but if I don’t believe them (where they seem real to me), they are just annoying.

Looking back over the last few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Maybe LED lighting and maybe the high sensitivity of today’s digital cameras. You are so much more free in your choice of locations, days and, especially, night work because you can work with fewer lights.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Keep it as simple as you can, and stay true to your vision.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
I’m not sure there is just one way to go. After reading the script, you have an idea of what it can be, and then you start getting the information of the where and in what frame you will work.

Martin Ruhe behind the ARRI Alexa.

I love to spend time with my directors in prep — going to the locations, seeing them in different light, like mornings, noon or during night. Then I love to work with stills and sometimes also reference pictures to show what I think it can be and present a way we can get there. It’s always very important to leave some space for things to develop.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I look for the right gear for each project. I like ARRI cameras, but I’ve also shot two movies with Panavision cameras.

I have shot movies in various countries, and the early ones didn’t have big budgets, so I tried to work with local crew and gear that was available. The thing I like about that is you get to know different ways of doing things, and also you might work with gear you would have never picked yourself. It keeps you flexible. When I start a project, I am trying to develop a feel for the story and the places it lives. Once I have that feel, I start into how and decide what tools I’ll use.

Photo Credit: Philippe Antonello


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

Amazon’s Sneaky Pete: DP Arthur Albert on the look of Season 3

By Karen Moltenbrey

Crime has a way of finding Pete Murphy, or should we say Marius Josipovic (Giovanni Ribisi). Marius is a con man who assumed his cellmate’s identity when he was paroled from prison. His plan was twofold: first, pretend to be the still-incarcerated Pete, from whom the family has been estranged for the past 20 years, and hide out on their farm in Connecticut. Second, con the family out of money so he can pay back a brutal mobster (Bryan Cranston, who also produces).

Arthur Albert

Marius’s plan, however, is flawed. The family is lovable, \ quirky and broke. Furthermore, they are in the bail bond business and one of his “cousins” is a police officer — not ideal for a criminal. Ultimately, Marius starts to really care for the family while also discovering that his cover is not that safe.

Similar to how Marius’ plans on Sneaky Pete have changed, so has the show’s production on the current and final Season 3, which is streaming on Amazon now. This season, the story shifts from New York to California, in tandem with the storylines. Blake Masters also took over as showrunner, and cinematographer Arthur Albert (ER, The Blacklist, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) came on as director of photography, infusing his own aesthetic into the series.

“I asked Blake if he wanted me to maintain the look they had used previously, and he said he wanted to put his own stamp on it and raise the bar in every department. So, I had free rein to change the look,” notes Albert.

The initial look established for Sneaky Pete had a naturalistic feel, and the family’s bail office was lit with fluorescent lighting. Albert, in contrast, opted for a more cinematic look with portrait-style lighting. “It’s just an aesthetic choice,” he says. “The sets, designed by (Jonathan) Carlson, are absolutely brilliant, and I tried to keep them as rich and layered as possible.”

For Manhattan scenes, Masters wanted a mid-century, modern look. “I made New York moody and as interesting as I could — cooler, more contrasty,” says Albert. When the story shifts to Southern California, Masters asked for a bright, more vibrant look. “There’s a big location change. For this season, you want to feel that change. It’s a big decision for the whole family to pick up their operation and move it, so I wanted the overall look of the show to feel new and different.”

The edginess and feeling of danger, though, comes less from the lighting in this show and more from the camera movement. The use of Steadicam gives it a bit of a stalking feel, serving as a moving viewpoint.

When Albert first met with Masters, they discussed what they thought worked in previous episodes. They liked the ones that used handheld and close-up shots that were wide and close to the actor, but in the end they went with a more traditional approach used by Jon Avnet, who directed four of the 10 episodes this season.

Season 3 was primarily shot with two cameras (Albert’s son, Nick, served as second-unit DP and A-camera operator, and Jordan Keslow, B-camera/Steadicam operator). A fan of Red cameras — Albert used an early incarnation for the last six episodes of ER – he employed Red’s DSMC2 with the new Gemini 5K S35 sensor for Season 3. The Gemini leverages dual sensitivity modes to provide greater flexibility for a variety of shooting environments.

The DP also likes the way it renders skin tones without requiring diffusion. “The color is really true and good, and the dynamic range is great. It held for really bright window areas and really dark areas, both with amazing range,” he says. The interiors of the sets were filmed on a stage in Los Angeles, and the exteriors were shot on location afterward. With the Gemini’s two settings (standard mode for well-lit conditions and a low-light setting), “You can shoot a room where you can barely see anyone, and it looks fully lit, or if it’s a night exterior where you don’t have enough time, money or space to light it, or in a big set space where suddenly you want to shoot high speed and you need more light. You just flip a switch, and you’ve got it. It was very clean with no noise.”

This capability came in handy for a shoot in Central Park at night. The area was heavily restricted in terms of using lights. Albert used the 3200 ISO setting and the entire skyline of 59th Street was visible — the clouds and how they reflected the light of the buildings, the detail of the night sky, the silhouettes of the buildings. In another similar situation, he used the low-light setting of the camera for a night sequence filmed in Grand Central Terminal. “It looked great, warm and beautiful; there is no way we could have lit that vast space at night to accommodate a standard ISO,” says Albert.

As far as lenses on Sneaky Pete, they used the Angenieux short zooms because they are lightweight and compact, can be put on a Steadicam and are easy to hold. “And I like the way they look,” Albert says. He also used the new Sigma prime lenses, especially when an extreme wide angle was needed, and was impressed with their sharpness and lack of distortion.

Throughout filming, the cinematographer relied on Red’s IPP2 (image processing pipeline) in-camera, which resulted in a more effective post process, as it is designed for an HDR workflow, like Sneaky Pete — which is required by Amazon.

The color grade for the series was done at Level 3 Post by Scott Ostrowsky, who had also handled all the previous seasons of Sneaky Pete and with whom Albert had worked with on The Night Shift and other projects. “He shoots a very cinematic look and negative. I know his style and was able to give him that look before he came into the suite. And when we did the reviews together, it was smooth and fast,” Ostrowsky says. “At times Sneaky Pete has a very moody look, and at times it has a very open look, depending on the environment we were shooting in. Some of the dramatic scenes are moody and low-light. Imagine an old film noir movie, only with color. It’s that kind of feel, where you can see through the shadows. It’s kind of inky and adds suspense and anticipation.”

Ostrowsky worked with the camera’s original negative — “we never created a separate stream,” he notes. “It was always from the camera neg, unless we had to send a shot out for a visual effects treatment.”

Sneaky Pete was shot in 5K, from which a 3840×2160 UHD image was extracted, and that is what Ostrowsky color graded. “So, if I needed to use some kind of window or key, it was all there for me,” he says. Arthur or Nick Albert would then watch the second pass with Ostrowsky, who would make any further changes, and then the producers would watch it, adding their notes. Ostrowsky worked used the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

“I want to make the color work for the show. I don’t want the color to distract from the show. The color should tell the story and help the story,” adds Ostrowsky.

While not every change has been for the best for Pete himself since Season 1, the production changes on Sneaky Pete’s last season appear to be working just fine.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.

Whiskey Cavalier DPs weigh in on the show’s look, DITs

While ABC recently cancelled freshman series Whiskey Cavalier, their on-set workflow is an interesting story to tell. The will-they-won’t-they drama featured FBI agent Will Chase (Scott Foley) and CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge (Lauren Cohan) — his codename is Whiskey Cavalier and hers is Fiery Tribune. The two lead an inter-agency team of spies who travel all over the world, periodically saving the world and each other, all while navigating friendship, romance and office politics.

David “Moxy” Moxness

Like many episodic television shows, Whiskey Cavalier used two cinematographers who alternated episodes so that the directors could work side-by-side with a cinematographer while prepping. David “Moxy” Moxness, CSC, ASC, shot the pilot. Moxness had previously worked on shows like Lethal Weapon, Fringe and Smallville and was just finishing another show when Warner Bros. sent him the pilot script.

“I liked it and took a meeting with director Peter Atencio,” explains Moxness. “We had a great meeting and seemed to be on the same page creatively. For me, it’s so much about collaborating on good shows with great people. Whiskey gave me that feeling.” Sid Sidell, ASC, a friend and colleague of Moxness’, was brought on as the second DP.

While Whiskey Cavalier’s plot has its two main characters traveling all over the world, principal photography took place in Prague. Neither cinematographer had worked there previously, although Moxness had passed through on vacation years before. While prepping and shooting the pilot, Moxness developed the look of the show with director Atencio. “Peter and I had the idea of using the color red when our lead character Will Chase was conflicted emotionally to trigger an emotional response for him,” he explains. “This was a combo platter of set dressing, costumes and lighting. We were very precise about not having the color red in frame other than these times. Also, when the team was on a mission, we kept to a cooler palette while their home base, New York, used warmer tones.”

This didn’t always prove to be straightforward. “You still have to adjust to location surroundings — when scouting for the pilot, I realized Prague still had mostly sodium vapor streetlights, which are not often seen in America anymore,” explains Moxness. “This color was completely opposite to what Peter and I had discussed regarding our nighttime palette, and we had a big car chase over a few nights and in different areas. I knew time and resources would in no way allow us to change or adjust this, and that I would have to work backwards from the existing tones. Peter agreed and we reworked that into our game. For our flashbacks, I shot 35mm 4-perf film with an ARRI IIC hand-cranked camera and Kowa lenses. That was fun! We continued all of these techniques and looks during the series.”

DITs
Mission, a UK-based DIT/digital services provider serving Europe, was brought on to work beside the cinematographers. Mission has an ever-expanding roster of DITs and digital dailies lab operators and works with cinematographers from preproduction onward, safeguarding their color decisions as a project moves from production into post.

Moxness and Sidell hadn’t worked with Mission before, but a colleague of Moxness’ had spoken to him about the experience of working with Mission on a project the year before. This intrigued Moxness, so he was waiting for a chance to work with them.

“When Whiskey chose to shoot in Prague I immediately reached out to Mission’s managing director, Mark Purvis,” explains Moxness. “Mark was enthusiastic about setting us up on Whiskey. After a few conversations to get to know each other, Mark suggested DIT Nick Everett. Nick couldn’t have been a better match for me and our show.”

Interestingly, Sidell had often worked without a DIT before his time on Whiskey Cavalier. He says, “My thoughts on the DP/DIT relationship changed drastically on Whiskey Cavalier. By choice, before Whiskey, I did the majority of my work without a DIT. The opportunity to work alongside Nick Everett and his Mission system changed my view of the creative possibilities of working with a DIT.”

Gear
Whiskey Cavalier was shot with the ARRI Alexa Mini and primarily ARRI Master Prime lenses with a few Angenieux zooms. Both Moxness and Sidell had worked with the Mini numerous times before, finding it ideal for episodic television. The post workflow was simple. On set, Everett used Pomfort’s LiveGrade to set the look desired by the cinematographers. Final color was done at Picture Shop in Los Angeles by senior colorist George Manno.

Moxy (behind camera) and director/EP Peter Atencio (to his right) on the Prague set.

“There are a few inherent factors shooting episodic television that can, and often do, handcuff the DP with regards to maintaining their intended look,” says Moxness. “The shooting pace is very fast, and it is not uncommon for editorial, final color and sometimes even dailies to happen far away from the shooting location. Working with a properly trained and knowledgeable DIT allows the DP to create a desired look and get it into and down the post pipeline to maintain that look. Without a proper solid roadmap, others start to input their subjective vision, which likely doesn’t match that of the DP. When shooting, I feel a strong responsibility to put my thumbprint on the work as I was hired to do. If not, then why was I chosen over others?”

Since successfully working on Whiskey Cavalier in Prague, Mission has set up a local office in Prague, led by Mirek Sochor and dedicated to Mission’s expansion into Central Europe.

And Moxness will be heading back to Prague to shoot Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

 

Showrunner and EP Peter Gould on AMC’s Better Call Saul

By Iain Blair

Having a legal issue? Thinking of calling someone who has a questionable relationship with the rule of law? Jimmy McGill? Saul Goodman? Or, maybe, Gene, the lonely Cinnabon store manager? The slippery, shady, shape-shifting character — played beautifully by multiple Emmy-nominee Bob Odenkirk — is at the heart of Better Call Saul, the spin-off prequel to AMC’s Breaking Bad. But if you want to know what’s going on under the hood of the show, you better call writer/showrunner Peter Gould.

L-R: Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan

A Sony Pictures Television and AMC Studios co-production, Better Call Saul is executive produced by co-creators Gould and Vince Gilligan, as well as Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Diner, Rain Man), Melissa Bernstein (Breaking Bad, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire) and Breaking Bad alums Thomas Schnauz and Gennifer Hutchison. The show recently won a Peabody Award in the Entertainment category and has racked up wins and nominations from pretty much every organization that hands them out, including Primetime Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, AFI and the WGA.

For those of you who are champing at the bit for a new season this summer, you must be patient. The new season isn’t set to premiere until 2020, so maybe binge watch some Saul or even Breaking Bad to get you through!

I recently spoke with Gould about making the show and the latest on the Breaking Bad movie.

Do you enjoy being a showrunner?
I love it. In my opinion it’s the greatest job in show business. It’s a privilege to get to work with all the people on this, and it’s a fantastic situation. If the show falls short I only have myself to blame, as the cast and crew are all extraordinary.

What are the big challenges of showrunning Better Call Saul?
The number one challenge is always figuring out the story and how to tell the story in the most interesting and engaging way… while being as true as possible to the characters we’ve created, and then how to create the most cinematic experience that we can. By that, I mean using every tool we have available in production and post.

How far along are you Season 5?
Today we’re shooting the last day of Episode 3. Episode 4 starts next week, and we’re breaking the last episode, which is number 10.  We’re also in the middle of cutting the first three episodes, so there’s a lot going on.

What can fans expect? Will we see more of Gene Takovic, the man Jimmy McGill becomes after he becomes Saul Goodman?
I think it’s safe to say that we’re very interested in Gene. There’s a lot more to be said about him, and fans can expect that. One of the fun things about Gene is that his scenes are in black-and-white, so it gives us a very different space to play in visually.

Why such a long wait from season four until five airs next year?
There’s a lot of moving parts, and we do our best each season to craft the best show we can. So the time is actually spent more in the writing than in the production or post, which are more predictable in terms of schedules. Then there’s the matter of scheduling with the network and other outlets. But I think it’s about the same, month to month. It takes us about 14 months to do a season from start to finish; that seems to be how it works on this. I’m not proud of that, as there are a lot of other TV shows that make a lot more episodes in a lot less time, but we can’t seem to do it much faster and keep up the high quality we all aim for.

Are you still shooting in Albuquerque?
Absolutely. That setting and all the locations are a very important part of the show.

Where do you post, and do you like the post process?
I love working on all the post, and I work closely with our post EP Diane Mercer and the people at our post facility, Keep Me Posted, which is our partner and part of Fotokem in Burbank. We do the audio mix at Wildtracks in Hollywood. Phillip Palmer does our production sound mixing, and Kevin Valentine and Larry Benjamin do all our re-recording mixing. They’re just the best there is.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
Our editors — Skip Macdonald and Chris McCaleb — cut the show here at our LA offices, where we also have our writers’ room. So at the start of a season, it’s very quiet because nothing much is happening there, but once production starts, every part of our offices are very busy. Then once the writers go home, all the post comes in and it’s really bustling.

What are the big editing challenges?
We have a very big cast and a lot of moving pieces in each episode. Plus there are a lot of time jumps, so we alternate with the editors. So this year Skip is on the odds and Chris is on the evens. They do their cuts and then the directors come in to do their cut. As they’re so heavily booked these days, some of them end up giving notes remotely, and we use Pix to distribute our cuts and dailies.