Tag Archives: Altered Carbon

VFX supervisor Jay Worth talks Season 2 of Netflix’s Altered Carbon

By Barry Goch

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is now streaming Season 2, with a new lead in Anthony Mackie as Takeshi Kovacs in a new skin. He’s the only surviving soldier of a group of elite interstellar warriors, continuing his centuries-old quest to find his lost love, Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry). After decades of planet-hopping and searching the galaxy, Kovacs finds himself recruited back to his home planet of Harlan’s World with the promise of finding Quell. In this world of Altered Carbon, lives can be continued after death by taking on a new skin and using the person’s stack — or brain.

Jay Worth — Credit: Rob Flate

As you can imagine, there are a ton of visual effects used to tell Takeshi’s story. To find out more, we reached out to Jay Worth, an Emmy Award-winning VFX supervisor with 15 years of experience working in visual effects. His credits include Fringe, Person of Interest and Westworld, for which he won the Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2017.

How did you get involved in Altered Carbon?
I have a relationship with showrunner Alison Schapker. We go way back to the good old days of Fringe and a few other things. I had worked with the head of visual effects and post for Skydance, Dieter Ismagil, and then I had just come off of working on a Netflix show. It worked out for all three of those parties to come together and have me join the team. It was a fun bit of a reunion for us to get back together.

At what point did you come on board for Season 2?
I came in after it was shot in order to usher things through post and the final creative push through the final delivery. VFX producer Tony Meagher and I were able to keep the ball rolling and push it through to the final. The VFX team at Double Negative and the other vendors that we had were really able to carry it through from the beginning to the end as well.

Tell us about your review process. Where were you based?
We were in Los Angeles — the showrunners, Tony Meagher and I — but the rest of the team was in Toronto: our VFX coordinator, VFX editor, post team and DI facility (Deluxe Toronto). The VFX vendors were spread across Canada. The interesting thing for us was how to set up the review process while being in Los Angeles. We relied really completely on ClearView and that amazing technology. We were able to do editorial reviews and full-range color UHD review sessions for final VFX shots. It was a beautiful process. Being able to review many things in the edit and make a checklist was useful. Then we needed to look at this one in color, so being able to go downstairs and just flip a switch in our bay and have our beautifully calibrated setup was amazing. That afforded us the ability to work seamlessly even though we weren’t all in the same place.

This was the first time I had done a show that was so remote. I’ve done many shows where editorial is in one place and the VFX team is in another, but this was the first time I’d done something this ambitious. We did everything remotely, from editorial reviews to effects reviews to color and even the sound, and it was really an amazing, far more seamless process than I thought it would be when we started. The team at Skydance, the production team and the post team really had all the variables dialed in, and it was really painless considering we were spread out. The editorial team and the VFX team on the show side were just phenomenal in terms of how they were able to coordinate with everybody.

       
Before and After

This production predates the COVID-19 restrictions. Do you think that would have impacted your production?
It would have been a challenge, but not impossible. We would have probably ended up having more ClearView boxes for the team in order to work remotely. I’ve worked recently on other shows that have the colorists working from home, and they’re all tapping into the same box; it just happens to be a pipeline issue. It was doable before, but now there’s just a little bit more back and forth to set up the pipeline.

What was the hardest sequence on “Broken Angels,” the last episode of the season, and why?
One of the larger challenges in visual effects is how to convey something visually from a story perspective and still have it feel real and organic. A lot of times, it ends up being a more challenging hurdle to get over from a visual standpoint when the storytellers are trusting you to help convey these different story points. That’s really where visual effects shine: When you are willing to take on that risk and that narrative responsibility, that’s really where the fun lies.

For the finale, it was telling the story of Angelfire. People kind of understand the overarching idea of satellites and weapons from space, but we had to help people understand the communication between them. We also needed them to understand how it connects to the older technology and what that’s going to mean for our characters. That was by far the biggest challenge for that episode and for the season.

Tell us about the look development of the Angelfire.
It was definitely a journey, but it started with the page and trying to visualize it. Alison Schapker and EP James Middleton had written up what these moments were going to be: a communication tower and a force field around a planet they didn’t quite understand. That was part of the mystery for the viewers and the characters as they were going through the season.

Our goal, from a visual effects standpoint, was to show this ancient-yet-modern communication and to figure out how to visually tell the story of how these things are communicating … that they’re all kind of like-minded and they’re protective. We key that up when Danica fires off the rocket with the rebels attached to them so we can see firsthand what these orbitals can do. Then we see Angelfire come down on the soldiers in the forest.

We’re starting to understand more and more what this thing does so that we can understand what the sacrifice really means … to figure out what the orbitals are and how they could look and feel organic and threatening as well as benign and ultimately destructive. I feel like we ended at a point where it makes sense and it all works together, but at the beginning, when you have a blank canvas, it’s a rather daunting task to figure out what it all should look like.

We had so many conversations about how to depict Angelfire. Should it be more like glass breaking? Should it be like lightning? Should it be like a wave? Should it just crackle? Should it splash in? We had so many iterations of things that just didn’t feel or look quite right. It didn’t convey what we wanted it to convey. “It looks too digital; it looks fake.” To end up with something that felt integrated into the environment and the sky was a testament not only to the team’s perseverance but to Alison’s and James’ patience, leadership and ability to explain creatively what they were going for. I’m really happy with where we finally landed.

How did you lock in the final look?
We wanted it to feel organic and real for the audience. We had a lot of different meetings to talk about what perspective we were going to take — how high up we need to be, how close we need to be to understand that they were communicating with each other and still firing — and whether those different perspectives should be down on the ground or up in the sky. We figured it out with editorial while we were locking episodes, which is a fairly normal process when you’re dealing with full CG shots mixed with pieces that we shot on the day.

We obviously had numerous versions of animatics, and we had to figure out how it was going to work in the edit before we could lock down animation and timing. Honestly, for the final moments when Kovacs sacrificed himself and Angelfire was going off, we were tweaking those with editorial, and our editorial team did a phenomenal job of helping us realize the moment.

Any people or companies that you want to give a shout-out to?
Bob Munroe (a production-side VFX supervisor) and Tony Meagher. All the work they did was groundwork for everything that ended up on the screen. And all the vendors, like Double Negative, Mavericks, Spin, Switch and Krow. Also our VFX coordinating team and everybody up in Toronto. They were the backbone of everything we did this season. And it was just so much fun to work with Alison and James and the team.

Any advice for people wanting to work in visual effects?
From my standpoint, there are not enough people on the show side of things, and if they have a passion for it, there’s a lot of opportunity to get into that.

I would say try to find your lane. Is it on the artist side? Is it on the coordinating and producing side? There are so many resources out there now. And now that the technology is available for everybody, it’s an amazing opportunity for creatives to get together and collaborate and to make things that that are compelling.

When I’m on a show or in the office, I can tell which PA or assistant has a fascination with VFX, and I always encourage them to come along. I have hired from within many times. It’s about trying to educate yourself and figure out what your passion is, and realizing there’s space for almost any role when it comes to visual effects. That’s the exciting thing about it.


Barry Goch is senior finishing artist at The Foundation and an instructor in post production at UCLA Extension.

VFX editor Warren Mazutinec on life, work and Altered Carbon

By Jeremy Presner

Long-time assistant editor Warren Mazutinec’s love for filming began when he saw Star Wars as an eight-year-old in a small town in Edmonton, Alberta. Unlike many other Lucas-heads, however, this one got to live out his dream grinding away in cutting rooms from Vancouver to LA working with some of the biggest editors in the galaxy.

We met back in 1998 when he assisted me on the editing of the Martin Sheen “classic” Voyage of Terror. We remain friends to this day. One of Warren’s more recent projects was Netflix’s VFX-heavy Altered Carbon, which got a lot of love from critics and audiences alike.

My old friend, who is now based in Vancouver, has an interesting story to tell, moving from assistant editor to VFX editor working on films like Underworld 4, Tomorrowland, Elysium and Chappie, so I threw some questions at him. Enjoy!

Warren Mazutinec

How did you get into the business?
I always wanted to work in the entertainment industry, but that was hard to find in Alberta. No film school-type programs were even offered, so I took the closest thing at a local college: audiovisual communications. While there, I studied photography, audio and video, but nothing like actual filmmaking. After that I attended Vancouver Film School. After film school, and with the help of some good friends, I got an opportunity to be a trainee at Shavick Entertainment.

What was it like working at a “film factory” that cranked out five to six pictures a year?
It was fun, but the product ultimately became intolerable. Movies for nine-year-olds can only be so interesting… especially low-budget ones.

What do your parents think of your career option?
Being from Alberta, everyone thought it wasn’t a real job — just a Hollywood dream. It took some convincing; my dad still tells me to look for work between gigs.

How did you learn Avid? Were you self-taught?
I was handed the manual by a post supervisor on day one. I never read it. I just asked questions and played around on any machine available. So I did have a lot of help, but I also went into work during my free time and on weekends to sit and learn what I needed to do.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have cool people to work with and to learn with and from. I did six movies before I had an email address, more before I even owned a computer.

As media strayed away from film into digital, how did your role change in the cutting room? How did you refine your techniques with a changing workflow?
My first non-film movie was Underworld 4. It was shot with a Red One camera. I pretty much lied and said I knew how to deal with it. There was no difference really; just had to say goodbye to lab rolls, Keykode, etc. It was also a 3D stereo project, so that was a pickle, but not too hard to figure out.

How did you figure out the 3D stereo post?
It was basically learning to do everything twice. During production we really only played back in 3D for the novelty. I think most shows are 3D-ified in post. I’m not sure though, I’ve only done the one.

Do you think VR/AR will be something you work with in the future?
Yes, I want to be involved in VR at some point. It’s going to be big. Even just doing sound design would be cool. I think it’s the next step, and I want in.

Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
David Lynch is my number one, by far. I love his work in all forms. A real treasure tor sure. David Fincher is great too. Scorsese, Christopher Nolan. There are so many great filmmakers working right now.

Is post in your world constantly changing, or have things more or less leveled off?
Both. But usually someone has dailies figured out, so Avid is pretty much the same. We cut in DNx115 or DnX36, so nothing like 4K-type stuff. Conform at the end is always fun, but there are tests we do at the start to figure it all out. We are rarely treading in new water.

What was it like transitioning to VFX editor? What tools did you need to learn to do that role?
FileMaker. And Jesus, son, I didn’t learn it. It’s a tough beast but it can do a lot. I managed to wrangle it to do what I was asked for, but it’s a hugely powerful piece of software. I picked up a few things on Tomorrowland and went from there.

I like the pace of the VFX editor. It’s different than assisting and is a nice change. I’d like to do more of it. I’d like to learn and use After Effects more. On the film I was VFX editor for, I was able to just use the Avid, as it wasn’t that complex. Mostly set extensions, etc.

How many VFX shot revisions would a typical shot go through on Elysium?
On Elysium, the shot version numbers got quite high, but part of that would be internal versioning by the vendor. Director Neil Blomkamp is a VFX guy himself, so he was pretty involved and knew what he wanted. The robots kept looking cooler and cooler as the show went on. Same for Chappie. That robot was almost perfect, but it took a while to get there.

You’ve worked with a vast array of editors, from, including Walter Murch, Lee Smith, Julian Clarke, Nancy Richardson and Bill Steinkamp. Can you talk about that, and have any of them let you cut material?
I’ll assemble scenes if asked to, just to help the editor out so he isn’t starting from scratch. If I get bored, I start cutting scenes as well. On Altered Carbon, when Julian (Clark) was busy with Episodes 2 and 3, I’d try to at least string together a scene or two for Episode 8. Not fine-cutting, mind you, just laying out the framework.

Walter asked a lot of us — the workload was massive. Lee Smith didn’t ask for much. Everyone asks for scene cards that they never use, ha!

Walter hadn’t worked on the Avid for five years or so prior to Tomorrowland, so there was a lot of him walking out of his room asking, “How do I?” It was funny because a lot of the time I knew what he was asking, but I had to actually do it on my machine because it’s so second nature.

What is Walter Murch like in the cutting room? Was learning his organizational process something you carried over into future cutting rooms?
I was a bit intimidated prior to meeting him. He’s awesome though. We got along great and worked well together. There was Walter, a VFX editor and four assistants. We all shared in the process. Of course, Walter’s workflow is unlike any other so it was a huge adjustment, but within a few weeks we were a well-oiled machine.

I’d come in at 6:30am to get dailies sorted and would usually finish around lunch. Then we’d screen in our theater and make notes, all of us. I really enjoyed screening the dailies that way. Then he would go into his room and do his thing. I really wish all films followed his workflow. As tough as it is, it all makes sense and nothing gets lost.

I have seen photos with the colored boxes and triangles on the wall. What does all that mean, and how often was that board updated?
Ha. That’s Walter’s own version of scene cards. It makes way better sense. The colors and shapes mean a particular thing — the longer the card the longer the scene. He did all that himself, said it helps him see the picture. I would peek into his room and watch him do this. He seemed so happy doing it, like a little kid.

Do you always add descriptions and metadata to your shots in Avid Media Composer?
We add everything possible. Usually there is a codebook the studios want, so we generate that with FileMaker on almost all the bigger shows. Walter’s is the same just way bigger and better. It made the VFX database look like a toy.

What is your workflow for managing/organizing footage?
A lot of times you have to follow someone else’s procedure, but if left to my own devices I try to make it the simplest it can be so anyone can figure out what was done.

How do you organize your timeline?
It’s specific to the editor, but I like to use as many audio tracks as possible and as few video tracks as possible, but when it’s a VFX-heavy show, that isn’t possible due to stacking various shot versions.

What did you learn from Lee Smith and Julian Clarke?
Lee Smith is a suuuuuper nice guy. He always had great stories from past films and he’s a very good editor. I’m glad he got the Oscar for Dunkirk, he’s done a lot of great work.

Julian is also great to work with. I’ve worked with him on Elysium, Chappie and Altered Carbon. He likes to cut with a lot of sound, so it’s fun to work with him. I love cutting sound, and on Altered Carbon we had over 60 tracks. It was a alternating stereo setup and we used all the tracks possible.

Altered Carbon

It was such a fun world to create sound for. Everything that could make a sound we put in. We also invented signature sounds for the tech we hoped they’d use in the final. And they did for some things.

Was that a 5.1 temp mix?? Have you ever done one?
No. I want to do a 5.1 Avid mix. Looks fun.

What was the schedule like on Altered Carbon? How was that different than some of the features you’ve worked on?
It was six-day weeks and 12 hours a day. Usually one week per month I’d trade off with the 2nd assistant and she’d let me have an actual weekend. It was a bit of a grind. I worked on Episodes 2, 3 and 8, and the schedules for those were tight, but somehow we got through it all. We had a great team up here for Vancouver’s editorial. They were also cutting in LA as well. It was pretty much non-stop editing the whole way through.

How involved was Netflix in terms of the notes process? Were you working with the same editors on the episodes you assisted?
Yes, all episodes were with Julian. First it went through Skydance notes, then Netflix. Skydance usually had more as they were the first to see the cuts. There were many versions for sure.

What was it like working with Neil Blomkamp?
It was awesome. He makes cool films, and it’s great to see footage like that. I love shooting guns, explosions, swords and swearing. I beat him in ping-pong once. I danced around in victory and he demanded we play again. I retired. One of the best environments I’ve ever worked in. Elysium was my favorite gig.

What’s the largest your crew has gotten in post?
Usually one or two editors, up to four assistants, a PA, a post super — so eight or nine, depending.

Do you prefer working with a large team or do you like smaller films?
I like the larger team. It can all be pretty overwhelming and having others there to help out, the easier it can be to get through. The more the merrier!

Altered Carbon

How do you handle long-ass-days?
Long days aren’t bad when you have something to do. On Altered Carbon I kept a skateboard in my car for those times. I just skated around the studio waiting for a text. Recently I purchased a One-Wheel (skateboard with 1 wheel) and plan to use it to commute to work as much as possible.

How do you navigate the politics of a cutting room?
Politics can be tricky. I usually try to keep out of things unless I’m asked, but I do like to have a sit down or a discussion of what’s going on privately with the editor or post super. I like to be aware of what’s coming, so the rest of us are ready.

Do you prefer features to TV?
It doesn’t matter anymore because the good filmmakers work in both mediums. It used to be that features were one thing and TV was another, with less complex stories. Now that’s different and at times it’s the opposite. Features usually pay more though, but again that’s changing. I still think features are where it’s at, but that’s just vanity talking.

Sometimes your project posts in Vancouver but moves to LA for finishing. Why? Does it ever come back?
Mostly I think it’s because that’s where the director/producers/studio lives. After it’s shot everyone just goes back home. Home is usually LA or NY. I wish they’d stay here.

How long do you think you’ll continue being an AE? Until you retire? What age do you think that’ll be?
No idea; I just want to keep working on projects that excite me.

Would you ever want to be an editor or do you think you’d like to pivot to VFX, or are you happy where you are?
I only hope to keep learning and doing more. I like the VFX editing, I like assisting and I like being creative. As far as cutting goes, I’d like to get on a cool series as a junior editor or at least start doing a few scenes to get better. I just want to keep advancing, I’d love to do some VR stuff.

What’s next for you project wise?
I’m on a Disney Show called Timmy Failure. I can’t say anything more at this point.

What advice do you have for other assistant editors trying to come up?
It’s going to take a lot longer than you think to become good at the job. Being the only assistant does not make you a qualified first assistant. It took me 10 years to get there. Also you never stop learning, so always be open to another approach. Everyone does things differently. With Murch on Tomorrowland, it was a whole new way of doing things that I had never seen before, so it was interesting to learn, although it was very intimidating at the start.


Jeremy Presner is an Emmy-nominated film and television editor residing in New York City. Twenty years ago, Warren was AE on his first film. Since then he has cut such diverse projects as Carrie, Stargate Atlantis, Love & Hip Hop and Breaking Amish.

Netflix’s Altered Carbon: the look, the feel, the post

By Randi Altman

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is a new sci-fi series set in a dystopian future where people are immortal thanks to something called “stacks,” which contain their entire essence — their personalities, their memories, everything. The one setback is that unless you are a Meth (one of the rich and powerful), you need to buy a “sleeve” (a body) for your stack, and it might not have any resemblance to your former self. It could be a different color, a different sex, a different age, a different everything. You have to take what you can get.

Based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, it stars Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman.

Jill Bogdanowicz

We reached out to the show’s colorist, Jill Bogdanowicz, as well as post producer Allen Marshall Palmer to find out more about the show’s varied and distinctive looks.

The look has a very Blade Runner-type feel. Was that in homage to the films?
Bogdanowicz: The creators wanted a film noir look. Blade Runner is the same genre, but the show isn’t specifically an homage to Blade Runner.

Palmer: I’ll leave that for fans to dissect.

Jill, can you talk about your process? What tools did you use?
Bogdanowicz: I designed a LUT to create that film noir look before shooting. I actually provided a few options, and they chose my favorite one and used it throughout. After they shot everything and I had all 10 episodes in my bay, I got familiar with the content, wrapped my head around the story and came up with ideas to tell that story with color.

The show covers many different times and places so scenes needed to be treated visually to show audiences where the story is and what’s happened. I colored both HDR (Dolby Vision) and SDR passes using DaVinci Resolve.

I worked very closely with both DPs — Martin Ahlgren and Neville Kidd — in pre-timing the show, and they gave me a nice idea of what they were looking for so I had a great starting point. They were very close knit. The entire team on this project was an absolute pleasure, and it was a great creative collaboration, which comes through in the final product of the show.

The show is shot and posted like a feature and has a feature feel. Was that part of your marching orders?
Bogdanowicz: I’m primarily a features colorist, so I’m very familiar with the film noir look and heavy VFX, and that’s one reason I was included on this project. It was right up my alley.

Palmer: We approached Altered Carbon as a 10-part feature rather than a television series. I coined the term “feature episodic entertainment,” which describes what we were aspiring to — destination viewing instead of something merely disposable. In a world with so many viewing options, we wanted to command the viewer’s full attention, and fans are rewarded for that attention.

We were very concerned about how images, especially VFX, were going to look in HDR so we had weekly VFX approval sessions with Jill, our mastering colorist, in her color timing bay.

Executive producers and studio along with the VFX and post teams were able to sit together — adjusting color corrections if needed before giving final approval on shots. This gave us really good technical and creative quality control. Despite our initial concerns about VFX shots in HDR, we found that with vendors like Double Negative and Milk with their robust 16-bit EXR pipelines we weren’t “breaking” VFX shots when color correcting for HDR.

How did the VFX affect the workflow?
Bogdanowicz: Because I was brought on so early, the LUT I created was shared with the VFX vendors so they had a good estimation of the show’s contrast. That really helped them visualize the look of the show so that the look of the shots was pretty darn close by the time I got them in my bay.

Was there a favorite scene or scenes?
Bogdanowicz: There are so many spectacular moments, but the emotional core for me is in episode 104 when we see the beginning of the Kovacs and Quell love story in the past and how that love gives Kovacs the strength to survive in the present day.

Palmer: That’s a tough question! There are so many, it’s hard to choose. I think the episode that really jumps out is the one in which Joel Kinnaman’s character is being tortured and the content skips back and forth in time, changes and alternates between VR and reality. It was fun to create a different visual language for each space.

Can you talk about challenges in the process and how you overcame them?
Bogdanowicz: The show features a lot of VFX and they all need to look as real as possible, so I had to make sure they felt part of the worlds. Fortunately, VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and his team are amazing and the VFX is top notch. Coming up with different ideas and collaborating with producers James Middleton and Laeta Kalogridis on those ideas was a really fun creative challenge. I used the Sapphire VFX plugin for Resolve to heavily treat and texture VR looks in different ways.

Palmer: In addition to the data management challenges on the picture side, we were dealing with mixing in Dolby Atmos. It was very easy to get distracted with how great the Atmos mix sounds — the downmixes generally translated very well, but monitoring in 5.1 and 2.0 did reveal some small details that we wanted to adjust. Generally, we’re very happy with how both the picture and sound is translating into viewer’s homes.

Dolby Vision HDR is great at taking what’s in the color bay into the home viewing environment, but there are still so many variables in viewing set-ups that you can still end up chasing your own tail. It was great to see the behind the scenes of Netflix’s dedication to providing the best picture and sound quality through the service.

The look of the AI hotel was so warm. I wanted to live there. Can you talk about that look?
Bogdanowicz: The AI hotel look was mostly done in design and lighting. I saw the warm practical lights and rich details in the architecture and throughout the hotel and ran with it. I just aimed to keep the look filmic and inviting.

What about the look of where the wealthy people lived?
Bogdanowicz: The Meth houses are above the clouds, so we kept the look very clean and cool with a lot of true whites and elegant color separation.

Seems like there were a few different looks within the show?
Bogdanowicz: The same LUT for the film noir look is used throughout the show, but the VR looks are very different. I used Sapphire to come up with different concepts and textures for the different VR looks, from rich quality of the high-end VR to the cheap VR found underneath a noodle bar.

Allen, can you walk us through the workflow from production to post?
Palmer: With the exception of specialty shots, the show was photographed on Alexa 65 — mostly in 5K mode, but occasionally in 6.5K and 4K for certain lenses. The camera is beautiful and a large part of the show’s cinematic look, but it generates a lot of data (about 1.9TB/hour for 5K) so this was the first challenge. The camera dictates using the Codex Vault system, and Encore Vancouver was up to the task for handling this material. We wanted to get the amount of data down for post, so we generated 4096×2304 ProRes 4444XQ “mezzanine” files, which we used for almost all of the show assembly and VFX pulls.

During production and post, all of our 4K files were kept online at Efilm using their portal system. This allowed us fast, automated access to the material so we could quickly do VFX pulls, manage color, generate 16-bit EXR frames and send those off to VFX vendors. We knew that time saved there was going to give us more time on the back end to work creatively on the shots so the Portal was a very valuable tool.

How many VFX shots did you average per episode? Seems like a ton, especially with the AI characters. Who provided those and what were those turnarounds like?
Palmer: There were around 2,300 visual effects shots during this season — probably less than most people would think because we built a large Bay City street inside a former newspaper printing facility outside of Vancouver. The shot turnaround varied depending on the complexity and where we were in the schedule. We were lucky that something like episode 1’s “limo ride” sequence was started very early on because it gave us a lot of time to refine our first grand views of Bay City. Our VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and VFX producer Tony Meagher were able to get us out in front of a lot of challenges like the amount of 3D work in the last two episodes by starting that work early on since we knew we would need those shots from the script and prep phase.