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Checking In: Glassworks’ Duncan Malcolm, Flame Award winner

Back in April, during an event at NAB, Autodesk presented its 2019 Flame Award to Duncan Malcolm. This Flame artist and director of 2D at Glassworks VFX in London is being celebrated for his 20-plus years of artistic achievements.

Malcolm has been working in production and post for 33 years. At Glassworks, he works closely with the studio’s CG artists to seamlessly blend CG photoreal assets and real-world environments for high-end commercial clients. Alongside his work in commercials, Malcolm has worked closely with the creators of the television series Black Mirror on look development and compositing for the award-winning Netflix series, including the critically acclaimed Bandersnatch interactive episode.

Duncan Malcolm

Let’s find out more about Malcolm’s beginnings, and the path that led him to Glassworks. And you can check out his showreel here.

You have a rich history in this industry. How did you get started working in VFX?
I started straight out of school at 15 years old at TVP, a small production company in Scotland that made corporate films and crewed for visiting broadcast companies. It was very small so I got involved in everything — camera work, location sound, sound design, edit and even made the VHS dubs, 8mm cine film transfers and designed the tape covers. So I learned a lot by getting on and doing it. It was before the Internet was prevalent, so you couldn’t just Google it back then; it really was trial and error.

TVP are still based in Aberdeen and still doing incredible work with a tiny crew. I often tell people in London about their feature film Sawney Bean, which they self-funded and made with a complete crew of five in their “spare time” and for all that, is completely inspirational.

I then became an offline and online editor at Picardy Television, which was at the time the biggest and most creative edit house in Scotland. It was there that I started using Quantel’s Editbox. I was focused on the offline  but also started to incorporate more sophisticated VFX into the online work. Around 1998 I made quite an abrupt move to London, I think as a reaction to my dad’s death. Back then the London industry didn’t really accept that one person could be good at more than one part of the filmmaking process, so I decided to focus on the VFX string on my bow.

I freelanced through Soho Editors as an Editbox artist in London and Denmark until I was offered the creative director/lead compositor position at Saatchi’s in-house company, Triangle. This is where I first met the Flame, and together we spent many a long day and night together making commercials and music videos.

I think my first big lead Flame job was Craig David’s Walking Away for Max and Dania. Apart from a few relatively simple commercials I hadn’t truly put the toolset to the test by then. It was quite frankly my personal VFX version of a baptism by fire. I barely left the room for weeks but felt more inspired (and tired) by the end.

Flame became my best VFX friend and my work grew in complexity. Eventually I was offered a position by Joce Capper and Bill McNamara at Rushes and spent quite a few years there working on a fair mixture of commercials and music videos.

How did you find your way to Glassworks?
Around 14 years ago, Hector Macleod offered me a Flame operator position at Glassworks. I jumped at that chance, and since then we have been building on Glassworks’ reputation for seamless VFX and innovative techniques. It’s been fun times, but also very interesting to watch the growth of our industry and the changes in expectations in projects. Even more interesting to me is that, even though on large projects we still effectively specialize, the industry in London and worldwide is much more accepting of the multi-skilled approach to filmmaking. Finally, the world is beginning to embrace the principles I first learned 33 years ago at TVP.

For the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, how did your creative process on this episode differ from other TV projects, and did you use Flame any differently as a result?
I should mention that Bandersnatch has been nominated for a few BAFTAs (best single drama, best editing and best special, visual and graphic effect) so everyone involved are massively excited about that.

I really like working with House of Tomorrow on the Black Mirror films, but I especially loved working on Bandersnatch with producer Russell McLean and director David Slade. It really felt like we were involved in something fresh and new. Nobody knew for sure how the audience was going to watch and engage with such a complex story told in the interactive format. This made it impossible to make any of the normal assumptions. For VFX the goal was the same as normal: to realize director David Slade’s vision and, in the process, make every shot as engaging as possible. But the fact that it didn’t play out in a single linear timeline meant that every single decision had to be considered from this new point of view.

When did you get involved in the project?
I was involved in the very early stages of Bandersnatch, helping with ideas for the viewer’s interactive choice points. These tests were more basic editorial and content tests. I shot our head of production Duncan Buxton acting out parts of the script and cut decision-point sequences to illustrate ways the choices could work. I used Flame as an offline, basic online and audio editing tool for these. Almost every stage in the VFX planning went through some look developed in Flame.

For the environmental work we used traditional matte painting techniques and some clever CG techniques in places, but on a lot of it, I used the Flame to build and paint concept layouts. The pre-shoot the Trellick concept work in fact carried through to the final shots. The moment the mirror cracks was completely built in Flame using some pictures of west London vandalism I came across by accident on the way back from a Bandersnatch preproduction meeting.

The “through the mirror” sequences were shot with 3x-synced ARRI 65 cameras and the footage was unwrapped and used to re-project onto a 3D Stefan [the show’s young programmer] to make his reflection whilst he emerged from the mirror. The VFX requirements on this section of the shoot schedule were quite significant, so on set we had to be confident of the technique used and very quick to react to changes. Since rebuilding his reflection would take many weeks, I built versions of all the shots in Flame. These were used by editor Tony Kearns to find a pace for the sequence, and this fed into our CG artists who were building the reflection.

There were all sorts of Flame tools used to look-develop and finish this show. It really was my complete VFX supervisor companion throughout.

Can you talk about your Mr-benn.com initiative and how that came about?
Mr-benn.com is an art site I set up to exhibit and sell some of what I refer to as ‘the other art” created by people who work in the film and television industry. A portion from every sale is donated to plasticpollutioncoalition.org. It raises awareness about and fights plastic pollution, which is something worth standing behind.

I talked with so many friends and colleagues, talented in their own work fields, who had such an Insatiable appetite for creating that even after the grueling schedules of film projects had beaten them, they still had more to create and show. Their “other” is an amazing mixture of photography, found art, land art, fractals, infrared photography and digital design. It all could be — and often is — exhibited separately on generic art sites without much importance put on the creators’ cinematic achievements. Mr-benn is about the achievement in both their day jobs their “other art” together. It’s starting to get talked about; I hope people like what they see and help support a good cause.

How has your use of Flame changed or evolved over the past 20 years? Are there any particular features that have been added that make your job easier?
Flame has changed greatly since I started with it. I think the addition of the timeline was a particular game-changer, and it’s difficult to remember what it was like without 16-bit float capabilities. On terms of recent changes, the color management has made color workflow much easier. To be fair, every update makes something a little easier.

What other tools are in your arsenal?
I have the demo of almost every type of 3D and 2D package on my laptop, but I haven’t made enough time to master any of them apart from Flame, a little Nuke and Photoshop. I do rely on my Canon DSLR a lot, and I grade stills with Lightroom.

Was there a particular film that motivated you to work in VFX?
Not one in particular. There have been some that along the way have impressed me. I’m thinking District 9 as I type, but there have been a few with a similar effect on me.

What inspires your work?
I take an interest in a lot of everyday things, what the world looks and moves like. Not enough to be an expert in anything, but enough to understand (on a basic level) how it could be recreated. I’m certainly not very clever, just interested enough to spend proper time to find solutions.

The other part is that I seem to have is a gene that makes me feel really bad if I let people down. So I keep going until a problem shot is better, or I hit an immovable delivery date. I’d have done okay in any service industry really.

Any tips for young people starting out?
I see a direct link between exceptional creativity in VFX work to how deeply curious people are in the real world, with all of its incredible qualities. A good place to start is getting interested in what the real world actually looks like through a real lens. Take your own pictures, as it makes you understand relationship between lens and objects.

Start your own projects, and make sure they’re ambitious. Work out how to make them amazing. Then show these as an example of what you can do. Don’t show roto for rotos sake. Once you get a job, don’t get complacent and think you’ve made it. The next step in a career isn’t automatic. It only happens with added effort.

VFX and color for new BT spot via The Mill

UK telco BT wanted to create a television spot that showcased the WiFi capabilities of its broadband hub and underline its promise of “whole home coverage.” Sonny director Fredrik Bond visualized a fun and fast-paced spot for agency AMV BBDO, and a The Mill London was brought onboard to help with VFX and color. It is called Complete WiFi.

In the piece, the hero comes home to find it full of soldiers, angels, dancers, fairies, a giant and a horse — characters from the myriad of games and movies the family are watching simultaneously. Obviously, the look depends upon multiple layers of compositing, which have to be carefully scaled to be convincing.

They also need to be very carefully color matched, with similar lighting applied, so all the layers sit together. In a traditional workflow, this would have meant a lot of loops between VFX and grading to get the best from each layer, and a certain amount of compromise as the colorist imposed changes on virtual elements to make the final grade.

To avoid this, and to speed progress, The Mill recently started using BLG for Flame, a FilmLilght plugin that allows Baselight grades to be rendered identically within Flame — and with no back and forth to the color suite to render out new versions of shots. It means the VFX supervisor is continually seeing the latest grade and the colorist can access the latest Flame elements to match them in.

“Of course it was frustrating to grade a sequence and then drop the VFX on top,” explains VFX supervisor Ben Turner. “To get the results our collaborators expect, we were constantly pushing material to and fro. We could end up with more than a hundred publishes on a single job.”

With the BLG for Flame plugin, the VFX artist sees the latest Baselight grade automatically applied, either from FilmLight’s BLG format files or directly from a Baselight scene, even while the scene is still being graded — although Turner says he prefers to be warned when updates are coming.

This works because all systems have access to the raw footage. Baselight grades non-destructively, by building up layers of metadata that are imposed in realtime. The metadata includes all the grading information, multiple windows and layers, effects and relights, textures and more – the whole process. This information can be imposed on the raw footage by any BLG-equipped device (there are Baselight Editions software plugins for Avid and Nuke, too) for realtime rendering and review.

That is important because it also allows remote viewing. For this BT spot, director Bond was back in Los Angeles by the time of the post. He sat in a calibrated room in The Mill in LA and could see the graded images at every stage. He could react quickly to the first animation tests.

“I can render a comp and immediately show it to a client with the latest grade from The Mill’s colorist, Dave Ludlam,” says Turner. “When the client really wants to push a certain aspect of the image, we can ensure through both comp and grade that this is done sympathetically, maintaining the integrity of the image.”

(L-R) VFX supervisor Ben Turner and colorist Dave Ludlam.

Turner admits that it means more to-ing and fro-ing, but that is a positive benefit. “If I need to talk to Dave then I can pop in and solve a specific challenge in minutes. By creating the CGI to work with the background, I know that Dave will never have to push anything too hard in the final grade.”

Ludlam agrees that this is a complete change, but extremely beneficial. “With this new process, I am setting looks but I am not committing to them,” he says. “Working together I get a lot more creative input while still achieving a much slicker workflow. I can build the grade and only lock it down when everyone is happy.

“It is a massive speed-up, but more importantly it has made our output far superior. It gives everyone more control and — with every job under huge time pressure — it means we can respond quickly.”

The spot was offlined by Patric Ryan from Marshall Street. Audio post was via 750mph with sound designers Sam Ashwell and Mike Bovill.

Autodesk cloud-enabled tools now work with BeBop post platform

Autodesk has enabled use of its software in the cloud — including 3DS Max, Arnold, Flame and Maya — and BeBop Technology will deploy the tools on its cloud-based post platform. The BeBop platform enables processing-heavy post projects, such as visual effects and editing, in the cloud on powerful and highly secure virtualized desktops. Creatives can process, render, manage and deliver media files from anywhere on BeBop using any computer and as small as a 20Mbps Internet connection.

The ongoing deployment of Autodesk software on the BeBop platform mirrors the ways BeBop and Adobe work closely together to optimize the experience of Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers. Adobe applications have been available natively on BeBop since April 2018.

Autodesk software users will now also gain access to BeBop Rocket Uploader, which enables ingestion of large media files at incredibly high speeds for a predictable monthly fee with no volume limits. Additionally, BeBop Over the Shoulder (OTS) enables secure and affordable remote collaboration, review and approval sessions in real-time. BeBop runs on all of the major public clouds, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure.

Behind the Title: Deluxe Senior Finishing Editor Samantha Uber

NAME: Samantha Uber (@samanthauber)

COMPANY: Deluxe NY

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Deluxe NY is the New York City branch of the classic film lab founded in 1915. Today, we are a huge multimedia international empire for all types of content creation and delivery. My favorite part of working for this company is that we manage to serve our clients in a personalized, boutique environment but with the support of a worldwide network of both technology and ideas.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Finishing Editor

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU DO?
I am a Flame finishing editor/VFX artist, and I come from an Avid online and offline editorial background. I also use Blackmagic Resolve, Adobe Premiere and Apple FCP for their various abilities for different projects. While I always fully finish (conform/online) episodic and film projects in Flame, I also always use a unique mix of those applications listed above for each project to get me to that point in the highest quality and most efficient way possible. I am very interested in the building of the computer I am working on, the specialized scripts to make data organized, the debayer/color science process and, of course, the actual editing and delivery of the project.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In my job as a finishing editor, I am surprisingly super-involved in dailies, mainly because I know what will make the job easier on the finishing editor if certain metadata is retained and organized in dailies. Seeing how the metadata coming from the dailies process is actually implemented in finishing allows me to have a unique perspective, and I teach dailies techs about this to give them a better understanding of how their work is being used.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Everyone who knows me, knows my favorite thing is a reconform. I love them. They are challenging, like giant Tetris puzzles — my favorite game growing up was Tetris. I love getting in the zone for hours and hours, moving the pieces of the timeline around, relying on the metadata the Flame gives me to do it more efficiently, and sometimes, not even looking at the actual picture until the end.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
For me, my least favorite thing is working on something that doesn’t challenge me. I like to constantly be thinking about ways to process new camera formats and new workflows, and understanding/being involved in the entire online process from start to finish. I love the “hard” jobs… the tough ones to figure out, even if that means I lose quite a bit of sleep (she laughs). There is always a limit to that, of course, but if I’m not involved in research and development on a project, I’m not happy. For this reason, I love working in episodic television the most because I can R&D a workflow and then use it and perfect it over time, all while building a close relationship with my clients and feeling ownership of my show.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I’d say mid-afternoon and around 9pm at night. After the morning fires are put out and everything gets going, the middle of the afternoon gets a lot of work done. Also, around 9pm I enjoy working because the formal working day has pretty much ended and I can just zero in on a project and work quietly, without distractions.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I really love restoring antiques, whether it’s furniture or the 100-year-old Victorian home I live in. I am always working with my hands — either at work or at home — building, painting, grooming dogs, veggie-gardening, cooking, sculpting, etc. I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into antique pieces. I feel that type of work is lost in today’s disposable world.

What I do for films as a finishing editor is quite like the restoration work I do at home — taking something and realizing it to its full potential and giving it a new life. For these reasons I think I could possibly be an architect/designer, specializing in the mostly period-accurate restoration of antique homes. I still may end up doing this many years from now.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I knew very early on that I wanted to be a film editor of some sort. I was 16 yrs old when the film Moulin Rouge came out, and my best friend Michelle and I saw it in the theater. We both knew we wanted to do something technical and creative from that point. She became a computer engineer, and I became a senior finishing editor. I loved the editing and pacing of that film, how it was so much like the music videos I grew up watching, and I wanted to be able to tell a story with VFX and editing. I actually practiced on the Moulin Rouge DVD extras re-editing the scenes on the ISOs of the cameras they provided.

I was 16 when I applied to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. It was my only choice for college. I initially went for a summer between my junior and senior year of high school and continued after high school for three more years until I graduated. I was working as a freelance editor for students, working at MTV as a junior editor, and teaching Avid editing at NYU during that time — always working!

Moulin Rouge is still my favorite film, and my dream is to work with director Baz Lurhmann one day.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I have worked as senior finishing editor on Paterno, High Maintenance, Girls, Vinyl and Boardwalk Empire for HBO, The Knick for Cinemax, Blue Bloods for CBS, The Americans for FX, Jesus Christ Superstar for NBC and Mr. Robot for USA. I worked on the film All These Small Moments for the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the films Beasts of No Nation and Moonrise Kingdom in recent years.

YOU HAVE WORKED ON ALL SORTS OF PROJECTS. DO YOU PUT ON A DIFFERENT HAT WHEN CUTTING FOR A SPECIFIC GENRE?
I certainly put on a different workflow hat for the different parts of my job. It actually feels like different jobs sometimes —  painting a visual effect, building a computer, making a finishing workflow, conforming a show, debayering footage, designing a dailies workflow, etc. I think that keeps it interesting; doing something different every day.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The project I am most proud of is The Knick. I was involved in the process of creating the workflow of the show with Steven Soderbergh’s team for one year before it actually began. I believe it was the first show to use the Red Dragon camera at 5K, finishing at UHD. I worked intensely with the Red team to develop the software, color workflow and computer for debayering the footage.

I also worked closely with colorist Martin Zeichner and Steven’s team to retain the exact onset look of color immediately and efficiently, while also giving them the full latitude of the Red format in the DI. The result was beautiful, and I really enjoyed the show. I felt like the plot of the show — innovation in the surgical field — was being mirrored in the innovation in the actual finishing of the show, which was super awesome!

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THE TOOLS YOU USE?
For all final finishing, I use Autodesk Flame. I am proficient in nearly all platforms, but to me, nothing is better than the unique timeline in Flame, where layers see each other and tracks do not. This allows you to have many versions of a cut in one timeline, and is ideal for finishing. Also, the VFX capability of the Flame is unparalleled in an editing system, and it allows me to start working on anything in moments at the client’s request. However, Avid will always be my favorite for metadata and database management, and I usually start every project with a peek at the metadata in the Avid, and frequently a full reorganization.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLUGIN?
My favorite and most frequently used plugin is Re:Vision’s Twixtor, for the tons and tons of timewarps I do. This plugin helps me paint less frames than most. Close runners-up are Autodesk’s Autostabilize, which is actually highly customizable, and Furnace’s F-WireRemoval for all sorts of purposes.

ARE YOU OFTEN ASKED TO DO MORE THAN EDIT? 
Being a finishing editor means you are the last person to touch the project before it airs, so you are the last stop in everything. For that reason, I am often asked to anything and everything in session — re-mix sound, creatively re-edit, give advice on VFX shots and deliverables, do VFX shots, make masters, QC masters. You name it and I do it in session. I think that’s what the job really entails; being able to give the client what they are looking for at the last possible moment, especially now that they are seeing the final product in high-resolution and color corrected.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I could not live without my iPhone, as it connects me to the outside world as well as my job. It’s like my whole life is on my phone. I could also not live without my Wacom tablet. Finishing an edit is a whole lot easier on a tablet. Also, my super-fast cylinder Mac, outfitted so that every application and high-resolution footage can be processed extremely quickly. I still do wish my Mac was square, however, (she laughs), for more equipment compatibility, but I cannot complain about its high-speed processing ability. Engineering has kindly given me a Mac that I can play on and try new software, often before it is rolled into production throughout the facility. Th is keeps me in the know on new developments in our industry. This computer is totally separate from my super powerful Linux Flame system.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Yes, this is a high-stress job! I feel very responsible for all of the people who have put their hard work into a project to make sure it is shown in its best light and everything is as perfect as possible on often-tight deadlines. After a project leaves my hands it goes to QC, and my final work is what they see and what airs.

Because everything I do is on computers, I try to spend as little time on a computer outside of work as possible. As I mentioned before, I live in a 100-year-old house that I am restoring myself. What is nice is that I feel like I’m using the same part of my brain as I do at my job, however it is usually outdoors and involving physical labor. That is a great de-stressor from working on a computer in a windowless and darkened room all week.

I live far outside the city by the beach, and when I’m home, I’m really home and work seems a world away. I have two beautiful Afghan Hound sister dogs, Ginny and Trill, and a 1974 VW bus named Buddy. I honestly don’t like to rest. I always like to be working on my projects and pushing forward in my life, and I am just your typical Jersey girl at heart.

Freefolk New York hires Flame artist Brandon Danowski

Freefolk’s New York studio has beefed up its staff with the addition of Brandon Danowski as lead Flame artist. Danowski joins Freefolk after spending four years at The Mill’s New York City office, where he worked on the NFL’s 2015 Super Bowl Babies spot, among other things.

His resume includes working on brand campaigns for Samsung, The New York Times, HBO, Verizon, Cadillac, Lincoln and TD Ameritrade. “I learned so much at The Mill, and it was brilliant being part of a global company of that scale. I’m now excited about working in the atmosphere of a boutique and am delighted to have joined the roster at Freefolk”.

Danowski started in the industry in 2010 as an intern with Beast, Company 3 and Method in Atlanta. He was brought on full time when his internship ended.

Working in TV, film and commercial projects, Freefolk provides full-service post and VFX, including 2D & 3D visual effects, high-end color grading, shoot supervision, animation, design, concept and direction.

VFX house Kevin adds three industry veterans

Venice, California-based visual effects house Kevin, founded by Tim Davies, Sue Troyan and Darcy Parsons, has beefed up its team even further with the hiring of head of CG Mike Dalzell, VFX supervisor Theo Maniatis and head of technology Carl Loeffler. This three-month-old studio has already worked on spots for Jaguar, Land Rover, Target and Old Spice, and is currently working on a series of commercials for the Super Bowl.

Dalzell brings years of experience as a CG supervisor and lead artist — he started as a 3D generalist before focusing on look development and lighting — at top creative studios including Digital Domain, MPC and Psyop, The Mill, Sony Imageworks and Method. He was instrumental in look development for VFX Gold Clio and British Arrow-winner Call of Duty Seize Glory and GE’s Childlike Imagination. He has also worked on commercials for Nissan, BMW, Lexus, Visa, Cars.com, Air Force and others. Early on, Dalzell honed his skills on music videos in Toronto, and then on feature films such as Iron Man 3 and The Matrix movies, as well as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Maniatis, a Flame artist and on-set VFX supervisor, has a wide breadth of experience in the US, London and his native Sydney. “Tim [Davies] and I used to work together back in Australia, so reconnecting with him and moving to LA has been a blast.”

Maniatis’s work includes spots for Apple Watch 3 + Apple Music’s Roll (directed by Sam Brown), TAG Heuer’s To Jack (directed by and featuring Patrick Dempsey), Destiny 2’s Rally the Troops and Titanfall 2’s Become One (via Blur Studios), and PlayStation VR’s Batman Arkham and Axe’s Office Love, both directed by Filip Engstrom. Prior to joining Kevin, Maniatis worked with Blur Studios, Psyop, The Mill, Art Jail and Framestore.

Loeffler is creating the studio’s production model using the latest Autodesk Flame systems, high-end 3D workstations and render nodes and putting new networking and storage systems into place. Kevin’s new Culver City studio will open its doors in Q1, 2018 and Loeffler will guide the current growth in both hardware and software, plan for the future and make sure Kevin’s studio is optimized for the needs of production. He has over two decades of experience building out and expanding the technologies for facilities including MPC and Technicolor.

Image: (L-R) Mike Dalzell, Carl Loeffler and Theo Maniatis.

Behind the Title: Senior compositing artist Marcel Lemme

We recently reached out to Marcel Lemme to find out more about how he works, his background and how he relaxes.

What is your job title and where are you based?
I’m a senior compositing artist based out of Hamburg, Germany.

What does your job entail?
I spend about 90 percent of my time working on commercial jobs for local and international companies like BMW, Audi and Nestle, but also dabble in feature films, corporate videos and music videos. On a regular day, I’m handling everything from job breakdowns to set supervision to conform. I’m also doing shot management for the team, interacting with clients, showing clients work and some compositing. Client review sessions and final approvals are regular occurrences for me too.

What would surprise people the most about the responsibilities that fall under that title?
When it comes to client attended sessions, you have to be part clown, part mind-reader. Half the job is being a good artist; the other half is keeping clients happy. You have to anticipate what the client will want and balance that with what you know looks best. I not only have to create and keep a good mood in the room, but also problem-solve with a smile.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love solving problems when compositing solo. There’s nothing better than tackling a tough project and getting results you’re proud of.

What’s your least favorite?
Sometimes the client isn’t sure what they want, which can make the job harder.

What’s your most productive time of day?
I’m definitely not a morning guy, so the evening — I’m more productive at night.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I’ve asked myself this question a lot, but honestly, I’ve never come up with a good answer.

How’d you get your first job, and did you know this was your path early on?
I fell into it. I was young and thought I’d give computer graphics a try, so I reached out to someonewho knew someone, and before I knew it I was interning at a company in Hamburg, which is how I came to know online editing. At the time, Quantel mostly dominated the industry with Editbox and Henry, and Autodesk Flame and Flint were just emerging. I dove in and started using all the technology I could get my hands on, and gradually started securing jobs based on recommendations.

Which tools are you using today, and why?
I use whatever the client and/or the project demands, whether it’s Flame or Foundry’s Nuke and for tracking I often use The Pixel Farm PFTrack and Boris FX Mocha. For commercial spots, I’ll do a lot of the conform and shot management on Flame and then hand off the shots to other team members. Or, if I do it myself, I’ll finish in Flame because I know I can do it fast.

I use Flame because it gives me different ways to achieve a certain look or find a solution to a problem. I can also play a clip at any resolution with just two clicks in Flame, which is important when you’re in a room with clients who want to see different versions on the fly. The recent open clip updates and python integration have also saved me time. I can import and review shots, with automatic versions coming in, and build new tools or automate tedious processes in the post chain that have typically slowed me down.

Tell us about some recent project work.
I recently worked on a project for BMW as a compositing supervisor and collaborated with eight other compositors to finish number of versions in a short amount of time. We did shot management, compositing, reviewing, versioning and such in Flame. Also individual shot compositing in Nuke and some tracking in Mocha Pro.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
There’s no one project that stands out in particular, but overall, I’m proud of jobs like the BMW spots, where I’ve led a team of artists and everything just works and flows. It’s rewarding when the client doesn’t know what you did or how you did it, but loves the end result.

Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
The obvious answer here is other commercials, but I also watch a lot of movies and, of course, spend time on the Internet.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
The off button on the telephone (they should really make that bigger), anything related to cinematography or digital cinema, and streaming technology.

What social media channels do you follow?
I’ve managed to avoid Facebook, but I do peek at Twitter and Instagram from time to time. Twitter can be a great quick reference for regional news or finding out about new technology and/or industry trends.

Do you listen to music while you work?
Less now than I did when I was younger. Most of the time, I can’t as I’m juggling too much and it’s distracting. When I listen to music, I appreciate techno, classical and singer/song writer stuff; whatever sets the mood for the shots I’m working on. Right now, I’m into Iron and Wine and Trentemøller, a Danish electronic music producer.

How do you de-stress from the job?
My drive home. It can take anywhere from a half an hour to an hour, depending on the traffic, and that’s my alone time. Sometimes I listen to music, other times I sit in silence. I cool down and prepare to switch gears before heading home to be with my family.

MPC adds Flame artists and executive producer to its finishing team

MPC has strengthened its finishing capabilities with the addition of Flame artist and creative director Claus Hansen, senior Flame artist Noah Caddis and executive producer Robert Owens. The trio, who have joined MPC from Method, have over a decade of experience working together. They will be based in MPC’s Culver City studio.

Owens, Hansen and Caddis are all looking forward to collaborating with MPC’s colorists and artists who are located all around the world. “We were attracted to MPC for the quality of work they are renowned for. At the same time it feels very accessible, like we’re working in a collective group, all driven by the same thing, to make great work,” says Hansen. “We are at a point in our careers where we can take our knowledge and skills to make the best experience possible for the company and clients.”

“There is an assurance that all projects will be treated with an artistic eye and scrutiny that is not typically found in the fast-paced nature of finishing and beauty,” adds Caddis.

Hansen has worked with agencies, such as CP+B, Wieden + Kennedy and Deutsch, creating effects, beauty and finishing work on content for brands including BMW, Lexus, Maserati, Microsoft, Target and Revlon.

Caddis has worked on spots for Infiniti, Kia, Adobe, Diet Dr Pepper and others. He too has a strong history of partnering with high-profile agencies like Deutsch, CP+B, Media Arts Lab, Agency 215 and David & Goliath.

“Robert, Noah and I have noticed the strong sense of camaraderie since we arrived, and it’s contagious,” says Hansen. “It gives the feeling of being in a tight-knit, creatively focused group that you want to be a part of. And that’s very appealing.”

Main Image: (L-R) Noah Caddis, Robert Owen and Claus Hansen.

Cabin Editing Company opens in Santa Monica focusing on editing, VFX

Cabin Editing Company has opened in Santa Monica, started by three industry veterans: managing partner Carr Schilling and award-winning editors Chan Hatcher, Graham Turner and Isaac Chen.

“We are a company of film editors with a passion for storytelling who are committed to mentoring talent and establishing lasting relationships with directors and agencies,” says Schilling, who formerly worked alongside Hatcher, Turner and Chen at NO6.

L-R: Isaac Chen, Carr Schilling, Graham Turner and Chan Hatcher.

Cabin, which also features creative director/Flame artist Verdi Sevenhuysen and editor Lucas Spaulding, will offer creative editorial, visual effects, finishing, graphics and color. The boutique’s work spans mediums across broadcast, branded content, web, film and more.

Why was now the right time to open a studio? “Everything aligned to make it possible, and at Cabin we have a collective of top creative talent where each of us bring our individual style to our projects to create great work with our clients,” says Schilling.

The boutique studio has already been busy working with agencies such as 215 McCann, BBDO, CP+B, Deutsch, GSD&M, Mekanism and Saatchi & Saatchi.

In terms of tools, Cabin uses Avid Media Composer and Autodesk Flame Premium all centralized to the Facilis TerraBlock shared storage system via Fibre.

Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latest Autodesk Flame family updates and more

Autodesk was at NAB talking up new versions of its tools for media and entertainment, including the Autodesk Flame Family 2018 Update 1 for VFX, the Arnold 5.0 renderer, Maya 2017 Update 3 for 3D animation, performance updates for Shotgun production tracking and review software and 3DS Max 2018 software for 3D modeling.

The Autodesk Flame 2018 Update 1 includes new action and batch paint improvements such as 16-bit floating point (FP) depth support, scene detect and conform enhancements.

The Autodesk Maya 2017 Update 3 includes enhancements to character creation tools such as interactive grooming with XGen, an all-new UV workflow, and updates to the motion graphics toolset that includes a live link with Adobe After Effects and more.

Arnold 5.0 is offering several updates including better sampling, new standard surface, standard hair and standard volume shaders, Open Shading Language (OSL) support, light path expressions, refactored shading API and a VR camera.

— Shotgun updates accelerate multi-region performance and make media uploads and downloads faster regardless of location.

— Autodesk 3ds Max 2018 offers Arnold 5.0 rendering via a new MAXtoA 1.0 plug-in, customizable workspaces, smart asset creation tools, Bézier motion path animation, and a cloud-based large model viewer (LMV) that integrates with Autodesk Forge.

The Flame Family 2018 Update 1, Maya 2017 Update 3 and 3DS Max 2018 are all available now via Autodesk e-stores and Autodesk resellers. Arnold 5.0 and Shotgun are both available via their respective websites.

VFX house Jamm adds Flame artist Mark Holden

Santa Monica-based visual effects boutique Jamm has added veteran Flame artist Mark Holden to its roster. Holden comes to Jamm with over 20 years of experience in post production, including stints in London and Los Angeles.

It didn’t take long for Holden to dive right in at Jamm; he worked on Space 150’s Buffalo Wild Wings Super Bowl campaign directed by the Snorri Bros. and starring Brett Favre. The Super Bowl teaser kicked off the pre-game.

Holden is known not only for his visual effects talent, but also for turning projects around under tight deadlines and offering his clients as many possible solutions within the post process. This has earned him work with leading agencies such as Fallon, Mother, Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, 180, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Deutsch, David & Goliath, and Team One. He has worked with brands including Lexus, Activision, Adidas, Chevy, Geico, Grammys, Kia, Lyft, Pepsi, Southwest Airlines, StubHub, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Stella Artois, Silk, Heineken and Olay.

 

Grading & Compositing Storage: Northern Lights

Speed is key for artist Chris Hengeveld.

By Beth Marchant

For Flame artist Chris Hengeveld of Northern Lights in New York City, high-performance file-level storage and a Fibre Channel connection mean it’s never been easier for him to download original source footage and share reference files with editorial on another floor. But Hengeveld still does 80 percent of his work the old-fashioned way: off hand-delivered drives that come in with raw footage from production.

Chris Hengeveld

The bicoastal editorial and finishing facility Northern Lights — parent company to motion graphics house Mr. Wonderful, the audio facility SuperExploder and production boutique Bodega — has an enviably symbiotic relationship with its various divisions. “We’re a small company but can go where we need to go,” says colorist/compositor Hengeveld. “We also help each other out. I do a lot of compositing, and Mr. Wonderful might be able to help me out or an assistant editor here might help me with After Effects work. There’s a lot of spillover between the companies, and I think that’s why we stay busy.”

Hengeveld, who has been with Northern Lights for nine years, uses Flame Premium, Autodesk’s visual effects finishing bundle of Flame and Flare with grading software Lustre. “It lets me do everything from final color work, VFX and compositing to plain-old finishing to get it out of the box and onto the air,” he says. With Northern Lights’ TV-centric work now including a growing cache of Web content, Hengeveld must often grade and finish in parallel. “No matter how you send it out, chances are what you’ve done is going to make it to the Web in some way. We make sure that what we make look good on TV also looks good on the Web. It’s often just two different outputs. What looks good on broadcast you often have to goose a bit to get it to look good on the Web. Also, the audio specs are slightly different.”

Hengeveld provided compositing and color on this spot for Speedo.

Editorial workflows typically begin on the floor above Hengeveld in Avid, “and an increasing number, as time goes by, in Adobe Premiere,” he says. Editors are connected to media through a TerraBlock shared storage system from Facilis. “Each room works off a partition from the TerraBlock, though typically with files transcoded from the original footage,” he says. “There’s very little that gets translated from them to me, in terms of clip-based material. But we do have an Aurora RAID from Rorke (now Scale Logic) off which we run a HyperFS SAN — a very high-performance, file-level storage area network — that connects to all the rooms and lets us share material very easily.”

The Avids in editorial at Northern Lights are connected by Gigabit Ethernet, but Hengeveld’s room is connected by Fibre. “I get very fast downloading of whatever I need. That system includes Mr. Wonderful, too, so we can share what we need to, when we need to. But I don’t really share much of the Avid work except for reference files.” For that, he goes back to raw camera footage. “I’d say bout 80 percent of the time, I’m pulling that raw shoot material off of G-Technology drives. It’s still sneaker-net on getting those source drives, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” he says. “I sometimes get 6TB of footage in for certain jobs and you’re not going to copy that all to a centrally located storage, especially when you’ll end up using about a hundredth of that material.”

The source drives are typically dupes from the production company, which more often than not is sister company Bodega. “These drives are not made for permanent storage,” he says. “These are transitional drives. But if you’re storing stuff that you want to access in five to six years, it’s really got to go to LTO or some other system.” It’s another reason he’s so committed to Flame and Lustre, he says. Both archive every project locally with its complete media, which can be then be easily dropped onto an LTO for safe long-term storage.

Time or money constraints can shift this basic workflow for Hengeveld, who sometimes receives a piece of a project from an editor that has been stripped of its color correction. “In that case, instead of loading in the raw material, I would load in the 15- or 30-second clip that they’ve created and work off of that. The downside with that is if the clip was shot with an adjustable format camera like a Red or Arri RAW, I lose that control. But at least, if they shoot it in Log-C, I still have the ability to have material that has a lot of latitude to work with. It’s not desirable, but for better stuff I almost always go back to the original source material and do a conform. But you sometimes are forced to make concessions, depending on how much time or budget the client has.”

A recent spot for IZod, with color by Hengeveld.

Those same constraints, paired with advances in technology, also mean far fewer in-person client meetings. “So much of this stuff is being evaluated on their computer after I’ve done a grade or composite on it,” he says. “I guess they feel more trust with the companies they’re working with. And let’s be honest: when you get into these very detailed composites, it can be like watching paint dry. Yet, many times when I’m grading,  I love having a client here because I think the sum of two is always greater than one. I enjoy the interaction. I learn something and I get to know my client better, too. I find out more about their subjectivity and what they like. There’s a lot to be said for it.”

Hengeveld also knows that his clients can often be more efficient at their own offices, especially when handling multiple projects at once, influencing their preferences for virtual meetings. “That’s the reality. There’s good and bad about that trade off. But sometimes, nothing beats an in-person session.”

Our main image is from NBC’s Rokerthon.

Netflix’s ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ gets crisper look via UHD

NYC’s Technicolor Postworks created a dedicated post workflow for the upgrade.

Having compiled seven Emmy Award nominations in its debut season, Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returned in mid-April with 13 new episodes in a form that is, quite literally, bigger and better.

The sitcom, from co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, features the ever-cheerful and ever-hopeful Kimmy Schmidt, whose spirit refuses to be broken, even after being held captive during her formative years. This season the series has boosted its delivery format from standard HD to the crisper, clearer, more detailed look of Ultra High Definition (UHD).

L-R: Pat Kelleher and Roger Doran

As with the show’s first season, post finishing was done at Technicolor PostWorks New York. Online editor Pat Kelleher and colorist Roger Doran once again served as the finishing team, working under the direction of series producer Dara Schnapper, post supervisor Valerie Landesberg and director of photography John Inwood. Almost everything else, however, was different.

The first season had been shot by Inwood with Arri Alexa, capturing in 1080p, and finished in ProRes 4444. The new episodes were shot with Red Dragon, capturing in 5K, and needed to be finished in UHD. That meant that the hardware and workflow used by Kelleher and Doran had to be retooled to efficiently manage UHD files four times larger than ProRes.

“It was an eye opener,” recalls Kelleher of the change. “Obviously, the amount of drive space needed for storage is huge. Everyone from our data manager through to the people who did the digital deliveries had to contend with the higher volume of data. The actual hands-on work is not that different from an HD show, but you need the horses to do it.”

Before post work began, engineers from Technicolor PostWorks’ in-house research unit, The Test Lab, analyzed the workflow requirements of UHD and began making changes. They built an entirely new hardware Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtsystem for Kelleher to use, running Autodesk’s Flame Premium. It consisted of an HP Z820 workstation with Nvidia Quadro K6000 graphics, 64GB of RAM and dual Intel Xeon Processor E5-2687Ws (20M Cache, 3.10 GHz, 8.00 GT/s Intel QPI). Kelleher described its performance in handling UHD media as “flawless.”

Doran’s color grading suite got a similar overhaul. For him, engineers built a Linux-based workstation to run Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, V11, and set up a dual monitoring system. That included a Panasonic 300 series display to view media in 1080p and a Samsung 9500 series curved LED to view UHD. Doran could then review color decisions in both formats (while maintaining a UHD signal throughout) and spot details or noise issues in UHD that might not be apparent at lower resolution.

While the extra firepower enabled Kelleher and Doran to work with UHD as efficiently as HD, they faced new challenges. “We do a lot of visual effects for this show,” notes Kelleher. “And now that we’re working in UHD, everything has to be much more precise. My mattes have to be tight because you can see so much more.”

Doran’s work in the color suite similarly required greater finesse. “You have to be very, very aware,” he says. “Cosmetically, it’s different. The lighting is different. You have to pay close attention to how the stars look.”

Doran is quick to add that, while grading UHD might require closer scrutiny, it’s justified by the results. “I like the increased range and greater detail,” he says. “I enjoy the extra control. Once you move up, you never want to go back.”

Both Doran and Kelleher credited the Technicolor PostWorks engineering team of Eric Horwitz, Corey Stewart and Randy Main for their ability to “move up” with a minimum of strain. “The engineers were amazing,” Kelleher insists. “They got the workflow to where all I had to think about was editing and compositing. The transition was so smooth, you almost forgot you were working in UHD, except for the image quality. That was amazing.”