Tag Archives: commercials

RPS editors talk workflow, creativity and Michelob Ultra’s Robots

By Randi Altman

Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) is a veteran editing house specializing in commercials, music videos and feature films. Founded by Oscar-winning editor Angus Wall (The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), RPS has a New York office as well as a main Santa Monica location that it shares with sister companies A52, Elastic and Jax.

We recently reached out to RPS editor Biff Butler and his assistant editor Alyssa Oh (both Adobe Premiere users) to find out about how they work, their editing philosophy and their collaboration on the Michelob Ultra Robots spot that premiered during this year’s Super Bowl.

Let’s find out more about their process…

Rock Paper Scissors, Santa Monica

What does your job entail?
Biff Butler: Simply put, someone hands us footage (and a script) and we make something out of it. The job is to act as cheerleader for those who have been carrying the weight of a project for weeks, maybe months, and have just emerged from a potentially arduous shoot.

Their job is to then sell the work that we do to their clients, so I must hold onto and protect their vision, maintaining that initial enthusiasm they had. If the agency has written the menu, and the client has ordered the meal, then a director is the farmer and the editor the cook.

I frequently must remind myself that although I might have been hired because of my taste, I am still responsible for feeding others. Being of service to someone else’s creative vision is the name of the game.

What’s your workflow like?
Alyssa Oh: At the start of the project, I receive the footage from production and organize it to Biff’s specs. Once it’s organized, I pass it off and he watches all the footage and assembles an edit. Once we get deeper into the project, he may seek my help in other aspects of the edit, including sound design, pulling music, creating graphics, temporary visual effects and creating animations. At the end of the project, I prep the edits for finishing color, mix, and conform.

What would surprise people about being an editor?
Oh: When I started, I associated editorial with “footage.” It surprised me that, aside from editing, we play a large part in decision-making for music and developing sound design.

Butler: I’ve heard the editor described as the final writer in the process. A script can be written and rewritten, but a lot happens in the edit room once shots are on a screen. The reality of seeing what actually fits within the allotted time that the format allows for can shape decisions as can the ever-evolving needs of the client in question. Another aspect we get involved with is the music — it’s often the final ingredient to be considered, despite how important a role it plays.

Robots

What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Oh: By far, my favorite part is the people that I work with. We spend so much time together; I think it’s important to not just get along, but to also develop close relationships. I’m so grateful to work with people who I look forward to spending the day with.

At RPS, I’ve gained so many great friendships over the years and learn a lot from everyone around me —- not just in the aspect of editorial, but also from the people at companies that work alongside us — A52, Elastic and Jax.

Butler: At the risk of sounding corny, what turns me on most is collaboration and connection with other creative talents. It’s a stark contrast to the beginning of the job, which I also very much adore — when it’s just me and my laptop, watching footage and judging shots.

Usually we get a couple days to put something together on our own, which can be a peaceful time of exploration and discovery. This is when I get to formulate my own opinions and points of view on the material, which is good to establish but also is something I must be ready to let go of… or at least be flexible with. Once the team gets involved in the room — be it the agency or the director — the real work begins.

As I said before, being of service to those who have trusted me with their footage and ideas is truly an honorable endeavor. And it’s not just those who hire us, but also talents we get to join forces with on the audio/music side, effects, etc. On second thought, the free supply of sparkly water we have on tap is probably my favorite part. It’s all pretty great.

What’s the hardest part of the job?
Oh: For me, the hardest part of our job are the “peaks and valleys.” In other words, we don’t have a set schedule, and with each project, our work hours will vary.

Robots

Butler: I could complain about the late nights or long weekends or unpredictable schedules, but those are just a result of being employed, so I count myself fortunate that I even get to moan about that stuff. Perhaps one of the trickiest parts is in dealing with egos, both theirs and mine.

Inevitably, I serve as mediator between a creative agency and the director they hired, and the client who is paying for this whole project. Throw in the mix my own sense of ownership that develops, and there’s a silly heap of egos to manage. It’s a joy, but not everyone can be fully satisfied all the time.

If you couldn’t edit for a living, what would you do?
Oh: I think I would definitely be working in a creative field or doing something that’s hands-on (I still hope to own a pottery studio someday). I’ve always had a fondness for teaching and working with kids, so perhaps I’d do something in the teaching field.

Butler: I would be pursuing a career in directing commercials and documentaries.

Did you know from a young age that you would be involved in this industry?
Oh: In all honesty, I didn’t know that this would be my path. Originally, I wanted to go into
broadcast, specifically sports broadcasting. I had an interest in television production since
high school and learned a bit about editing along the way.

However, I had applied to work at RPS as a production assistant shortly after graduating and quickly gained interest in editing and never looked back!
Butler : I vividly recall seeing the movie Se7en in the cinema and being shell-shocked by the opening title sequence. The feeling I was left with was so raw and unfiltered, I remember thinking, “That is what I want to do.” I wasn’t even 100 percent sure what that was. I knew I wanted to put things together! It wasn’t even so much a mission to tell stories, but to evoke emotion — although storytelling is most often the way to get there.

Robots

At the same time, I was a kid who grew up under the spell of some very effective marketing campaigns — from Nike, Jordan, Gatorade — and knew that advertising was a field I would be interesting in exploring when it came time to find a real job.

As luck would have it, in 2005 I found myself living in Los Angeles after the rock band I was in broke up, and I walked over to a nearby office an old friend of mine had worked at, looking for a job. She’d told me it was a place where editors worked. Turns out, that place was where many of my favorite ads were edited, and it was founded by the guy who put together that Se7en title sequence. That place was Rock Paper Scissors, and it’s been my home ever since.

Can you guys talk about the Michelob Ultra Robots spot that first aired during the Super Bowl earlier this year? What was the process like?
Butler: The process involved a lot of trust, as we were all looking at frames that didn’t have any of the robots in — they were still being created in CG — so when presenting edits, we would have words floating on screen reading “Robot Here” or “Robot Runs Faster Now.”

It says a lot about the agency in that it could hold the client’s hand through our rough edit and have them buy off on what looked like a fairly empty edit. Working with director Dante Ariola at the start of the edit helped to establish the correct rhythm and intention of what would need to be conveyed in each shot. Holding on to those early decisions was paramount, although we clearly had enough human performances to rest are hats on too.

Was there a particular cut that was more challenging than the others?
Butler: The final shot of the spot was a battle I lost. I’m happy with the work, especially the quality of human reactions shown throughout. I’m also keen on the spot’s simplicity. However, I had a different view of how the final shot would play out — a closer shot would have depicted more emotion and yearning in the robot’s face, whereas where we landed left the robot feeling more defeated — but you can’t win them all.

Robots

Did you feel extra stress knowing that the Michelob spot would air during the Super Bowl?
Butler: Not at all. I like knowing that people will see the work and having a firm airdate reduces the likelihood that a client can hem and haw until the wheels fall off. Thankfully there wasn’t enough time for much to go wrong!

You’ve already talked about doing more than just editing. What are you often asked to do in addition to just editing?
Butler: Editors are really also music supervisors. There can be a strategy to it, also knowing when to present a track you really want to sell through. But really, it’s that level of trust between myself and the team that can lead to some good discoveries. As I mentioned before, we are often tasked with just providing a safe and nurturing environment for people to create.

Truly, anybody can sit and hit copy and paste all day. I think it’s my job to hold on to that initial seed or idea or vision, and protect it through the final stages of post production. This includes ensuring the color correction, finishing and sound mix all reflect intentions established days or weeks ahead when we were still fresh enough in our thinking to be acting on instinct.

I believe that as creative professionals, we are who we are because of our instincts, but as a job drags on and on, we are forced to act more with our heads than our hearts. There is a stamina that is required, making sure that what ends up on the TV is representative of what was initially coming out of that instinctual artistic expression.

Does your editing hat change depending on the type of project you are cutting?
Butler: No, not really. An edit is an edit. All sessions should involve laughter and seriousness and focus and moments to unwind and goof off. Perhaps the format will determine the metaphorical hat, or to be more specific, the tempo.

Selecting shots for a 30- or 60-second commercial is very different than chasing moments for a documentary or long-form narrative. I’ll often remind myself to literally breathe slower when I know a shot needs to be long, and the efficiency with which I am telling a story is of less importance than the need to be absorbed in a moment.

Can you name some of your favorite technology?
Oh: My iPhone and all the apps that come with it; my Kindle, which allows me to be as indecisive as I want when it comes to picking a book and traveling; my laptop; and noise-cancelling headphones!

Butler: The carbonation of water, wireless earphones and tiny solid-state hard drives.

Using editing to influence the tone of a spot

By Maury Loeb

We all have a basic understanding about what editing consists of. In the simplest terms, editors stitch together raw footage to create a cohesive and coherent story. But one of the most vital features of a “good edit” is the establishment of tone. Tone is the aspect of a piece that describes its particular mood, character, atmosphere and flavor. Dictating the proper tone of an ad is a deceivingly sophisticated endeavor that goes beyond the simple mechanics of a few well-spliced shots. Editors need to tell a cohesive story, but we also have to tell the right story.

While some commercials can be ill-conceived and fundamentally “tone-deaf,” trying too hard to project “cool,” the best commercials make viewers feel connected to something. Wieden + Kennedy’s original Go Forth work for Levi’s is a great example. It’s a hipster anthem, but one that makes bold tonal choices in the edit to unique and memorable effect.

Another is the hilarious It’s a Tide Ad, which so precisely and successfully recreates the tonal doppelgangers of existing ads that it’s actually deceiving at first. The ability to produce a very specific, intentional flavor from disparate, raw ingredients is what elevates editing from a craft into an art. The script might be the script, and the footage might be the footage but creating the right tone for a spot not only honors the vision of the ad, but also enhances and elevates the finished piece.

This requires an editor’s technical skill of manipulating and synthesizing their raw ingredients, but more importantly, it relies on an editor’s taste, creativity and sensibility. In the commercial world, offline editors are uniquely positioned to get the first crack at establishing the tone of a spot and the opportunity to shepherd a spot through its finishing, making sure that the intended tone of the ad is realized at the end. It takes the brilliance of talented colorists, sound designers, musicians and animators to achieve a polished finished product, but a good offline editor can sketch out a comprehensive “tonal roadmap” for a spot.

Sound, picture and pace are the most fundamental determinants of tone. Editors manipulate these elements by employing an infinite arsenal of weapons in order to achieve the intended tone of a commercial.

Sound
Sound and our emotions have a primal relationship. Sound is essentially a form of “invisible touch” that is processed in the same part of our brains that processes emotion and perception, making it an ideal parameter of tone. Music is probably the most effective, immediate and raw influencer of tone. It is quite literally a construct designed to create an emotional response. Throw three different pieces of music against the same footage and you will walk away with three entirely different experiences. As far as weapons in an editor’s arsenal go, its standard issue for a reason. Would ASPCA ads be as iconic with any other track besides Sara McLachlan’s “In the Arms of the Angel” even if they were equally as cloying and maudlin?

A thousand different tracks could have complemented Sony’s famous Balls spot, but would it have had the same impact without Jose Gonzalez’s dreamy, slightly unexpected version of “Heartbeats”? Tone can be equally dictated by an editor’s approach to sound design. Google Chrome’s “Speed Tests” dynamically toggled between hyper-real and overtly stylized sounds, creating a piece that’s both observational and awe-inspiring. The result is a unique tonal voice that is utterly engaging with just the right amount of cheekiness.

Color
Editors can inform the tone of a spot beyond the images initially captured in the camera. Manipulating the color palette of the film colors the character of a spot in profound ways. Editors can dial through a range of emotions as they dial through the color spectrum, capitalizing on a color’s ability to elicit specific emotions — from the isolation and melancholy found in blue tones and the menace and danger found in greens to the welcoming warmth of rich reds and golds. A film’s light and dark tones can telegraph an impressive amount of information to an audience as well. Consider the flat palette of Skittles commercials and the way it helps enhance their awkward, comedic tone. Or the way crunchy contrast and saturated colors can make a tabletop spot look punchy and appetizing.

Pacing
Editors also set tone by the pace at which a commercial is cut, both in the tempo of the edits and the speed of the footage itself. The tonal adrenaline of Nike’s Write the Future is due in large part to its dynamic edit as it jerks the audience through kinetic bursts of flurried cuts and pregnant lulls of over-cranked shots. Likewise, Ikea’s Lamp wouldn’t feel nearly as sad if it weren’t for the deliberately paced, measured editing. Nike’s Michael Jordan ad Frozen moments played out in real time would feel like a trite highlight reel, but the deftly handled ramping between super slow motion and real time creates an epic grandeur that amplifies the message of the spot.

Double Duty
Commercials have the unique role of being little films in the greater service of advertising something while also representing a particular brand. In commercials, an editor’s sensibility is key. Is the tone of a particular spot congruous with its message? Does its tone align with the sensibility of the brand? Commercial editors have the dual duty of approaching their task as both stewards of the filmmaking process and stewards of the brand itself. Our role is crucial in making sure the end result both conveys the intended message of an ad in a way that jibes with how a brand wants to be perceived.

Editors are crucial at establishing tone in broad-strokes, but also on a granular level, understanding how a particular line is delivered or graphics are placed can have an impact on the overall tone and experience of a spot. It’s important that brands and agencies see editors as more than just craftspeople who know how to cut footage together using certain programs. Good, experienced commercial editors are tonal specialists who understand how to influence the tone of an ad and make it just feel right.


Maury Loeb is the co-founder of and editor at PS260 , a creative editorial company in New York City, Boston and Venice, California. Check out his reel here.

Behind the Title: Ntropic Flame artist Amanda Amalfi

NAME: Amanda Amalfi

COMPANY: Ntropic (@ntropic)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Ntropic is a content creator producing work for commercials, music videos and feature films as well as crafting experiential and interactive VR and AR media. We have offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and London. Some of the services we provide include design, VFX, animation, color, editing, color grading and finishing.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Flame Artist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Being a senior Flame artist involves a variety of tasks that really span the duration of a project. From communicating with directors, agencies and production teams to helping plan out any visual effects that might be in a project (also being a VFX supervisor on set) to the actual post process of the job.

Amanda worked on this lipstick branding video for the makeup brand Morphe.

It involves client and team management (as you are often also the 2D lead on a project) and calls for a thorough working knowledge of the Flame itself, both in timeline management and that little thing called compositing. The compositing could cross multiple disciplines — greenscreen keying, 3D compositing, set extension and beauty cleanup to name a few. And it helps greatly to have a good eye for color and to be extremely detail-oriented.

WHAT MIGHT SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
How much it entails. Since this is usually a position that exists in a commercial house, we don’t have as many specialties as there would be in the film world.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
First is the artwork. I like that we get to work intimately with the client in the room to set looks. It’s often a very challenging position to be in — having to create something immediately — but the challenge is something that can be very fun and rewarding. Second, I enjoy being the overarching VFX eye on the project; being involved from the outset and seeing the project through to delivery.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
We’re often meeting tight deadlines, so the hours can be unpredictable. But the best work happens when the project team and clients are all in it together until the last minute.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
The evening. I’ve never been a morning person so I generally like the time right before we leave for the day, when most of the office is wrapping up and it gets a bit quieter.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Probably a tactile art form. Sometimes I have the urge to create something that is tangible, not viewed through an electronic device — a painting or a ceramic vase, something like that.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I loved films that were animated and/or used 3D elements growing up and wanted to know how they were made. So I decided to go to a college that had a computer art program with connections in the industry and was able to get my first job as a Flame assistant in between my junior and senior years of college.

ANA Airlines

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Most recently I worked on a campaign for ANA Airlines. It was a fun, creative challenge on set and in post production. Before that I worked on a very interesting project for Facebook’s F8 conference featuring its AR functionality and helped create a lipstick branding video for the makeup brand Morphe.

IS THERE A PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I worked on a spot for Vaseline that was a “through the ages” concept and we had to create looks that would read as from 1880s, 1900, 1940s, 1970s and present day, in locations that varied from the Arctic to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to a boxing ring. To start we sent the digitally shot footage with our 3D and comps to a printing house and had it printed and re-digitized. This worked perfectly for the ’70s-era look. Then we did additional work to age it further to the other eras — though my favorite was the Arctic turn-of-the-century look.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Flame… first and foremost. It really is the most inclusive software — I can grade, track, comp, paint and deliver all in one program. My monitors — the 4K Eizo and color-calibrated broadcast monitor, are also essential.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Mostly Instagram.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? 
I generally have music on with clients, so I will put on some relaxing music. If I’m not with clients, I listen to podcasts. I love How Did This Get Made and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Hiking and cooking are two great de-stressors for me. I love being in nature and working out and then going home and making a delicious meal.

Behind the Title: MPC creative director Rupert Cresswell

This Brit is living in New York while working on spots, directing and playing dodgeball.

NAME: Rupert Cresswell

COMPANY: MPC

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MPC has been one of the global leaders in VFX for nearly 50 years, with industry-leading facilities in London, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Bangalore, New York, Montréal, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Paris. Well-known for adding visuals for advertising, film and entertainment industries, some of our most famous projects include blockbuster movies such as The Jungle Book, The Martian, the Harry Potter franchise, the X-Men movies and the upcoming The Lion King, not to mention famous advertising campaigns for brands such as Samsung, BMW, Hennessy and Apple. I am based in New York.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director (and Director)

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Lots of things, depending on the project. I am repped by MPC to direct commercials, so my work often mixes live action with some form of visual effects or animation. I’m constantly pitching for jobs; if I am successful, I direct the subsequent shoot, then oversee a team of artists at MPC through the post process until delivery.

VeChain 

When I’m not directing, I work as a creative director, leading teams on animation and design projects within MPC. It’s mostly about zeroing in on a client’s needs and offering a creative solution. I critique large teams of artists’ work — sometimes up to 60 artists across our global network — ensuring a consistent creative vision. At MPC we are expected to keep the highest standards of work and make original contributions to the industry. It’s my job to make sure we do.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I feel like the lines between agency, production company and VFX studio can be blurred these days. In my job, I’m often called on for a wide range of disciplines such as writing the creative, directing actors, and even designing large-scale print and OOH (out of the home) advertising campaigns.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
There’s always a purity to the concepts at the pitch stage, which I tend to get really enthusiastic about, but the best bit is to get to travel to shoot. I’ve been super-lucky to film in some awesome places like the south of France, Montreal, Cape Town and the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Additionally, the industry is full of funny, cool, creative characters, and if you can take a beat to remind yourself of that, it’s always a blast working with them. The usual things can bother you, like stress and long hours; also, no one likes it when ideas with great potential get compromised. But more often than not, I’m thankful for what I get to do.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
There’s a sweet spot in the morning after I’ve had some caffeine and before I get hungry for lunch — that’s when the heavy lifting happens.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I always knew I wanted to go to art school but never really knew what to do after that. It took years to figure out how to turn my interests into a career. There’s a lot to be said for stubbornly refusing to do something less interesting.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I finished a big campaign for Timberland, which was a great experience. I worked directly with the client, first on the creative, then I directed the shoot in Montreal. I then I oversaw the post and the print campaign, which seemed to go up everywhere I went in the city. It was a huge technical and creative challenge, but great to be involved from the very start to the very end of the process.

I also worked on one of the first brand campaigns for the blockchain currency, VeChain. That was a huge VFX undertaking and lots of fun — we created a love letter to some classic sci-fi films like Star Wars and Blade Runner, which turned out pretty sweet.

In complete contrast, my most favorite recent experience was to work on the branding for the cult Hulu comedy Pen15. The show is so funny, it was a bit of a dream project. It was refreshing to go from such a large technical endeavor as Timberland with a big VFX team to working almost solo, and mostly just illustrating. There was something really cathartic about it. The job required me to spend most of the day doodling childish pictures — I got a real kick out of the puzzled faces around the office wondering if I’d had some kind of breakdown.

Pen15

WHAT OTHER PROJECTS STAND OUT?
Some of my stuff won glittery awards, but I am super-proud that I made a short film, called Charlie Cloudhead, that got picked up by many festivals. I always wanted to try writing and directing narrative work, and I wanted something that could showcase more of my live-action direction.

It was an unusually personal film, which I still feel a little awkward about, but I am really proud that I put in the effort to make it. It was amazing to work with two fantastic actors (Paul Higgins and Daisy Haggard), and I’m still humbled by all the hard work a big team of people put in just for some kooky little idea that I dreamed up.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The idea of no phone and no Internet gives me anxiety. Add to the horror by taking away AC during a New York summer and I’d be a weeping mess.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m pretty much addicted to scrolling through Instagram, but I’m lazy at posting stuff. Maybe it’ll become Myspace 2.0 and we’ll all laugh at all those folks with thousands of followers. Until then, it’s very useful for seeing inspiring new work out there.

I’m also a Brit living abroad in the US, so I’m rather masochistically glued to any news of the whole Brexit thing going down.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I do. Music is incredibly influential. Most of the time when I’m working on a project, it will be inspired by a song. It helps me create a mood for the film and I’ll listen to it repeatedly while I’m working on script or walking around thinking about it. For example, my short film was inspired by a song by Cate Le Bon.

My taste is pretty random to be honest. Recently I’ve been re-visiting Missy Elliott and checking out Rosalia, John Maus and the new Karen O stuff. I’m also a bit obsessed with an artist from Mali called Oumou Sangaré. I was introduced to her by a late-night Lyft driver recently, and she’s been helping set the mood for this Q&A right now.

I should add, I work in an open-plan studio and access to the Bluetooth speaker takes a certain restraint and responsibility to prevent arguments — I’m not necessarily the right guy for that. I usually try and turn the place into Horse Meat Disco.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I recently joined a dodgeball league. I had no idea how to play at first, and I’m actually very bad at it. I’m treating it as a personal challenge — learning to embrace being a laughable failure. I’m sure it’ll do me good.

Behind the Title: PS260 editor Ned Borgman

This editor’s path began early. “I was the kid who would talk during the TV show and then pay attention to the commercials,” he says.

Name: Ned Borgman

Company: PS260

Can you describe your company?
PS260 is a post house built for ideas, creative solutions and going beyond the boards. We have studios in New York, Venice, California and Boston. I am based in New York.

What’s your job title?
Film editor, problem solver, cleaner of messes.

What does that entail?
My job is to make everything look great. Every project takes an entire team of super-talented people who bring their expertise to bear to tell a story. They create all of the puzzle pieces that end up in the dailies, and I put them together in such a way that they can all shine their best.

Facebook small business campaign

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
I think it would be the sheer amount of stuff that can become an editor’s responsibility. So many details go into crafting a successful edit, and an editor needs to be well-versed in all of it. Color grading, visual effects, design, animation, music, sound design, the list goes on. The point isn’t to be a master of all of those things, (that’s why we work with other amazing people when it comes to finishing), but to know the needs of each of those parts and how to make sure every detail can get properly addressed.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
It’s the middle part. When we’re all in the middle of the edit, up to our necks in footage and options and ideas. Out of all of that exploration the best bits start to stand out. The sound design element from that cut and the music track from that other version and a take we tried last night. It all starts to make sense, and from there it’s about making sure the best bits can work well together.

What’s your least favorite?
Knowing there are always some great cuts that will only ever exist inside a Premiere Pro bin. Not every performance or music track or joke can make it into the final cut and out into the world and that’s ok. Maybe those cuts are airing in some other parallel universe.

What is your most productive time of the day?
Whenever the office is empty. So either early in the morning or late at night.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Probably something with photography. I’m too attached to visual storytelling, and I’m a horrible illustrator.

Why did you choose this profession? How early on did you know this would be your path? 
I’ve always been enamored with commercials. I was the kid who would talk during the TV show and then pay attention to the commercials. I remember making my first in-camera edit in third grade when I was messing around with the classroom camcorder set up on a tripod. I had recorded myself in front of the camera and then recorded a bit of the empty classroom. Playing it back, it looked like I had vanished into thin air. It blew my eight-year-old mind.

Burger King

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
Let’s see, Burger King’s flame-broiled campaign with MullenLowe was great. It has a giant explosion, which is always nice. Facebook’s small business campaign with 72andSunny was a lot of fun with an amazing team of people. And some work for the Google Home Hub launch with Google Creative Labs was fun because launching stuff is exciting.

Do you put on a different hat when cutting for a specific genre? 
Not exactly. Every genre has its specific needs, but I think the fundamentals remain the same. I need to pay attention to rhythm, to performances, to music, to sound design, to VO — all of that stuff. It’s about staying in tune with how all of these ingredients interact with each other to create a reaction from the audience, no matter the reaction you’re striving for.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
I grew up obsessed with practical effects in movies, so I’d have to say Burger King “Gasoline Shuffle”. It has a massive explosion that was shot in camera and it looks incredible. I wish I was on set that day.

What do you use to edit?
Adobe Premiere Pro all the way. I like to think that one day I’ll be back on Avid Media Composer though.

What is your favorite plugin?
I don’t have one. Just give me that basic install.

Are you often asked to do more than edit? If so, what else are you asked to do?
Sure. I’ll often record the scratch VO when there’s one needed. My voice is…serviceable. What that means is that as soon as the real VO talent gets placed in the cut, everyone’s thrilled with how much better everything sounds. That’s cool by me.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
My iPhone, my Shure in-ear headphones, and an extra long charging cable.

This is a high stress job with deadlines and client expectations. What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Change some diapers. My wife and I just had our first kid last August, and she’s incredible. A game of peek-a-boo can really change your perspective.

Timber finishes Chipotle ‘Fresh Food’ campaign

In Chipotle’s new Fresh Food campaign, directed by Errol Morris for Moxie Pictures out of agency Venables Bell & Partners, real-life employees of the food chain talk about the pride they take in their work while smashing guacamole and cutting peppers, cilantro and other fresh ingredients.

The food shots are designed to get all five of your senses moving by grabbing the audience with the visually appealing, fresh food served and leading them to taste, smell, and hear the authentic ingredients.

The four spots — Bre – Just BraggingCarson – Good Food Good Person, Krista – Fresh Everyday
Robbie – Microwaves Not Welcome — are for broadcast and the web.

For Chipotle, Santa Monica’s Timber handled online, finishing and just a splash of cleanup. They used Flame on the project. According to Timber head of production Melody Alexander, “The Chipotle project was based on showcasing the realness of the products the restaurants use in their food. Minimal clean-up was required as the client was keen to keep the naturalness of the footage. We, at Timber, use a combination of finishing tools when working on online projects. The Chipotle project was completely done in Flame.”

Quick Chat: Digital Arts’ Josh Heilbronner on Audi, Chase spots

New York City’s Digital Arts provided audio post on a couple of 30-second commercial spots that presented sound designer/mixer Josh Heilbronner with some unique audio challenges. They are Audi’s Night Watchman via agency Venables Bell & Partners in New York and Chase’s Mama Said Knock You Out, featuring Serena Williams from agency Droga5 in New York.

Josh Heilbronner

Heilbronner, who has been sound designing and mixing for broadcast and film for almost 10 years, has worked on large fashion brands like Nike and J Crew to Fortune 500 Companies like General Electric, Bank of America and Estee Lauder. He has also mixed promos and primetime broadcast specials for USA Network, CBS and ABC Television. In addition to commercial VO recording, editing and mixing, Heilbronner has a growing credit list of long-form documentaries and feature films, including The Broken Ones, Romance (In the Digital Age), Generation Iron 2, The Hurt Business and Giving Birth in America (a CNN special series).

We recently reached out to Heilbronner to find out more about these two very different commercial projects and how he tackled each.

Both Audi and Chase are very different assignments from an audio perspective. How did these projects come your way?
On Audi, we were asked to be part of their new 2019 A7 campaign, which follows a security guard patrolling the Audi factory in the middle of night. It’s sort of James Bond meets Night at the Museum. The factory is full of otherworldly rooms built to put the cars through their paces (extreme cold, isolation etc.). Q Department did a great job crafting the sounds of those worlds and really bringing the viewer into the factory. Agency Venables & Bell were looking to really pull everything together tightly and have the dialogue land up-front, while still maintaining the wonderfully lush and dynamic music and sound design that had been laid down already.

The Chase Serena campaign is an impact-driven series of spots. Droga5 has a great reputation for putting together cinematic spots and this is no exception. Drazen Bosnjak from Q Department originally reached out to see if I would be interested in mixing this one because one of the final deliverables was the Jumbotron at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Digital Arts has a wonderful 7.1 Dolby approved 4K theater, so we were able to really get a sense of what the finals would sound and look like up on the big screen.

Did you have any concerns going into the project about what would be required creatively or technically?
For Audi our biggest challenge was the tight deadline. We mixed in New York but we had three different time zones in play, so getting approvals could sometimes be difficult. With Chase, the amount of content for this campaign was large. We needed to deliver finals for broadcast, social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), Jumbotron and cinema. Making sure they played back as loud and crisp as they could on all those platforms was a major focus.

What was the most challenging aspect for you on the project?
As with a lot of production audio, the noise on set was pretty extreme. For Audi they had to film the night watchman walking in different spaces, delivering the copy at a variety of volumes. It all needed to gel together as if he was in one smaller room talking directly to the camera, as if he were a narrator. We didn’t have access to re-record him, so we had to use a few different denoise tools, such as iZotope RX6, Brusfri and Waves WNS to clear out the clashing room tones.

The biggest challenge on Chase was the dynamic range and power of these spots. Serena beautifully hushed whisper narration is surrounded by impactful bass drops, cinematic hits and lush ambiences. Reigning all that in, building to a climax and still having her narration be the focus was a game of cat and mouse. Also, broadcast standards are a bit restrictive when it comes to large impacts, so finding the right balance was key.

Any interesting technology or techniques that you used on the project?
I mainly use Avid Pro Tools Ultimate 2018. They have made some incredible advancements — you can now do everything on one machine, all in the box. I can have 180 tracks running in a surround session and still print every deliverable (5.1, stereo, stems etc.) without a hiccup.

I’ve been using Penteo 7 Pro for stereo 5.1 upmixing. It does a fantastic job filling in the surrounds, but also folds down to stereo nicely (and passes QC). Spanner is another useful tool when working with all sorts of channel counts. It allows me to down-mix, rearrange channels and route audio to the correct buses easily.

Director Lee J. Ford joins Interrogate

Director Lee J. Ford has joined LA/NY/Sydney-based production house Interrogate. A British native, Ford worked as a creative in the advertising industry for years before pivoting to directing. Ford’s agency experience allows him to “understand the politics and daily struggles the creatives are facing throughout the process and will continue to face” long after he’s done directing the piece.

Ford’s interest in film started early. He grew up next to a video store and would stay up late re-watching The Hills Have Eyes, The Exorcist, Exterminator and other banned-in-the-UK movies until he failed his classes. This led him to drop out and go to art school to study graphic design. Studying at The University of Brighton and the Central Saint Martins school of art helped inform Ford’s preferred minimalist aesthetic, and gave him his first hands-on experience with art direction.

After graduation, Ford worked his way through the advertising industry as a creative, with stints at various ad agencies, including 180 Amsterdam, Ogilvy London, TBWA London and Saatchi & Saatchi London, to name a few. While he ended up as a creative director, Ford never forgot his dream of directing, so when the opportunity to direct Top Gear came his way while working at an agency in Amsterdam, Ford jumped at the chance.

His work includes a New African Icons for SportsPesa, a spot for Audi, and a short film for fashion designer Roland Mouret based on Mouret’s childhood memories of watching his father, who was a butcher.

Ford, who was previously repped by Prettybird in the US and UK, knew Interrogate was the right home for him when he met executive producers and partners George Meeker and Jeff Miller. Their first project together was a spot for Blizzard Games’ Diablo III out of Omelet LA.

MPC directs, provides VFX, color for Fiji Water spot

To launch the new Fiji Sports Cap bottle, Wonderful Agency came up with the concept of a drop of rain from the clouds high above Fiji making its way down through the pristine environment to showcase the source of their water. The story then transitions to the Fiji Water Sports Cap bottle being used by athletes during a tough workout.

To bring that idea to life, Wonderful Agency turned to MPC with creative director Michael Gregory, who made making his MPC directorial debut, helming both spots while also leading his VFX team. These spots will air on primetime television.

Gregory’s skills in visual effects made him the perfect fit as director of the spots, since it was essential to seamlessly depict the raindrop’s fast-paced journey through the different environments. MPC was tasked with building the CG water droplet that falls from the sky, while reflecting and magnifying the beauty of the scenes shot in Fiji.

“It was key to film in low light, cloudy conditions in Fiji,” explains Gregory. “We shot over five days with a drone in the most remote parts of the main island, taking the drone above the clouds and shooting many different angles on the descent, so we had all the textures and plates we needed.”

For the Fiji section, Gregory and team used the Zenmuse X7 camera that sits on a DJI Inspire 2 drone. “We chose this because logistically it was easier to get it to Fiji by plane. It’s a much smaller drone and isn’t as battery-hungry. You can only travel with a certain amount of batteries on a plane, and the larger drones that carry the Reds and Alexas would need the batteries shipped by sea. Being smaller meant it had much longer flying times. That meant we could have it in the air at height for much longer periods. The footage was edited in Adobe Premiere.”

MPC’s VFX team then got to work. According to lead compositor Oliver Caiden, “The raindrop itself was simulated CG geometry that then had all of the different textures refracted through the UV map. This process was also applied to the droplet reflections, mapping high dynamic range skies onto the outside, so we could achieve a more immersive and richer effect.”

This process enabled the compositors to animate the raindrops and have full control over motion blur, depth of focus, refraction and reflections, making them as realistic and multifaceted as possible. The shots were a mixture of multiple plates, matte painting, 2D and CG clouds, which ultimately created a sequence that felt seamless with reality. The spot was graded by MPC’s colorist Ricky Gausis.

The tools used by MPC were Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Adobe Photoshop as well as Foundry Nuke for the VFX and FilmLight Baselight for color.

The latest Fiji campaign marks a continued partnership between MPC and Wonderful Agency — they previously handled VFX for Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Halos spots — but this latest campaign sees MPC managing the production from start to finish.

Therapy Studios provided the final audio mix.

 

Carbon creates four animated thrill ride spots

Carbon was called on once again by agency Cramer-Krasselt to create four spots — Railblazer, Twisted Timbers, Steel Vengeance and HangTime — for Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which owns and operates 11 amusement parks across North America.

Following the success of Carbon’s creepy 2017 teaser film for the ride Mystic Timbers, Cramer-Krasselt senior art director David Vaca and his team presented Carbon with four ideas, each a deep dive into the themes and backstories of the rides.

Working across four 30-second films simultaneously and leading a “tri-coastal” team of artists, CD Liam Chapple shared directing duties with lead artists Tim Little and Gary Fouchy. The studio has offices in NYC, LA and Chicago.

According to Carbon executive producer/managing director Phil Linturn, “We soaked each script in the visual language, color grades, camera framing and edits reminiscent of our key inspiration films for each world — a lone gun-slinger arriving to town at sundown in the wild west, the carefree and nostalgic surf culture of California, and extreme off-roading adventures in the twisting canyons of the southwest.”

Carbon’s technical approach to these films was dictated by the fast turnaround and having all films in production at the same time. To achieve the richness, tone and detail required to immerse the viewer in these worlds, Carbon blended stylized CGI with hyper-real matte paintings and realistic lighting to create a look somewhere between their favorite children’s storybooks, contemporary manga animation, the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and one or two of their favorite Pixar films.

Carbon called on Side Effects Houdini (partially for their procedural ocean toolkit), Autodesk Maya’s nCloth and 3ds Max, Pixologic’s Zbrush for 3D sculpting and matte painting, Foundry’s Nuke and FilmLight’s Baselight for color.

“We always love working with Cramer-Krasselt,” concludes Linturn. “They come with awesome concepts and an open mind, challenging us to surprise them with each new deck. This was a fantastic opportunity to expand on our body of full CGI-direction work and to explore some interesting looks and styles. It also allowed us to come up with some very creative workflows across all three offices and to achieve two minutes of animation in just a few weeks. The fact that these four films are part of a much bigger broadcast campaign comprising 70-plus broadcast spots is a testament to the focus and range of the production team.”