Tag Archives: Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull

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

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull signs with 1stAvenueMachine, Gotham Group

London-based director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull is now being repped by 1stAveMachine and The Gotham Group. Dulull recently directed the pilot for Disney’s action comedy miniseries Fast Layne, was also credited as creative consultant on the entire series and directed three additional episodes when he wowed Disney Channel executives with his vision for the eight-part series. See our interview with him here.

Dulull is known for his breakout sci-fi indie feature film The Beyond, which was released by Gravitas Ventures, and premiered at #2 on the iTunes charts before trending on Netflix. His second feature film 2036: Origin Unknown, which starred Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) earned a theatrical release in the US.

Dulull began his career as a VFX artist on films such as The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2, as well as shows like America: The Story of the US.

Dulull is also repped by APA and Darren Trattner at Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein, and is the co-founder of production company Haz Film.

Disney Channel’s Fast Layne director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull

By Randi Altman

London-based Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is a man with a rich industry background. He started out in this business as a visual effects artist (The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2) and VFX supervisor (America: The Story of the US), and has expanded his resume in recent years to include producer, screenwriter and feature film director of his own projects (The Beyond, 2036 Origin Unknown).

HaZ (left) on set directing Disney’s Fast Layne.

Even more recently, he added television series director to that long list, thanks to his work on Disney Channel’s action-comedy miniseries Fast Layne, where he directed Episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8. He is currently developing a slate of feature and TV projects with his next film being a sci-fi/horror offering called Lunar, which is scheduled to start shooting later in the year.

Fast Layne focuses on a very bright 12-year-old girl named Layne and her eccentric neighbor, who find V.I.N., a self-driving and talking car in an abandoned shed. The car, the girls and a classmate with experience fixing cars embark on high-speed adventures while trying to figure out why V.I.N. was created, all the while tangling with bad guys and secret agents. You can watch Fast Layne on Sundays at 7:00pm ET/PT on Disney Channel.

We reached out to Dulull to find out more about establishing the look of the show, as well as his process, and how he uses his post background to inform his directing.

As the pilot director, what was your process in establishing the look for the show?
My process was very similar to how I worked on my feature films, since I come from a filmmaking-style that is very visually driven and hands-on. As a director, I would usually do lots of look development on my end anyway, which for Fast Layne involved creating style frames in Photoshop with direction notes and ideas. These eventually became a look bible for the show.

I worked closely with the Disney Channel’s development team and the showrunners Matt Dearborn, Tom Burkhard and Travis Braun (the creator of the show). We would discuss the ideas from the early style frames I had created and developed further, along with a set of rules of what the color palette should be, the graphics and even the style of framing with the key sequences.

By the end of the process, we firmly set the tone and mood of the show as having a saturated and punchy look, while feeling slick and cinematic with a lot of energy. Since we were shooting in Vancouver during the time of year that it gets overcast/grey very quickly, we made sure the art department had many colorful objects in the environment/sets to help — including the cast’s wardrobes.

How did you work with the DP and colorist? Who did the color, and do you know the tools they used?
We had a great DP — Neil Cervin and his team of camera ninjas! They are super-fast and so collaborative in pushing the shots further.

During the prep stage, I worked closely with Neil on the look of the show, and he was really into what we wanted to do something punchy, so he made sure we retained that throughout.

Our A camera was always the ARRI Alexa during the pilot shoot. We had a DIT, Jay Rego, who would quickly apply looks on the frames we had shot using DaVinci Resolve. During this on-set color process, we would see how far we could push it with the grade and what additional lighting we would need to achieve the look we were after. This really helped us nail the look very quickly and get it approved by the showrunners and the Disney Channel team on set before we continued shooting.

We then saved those looks as DPX frames along with CDLs (color decision lists) and sent those over to colorist Lionel Barton over at Vancouver’s OmniFilm Entertainment to work from in Blackmagic Resolve. This saved time in the grading process since that was done early during the shoot. Larry and his team at Omnifilm were taking the look we had set and pushing it further with each shot across all the episodes.

Colorist Lionel Barton during grading session.

Can you talk about the car sequences? They are fun!
On the first days of prepping the show, I cut a mood reel of car chase action scenes, making clear that I love well-designed car chases and that we need to give the kids that cinematic experience they get in movies. Plus, Travis came from a NASCAR racing family, so he backed this up.

We designed the car action scenes to be fun and energetic with cool camera angles — not violent and frenetic (like the Bourne films). We were not doing crazy camera shake and motion blur action scenes; this is slick and cool action — we want the kids to experience those key action moments and go “wow.”

You are known for directing your own feature films. What was it like to direct your first TV series for a studio as big as Disney Channel?
Firstly, I’m incredibly grateful for Disney Channel giving me the opportunity to be on this journey. I have to thank Rafael Garcia at Disney Channel, who lobbied hard for me early in the process.

The first thing I quickly picked up and made sure stayed in my mind is that feature film is a director’s medium, whereas TV is a writer’s medium. So with that in mind, I ensured I collaborated very closely with Matt, Tom, and Travis on everything. Those guys were such a bundle of joy to work with. They were continually pushing the show with additional writing, and they supported me and the other directors (Joe Menendez, Rachel Leiterman) on our episodes throughout, making sure we hit those essential comedy and drama moments they wanted for the show. In fact, I would be in the same car as Matt (some days with Tom) to the shoot location every morning and back to our hotel every evening, going through things on the script, the shoot, etc. — this was a very tight collaboration, and I loved it.

The big difference between the feature films I had done and this TV series is the sheer amount of people involved from an executive and creative level. We had the writing team/execs/showrunners, then we had the executives at the Disney Channel, and we also had the team from the production company Omnifilm.

Therefore, we all had to be in sync with the vision and decisions taken. So once a decision was made, it was tough to go back and retract, so that ensured we were all making the right decisions throughout. I have to say the Fast Layne team were all very collaborative and respectful to each other, which made the “network studio” experience a very pleasant and creative one.

You are also credited as creative consultant on all the episodes? What did that entail?
I fell into that role almost automatically after shooting my first block (Episodes 1 and 2). I think it’s due to my filmmaking nature — being so hands-on technically and creatively and having that know-how from my previous projects on creating high-concept content (which usually involves a lot of visual effects) on a tight budget and schedule.

I had also done a lot of work in advance regarding how we would shoot stuff fast to allow things to be taken further in VFX. The network wanted to have someone that knew the show intimately to oversee that during the post production stage. So once production wrapped, I flew back home to London and continued working on the show by reviewing dailies, cuts and VFX shots and providing notes and creative solutions and being on conference calls with Disney and Omnifilm.

What tools were used for review and approval?
I used Evernote to keep all my notes neat and organized, and we would use Aspera for transferring files securely while Pix was the primary platform for reviewing cuts and shots.

Most of the time I would provide my notes visually rather than writing long emails, so a screen grab of the shot and then lots of arrows and annotations. I was in this role (while doing other stuff) right up to the end of the show’s post, so at the time of answering these questions I just signed off on the last episode grade (Episode 8) last week. I am now officially off the show.

You mostly shoot on Alexa, can you talk about what else you used during production?
Yes, we shot on Alexa with a variety of lenses at 3K to allow us to pan and scan later for HD deliverable. We also used GoPro and DJI Osmo’s (4K) for V.I.N.’s POV, and some DJI Drone shots too.

The biggest camera tech toy we had on the show was the Russian Arm! (It didn’t help that I keep quoting Micheal Bay during the prep of the car chase scenes). So somehow the production team managed to get us a Russian Arm for the day, and what we achieved with that was phenomenal.

We got so much bang for our buck. The team operating it, along with the stunt driving team, worked on films like Deadpool 2, so there was a moment during second unit when we almost forgot this was a kids’ show because it had the energy of an action feature film.

Russian Arm

Stylistically, we always kept the camera moving, even during drama scenes — a slow move helped give perspective and depth. All the camera moves had to be slick; there was no handheld-style in this show.

For earlier scenes in Episode 1 with Layne, we used the idea of a single camera move/take, which was choreographed slickly and timed with precision. This was to reflect the perfect nature of Layne’s character being super-organized like a planner. Most of these camera moves were simply achieved with a dolly/track and slider. Later on in the the show, as Layne’s character breaks out of her comfort zone of being safe and organized, she begins to be more spontaneous, so the camera language reflected that too with more loose shots and whip pans.

You are a post/VFX guy at heart, how did that affect the way you directed Fast Layne?
Oh yes, it had a massive influence on the way I directed my episodes, but only from a technical side of things, not creatively in the way I worked with the actors.

With my VFX background, I had the instinct to be sensible with things, such as how to frame the shots to make VFX life smoother, where to stage my actors to avoid them crossing over tracing markers (to save money on paint-outs) and, of course, to use minimal green/blue screen for the car scenes.

I knew the spill coming from the greenscreens would be a nightmare in VFX, so to avoid that as much as I could, we shot driving plates and then used a lot of rear/side projections playing them back.

Previs

The decision to go that route was partly based on my experience as a compositor back in the day, crying in the late hours de-spilling greenscreen on reflection and dealing with horrible hair mattes. The only time we shot greenscreen was for scenes where the camera was moving around areas we didn’t have screen projection space for. We did shoot car greenscreen for some generic interior plates to allow us to do things later in post if we needed to create an insert shot with a new background.

Did you use previs?
As you know from our conversations about my previous projects, I love previs and find that previs can save so much money later on in production if used right.

So the car chase sequences, along with a big action scene in the series finale, had to be prevised, mainly because we had to end big but only had limited time to shoot. The previs was also instrumental with getting first VFX budgets in for the sequences and helping the 1st AD create the schedule.

Vancouver’s Atmosphere VFX was kind enough to let me come in and work closely with one of the previs artists to map out these key scenes in 3D, while I also did some previs myself using the assets they generated for me. The previs also dictated what lens we needed and how much real estate we needed on the location.

Being a former VFX supervisor certainly helped when communicating with the show’s on-set VFX supervisors Andrew Karr and Greg Behrens. We had a shorthand with each other, which sped things up massively on set with decisions made quickly regarding shooting plates to work with VFX later.

Before and After

On set I would show the actors, via mockups and previs on my iPad, what was going to happen, why I wanted them to be staged in a certain way, and why they should look at this reference, etc. So I think that gave the actors (both the kids and adults) confidence in the scenes that involved VFX.

My personal approach to VFX is that it’s part of the arsenal of tools required to tell the story and, if possible, its best used in combination with the other crafts as opposed to just relying on it solely to achieve things.

Atmosphere created the visual effects?
Yes. I have been a fan of their work from the first season of The Expanse. They were the only main VFX house on the show and handled the CG V.I.N. shots, steering wheel transformation, and V.I.N.’s front grill, as well as other shots involving digital cloth, a robotic arm and a helicopter that appears in later episodes.

We also had a team of internal VFX artists (Mike Jackson and Richard Mintak) working for Omnifilm who were on throughout the post schedule. They handled the smaller VFX, compositing and graphics type shots, such as the windshield graphics, V.I.N.’s internal visual screen and other screen graphics as well as Layne’s Alonzo watch graphics.

How many VFX in total?
There were 1,197 VFX shots delivered, with Atmosphere VFX providing the main bulk of around 600, while the rest were graphics VFX shots done by our internal VFX team at Omnifilm.

Most of the visual effects involving CGI in the show involved V.I.N. doing cool things and his front grill communicating his emotion.

During my pitch for getting the job, I referenced my film 2036 Origin Unknown as an example of visual communication I had explored when it came to AI and characters.

From that we explored further and knew we wanted something with personality, but not with a face. We were very clear at the start that this was not going to be cartoony or gimmicky; it had to feel technologically cool, yet fresh and unique. We didn’t want to have the typical LED screen displaying graphics or emoji. Instead, we went for something resembling a pushpin cushion to give it a little organic touch — it showing that this was advanced tech, but used simple arrangements of pins moving in and out to create the shape of the eyes to communicate emotion.

It was important we went with a visual approach, which was simple to communicate with our core audience, for V.I.N. to come across visually as a personality with comedy beats. I remember being in my hotel room, drawing up emotive sketches on paper to see how simple we could get V.I.N. to be and then emailing them across to the writers for their thoughts.

Atmosphere spent some time developing R&D in Maya and Python scripting to create a system that could feed off the sound files to help generate the animation of the pins. The passes were rendered out of Maya and Vray and then composited with the final look established in Foundry Nuke.

To ensure we didn’t end up with a show where all the shots needed VFX, V.I.N.’s emotive visuals on the front grill can pop on and off when required. That meant that during the car chase sequences, V.I.N.’s face would only pop up when needed (like when it was angry as it was being chased or to show its competitive face during a race). Having this rule in place allowed us to stick with our budget and schedule as closely as possible without extreme overages (which tends to happen after editorial).

For the scenes that involved a CGI V.I.N., we shot the live-action plates with a special buggy developed exclusively for the show. This allowed our stunt driver to do cool car maneuvers and tricks, while also providing a body frame that had lots of space for rigging cameras to capturing the HDRI of the environment. It also had tracking markers across it to allow for full object tracking. (See before and after image of the buddy and CGI VIN).

The other big bulk of the VFX was all the UI/heads up display graphics on V.I.N.’s windshield, which was the way the car’s system displayed information. During Transformed mode, the windshield became a navigation system to help support Layne. It couldn’t be too crazy since we were dealing with pop-up windows overlaid so we can still see the driving action outside.

Most of those graphics were done by our internal team at Omnifilm, by graphic designers and compositors using Adobe After Effects with render passes such as wireframes of V.I.N. provided by Atmosphere. We wanted to show that the car was technologically cool without having to use any tech speak in the script. So we researched a lot into what automated cars are doing and what the developments are for the future and depicted this in the show.

Before and After

Can you provide an example?
In Episode 1, when the windshield presents a trajectory of the jump across the construction bridge, a wireframe of the bridge based on its LIDAR scan capabilities was shown as a safe jump option. Another example was during the first big motorway chase sequence. V.I.N. recognized the bad guys chasing them in the SUV, so we featured facial recognition tracking technology to show how V.I.N. was able to read their vitals from this scan as being hostile.

We used this same grounded-tech approach to create the POV of the car, using the graphics style we had created for the windshield, to show what V.I.N. was seeing and thinking and that it was essentially a sentient being. This also helped, editorially, to mix things up visually during the drama scenes inside the car.

The show was shot in Vancouver, what was that like?
I love Vancouver!! There is such a buzz in that city, and that’s because you can feel the filmmaking vibe every day, due to the fact there were like 30 other shows happening at the same time we were shooting Fast Layne! I can’t wait to go back and shoot there again.


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

Director HaZ Dulull on his sci-fi offering The Beyond

By Randi Altman

Director Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is no stranger to making movies. Before jumping into writing and directing short sci-fi films, he was a visual effects supervisor and producer. His short film resume includes Project Kronos, I.R.I.S. and Sync. Recently, his first feature film, The Beyond, was released by Gravitas Ventures.

When I first met HaZ a few years back, we were both at an Adobe event — on a canal boat in Amsterdam during IBC. We started talking about visual effects, the industry and his drive to make movies.

This Brit is friendly, intelligent and incredibly hands-on in all aspects of what he does. His latest is The Beyond, which he describes as “a cerebral science-fiction feature film that blends the realism of documentary with the fantastical, ‘big idea’ nature of the science-fiction films of today.” The Beyond tells the story of a ground-breaking mission that sent astronauts — modified with advanced robotics — through a newly discovered wormhole known as the Void. When the mission returns unexpectedly, the space agency races to discover what the astronauts encountered on their first-of-its-kind interstellar space journey.

HaZ on set

HaZ was so hands-on that he provided some of the film’s visual effects and edited the film. Here is the trailer. If you like what you see, the film is available for purchase or rent on most digital platforms.

When I reached out to HaZ to talk about The Beyond, he was in Vancouver working on an eight-part TV series for Disney called Fast Layne. “I directed episodes 1 and 2, and am currently directing episodes 7 and 8,” he says. “The beauty of starting and ending the series is it allowed me to set the show’s style and tone.”

It seems he can’t sit still! Let’s find out more about how he works and The Beyond

Can you talk about prepro? How much of that included visual effects prepro?
Most people who know me will say I’m obsessed with prep. I had about six months of hardcore prep on this, from doing little storyboards, known as HaZ-Grams, right through to previs of the key sequences.

But even during the script-writing stage (six months before actual prep), I was coming up with visuals to support the ideas I was writing in the script. Sometimes I would knock up a test VFX scene just to see how complex it would be to create this idea I was writing in the script. Prep worked hand in hand with the script development and the budgeting of the film. The film was self-financed and later additional financing came in (during post production of the film), so I wanted to ensure everything was mapped out technically, as there was no “fix it in post” scenarios in this film — I wouldn’t allow it.

During location scouting, I would have my iPhone with me and shoot a bunch of footage and still imagery, so when I went back home I could write those locations into the script to make them work with the scenarios depicted in the film.

As part of prep we actually shot a test scene to really see if this mocku-mentary format would work to tell a grounded sci-fi story. This was also used to attract crew and other casting to the project, as well as get distributors primed early on.

Many shots from that test actually made it into the final movie —I wasn’t kidding about not wasting any budget or material on this production! So prep pretty much helped shape the script too, as I knew I wasn’t in the financial position to write stuff and then go and build it. I had to reverse engineer it in a way. In the film we have tons of locations, such as the Space Centre with actual real rockets. We also had a team in Iceland shooting alien landscapes, and we even shot some scenes in Malaysia to give the film a global feel — with each of those opportunities the script was tweaked to make full use of those location opportunities we had.

You shot with Blackmagic cameras. Was that your choice? The DP’s? Have you shot with these before?
From the start, I knew we were going to shoot on Blackmagic cameras. This was mainly down to the fact my DP Adam Batchelor — who had shot Sync with me and the proof of concept tests we did for this film — was a Blackmagic advocate and knew the cameras inside out, but more importantly he was able to get cinematic imagery using those cameras.

Blackmagic was very supportive of the film and have been of my career since my short films, so they came on as one of the executive producers on the film. No one had ever shot a full feature film using just the Blackmagic cameras. We also then used a Resolve pipeline to delivery. So The Beyond is the perfect case study for it.

Can you talk about that workflow? Any hiccups? 
I think the only hiccups were the fact we were using a beta version of Resolve 14, so there were the expected crashes, etc. That would usually be seen as risky on a feature film, but luckily we didn’t have a distributor in place with a release date, so the risk was minimal.

The good thing was I would generate an error log report from Resolve and send it over to Blackmagic, who would then instantly send out a new patch. So we were looked after rather than being left on our own to scream at the monitor.

We stuck with a Pro Res 4444 QuickTime workflow for all material from footage to VFX renders, and enabled proxy on the fly within Resolve. This was great as it meant I was working with the highest-resolution imagery within Resolve, and it was fairly fast too. Things started to slow down when I had multiple layers of VFX and composites/groups, which I then had to render out as a new clip and bring back in.

How did you and the DP develop the look you wanted? Any scenes stick out that you guys worked on?
I was very fortunate to get Max Horton, who had worked on films like Gravity, to come onboard to grade this film at the Dolby Vision lab in London’s Soho. We also did an HDR version of the film, which I think is the first indie film to have an HDR treatment done to it.

We had three to four days of grading with Max, and I was in the room with him the whole time. This was because I had already done a first-pass temp grade myself while editing the film in the beta version of Resolve 14. This made the workflow as simple as exporting my Resolve file and then the material hand-over to Max, who would load up the Resolve file, link up the material and work from there.

Max kept everything photographically like a documentary but with a slight cinematic flair to it. The big challenge was matching all the various sources of material from the various Blackmagic cameras (Ursa Mini Pro, the Production Camera and the Pocket Camera) to the DJI Osmo, drone footage and stock footage.

How many VFX shots were there? Who did them?
There were around 750 visual effects shots. I designed all the VFX scenes and handled a huge portion of the compositing myself, including invisible effects shots, all the space scenes, alien planet scenes, memory scenes and tons more — this would not have been possible without the support of my VFX team who worked on their assigned sequences and shots and also generated tons of CGI assets for me to use to create my shots in comp.

My VFX team members included my long-time collaborator John Sellings, who was the VFX supervisor for all the Human 2.0 sequences. Filmmore, in Amsterdam and Brussels, handled Human 2.0 scenes in the transcode bay with in-house VFX supervisor Hans Van Helden. London’s Squint VFX handled the Human 2.0 scenes in wake-up lab. Charles Wilcocks was the Human 2.0 CG supervisor who worked on the shape and look of the Human 2.0.

Hussin Khan looked after the Malaysian team, which provided rotoscoping support and basic comps. Dan Newlands was our on-set tracking supervisor. He ensured all data was captured correctly and supervised anything tracking related in the Human 2.0 scenes.

Another long-time collaborator was Andrea Tedeschi, who handled the CG and comps for the spacecraft carrier at the end of the film, as well as rendering out the CG astronaut passes. Rhys Griffith handled the rigging for the Human 2.0 characters in Maya, and also looked after the CG passes for the alpha Human 2.0 scenes using Blender. Aleksandr Uusmees provided all the particles and simulation rendered out of Houdini as CG passes/elements, which I then used to create the wormhole effects, alien spheres and other shots that needed those elements.

JM Blay designed and created the standalone motion graphics sequences to visualize the Human 2.0 medical procedure, as well as mission trajectory graphics. He also created several “kit-bash” graphics assets for me to use, including UI graphics, from his After Effects files.

Territory Studio created the awesome end titles and credits sequence, which you can read more about on their site.

As a VFX pro yourself, do you find that you are harder to please because it’s your wheelhouse?
Oh boy. Ask any of the VFX guys on the team and they will say I am a beast to work with because I am hands-on, and also I know how long things take. But on the flip side that had its advantages, as they knew they were not going to get revision after revision, because with each brief I also presented a proposed methodology, and made sure we locked down on that first before proceeding with the shots.

Was this your biggest directing job to date? Can you talk about any surprises?
It wasn’t my biggest directing job to date, as during post production of The Beyond my second sci-fi film Origin Unknown (starring Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica, The Flash) was green-lit and that had its own set of challenges. We can talk more about that when the film is released theatrically and VOD later this year via Kew Media.

This was, however, my biggest producing job to date; there were so many logistics and resources to manage whilst directing too. The cool thing about the way we made this film was that most of the crew were on my short films, including some of the key cast too, so we embraced the guerrilla nature of the production and focused on maximizing our resources to the fullest within the time and budget constraints.

What did you learn on this film that will help on your next?
The other hat I was wearing was the producer hat, and one thing I had to embrace was the sheer amount of paperwork! I may have taken the same filmmaking approach as I did on my short films — guerrilla and thinking outside the box technically and creatively— but making a commercial feature film, I had to learn to deal with things like clearances, E&O (errors and omission) insurance, chain of title, script report and a whole bunch of paperwork required before a distributor will pick up your film.

Thankfully my co-producer Paula Crickard, who is currently wrapping post on Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote, came in during the post stage of the film and helped.

The other thing I learned was the whole sales angle — getting a reputable distributor on board to sell the film in all worldwide territories and how to navigate that process with rights and IP and more contracts etc. The advise I got from other filmmakers is getting the right distributor is a big part in how your film will be released, and to me it was important the distributor was into the film and not just the trailer, but also what their marketing and sales strategy were. The Beyond was never designed to be a theatrical film and therefore I wanted someone that had a big reach in the VOD world through their brand, especially since The Beyond doesn’t have big-name actors in there.

What was the most challenging scene or scenes? Why and how did you overcome those challenges?
The Human 2.0 scenes were the most challenging because they had to look photoreal due to it being a documentary narrative. We did first try and do it all in-camera using a built suit, but it wasn’t achieving the look we wanted and the actors would feel uncomfortable with it, and also to do it properly with practical would cost a fortune. So we went with a full-digital solution for the Human 2.0 bodies, by having the actors wear a tight grey suit with tracking markers on and we restricted our camera moves for simplicity to enable object tracking to work as accurately as possible. We also shot multiple reference footage from all angles to help with match moving. Having an on set-tracking supervisor helped massively and allowed us to make this happen within the budget, while looking and feeling real.

Our biggest issue came when our actress made very tiny movements due to breathing in close-up shots. Because our Human 2.0 was human consciousness in a synthetic shell, breathing didn’t make sense and we began making up for it by freezing the image or doing some stabilization, which ended up being nearly impossible for the very close-up shots.

In the end, I had to think outside the box, so I wrote a few lines into the script that explained that the Human 2.0 was breathing to make it psychologically more acceptable to other humans. Those two lines saved us weeks and possibly months of time.

Being a VFX movie you would expect us to use a form of greenscreen or bluescreen, but we didn’t — in fact, the only stage used was for the “white room” astronaut scene, which was shot over at Asylum FX in London. There was an actor wearing an astronaut suit in a bright photography room, and we used brightly exposed lighting to give a surreal feeling. We used VFX to augment it.

As a writer and a director, how was it seeing your vision through from start to finish.
It didn’t really hit me until I watched the press screening of it at the Dolby Vision office in Soho. It had the fully mixed sound and the completed grade. I remember looking across at my DP and other team members thinking, “Whoa! It looks and feels like a feature film, and we did that in a year!”

You edited the film yourself?
Yes, I was the editor on the film! I shoot for the edit. I started off using Adobe Premiere CC for the early offline and then quickly moved over to Resolve 14, where I did the majority of the editing. It was great because I was doing a lot of online editorial tasks like stabilizing, basic VFX, pan and scans, as well as establishing temp looks while editing. So in a way there was no offline and online editorial, as it was all part of one workflow. We did all our deliverables out of Resolve 14, too.

Transitioning from VFX artist to director

By Karen Maierhofer

It takes a certain type of person to be a director — someone who has an in-depth understanding of the production process; is an exceptional communicator, planner and organizer; who possesses creative vision; and is able to see the big picture where one does not yet exist. And those same qualities can be found in a visual effects or CG supervisor.

In fact, there are a number of former visual effects artists and supes who have made the successful transition to the director’s chair – Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Narnia), Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Rio) and Tim Miller (Deadpool), to name a few. And while VFX supervisors possess many of the skills necessary for directing, it is still relatively uncommon for them to bear that credit, whether it is on a feature film, television series, commercial, music video or other project.

Armen Kevorkian
Armen Kevorkian, VFX supervisor and executive creative director at Deluxe’s Encore, says, “It’s not necessarily a new trend, but it’s really not that common.”

Armen Kevorkian (flannel shirt) on set.

Kevorkian, who has a long list of visual effects credits on various television series — two of which he has also directed episodes (Supergirl and The Flash) — has always wanted to direct but embrace VFX, winning an Emmy and three LEO Awards in addition to garnering multiple nominations for that work. “It’s all about filmmaking and storytelling. I loved what I was doing but always wanted to pursue directing, although I was not going to be pushy about it. If it happened, it happened.”

Indeed, it happened. And having the VFX experience gave Kevorkian the confidence and skills to handle being a director. “A VFX supervisor is often directing the second unit, which makes you comfortable with directing. When you direct an entire episode, though, it is not just about a few pieces; it’s about telling an entire story. That is something you learn to handle as you go.”

As a VFX supe, Kevorkian often was present from start to finish, and was able to see the whole preparation process of what worked and what didn’t. “With VFX, you are there for prep, shooting and post — the whole gamut. Not many other departments get to experience that,” he says.

When he was given the chance to direct an episode, Kevorkian was “the visual effects guy directing.” Luckily, he had worked with the actors on previous episodes in his VFX role and had a good relationship with them. “They were really supportive, and I couldn’t have done it without that, but I can see situations where you might be treated differently because your background is visual effects, and it takes more than that to tell a story and direct a full episode,” he adds.

Proving oneself can be scary, and Kevorkian has known others who directed one project and never did it again. Not so for Kevorkian, who has now directed three episodes of The Flash and one episode of Supergirl thus far, and will direct another Supergirl episode later this year.

While the episodes he has directed were not VFX-heavy, he foresees times when he will have to make a certain decision on the spot, and knowing that something can be fixed easily and less expensively in post, as opposed to wasting precious time trying to fix it practically, will be very helpful. “You are not asking the VFX guy, hey is this going to work? You pretty much know the answer because of your background,” he explains.

Despite his turn directing, Kevorkian is still “the VFX guy” for the series. “I love VFX and also love directing,” he says, hoping to one day direct feature films. “A lot of people think they want to direct but don’t realize how difficult it can be,” he adds.

HaZ Dulull
Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull doesn’t see VFX artists as directors as being so unique any more — “there are more of us now” — and recognizes the advantages such a background can bring to the new role.

“The type of films I make are considered high-concept sci-fi, which rely on VFX to help present the vision and tell the story. But it’s not just putting pretty pixels on screen as an artist that has helped me, it was also being in VFX management roles. This meant I spent a lot of time with TV showrunners, film producers on set and in the edit bay,” says Dulull. “I learned a lot from that such as how to deal with producers, executive producers and timelines. And all the other exposure I got in my VFX management role helped me prep for directing/producing a film.”

Dulull has an extensive resume, having worked as a VFX artist on films such as The Dark Knight and Prince of Persia, before moving into a supervisor role on TV shows including Planet Dinosaur and America: The Story of Us, and then into a VFX producer role. While working in VFX, he created several short films, and one of them — Project Kronos — went viral and caught the attention of Hollywood producers. Soon after, Dulull directed his first feature, The Beyond, which will be released the first quarter of next year by Gravitas Ventures. Another, Origin Unknown, based on a story he wrote, will be released later in 2018 by Content.

Before making the transition to director, Dulull had to overcome the stigma of being a first-time director — despite the success three of his short films had online. At the time, “film investors and studios were not too keen on throwing money at me yet to make a feature.” Frustrated, he decided to take the plunge and used his savings to finance his debut feature film The Beyond, based on Project Kronos. That move later on caught the attention of some investors, who helped finance the remaining post budget.

For Dulull, his VFX background is a definite plus when it comes to directing. “When I say we can add a giant alien sphere in the sky while our character looks out of the car window, with helicopters zipping by, I can say it with confidence. Also, when financiers/producers look at the storyboards and mood boards and see the amount of VFX in there, they know they have a director who can handle that and use VFX smartly as a tool to tell the story. This is as opposed to a director who has no experience in VFX and whose production would probably end up costing more due to the lack of education and wrong decisions, or trial and errors made on set and in post.”

The Beyond, courtesy of HaZ Film LTD.

Because of VFX, Dulull has learned to always shoot clean plates and not to encourage the DP to do zooms or whip pans when a scene has VFX elements. “For The Beyond, there is digital body replacements, and although this was not the same budget as Batman v Superman, we were still able to do it because all the camera moves were on sliders and we acquired a lot of data on the day of the shoot. In fact, I ensured I had budget to hire a tracking master on set who would gather all the data required to get an accurate object and camera track later in CG,” he says.

Dulull also plans for effects early in the production, making notes during the script stages concerning the VFX and researching ideas on how to achieve them so that the producers budget for them.

While on set, though, he focuses on the actors and HODs, and doesn’t get too involved with the VFX beyond showing actors a Photoshop mockup he might have done the night before a greenscreen shoot, to give them a sense of what will be occurring in the scene.

Yet, oftentimes Dulull’s artist side takes over in post. On The Beyond, he handled 75 to 80 percent of the work (mainly compositing), while CG houses and trusted freelancers did the CGI and rendering. “It was my baby and my first film, and I was a control freak on every single shot — the curse of having a VFX background,” he says. On his second feature, Origin Unknown, he found it easier to hand off the work — in this instance it was to Territory Studio.

“I still find I end up doing a lot of the key creative VFX scenes merely because there is no budget for it and basically because it was created during the editorial process — which means you can’t go and raise more money at this stage. But since I can do those ideas myself, I can come up with the concepts in the editorial process and pay the price with long nights and lots of coffee with support from Territory – but I have to ensure I don’t push the VFX studio to the breaking point with overages just because I had a creative burst of inspiration in the edit!” he says.

However, Dulull is confident that on his next feature, he will be hands-off on the VFX and focused on the time-demanding duties of directing and producing, though will still be involved with the designing of the VFX, working closely with Territory.

When it comes to outsourcing the VFX, knowing how much they cost helps keep that part of the budget from getting out of hand, Dulull says. And being able to offer up solutions or alternatives enables a studio to get a shot done faster and with better results.

Freddy Chavez Olmos
Freddy Chavez Olmos got the filmmaking/directing bug at an early age while recording horror-style home movies. Later, he found himself working in the visual effects industry in Vancouver, and counts many impressive VFX credits to his name: District 9, Pacific Rim, Deadpool, Chappie, Sin City 2 and the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. He also writes and directs projects independently, including the award-winning short films Shhh (2012) and Leviticus 24:20 (2016) — both in collaboration with VFX studio Image Engine — and R3C1CL4 (2017).

Working in visual effects, particularly compositing, has taught Olmos the artistic and technical sides of filmmaking during production and post, helping him develop a deeper understanding of the process and improving his problem-solving skills on set.

As more features rely on the use of VFX, having a director or producer with a clear understanding of that process has become almost necessary, according to Olmos. “It’s a process that requires constant feedback and clear communication. I’ve seen a lot of productions suffer visually and budget-wise due to a lack of decision-making in the post production process.”

Olmos has learned a number of lessons from VFX that he believes will help him on future directorial projects:
• Avoid last-minute changes.
• Don’t let too many cooks in the kitchen.
• Be clear on your feedback and use references when possible.
• If you can fix it on set, don’t leave it for post to handle.
• Always stay humble and give credit to those who help you.
• CG is time-consuming and expensive. If it doesn’t serve your story, don’t use it.
• Networking and professional relationships are crucial.
• Don’t become a pixel nitpicker. No one will analyze every single frame of your film unless you work on a Star Wars sequel. Your VFX crew will be more gracious to you, too.

Despite his VFX experience, Olmos, like others interviewed for this article, tries to use a practical approach first while in the director’s seat. Nevertheless, he always keeps the “VFX side of his brain open.”

For instance, the first short film he co-directed called for a full-body creature. “I didn’t want to go full CG with it because I knew we could achieve most of it practically, but I also understood the limitations. So we decided to only ‘digitally enhance’ what we couldn’t do on set and become more selective in our shot list,” he explains. “In the end, I was glad we worked as efficiently as we did on the project and didn’t have any throw-away work.”

Shhh film

While some former VFX artists/supervisors may find it difficult to hand off a project they directed to a VFX facility, Olmos maintains that as long as there is someone he trusts on set who is always by his side, he is able to detach himself “from micromanaging that part,” he says, although he does like to be heavily involved in the storyboarding and previs processes whenever possible. “A lot of the changes happen during that stage, and I like giving freedom to the VFX supervisor on set to do what he thinks is best for the project,” says Olmos.

“A few years ago, there were two VFX artists who became mainstream directors because they knew how to tell a good story using visual effects as a supporting platform (Neill Blomkamp and Gareth Edwards, Godzilla, Rogue One). Now there is a similar wave of talented filmmakers with a VFX and animation background doing original short projects,” says Olmos. “We have common interests, and I have become friends with a lot of them. I have no doubt they will end up doing big things in the near future.”

David Mellor
David Mellor is the creative director of Framestore’s new Chicago office and a director with the studio’s production company Framestore Pictures. With a background in computer visualization and animation, he started out in a support role with the rendering team and eventually transitioned to commercials and music videos, working his way up to CG lead and head of the CG department in the studio’s New York office.

In that capacity, Mellor was exposed to the creative side and worked with directors and agencies, and that led to the creative director and director roles he now enjoys.

Mellor has directed spots for Chick-fil-A (VR and live action), Redd’s Wicked Apple, Chex Mix and a series for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon.

Without hesitation, Mellor credits his VFX experience for helping him prepare for directing in that it enables him to “see” the big picture and final result from a fragment of elements, giving him a more solid direction. “VFX supervisors have a full understanding of how to build a scene, how light and camera work, and what effect lensing has,” he says.

Additionally, VFX supervisors are prepared to react to a given situation, as things are always changing. They also have to be able to break down a shot in moments on set, and run the whole shoot — post to finish — through their head when asked a question by a director or DP. “So it gives you this very good instinct as a director and allows you to see beyond what’s in front of you,” Mellor says. “It also allows you to plan well and be creative while looking at the entire timeline of the project. ‘Fix it in post’ is no longer acceptable with everyone wanting more for less time/money.”

And as projects become larger and incorporate more effects, director’s like Mellor will be able to tackle them more efficiently and with a higher quality, knowing all that is needed to produce the final piece. He also values his ability to communicate and collaborate, which are necessary for effects supervisors on big VFX projects.

“Our career path to directing hasn’t been the traditional one, but we have more exposure working with the client from conception through to a project’s finish. That means collaboration is a big aspect for me, working toward the best result holistically within the parameters of time and budget.”

Still, Mellor believes the transition to director for a VFX supervisor remains rare. One reason is because a person often becomes pigeonholed in a role.

While their numbers are still low, VFX artists/supervisors-turned-directors are making their mark across various genres, proving themselves capable and worthy of the much-deserved moniker of director, and in doing so, are helping to pave the way for others in visual effects roles.

Our Main Image: The Beyond, courtesy of HaZ Film LTD.

Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull’s ‘Origin Unknown’ starts 2nd unit photography

Director Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull, who has shared his expertise on the postPerspective site over the last two years, has started 2nd unit shooting on Origin Unknown, a sci-fi thriller based on a story by Dulull and written by Gary Hall. Dulull is a former VFX supervisor and artist who has worked on such tentpole films as Hell Boy and Dark Knight and who made a name for himself as a director with his award-winning short films, Project Kronos and Sync.

Origin Unknown is a sci-fi thriller set in the not-too-distant future of space exploration, where we follow a mission controller named Mack investigating a mysterious object that has appeared on Mars. As he gets close to unraveling the mystery, with the support of an artificial intelligence called RAINN, he soon realizes there is something much bigger at play.

“The writing process has been awesome,” explains Dulull. “Gary and I would chat every day, and by the time he had finished the script I had already mapped out how we were going to make this film.”

The second unit material is being shot with team at The Lens Foundry on the Sony F55 camera. First unit photography will be via the Arri Alexa.

“With my VFX supervisor background and having made several short films, the transition into directing has been an easy one,” says Dulull. “In fact, nothing has changed much, apart from the fact I am now responsible for everything in the film. Now my main job is to ensure I tell the best possible story and do the script justice. Being surrounded by hard working producers and an experienced team of talent just makes this process so enjoyable every day.”

The unique position of this production, says Dulull, “is we are doing most of the VFX first, while shooting the 2nd unit material.” Check out the proof of concept video here.

The film is being produced by Anis Shlewet and James Ryan of Parkgate Entertainment with Scott Glassgold and Raymond Brothers of IAM Entertainment executive producing, having worked on Dulull’s previous short projects, as well as the upcoming feature adaption of Dulull’s Project Kronos.

Filmmaker HaZ Dulull gets in ‘Sync’ with new short film

By Randi Altman

Writer/director/VFX supervisor Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull, whose sci-fi short Project Kronos is currently being adapted into a feature film, recently completed another short, Sync. Dulull says this proof-of-concept piece is part of a package used when developing feature film and TV properties.

Sync’s story is that every 15 seconds, a computer, network or mobile device is hacked by cyber-terrorists. To combat this problem, the fictional Syntek Industries has manufactured data couriers designed from advanced machine robotics. These couriers are known as Syncs, who are programmed to securely deliver data packages without interruption.

This busy London-based pro, who started out in visual effects working on films such as the Continue reading

Five tips for VFX supervising on set

By Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull

I’ve been on many sets over the course of my career as a visual effects supervisor and I’ve seen just about everything, from full on greenscreen sets, motion control sets, high-speed photography elements shoots and even guerrilla-style handheld shoots that needed visual effects added later in post.

Although most projects are unique in their own way, the fundamentals of gathering VFX data on set are always the same, regardless of the scale or budget of the project. When I’m preparing to VFX supervise a shoot, there are five fundamentals I keep in mind. Here they are:

1) Bring a laptop with you that is loaded with editing software (Premiere or FCP) and compositing software (Nuke or After Effects) to be able to play back animatics and do test Continue reading

On-Set: VFX data gathering with Arri Alexa

By Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull

A few months ago I was VFX supervising on location for a rather large-scale commercial shot on the lovely Arri Alexa.

Whenever I am doing on-set VFX supervising, one of the many things I do is take notes of the lens used, height of jib crane, F-stops, FOV etc. To do this I usually hassle the camera assistants for that info and then scribble it down as we move onto the next shot and setup.

But when things start changing, such as different takes with different angles and lens or new setups made on the fly, it can be a nightmare to keep on top of all the camera info.

So on this particular commercial shoot, as I passed the DIT guy, I noticed he was dumping the Continue reading

Review: Ftrack VFX project management solution

By Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull

In a world where visual effects and post are being done at several locations simultaneously, the issue of project management becomes more complex and stressful. It means going through tons of client feedback and emails, spreadsheets of schedules, assets and resources — and doing all of that on multiple projects at once!

This is where Ftrack comes in to make the process of managing visual effects projects in-house or remotely easier, more efficient and affordable, so even small boutique studios could adopt it. But that doesn’t mean the big boys don’t use it as well. Ftrack currently lists studios such as The Mill and Cinesite as clients.

Obviously there are other tools out there, such as Shotgun, that do similar things to Ftrack but Continue reading

VFX supervisor turned director/writer launches HaZ Film

By Randi Altman

London — Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull, whose film Project Kronos is being produced by Benderspink (We’re The Millers), IAM Entertainment and financed by Armory films, has launched his own film production company, called HaZ Film.

Dulull, who started as a visual effects supervisor and expanded into writing, directing and producing, is also currently developing a slate of feature film projects with major Hollywood studios, details of which will be released later this year.

Establishing HaZ Film allows Dulull a platform from which to create. “All the short films I create as proof-of-concept films demonstrate my ability to write and direct, but they also Continue reading