Tag Archives: Hulu

DP Chat: Catch-22’s Martin Ruhe, ASC

By Randi Altman

For the bibliophiles out there, you know Catch-22 as the 1961 book by Joseph Heller. Cinephiles might remember the 1970 film of the same name starring Alan Arkin. And for those who are familiar with the saying, but not its origins, a Catch-22 is essentially a no-win situation. The famous idiom comes from the book — specifically the main character, Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who finds himself needing to escape the war, but rules and regulations hold him back.

Martin Ruhe (right) on-set with George Clooney.

Now there is yet another Catch-22 to point to: Hulu’s miniseries, which stars Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie and George Clooney. Clooney is also an executive producer, alongside Grant Heslov, Luke Davies, David Michôd, Richard Brown, Steve Golin and Ellen Kuras. The series was written by Davies and Michôd and directed by Clooney, Heslov and Kuras, who each directed two episodes. It was shot entirely in Italy.

We recently reached out to the show’s German-born DP, Martin Ruhe, ASC, to find out about his workflow on the series and how he became a cinematographer.

Tell us about Catch-22. How would you describe the look of the film that you and the directors wanted to achieve?
George was very clear — he wanted to push the look of the show toward something we don’t see very often these days in TV or films. He wanted to feel the heat of the Italian summer.

We also wanted to contrast the absurdity of what happens on the ground with the claustrophobic and panic of the aerial work. We ended up with a strong warm tone and a lot of natural light. And we move the camera as if we‘re always with our hero (Abbott). Very often we travel with him in fluent camera moves, and then we contrast that with shaky hand-held camera work in the air. It was good fun to be able to have such a range to work with.

Were you given examples of the look that was wanted?
We looked at newsreel footage from the period and at stills and benefitted from production designer David Gropman‘s research. Then I took stills when we did camera tests with our actors in costume. I worked on those on my computer until we got to a place we all liked.

Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 did the grading for the show and loved it. He gave us a LUT that we used for our dailies. Later, when we did the final grade, we added film grain and refined our look to what it is now.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I spoke with George Clooney and Grant Heslov for the first time four months before we started to shoot. I had eight weeks of prep.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
A lot of the scenes were happening in very small spaces. I did a lot of research on smaller cameras, and since we would have a lot of action scenes in those planes, I did not want to use any cameras with a rolling shutter.

I ended up using Arri Alexa Minis with Cooke S4 lenses and also some Flare cameras by IO industries, which could record 4K raw to Q7 Odyssey recorders. We mounted those little ones on the planes whenever they were flying for real. We also used it for the parachute jump.

This is a period piece. How did that affect your choices?
The main effect was the choice of light sources when we shot interiors and night scenes. I love fluorescents, and they existed in the period, but just not in those camps and not in the streets of Rome at night. We used a lot of practicals and smaller sources, which we spread out in the little streets of a small town where we shot, called Viterbo (standing in for Rome).

Another thing I learned was that in those camps at night, lights were blacked out. That meant we were stuck with moonlight and general ambience for night scenes, which we created with HMI sources — sometimes direct if we needed to cover big areas, like when the air base gets attacked at night in Episode 5.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging? 
In the end of Episode 5, Yossarian’s plane loses both engines in combat and goes down. We see YoYo and others escape the plane, while the pilot takes the plane over water and tries to land it. It’s a very dramatic scene.

We shot some exteriors of the real B25 Mitchell over Sardinia. We mounted camera systems in a DC3 and our second Mitchell to get the shots with the real planes. The destruction on the engines and the additional planes were added in post. The interiors of our actors in the plane were shot at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. We had a fuselage of a real B-25 on a gimbal. The studio was equipped with a 360-degree screen and a giant top light.

In the plane, we shot with a hand-held ARRI Alexa Mini camera. It was only the actors, myself and my focus puller inside. We never altered the physical space of the plane but instead embraced the claustrophobia. We see all of the crew members getting out — only the pilot stays on board. There was so little physical space for our actors since the fuselage was rigged to the gimbal, and then we also had to create the lighting for them to jump into within a couple of feet of space.

Then, when Yossarian leaves the plane, we actually put a small camera on a stuntman while another stuntman in Yossarian’s wardrobe did a real jump. We combined that with some plate shots from a helicopter (with a 3D plane in it) and some shots of our actor on a rig on the backlot of Cinecitta.

It all worked out. It was always our goal to shoot as many real elements as we could and leave the rest with post.

Stepping away from Catch-22. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I grew up in a small town in western Germany. No one in my family had anything to do with film. I loved movies and wanted to work on them as a director. After a little journey, I got an internship at a camera rental in London. It was then I saw for the first time what cinematographers do. I loved it and knew that was it. Then I studied in Berlin, became a focus puller for a couple of years and started working as a DP on music videos, then commercials and then, a little later, films.

What inspires you artistically?
Photography and movies. There is a lot of good work out there by a lot of talented DPs. I love to look at photographers I like as well as some documentary stills like the ones you see in the World Press Photo contest once a year. I love it when it is real. There are so many images around us every day, but if I don’t believe them (where they seem real to me), they are just annoying.

Looking back over the last few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Maybe LED lighting and maybe the high sensitivity of today’s digital cameras. You are so much more free in your choice of locations, days and, especially, night work because you can work with fewer lights.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Keep it as simple as you can, and stay true to your vision.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
I’m not sure there is just one way to go. After reading the script, you have an idea of what it can be, and then you start getting the information of the where and in what frame you will work.

Martin Ruhe behind the ARRI Alexa.

I love to spend time with my directors in prep — going to the locations, seeing them in different light, like mornings, noon or during night. Then I love to work with stills and sometimes also reference pictures to show what I think it can be and present a way we can get there. It’s always very important to leave some space for things to develop.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I look for the right gear for each project. I like ARRI cameras, but I’ve also shot two movies with Panavision cameras.

I have shot movies in various countries, and the early ones didn’t have big budgets, so I tried to work with local crew and gear that was available. The thing I like about that is you get to know different ways of doing things, and also you might work with gear you would have never picked yourself. It keeps you flexible. When I start a project, I am trying to develop a feel for the story and the places it lives. Once I have that feel, I start into how and decide what tools I’ll use.

Photo Credit: Philippe Antonello


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

Hulu’s PEN15: Helping middle school sound funny

By Jennifer Walden

Being 13 years old once was hard enough, but the creators of the Hulu series PEN15 have relived that uncomfortable age — braces and all — a second time for the sake of comedy.

James Parnell

Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle might be in their 30s, but they convincingly play two 13-year-old BFFs journeying through the perils of 7th grade. And although they’re acting alongside actual teenagers, it’s not Strangers With Candy grown-up-interfacing-with-kids kind of weird — not even during the “first kiss” scene. The awkwardness comes from just being 13 and having those first-time experiences of drinking, boyfriends, awkward school dances and even masturbation (the topic of focus in Episode 3). Erskine, Konkle and co-showrunner Sam Zvibleman hilariously capture all of that cringe-worthy coming-of-age content in their writing on PEN15.

The show is set in the early 2000s, a time when dial-up Internet and the Sony Discman were prevailing technology. The location is a non-descript American suburb that is relatable in many ways to many people, and that is one way the show transports the audience back to their early teenage years.

At Monkeyland Audio in Glendale, California, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer James Parnell and his team worked hard to capture that almost indescribable nostalgic essence that the showrunners were seeking. Monkeyland was responsible for all post sound editorial, including Foley, ADR, final 5.1 surround mixing and stereo fold-downs for each episode. Let’s find out more from Parnell.

I happened to watch Episode 3, “Ojichan,” with my mom, and it was completely awkward. It epitomized the growing pains of the teenage years, which is what this series captures so well.
Well, that was an awkward one to mix as well. Maya (Erskine) and Anna (Konkle) were in the room with me while I was mixing that scene! Obviously, the show is an adult comedy that targets adults. We all ended up joking about it during the mix — especially about the added Foley sound that was recorded.

The beauty of this show is that it has the power to take something that might otherwise be thought of as, perhaps, inappropriate for some, and humanize it. All of us went through that period in our lives and I would agree that the show captures that awkwardness in a perfect and humorous way.

The writers/showrunners also star. I’m sure they were equally involved with post as well as other aspects of the show. How were they planning to use sound to help tell their story?
Parnell: In terms of the post schedule, I was brought on very early. We were doing spotting sessions to pre-locked picture, for Episode 1 and Episode 3. From the get-go, they were very specific about how they wanted the show to sound. I got the vibe that they were going for that Degrassi/Afterschool Special feeling but kept in the year 2000 — not the original Degrassi of the early ‘90s.

For example, they had a very specific goal for what they wanted the school to sound like. The first episode takes place on the first day of 7th grade and they asked if we could pitch down the school bell so it sounds clunky and have the hallways sound sparse. When class lets out, the hallway should sound almost like a relief.

Their direction was more complex than “see a school hallway, hear a school hallway.” They were really specific about what the school should sound like and specific about what the girls’ neighborhoods should sound like — Anna’s family in the show is a bit better off than Maya’s family so the neighborhood ambiences reflect that.

What were some specific sounds you used to capture the feel of middle school?
The show is set in 2000, and they had some great visual cues as throwbacks. In Episode 4 “Solo,” Maya is getting ready for the school band recital and she and her dad (a musician who’s on tour) are sending faxes back and forth about it. So we have the sound of the fax machine.

We tried to support the amazing recordings captured by the production sound team on-set by adding in sounds that lent a non-specific feeling to the school. This doesn’t feel like a California middle school; it could be anywhere in America. The same goes for the ambiences. We weren’t using California-specific birds. We wanted it to sound like Any Town, USA so the audience could connect with the location and the story. Our backgrounds editor G.W. Pope did a great job of crafting those.

For Episode 7, “AIM,” the whole thing revolves around Maya and Anna’s AOL instant messenger experience. The creatives on the show were dreading that episode because all they were working with was temp sound. They had sourced recordings of the AOL sound pack to drop into the video edit. The concern was how some of the Hulu execs would take it because the episode mostly takes place in front of a computer, while they’re on AOL chatting with boys and with each other. Adding that final layer of sound and then processing on the mix stage helped what might otherwise feel like a slow edit and a lagging episode.

The dial-up sounds, AOL sign-on sounds and instant messenger sounds we pulled from library. This series had a limited budget, so we didn’t do any field recordings. I’ve done custom recordings for higher-budget shows, but on this one we were supplementing the production sound. Our sound designer on PEN15 was Xiang Li, and she did a great job of building these scenes. We had discussions with the showrunners about how exactly the fax and dial-up should sound. This sound design is a mixture of Xiang Li’s sound effects editorial with composer Leo Birenberg’s score. The song is a needle drop called “Computer Dunk.” Pretty cool, eh?

For Episode 4, “Solo,” was the middle school band captured on-set? Or was that recorded in the studio?
There was production sound recorded but, ultimately, the music was recorded by the composer Leo Birenberg. In the production recording, the middle school kids were actually playing their parts but it was poorer than you’d expect. The song wasn’t rehearsed so it was like they were playing random notes. That sounded a bit too bad. We had to hit that right level of “bad” to sell the scene. So Leo played individual instruments to make it sound like a class orchestra.

In terms of sound design, that was one of the more challenging episodes. I got a day to mix the show before the execs came in for playback. When I mixed it initially, I mixed in all of Leo’s stems — the brass, percussion, woodwinds, etc.

Anna pointed out that the band needed to sound worse than how Leo played it, more detuned and discordant. We ended up stripping out instruments and pitching down parts, like the flute part, so that it was in the wrong key. It made the whole scene feel much more like an awkward band recital.

During the performance, Maya improvises a timpani solo. In real life, Maya’s father is a professional percussionist here in LA, and he hooked us up with a timpani player who re-recorded that part note-for-note what she played on-screen. It sounded really good, but we ended up sticking with production sound because it was Maya’s unique performance that made that scene work. So even though we went to the extremes of hiring a professional percussionist to re-perform the part, we ultimately decided to stick with production sound.

What were some of the unique challenges you had in terms of sound on PEN15?
On Episode 3, “Ojichan,” Maya is going through this process of “self-discovery” and she’s disconnecting her friendship from Anna. There’s a scene where they’re watching a video in class and Anna asks Maya why she missed the carpool that morning. That scene was like mixing a movie inside a show. I had to mix the movie, then futz that, and then mix that into the scene. On the close-ups of the 4:3 old-school television the movie would be less futzed and more like you’re in the movie, and then we’d cut back to the girls and I’d have to futz it. Leo composed 20 different stems of music for that wild life video. Mixing that scene was challenging.

Then there was the Wild Things film in Episode 8, “Wild Things.” A group of kids go over to Anna’s boyfriend’s house to watch Wild Things on VHS. That movie was risqué, so if you had an older brother or older cousin, then you might have watched it in middle school. That was a challenging scene because everyone had a different idea of how the den should sound, how futzed the movie dialogue should be, how much of the actual film sound we could use, etc. There was a specific feel to the “movie night” that the producers were looking for. The key was mixing the movie into the background and bringing the awkward flirting/conversation between the kids forward.

Did you have a favorite scene for sound?
The season finale is one of the bigger episodes. There’s a middle school dance and so there’s a huge amount of needle-drop songs. Mixing the music was a lot of fun because it was a throwback to my youth.

Also, the “AIM” episode was fun because it ended up being fun to work on — even though everyone was initially worried about it. I think the sound really brought that episode to life. From a general standpoint, I feel like sound lent itself more so than any other aspect to that episode.

The first episode was fun too. It was the first day of school and we see the girls getting ready at their own houses, getting into the carpool and then taking their first step, literally, together toward the school. There we dropped out all the sound and just played the Lit song “My Own Worst Enemy,” which gets cut off abruptly when someone on rollerblades hops in front of the girls. Then they talk about one of their classmates who grew boobs over the summer, and we have a big sound design moment when that girl turns around and then there’s another needle-drop track “Get the Job Done.” It’s all specifically choreographed with sound.

The series music supervisor Tiffany Anders did an amazing job of picking out the big needle-drops. We have a Nelly song for the middle school dance, we have songs from The Cranberries, and Lit and a whole bunch more that fit the era and age group. Tiffany did fantastic work and was great to work with.

What were some helpful sound tools that you used on PEN15?
Our dialogue editor’s a huge fan of iZotope’s RX 7, as am I. Here at Monkeyland, we’re on the beta-testing team for iZotope. The products they make are amazing. It’s kind of like voodoo. You can take a noisy recording and with a click of a button pretty much erase the issues and save the dialogue. Within that tool palette, there are lot of ways to fix a whole host of problems.

I’m a huge fan of Audio Ease’s Altiverb, which came in handy on the season finale. In order to create the feeling of being in a middle school gymnasium, I ran the needle-drop songs through Altiverb. There are some amazing reverb settings that allow you to reverse the levels that are going to the surround speakers specifically. You can literally EQ the reverb, take out 200Hz, which would make the music sound more boomy than desired.

The lobby at Monkeyland is a large cinder-block room with super-high ceilings. It has acoustics similar to a middle school gymnasium. So, we captured a few impulse responses (IR), and I used those in Altiverb on a few lines of dialogue during the school dance in the season finale. I used that on a few of the songs as well. Like, when Anna’s boyfriend walks into the gym, there was supposed to be a Limp Bizkit needle-drop but that ended up getting scrapped at the last minute. So, instead there’s a heavy-metal song and the IR of our lobby really lent itself to that song.

The show was a simple single-card Pro Tools HD mix — 256 tracks max. I’m a huge fan of Avid and the new Pro Tools 2018. My dialogue chain features Avid’s Channel Strip; McDSP SA-2; Waves De-Esser (typically bypassed unless being used); McDSP 6030 Leveling Amplifier, which does a great job at handling extremely loud dialogue and preventing it from distorting, as well as Waves WNS.

On staff, we have a fabulous ADR mixer named Jacob Ortiz. The showrunners were really hesitant to record ADR, and whenever we could salvage the production dialogue we did. But when we needed ADR, Jacob did a great job of cueing that, and he uses the Sound In Sync toolkit, including EdiCue, EdiLoad and EdiMarker.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share on PEN15?
Yes! Watch the show. I think it’s awesome, but again, I’m biased. It’s unique and really funny. The showrunners Maya, Anna and Sam Zvibleman — who also directed four episodes — are three incredibly talented people. I was honored to be able to work with them and hope to be a part of anything they work on next.


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

Quick Chat: Bill Ferwerda on coloring Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

The premiere season of the dystopian series The Handmaid’s Tale earned eight Primetime Emmys, two Golden Globes, a Peabody Award and a BAFTA Award. Season 2, which is now streaming on Hulu, expands on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name.

For the latest season Deluxe Toronto senior colorist Bill Ferwerda reteamed with series DP Colin Watkinson, who won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography on The Handmaid’s Tale pilot, and also worked with DP Zoe White.

Ferwerda once again delivered HDR and SDR grades for Season 2, following the same palette established for Season One and helping develop looks for new environments, including the polluted Colonies.

“The look of The Handmaid’s Tale is so established and familiar to audiences, there wasn’t a need to reinvent the look for season two, but rather we pick up where season one left off and keep that tension building. I often pulled up season one footage to make sure I was staying true to that original aesthetic and feel,” explains Ferwerda.

Similar to how Ferwerda keyed in the signature “handmaid red” for Season 1 — a creative decision established by Watkinson and director of Season 1, episodes 1-3 Reed Morano — he accentuated a few primary colors in one key element within a scene, maintaining a simple palette and adding contrast to help the wardrobe and set design pop. He used the SDR grade as the guide for the HDR Dolby Vision grade, careful to carry through the intentionally subdued look.

Season 2 introduces The Colonies, a horrific compound where disobedient handmaids are sent to work in incredibly harsh conditions. To underscore the unpleasant environment, Ferwerda played up smoke and atmosphere with harsh contrast, following an aesthetic he helped develop with Watkinson and DIT Ben Whaley. He also accommodated for changing daylight in exterior scenes and footage shot with both Arri Alexa and drone cameras.

Bill Ferwerda

“The Colonies environment is toxic, so I was more aggressive in pushing the contrast; blacks are harder and I balanced a lot of opposite colors, such as adding a pink sky to counter green and different color tones,” explains Ferwerda. “As a fan myself, this was a very exciting project to be part of, and I can attest that season two lives up to its very high expectations.”

Let’s find out more from Ferwerda:

How does your process differ when delivering HDR and SDR?
HDR delivers more detail and clarity in the highlights as opposed to SDR, where the detail can be almost nonexistent. When working on a deliverable that is both HDR and SDR, you have to be aware of the image on both formats at the same time. The reason we do this is that both versions are delivered on one file. That is to say, the SDR is derived from the HDR source.

Using the HDR source, we do a “trim pass” to match the two images minus the highlight detail. Interestingly, in the case of The Handmaids Tale, the creative decision was made that the HDR version would look exactly the same as the SDR version because everyone liked the lack of detail in the highlights. When coloring an episode, we still do the HDR pass first and then trim past to SDR, but we keep it in the SDR parameters.

I know most of the palette from Season 1 remains, but other than The Colonies, what how did you approach environments new to Season 2?
We approach new environments by reviewing the looks that have been applied on set. After this review session, we go through a series of presentations, discussions and tweaks to get exactly what the DP wants.

When the shooting was going on in Toronto, the DPs would come in and sit down with me. Now that the shooting is finished, Deluxe sends the DPs to one of our sister companies in LA or New York (where we know the monitors will match) and does sessions with them there while we have the content and Resolve panels in Toronto.

What about this season stands out to you?
Season 2 was awesome, and I loved all the episodes, but what stands out to me the most is working with the new DP, Zoë White. Colin Watkinson and Zoe would flip-flop between episodes. It was such a pleasure working with her and watching her sink her teeth into the Handmaids’ world!

JoJo Whilden/Hulu

Color and audio post for Hulu’s The Looming Tower

Hulu’s limited series, The Looming Tower, explores the rivalries and missed opportunities that beset US law enforcement and intelligence communities in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Lawrence Wright, who also shares credit as executive producer with Dan Futterman and Alex Gibney, the show’s 10 episodes paint an absorbing, if troubling, portrait of the rise of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, and offer fresh insight into the complex people who were at the center of the fight against terrorism.

For The Looming Tower’s sound and picture post team, the show’s sensitive subject matter and blend of dramatizations and archival media posed significant technical and creative challenges. Colorist Jack Lewars and online editor Jeff Cornell of Technicolor PostWorks New York, were tasked with integrating grainy, run-and-gun news footage dating back to 1998 with crisply shot, high-resolution original cinematography. Supervising sound designer/effects mixer Ruy García and re-recording mixer Martin Czembor from PostWorks, along with a Foley team from Alchemy Post Sound, were charged with helping to bring disparate environments and action to life, but without sensationalizing or straying from historical accuracy.

L-R: colorist Jack Lewars and editor Jeff Cornell

Lewars and Cornell mastered the series in Dolby Vision HDR, working from the production’s camera original 2K and 3.4K ArriRaw files. Most of the color grading and conforming work was done with a light touch, according to Lewars, as the objective was to adhere to a look that appeared real and unadulterated. The goal was for viewers to feel they are behind the scenes, watching events as they happened.

Where more specific grades were applied, it was done to support the narrative. “We developed different look sets for the FBI and CIA headquarters, so people weren’t confused about where we were,” Lewars explains. “The CIA was working out of the basement floors of a building, so it’s dark and cool — the light is generated by fluorescent fixtures in the room. The FBI is in an older office building — its drop ceiling also has fluorescent lighting, but there is a lot of exterior light, so its greener, warmer.”

The show adds to the sense of realism by mixing actual news footage and other archival media with dramatic recreations of those same events. Lewars and Cornell help to cement the effect by manipulating imagery to cut together seamlessly. “In one episode, we matched an interview with Osama bin Laden from the late ‘90s with new material shot with an Arri Alexa,” recalls Lewars. “We used color correction and editorial effects to blend the two worlds.”

Cornell degraded some scenes to make them match older, real-world media. “I took the Alexa material and ‘muddied’ it up by exporting it to compressed SD files and then cutting it back into the master timeline,” he notes. “We also added little digital hits to make it feel like the archival footage.”

While the color grade was subtle and adhered closely to reality, it still packed an emotional punch. That is most apparent in a later episode that includes the attack on the Twin Towers. “The episode starts off in New York early in the morning,” says Lewars. “We have a series of beauty shots of the city and it’s a glorious day. It’s a big contrast to what follows — archival footage after the towers have fallen where everything is a white haze of dust and debris.”

Audio Post
The sound team also strove to remain faithful to real events. García recalls his first conversations about the show’s sound needs during pre-production spotting sessions with executive producer Futterman and editor Daniel A. Valverde. “It was clear that we didn’t want to glamorize anything,” he says. “Still, we wanted to create an impact. We wanted people to feel like they were right in the middle of it, experiencing things as they happened.”

García says that his sound team approached the project as if it were a documentary, protecting the performances and relying on sound effects that were authentic in terms of time and place. “With the news footage, we stuck with archival sounds matching the original production footage and accentuating whatever sounds were in there that would connect emotionally to the characters,” he explains. “When we moved to the narrative side with the actors, we’d take more creative liberties and add detail and texture to draw you into the space and focus on the story.”

He notes that the drive for authenticity extended to crowd scenes, where native speakers were used as voice actors. Crowd sounds set in the Middle East, for example, were from original recordings from those regions to ensure local accents were correct.

Much like Lewars approach to color, García and his crew used sound to underscore environmental and psychological differences between CIA and FBI headquarters. “We did subtle things,” he notes. “The CIA has more advanced technology, so everything there sounds sharper and newer versus the FBI where you hear older phones and computers.”

The Foley provided by artists and mixers from Alchemy Post Sound further enhanced differences between the two environments. “It’s all about the story, and sound played a very important role in adding tension between characters,” says Leslie Bloome, Alchemy’s lead Foley artist. “A good example is the scene where CIA station chief Diane Marsh is berating an FBI agent while casually applying her makeup. Her vicious attitude toward the FBI agent combined with the subtle sounds of her makeup created a very interesting juxtaposition that added to the story.”

In addition to footsteps, the Foley team created incidental sounds used to enhance or add dimension to explosions, action and environments. For a scene where FBI agents are inspecting a warehouse filled with debris from the embassy bombings in Africa, artists recorded brick and metal sounds on a Foley stage designed to capture natural ambience. “Normally, a post mixer will apply reverb to place Foley in an environment,” says Foley artist Joanna Fang. “But we recorded the effects in our live room to get the perspective just right as people are walking around the warehouse. You can hear the mayhem as the FBI agents are documenting evidence.”

“Much of the story is about what went wrong, about the miscommunication between the CIA and FBI,” adds Foley mixer Ryan Collison, “and we wanted to help get that point across.”

The soundtrack to the series assumed its final form on a mix stage at PostWorks. Czembor spent weeks mixing dialogue, sound and music elements into what he described as a cinematic soundtrack.

L-R: Martin Czember and Ruy Garcia

Czembor notes that the sound team provided a wealth of material, but for certain emotionally charged scenes, such as the attack on the USS Cole, the producers felt that less was more. “Danny Futterman’s conceptual approach was to go with almost no sound and let the music and the story speak for themselves,” he says. “That was super challenging, because while you want to build tension, you are stripping it down so there’s less and less and less.”

Czembor adds that music, from composer Will Bates, is used with great effect throughout the series, even though it might go by unnoticed by viewers. “There is actually a lot more music in the series than you might realize,” he says. “That’s because it’s not so ‘musical;’ there aren’t a lot of melodies or harmonies. It’s more textural…soundscapes in a way. It blends in.”

Czembor says that as a longtime New Yorker, working on the show held special resonance for him, and he was impressed with the powerful, yet measured way it brings history back to life. “The performances by the cast are so strong,” he says. “That made it a pleasure to work on. It inspires you to add to the texture and do your job really well.”

Creating and tracking roaches for Hulu’s 11.22.63

By Randi Altman

Looking for something fun and compelling to watch while your broadcast shows are on winter break? You might want to try Hulu’s original eight-part miniseries 11.22.63, which the streaming channel released last February.

It comes with a pretty impressive pedigree — it’s based on a Stephen King novel, it’s executive produced by J.J. Abrams, it stars Oscar-nominee James Franco (127 Hours) and it’s about JFK’s assassination and includes time travel. C’mon!

The plot involves Franco’s character traveling back to 1960 in an effort to stop JFK’s assassination, but just as he makes headway, he feels the past pushing back in some dangerous, and sometimes gross, ways.

Bruce Branit

In the series pilot, Franco’s character, Jack Epping, is being chased by Kennedy’s security after he tries to sneak into a campaign rally. He ducks in a storage room to hide, but he’s already ticked off the past, which slowly serves him up a room filled with cockroaches that swarm him. The sequence is a slow build, with roaches crawling out, covering the floor and then crawling up him.

I’m not sure if Franco has a no-roach clause in his contract (I would), but in order to have control over these pests, it was best to create them digitally. This is where Bruce Branit, owner of BranitFX in Kansas City, Missouri came in. Yes, you read that right, Kansas City, and his resume is impressive. He is a frequent collaborator with Jay Worth, Bad Robot’s VFX supervisor.

So for this particular scene, BranitFX had one or two reference shots, which they used to create a roach brush via Photoshop. Once the exact look was determined regarding the amount of attacking roaches, they animated it in 3D and and composited. They then used 2D and 3D tracking tools to track Franco while the cockroaches swarmed all over him.

Let’s find out more from Bruce Branit.

How early did you get involved in that episode? How much input did you have in how it would play out?
For this show, there wasn’t a lot of lead time. I came on after shooting was done and there was a rough edit. I don’t think the edit changed a lot after we started.

What did the client want from the scene, and how did you go about accomplishing that?
VFX supervisor Jay Worth and I have worked together on a lot of shows. We’d done some roaches for an episode of Almost Human, and also I think for Fringe, so we had some similar assets and background with talking “roach.” The general description was tons of roaches crawling on James Franco.

Did you do previs?
Not really. I rendered about 10 angles of the roach we had previously worked with and made Adobe Photoshop brushes out of each frame. I used that to paint up a still of each shot to establish a baseline for size, population and general direction of the roaches in each of the 25 or so shots in the sequence.

Did you have to play with the movements a lot, or did it all just come together?
We developed a couple base roach walks and behaviors and then populated each scene with instances of that. This changed depending on whether we needed them crossing the floor, hanging on a light fixture or climbing on Franco’s suit. The roach we had used in the past was similar to what the producers on 11.22.63 had in mind. We made a few minor modifications with texture and modeling. Some of this affected the rig we’d built so a lot of the animations had to be rebuilt.

Can you talk about your process/workflow?
This sequence was shot in anamorphic and featured a constantly flashing light on the set going from dark emergency red lighting to brighter florescent lights. So I generated unsqueezed lens distortion, removed and light mitigated interim plates to pull all of our 2D and 3D tracking off of. The tracking was broken into 2D, 3D and 3D tracking by hand involving roaches on Franco’s body as he turns and swats at them in a panic. The production had taped large “Xs” on his jacket to help with this roto-tracking, but those two had to be painted out for many shots prior to the roaches reaching Franco.

The shots were tracked in Fusion Studio for 2D and SynthEyes for 3D. A few shots were also tracked in PFTrack.

The 3D roach assets were animated and rendered in NewTek LightWave. Passes for the red light and white light conditions were rendered as well as ambient show and specular passes. Although we were now using tracking plates with the 2:1 anamorphic stretch removed, a special camera was created in LightWave that was actually double the anamorphic squeeze to duplicate the vertical booked and DOF from an anamorphic lens. The final composite was completed in Blackmagic Fusion Studio using the original anamorphic plates.

What was the biggest challenge you faced working on this scene?
Understanding the anamorphic workflow was a new challenge. Luckily, I had just completed a short project of my own called Bully Mech that was shot with Lomo anamorphic lenses. So I had just recently developed some familiarity and techniques to deal with the unusual lens attributes of those lenses. Let’s just say they have a lot of character. I talked with a lot of cinematographer friends to try to understand how the lenses behaved and why they stretched the out-of-focus element vertically while the image was actually stretched the other way.

What are you working on now?
I‘ve wrapped up a small amount of work on Westworld and a handful of shots on Legends of Tomorrow. I’ve been directing some television commercials the last few months and just signed a development deal on the Bully Mech project I mentioned earlier.

We are making a sizzle reel of the short that expands the scope of the larger world and working with concept designers and a writer to flush out a feature film pitch. We should be going out with the project early next year.

Qwire’s tool for managing scoring, music licensing upped to v.2.0

Qwire, a maker of cloud-based tools for managing scoring and licensing music to picture, has launched QwireMusic 2.0, which expands the collaboration, licensing and cue sheet capabilities of QwireMusic. The tool also features a new and intuitive user interface as well as support for the Windows OS. User feedback played a role in many of the new updates, including marker import of scenes from Avid for post, Excel export functions for all forms and reports and expanded file sharing options.

QwireMusic is a suite of integrated modules that consolidates and streamlines a wide range of tasks and interactions for pros involved with music and picture across all stages of post, as well as music clearance and administration. QwireMusic was created to help facilitate collaboration among picture editors and post producers, music supervisors and clearance, composers, music editors and production studios.

Here are some highlights of the new version:
Presentations — Presentations allow music cues and songs to be shared between music providers (supervisors and composers) and their clients (picture editors, studio music departments, directors and producers. With Presentations, selected music is synced to video, where viewers can independently adjust the balance between music and dialogue, adding comments on each track. The time-saving efficiency of this tool centralizes the music sharing and review process, eliminating the need for the confusing array of QuickTimes, Web links, emails and unsecured FTP sites that sometimes accompany post production.

Real-time licensing status — QwireMusic 2.0 allows music supervisors to easily audition music, generate request letters, and share potential songs with anyone who needs to review them. When the music supervisor receives a quote approval, the picture editor and music editor are notified, and the studio music budget is updated instantly and seamlessly. In addition, problem songs can be instantly flagged. As with the original version of QwireMusic, request letters can be generated and emailed in one step with project-specific letterhead and signatures.

Electronic Cue Sheets — QwireMusic’s “visual cue sheet,” allows users to review all of the information in a cue sheet displayed alongside the final picture lock.  The cue sheet is automatically populated from data already entered in qwireMusic by the composer, music supervisor and music editor. Any errors or missing information are flagged. When the review is complete, a single button submits the cue sheet electronically to ASCAP and BMI.

QwireMusic has been used by music supervisors, composers, picture editors and music editors on over 40 productions in 2016, including Animals (HBO); Casual (Hulu); Fargo (FX); Guilt (Freeform); Harley and the Davidsons (Discovery); How to Get Away With Murder (ABC); Pitch (Fox); Shameless (Showtime); Teen Wolf (MTV); This Is Us (NBC); and Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon).

“Having everyone in the know on every cue ever put in a show saves a huge amount of time,” says Patrick Ward, a post producer for the shows Parenthood, The West Wing and Pure Genius. “With QwireMusic I spend about a tenth of the time that I used to disseminating cue information to different places and entities.”

The Path‘s post path to UHD

By Randi Altman

On a recent visit to the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of meeting the post team behind Hulu’s The Path, which stars Aaron Paul and Hugh Dancy. The show is about a cult — or as their members refer to it, a movement — that on the outside looks like do-gooders preaching peace and love, but on the inside there are some freaky goings-on.

The first time I watched The Path, I was taken with how gorgeous the picture looked, and when I heard the show was posted and delivered in UHD, I understood why.

“At the time we began to prep season one — including the pilot — Hulu had decided they would like all of their original content shows to deliver in UHD,” explains The Path producer Devin Rich. “They were in the process of upgrading their streaming service to that format so the viewers at home, who had the capability, could view this show in its highest possible quality.”

For Rich (Parenthood, American Odyssey, Deception, Ironside), the difference that UHD made to the picture was significant. “There is a noticeable difference,” he says. “For lack of better words, the look is more crisp and the colors pop. There, of course, is a larger amount of information in a UHD file, which gives us a wider range to make it look how we want it to, or at least closer to how we want it to look.”

L-R: Tauzhan Kaiser, Craig Burdick (both standing), Jacqueline LeFranc and Joe Ralston.

While he acknowledges that as a storyteller UHD “doesn’t make much of a difference” because scripts won’t change, his personal opinion is that “most viewers like to feel as if they are living within the scene rather than being a third-party to the scene.” UHD helps get them there, as does the team at NBCUniversal StudioPost, which consists of editor Jacqueline LeFranc, who focuses on the finishing, adding titles, dropping in the visual effects and making the final file; colorist Craig Budrick; lead digital technical operations specialist Joe Ralston, who focuses on workflow; and post production manager Tauzhan Kaiser.

They were all kind enough to talk to us about The Path’s path to UHD.

Have you done an UHD workflow on any other shows?
Ralston: We have a lot of shows that shoot UHD or high resolution, but The Path was our first television show that finished UHD all the way through.

What is it shot on?
Ralston: They shoot Red 3840×2160, and they also shoot 4800×2700, so almost 5K. UHD is technically twice the height and twice the width of HD, so while it’s still 16×9, resolution-wise it’s double.

From an infrastructure perspective, were you guys prepared to deal with all that data?
Ralston: Yes. At the facility here at NBCUniversal StudioPost, not only do we do TV work, but there’s remastering work — all the centennial titles, for example.

Kaiser: We we’ve done Spartacus. All Quiet on the Western Front, The Birds, Buck Privates, Dracula (1931), Frankenstein, Out of Africa, Pillow Talk, The Sting, To Kill a Mockingbird, Touch of Evil, Double Indemnity, Holiday Inn and King of Jazz.

Ralston: The infrastructure as far as storage and monitoring were already in place here. We knew that this was coming. So slowly the facility has been preparing and gearing up for it. We had been ready, but this was really the first that requested end-to-end UHD. Usually, we do a show that maybe it’s shot UHD or 5K, but they finish in HD, so when we leave the editorial room, we’re then in an HD world. In this case, we were not.

LeFranc: Joe’s group, which is digital tech ops, doesn’t really exist in other places that I know of. They develop, train and work with everybody else in the facility to develop these kind of workflows in order to get ahead of it. So we are prepared, adequately trained and aware of all the pitfalls and any other concerns there might be. That’s a great thing for us, because it’s knowledge.

Other shows have gone UHD, but some in season two, and they were playing catch up in terms of workflow.
Ralston: We’d been thinking about it for a long time. Like I said, the difference with this show, versus some of the other ones who do it is that everyone else, when it got to color, went to HD. This one, when we got to color, we stayed UHD all the way through from there on out.

So, that was really the big difference for a show like this. The big challenges for this one were — and Jacqueline can go into it a little bit more — when you get into things like titling or creating electronic titles, there’s not a lot of gear out there that does that.

Jacqueline, can you elaborate on that?
LeFranc: There were obstacles that I encountered when trying to establish the initial workflow. So, for example, the character generator that is used to create the titles has an option for outputting 4K, but after testing it I realized it wasn’t 4K. It looked like it was just up-rezed.

So I came up with a workflow where, in the character generator, we would make the title larger than we needed it to be and then size it down in Flame. Then we needed a new UHD monitor, the Sony BVMX300. The broadcast monitor didn’t work anymore, because if you want to see UHD in RGB, it has to have a quad-link output.

Craig, did your color process change at all?
Budrick: No, there wasn’t really any change for me in color. The creative process is still the creative process. The color corrector supports a higher resolution file, so it wasn’t an issue of needing new equipment or anything like that.

What systems do you use?
Budrick: We are primarily an Autodesk facility, so we use Flame, Flame Premium and Lustre for color. We also have Avids.

Can you walk us through the workflow?
Ralston: We don’t do the dailies on this project here. It’s all done in New York at Bling. We receive all the camera master files. While they do use drones and a couple of other cameras, a large percent of the show is shot on Epic Red Dragon at 3840×2160.

We get all those camera master files and load them onto our server. Then we receive an Avid bin or sequence from the client and bring that into our Avid in here and we link to those camera master files on the SAN. Once they’re linked, we then have a high-res timeline we can play through. We take the low-res offline version that they gave us and we split it — our editor goes through it and makes sure that everything’s there and matched.

Once that part is complete, we transcode that out to the Avid codec DNX-HR444, which is basically 440Mb and a UHD file that the Avid is outputting. Once we get that UHD file out of the Avid, we flip that UHD DNX-MXF file into a DPX sequence that is a UHD 3840×2160 DPX sequence. That’s where Craig would pick up on color. He would take that DPX sequence and color from there.

Craig, in terms of the look of the show, what direction were you given?
Budrick: They shoot in New York, so the DP Yaron Orbach is in New York. Because of that distance, I had a phone conversation with them to start the look of the show. Then I do a first-day pass, and then he receives the file. Then, he just gives me notes via email on each scene. Then he gets the second file, and hopefully I’m there.

Can you give me an example of a note that he has given?
Budrick: It just might be, you know, let’s add some saturation, or let’s bring this scene down. Maybe make it more moody. Bring down the walls.

Overall, as the show has gone along and the stories have developed it’s gotten a little darker and more twisted, it’s leaned more toward a moody look and not a whole lot of happy.

Ralston: Because of the distance between us and the DP, we shipped a color-calibrated Sony HD monitor to New York. We wanted to make sure that what he was looking at was an exact representation of what Craig was doing.

Jacqueline, any challenges from your perspective other than the titles and stuff?
LeFranc: Just the differences that I noticed — the render time takes a little longer, obviously, because the files are a little bigger. We have to use certain SAN volumes, because some have larger bandwidths.

Ralston: We have 13 production volumes here, and for this particular show — like the feature mastering that we do — the volume is 156TB Quantum that is tuned for 4K. So, in other words, it performs better with these larger files on it.

Did you experiment at all at the beginning?
Ralston: For the first three episodes we had a parallel workflow. Everything we did in UHD, we did in HD as well — we didn’t want the producer showing up to a screening and running into a bandwidth issue. In doing this, we realized we weren’t experiencing bandwidth issues. We kind of underestimated what our SAN could do. So, we abandoned the HD.

Do you think finishing in UHD will be the norm soon?
Ralston: We were unofficially told that this time next year we should plan on doing network shows this way.

Technicolor creates sixties soundscape for Hulu’s ‘11.22.63’

By Jennifer Walden

Beloved politician — now there’s an oxymoron. I can almost hear the collective “pffff” that term would elicit from today’s younger voters. However, voters of a certain age may remember one such president who could pull off that title: John F. Kennedy. So if you’ve had enough of this election year’s hoopla, then turn off the news channels and turn on Hulu. Their new series 11.22.63, based on a book by Stephen King, transports viewers back to the 1960s, a time when racism, sexism, domestic abuse and mistreatment of mental patients prevailed. (It wasn’t the glory days, but every generation and president has their battles… even JFK.)

11.22.63 follows the newly divorced English teacher Jake Epping (James Franco), who steps out of 2016 and into 1958 via a time portal in the utility closet of a small-town diner. His mission is to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy by unraveling the conspiracy theories that surround the event.

Michael Wilhoit

Michael Wilhoit

Sounds of the Sixties
Setting the stage of early ‘60s sound is supervising sound editor Michael Wilhoit, who is based at the Technicolor Sound facility on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. He got involved early, working with director Kevin Macdonald, executive producer Bridget Carpenter and associate producer Jill Risk during editorial on the pilot episode — well before the score and visual effects were created. “The sound we established in the pilot was going to be the continuing style of sound for all the episodes,” explains Wilhoit. “Jill and Bridget were the leading force for us on the whole series. They were involved in all of the sound design spotting sessions and they really wanted to have something in the track besides the score. Bridget was the one who signed off on everything for sound.”

One big decision they made early on was how to handle the time travel event. “We purposefully didn’t want to make it over the top. We wanted to include the audience without taking them out of reality and making it too sci-fi or too bold,” says Wilhoit. The time travel effect, sonically and visually, is very subtle. It’s not the earth-shattering epic thunderstorm of Terminator, for example. It’s a delicate blend of music — by composer Alex Heffes — and sound design. “We just wanted to bring the audience into this place and not lose them by overdoing our job. It’s the same for the ambiences and other sounds too. We tried not to hit people over the head. When we do our jobs right no one knows we’re here.”

The ‘60s soundscape is more mechanical and analog than modern day, with rotary phones with real metal ringers, clacking typewriters and big clunky cars — even the shoes of the day made more noise. Although the elements that make up the ambiences are louder than today’s sounds, the environments that Wilhoit and his sound effects editor, Dino Dimuro, created feel subtle and real, and they don’t draw unnecessary attention. Wilhoit and Dimuro really hit their mark without over shooting it.

Another sci-fi situation in the series involves the “past pushing back.” Whenever the characters get too close to changing the past, unexpected events cause them to fail. As with the time travel effect, the “past pushing back” effect errs on the side of realism. It was a reoccurring challenge throughout the show. Instead of designing one signature sound for the past pushing back, Wilhoit and Dimuro worked with sounds that were relevant to each situation on screen. For example, when Jake is back in 1958, he tries to call his father from a phone booth and the past pushes back. Wilhoit and Dimuro set up the uneasy feeling of the scene by adding distant dog barks, crickets and a mournful train horn as Jake approaches the booth. Once Jake is on the phone, they manipulated and distorted the voices on the other end. He and Dimuro added crackling static and high-pitched tones that interfere with the phone call; they added buzzing on the flickering lights. Out of nowhere a car races down the street and crashes into the phone booth, all of which was carefully crafted with sound.

“Because you don’t see the past pushing back you have to convey that with sound,” says Wilhoit. “My whole thing was making sounds stutter. Sound design wise I wanted there to be a stuttering of reality. I wanted there to be a dysfunctional stuttering sound.” He achieved this by editing the effects in Avid Pro Tools 11.

Matching the VFX
For several VFX-led scenes, Wilhoit and his team had to design sound without the benefit of actually seeing the visual effects. One of the early VFX-dependent scenes happens in Episode 1. Jake is hiding in a dark room in the basement of the Dallas Convention Center. It’s another situation of the past pushing back, so the lights flicker and buzz. Jake starts to hear things emerging from the shadows; it’s a swarm of cockroaches coming after him.

“I had to create a whole sound texture for these cockroaches that none of us ever saw until we were nearly done with the mix. Then at the very end we were able to make slight adjustments to make it work once the visual effects were finished,” says Wilhoit.

Another interesting VFX-dependent scene that takes place at the Dallas Convention Center is when John F. Kennedy is addressing a large audience. According to Wilhoit, that entire sequence was fabricated. “That was completely shot on greenscreen, but when you watch it you would never know because you can see and hear all of these people in this convention center. You see and hear the president up there, and that is unbelievable to me.”

JFK’s speech is an original recording that Wilhoit and dialogue/ADR editor Kimberly Ellis cleaned up using iZotope RX Advanced. There was no reverb inherent to that original track so the mixers were able to add that on the dub stage, effectively putting the speech into the 14,000-seat theater. Ellis edited the period-specific reactions in a loop group, and additional crowd sounds were added to fill in the space.

The loop group tracks were an essential element that Wilhoit used to help build a convincing early 1960’s soundscape. They added the right flavor without being over the top. “Because the show takes place mainly from 1958 into the early 1960’s, you won’t hear people say the same things that you would hear today, or hear the same reactions. The loop group sound had to be very specific in regards to the lingo of the time. For instance, they were saying things like ‘swell’ instead of ‘cool.’”

The Mix
11.22.63 was mixed in 5.1 surround on Stage 7 at Technicolor Sound on the Paramount lot by re-recording mixers Kevin Roache (sound effects/Foley) and Pete Elia (dialogue/music). Wilhoit notes that the mixers’ contributions on the dub stage went beyond balancing EQ and levels. “Kevin was able to take my effects tracks and make them that much more interesting on the dub stage. We have Pro Tools 11 and a ton of plug-ins that we all use. I make sounds and they twist them to make them even crazier. The re-recording mixers are like sound designers too. They bring everything to another level. It was definitely a collaborative effort between sound editorial and mixing.”

The season finale of 11.22.63 aired Monday, April 4 on Hulu, but all episodes are available for streaming, so binge away!

Jennifer Walden is a writer and audio engineer based in New Jersey.