Workflows for episodic TV have changed a lot over the last several years, sometimes daily. A role that has gone largely underappreciated in the process is online editor. Senior online editor Heydar Adel is no stranger to the process, having served in that role for over 17 years. While he has only been with Deluxe’s Company 3 in Santa Monica since last year, he is no stranger to Deluxe itself — he held a similar role at the company’s Encore facility for seven years prior to this recent move.
In describing his current role at Company 3, which provides high-end post services to feature film, commercial, music video and television clients, he says, “I primarily do conforming, which is essentially recreating what the picture editors are doing using smaller, more user-friendly files like Avid DNX-36, but with the larger and more robust files that our colorists works with. That could be a camera-original file format like r3d or ArriRaw, or it could be DPX or EXR, depending on the client’s requirements.”
In addition to the actual conforming of the files, he says, the process almost always involves creating some visual effects. “Elaborate effects and CGI work will go to an effects facility, but I do quite a lot of wire and mic removal, reframing, compositing and those kinds of effects. So that can be clean-up, stabilizations, laptop comps, cell phone comps, gunplay — like sparks and smoke — and those types of things.”
Adel makes it clear that he’s not changing the story or making creative decisions, “but the level of polish on a show is quite different when I’m done with it than when it first get it.”
Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Adel to find out more about his role and his workflow…
What tools do you use?
I can work in any of the “online” tools, such as Autodesk Flame, which used to be Smoke. We’ve also started doing some work in Blackmagic Resolve, but I’ve worked most often in Avid since it became possible last year to use Avid Symphony for 4K finishing.
Picture editors mostly work in Avid, so that helps with efficiency. We’re finishing a lot of shows for Netflix and Amazon and other companies who want 4K, and now HDR. I’ve found that working in Avid requires a bit less guesswork in recreating some of the effects the picture editor created so I can focus on bigger issues like compositing.
Can you walk us through an average session?
We get the offline edit in whatever format they use — often DNX36 — and all the raw camera footage. Company 3’s data department handles any transcoding that might be required and then we archive everything. My assistant editor puts the entire project online and I watch a split, with the offline version playing back in one monitor and the larger files assembled on a timeline chasing that version. First I check and make sure that there are no discrepancies between the versions and then I start on the bells and whistles.
What determines what effects you do and what gets sent out to a VFX vendor?
Their editorial department prepares lists of work that needs to be done. I’m part of that conversation and I’ll bid specific effects. So I’ll determine it might take two hours to do the shot and they generally pay a certain hourly rate. Some effects shots require many hours. Then they determine whether they want to do it here or send it out based on any number of factors. For the last pilot I worked on, I did 1,200 Avid visual effects shots for one 80-minute piece.
What tools do you use for the effects work, or is it just Avid?
You can do some of the work in the actual online tool — Avid or one of the others. Beyond that I use Adobe After Effects for a lot of compositing and Mocha for tracking. Mocha (now a Boris FX product) is very effective, and the tracking information translates well into the editing tools. I’ve also done some work in Blackmagic Fusion when I’m using Resolve to conform because they talk well to each other.
What monitors do you use?
I use a big 4K UHD monitor (sometimes Sony, sometimes LG) as the primary display, an HD LCD HP DreamColor as a close-up monitor and an HD plasma for comparisons. I use a nice curved Dell monitor for UI, which has a super wide — 21:9 — aspect ratio. Avid and Resolve interfaces are dual monitor set-ups but you can fit the whole thing on this one screen, and I love it.
What are some industry trends you’ve noticed recently?
The speed at which things need to get done — it used to be 8-12 hours to conform and output a show, now maybe four or five and with a lot more visual effects. Of course, the machines are faster but then as the resolution of the files goes up things naturally slow down again. We’re also working with 16-bit files and HDR and that also slows things down. At Company 3 we’re always maneuvering through these technological changes.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Working on shows I like! Recently, because I’m doing more and more, I have a sense of ownership. My job has changed; I’m not just a conform editor. I’ve contributed to it on an artistic level and I’m embracing the shift. So I watch them again and I’m proud of it. I’ve worked on shows I love and have gotten friends to start watching.
Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Cutnotes is an iPad app I love. When we play out a show with a client, you sync up timecode in the form of a text file. You can input parameters, like that it’s a 23.976 project, and it’s very effective. I really do love Mocha. It lets me do planar tracking in 3D space. It’s the core of most effects I do. And I use After Effects all the time.
Can you name some of those shows you’ve worked on?
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Last Ship, Narcos, Black Sails, and a lot of other shows and pilots.
What social media channels do you follow?
Mostly Instagram. I follow photographers and DPs.
If you listen to music while you work, care to share some of your favorites?
I listen to EDM; ‘90s electronica, like Massive Attack and Chemical Brothers; and Jazz. It’s the best music for VFX comps!
What do you do to de-stress?
I spend a lot of time outdoors with my two little boys!