Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou can’t resist “Universal Monsters”: the creatures that were brought to public attention by Universal Studios from the 20s – 50s. Involvement in the re-imaging of “The Mummy” for the award-winning makeup and hair designer – she has a Saturn, MUAH, IOMA and Gold Derby Award for hair and makeup in “Guardians of the Galaxy” (as well as a BAFTA and Oscar nominations for the same film) was therefor a no-brainer. After an upbeat meeting with the film’s director, noted producer/writer Alex Kurtzman, Yianni-Georgiou recognized the director trusted her input and was open to her suggestions. She excitedly agreed to tackle the film’s hair and makeup designs.
Variety 411 recently caught up with Yianni-Georgiou to learn about her process in creating hair and makeup for “The Mummy.” She discusses how she achieved a creative vision that blends historical accuracy with a modern, completely unique artistry.
Variety 411: What was your research period like, and what were your inspirations for designs in “The Mummy”?
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou: I researched different Ancient Egyptian dynasties and honored the Egyptian head dresses in the structure of the hair work. I also looked to the catwalks, performance artists and my daughters for inspiration which I feel helped to give Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) a young, fresh edge. The blue and gold dipped fingers were inspired by the gold finger and toe caps that were found in Tutankahmun’s tomb. There was also a chalice found there which speaks of eternal life and power, so I used the Heiroglyphics from the chalice. The tattoo designs are a grouping of Ancient Egyptian symbols which all speak of power, strength and protection. Snaked sideburns are also a symbol of protection of the Pharoahs. I was also inspired by a mummy that I saw in the British Museum who had been laid to rest with a gold plate in her mouth.
Makeup and hair stylist Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou created a layout (left) for the symbols that appeared on Ahmanet’s (Sofia Boutella) face. Each character was individually placed on her skin. Photo credit: Universal Pictures
V411: Can you talk about the process of designing individual icons that cover Ahmanet, as well as the layout that covers her body? For example, did you start with the concept that is seen in the film, or were there a number of designs that led up to what was ultimately used?
EYG: Ahmanet wears a set of tattoos when she’s alive and when she goes over to the dark side, these lift and her human qualities/lifeline drains from her skin. The symbols she wears as The Mummy are an adaptation of Ancient Sumerian text. They,were taken from The Book of the Dead and describe summoning/raising the dead. I had to re-work the language slightly to suit the screen. The design process was really fun and exciting. My first interpretation was that it would burn through her skin in a blood red color and look like raised scarification, but we found that it looked too painful and wasn’t really suitable for the films rating. I then started playing with different colors and skin tones. I felt as soon as she allies herself with Set (the God of death and destruction), she would almost loose her human-like qualities, so I made her skin a stone-like color and made the runes an inky blue/black color, as though her blood turns this shade as soon as she turns to Set. I played with different placement but wanted to keep an Egyptian quality, so I looked to Ancient Egyptian and Greek armor for inspiration for the placement of the text. Even when she is naked in the film, she looks like she’s wearing armor.
V411: How did you go about applying this makeup? Was it a temporary tattoo or did you use another product to acquire the almost hand-drawn quality of each symbol?
EYG : The base make-up on her body was a product that I’d developed for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It is skin-friendly and lasts the duration of a long days’ filming. I then recreated that stoney colour in a grease-based make-up for Sofia’s face. The text was sculpted and made in to pro-bondo moulds, as Alex and I wanted them to be raised, almost as though they had burned through her skin. They were applied in strips. The symbols on her face were silicone pieces which were individually placed & glued on to her skin, one by one. The development of the symbols was a bit trickier as Sofia had very sensitive skin, so I had to find a product that gave us the desired affect whilst also being skin-friendly.
V411: Noting you mentioned a long-lasting, base makeup, it seems that most of what the audience sees is practically, through makeup?
EYG Apart from the first few times you see her once she has risen, every stage of Ahmanet’s transformation was make-up. VFX hollowed out her cheeks and this can be seen until she regains full strength.
V411: What was your collaboration like with the visual effects team? Was it easy to merge the vision you created through makeup with some of the effects that are done with the various characters?
EYG I had a lovely relationship with the VFX team. We worked together very closely to help get the desired affect on some of the characters. Like the undead, for example, who came through my department to get textured, aged skins and would then have their eyes and noses taken out by VFX.
V411: Can you speak about designing a hair style for a character that has been dormant for thousands of years? How did you achieve the look you designed?
EYG: The design process was really fun; I got to play with different periods and could explore some of my favorite looks from the history books. I looked to images of Nefertiti and the sacred geometric forms in the architecture and created cages to recreate those shapes in Ahmanet’s hair when she’s a princess. I also found a beautiful wig in the Met Museum which had amazing gold decorative clasps in it, I then found a modern alternative and incorporated these into her princess hair styles. For her hairstyle as the Mummy, I wanted to keep an Egyptian quality whilst Alex wanted to have her hair down and flowing. So I snuck in a bob undercut, which allowed me to stay true to Ancient Egypt.
V411: This movie has lots of action sequences, including explosions, battle sequences, etc. Were you and your team designing a lot of bruises and wounds on your actors?
EYG All of the bruises, bites and cuts were practical applications. Vail (Jake Johnson) has a series of nicks and cuts and bites along the way, which were practically applied. As his bite gets bigger I transitioned from blood and veins which were painted on to silicone bite wounds which were then painted and reapplied every day.
V411: While a resurrected mummy rightfully steals the spotlight, you and your team had to design makeup and hair styles for all the characters in the film. Where there certain looks and color palettes you were going for? Do you mute the colors applied on the bulk of the cast knowing there will be a character that is so visually compelling – as not to compete with that character?
EYG : What is so cool and fun about this movie is that it flips between time periods. We have Ahmanet’s world in Ancient Egypt, the crusaders world and modern day, which is the world that most of our lead characters inhabit. I always like the characters I create to be somewhat rooted in reality, as I feel it makes them more relatable. Vail’s character is really cool as he is a bit of a rogue and this is reflected in the tattoos I designed for him. His character also has quite a transformation in the film which was really fun to play with and create. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) was also fun to bring to life, as I wanted his look to suggest the old-world Victorian England, so his hair style calls to that. Jenny’s (Annebelle Wallis) look is really natural which is a nice contrast and her look at the end is really ethereal and other worldly which is a play on her story line.
V411: M∙A∙C cosmetics is supporting your work on “The Mummy.” Many folks may not realize they are a go-to for makeup artists in addition to an established consumer brand. What were some of the key items you were using in this film?
EYG: The main M∙A∙C products used included their Pro Longwear Fluidline in black track, face and body foundation, Kohl Power eye pencil in feline and lip pencil in coffee an spice, Chromaline in Hi-Def cyan and black, Prep + Prime Fix Pigments in landscape green and transparent finishing powder and waterproof false lashes in black. Due to the different looks and changing environments I applied a lot of M∙A∙C Prep + Prime Fix + spray to help keep makeup fresh. We faced even more challenges as we shot underwater. These scenes are where M∙A∙C Studio Face and Body Foundation really became a hero product for this film.
V411: How did you source your team for “The Mummy?” Where there individuals with certain expertise that you knew you had to secure for this film?
EYG I always tend to have a core group of people that I bring with me on my films, and on this job I needed to have a well-balanced team that could handle the make-up, sfx and natural as well as the hair side of things which was also demanding on this job.
V411: You’ve alternated between hair and makeup design on many films. Is there a benefit to overseeing both roles, as you did in “The Mummy?”
EYG: I love doing both as I always do see the image or the look for each character as a whole, I think due to my background and training in all aspects that’s my natural trail of thought.
V411: And, speaking of hair and makeup – you’ve worked on such a wide assortment of genres, from historical films to contemporary, from dramas to action to sci-fi and thrillers. What are the qualities you look for when you choose the projects you would like to work on?
EYG: I love a fun, unusual script – and a challenge!
Franklin Peterson was a relative newbie to television editing in 2014. He’d surpassed the assistant-to- editor hurdle on indie films including “Safety Not Guaranteed” when he had the good fortune to cut director Sam Esmail’s feature debut, “Comet.” It was Peterson’s work on this film that inspired Esmail to reach out to the editor when he needed an editor to fill in during season one of his hacker-takes-over-the-world drama “Mr. Robot.”
After reading the pilot and seeing a cut, Peterson was hooked. He joined the team with the season already well in progress. Working in LA, he was given guidance and updates about the story threads being shot in NY. While the schedule was far more accelerated than a feature. Peterson found he still had ample time to apply creative editing styles to highlight Elliot Alderson’s (Rami Malek) unusual and often confused world-view.
“I loved getting time to experiment and play,” said Peterson. “Sam is open to outside-the-box ideas.”
Peterson and the “Mr. Robot” editing team had a heightened sense of creativity in season two, sparked largely in part by Esmail’s direction of each episode. Able to closely monitor the slightest detail, down to the makes of each characters phone, every scene was richly displaying the world Esmail envisioned. Despite his oversight on set, Peterson and the editing team were encouraged to continue to find the most creative way to tell the story in the edit suite, including the use of jump cuts, long to short takes, and other out-of-the-box means that would lend to exploring the personality of each character.
Unique to the experience of editing “Mr. Robot” was the ability to shuffle scenes around in an episode, sometimes even between episodes. The entire editing team would gather to sit and discuss set ups they were working on that offered mutual feedback for the unique experimentation Esmail encouraged. They also ensured, throughout their unique edits, that the characters retained a humanity, specifically Elliott, who’s unique way of seeing the world often verts against his humanity.
The unique eye tracking that comes with the extreme angles in “Mr. Robot” Peterson recalled using in “Comet”, however he was apprehensive about the extremely dark visuals in season two. Peterson credits DP Tod Campbell for carving out actors features with a handful of light, or finding the proper balance in the backlit shots.
“The art of it all fits, but there were always massive wide shots and plenty of extra coverage to work with,” recalled Peterson.
Sound design enhanced a major storyline reveal in the opener’s double episode. Peterson worked with sound team to underscore Elliott’s movements with rolling door and clinking of metal sounds, creating an off-balance sensation for the viewer while avoiding obvious reveals.
Most important in the unusual editing process was ensuring they responded to the needs and emotions of their characters. In a scene highlighting FBI agent Dominique DiPierro’s (Grace Gummer) loneliness and heartbreak, Peterson felt it was best to let her expressions linger without cutting into the scene.
LONDON, UK – With the release of its Statue project, London-based creative studio Saddington Baynes has created a frozen moment of a Muay Thai battle, utilising full-body 3D photo scans created in partnership with body-scanning experts FBFX.
Saddington Baynes is well-known for pushing the boundaries of technical innovation in the creative industry, establishing its R&D arm SBLabs to showcase this in-house ability. For Statue, SBLabs used advanced procedural displacement techniques, complex shaders and dynamic particle simulations to deliver a fierce fighting showcase. The results are already sweeping up accolades across the creative community, including a Platinum in the Creativity International Media & Interactive Design Awards.
James Digby-Jones, Executive Creative Director at Saddington Baynes, comments: “We wanted to create a project to showcase our expertise working with complex simulations and highly detailed 3D talent, while also demonstrating our imaginative storycraft and VFX capabilities. The Statue project quickly picked up a Platinum award and we’ve entered it into others. It’s a great piece that shows off a variety of high level skills, applicable to multiple market sectors.”
Statue – Behind the Scenes from Saddington Baynes
Scanning and capture
To achieve unparalleled detail required meticulous planning. SBLabs blocked out early concepts in Cinema 4D to explore strong poses and the choreography and to direct the camera path.
SBLabs then approached SFX costume and 3D scanning specialists FBFX, who captured key moments of the Muay Thai battle in live action, as one at a time the combatants jumped and punched and kicked, all the while being captured as high resolution point clouds and image maps from multiple cameras. Besides being martial arts enthusiasts, both models were actually part of the Saddington Baynes team – a Production Assistant and a CG artist!
Andrew White, Creative Director at Saddington Baynes, comments: “FBFX helped us build separate scan captures in ZBrush with seamless results. They were a huge asset, delivering exactly what we needed in line with our vision”
Alongside these scanned models, Statue also features complex Houdini simulations. The models land blows on each other, cracking open igneous husks to reveal the searing heat below. SBLabs ran a series of customised fragmentation and tessellation processes on the geometry with look development performed in Mantra.
Andrew White, Creative Director at Saddington Baynes, comments: “We found that by outputting some custom aov passes we could create a hot metal look inside Nuke. By using holdout mattes and base beauty elements, this gave us a great way to time and control the intensity of the heat effect.”
Based out of London, Saddington Baynes has a long history of technical innovation. Besides being the original pioneers of digital retouching in 1991, Saddington Baynes were also one of the first production studios to harness the potential of CGI in-house. More recently, the team developed an Engagement Insights® service – the world-first use of neuroscience techniques to measure emotional impact of imagery. Recent commissions include Honda’s pan-European ‘Real View Test Drive’ campaign.
About Saddington Baynes
Saddington Baynes is a leading creative production agency that has produced premium imagery for advertising agencies and brand clients for 25 years.
Saddington Baynes’ mission is to create sensational imagery that inspires brand devotion, with a focus on emotional reactions and engagement. To achieve this, Saddington Baynes developed its Engagement Insights® service – an entirely new way to measure the emotional impact of imagery, using neuroscience techniques.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword feels like the logical next step in Guy Ritchie’s career – after all, who better to direct a modern reimagining of King Arthur than British film royalty? Ritchie has spent years moulding rough and rugged England into whip-smart stories of sleazy charm, and Ancient Albion feels like home turf.
Ritchie has driven a bolt of trademark energy through King Arthur’s folklore, the murky grasslands and staunch stone castles fizzling with the director’s verve. This is mythological Britain filtered through modern-day cinematic technique – not to mention some truly exceptional VFX, delivered under the watchful eye of VFX Production Supervisor Gavin Round (sadly not of the round table).
Boasting a decade of experience in visual effects, Round has worked on numerous blockbusters, chalking up visual feasts such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Edge of Tomorrow. He teamed with Ritchie on King Arthur to breathe new life into the classic tale of swords, sovereigns and sorcery, corralling the project’s global VFX teams around a singular vision with support from cineSync.
“I came onto King Arthur in 2014, working with VFX Producer Alex Bicknell and VFX Supervisor Nick Davis, who I’d worked with on Edge of Tomorrow,” he explains. “Thanks to that experience, we had an established, effective workflow in place for meeting with vendors, viewing material, and of course, using cineSync. In other words, we could hit the ground running on King Arthur.”
Vendors of the round table
cineSync was key to making King Arthur’s VFX a reality, given the nine separate vendors involved in the process. Framestore stood as the lead vendor, operating out of both its London and Montreal studios. Contributions also came in from MPC’s Montreal team, Method Studios in LA and Vancouver, Scanline in Vancouver, and many more, totaling nine different studios.
Round was in the thick of the battle on King Arthur from pre to post, helping to establish Ritchie’s new kingdom of myth and magic across all studios involved.
“My duties involved managing vendors, making sure the shots came in on time and that the vendors had everything they need,” recalls Round. “cineSync enabled us to review the material constantly, so we were always aware of the status of any given shot. We could see it in real-time to discuss with the vendors.”
cineSync played a large role in creation of King Arthur’s many mythical creatures, such as a nine-foot CG villain, whose creation was split between VFX vendors Framestore and MPC.
“It was a delicate process, as we had to maintain continuity between the two vendors, who were essentially building different parts of the same being,” explains Round. “We needed to constantly review and check the material back-to-back to ensure everything transitioned correctly, no matter which vendor it came from. This is the exact kind of situation where cineSync is so useful – it saves a lot on travel!”
cineSync was used almost every day in post on King Arthur, particularly towards the end of the project. “We relied on cineSync heavily during the backend of the post schedule, at which point we were ramping up and getting most of our shots through,” says Round. “We used cineSync with all the vendors involved – we knew we could rely on it.”
The sword and the cineSync
cineSync proved to be a powerful tool throughout the filmmaking process – and one that, unlike Excalibur, anyone could wield: the entire King Arthur production team fell in love with the simplicity of cineSync – in particular, VFX Supervisor Nick Davis, who would make sure every VFX shot was reviewed, analyzed, and improved by all vendors.
“He likes to do cineSync sessions because he can pull up a shot, make marks on it, draw on it and tell the artists exactly where he wants a creature to walk,” says Round. “We did it for the big shots and small shots alike – whatever we were working on, cineSync ensured that the sequence ended up looking much better on screen.”
For Round, King Arthur revolved around the power of cineSync, ensuring that every shot was delivered to the ultimate satisfaction of all involved: “cineSync was completely intertwined in our day-to-day workflow. It was a brilliant overall tool and made my life much simpler.”
Or, as the British would put it: Bob’s your uncle!
Set in Texas in the 19th and 20th centuries, “The Son” follows the McCollough family through 150 years of history, highlighting Eli McCollough’s (Pierse Brosnan) climb from boyhood to reigning oil tycoon. Noting the importance the score would have ushering the story through multiple decades and several culture clashes, showrunner Kevin Murphy wanted a unique sound that veered from typical the Western motifs. Composer Nathan Barr’s work fit that bill.
Barr, recommended by “The Son” writer/producer Brian McGreevy who worked with the composer on “Hemlock Grove”, has showcased his unique style on series ranging from “Tru Blood” to “The Americans.” During his early conversations with Murphy and “The Son” producers, Barr proposed a unique blend of instrumentation that would highlight the characters’ emotional journey as well as outline the raw quality of DP George Steel’s cinematography. An avid instrument collector since childhood, Barr incorporated pieces he’s collected throughout his global travels, including a guitariphone (a fretless zither played with buttons) and a nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish instrument dating back to the Vikings).
“It is as if a hurdy-gurdy and a violin had a child,” said Barr. “It creates a beautiful, open sound.”
Barr also played traditional instruments in unique ways to modify the sound. For example, he played prepared piano, where objects are attached to the piano strings to modify and sound, and he played the higher strings on an upright base, sourcing a range more akin to a cello than the lower notes the instrument is known for. These elements were blended with music played on standard string instruments and music modified with plug- ins to achieve specific qualities.
Themes do play an important role in the score of “The Son”, namingly the series’ high octane main title track. Barr used this selection as a musical definition of Eli, a piece of music that resurfaces throughout the episodes that defines the main character’s growth and developmental arc. Male vocals also play an important role in defining character growth. Although Barr performed the bulk of the instrumentation himself, he hired male vocalists for specific selections of the score, including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons who’s featured in a song in the final episode, and vocalist Frank Fairfield. The song is so crucial to the scene, Fairfield actually appears on camera singing.
“Music is such a key to this process,” said Barr. “Kevin really likes to lean on the score and sound effects.”
During the spotting process in the edit suite, Barr would join members of the sound department to access music’s role with the sound design and effects. The nature of gun play, the pattering of horse hooves and other environmental elements required a leveled balance ensuring the sound design and the score complimented each other. Silence also plays an important role in the series, where the actors’ dialogue and emotional performances take center stage. Always focused on highlighting character arcs and storylines, Barr’s score ushers between twenty to thirty minutes of action per episode, from subtle cues to bombastic melodies.
Diane Lederman flipped between production designer on indie films to set decorating others, including Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” for many years. When time permitted, she also worked as a set decorator on television series and specials, including “Phil Spector”, for which she earned a Prime Time Emmy nomination. Over the past five years, her work as a production designer has been seen in television series including “The Leftovers” and “The Americans.” Her most recent production design credit is for the drama series “13 Reasons Why.”
Variety 411 recently caught up with Lederman to get some insights on her work for the Netflix original series.
Variety 411: Creator Brian Yorkey is fairly new to the production world. What was it about his project, “13 Reasons Why,” that attracted you?
Diane Lederman: It’s a rare opportunity to work on a project that has a social responsibility and moral compass. This story tackles sensitive topics; cyber bullying, teen suicide, sexual harassment, acquaintance rape, issues which need to be brought into the public eye. I believe the show will have a far reaching and positive impact. When I read the first 2 scripts, which were beautifully written, I knew right away I wanted to work on the series. I immediately envisioned what the show should look like. Brian is a wonderfully talented writer and I was thrilled to be part of his first production venture outside the theater.
V411: I believe the script bounces around in time slightly. Were there ways you organized the needs of the production design to accommodate the changes, or were they rather minor?
DL: Lighting changes are the main cue for time shifts; warm for the past and cool for the present. It was important to choose a color palette that worked for both lighting set ups. We camera tested all the proposed color choices to make sure they would support this concept.
I believe a controlled color palette is integral to good production design. As done for every project, much thought was put into choosing the color palette for this show. Blue, a color often used by the impressionist painters to depict moodiness and emotion, was the predominant color for the series. Shades of blue were the defining colors for both Liberty High and everything Clay-related. Purple, a color associated with mystery and femininity was Hannah’s defining color. The Crestmont colors were inspired by a mid century palette, to reinforce the reality of a vintage movie theater supposedly built in the early sixties.
V411: Were you using practical locations or was a lot of the work done on stages?
DL: The series is shot in Northern California, chosen for its majestic landscape, evocative rolling fog, and quaint towns which dot the coast, so yes, much of the shooting was done on location. However, the stringent demands of shooting a series dictated the need for recreating some of the locations we loved as film sets. Our makeshift sound stage was born from a one hundred thousand square foot warehouse on Mare Island, a former Naval Base in the North Bay. Our school set was the main event. Built on a twenty thousand square foot deck, the set consisted of the main hallways and lockers, classrooms, and the administration offices. Most of the teenage bedrooms were also built on stage.
The high school is an aggregate of a practical location, a stage set, and a derelict recreation facility near the warehouse where we built our sets. Analy High in Sebastapol became the core of our Liberty High but because access would be limited once the school year started, we needed to build as much of the school on our stage as possible. The Liberty High campus, the cafeteria and some classrooms were shot on location. The hallways, administration offices, and many of the key classrooms (exact duplicates of existing locations) were built on stage. The administration offices are completely original.
In some ways it is more challenging to duplicate existing locations, especially when they are seen back to back. I think we built very convincing copies, the sets in the latter episodes are indistinguishable from their location originals, which were used in the first two episodes. To create the school gym we completely renovated an existing gym structure, stripped, repainted and finished the floors, added the bleachers, painted the walls, added all the banners and dressing, which truly created a sense of history for our fictional school.
V411: For the practical locations, what were you looking for specifically that would aid in telling the story?
DL: We wanted the town, Liberty High, and all the locations to feel like they were anywhere, small town USA. Places that everyone could identify with and recognize as familiar would support the subjective quality of the storytelling. Additionally, the idea that Hannah’s story, what happened to her could happen to anyone, anywhere, even in a charming small town at an all American High School, was important.
V411: What were some other modification to practical locations your team handled?
DL: Most of the major locations were completely modified. Though we planned early on to build Liberty High halls and classrooms on our stage, due to time constraints it was necessary to shoot the first 2 episodes completely at the practical location. We stripped the hallways, repainted the lockers and customized all the wall dressing, bulletin boards, glass cases, and laid down the giant Liberty High floor medallion. We also added many wall and door plugs to areas within the existing halls altering the geography to better suit our stage build. The facade was painted, and the entire campus was landscaped and rebranded with Liberty High logos and murals.
Monet’s, The Crestmont Movie Theater and Baker’s Pharmacy were complete original creations. The town of Vallejo lays across a small bridge, just a stone’s throw from Mare Island. We took over several store fronts on it’s now vacant but once grand main street to create our town. We added trees, shrubs, and lots of planted flowers to the streets, awnings to store fronts, an outdoor cafe and a few murals, rendering a more charming and picturesque village. One of my favorite additions is the mural Hannah and Clay sit in front of; our version of “Starry Night” reworked to include the Crestmont marquis. Monet’s, The Crestmont Movie Theater, and the Baker’s Pharmacy all started as vacant stores, completely transformed into the versions seen in the show. These transformations were extraordinary. The before and after photos are very telling as to the amount of work that went into bringing these locations to life.
V411: Were there any environments that were particularly challenging to nail down for this series?
Finding the high school was very difficult, a daunting task as the school is almost as important a character in the story as any of the living breathing humans. The creative team all had preconceived notions of what Liberty High should like like, we all were invoking memories of our own high school past. I scouted upwards of thirty schools before finding our winner; Analy High in Sebastopol. Offering a fantastic facade, a great main hallway, sizable cafeteria, charming campus, a newly laid athletic field, and so much more. Our dreams were answered. Monet’s and the Crestmont were challenging to find as well, which is why we decided to create them within empty store fronts.
V411: I noticed you have a background as a set decoratorWhat were you looking for in your set decorator, and what was your collaborative process like with the set decorator, specifically in creating an environment that brings young characters to life?
Because of my background as a Set Decorator, decorating for me is admittedly not an easy job. I look for someone who has a similar aesthetic, style, and inspirations. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with great talent and most of the decorators I work with are now my close friends.
Whether the script calls for a contemporary teenage bedroom or Eisenhower’s 1950’s Oval Office, my set design always starts with significant research. These days, the amount of research available on the Internet is infinite and a most valuable tool. We looked at real teenage bedrooms, as well as fictional ones, current music posters, high schoolers’ Facebook, Instagram, and other social media pages, and spoke with young adults to get inside their heads. Visiting so many high schools while scouting locations afforded me a wide reaching insider’s view of what life as a high school student is like. I took a lot of pictures, which provided great source material and inspiration for dressing the halls and classrooms.
V411: How involved were the producers/directors of the show in the creative decision process? Did you have a lot of freedom and flexibility, or did they have specific ideas that you worked to support?
DL: Our group was a very collaborative one and we made creative decisions together. In addition to reviewing all the research, color renderings were created for all the major sets, whether built on stage or created on location, so that everyone would understand exactly what my proposed set design would look like and afford the opportunity to make changes or additions. Brian Yorkey was intimately involved in choosing the music posters that lined Clay’s bedroom walls. Tom McCarthy and I worked extensively together on the floor plans for Monet’s, to provide the best angles for shooting the scenes there. It was truly a joy to work with and learn from these two incredibly talented artists.
V411: You have been very busy in film and television. What keeps you so involved in both mediums?
DL: Working on a television series is very different then working on a feature film; they require somewhat different attention and a use of different skill sets. Both mediums require huge amounts of prep work creating sets, however on feature films I’m able to spend much more time on the shooting sets, crafting what the camera sees while the sets are being shot. Working on a television series does not allow for this as I am always scouting and prepping the next episode. Research and design are paramount here; the vision has to be clearly communicated to your crew and you need a crew you can rely on to carry out that vision. .
I try to choose projects that inspire creativity, furnish new challenges, and excite me in some way. It’s very personal.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a sequel to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, made history last year when they announced it would be the first feature film captured with the ground-breaking WEAPON camera using an 8K RED DRAGON VV sensor.
The video takes us behind the scenes with director James Gunn and director of photography Henry Braham, BSC as they discuss their vision for the movie and the experience they wanted to give viewers. Their desire to display a larger-than-life adventure that is punctuated with intimate human moments made the compact form factor and large sensor size of the WEAPON 8K VV the perfect camera to capture the immersive experience they desired.
The camera’s ability to adapt to various rigs and handheld scenarios coupled with its ultra-high image quality led Braham to compliment the capabilities of WEAPON 8K VV, “It’s a large format camera, and yet it’s tiny. And that’s its brilliance.”
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is now showing in theaters worldwide.
About RED Digital Cinema
RED Digital Cinema is a leading manufacturer of professional digital cameras and accessories. In 2006, RED began a revolution with the 4K RED ONE digital cinema camera. By 2008, RED released the DSMC (Digital Stills and Motion Camera) system that allowed the same camera to be used on features like the “The Hobbit” trilogy and “The Martian”, Emmy-winning shows like “House of Cards”, and magazine covers such as “Vogue” and “Harper’s Bazaar”. The cameras of RED’s DSMC2 line – RED RAVEN™, SCARLET-W, RED EPIC-W, and WEAPON – combine compact and lightweight design, modularity, superior image quality, and cutting edge performance – including up to 8K resolution. Find additional information at RED.com.
One could say Jeff Russo is a bit of a maestro when it comes to scoring films and TV series. In the last twelve months alone, his work was been heard supporting “The Night Of”,“American Gothic”, “Channel Zero”, “Power”, “Lucifer”, “Bull” and “Legion.” He also has two Emmy noms for “Best Score” to his name – one for each season of “Fargo” – and he’s scored the third season that will begin airing April 19th. In fact, it was his work on “Fargo” that opened uncharted territory for him: scoring games.
“What Remains of Edith Finch”, from developer Giant Sparrow, was initially set to be published by Sony. While looking for someone to score the game, members of the Sony music department were enamored with the sense of place Russo captured in his score for the first season of “Fargo” and reached out to him. Although he’d never scored a game before, Russo was attracted to the narrative of “What Remains of Edith Finch” and became attached. He remained on board for two and a half years, as the project was sold from Sony to Annapurna Interactive. While a bulk of that extensive time delay was due to the property’s sale, there were many natural periods of down time that were the result of the project’s development. This proved to be one of the key differences between scoring games and film or television that Russo had to adapt to.
“It was an easier schedule, but that time also made it harder,” said Russo. “Sometimes you’d have three months between (sections). It was important to go back, to listen, to tie the score together.”
The game follows Edith Finch, a twenty-something college graduate who returns to the Washington state based Finch residence after over ten years. Alone in the house as an adult, she begins to explore the rooms she was banned from as a child, insistent on unlocking the mysterious deaths of Finch family members. The first thing Russo did was develop a theme for Edith, which he could then build upon through the course of the game.
“As she goes from room to room, she is immersed in memory,” said Russo. “I experimented with the aspects of life (each room presented): swings, a camping trip, a wedding, and pulled from the vignettes of story.”
Russo used a full orchestra to compose the score, something generally reserved for bigger budget games but something he, and the developers, was confident would best serve the story. He incorporated a wealth of woodwind sounds to build upon the melancholy tone along with horns and strings. Synthetic sounds are also fully utilized throughout the game to help define unique aspects of the story. Russo also created a sense of maturity in the music, helping bridge the experience of the player as they travel through the generations and see Edith’s personal development through the course of the game.
While Russo found building a score around the narration and emotional journey similar to techniques used in film and television, he did have to accommodate for user interaction. As a player enters a room, they are free to look around. To keep the score flowing during these areas of player involvement, Russo had to build in musical loops.
“The greatest challenge with this was to figure out where (to loop the score) in the chord passage that would make it feel like a continuation, not a repeat,” said Russo.
Throughout the development process, Russo had a great amount of creative freedom to hone the score, meeting with the producers periodically to discuss sections, expectations and progress. When the entire process was nearly completed, Russo first reviewed the score with a Quicktime version of the game before testing it with and implementation of the game. The final version of “What Remains of Edith Finch” will be available on the PS4 and PC platforms April 25, 2017.
To learn more about “What Remains of Edith Finch”, click here.
Photogrammetry seems like a fabricated word, however it is a very important tool, used by the likes of scientists and geologists. In simple terms, it is the means of making measurements from photographs, where exact positions of surface points are recovered. Some uses of photogrammetry include the satellite tracking of tectonic motions, research of the migration patterns of swimming fish and the flight patterns of birds and insects.
During the Association of Film Commissioners International’s Global Production and Finance Conference, which was held April 6-8th 2017 in Burbank, Founder and CEO of Cognition Brian Pope suggested a new use for photogrammetry. His proposal is one that would benefit film commissioners across the globe. Before exploring this notion, let’s first understand Pope’s connection to photogrammetry.
Photogrammetry is a tool frequently used at Cognition. A hybrid production company, Cognition is a leader in emerging production and post-production services including virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D scanning. The company, through the use of photogrammetry, has made it possible to create 3D models of virtually any location or environment in precise and intricate detail.
Pope has applied Cognition’s use of photogrammetry to the non-profit organization The Arc/k Project. The Arc/k Project has been building digital archives of cultural treasures around the globe. In addition to perishable artifacts kept within the confines of a museum, photogrammetry has aided in preserving massive location-based sights that are dealing with the effects of natural decay, vandalism and climate change. Pope has also refined a process of crowd sourcing photos of locations. Sifting through thousands of images on the internet, Pope, along with The Arc/k Project team members, has been involved in creating 3D replicas of sites devastated by natural disasters and war, such as Syria’s Palmyra Castle, which was recently damaged by ISIS.
Recently, Pope discovered a way the technology he’s refined with The Arc/k Project and Cognition could assist film commissioners in the marketing of locations. Building detailed 3D models of sites deep in the forest, high in mountain chasms or historic buildings could allow a film maker to virtually explore the terrain, observing if camera cranes and equipment would logistically work within the confines. The program also provides a full range of seasonal effects on the terrain, giving decision makers a clear understanding of year-round looks and how they might affect a shoot. It also allows for quick navigation to other sites and alternatives, saving time and money for everyone involved.
Pope has successfully used the technology with the British Columbia Film Commission. During the AFCI panel, he presented images of an antique train that, due to a number of factors, had been shuttered from rail road tracks. The use of the photogrammetry process helped increase interest in using the locomotive. The renewed desire to film the train had multiple effects: in addition to bringing production to BC, it helped revive the struggling 2141 Collective, a non-profit involved in the conservation and engineering of the train.
“Our work provides a value added opportunity for film commissions to market locations that may be seasonally sensitive and to provide visual effect assets that can enhance a location’s attractiveness,” says Pope in a recent press release. “It can even allow a film commission to market in a way that enables productions to plan shoots from a distance and in virtual reality. Film commissions can expand their inventory of available production sites.”
Animals scream from 90 acres of land. Bombers fly overhead. A piano’s music drifts through a basement chasm. These elements are crucial to the story of “The Zookeeper’s Wife”, yet they occur primarily off-screen: that is, the viewer never sees them. Crafting authentic and accurate sounds for these cues fell to the capable hands of supervising sound editor Becky Sullivan, re-recording mixers Terry Porter and Anna Behlmer and the members of the film’s sound department.
A period drama based on the factual account of the Warsaw Zoological Garden owners Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) who successfully rescued Jewish citizens by smuggeling them through an underground system on their property in WWII Poland, the sound team’s approach began with research. They had to authentically portray the sounds of nature, warfare, ghetto and domestic life through a six year period. A WWII history buff, Sullivan turned to her personal library of sound recordings to match the fighter plans, gun fire and other battle elements. The list of zoo sounds that open the story proved more challenging to nail down.
“We had to show the love for these animals,” said Sullivan. “They had to sound authentic but not get cartoony. We had to create a personality for them.”
To audibly define Adam, a baby camel that frequently trailed Antonina, a wealth of camel sounds were recorded. After testing levels of chattering, they opted for small moments of vocals. This course of spot testing sound also helped balance the gentle purring of Antonia’s lion cubs.
When Antonina saves a suffocating baby elephant, Sullivan used recordings of a baby sea lion whose breathing patterns and squeaks worked best for the injured mammal. The team then thoughtfully built the off-screen elephants’ backdrop sonically. This included highlighting the heavy footsteps of the anxious father’s charging and the distraught mother’s eager trumpeting.
For the scenes that depict the refugees in the Zabinski’s basement, Sullivan and her team were looking for ways to dictate space, sell the danger and extend the sense of dread. Working with foley artists, they captured the sound of creaks on different types of wood. Adding these sounds to the track, the re-recording mixers worked with reverb and delay to differentiate distance and pressure of individuals on the upper floor. Porter applied these techniques as well as compression to the piano’s music to dictate its expansion in the basement space. In addition to creating location-based sounds, the team ensured sounds corresponded to actors’ reactions and visual nuances.
“Niki (Caro, the film’s director) did a great job of shooting directional cues,” said Behlmer. “If something drew our attention, we watched the action and figured out how to orchestrate it.”
During the pre-mix and dubbing stage with editor David Coulson, Caro worked very collaboratively with the sound team, regularly discussed refocusing sound and adjusting sound effects to ensure they captured the emotional landscape she envisioned. This included finessing the layout of an explosion; from a plane’s overhead flight to the scattering of debris.
Paramount Pictures’ remake of the 1989 Japanese Manga series Ghost in the Shell is a futuristic visual effects spectacle that tries to pay homage to the anime world in live action. Directed by Rupert Sanders, the film stars Scarlett Johansson as Major — a woman whose brain is implanted in a cyborg body after a terrible crash nearly takes her life. Her new cyborg abilities make her the perfect soldier, but she yearns to learn about her past.
Ghost in the Shell was filmed primarily at Wellington, New Zealand’s Stone Street Studios, with additional shooting in Hong King and Shanghai. WETA Workshop handled the on-set, practical effects, but to fully realize the futuristic world of Ghost in the Shell and some of its fantastic cyborg creatures, the filmmakers tapped international visual effects facility Moving Picture Company as the lead VFX vendor, giving them more than 1,000 shots. The complex work required a close collaboration between the director, production VFX supervisors John Dykstra and Guillaume Rocheron, and MPC’s teams in Montreal, London and Bangalore led by VFX supervisors Arundi Asregadoo and Axel Bonami.
Smurfs: The Lost Village, Sony Pictures Animation’s reboot of the popular ‘80s cartoon The Smurfs, opens in theatres this weekend. The film stars Demi Lovato as Smurfette, Mandy Patinkin as Papa Smurf, Joe Manganiello as Hefty Smurf, Jack McBrayer as Clumsy Smurf, Danny Pudi as Brainy Smurf and Rainn Wilson as Gargamel. In the story, a mysterious map prompts Smurfette, Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty to find a lost village, inhabited by SmurfStorm (Michelle Rodriguez), SmurfBlossom (Ellie Kemper), SmurfLily (Ariel Winter) and SmurfWillow (Julia Roberts), before Gargamel does.
Director Kelly Asbury, who previously directed Gnomeo & Juliet (2011), Shrek 2 (2004) and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), signed on to direct the film in November 2013. He explained that when he was first approached to direct it, he had to a do a little research. “I didn’t know tons about the Smurfs,” he confesses. “I was not really of the age to have been brought up on The Smurfs in America, because they really didn’t come to America until around 1982, and by that time, I was already out of college. I didn’t have kids so I really wasn’t watching Saturday morning television that much.”
Rarely does a film get a second chance at theatrical distribution, especially if it failed to rake in cash the first time around. Yet cult classic “Donnie Darko” – a box office flop during its 2001 release – will once again be projected on the big screen. Sporting a brand-new 4K restoration, the film kicks off a week-long engagement at the Cinefamily Theater in Los Angeles and the Metrograph in New York on March 31st. From there, it will travel to venues around the US, including Denver, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and San Francisco. Recognizing a new generations of fans will encounter “Donnie Darko” in full-screen, cinematic glory continues to dumbfound its writer and director, Richard Kelly.
“This film was beautifully shot by Steven (Poster) and deserves to be seen on a big screen,” said Kelly. “It is hard to believe fifteen years later it is getting a wider release than the original.”
The road to the big screen for “Donnie Darko” was littered with obstacles. Then a 26-year-old USC School of Cinematic Arts graduate, Kelly only had two short film credits to his name when he sought funding for his self-penned, darkly comic mind-bending feature. Beginning and ending with a dramatic plane crashing into Donnie Darko’s (Jake Gyllenhall) room, the film weaves themes regarding self-worth, bullying, love, mental illness and angst through a heady, sci-fi mix of time travel and alternative universes. His script was often well-received during his early quests for financers, but his insistence on directing it was a funding hurdle. Once made, the film premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and had an impressive, and award-winning, festival circuit run, but fell short of cementing a distribution deal. Kelly feared “Donnie Darko” was destined to a straight to DVD fate when Flower Films, the company co-owned by Drew Barrymore who also has a minor role in the film, assisted in securing the film’s theatrical release. The stumbling block for “Donnie Darko” was the film’s unfortunate release date: October 26, 2001. The nation was still overcoming the horrors of the September 11th terrorist attacks in NYC, and a marketing a film with a pivotal plane crash was a hard sell.
Once the movie was released to VHS in 2002, however, it became profitable, earning a place on the top shelf of cult film classics. Kelly recalls its DVD transfer as “prefunctary, without a lot of oversight.” The quality of the film was never maintained for the subsequent Blue-Ray transfers that followed. In essences, what the majority of “Donnie Darko” fans have seen is nothing like the film Kelly and his DP, Steven Poster, shot. When Arrow Films, the company who acquired the rights to “Donnie Darko”, contacted Kelly in 2016 proposing a 4K conversion, the director was shocked.
“They wanted me to oversee the restoration,” said Kelly. “I talked to Steven, I wanted him to be involved.”
The shooting of “Donnie Darko” was rather unconventional for its time. It’s 35mm film format was a standard choice for the late nineties. What was unusual was the fledgling director’s instance that the film be shot in anamorphic widescreen – a stylistic choice virtual unheard of for independent films during that period. Poster recognized one potential hurdle in using anamorphic for 35mm: it typically requires a lengthy lighting set up. The “Donnie Darko” production was on a tight, 28 day schedule with no flexibility. Shooting with a Panavision Panaflex Millennium camera, Poster decided to use a high speed film stock – along with an assortment of filters – to help reduce the amount of necessary light exposure. Poster, who’s been involved in remastering some of his other projects, was excited to reconnect with Kelly and the film. But first, they had to find the master. Rarely do directors get the master: it falls into the hands of a bevvy of the financiers, producers and distributors.
“Up to 15 entities can own pieces of (a film) so who knows where they go,” said Poster.
Poster’s main hope was that the original be well archived. With a clock running on their restoration timeline, a furious search for the original negatives began. Kelly ultimately tracked them down at the Deluxe studio in London, where they benefited from appropriate archiving. The negative was scanned and the meticulous process of restoring the film began.
“We had a tremendous amount of creative control,” said Poster, who noted Arrow, like many smaller companies, wants to ensure they get everyone’s creative input when remastering or restoring a title. “I work quickly, but had plenty of time to correct the entire movie.”
For Kelly, returning to the editing suite with Poster was a unique treat. Kelly had stepped away from directing to focus on writing for the past several years. The last feature he’d directed – which also featured Poster as DP – was the 2009 release “The Box.” He found the process to be a bit of a home coming. He was particularly grateful to have Poster’s expertise in handling the restoration process.
“The tools at our disposal were a significant and wonderful gift to any artist. Steven knows how to use these tools artfully,” said Kelly. “He utilizes restrain, you don’t need to overuse them or push the color space. It was important for us to maintain perspective, a sense of naturalism and to be authentic.”
Kelly did take the liberty of enhancing some visual effects in the 4K version that he felt were never fully realized. However, his main focus when converting “Donnie Darko” to 4K was “more about the restoration process.”
“We were able to preserve what was there,” said Kelly.
Staying truthful to the origins of iconic characters has served makeup and prosthetics artist Joel Harlow well. His decision to compliment the “Star Trek” legacy by keeping the makeup effects practical in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot resulted in Harlow’s first Oscar win and third Oscar nomination for “Star Trek Beyond.” Although Harlow hadn’t worked on the previous “X-Men” movies, he’d witnessed the nearly twenty-year evolution of its mainstay, Wolverine. Joining the “Logan” team as makeup designer, he had some specific concepts he discussed with director James Mangold. After the first makeup test with actor Hugh Jackman, however, everything changed.
“We completely shifted our line of thought, and threw out the aesthetic that came before,” said Harlow. “The preconceived notions of Logan’s evolution was not the film Jim wanted to make.”
Mangold’s script placed the once seemingly indestructible super hero in an earthy, grounded story. Logan’s body was rejecting its metal-infused skeleton and the accelerated self-healing power he once possessed that kept him ageless was failing. Harlow had the opportunity to play up the character’s suffering through the effects of physical trauma on the body. This included scarification highlighting gunshot wounds, stabbing and fight wounds, as well as emphasizing the character’s troubled mental state and alcohol addiction through a weathered, jaundice appearance.
“Our marching order was that everything had to look real,” said Harlow.
To research the realistic makeup designs he was creating for Logan and the other mutants featured in the film, Harlow turned to his personal library of anatomy and biology books as well as assorted web-based searches. He zeroed in on trauma studies to aid in creating the charred, burned skin of Stephen Merchant’s Caliban, the scaly skin of ‘Lizard Boy” and seeping sores such as those on Logan’s knuckles where his retractable metal blades continually tore through his dermis.
“To do this kind of visceral makeup without being respectful to what lies below the anatomy can be hokey,” said Harlow.
Harlow relied on many makeup artists he’s worked with previously to join his “Logan” team. To ensure they would be able to perform the labor intensive, realistic makeup effects, Harlow began by carefully breaking down the script, noting where in the character’s timeline each scene took place. Mug and body shots of the actors were taken, then every stage of application was photographed throughout the makeup process. Details, such as Logan’s beard, were carefully monitored. While Hugh Jackman’s natural facial hair formed its base, its length and coloring were constantly adjusted. Special bloodshot, yellowed contacts were created for Jackman to further enhance the authenticity of his physical decay.
Creating Logan’s wounds, refining old age makeup for Patrick Stewart’s dementia-addled Dr. X and many other applications were right in Harlow’s wheelhouse. However, the intensity needed in an R-rated feature was fairly new territory for him. Early in preparation he discovered he was approaching wound creation with too much constraint.
“I hadn’t done a film like this. The graphic violence propels the story and makes it real,” said Harlow.
A beloved fairy tale with a familiar theme — true beauty comes from within — dates back to 18th Century France with the first published version of “Beauty and the Beast” (or La Belle et la Bête), by author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Countless iterations and interpretations eventually led to one of the most memorable and best-loved versions, Disney’s 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, with its inspiring message and memorable songs. The film, which was released around the same time as Disney blockbusters The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Aladdin, was not only critically acclaimed, but was the first animated feature to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and won two Oscars, for Best Original Score and Best Song.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century when Disney is looking for a live-action, big-screen adaptation of the fairytale. When the studio approached Oscar-winning director/writer Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I and 2, Mr. Holmes and Kinsey), he initially “did not want to go near it.” Condon explains, “I consider the 1991 film to be a perfect movie. When the film was released it was groundbreaking, in the way the story was told and with that incredible score from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.”
But then Condon gave it more thought. “It is 25 years later and technology has caught up to the ideas that were introduced in the animated movie.
Now, it is possible, for the first time, to create a photo-real version of a talking teacup on a practical set in a completely realistic live action format.” Condon began with script development and working with the art department on initial ideas for the look of the film in 2014, with active prep starting on the first day of 2015, such as storyboards, previs, set illustrations, etc. He also brought on his creative team, including editor Virginia “Ginny” Katz and DP Tobias A. Schliessler, both of whom worked with Condon on Dream Girls, The Fifth Estate and Mr. Holmes, and Katz on the Twilight sagas.
Principal photography on the new film took place at Shepperton Studios outside London and on several exterior locations in the UK from May to August, 2015 where multiple, large-scale practical sets were built — 27 in total. And while the story itself was to be told in a live-action format, there was still a good amount of CG and animation required to create many of the film’s characters, including a believable Beast, as well as talking teapots, candlesticks and more.
Four-time Oscar-nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood (Hanna, Atonement) was brought on for the sets and Steve Gaub (Unbroken, Oblivion, Tron: Legacy) as visual effects producer. The Third Floor completed the previs. Two and a half years later, there is a finished, live-action film and an all-star ensemble cast, including Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Audra McDonald and Stanely Tucci.
Director Bill Condon, DP Tobias Schliessler and Editor Ginny Katz all spoke with Post magazine just prior to the film’s release, about each of their roles and taking on such a beloved Disney classic.
Even though it didn’t actually win the Best Picture Oscar, La La Land was honored with five Academy Awards this year, including one for Best Cinematography for Linus Sandgren. This Swedish director of photography, known for his kinetic work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy, collaborated closely with La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle.
Shooting with anamorphic lenses and 35mm film on Panavision Millennium XL2s (with one 16mm sequence) — and capturing his first musical — Sandgren rose to the challenge set by Chazelle (“make it look magical rather than realistic”) by continually pushing the film’s technical and creative boundaries.
That approach is showcased in the bravura opening traffic jam sequence where the camera feels like one of the dancers and part of the choreography. Designed to look like one unbroken shot, it’s actually three, carefully rehearsed, then shot on the freeway ramp over a weekend and stitched together invisibly and seamlessly. For another tour-de-force sequence where stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone literally fly up into the stars of the Griffith Observatory planetarium, the team used wires and bluescreen on a set, as filming wasn’t allowed in the real location.
I recently talked to Sandgren about shooting the film, working with Chazelle, the digital workflow and the importance of post to him as a DP.
Who doesn’t love a good King Kong movie? And who says a good King Kong movie has to have the hairy giant climbing the Empire State Building, lady in hand?
The Jordan Vogt-Roberts-directed Kong: Skull Island, which had an incredible opening weekend at the box office — and is still going strong — tells the story of a 1973 military expedition to map out an island where in 1944 two downed pilots happened upon a huge monster. What could possibly go wrong?
Editor Rick Pearson, who was originally set to come on board for 10 weeks during the Director’s Cut process to help with digital effects turnovers, ended up seeing the project through to the end. Pearson came on during the last third of production, as the crew was heading off to Vietnam.
The process was already in place where rough cuts were shared on the PIX system for the director’s review. That seemed to be work well, he says.
To find out more about the process, I recently touched base with Pearson, who at the time of our interview was in Budapest editing a film about the origin of Robin Hood. He kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his work and workflow on Kong: Skull Island, which in addition to Vietnam shot in Hawaii and Australia.
Imagine the scenario. You’re five-years-old, accompanying your brother to a train station. After a short nap, you find yourself alone on a deserted platform. Bewildered and groggy, you wander on an empty train, curl up on a bench and sleep, only to wake as you’re being hurdled over 900 miles away from home.
This sequence kicks off the reality-defying adventure in “Lion”, a 2017 Oscar race contender for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Score, Supporting Actor (Dev Patel) and Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman). “Lion” tells the factual story of Saroo Brierley, born Sheru Munshi Khan, who, at the age of five, was separated from his loving family and hurdled from one side of India to the other. Unable to speak the local language, he spends weeks hustling as a street urchin until he’s ultimately captured and sold to adoptive parents in Australia. His early youth becomes a buried memory until the touches of his lover and the smell of an Indian delicacy awaken memories, setting him on the unlikely quest to reunite with his birth mother twenty-five years later.
While the ending of the film depicts a true, modern-day fairy tale, Saroo’s initial separation from his family was a terrifying nightmare. Let’s pull back the layers of creating this sequence of Saroo’s separation from script to screen.
The Script Writer
Before he wrote a word of the screenplay, Luke Davies wrote several pages of a “free association” outline that highlighted the fundamentals of Saroo’s journey. After meeting with director Garth Davis and cementing the job, he hopped on a plane to India. There he met Saroo and traveled him to the locations outlined in his memoir, “A Long Way Home.” Davies observational research exposed him to the simple joys of life in Saroo’s native Khandwa and the chaos of Saroo’s final train stop in Kolkata.
Prior to digging into the writing process, Davies and Davis spent roughly ten days together developing the early outline of the story, utilizing Saroo’s book, their respective notes and Davies’ early draft. It was during this phase that Davies suggested opening the film with its most traumatic moment.
“I felt we could be bold because this was a fairy tale, and you don’t want tricky thrills on a fairy tale. They just plunge: ‘Once upon a time – bang,’” said Davies. “I understood it would go against basic film financing logic, which is ‘Don’t begin your movie with a five-year-old non-professional actor speaking in Hindi for the first fifty minutes’.”
Production company See Saw Films agreed to give Davies’ strong vision a chance. Davies script begins with brief context illustrating the happiness of Saroo’s childhood: catching butterflies in a field, joyfully helping his mother at work in a rock quary, playing with his older brother Guddu along the tracks, drinking milk as a family.
“Then a moment happens where he steps on to a train,” said Davies. “It is a tiny moment, and his entire life, his entire future, changes.”
In the pages of the screenplay, Davies writing intentionally left the train sequence “poetically sparce” to focus on Saroo’s feelings of abandonment. The action shifts quickly from the fun and love the brothers share and the adventure that lay before them to solitude. While he didn’t dilute the scene with directorial notes, Davies did specifically outline the visual angle of the rain tank looming above and Saroo’s perspective of looking up at it to illustrate how incredibly small he was in the moment.
Garth Davis is not a new face in the directorial world, having helmed shorts, commercials and television series including the Emmy nominated “Top of the Lake.” While this was his first foray in feature directing, his approach was no different than it had been on past projects: put in the hard work and walk on set prepared.
Key observations Davis made while visiting India both aided in that preparedness and informed the handling of this key scene. Familiar with the kinetic energy that permeates the land, he was struck by the eerie silence that greeted him during one early morning visit. Walking through Khandwa, he was also aware of the hum of cicadas and the overwhelming abundance of birds.
“There were millions of birds! I’m really interested in nature. Our sense of home is not just our family, it is our environment and the sounds and textures and smells,” said Davis. “I wanted to have all of that to take back to the modern story.”
The sound design, score and camera shooting style hinged on nature and the impact of the environment on young Saroo. Davis recruited capable department heads that would understand the importance of personifying the environment within the scene. Prior to working with those elements, however, Davis recognized Sunny Pawar, the untrained, five-year-old actor portraying young Saroo, needed an authenticity that would translate through the scene. Despite strong recommendations to shoot the sequence first, he saved it for last.
“I made the decision straight away, he needed to go on the journey and be exposed to acting and find that language and trust so we could do the scene properly,” said Davis.
Davis worked with New Zealand-based acting coach Miranda Harcourt to prep Sunny. They created a fifteen-page “children’s book” version of the screenplay Sonny could nightly review that exposed him to the highs and lows of the story. Davis also created a “triangle of trust” consisting of himself, a translator, and Miranda, that enabled Sunny to feel comfortable in his own skin.
“Because people were encouraging him to ‘be you’, I think we saw him grow as a human, and somewhere along the line he caught on to what we were trying to do and he started hitting his marks and stretching out.”
With Sunny now able to empathize with Saroo’s experiences, Davis could focus on the impact of the scene.
“He doesn’t see the scale of the platform with his brother. He is caught up in the conversations and the jalebis and the people but when he wakes up he realized his is in this enormous hole of a place,” said Davis.
Davis started with a noiseless sound design that lightly introduces the hum of cicadas. Their din swells as the camera personifies the water tanks looking down at him and the long shots of a vacant platform.
In determining camera placement, Greig Fraser started with what he calls a “golden rule”: the camera needed to be where Saroo was emotionally. The determination of eye line had to be made early on, for the route between the train tracks and Khandwa have a significant impact later in “Lion” as Saroo is searching for his long lost home.
“This is what was fun about shooting. Is it a memory? Is it him actually traveling? Is it him projecting?” mused Fraser. “You can use height to your advantage as well. You can be just above his eye with a bit more headroom for little Saroo, and suddenly he is small. Then, go a little bit lower, cropping his head, and he feels like the king of the world.”
Using an Alexa 35mm camera and a set of Prime vintage lenses, Fraser carefully worked with camera placement throughout the scene. Wanting the audience to maintain a sense of hope for Saroo, the scene starts with him in full frame, and this ratio is maintained as he first starts to walk. The impending danger builds as the angle expands, highlighting the water tanks, lit to aid in the impression they were looking down at him. It then becomes extremely wide, revealing the massive, vacant platform.
Trains are the artery of transportation and business in India. Noting there are no permits that shut down services for film shoots, Fraser and Davis, along with location scouts, went to the sites well in advance to prep for the challenging sequence. Working with a camera team from Australia and a grip and electrical team from India, Fraser and his crew were fastidious about continuity. They were often on and off trains during the shoot, so they had to be aware of the direction the train was traveling in, the placement of the seat and the light falling on Sunny. To aid in capturing time changes, the team used color changeable LEDs that allowed them to tweak colors that fell on Sonny’s eyes.
“If the sun was going down and it there was a blue (quality to the light), we could punch a little blue into his eyes,” said Fraser.
Davis wanted the audience to experience the numb state Saroo eventually succumbs to over the multi-day duration of the voyage. “After hours of crying he’s not hold on, he is just serenading to it, like a ghost on the train,” said Davis. “We would play with the idea of the ghost and allow the camera to do that.” Starting with wider shots, the camera work eventually becomes more impressionistic, mimicking the quality of wind and light.
To ensure they could capture the scenes they needed in Kolkata without curious crowds stopping and gaping at the camera, Frasier’s team built camera hides made out of boxes and packing material that they carved peep holes into. As Sunny runs through the crowd, Fraser’s shots were from the hip, so onlookers were of no consequence. In addition to capturing Saroo’s experience, Davis and Frasier determined it was important to illustrate a sense of distance. A few exterior shots of the train snaking through the wide open landscape. To accomplish these shots, Fraser turned to a drone.
“I made sure I had the ability to operate the camera myself,” said Frasier. “It was very important that the aerials retain a certain amount of control.”
Davis and his team had completed the rough cut when Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran jumped on board. The cut was peppered with temp tracks of their own pre-recorded compositions, giving them a marker throughout the film of the style the director was aiming for. As they worked with Davis to secure the right sounds, they created a few motifs for Saroo’s journey based around strings, prepared piano and classical piano. Their primary focus was to find a temperature in the score that didn’t paint emotion over the scenes or the action.
In Saroo’s departure sequence, the team carefully wove the score around silence and the sound of nature. Music is not introduced until Saroo wakes up on the train. At that point a violin motif emerges, emphasizing his feelings of isolation. The theme continues until he reaches the train station in Kolkata. Here, prepare piano: a process were bits of metal and other resonant material are affixed to the strings the keys hit, merges with the sounds of the station.
“There is a lot of noise going – in a way it sounds a little random and has accidents within it,” said Bertelmann. “As the film progresses, the prepared piano disappears and suddenly there is some clarity in the sound.”
“The violin motif is one of the motifs that comes back that represents the moment when he realizes he is alone,” said O’Halloran. “It moves through the crowd scene with the sound design. The music sort of comes out of the sound of the train station.”
During the development of the score, Davis encouraged the composers not to look at the film in a linear fashion. He wanted the music to make spiritual connections with the feelings and emotions Saroo experienced as memories emerged. The composers enjoyed not only defining re-occuring themes, but defining these themes in a way that elevated the storytelling on a subconscious level.
“There was a lot of discussion on how do we weave these two halves of the film together,” said O’Halloran. “Can we start a motif that is later more developed so that subconsciously, when that feeling happens, like when (Saroo) is picturing his mother, or when he goes back into his heart or spiritual place, there is a sound to that.”
“It describes, for me, the way the spirit of the movie is a kind of longing, that is left after you go home,” said Bertelmann.
Director Barry Jenkins called upon several of his former Florida State Film School classmates to help him bring his vision of “Moonlight” to life. Based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight” follows Chiron, a young, gay black man, through three phases of his life. The classmates who joined him not only created an unique and beautifully crafted coming of tale for the big screen, they walked away with Oscar nominations as well, members of the films eight total nominations, including producer Adele Romnski, editors Joi McMillon and Nate Sanders, and cinematographer James Laxton. (New members to Jenkins fold, composer Nicholas Britell and actors Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris also received nods).
While each film school alum worked on and off with Jenkins on his post-graduation shorts and commercials, Laxton often had previous work commitments that prevented him from tackling many of the director’s early professional vehicles. Fortunately, he was able to join the director on his directorial debut, “Medicine for Melancholy.” This experience, coupled with his background with Jenkins, fortified his understanding of the director’s needs and styles. Variety 411 recently caught up with Laxton to discuss his collaboration on the film.
Variety 411: There are some interesting camera movements throughout the course of “Moonlight”. While the film doesn’t remind me of a commercial or music video, the movements sometimes did.
James Laxton: When Barry and I get together or text, there’s always a “Hey check out this link to something.” And a lot of those links are commercials or music videos or things we watched earlier in film school. We watched a lot of music videos for DJ Shadow that I think Wong Kar Wai directed. It’s a great video, beautiful. A lot of our references are from film directors and sometimes still photographers. I think, as people who digest a lot of media, we pull from a lot of different places.
V411: What were some of those early conversations regarding the look of “Moonlight”? And, especially, did Barry have a story board before you guys started?
JL: We generally don’t have a lot of time, so our process when we are getting started consists of the shot list. I don’t think we’ve ever done anything as big as story boards. Location is something that is really crucial to both of us so we tend to not be so specific in the storyboarding because we like the location to dictate a lot of things to us. We knew we wanted to make a film with a very strong, bold voice, and create some images that had some strength and emotional value to them. And I think that stems from having a fantastic screenplay, and also having fantastic performers that can match that strength in terms of the visual language as well, because it would be a shame, if we were just to apply a visual stylization on something that didn’t want it or need it. Our creative process, inherently because of the way we make movies, has a great deal of adaptability in it.
V411: It is interesting to open the movie with the circular motion spinning around the characters. What was the decision to do that?
JL: First and formost, it was a bit about establishing a language. I think the first few scenes in any movie, part of what is important there is to make sure that the audience, you are getting the sense of what this moving is going to be giving you for the next 90 minutes, in terms of its visual language. For us, moving the camera in that way attempted to create very quickly an immersive experience that you as an audience member you are now, going to be thrown into these conversations in these rooms, in these hallways, in these parks, on these beaches, and you are going to feel like you are in that space. That was the intention that the audiences feels them as if they are a character.
V411: It’s one of many technically challenging camera situations in “Moonlight” – the circular movement, the under-water shooting, the driving sequences. It is a little crazy actually!
JL: Yeah, but I think it is also what gives the movie a certain visual energy that comes with that territory as well. Shooting people sitting around a dining room table and talking can sometimes be a little visually repetitive. These challenges that you are speaking about, they are inspirational more than anything else. As much as it was a challenge to be stuck in the backseat of a car with a camera on my shoulder trying to capture things, there is something inherently beautiful and energetic about that that I think is also captivating. We had a great crew on that film that made sure we got all that stuff.
V411: Were you working with a crew of people you primarily worked with before?
JL: I brought out my gaffer and key grip, but everyone else from my department was local to Miami. Miami is a great town, there are some fantastic people down there, and we were shooting (at a competitive time for booking crew). “Bloodline”, other projects, it was the height of the commercial season, so it was definitely a challenge to find some great people but we did and they definitely helped us make sure all those technical things were possible. I will put it this way: Barry very rarely will hear a no from me. I will very rarely hear a no from Barry. So when one of us has an idea that may sound challenging or difficult, since we have so much trust embedded in our relationship, we want to go for it, and we want to get there. There isn’t much hesitation to “well, oh we can’t do that because that seems difficult or scheduling wise that is going to take too much time.” We try not to let those things deter us from making those decisions.
V411: The movie was shot in a tight budget and short time line. Did you have flexibility with rehearsing the challenging shots such as driving in a car and being cognizant of lights outside the window, and that sort of thing?
JL: We didn’t have a lot of time but I think we use that to our advantage to a certain level. The energy and the pace that happens naturally when you are working quickly can sometimes be a creatively very inspiring thing. And so, sure, we all want more time to tweak and do little adjustments and things like that, but what I find more important and more validating is using that energy and that momentum.
V411: I’m really curious about the color timing. There is this draining out of color that really forces characters to the forefront of the image that I found really interesting. Were you involved with that in post?
JL: I was involved, it is part of the process I actually really enjoy. We work with a colorist named Alex Bickel, I think this is my seventh film with him. Just like Barry, we have a great history and working relationship and collaboration. In preparation we shot some tests that we sent to Alex in NY and he applied what he thought were some interesting ideas. He informed us on how expose for a certain vibe or what colors to use in lighting, so it did inform us a little bit (when shooting.) When it came time for that process Barry and I went to NY together and started to work with Alex for a week or so, and really dialed in some specific ideas that just felt appropriate to each moment. We don’t tend to over analyze our decisions. I find that, as an artist, you can talk yourself into anything on some level. And so, we try to pay more close attention to how things feel emotionally, and how we respond to an image on an emotional level, and think about how that would reflect what the character’s journeys are at that particular moment. That is generally how we make our decisions.
V411: In addition to color, the natural lighting also helped set mood and tone. Can you talk a bit about lighting the scenes or using natural light?
JL: There are some great technical tools that allow you to be very low profile in terms of working in real locations and small spaces that we were implementing. We tend to walk into a set, a real place like the room we are in now, and maybe we’ll turn on a lamp, and sort of look at how that effects the scene, and augment from there. Or if there is a certain light coming in from the window that seems appropriate emotionally or creatively, we will put a light outside the window to make sure it continues throughout the day. We tend to be inspired by what the city of Miami or certain apartments or certain homes give us, then we allow those things, or manipulate those things, to work into our overall design of the film.
V411: Editor Joi McMillon and I talked about the deliberate coverage captured for the scenes without a lot of b-roll. Is there an example of a scene where you can describe the coverage you were aiming for?
JL: This was a one camera film, so that decision was all about making sure the camera was experiencing the specificity of Chiron’s perspective. The type of coverage we were choosing was very deliberate that it all seemed to want to come from that perspective and his point of view, even in terms of lighting. You know, I can remember one example. When Juan brings Chiron back to his home the first time and he serves him that dinner, the camera seems to sort of pan across their faces as they perform the scene. It’s not dollying or moving, the camera is just sort of panning back and forth. To me it feels as if you, the audience, is just another person at the table there, and experiencing it in that sense.
Rob LaDuca has a particular fondness for the classic Walt Disney characters: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the entire gang. A twenty-eight year veteran of Disney Television Animation, LaDuca has served a number of roles including storyboard designer, director and executive producer on programs including “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”, “Aladdin” and “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” He’s received numerous awards for his efforts, including five Daytime Emmy nominations and one win, for 2004’s “Tutenstein.” A car enthusiast, LaDuca became intrigued by the idea of taking Mickey and the gang out on the road in some very hip vehicles that would allow them to see the world and learn some life lessons along the way. Thus began “Mickey and the Roadster Racers.”
LaDuca, serving as executive producer on the series, reached out to his collaborator on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and “Jake and the Neverland Pirates”, Mark Seidenberg. Joining LaDuca as co-executive producer and supervising story editor, the two began to refine the look and vibe of the animation. Geared towards the Disney Junior audience, “Mickey and the Roadster Racers” has a bright, fresh three dimensional look filled with modern gizmos while harkening to the 1940s aesthetics of its characters.
“Working in a 3D world of computer animation, the camera can move around,” said LaDuca. “The shadowing and the details are pulled from the 30s and 40s. For instance, in 2D animation Mickey’s ears look flat, so we’ve maintained that look in the 3D world.”
During the program’s research phase, LaDuca and Seidenberg went to a variety of car shows as well as comedian Jay Leno’s garage to review his auto collection. They noted the extreme variations in details as well as vibrant colors found in the vehicles. While the duo have worked with each classic Disney character in the past, they went through a period of watching and re-watching original animated films featuring Mickey and the gang to ensure they captured each character’s personality authentically.
“These characters haven’t changed their personalities since the 30s and the 40s,” said Seidenberg. “We can modernize their activities but not (their core personas). We don’t want to overly personalize them.”
Each character’s personality is embodied in the design of their roadster. Mickey, the leader and role model of the gang, is a Model T. The more introverted Minnie is a Delahaye, a classic French model that features a small, rounded driving space behind an extensive engine. Goofy’s model is designed after the hot rods created by Ed Roth, an artist and automotive customizer. Daisy drives a Snapdragon, while Donald’s vehicle is essentially a boat on wheels.
Working with Disney Junior’s in-house education group, each episode of “Mickey and the Roadster Racers” includes themes that are valuable to young, developing minds, such as loyalty, friendship, skill development and teamwork. For example, in one episode, Mickey can’t participate in a parade he is supposed to orchestrate, so Donald takes over. Donald has to learn how to take responsibility of his fiery temper to ensure the parade runs smoothly. To further engage the young viewers in the social themes, Minnie and Daisy run a side business called “Happy Helpers”, where they lend a hand to those in the communities needing a little extra help.
To heighten the action in the series, Mickey and his friends engage in little adventures as they travel the globe, including trips to London, Spain and France. LaDuca and Seidenberg have fun infusing elements of each locale that can be easily embraced and digested by the viewer’s young minds.
“In London (the characters) meet a proper English gentleman. In Spain they get to experience spicy foods,” said Seidenberg. Noted LaDuca, “We’re focusing on creating a social experience that is fun for kids, without making it to curriculum based.”
In addition to the roadsters morphing into skateboards or scooters and the characters using iPads and iPhones, current popular figures in the entertainment world lend their voices to the show. Gordon Ramsay, Tim Gunn and professional race car drives Danica Patrick and Jimmie Johnson are amongst those who’ve embraced their voice-over debut on “Mickey and the Roadster Racers.”
“We’ve shown them what they look like as a cartoon characters and they are so enthusiastic,” said Seidenberg. Added LaDuca, “It’s fun to bring in guest actors. Patton Oswald came in and asked if he could add snorts to his character. They come in with some great ideas.”
To learn more about “Mickey and the Roadster Racers”, please visit: http://disneyjunior.disney.com/mickey-and-the-roadster-racers