This section of Creative Content Wire allows creatives and professionals a chance to tell the story about “how they did it” in their own words. Stories submitted are not edited by the CCWire editorial staff (limit 500 words). SUBMIT STORY
LOS ANGELES – Writer-director Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield), Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network), and cinematographer Ernie Holzman, ASC (Without a Trace, Cora Unashamed, Thirtysomething) present “Ernie Holzman: Life ReFocused,” an art show celebrating film cameras and lenses from the 20th century. The event takes place on November 12, from 4 – 7 p.m. at RED Studios Hollywood, where assemblages and sculptures created by Holzman will be for sale, as well as a rare print of the iconic set of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” All proceeds benefit cancer research at City of Hope.
After being diagnosed with Stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011, Holzman underwent surgery and two rounds of chemotherapy. Unable to work, a good friend gifted Holzman with a collection of vintage filmmaking equipment. The cinematographer deconstructed every camera and lens, and was ultimately inspired by the aesthetic beauty and elegance of the equipment, which had been commonplace in his career, to create art. By selling the pieces he has designed, Holzman wants to “pay it forward” and acknowledge the life-saving work of Dr. Barry Rosenbloom at Tower Oncology.
Holzman told American Cinematographer magazine, “The opportunity to create art, and ultimately have this showing, has not only been enormously healing for me, but has given my life greater meaning than I have ever known.”
City of Hope is a world leader in the research and treatment of cancer, diabetes, and other serious diseases. They deliver scientific miracles that make lives whole again. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is one of only 49 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute.
The event is open to the public. RED Studios Hollywood is located at 864 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, 90038.
Posted in: NewsletterPress ReleaseWhat's Your Story
LOS ANGELES—For director Sheldon Candis the story behind Baltimore Boys had a deep, personal resonance. The feature-length documentary, which Candis co-directed with Marquis Daisy for ESPN Films, profiles the Dunbar Poets, the greatest boys high school basketball team of all time. From 1981 to 1983, the team, which included future NBA players David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues and Reggie Lewis, went 59-0.
Candis knew all about the Poets and their back-to-back perfect seasons. “I grew up in Baltimore and recall hearing the legend of that great team,” he says. “So, it’s serendipitous that it took 30 years to tell the story and it’s awesome that I had the opportunity to direct it.”
Candis and Daisy relate the team’s heroics on the basketball court through interviews with surviving players and others associated with the team along with archival footage, much of it gleaned from the vaults of television stations up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. But, they also paint the larger portrait of the team’s impact on its long-suffering community. Impacted by the race riots of the 1960s and the economic downturn of the 1970s, Baltimore in the early 80s faced a new scourge in crack cocaine. The superlative performance of the team offered a rare counterpoint of civic pride.
The players themselves were not immune from the tumult of the times. Lewis, who along with Bogues and Williams, was selected in the first round of the NBA draft, went onto star for the Boston Celtics, but died tragically in 1993.
Candis says that he felt an obligation to explore both the positive and the negative aspects of the players’ stories. “It can be tough to make a film about people you look up to,” he explains, “but you try to hold onto the integrity and complexity of the story. These players achieved greatness with very little, but a lot happened in their lives. There’s a lot to being black in America and from Baltimore too. You can’t shy away from those things.”
The film has drawn wide praise for its gritty, but empathic portrait of the team and its city. “Bravo to (Candis and Daisy) for showing how hard, down and nasty life could be for some children born in this city in the 1960s,” wrote Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik. “And all praise for gracefully connecting the dots from the 1968 riots to the unrest in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray to make a subtle but strong point about how much some social conditions in Baltimore have not changed in 50 years.”
For Candis, the two years he devoted to the documentary were a labor of love. “When you make a documentary, you have to be in love with your subject,” he says. “I approach storytelling from the point of view of a boy filled with wonder. I am in complete awe of the Dunbar Poets and thankful for the chance to tell a story I feel passionate about.”
Posted in: NewsletterPress ReleaseWhat's Your Story
Recruitment tips from Axis Studios:
- Be prepared – Have a CV and business cards ready. We see hundreds of candidates at these events; it’s a great idea to leave a CV or business card so we have your details on hand.
- Do your Homework – Research the companies you are intending to speak to, know their work and style. We don’t only want to see what you can do but if you will fit into the team or project. Our company culture is super important to us – take a look for yourself – CLICK HERE
- Look at our current vacancies – At Axis we’re always looking for new talent, it’s always useful to get an idea of what positions we’re looking to fill on our website. Sometimes we’re hiring for specific projects – right now we’re hiring for SyFy’s new adaptation of the graphic novel, Happy for instance.
- Don’t show your portfolio on a mobile phone! – If you don’t have a laptop or tablet it’s worth investing in printing your portfolio. Showing your portfolio on your phone doesn’t show off your work. And if you do have a laptop or tablet, make sure it is charged.
- Be well presented and polite – It isn’t just your portfolio you are presenting it is also yourself. Keep a smart appearance and remember, manners make the man, or woman, or person, or posthuman, or transpeciest…
- Be sober – It might be obvious but you’d be surprised!
- Be on time – If you have an allotted time slot be on time, it’s unprofessional and could cut into your time to present your work.
- Don’t show work under NDA – You might have an amazing piece of work that you think could land you your next job, but under no circumstances put anything in your portfolio that you are not authorised to show. A studio’s relationship with a client is very important, if you are breaking a confidential agreement to showing us work then we cannot trust you to keep any agreement you sign with Axis. This will always go against you.
- Be patient – We do our best to stick to allocated time slots, but sometimes, there’s a lot of ground to cover; if we’re talking to someone, don’t interrupt.
- Be aware of the difference between recruitment and folio reviews – If we’re recruiting, we’re probably not doing folio reviews. Having said that, we’re usually happy to look and review if we have time.
- Quality, quantity, consistency and if possible variety – If you can tackle a diversity of styles, subjects and genres with consistency, quality and quantity that’s great to see. So is excelling in one particular area. ‘T’ type people are great to see; a broad range of skills forming the cross bar on the T but then an ability to drill down and focus on one specialist area forms the vertical.
- Focus your folio – Put the type of work that you’re primarily interested up front in your folio, followed by other areas of interest and any support material such as sketches etc. towards the rear.
- Don’t tell us your failures – Pointing out where you think we’ve failed or where you could have done things ‘way better’ isn’t always a good way to start a conversation…
- Be clear in your follow-up – When following up with us through email, be sure to put your name, the place where you spoke to us and the type of work you’re interested/position you’re applying for all in the subject line, that gives us context to your mail at a quick glance i.e. Jon Beeston – In the Hardware Store – Plumber.
- Remember to breathe – yes, recruiting events can be daunting, but it’s important to remember to try and stay calm; if you pass out because you’re not breathing it really scares us!
Join Axis Studios at XDS (7–9 September), Cartoon Forum (11–15 September), THU (18–23 September) and Venture Fest (20 September). For a full list of vacancies, click here.
Posted in: NewsletterWhat's Your Story
Ron Howard has done it all in Hollywood. The former child star of The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days not only successfully made the tricky transition to adult actor (at 22 he starred opposite John Wayne in The Shootist and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), but went on to establish himself as an Oscar-winning director and producer (A Beautiful Mind). He is also one of Hollywood’s most beloved and commercially successful and versatile helmers.
Since making his directorial debut in 1977 with Grand Theft Auto (when he was still on Happy Days), he’s made an eclectic group of films about boxers (Cinderella Man), astronauts (Apollo 13), mermaids (Splash), symbologists (The Da Vinci Code franchise), politicians (Frost/Nixon) firefighters (Backdraft), mathematicians (A Beautiful Mind), Formula One racing (Rush), whalers (In the Heart of the Sea) and the Fab Four (his first documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week).
Born in Oklahoma with showbiz in his DNA — his parents were both actors — Howard “always wanted to direct” and notes that “producing gives you control.” In 1986, he co-founded Imagine Entertainment with Brian Grazer, a powerhouse in film and TV (Empire, Arrested Development) production. His latest project is the new Genius series for National Geographic.
Read the full story at postPerspective.
Posted in: NewsletterWhat's Your Story
Dallas-based AlreadyBeenChewed founder gives us an insider view of his boutique studio founded in 2010. Source: postPerspective
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
AlreadyBeenChewed is a boutique studio that I founded in 2010. We have created a variety of design, motion graphics and 3D animated content for iconic brands, including Nike, Vans, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Marvel Comics. Check out our motion reel.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
AlreadyBeenChewed is a boutique studio that I founded in 2010. We have created a variety of design, motion graphics and 3D animated content for iconic brands, including Nike, Vans, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Marvel Comics. Check out our motion reel.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Owner/Founding Artist/Creative Director
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My job is to set the vibe for the types of projects, clients and style of work we create. I’m typically developing the creative, working with our chief strategy officer to land projects and then directing the team to execute the creative for the project.
WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
When you launch out on your own, it’s surprising how much non-creative work there is to do. It’s no longer good enough to be great at what you do (being an artist). Now you have to be excellent with communication skills, people skills, business, organization, marketing, sales and leadership skills. It’s surprising how much you have to juggle in the course of a single day and still hit deadlines.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Developing a solution that will not only meet the clients needs but also push us forward as a studio is always exciting. My favorite part of any job is making sure it looks amazing. That’s my passion. The way it animates is secondary. If it doesn’t look good to begin with, it won’t look better just because you start animating it.
WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Dealing with clients that stress me out for various reasons —whether it’s because they are scope creeping or not realizing that they signed a contract… or not paying a bill. Fortunately, I have a team of great people that help relieve that stress for me, but it can still be stressful knowing that they are fighting those battles for the company. We get a lot of clients who will sign a contract without even realizing what they agreed to. It’s always stressful when you have to remind them what they signed.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Night time! That’s when the freaks come out! I do my best creative at night. No doubt!
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Real estate investing/fixing up/flipping. I like all aspects of designing, including interior design. I’ve designed and renovated three different studio spaces for Already Been Chewed over the last seven years.
HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I blew out my ACL and tore my meniscus while skateboarding. I wanted to stay involved with my friends that I skated with knowing that surgery and rehab would have me off the board for at least a full year. During that time, I began filming and editing skate videos of my friends. I quickly discovered that the logging and capturing of footage was my least favorite part, but I loved adding graphics and motion graphics to the skate videos. I then began to learn Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D.
At this time I was already a full-time graphic designer, but didn’t even really know what motion graphics were. I had been working professionally for about five or six years before making the switch from print design to animation. That was after dabbling in Flash animations and discovering I didn’t want to do code websites (this was around 2003-2004).
CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently worked with Nike on various activations for the Super Bowl, March Madness and got to create motion graphics for storefronts as part of the Equality Campaign they launched during Black History Month. It was cool to see our work in the flagship Niketown NYC store while visiting New York a few weeks ago.
We are currently working on a variety of projects for Nike, Malibu Boats, Training Mask, Marvel and DC Comics licensed product releases, as well as investing heavily in GPUs and creating 360 animated videos for VR content.
HOW DID THE NIKE EQUALITY MOTION GRAPHICS CAMPAIGN COME TO FRUITION?
Nike had been working on a variety of animated concepts to bring the campaign to life for storefronts. They had a library of animation styles that had already been done that they felt were not working. Our job was to come up with something that would benefit the campaign style.
We recreated 16 athlete portraits in 3D so that we could cast light and shadows across their faces to slowly reveal them from black and also created a seamless video loop transitioning between the athlete portraits and various quotes about equality.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE MOTION GRAPHICS SCOPE OF THE NIKE EQUALITY CAMPAIGN, AND THE SOFTWARE USED?
The video we created was used in various Nike flagship stores — Niketown NYC, Soho and LA, to name a few. We reformatted the video to work in a variety of sizes. We were able to see the videos at Niketown NYC where it was on the front of the window displays. It was also used on large LED walls on the interior as well as a four-story vertical screen in store.
We created the portrait technique on all 16 athletes using Cinema 4D and Octane. The remainder of the video was animated in After Effects.
The portraits were sculpted in Cinema 4D and we used camera projection to accurately project real photos of the athletes onto the 3D portrait. This allowed us to keep 100 percent accuracy of the photos Nike provided, but be able to re-light and cast shadows accordingly to reveal the faces up from black.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s a tough one. Usually, it’s whatever the latest project is. We’re blessed to be working on some really fun projects. That being said… working on Vans 50th Anniversary campaign for the Era shoe is pretty epic! Especially since I am a long time skateboarder.
Our work was used globally on everything from POP displays to storefronts to interactive Website takeover and 3D animated spots for broadcast. It was amazing to see it being used across so many mediums.
NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A computer, my iPhone and speakers!
WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m very active on Instagram and Facebook. I chose to say “no” to Snapchat in hopes that it will go away so that I don’t have to worry about one more thing (he laughs), and twitter is pretty much dead for me these days. I log in once a month and see if I have any notifications. I also use Behance and LinkedIn a lot, and Dribbble once in a blue moon.
DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? IF SO, WHAT KIND?
My 25-year-old self would cyber bully me for saying this but soft Drake is “Too Good” these days. Loving Travis Scott and Migos among a long list of others.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
First I bought a swimming pool to help me get away from the computer/emails and swim laps with the kids. That worked for a while, but then I bought a convertible BMW to try to ease the tension and enjoy the wind through my hair. Once that wore off and the stress came back, I bought a puppy. Then I started doing yoga. A year later I bought another puppy.
Posted in: NewsletterWhat's Your Story
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.
Posted in: CinematographyNewsNewsletterWhat's Your Story
Hughes Winborne, ACE, is an Oscar-winning editor (Crash, 2005) who has cut more than two dozen feature films including Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade, The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds, and Guardians of the Galaxy. His latest film is Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences.
HULLFISH: Hughes, we have something in common. I have just been cutting a film with Mykelti Williamson in it and he’s in Fences, too.
HULLFISH: I agree.WINBORNE: Mykelti’s great. His performance in Fences is so endearing. He is reprising his role in the play on Broadway. The play is amazing. The film, as far as the dialogue is concerned does not stray from the play as it as presented on Broadway. Like the play, the movie is all about the words, and so the editing has to be fairly precise and discreet. It’s a tricky thing. A lot of people don’t appreciate the challenge of putting together a film so driven by dialogue.
WINBORNE: The first half of Fences is primarily dialogue. The Help was of the same ilk. Two hours and eighteen minutes of talking. Keeping an audience’s interest for that long is challenging. It requires making sure that the dramatic tension sustains so the audience will climb on and stay for the ride.
With Fences it’s a matter of getting the rhythm right because the rhythm is very precise. You get caught up in this rhythm. This may seem weird but it’s a bit like listening to a great song. It doesn’t really matter if you miss some of the lyrics. If you’re getting the rhythm and the tone, you’re probably feeling emotionally what you need to understand the film.
Read the full interview at ProVideo Coalition.
Posted in: EditingNewsletterProduction & PostWhat's Your Story
Musicals have had an unexpected resurgence in pop culture lately, exemplified by the high profile release of director Damien Chazelle’s latest film “La La Land,” which unabashedly wears its musical heritage on its sleeve. Chazelle is no stranger to using music in his films: His last picture “Whiplash” stunned audiences with its emotionally powerful portrayal of a jazz musician dedicated to his craft and even pulled a few wins at the Oscars for its achievement. “La La Land,” however, doesn’t just focus on music as a theme. From the undeniably 50’s MGM-movie-inspired plot to the fully orchestrated soundtrack to characters always ready to burst into song, “La La Land” is a musical through and through.
The story is an old cliché transported to the 21st century: Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling jazz pianist, and they fall in love tap dancing in the moonlight of the City of Angels, Los Angeles.
Despite his evident nostalgia, Chazelle believes that the qualities of Golden Age-era musicals are essentially timeless. “I think, because the genre had a hard time after the 60’s, you know, it’s thought of as this sort of old-fashioned genre, but it’s really not,” he clarified. “There’s a defiance and a willfulness to break rules that’s inherent to the genre, this idea that emotions can justify breaking into song or dance that to me seems like it will always feel modern”.
Indeed, below all the 50’s stylings of the film, there is a simple and touching love story between Mia and Sebastian, one that Chazelle is careful not to let fall into mere cliché. Their relationship come to life because their faults are not whitewashed. And when they burst into song, or oftentimes in Sebastian’s case, piano melody, it reminds the audience about how music can sometimes convey what words struggle to: sorrow, longing or that indescribable sensation called love.
This careful balancing of the cliché and the new applies to the soundtrack as well. The composer of the film Justin Hurwitz had to walk a fine line between nostalgia and innovation to create the film’s expressive score. “It was our goal not to sound like an old fashioned musical, to sort of be inspired by what we love but also make something that sounds like its own thing,” he said.
Hurwitz’s score brilliantly aligns with the film’s main theme, the importance of embracing the past. “La La Land” seems to parallel Sebastian’s struggles to found a classical jazz club in an uncaring L.A. to the fate of film musicals today: increasingly obsolete to the general public, but well-loved by the few that take the time to remember them.
In fact, Chazelle doesn’t see much of a difference between classical musicals and jazz. “They’re fundamentally jazz movies: they swang, they’re syncopated, which allows you to dance a certain way, but they’re orchestrated, like Tchaikovsky.” Much of the music of “La La Land” occupies that intersection.
The stellar plot and music don’t overshadow the less-noticed areas of film construction, such as the color design. “(We were) all inspired by the old technicolor movies … because (that) was a time in moviemaking where color felt fresh,” Chazelle said. So throughout “La La Land,” Chazelle, in cahoots with costume designer Mary Zophres and lead set designer Kevin Cross, fills every nook and cranny of the frame with eye-popping color, even going as far as to turn the night sky a deep, saturated blue. The cumulative effect is dazzling, as if you were back in the days where color was a novelty and not a guarantee. Like musical motifs, certain colors — green, blue, red — recur in the film to represent emotions and characters in a bold, in-your-face approach not often seen these days.
What stops “La La Land” from being mired in cliché is that in-your-face self-confidence that makes 50’s Hollywood movie magic seem, well, magical again. While the direction, score and color palette reference the past, they never directly imitate it, because they don’t have to. All of those components add up to tell a boy-meets-girl story that seems very contemporary and yet timeless, all at once. It reminds us that, sometimes, you have to pull from the past to better tell a story about the present.
Source: The Daily Californian
Posted in: NewsNewsletterWhat's Your Story
Jay Hunter is a celebrated director and cinematographer whose work runs the gamut from features and scripted series to documentaries and reality TV. A true innovator, he has crafted unique aesthetics for television shows such as On the Lot and films including Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Jay’s current project is the NBC comedy Superstore, about the employees of a big box retailer. For that series, he makes viewers feel like they’re part of the action through a visual style that looks handheld, but is not. Jay’s camera operators work with camera support systems that include Cartoni’s Airfloater. The patented head perfectly simulates handheld camera movement, while relieving operators of the burden of holding heavy camera systems on their shoulders.
Jay Hunter recently spoke with Cartoni USA about his career, Superstore and the Cartoni Airfloater.
Cartoni USA: How did you get your start?
Jay Hunter: I went to college at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I went to school to be a film critic and so I thought I’d take a filmmaking class. I fell in love with it. I had a background in photography, so I gravitated toward cinematography. No one in the program was very good at shooting, but I was the best of the worst, so I became the cinematographer for our graduating class. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to shoot a couple of low budget features while I was still in school and got to work early on. I bounced between being the DP on small stuff and operating on bigger productions. I was in the trenches, paying dues. Years past, I went from operator to DP and now I have an awesome job at Universal on Superstore. It’s a fun, way cool job and ten minutes from home. I feel like I won the lottery.
CUSA: You’ve done features, documentaries, reality TV and now a sit-com. What do you like about each genre? How do they differ?
JH: I started doing scripted work, features, commercials, and a little TV. That’s my roots. When I moved to L.A., I was operating and fell into reality TV. I wasn’t always jazzed about the subject matter, but I was a young guy and I learned a lot. I treated each job like I was shooting a movie, and because of that, my work stood out. I got a reputation and began to work with Mark Burnett Productions. He was doing the most high-end cinematic work in reality. It was a way to gain film experience without shooting a film. When I moved back into the scripted world, I brought with me the lessons I’d learned about lighting, camera operating and blocking. For me, it’s all part of the same cinematic world and telling stories. I wouldn’t be the cinematographer I am today without the skills I developed in non-fiction.
CUSA: Is Superstore a good example of that? It seems to employ some reality TV techniques.
JH: Reality TV helped bring handheld camerawork back into vogue and made documentary verite a hot look. But, I think it’s come full circle and that aesthetic is now blah. Superstore is a tangent, a new variation on that look. Almost everything we do has a handheld feel, but what we do differently is use extremely long lenses, often an 85mm lens. Most shows use 21mm or 25mm lenses for wide shots, and save the 85mm for close-ups. We go deep into the tele-photo world. We put our cameras far away from the action and use out of focus texture in the fore- and mid-ground. It’s more observational. It walks a thin line. We don’t want it to be like a stalker in the bushes. It’s more like you’re another shopper in the store, watching from a couple of aisles away. It’s like things are happening around the audience and they become another character in the story, witnessing it from afar.
CUSA: How do you use Airfloater on the show?
JH: The show feels handheld, but 98 percent is shot with the Airfloater head. People who arrive on the set are surprised when they see them, because they assume we shoot over-the-shoulder. The Airfloater gives us the look we want without requiring the operators to have cameras on their shoulders all day. As a result, they’re not going to the chiropractor and they don’t want to quit the show. They walk around all day with smiles on their faces.
CUSA: Does it really make that big of a difference?
JH: You can survive a 30-day shoot working handheld, but a TV show goes for months and months. It’s very hard on the operators. I’ve been an operator. I’ve been in their shoes and I want to be sure that they are comfortable and happy. The Airfloater is the most essential piece of gear we have on the show. I don’t know what we’d do without it.
CUSA: So, it keeps operators from becoming fatigued?
JH: The telephoto lenses we use are heavy and they make the camera out of balance. Operating a camera with a telephoto lens handheld can be brutal on an operator’s body. We also ask them to keep it steady. If they have the camera on their shoulders, their bodies are tense; they need to maintain a certain pattern of breathing. In the old days, you might roll through a whole mag of film. Today, it’s not uncommon for a director to roll for 20 or 30 minutes. If you are operating for that long and not moving, your body starts to cramp. Work a 12-hour day like that and when you go home, you roll over and die.
CUSA: The operators must like Airfloater.
JH: When we bring in day players and they find out it’s a handheld show, they think, “Oh god, it’s going to be rough.” But when they see how we execute, their eyes light up. They ask if they can get more days.
CUSA: How did you discover Airfloater?
JH: I saw it at NAB six or eight years ago. I saw if from a distance and immediately got the concept. I wondered why no one had thought of it before.
CUSA: Would you recommend it to others?
JH: If you’re doing a show that requires handheld camerawork, you need the Airfloater. You can get the handheld vibe, you can use any lens and you can shoot for a long as you want without putting the camera down. On top of it, your crew can perform any task and won’t be worn down at the end of the day. They’ll get up the next morning, fresh and ready to do it again.
Jay Hunter and the “Superstore” camera crew.
About Manios Digital & Film
A division of Ste-Man, Inc. and led by President Steven Manios, Jr., Manios Digital & Film has been bringing the world’s highest quality products to professional filmmakers, videographers and ENG crews in the United States since 1992. The company has longstanding relationships with leading manufacturers around the globe and an extensive dealer network spanning the United States. It is an authorized distributor for Cartoni, Vocas and Kinotehnik. By working closely with its customers, and by listening to and understanding their needs, Manios Digital & Film has become a trusted partner to film and video professionals worldwide.
Manios Digital & Film 10663 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601; 818.760.8290.
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After hearing his name announced as the recipient of the 2016 Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Mulit-Camera Series, DP John Simmons, ASC, felt bewildered, excited and incredibly humbled. First, he noted he could “only be greater for all the shoulders I’ve stood on” – particularly those of the producers and camera department team members on Nickelodeon’s “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn” – the show that, after two previous nominations, resulted in his first win. As he made his acceptance speech, he carefully ensured he thanked one person in particular: Carlton Moss.
“Carlton Moss was the man who opened my eyes,” said Simmons.
Growing up in 1960s Chicago, Simmons found an outlet in photography, capturing images of the challenging life on the city’s streets. The strength of his photography and the street life it captured resulted in providing Simmons a scholarship to Nashville’s Fisk University. It was here that Simmons met writer/producer/director Moss, whose documentaries (“The Negro Soldier”, “Frederick Douglass: The House on Cedar Hill”) focused on the African-American experience. While passing through Nashville, Moss viewed an exhibition that included photos shot by Simmons’ and sought young Simmons out.
“He said to me ‘My God, you are a cinematographer.’ He was the one that put a camera in my hand and got me into films,” said Simmons.
Simmons transitioned into filmmaking and was soon furthering his education at UCLA. Upon graduating, he began working as a DP on anything that would allow him to stretch his wings. In addition to commercials, he worked with many top rap artists shooting their music videos throughout the 80s and 90s. Forging a relationship with choreographer and director Debbie Allen, he began shooting live performances (he continues to collaborate with Allen to this day.). He also shot film and television, working with a series of stars including Tracy Morgan and Jenna Elfman.
He became immersed in the multi-cam world after shooting “Jonas” for Disney Channel – a series revolving around the Jonas brothers. Ironically, “Jonas” was one of the channel’s rare exceptions: it was not a multi-camera series. Pleased with Simmons’ skills as a DP, Disney Channel continued to ask him to helm their series – most of which were in their classic multi-camera format, including “Good Luck Charlie”, “Mighty Med”, and “Dog with a Blog.” While Simmons continued to take on the occasional film project, he was happy to have steady work that kept him local and able to support his family. He also enjoyed the challenge of making the multi-camera format as cinematic as possible.
The multi-camera format has four cameras shooting simultaneously. Nuanced lighting is virtually impossible for a key light must be present for each camera. Noting scenes are dialogue driven, actors are turning from left to right within the shot, and the shadow has to maintain a proper ratio on any given side. Simmons is always looking for a way to add texture to these sets so the lighting doesn’t appear flat. He’s also dealing with creating natural light sources of a perineum set. For instance; if the set is a living room, he’ll work to create a natural looking light source at windows or through practicals that stretch beyond the perineum sets’ boundaries. He’ll keep the light levels on walls down, allowing the actors to “step out of the wall.” He’ll also pay attention to spots where a room would naturally be dark, such as corners, and keeps the light flow down in these areas. This layering affect within a room is one way he’s able to build texture despite the four camera/key light set ups.
“I take lessons from paintings,” said Simmons regarding creating textures and layers in the shots. “I say (to my crew) ‘Let’s make it look like a Vermeer.’ Let’s make it as textured as possible.”
DPs working in the multi-camera universe do have moments where they can really let loose: shooting swing sets. Swing sets are those locations in a script that are temporary. In his Emmy winning episode Simmons was able to shoot an airport and a warehouse.
“We had a dark warehouse that featured shafts of light streaming through windows,” said Simmons. “Swing sets like these exercise your cinematic technology. You really get to tell the story.”
As Simmons continues to push the creative envelop in the multi-camera world, he’s excited for his upcoming collaboration with Debbie Allen, which makes its US debut at the Kennedy Center October 27th. A fusion of dance, music, art and cinema, “FREEZE FRAME…Stop the Madness” – written and directed by Allen – is an exploration of violence and race relations. He also teaches a class at his alma marta, UCLA, and continues to shoot still photography, a practice that he feels helps to sharpen his skills as a DP. And while he’s extremely proud to have received a 2016 Emmy, he holds a special fondness for the day he was invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers.
“To be received in that organization was a milestone in my career,” said Simmons.
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Crescenzo Notarile, ASC was in the middle of a busy shooting day for the hit Fox TV crime series “Gotham,” a Batman prequel featuring characters from DC Comics. The crew was in the streets of Soho in Manhattan at sunset, navigating traffic, lighting fixtures and trailers. In other words, bedlam. “I looked out of the corner of my eye, and my director was standing four feet in front of me, staring at me with a grin,” recalls Notarile. “I asked, are you okay? And he said – you did it. You just got nominated for an Emmy. What a fantastic feeling in that moment!” The Emmy nomination is for the episode “Azrael,” directed by Larysa Kondracki, which depicts Galavan (played by James Frain) coming back from the dead as a monster.
James Frain as Azrael/Theo Galavan in GOTHAM. Photo: Jeff Neumann/FOX
Creating fantastic moments for the screen is what Notarile has been doing for “Gotham” since he came on board for the show’s second season in 2015. Showrunners Heller and Danny Cannon make the most of the dark, textured, gritty locations and sets, on the sound stages of Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Notarile is quick to say that Heller and Cannon established the show’s look, but notes that “a look is constantly evolving, getting better.” “My job was to maintain a certain vision and look, established by very talented crew before me,” he says. “And for me to sprinkle my personal ingredient.”
He started by doing his homework. “First and foremost, being a photographer, composition is extremely important to me,” he says. “I hadn’t been much of a comic book reader, so I bought several volumes of comic books, especially the golden age of the Batman world.” By studying them, he was immediately struck by “the compositions, angles and perspective of each frame of the comics.” “As a photographer, it enticed and thrilled me,” he says. “Everything was very strong. There are high angles looking down, and others looking up. I loved that very much and tried to bring that a little more into the show.”
Shooting an episode of “Gotham” takes nine days. “We’re out on location five to six days of that,” says Notarile. “The footprint of our show is extremely large. We’ll be going through these small one-way streets with 19 tractor-trailers full of equipment. We’re a traveling circus and because it takes so much time to get from one location to the next, the parameters of the clock are so much harder. It’s a very arduous show.” The production shoots 12 to 14 hour days, five days a week, for nine months. “It’s a tremendous testament to the crew of “Gotham” to sustain that visual interest and reach the creative bar that we do,” he says.
He credits A camera operator Gerard Sava, B camera operator Alan Pierce, focus pullers Brendan Belmonte and George Tur; gaffer Frank McCormack; key grip Luis Colon; production designer Richard Berg as the collaborative “family” that enable this singular vision. For the Emmy-nominated episode, he gives kudos to the two showrunners, Heller and Cannon, as well as the director Kondracki. “A lot of dynamics are involved in what we do as artists,” he says. “It takes a lot of creative minds around you to executive a vision.”
Notarile came up the ranks through the camera department, which gives him a special appreciation for the crew. It’s also the reason he’s proud that the episodes’ many fantastical creations aren’t always visual effects. “We have a lot of old school filmmakers on the show, and we try to do as much as we can on camera,” he says. Still, skillful VFX are used (from CoSA). Although much of the show is shot on location, the VFX team carefully removes any iconic buildings in the skyline. “No one knows where Gotham is, so that’s fun and challenging,” says Notarile.
“It is always a challenge, but we do very, very little greenscreen work. We take advantage of our visual effects team, who are geniuses, and they enhance our Gotham world when we need it. But we take pride that the effects are seamless, done with integrity and woven into the storyline. It’s not indulgent, it’s a tool.”
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During production on the documentary feature “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”, director of photography Jordan Rennert considered himself a “camera ninja.” During a series of shoots that followed award-winning writer Gaiman naturally interacting with his environment, Rennert discovered unobtrusive camera angles that lent to capturing the writer’s inner thoughts and reactionary quips.
Rennert cut his teeth in reality television. With a training forged in positions including assistant editor, field production assistant and camera operator, his instinct was to push the story, or the talent, in the direction of what would result in the most dramatic angle. Working on “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”, Rennert went for a more “true to the moment” feel all the way around, from the doc’s shooting style – using only natural light found in the shooting locations to color balancing and post work.
“I learned to stop my impulses, to (allow the story to unfold) as it was happening,” said Rennert. “I went with a more verite feel on the tour.”
Rennert’s been a fan of graphic novels, comic books, anime and avant garde films for as far back as he can remember. Along with childhood best friend Patrick Meaney, he’d began following Gaiman’s work in elementary school. Comic book fans may know Gaiman as the author of “The Sandman” series. He’s also written a number of short fiction stories, novels and books converted into screenplays, such as “Coraline.” He’s received numerous awards for his work, including the Hugo, Nebular, British National Book Award, Newbery medal and Carnegie medal.
Never losing their interest in comics, art films and creative culture, Rennert and Meaney established their own production company, Respect Films, in 2008, in order to both emulate the style of their idols and highlight the journey of creative forces they admired. They began by shooting music videos and commercials, ultimately expanding into documentary filmmaking. Upon completing their feature length doc “Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods” featuring comic writer Grant Morrison, they felt they had enough experience to approach Gaiman.
“We showed Neil the Grant movie, but he was so busy. He went away to write for a while (after we spoke with him),” said Rennert. “We started filming in 2011 as he still considered if the project would happen.”
Nearly two years went by when they learned they would be invited to shoot his final book signing tour, resulting in “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously” being shot in two stages. The first stage involved conducting interviews with individuals either close to or influenced by Gaiman. The second phase was built around his 25 stop world book signing tour. As Rennert observed the interactions he had at each stop, specifically his home town, he began noticing the subtle changes and affects the journey had on Gaiman. This observation altered his approach to the documentary’s ultimate structure.
“I had done (a few) documentaries that were largely interview-based, and initially thought that’s what Neil’s story needed,” said Rennert. “As I saw him interacting with the reality around him, I saw there was a new way to structure the film, by using less interviews and editing with more of the footage of him out and about. It was much more interesting to watch his journey.”
The experience of shooting “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously” also helped develop Rennert’s sensitivity to his subject matter. The book tour found the writer regularly speaking before 1,000 – 2,000 people. Experiencing such pain after a typical signing, Gaiman would require a bucket of ice to rest his hand in. After the sixtieth stop, Rennert noticed the physical toll the tour was taking on Gaiman.
“As the tour was winding down, Neil was very tired and sick. I had to be sensitive to this human being who was getting worn down.”
“Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously” premiered on Vimeo and was selected to be the featured video on its site. For those attending Comic Con International 2016 in San Diego, Rennert and Meaney will be participating in a panel entitled Neil Gaiman in Film: Dream Dangerously, The Price, Temple of Art. The panel will take place Saturday, July 23rd, at 8:00pm in room 29AB, and will feature select clips from the film.
Since completing the doc, Rennert and Meaney completed principle photography on their first narrative film, “Trip House,” which was designed and shot in the creative, cult “art house” style that influences them.
“Lynch films, anime, all the things we find cool we put into our own work,” said Rennert.
To watch “Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously”, please visit: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/neilgaiman
Posted in: CinematographyNewsNewsletterWhat's Your Story
The worlds of orc and human clash in Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, the Legendary/Universal film based on Blizzard’s wildly popular MMORPG video game.
When it comes to orcs versus humans, it’s safe to say intense action ensues. But just how did Jones and his collaborators craft a race of orcs – taller and more muscle-bound than humans – and feature them not just in ferocious mega-battles, but also reveal their more subtle and nuanced emotional lives?
The answer lay in the use of motion capture and virtual production tech, supplied by performance capture leader Animatrik.
Animatrik’s camera tracking, motion capture suit and simulcam technology enabled complicated and realistic on-set performances from the orc performers. This data in turn aided visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer and VFX studio ILM to easily transfer those performances into the digital realm, creating the photoreal orc ‘digi-likenesses’ witnessed in the final film.
“Warcraft was the largest virtual production Animatrik has ever been involved with,” says president and CTO Brett Ineson. ”The production had eight different stages over five months of shooting. Some were 300 feet in length, and there were even outdoor stages where the team had to film in the rain!”
Compositing orcs in real-time
Animatrik delivered several motion capture services throughout production; ‘the full monty’, as Ineson describes it. “We supplied tracking cameras, tracking weapons and props, all integrated with live action sets and live action actors, and then integrated those CG sets and actors together,” he explains.
“The idea was that as we were filming you could see everything happening through the eyepiece of the movie camera – all the backgrounds, orcs and creatures composited in real-time with our tracking tech.”
Animatrik deployed two kinds of motion capture camera technologies – NaturalPoint and Vicon cameras and a SolidTrack system.
The first tech setup was coined ‘outside in’, and relied on capturing the motion of performers in motion capture suits along with the main film camera. This provided a real-time simulcam composite of the characters and their backgrounds.
When there was no motion capture camera equipment on set, or the actors walked inside sets or areas where the cameras could not see them anymore, Animatrik used an ‘inside out’ approach.
“We’d mount a small vision survey camera to the movie camera,” explains Ineson. “This camera would integrate with a system called SolidTrack, which would lock onto every pixel it sees and calculate its 3D position to the world around it. We could then work out the offset between that camera and the movie camera for the simulcam view.
“Having that simulcam view was so valuable for everyone on set,” adds Ineson. “It really helped with things like framing, since the orcs, for example, might be up to 12 feet tall. Knowing that on set meant the camera operator could re-position for the best angle.
“Simply put, the production was able to shoot Warcraft as if it were a normal movie . This drastically reduced the changes necessary on the back end.”
The great outdoors
Animatrik’s motion capture tech helped solve another challenging aspect of Warcraft‘s outdoor shoots.
Motion capture outdoors has traditionally been much trickier than a controlled stage environment, but Animatrik was able to use past experience to overcome the challenge. The team used active marker suits fitted with LED lights developed with Standard Deviation to achieve highly accurate motion capture.
“Because of the outdoor sets, light pollution and rain, we needed to create LED suits for the actors to wear because we knew we would have trouble bouncing light from the camera to do a traditional motion capture,” says Ineson. “The LEDs are synchronised to pulse in time with the motion capture camera and therefore not impact on the main photography.
“This allowed for much more precise outdoor performance capture, and a more realistic performance from the actors themselves, who could more realistically place themselves into the scene.”
The subtlety of facial performance
Animatrik’s work was not done yet – the company also played a big part in the orc’s facial capture solution.
In order to capture the orc’s emotive performances, the on-set actors wore a helmet camera system developed by Technoprops, consisting of a pair of stereo cameras that delivered two streams of video. These cameras caught every nuance and subtle shade of emotion that passed across the actors’ faces as they performed.
“Animatrik’s role in the facial animation was in the post process tracking of the data that came off those cameras,” explains Ineson. “The stereo cameras meant we could track the data in 3D as opposed to 2D. We would track the facial marker set into 3D and then deliver that data over to the VFX vendor, in this case ILM who then worked with it in their their proprietary facial animation solver.”
Seeing the results of Animatrik’s motion capture work still causes Ineson to marvel, especially considering the scale of the shoot.
“It was just so complicated,” he says. “It’s one thing to capture performances but when you have nine orcs fighting nine humans with moving cameras and all that action happening, the fact that the cameraman could see this all in his camera in real-time, it was so great.
“It’s also fantastic to see just how much of the actors’ likenesses and performances are retained in the orcs. You can see the personality shine through each of these digi-likenesses.”
Not only was Warcraft an evolution of Animatrik’s craft, but it also helped the team make a major leap in the services the company now offers.
“There was a lot of R&D involved in Warcraft, and a lot of things that had to be custom build in order to make the movie possible,” says Ineson. “Our services have really benefited and we now have even more experience of capturing in some really challenging environments.
“We truly feel like we’re ready to take on any challenge.”
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Virtual reality, or VR as it’s more commonly known, has been around for years. It made its way into the social consciousness in the 80s but couldn’t maintain a stronghold primarily because the technology couldn’t produce visuals that excited the audience. With the advent of improved computer graphics, camera and display technology that has quickly evolved over the last thirty years, VR has made a comeback, and companies such as Filmatics are developing smart stories that fully utilize the story to the viewer’s delight.
I recently visited the Filmatics office to watch “Eye for an Eye: A Séance in Virtual Reality.” Aided by writer/director Elia Petridis, I was outfitted with the necessary VR gear: headset/headphones. Assuring I was comfortable and had a clear focus on the opening slate, Petridis then sent me on a twelve minute journey. Joining a group of four teens, I found myself outside a modest California home on a beautiful sunny day. The group had gathered at this location, searching for their missing friend Calvin whose last known location was the home of creepy psychic medium Henrietta Sparks. As the kids bickered about the validity of Spark’s power to conjure the spirit of an eyeless ghost named Marcus, I watched people walking down the street. I’d frequently turn to the group and catch each member gazing at me as we waited for the door to answer.
To avoid spoiling the experience, I won’t share the details of the séance. However, I will state that Petridis and his team created a narrative VR horror story that not only allows the viewer to engage in the environment, it provides visual and audio cues that pull the viewer back into the action, including candle smoke and rattling glass. After I removed my VR gear, Petridis and I spent a bit of time speaking about his work.
MG: I wanted to ask you about your progression as an artist. You had done some film work, but not extensively, so it seemed like a quick transition to go from features to a new format. What was the inspiration for you?
EP: Well, I was put in the room with Wevr (a company that provides a platform for VR creatives to showcase their work), and they gave me a few technical initiatives, and they said we would like to try something that does the following, can you pitch for us. I (spent) ten days and I came back and pitched. They liked it and got on board, and then we went and shot it. Film not in speaking creatively, but like, technically, people know what to expect, and that is what makes the content and the quality so good. People know how they are going to color it, how are they going to do it. But there were so many questions we didn’t have answers to when we shot this that it was kind of thrilling, you know what I mean? That kind of thrill just happens once in a blue moon. It could have all ended up garbage. It could have not worked. That leap of faith was exciting.
MG: It’s hard to know how people will react when they are in an environment. I think you did a great job developing something for a viewer that constantly pulls them back: there is a spot for you at the table, the actors look at you, they interact with you. Was that a purposeful decision when you were creating the story line?
EP: I think the term inclusion came out of Wevr (in their original request), although they didn’t quite know how it would work. We basically had the actors address the camera and break the fourth wall. But more so than that, it all goes back to the writing. I’ve seen pieces where the writing isn’t that good but there is inclusion, but then you are out of it anyways. I wanted to make a piece where it was the story that was first and the art took a back seat, just like in film. What really makes or breaks you is whether you have fallen in the film or not. I just showed the film to high school aged kids and they talk back…
MG: They talk back to the characters?
EP: Yes, they talk back and they retort. That is a success to me. I had one kid take the googles off; he was all of 20 years old. And he said, ‘Finally, a story!’ and he was so happy. That means a lot to us. VR is huge. We are trying to find a little corner where we can deliver catharsis and escapism.
MG: What are you looking for, in regards to storytelling and using this medium? I ask that because the medium does allow people to interact. That is the beauty of this, a person has their own mentality, and they are going to react their own way. What are you looking for story wise to integrate a lot of different people into the story telling experience?
EP: I think this notion of ‘What did I miss?’ is important. That motivates repeat viewing. What I have found, in doing this, something that I am really proud of personally as a growing artists, is that there is the fine line between the artistic blockbuster, something that requires active viewing like ‘Memento’, and a film school project, where you are just lost and it is not intentional. They put the camera in the right place, and it should be working but I’m a bit confused. It is not intentional confusion. But there is such a thing as intentional confusion. You are lost for exactly the amount of moments I want you to be lost, then I will answer your question. You should have this way of telling story, should people miss a line, it’s OK, because they will get the answer or get reoriented with another line. Anything that they miss along the way will simply serve to motivate repeat viewings. Great.
MG: Music and punctuating lines also seems to play a role in directing attention.
EP: Positional audio is a big deal. Even if you turn I am still talking to you here, you can multi task.
MG: Are you writing solo? Or are you also gathering content from other people?
EP: I take pitches. Devin (Embil, Digital Manager at Filmatics) writes, he pitches me stuff all the time. We just hosted something called VR Salon and that group wants to do a WGA thing for screenwriters for VR. And every now and then writers will come to me and ask how do you write VR, and I will show them pages of the script.
MG: How do you write for VR? Is there something special you did when writing the script for “Eye for an Eye?”
EP: We color coded the screenplay per quadrant. As you read it, you could experience it before shooting it. It helps in blocking the actors after the fact. We’d go back to the screenplay and see that this line is red and this is quadrant three, this line is yellow so it must be behind you. Then you get to move it around: I want the ghost to enter in quadrant two, quadrant four, quadrant six above you, and you write it and then you just go shoot the script like you would anyway.
MG: I wanted to ask you also how you look for your crew.
EP: I was on a panel with a young man who runs a VR company that came from cinematography. He would be really great, because he knows the technical limitations and how to solve them, how to push them. To this day there are no such things as VR DPs. Not yet, not till they figure out how to solve the light continuity issue. But that is something we actively want to solve. We are going to do a piece that is all slow motion VR to figure that out.
MG: I’m not familiar with the light issue.
EP: Light does not have a horizontal thread of continuity. It’s got depth to it. It’s not just about a cup being on a cup in the same place every time. Light seems to fall everywhere …if there is a stich here, and my hand is here, and I’ll light it in this quadrant a specific way. If I take the cup, move it to a different quadrant then put it back lighting has be assigned certain ways in each quadrant to keep continuity. And you can’t write (each quadrant) one at a time. You have to do this action in both quadrants, light it differently and that might cause a big mess for you. So we are still figuring that out.
MG: How did you work out the light in “Eye for an Eye”, is that all natural lighting coming in?
EP: There are a few hidden lights here and there, but mostly it is natural light.
MG: And the practical that is hanging over the table…
EP: Correct, and the candles. At the end, we did a little bit of coloring; it gets red, right before Marcus enters. There is a pulse there. Then it all goes back to normal for a feeling like “Is it over, was I seeing things?’ We would do those things a little more extremely next time.
MG: And you created “Eye for an Eye” to have a continued story line.
EP: Yeah, that’s the thing, at Filmatics we are really interested in transmedia, so there is a companion short to this, which is how Marcus and Henrietta met. The (film and companion piece) are singular entities of course, you don’t need one to know the other.
MG: Is the companion piece also VR?
EP: No. It’s a different piece of media. Things like social media, comic books, we use all these things to tell the story in a way that they don’t depend on one another. You can just access them and have a suspension of belief with a whole new set of tools.
Posted in: NewsletterWhat's Your Story
Woody Woodhall, CAS is President of Allied Post Audio in Santa Monica, CA and is an award winning supervising sound editor, sound designer and rerecording mixer. He has sound supervised and mixed feature films, documentaries and for television he’s VO recorded, sound edited and mixed hundreds of episodes of programming for MTV, Comedy Central, Food Network, Nat Geo, History, USA Network and VH-1 to name a few.
Current television mixing includes 11 seasons of the series “Mystery Diners” on Food Network, 2 seasons of “Museum Men” for History Channel as well as the first season of the series “A Wicked Offer” for the CW. Woody is author of the college textbook, Audio Production and Post Production, used at universities across the US. Woody also heads the Los Angeles Post Production Group (LAPPG) where he shares his filmmaking expertise alongside other working professionals on a monthly basis for the LA post production community. His latest venture is L.A. Post Fest, a worldwide editing competition – L.A. Post Fest – Create Your Story in Post.
Now, he shares his expertise on sound editing – how he got into the biz, tips for beginners, L.A. Post Fest, & more.
ProductionHUB: What inspired you to become a sound editor?
Woody Woodhall: Sound has always been a big part of my life. I was a composition major at University of Miami and fell in with the theatre and film crowd. Eventually, I changed my major to Cinema, which was a double major in filmmaking and theatre.
As a musician I was always looking at new ways to record, and I went from the early four track reel to reels to eventually learning digital audio as it grew as a technology. I mixed bands in clubs that my bands had played in, and when an opportunity came to mix professionally it was doing live TV newscasts. Not producing hit records as I had dreamed, but it was hands-on learning of sound for picture, and my audio career grew from there.
I mixed the news for a few years and then mixed live to satellite, or live-to-tape shows for Game Show Network, Travel Channel and others. The responsibilities of mixing large stage shows is quite a bit different than mixing post audio. When the opportunity came to make the switch, I embraced it and never looked back.
PH: What is involved in audio post-production?
Woody Woodhall: Audio post is an overall term for many distinct audio disciplines. It involves the recording, editing and mixing of sound for picture. There are, for instance – dialog editors and mixers, sound effects editors and mixers, sound designers, Foley artists, editors and mixers, dialog replacement recordists and editors, music editors and mixers, and there are rerecording mixers. These tasks can be handled by the many or the few. It depends on the specifics required for the soundtrack and the depth of the budget.
Audio post is both extremely creative and technical. It is often misunderstood as solely a technical process. This attitude negates the experience and expertise of sound editors, sound designers and mixers. When I’m approached about working on a film and the discussions are about “saving the location audio”, “removing hums or noise”, or other technical flaws, I know that there will be little or no time (or money) left for creative storytelling with the sound. Rather, the experience becomes about “saving” the audio.
We are experts at minimizing sound distortions and anomalies of course. But we’re also film artists, who’ve done many movies and TV shows, and can offer ways to enhance the pacing, the story, and the overall “feel” for projects with sound. We are craftsmen and craftswomen, who are highly technically experienced, but we are also creatives who use sound to tell stories.
PH: How/why do you think it’s important to tell a story through sound?
Woody Woodhall: Unless its a silent film, you will, by the very nature of film, be using sound in the storytelling. Of course, silent film is not silent either, it always had some sort of musical score, creating pacing, creating emotion and creating moments for the enjoyment of the picture.
Imagine a horror film or a sci-fi film without the audio. The spookiness and the other worldliness do not only come from the images. Its the synergy, or the marrying of the sounds with the images, that creates the visceral response in an audience.
PH: How is sound editing / mixing different for fim vs TV? Is there a difference?
In terms of craft, the processes are very similar. You will always need a clean dialog track, sound design elements, and a good musical score. The biggest difference is time and money. Feature films might come clean with only a dialog track, it is in the audio post process, where collaboration on the ultimate soundtrack happens.
In TV, because of the nature of its creation, sound and music elements are pre-built into the edit. In TV, a lot of shows come with music tracks, sound effects and narration, already cut in. This process allows for many hands to be a part of the edit and approval. Network execs want to hear the music and the sound effects (depending on the type of show of course) so they can make notes to the production company to finalize the edit. In this case, the work is more about getting the dialog tracks and the chosen effects and music to sound the very best that they can.
A typical turnaround on an episode of a series for TV is about 3 or 4 days for a half hour show. A feature length film can get 8 to 10 weeks or more.
PH: Do you have any go-to software? What is it and why do you use it?
Woody Woodhall: My main program is Avid’s Pro Tools. Its the industry standard here in LA for TV and film. There are many great plugins available for it. Everyone has different tastes and needs for those. My personal go-tos are iZotope RX and Ozone and the McDSP software. For reverbs, I absolutely love Altiverb and I like Revibe for some things too. I use a lot of the Waves plugs for various things and their surround bundle for downmixing is good. I like Paul Neyrinck’s stuff too. It’s really about what tool best fits the needs of the particular audio I am working with at any given moment.
PH: What are some common mistakes that NEW sound editors make?
Woody Woodhall: Probably the number one mistake is not thoroughly checking their work. After doing repetitive things, it can be easy to just trust that it’s all OK, from past experience. But everything always needs to checked and QC’d before delivery. There can be a pop or click induced from a layback, there can be a typo in a track name, there can be an issue with a burned disk, its all about checking and rechecking.
As the boss, you never want to be in a position to have to redo work because of something that could have easily been nipped in the bud. Worst case is a pile of tapes coming back from a network because of a weird anomaly that could have been caught before delivery. (Yes, tapes are still in use…) No one asks who made the mistake. And it doesn’t matter who did it. At the end of the day, it’s my problem, and I’m responsible for making it right. An assistant may have made the error, but the fist shake is directed at me!
PH: What questions do you ask a client before getting to work on their project?
Woody Woodhall: First off – have you locked the edit? Then, in no particular order… what is the shape of the location audio, do you need ADR, noise reduction, etc.? What is the turnaround from start to delivery? Do you have an audio deliverables doc? Will you require a fully filled M&E track? What is the total run time of the program? Do you have a composer, do you have cues written yet? What is the final delivery – 5.1, 7.1, 2.1 or all of the above? And always – what is your budget for audio post?
All of those answers will guide the next steps in the process. Particularly the cost. If they have a 110 minute feature that needs extensive Foley and ADR, lots of fancy dialog repair and a budget of 500 hundred dollars, I need to know that going in. So I can help them find the right person for the job. It won’t be me!
PH: From the standpoint of a sound designer, what makes a particular rerecording mixer good to work with?
Woody Woodhall: Nowadays it’s not typically broken up like that. These job titles are very fluid and overlap. Many sound designers and supervising sound editors are also rerecording mixers. These tasks get broken into different jobs depending on the work required, the time allotted and the budget. But you always want to work with people whose past work you admire.
PH: What does it take to be able to be a re-recording mixer and sound editor?
Woody Woodhall: It is a multifaceted job, so it requires a number of skills. You must know and understand how sound works, how to manipulate sound using the tools at your disposal. You must know how to read a spec sheet and understand the technical requirements of a delivery, from peak amplitudes and averages to LKFS meters, as well as how to properly route and split the audio into its discrete elements for delivery.
You must know and love movies and understand the role that audio has to play in telling stories. You must always stay ahead of the technological curve and see what’s new, what’s being updated and what new workflows are being created. Watch classic films, watch new films, see them in theaters, see them on TV, see them on computers and (gasp) on phones, and understand how each playback medium affects the audio.
The hardest thing, a thing that can’t be taught, is to be able to work well with others. Film is a collaborative medium. You can offer ideas and insights but at the end of the day the final choices do not come from you. You must be able to check your ego at the door and fulfill the director’s vision of the audio. Even when they are “wrong”! You must be patient and have a serious attention for detail.
PH: Do these two clash?
Woody Woodhall: Audio post is an all encompassing occupation. You should know how to cut dialog tracks and use room tone. You must know how to record ADR, cut it to sync and mix it to match the location tracks. You must know sound design and understand how to manipulate sound libraries for what you need or record what you don’t have. You should be able to record, cut and mix Foley to match the quality of the rest of the scene.
To work your way up and learn all of these skills, you learn to appreciate all of the craft and artistry involved. I don’t think I’ve ever seen teams of audio pros working together that have clashed. That doesn’t mean that there are not disagreements about things of course. But, they are all working towards the same goal, and always have something to learn from one another, be it technique or just having a good attitude.
PH: Can you describe the phases of mixing and editing?
Woody Woodhall: It all starts with the sound editing. Typically, it’ll start with an AAF or an OMF of the audio from the edit session timeline, accompanied by the movie file for the project. The dialog edit is a huge part of the initial process. From there we can determine what, if any ADR (dialog replacement) is required as well as what hard sound effects need to be created to fulfill the storytelling. We’ll spot through the entire movie, end to end and discuss what the director “hears”.
Once we get a handle on that, we design the sound according to the demands of the program and the director or producer. For instance, we might add backgrounds, hard effects like door slams, design elements like drone sounds, or create sounds like a particular beeping assigned to a specific device.
The music usually filters in at this stage and we start adding the various cues and playing them back in sequence with all of the other sound elements. From there, the director might work with the composer to alter or enhance the music cues. Or work with the sound team to remove or embellish some of the sounds.
Once we have the main sound elements in place – dialog, music and effects, we start the process of mixing the elements into an amazing sounding track. We will also be sure to build the edit and the mix so that we can create whatever splits are required for audio delivery. Typical audio delivery is a full mix of the program that is then broken into separate dialog, music and effects mixes.
PH: What are some reasons to become a sound editor or mixer?
Woody Woodhall: Love of sound and movies. Don’t do it for the glory or for the money!
PH: What is the hardest thing about mixing and editing?
Woody Woodhall: Nothing hard about it! Or all of it is hard. Take your pick, both are true.
PH: What advice can you give to those who are aspiring to do what you do?
Woody Woodhall: Learn about audio. Buy a recorder and a microphone. Learn digital audio but don’t get stuck in it. Sometimes we can get caught up in operating systems, drivers, software updates and the like, and learning or using audio takes a back seat to that. Learn audio the old school way. Recorders, mics and mixers typically don’t crash!
Watch and learn the tools and techniques of location audio. Watch movies and TV for their audio. Listen to movies in theatres and determine how it was mixed, choices that mimic the action onscreen or go against it? What are the dynamics – loud to soft or all loud? How did that work to tell the story?
Learn to listen to the world around you. I have an article on ProVideo Coalition on just that.
I might also suggest my textbook, “Audio Production and Postproduction.” It is sort of an audio 101 book, in fact it’s used in universities across the USA for just that purpose. It’s also available on online. If you don’t really know anything about audio for film, it might be a good place to start. It has an excellent glossary as well.
PH: How did LAAPG get started?
Woody Woodhall: Los Angeles Post Production Group – is a networking and learning community for those who are interested in post production. We are in our eighth year and continue to grow. We are dedicated to sharing techniques, workflows, new technologies and networking for the post community. We meet monthly and with our other program called LAPPG Presents:, we do additional networking nights through the year. We’ve produced over 100 events at this point and feel like we are only just getting started!
We’ve had members who’ve been with us from the very first meeting and new members join every day. It’s a great group of people who have all come to know one another and be resources together. We try to offer interesting presentations every month from top manufacturers like Blackmagic Design and Adobe, to real world users who talk about the particular work flows, challenges and knowledge gained from their own projects. We recently did a night with the Director and Producer of a feature called “Dinner With the Alchemist” that used extensive green screen to create turn of the century New Orleans. It was a fascinating night, peeking behind the curtain and seeing what he was able to do with a little money and a lot of creativity.
You don’t need to live in LA to gain many of the benefits of membership. It’s free and we offer discounts and lots of information on post. We also have a very handy jobs board, that is powered by ProductionHUB! It is a well worn page indeed.
As for the origins of the group – as owner of Allied Post Audio – I found myself talking about many of the same concepts over and over again with clients. Then I started doing audio post seminars for Filmmakers Alliance, the Producers Guild of America and other groups, speaking on audio. Then Wendy, my wife and partner, and I, decided that perhaps doing a regular meeting group might be a good idea. We started the meetings at our audio post facility in Santa Monica, and quickly outgrew that space, and the LAPPG just keeps on growing.
PH: What is the primary goal of LAAPG?
Woody Woodhall: In post, we are often working is very small teams and in rooms with closed doors. LAPPG brings us together as a community, and we can network and share ideas, techniques and workflows. I have lots of great friends from the group who I never would have met in other situations. We also allow companies to introduce us to their latest technologies and gain access to their exact customers, and get feedback on a personal/user level. Our members are from across the spectrum; from students and people just learning, to multiple Emmy and Oscar winners. Our more esteemed members have the same motivation as those new to post – to learn and to network. Technology in post is a moving target.
PH: Why did you decide to launch L.A. Post Fest?
Woody Woodhall: L.A. Post Fest is an offshoot of LAPPG. The Fest’s motto is – create your story in post. As a working post professional, I know first hand how different choices in post alter the final project. We found that there is a worldwide hunger for quality material to edit. We decided we’d shoot a short and offer the elements to editors to make their own version. Then we’d chose five versions and master them back to the original 4K footage and mix them in surround and show them in a theatre!
Although we just launched it, it has had a worldwide response. We’ve had entries from all across America and Europe, but also from Australia, the Middle East and South America. We closed the contest portion for our first year’s competition in February. We recently completed the judging and have chosen the five winning films. The other component is the festival event itself. We are having that in Santa Monica, CA on May 14th, at the American Cinemateque’s, AERO Theatre, where we’ll show the final mastered films and award the prizes.
Long term, we plan on growing the festival. We’ve already created a series of tutorials with our amazing judging panel, which can be found on the website. Ultimately, we’d like to make the website a post production portal, that celebrates the art and craft of post production.
Keep an eye on the website for our editing contest for year 2, which we will be launching this summer. Also, come and celebrate post at our event in May! Tickets will be available through the website as well.
PH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Woody Woodhall: I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of very talented filmmakers. Some extremely experienced, some first time directors, but every collaboration was about learning how to tell their particular story in sound. Sometimes we got right to the heart of it immediately and proceeded forward, sometimes it took a lot of experimentation and trial and error to get a scene to play.
These film artists are some of the smartest and most creative people that I know. Every project is a new experience with a unique set of challenges and the collaborations with these filmmakers has given me new insights into filmmaking and telling stories. I’ve been involved with lots of great projects and I get a chance to learn something new every time. It’s an incredibly rewarding career.
Posted in: NewsNewsletterSoundWhat's Your Story
As a boy, Alex Soto dreamed he would one day be a comic book artist. He immersed himself in the Marvel universe, studying the pages and admiring the artistry behind each adventure. Today, Soto is living his boyhood dream and then some. He is the supervising director of Marvel’s longest running animated series to date: “Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man” which currently airs on Disney XD.
Soto’s career began after he graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA with a BFA. He was hired as a story board artist on Sony/Columbia Tri-Star’s animated series “Men In Black.” He continued on the path of a story board artist with series including “Starship Troopers” and “Max Steel” until he joined Warner Bros Animation to direct four seasons of “Teen Titans.” This led to his work as supervision producer on Cartoon Network’s “Ben 10” and his first Daytime Emmy nomination. Soto never lost sight of his animating skills, and in 2010 he joined the team behind “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” as a story board artist. Before becoming a supervising director at Film Roman on a variety of projects, he began as a story board artist on “Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man”.
“I’ve always had such a passion for Marvel,” said Soto. “So now, to transition into a (supervising director) position is so exciting, I get to work with such talented teams to bring this world to life.”
Soto was excited to tackle fan favorite Spider-Man, having been a fan himself for years. Recognizing storylines were always key to the Marvel property, the writers behind the series work tirelessly to meld the series storyline with what has come in the books before, while still maintaining a unique experience for viewers. The artists springboard off the writers’ work, imprinting important visual cues that will pay off for longtime fans of the story (without detracting from the experience of new viewers.)
“The imprint is in the past, so we are both creating and also mimicking,” said Soto. “The flair is found in the art direction and the set.”
As supervising director, Soto’s story boarding experience has given him great insight when it comes to building the creative team behind the show. He bolsters each division using many individuals he’s known for years including color stylist, story boarders, and post artists. He’s partial to comic book artists, noting they make the best transition to animation due to their versatility. For example, a comic book artist is as well versed at creating a building as a person, a cityscape as an automobile. These artists have the unique ability of telling a complex story and guiding a viewer through action contained within very limited frames.
While more senior positions are filled with talent he’s known for many years, Soto does like to find emerging artists that can start their budding careers (and in some cases move up the ladder when vacancies arise.) He’ll go to animation festivals, art shows and major events such as Comic Con where he can review portfolios.
“It is a small industry. You develop a network and watch for those individuals who rise up,” said Soto. “Meeting with young fresh talent; that is how it starts.”
Although Soto and his team are working with a highly recognized property, there are many opportunities for creativity. This comes primarily in the palette of the series, specifically in the background and layout. There are many opportunities that arise with time of day and year to incorporate a vivid array of primary colors and washes for the sky and environment, as well as physical locations the characters may find themselves in.
“Sets, colors, day or evening sky, in that sense we treat the animation just like a live action set,” said Soto. “The environment sets the color.
Soto and his team also work with infusing a palette that represents key characters into each frame. For example, if a villain is dressed in a green outfit, shades of green will be worked in throughout the background, providing a sense of tension.
One of the aspects of tackling the supervising director position that has given Soto such a tremendous thrill is the direct relationship he has with the show’s producers. He was particularly excited to meet Joe Quesada, writer-artist and chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment who was involved during the launch of the series. Soto also had the opportunity to work with Executive Producers Alan Fine who’s been president of Marvel Worldwide since 2009 and Dan Buckley who serves as the president of Publishing, TV and Brand Management for Marvel Entertainment. As supervising director on “Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man Vs. The Sinister 6”, Soto has worked closely with executive producer Jeph Loeb. An Emmy-nominated and Eisner Award-winning writer and producer, Loeb is Marvel’s Head of Television and has been the EP on not only Marvel properties but also “Smallville,” “Lost” and “Heroes.”
“I’ve had many humbling moments,” said Soto. “It’s been a real honor to speak with these great talents and be part of this universe.”
Every day Soto comes in to do a job he not just loves but feels honored to do. During his free time, however, he still has energy to work on creative projects and endeavors.
“I have a fine arts degree and the passion is still there,” said Soto. “I am constantly creating my own things.”
Posted in: NewsNewsletterWhat's Your Story
Nathan Bayless – animator and colorist on Tower, a feature length documentary recounting the events surrounding the 1966 University of Texas tower shooting – took home three SXSW 2016 Film Awards for his work on the film. Tower won Best Documentary, the Louis Black Lone Star Award, and Audience Award, which was recognized for its compelling feature of combining animation and archival footage.
Bayless was hired by Minnow Mountain, an Austin-based animation and video production studio, to captivate the audience by adding rotoscoping techniques to heighten the feel of the film. Tower’s focus is on the victims and people who became heroes on that fateful day as told through survivor interviews and dramatic reenactments. The rotoscope animation helped bring it all together in a unique way.
Nathan Bayless (self portrait using the style of animation he used for “Tower”)
“I jumped at the chance to work on this film because I love doing hand-drawn animation and found the story to be a really interesting take on a historically significant event,” said Bayless. “Most of my work on the film was as a colorist, which meant I was responsible for character coloration, such as fills, details, shading, highlights, etc.”
The decision to use rotoscope animation on Tower was both stylistic and practical. It created a slightly otherworldly feel that was meant to drive home the fact that the scenes represent the subjective recollections of the survivors interviewed throughout the film, and often times traditional live action reenactments can come off as hokey. It also was cost effective since many of the locations of the story either don’t exist anymore or would be too expensive to shoot practically.
Everyone working on character animation used software called TVPaint, which is designed for traditional hand drawn animation. The pipeline first handed reference footage to the line artists, who then handed their work off to the colorists, including Bayless, who would provide all color fills and details such as highlights and shading. The look of the illustration is very similar to that in A Scanner Darkly, a Richard Linklater rotoscope animated movie from 2006 that several of the Tower crew also worked on. Once the character animation was done, the footage would be handed off for final compositing with the backgrounds.
Bayless stated, “I’ve always been a big fan of the type of rotoscope animation we used to bring Tower to life, so this was a rare and exciting opportunity. It just produces such a strangely surreal feel that I found fascinating as a kid in movies like Heavy Metal and most of Ralph Bakshi’s catalog, and more recently in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.”
Tower is traveling across the nation to different film festivals and continues to be recognized for its compelling storytelling style.
View the trailer.
About Nathan Bayless
Nathan Bayless has been a film fanatic his entire life and has always had a particular affinity for animation. After graduating with a Radio/TV/Film degree from Indiana State University in 2007, he moved to Austin, Texas for the city’s independent film scene. For several years, he worked in various roles both in front of and behind the camera before teaching himself how to animate. Since then, he has mostly worked in commercials, creating visuals for both large organizations such as GE and Verizon as well as emerging and local businesses. While his work primarily features slick 3D graphics and the type of motion graphics that are popular in commercial work, he prefers hand drawn traditional animation, which led to him working on the feature film, TOWER.
Bayless is the Video Director for APPSPIRE.me, and does freelance animation and video work.
Posted in: NewsNewsletterWhat's Your Story
We’ve seen many renditions of Batman in film and TV, but none like FOX television series Gotham. Here we follow a young Bruce Wayne immediately following the murder of his parents, but long before he chooses to embrace his fateful role as hero and protector.
And yet while this young Bruce Wayne is the nucleus of the story, it’s less an origin story of Batman – more an origin of the characters that will ultimately guide his life: characters like detective Jim Gordon and the villainous Penguin.
Compared to the intense action of the big-screen Batman flicks, Gotham is much more grounded, focused on crafting a believable world rooted in emotional drama. And that’s where CoSA VFX has taken charge: although eye-popping visual effects are needed at times, the studio’s core task has been creating a truly convincing vision of Gotham City.
Sometimes that means building upon real-life shots, but other times, it’s meant generating entire CG locations. In either case, the visual effects needed to blend in perfectly with the Gotham’s gritty look. CoSA VFX certainly achieved tremendous results, earning an Emmy nomination for its work on the first season.
But despite the final quality of the output, TV deadlines can be incredibly challenging, with about 10 days typically provided to complete all of an episode’s shots, and multiple episodes requiring attention at once.
Thankfully, CoSA VFX uses ftrack to manage its VFX work, and it’s that which has allowed the team – which is split between Los Angeles and Vancouver – to stay on top of the hectic schedule while producing stunning, high-profile work.
CoSA VFX has expanded rapidly since starting out in 2009 in a Burbank, California garage, growing from just four people to a two-studio team of 100. Although the team had other noteworthy projects prior to Gotham, including Emmy-nominated contributions to Revolution in 2013 and Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Almost Human in 2014, Gotham was the first episodic TV series where it ran all of the VFX supervision, creative development, production management, and shot production.
That’s no small task: the first season of the show, which spanned 22 episodes, required more than 1,500 VFX shots from CoSA – that’s approximately 65 per episode. And season two hasn’t been any less intense, given the increased focus on developing the classic Batman villains we know and love to loathe.
Nevertheless, as executive producer Joseph Bell tells us, nailing the look of Gotham remains its primary focus.
“CoSA’s shots run the gamut from subtly ‘Gothamizing’ real-life New York City locations to creating 100% computer generated buildings and environments,” he explains. “The exterior of Arkham Asylum, for example, was filmed outside a real hospital in Staten Island, and then extensively modified by adding CG roofs, sculptures, and weathering. As the series progressed, CoSA built CG assets for more and more of the location, until we had the ability to create entirely computer generated-shots of Arkham featuring dynamic camera moves, without any practical photography.”
But there were shots that also need a little more ‘pop’, such as hallucinations featuring the character Scarecrow, as well as people floating away into the sky attached to balloons. CoSA’s challenge therefore came in balancing the need for a realistic, human world with the fantastical abilities you’d expect from the classic rogues’ gallery of villains.
“The show has a gritty, naturalistic feel that requires seamless and convincing visual effects,” says Bell. “We’ve tried to set and sustain a very high bar in terms of the quality of the imagery, sequence after sequence, week after week. If we’ve done it well, the audience won’t notice some of our best work, because it looks so real.
“One of the challenges of episodic television is that a show can have heavy VFX needs one week and very few the next – it depends on the story of each episode, which often isn’t known very far in advance,” he admits. “Rather than having a team dedicated to Gotham who have too much to do one week and too little the next, our artists are frequently assigned shots on multiple shows, or find themselves pivoting from one project to another. Almost everybody at our Los Angeles and Vancouver studios works on Gotham, but only two to three key team members work exclusively on the show.”
With such a fluid workforce applying their talents to multiple projects at any given time, a management solution like ftrack proves all the more essential.
A team player
CoSA first started using ftrack about a year ago, and now uses it with every project that comes through the studio, whether it’s TV series work, feature films, mini-series, or marketing videos. “We typically have a number of episodic TV shows in-house simultaneously, each delivering a new episode every 2-3 weeks,” says Andrew Robinson, CoSA VFX’s production manager. “That makes for a lot of deliveries throughout the course of a TV season! Each episode can have anything from a handful of shots to 250+ in the case of a VFX-heavy pilot.”
Prior to ftrack, the studio used a different shot-tracking tool, but only a few people in the studio were actually plugged into it. By shifting to ftrack for broader management capabilities, CoSA now has everyone onboard the same software, with each artist given an individual login.
“ftrack allows us to target shot-specific information to only the people who need it, and equally importantly, to avoid inundating people who don’t,” says Robinson. “Furthermore, tools developed through the ftrack API have allowed us to automate various steps in the shot tracking process. All of this means that our production team is able to really focus on providing our clients with a great experience; our tools support an efficient, precise workflow, all bubbling away in the background.”
When CoSA begins work on a new episode of Gotham, the studio starts a new project in ftrack and compiles a shot list based on what’s sent over from the show’s editorial team. Having a shared platform that all artists are connected to proves particularly crucial with two teams: supervisors will assign shots to either the Los Angeles or Vancouver studio, and then to specific artists, but tasks often span both locations.
“Our workflow on Gotham reaches across both locations: a matte painting created in Los Angeles may be composited in Vancouver, or vice versa. For this reason, ftrack gives us tons of flexibility in managing our resources day-to-day,” says Robinson.
“CoSA’s artists use ftrack as a collaboration tool, exchanging information about elements and work in progress with each other and with supervisors across both locations,” he continues. “Dailies for Gotham are held in Los Angeles, with notes entered into ftrack during the session, which providing artists in both L.A. and Vancouver with prompt feedback. We also use ftrack to drive regular client deliveries, track creative notes, log artist time against individual tasks, and supply our crew with schedule information for multiple projects.”
Custom for CoSA
With ftrack used in so many ways across so many projects, Robinson praises its sidebar function for allowing in-depth access to information without interrupting the creative process.
“It’s so easy to do a deep dive into information about a shot or asset without losing the context,” he asserts. “The sidebar function also makes note-taking in meetings a breeze. When you’re taking notes in dailies, say, you can’t stall a room full of supervisors and artists while you dig around in the database. Thankfully, ftrack’s user interface allows our production team to keep up, while making the information available to the whole team immediately.”
Also beneficial is ftrack’s easy integration with CoSA’s top tools – including MODO, NUKE, and Maya – via the customisable ftrack API. CoSA is able to have slate and scene info pulled right into the work from ftrack, saving artists crucial time on each shot. With only about 10 days allotted for their work on each episode of Gotham, those saved minutes really add up. And CoSA has done custom work to make ftrack work even harder for them, better serving their existing pipeline.
“CoSA’s pipeline team has developed a number of standalone apps that pull shot data out of ftrack, move and create folders on our servers using information from ftrack, and publish updated shot statuses, notes and version numbers to ftrack,” Robinson explains. “Two key areas in which we’ve become much more efficient thanks to these tools are ingesting footage into our CG pipeline, and packaging up deliveries based on client specifications.”
CoSA plans to do much more custom work in and around ftrack, as well. They’re working on making ftrack an integral part of their payroll system, eliminating the need for separate timecards. Artists will be able to log time on individual tasks, and compare that against how much time had been allotted as part of the bid. They also plan to implement custom dashboard and automated file sharing between the two CoSA locations.
ftrack’s custom development toolset is intended for exactly this kind of use – to allow studios to enhance the core project management capabilities to meet their specific needs, and all in as easy and accessible a way as possible. CoSA VFX has done just that.
On track with ftrack
All of this custom development work has made a tangible impact on the production of Gotham at CoSA. Turning around a constant flow of VFX shots for TV is tough work, but CoSA has not only delivered excellent results week after week with Gotham, but has also been recognized for those impressive efforts.
“An episodic TV show like Gotham is like a marathon made up of sprints,” says Bell. “Workload fluctuates constantly from one episode to the next, and the visual effects team is prepping one episode even as they’re starting work on another and finishing a third. It’s great that ftrack enables us to assign crew to Gotham – and all our shows – in a very flexible way. It’s also great for tracking the smallest details on the largest projects, which is exactly what a season of Gotham needs.
“When you’re up against hard airdates, turning around hundreds of shots with very specific creative notes each month, the quality of your studio’s production tools and production workflow becomes very apparent to clients,” Bell affirms. “Our clients don’t just come to CoSA for spectacular visuals. They return to CoSA for an organized, responsive, and reassuring customer experience.
“As such, the efficiency with which ftrack allows us to create, update, and communicate about shots is a vital cornerstone of CoSA’s ability to not just deliver on time, but to do so with intelligence, precision, and style.”
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Bill Groom has been so immersed in the seventies, you’d think his alarm clock blares Sonny & Cher’s hit “I Got You Babe” at the start of each work day. Within the last few months the production designer wrapped season one of HBO’s hit “Vinyl”- a mini-series highlighting New York City’s music business in 1973 – then continuing in the same time period with San Francisco-based “When We Rise”- a mini-series chronicling the gay rights movement. A stickler for detail, Groom would dispute my musical research, noting the song came out two years after the setting of both shows.
Groom had barely celebrated his fourth consecutive Emmy win for production design on “Boardwalk Empire” when he was approached to jump on board the production. Co-created by the minds behind “Boardwalk Empire” Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese (who worked closely with additional creator Mick Jagger on the idea), Groom accepted with enthusiasm. He’d been a college student in NYC in the early 70s and recalled the raw mixture of cultures that informed arts and society during the period. In fact, his post-college job working in the scenic department of “Saturday Night Live” placed him face to face with Jagger.
“In a sense I worked with Mick Jagger 35 years ago. He’s been in the music business a long time. When he is on set we welcome his input and listen carefully to what he has to say,” said Groom.
Mirroring his experience with “Boardwalk Empire,” Groom picked up the production design responsibilities after the pilot episode of “Vinyl” had been completed by fellow production designer Bob Shaw. Shaw established the look of Richie Finestra’s (Bobby Cannavale) home as well as the interior for his record company’s, American Century, headquarters. Working with a number of the team members he collaborated with on “Boardwalk” he’s merged meticulous research with artistic license to create many of the clubs and settings crucial to the birth of musical styles that included punk, hip-hop and disco. He’s also reconstructed many iconic landmarks that disappeared decades ago, including record stores like Sam Goody’s.
Finding authentic building facades proved easier for the “Boardwalk” team than “Vinyl.” Intact architecture of the 20s can still be found in hotels, libraries and museums, where as much of the 70s influence was removed long ago. Groom and his crew used a combination of locations that incorporated massive builds and soundstages to construct the series sets. Majority of construction material used in the period is still manufactured today. What proved a little more involved was incorporating technology. While average workers are slow to adopt new technology, Finestra’s status and income would indicate he’d have the latest, cutting edge inventions, such as the briefcase-sized cell phone seen in Finestra’s car.
“Every type of technology we live with today was invented in the 70s,” said Groom. “If there is a technology that is characteristic of the period, we can still find it. Someone still manufactures it. Somewhere in the world they still use it.”
Working on “When We Rise” reconnects Groom with team members from 2008 Best Picture Oscar nominee “Milk,” including write Dustin Lance Black and director Gus Van Sant. Groom conducted extensive research, particularly into the three individuals the series follows during their role promoting gay rights in 1972 ensuring all design decisions were historically relevant. However, as with the artistic liberties taken in recreating the rock clubs of “Vinyl,” Groom’s priority was to highlight the action of the story.
“It has to be historical and relevant, but the research can’t take over,” said Groom. “Gus is adamant about not having a palette. He likes things to be less controlled, and more character and story driven.”
Groom has enjoyed taking a new approach to minimizing the palette, and applied this sensibility to his work on “Vinyl” as well. While set dressing infuses colors of the period into each location, working with a minimal palette allows for an overlap of our contemporary sentiments with what’s reflected on screen. Interestingly, Groom also notes a strong correlation between the 70s and the 20s – the time period he was immersed in over the last five years on “Boardwalk Empire.”
“The 70s were a very messy period; it was an era of the youth movement and no rules,” said Groom. “It’s not unlike the 20s when the kids were taking over any anything goes.”
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Houses in Motion was called upon by Nick Jr. to produce a playful broadcast package that brightens its young viewers’ winter with a ‘Warm & Fuzzy’ feeling. The integrated series of promos, IDs, and bumpers features stylized versions of established characters from the network’s popular children’s programming and introduces a new crew of adorable critters. Houses brings their message to life through stop motion animation that echoes the characters’ organic, handcrafted qualities.
The Brooklyn-based design and animation creative studio helmed the production, turning around over 20 stop motion vignettes and dozens of animated graphic elements in less than five weeks. A meticulous pipeline enabled the company to take the package seamlessly from conceptual development, storyboarding, shooting stop motion animation, motion graphics, and visual effects, meeting the tight deadline and delivering a final product that engages and entertains its young audience.
“Nick Jr. came to us with a super fun concept that had a lot of moving parts and entrusted us with bringing their ideas together,” says John Earle, co-founder of Houses, and and animator, producer and director of the package. “We took the reigns of the project and jumped right in, evaluating the creative and setting up our animation, and postproduction teams – while putting in place the kind of efficient workflow and procedures that a package of this magnitude demands. Over a very short pre-production schedule, Houses came up with an approach that would allow the qualities of the 4” tall stars of the production to shine through.”
After creating the boards, Earle prepped his shooting and postproduction teams, while keeping in constant communication with Nick Jr.’s fabricator, Julia Rosner in LA. Her artists made tweaks along the way to bring everything into the scope of Houses’ production process and customized the characters and set pieces to Earle’s specs just in time for the first day of shooting.
Young viewers were already familiar with Nick Jr.’s established characters, like Dora, Blaze, and Marshall, so Houses needed to stay consistent with their personalities. However, the studio crafted personas for each member of the new menagerie of animal characters, developing unique identities and traits with nuances that played into the storyline of the vignettes. The penguin became a confident diva; the polar bear emerged as a bit of a bumbling, lovable oaf; the best buddies, fox and rabbit, are carefree and always find something to chuckle about.
Earle mapped out an aggressive shooting schedule for the 20 vignettes, as well as some additional variation. Houses in Motion’s fluid production capabilities allowed the turnkey studio to shoot four to six vignettes each day, and stay on schedule.
“The fantastic team we assembled enabled us to make this a reality,” says Earle. “Our longtime collaborator, Chris Webb was our first choice for DP. His studio is designed to accommodate a stop motion production of this scale. We know we can always rely on him to elevate a project with his technical dexterity and creative problem solving.”
Webb proposed a magnetic tie-down rig for the puppets, which worked flawlessly and saved precious time. It allowed the team to reuse the same sets without having to change out damaged surfaces after every scene – and enabled quick reconfiguration of the environment for the next set up, keeping the production running at a good pace.
“Houses views stop-motion animation more like a performance than a craft,” says Earle. “After discussing the personality and history of each character with our animators, they quickly got inside their world and were able to find the essence within these puppets.”
The team blocked out shots together referencing their shooting boards, and the action began to set its own pace. Earle and his team were able to set up a scene, frame it up, block it out, and get the go-ahead to begin shooting – in just a few minutes. Then the animators began the exacting process of bringing these characters to life, manipulating their movements, one frame at a time. During the shoot Houses in Motion’s art department was at the ready, prepping characters and set pieces. Occasionally, while dressing a new scene, they found that additional elements were needed. Earle would bang out a quick sketch, and a few moments later, they’d have it on set.
As soon as the first day of shooting wrapped, the raw frames were brought back to Houses’ studio, and the postproduction process began. Files were processed in Adobe Lightroom, allowing for initial color correction, and conforming the images into high res sequences that fed smoothly into its Adobe After Effects compositing software Houses’ compositors jumped right into rig removal and cleanup and kept pace with the shoot.
Once the cleanup was completed Houses in Motion focused on adding additional elements and animation, like falling snow, lighting effects, and snowballs for one of the characters to juggle. The visual effects were kept subtle to ensure that they wouldn’t overpower the handmade feel of the stop motion, so there was a lot of dialing back to maintain that understated look. A little twinkle emanating from the tree lights went a long way, and just a touch of falling snow was all it took to keep most of the scenes playful and alive.
While VFX and editorial on the stop motion animation continued, the team also began gearing up to work on the comprehensive graphics package. Nick Jr.’s designers provided a variety of 2D elements, which Houses’ animators brought to life. The motion design was kept gentle but lively to create a subtle playfulness tailored to Nick Jr.’s pre-school demographic. Dozens of setups were created and versioned out to deliver over 70 unique elements for the graphics package with that same feeling.
Everything came together quickly during the last few days of postproduction. Provided with scratch audio, and guided by Nick Jr.’s feedback, Houses’ team did a final round of finessing each element of the package before it was sent off for sound design and mixing.
“Working with the team at Nick Jr. on this project was truly a great experience,” says Earle. “They brought us a perfect project for our studio. It’s solid creative and a fun mix of animation techniques utilized the full scope of our talent and production capabilities. The Houses team really came together like a well-oiled machine to deliver a final product that we’re all proud of. We couldn’t have achieved this without the talent and collaborative spirit of everyone involved.”
For additional information about Houses in Motion call John Earle or Dan DeGloria at 347-384-2382, or visit the company’s website, www.housesinmotion.tv
PRODUCT: Nick Jr. Seasonal Branding Package
TITLE: ‘Nick Jr. Warm & Fuzzy’
TYPE: Broadcast Branding Package: Promos, IDs, Bumpers, Graphics Tool Kit (110 Elements)
Stop Motion + Motion Graphics Animation
CLIENT: Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. Creative Promotions Department
VP, Brand Creative – Matthew Perreault
VP, Brand Design – Jennifer Cast
Senior Editorial Director – Liza Steinberg-Demby
Art Director – Kristen Williams
Animation Director – Robert Kohr
Director of On-Air Production – Lauren Muir
Director of Digital Production – Elizabeth Galiardo
Writer/Producer – Jennifer Treuting
Senior Project Manager – Cassandra Lipin
Graphics Manager – Michelle Ragone
Unit Production Manager – Raebekah Cox
Production Coordinator – Lisa Agiewich
Digital Content Coordinator – Katie Yuen
Associate Producer – Jared Cohen
Production Assistants – Natalia Gonzalez, Alec Weaver, and Derek Hedbany
ANIMATION + PRODUCTION COMPANY: Houses in Motion /Brooklyn, NY
Director/Producer: John Earle
2D Animation & Composite: Brad Walter, Yussef Cole, John Earle
Stop Motion Animator: Pete List, Maxwell Sorensen
Storyboards: Joe Laney
Editors: John Earle, Brad Walter
Art Department Props Master: Dalane Mason
Fabricator & Paper Artist: Junko Shimitzu
Shooting Studio: Christopher Webb Films
Cinematographer: Christopher Webb
1st AD: Mark Bracamonte
Gaffer: Tim Curtin
Key Grip: Dan Torres
Specialty Rigging: Daniel Jusino
AC/DIT: Tom Cryan
Camera Dept. Intern: Conner Daniels
PUPPET + PROP FABRICATION COMPANY: Artville Studio / LA
Production Designer + Lead Fabricator: Julia Rosner
Fabrication Assistants: Svetlana Martynova, Jhoey Monster, Emily Franz, and Melissa Piekaar
DESIGNER: Courtney Hufhand /Philadelphia
EDITORS: Leslie Boone and Drew Nissen / NY
MUSIC COMPANY: Paul Buckley Music LLC / LA
Composer: Paul Buckley
AUDIO POST COMPANY: HOThead Studios / NY
Mixer: Jim Stauffer
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