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Tip #1460: A Look Inside “Tenet’s” Effects

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

In-camera effects are not the norm, but Christopher Nolan prefers them.

Where possible, director Christopher Nolan prefers in-camera effects.

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This article, written by Kevin H. Martin, first appeared in VFXVoice.com. This is a summary.

“Even after reading the script four times, I was still working out the complexities of it,” Tenet Visual Effects Supervisor Andrew Jackson admits. “Tenet was a case of just when you think you’ve gotten things clear in your mind, then you catch yourself and realize, ‘Oh no!’ And so you’ve got to think a bit harder.”

Writer/Producer/Director Christopher Nolan’s return to technothriller territory a la Inception boasts James Bond-sized full-scale set pieces while not stinting on effects magic – though with the focus primarily on in-camera work. Editor Jennifer Lame estimates only 300 VFX shots in the whole picture, while director Nolan says the level of VFX – created at DNEG, which has worked on Nolan’s films since Batman Begins in 2005 – is less than what would be found in most romantic comedies.

Visual Effects Producer Mike Chambers began working with Nolan on Inception. “He’s very tech-savvy with all aspects of production, and sees VFX as just one tool in the toolbox. He has always been happy with DNEG and likes the idea of avoiding multiple vendors unless something unusual comes up. Organizing early on for a Nolan project starts with knowing the ideal is to get as much in-camera as possible, but then to plan alternate routes that can get us to where we need if in-camera approach doesn’t get us all the way.”

“When you break down a script for a Chris Nolan movie, it’s a different process than when you work on any other film,” he continues. “There are aspects that for anybody else, the default solution today would be to go CG, but that’s not necessarily the case with Chris – almost the opposite is true, which I find refreshing and exciting and really gives me and everyone in my crew a sense of challenge. In this day and age, there is so much effects being done as VFX is the go-to mindset, I couldn’t be in a better spot with a more willing boss than Chris when it comes to practicing my craft properly, getting the time to do all these tests and get things right for the camera.”

EXTRA CREDIT

The article includes much more detail, as well as production stills and links.


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Tip #1461: Easy Sky Replacement in DaVinci Resolve

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Replacing a sky is a typical request even for smaller projects.

Image courtesy Motion Array.com

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Replacing an undercast or overexposed sky is one of those techniques that, if your client sees you doing it once, they’ll want it every time! Luckily, there are plenty of tools built-in to DaVinci Resolve that make replacing a sky a breeze.

This article first appeared in MotionArray.com. This is a summary.

First up, there are multiple ways that this can be done. A composite like this can be achieved in the Cut, Edit, Color, and Fusion pages – and each toolset offers its own strengths and weaknesses. Today, we are going to use the Color page because it’s the most straightforward way to pull out the sky and draw a garbage matte around the buildings.

Here are the steps. The article provides step-by-step instructions, along with screen shots.

  • Step 1: Prepare Your Clips
  • Step 2: Key the Sky
  • Step 3: Place the Background
  • Step 4: Refine the Key with a Power Window
  • Step 5: Match the Elements with Color Correction
  • Step 6: Track an Object for the Sky
  • Step 7: Apply the Track Data to the New Sky

Now you know how to replace a sky in DaVinci Resolve using the Color page. What makes the Color page unique is that tools can easily be used in tandem. In our exercise we keyed the sky, refined the key with a Power Window as a Garbage Matte, and tracked the Garbage Matte – all in the same node.


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Tip #1462: Create 3D Voxel Art

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Voxel art is easy to learn, simple to create and very, very deep.

Image courtesy of PremiumBeat.com

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This article, written by Charles Yeager, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is a summary.

MagicaVoxel offers a GPU-based path-tracing renderer, which allows you to quickly create some beautiful renders.

The minimalistic beauty of voxel art is more popular than ever. It’s a fun medium between 2D pixel art and more realistic 3D creations. One of the most popular voxel art applications is MagicaVoxel, which is FREE for anyone to download and use.

The highlight of this article are several video tutorials illustrating how to install and use MagicaVoxel. This free utility for Mac and Windows allows you to create these stylized images.

The article also includes:

  • How to Download and Install MagicaVoxel
  • Voxel Art is Like Building With Legos
  • Render Options
  • Export Options
  • And a wide variety of tips, techniques and overall good ideas

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Tip #1441: Creativity is Always a Leap of Faith

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

The disabled “need to be five times more qualified” just to get work.

Kaitlyn Yang, Visual Effects Supervisor and Alpha Studios Founder

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Visual effects supervisor Kaitlyn Yang was hooked on digital imaging when she was nine years old, upon discovering Photoshop and STAR WARS. She was recently interviewed by VFXVoice.com. This is a summary of her interview.

A graduate of USC Film School, Kaitlyn founded VFX postproduction company Alpha Studios when she was 25 and made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Hollywood and Entertainment, and has served on the Television Academy’s Awards Committee and as Co-Chair of the VES Los Angeles Section. An immigrant and wheelchair user, Kaitlyn overcame additional obstacles in her career and has used that experience to fuel her advocacy for diversity and inclusion, to further the representation of disabled artists in entertainment.

In her interview, she reflects on the biggest challenge she faced in the VFX industry: “being a woman.”

“Even to this day,” she writes, “when I show up to set as a VFX supervisor, the first question I’m asked is “who are you here visiting?” It’s an everyday thing that will change with time. The more women are seen and empowered in senior roles, the less these trivial questions will come up. I took a leap of faith in starting my own company, and I am committed to achieving greater equity and opportunity for everyone in VFX.”

“Early on, my mom said that because I have a visible disability, I need to be at least five times as qualified as a ‘regular’ person to be considered for a role …and going through my career, I agree with that. When I was starting out, I didn’t see people who looked like me on screen or behind the scenes. There are still negative connotations around people with disabilities or anything outside what people perceive as the norm, and that drove me to prove myself so that I would not be overlooked. I carry that drive forward to raise awareness of the untapped talent all around us and how those perspectives lend so much to storytelling and our business. Let’s all do our part to make it the norm to see diversity all the way down the end credits.”


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Tip #1443: More Free After Effects Tutorials

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

MotionArray.com has dozens of free tutorials on their site.

Screen shot from a MotionArray tutorial.

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MotionArray.com recently published more free After Effects tutorials on their website, with a special focus on text and typography.

Titles include:

  • Create 2 Dynamic Looping Backgrounds in After Effects
  • Learn 2 Popular Animations in After Effects
  • Easily Animate Individual Letters in After Effects
  • Create Your Own Kinetic Typography in After Effects
  • 2 Creative Text Reveal Animations in After Effects

And many more.

Here’s the link.


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Tip #1444: Adult Animation is in its Heyday

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

There has never been a better time to develop an animated series.

Detail from “The Boondocks,” credit: Cartoon Network

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This article first appeared in NoFilmSchool.com. This is a summary.

The animation world used to be for kids, but adult animation is having a heyday right now. Adult animation is actually one of the most successful genres of entertainment today. Shows like Rick and Morty, Big Mouth, and Clone High dominate the conversation. We have Primal, Samurai Jack, and The Boondocks all coming back.

HBO Max paid $500 million for the exclusive rights to South Park, and they haven’t stopped there. They have a revival of Clone High (picked up for two seasons), the Scooby-Doo prequel Velma, a take on Gremlins, more Harley Quinn, plus an ongoing slate of additional animated content, including an adult-focused Game of Thrones animated series.

Netflix is constantly developing new animated series, and Amazon is not far behind. Think about Bojack Horseman and Undone. According to “The Hollywood Reporter”, Netflix has invested over one billion dollars in animated programming.

Recording voice lines is easy for actors and only takes a few days. Much of the animation can be done for cheap in foreign countries. And you can write and animate year-round.

Another shift in all of this is the COVID-19 pandemic. With live-action TV and films sidelined, the animation genre was able to continue. It was easier following COVID protocols when you just are sanitizing a room and a mic. And lots of lines could be done remotely, over Zoom, with a proper mic setup.

There has never been a better time to develop an animated series.


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Tip #1420: Virtual Production Takes Big Step Forward

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Game design intersects with production using LED monitor walls.

Baby Yoda, surrounded by an LED wall, with images created with Unreal Engine. Image courtesy of Disney.

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This article, written by Trevor Hogg, first appeared in VFXVoice.com. This is a summary.

Traditionally, movies and television shows have been divided into three stages consisting of pre-production, production and post-production; however, the lines are blurring with the advancements in virtual production. A great deal of interest was generated with what Jon Favreau was able to achieve utilizing the technology to produce The Mandalorian. Interest turned into necessity when the coronavirus pandemic restricted the ability to shoot global locations. If you cannot go out into the world then the next best thing is to create a photorealistic, computer-generated environment that can be adjusted in real-time. Will virtual production be a game-changer that will have lasting impact?

Scott Schambliss, Production Designer:

“One of the best qualities of our medium is its essential plasticity. By replacing traditional bluescreen/greenscreen tech with LED display walls, a stage working environment is dramatically enhanced by its chief gifts of interactive practical lighting and directly representative motion picture backgrounds the screens display in-camera for shooting purposes. For sci-fi and fantasy projects these advances are major and practical additions.”

Scott Meadows, Digital Domain:

“We recently had a client in the middle of reshoots when COVID hit. We had several props and CG characters, and our team put together some blocking animation that we added to Unreal Engine. Within a day, we had everything we needed for the filmmakers to do whatever they wanted within the scene. For the actual shoot there were only seven people present, with the director, editor, VFX Supervisor and Animation Supervisor all calling in remotely.”

Sam Nicolson, Stargate Studios:

“Virtual production is the new Wild West of the film business where the world of game developers and film producers are merging. From photoreal avatars to flawless virtual sets and extensive Unreal worlds, the global production community has embraced the amazing potential of virtual production as a solution to many of the production challenges facing us during the current global pandemic.”

The article also interviews:

  • Adam Myhill, Unity Technologies
  • Paul Cameron, Westworld
  • Alex McDowell, Experimental Design
  • David Morin, Epic Games Los Angeles Lab
  • Christopher Nicols, Chaos Group Labs
  • Nic Hatch, Ncam
  • Ben Grossman, Magnopus
  • Rachel Rose, ILM

There are images and much longer quotes in the article.


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Tip #1421: Tips for Editing Better Trailers

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Trailers are the way we catch the attention of viewers today.

Image courtesy of Pixabay, via Pexels.com.

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This article first appeared in MotionArray.com. This is a summary.

Trailers have always been an important part of film promotion, but when the era of internet video swept in, trailers became their medium. We now live in a world where a 1- to 2-minute video is exactly what people like to consume, and because of this trailers are created for everything from films to products to events.

Here are some tips to improve your next trailer.

  • Tell A Story. Don’t give everything away, but tell a story that your viewer can get behind.
  • Set The Pace. In many scenarios, fast pacing is the way to go with a trailer. There isn’t a lot of time, but there is a lot of information to convey, so keeping things moving will help you along.
  • Choose Your Words. Use text on the screen, but choose your words wisely. Short and punchy wins.
  • Get Graphic. Graphics can help keep an edit moving and create a common visual thread throughout.
  • Music Matters. We say over and over again that music plays a key role in visuals.

The article has several demo videos and more details on each of these points.


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Tip #1422: What’s the Best Way to Show Screens?

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Screens are everywhere; we need to find ways to integrate them.

Still from R#J. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Charles Murphy.

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This article first appeared in NoFilmSchool.com. This is a summary.

Screens are the cigarettes of 2020s cinema, and we’re not going to quit anytime soon. Better figure out how to make the most of them!

As human beings, our daily reality has pretty much fully merged with our screens. Sure, it’s weird that we now have to think of creative ways to show an image of a 2D screen on a 2D screen. It’s almost more weird to purposely exclude phone screens from a story that’s set in the present day. It’s become a quintessential part of daily life. Do we go out of our way to make films without mentioning screens? Or do we find the best, most cinematic way to weave screens into our stories?

Here’s a look at five films at Sundance 2021 that took completely different approaches to screens on screen.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair moves from computer screens to Skype calls to handheld cameras, and the occasional production camera to paint a picture of a young girl (and her online friend) who is completely absorbed in one small corner of the internet.

R#J

A re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, taking place through cell phones, in a mash-up of Shakespearean dialogue with current social media communication.

Searchers

The unusual way that Pacho Velez decided to shoot Searchers was to find a way for them to look into the camera as if they were looking through their phone or computer to swipe right—or left!

All Light Everywhere

All Light Everywhere focuses on surveillance as the main device to examine human bias, so naturally, surveillance camera footage and bodycam footage play a central role on screen. “[The camera] changes the person being filmed, and it changes the person who is doing the filming, and I’ve always been interested in that process,” said director Theo Anthony.

Users

Okay, this documentary isn’t strictly a rumination on screens, but the ever-present role of technology in our lives. The camera becomes much the POV of an all-seeing, all-knowing technological God to redefine the perspective of ourselves in the digital age.

The article provides more details, extended interviews and screen shots.


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Tip #1402: Notes from “Mank’s” VFX Producer

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

An in-depth look at how effects for this black-and-white movie were created.

The “Mank” movie logo.

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Mank co-producer and VFX Producer Peter Mavromates shares his thoughts on creating the visual effects in Mank. This is a summary of the article, written by Trevor Hogg, that first appeared in VFXVoice.

Visual effects and DI are done in-house. “When we’re doing tests during pre-production,” Mavromates says, “a lot of the time they are shot in the parking lot and we bring the files right into the DI in the building.

That’s also the advantage to having in-house visual effects. I can call David upstairs where our visual effects are and say, ‘I want you to look at these three shots.’ I can give feedback to the artist right there, and maybe the artist can immediately do his note and get him to sign off.

The PIX workflow came in handy when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the production that had finished principal photography on February 22, 2020 to work remotely in mid-March. “David has never wanted to spend the time and money to travel to post-production when he’s on location,” says Mavromates. “Once the flag came down, we were up and running in three days. A lot of times David likes stuff on PIX even if we’re in the same building. We were 80% trained already. It didn’t impact our schedule. We delivered at the beginning of September.”

About half of the job for Mavromates is selecting and dividing the work among the vendors. “When I decide what stays in-house, usually it’s the smaller stuff that I can put through quickly,” he says. “When stuff gets bigger, that’s when I want a facility that has more bandwidth in terms of bodies and rendering. Over time, I have a checklist of things that these vendors have done successfully, so a lot of the choices have become easier over time. David likes to add a lot of lens flaring to his stuff, and I know that I’m going to go to Savage for that because we’ve designed lens flares over so many projects with them. In the birthday scene, there are 65 fireplaces that had flames added. That’s the kind of throughput that Ollin can handle.” The CG animals were produced by ILM, driving sequences by Territory Studio, and Artemple did everything from digital water to a close-up of a neon sign.

In total there were 753 visual effects shots. “A lot of that is ‘body and fender work,’ which encompasses getting rid of actor’s marks, straightening out curtains, removing metallic reflections that were unintended,” remarks Mavromates.

EXTRA CREDIT

The article then details how different effects were created and, espeically, the challenges because the film was shot in black-and-white, which prevented green screen effects from being used. Instead, they relied on LED projection panels.


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