Twenty five years ago, when the Texas-based post house Matchframe was started, the idea of post production supervision was nonexistent. "Today we just assume it's something that's needed," says Ken Ashe, the facility's post production supervisor. "We don't feel comfortable taking on any commercial or other longform project without assigning a post production supervisor just for keeping track of the elements alone." He dates the shift in thinking to about a decade ago when the sophistication of motion capture, coupled with strong animation departments, brought clients into a world that was beyond the understanding of an average person.
Ashe also points out that a post supervisor onsite is necessary to lay the groundwork for special effects that will be created in post. "The DP wants to create a mood. The director wants to focus on the actors' delivery. Neither of those people, and usually no one else on set, has that as their primary focus," explains Ashe. "A post production supervisor is going to be there to help look at the scene, recognize the challenges that occur that day and help solve them. As Woody Allen says, "Every day, a fresh truckload of compromises comes through the front door."
Astropolitan director Steven L. Wagner, behind the Sony HDW-F900 camera, reviews playback on the set of the music video So to Speak.
A handful of post pros have offered tips to guide others doing post production supervision work, and they talk about recent projects that presented challenges and how those were solved.
TIP#1 Sharpen your own skills.
"Experience other post houses," suggests Matchframe's Ashe. "If you've worked at one post house your whole life, you're limited in scope to what devices and systems might do. Get yourself out to a lot of other places, even if it's just to observe. Go on your own self-improvement, educational tour. Ask if somebody will let you sit in on a session. You may have to go a few states beyond you, some place that's not competitive might let you do that. The more exposure you have to all the tricks and toys and different people that use them, the more you'll know where and when a certain effect might work, what system might be best, whether or not motion control is necessary or just a luxury, down to even the different ways things can be composited and therefore shot when using greenscreen, which is a science unto itself."
Matchframe (www.matchframe.com), a post facility with branches in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas, finds requests for post supervision growing because more clients are shooting on HD, a less expensive format than film. The company has years of experience providing this service for its television commercial and, increasingly, longform, clients. Matchframe offers all post services except audio or film processing.
Madhouse's on-set experts: (L-R) Kevin Gottlieb, Chris David and Jason Sedmak.
Project/Challenge: On an indy film out this fall, a shot called for a person to be trapped in a structure. During discussion with the client, Ashe recognized that it would be more believable, and reasonably priced, if done as a practical rather than re-creating the entire environment and structure with 3D animation.
"Although you can go a long way to be realistic these days, I think there are certain times there's an innate understanding in a person's mind whether it's going to look realistic or not," he says of his experience and instinct that influenced his suggestion.
TIP #2 Tell clients to ask for post supervision help at the front end.
"Our regular clients know that a 10-minute phone call before they get deep into a script or into the shoot winds up answering a lot of questions in their minds," says Greg Browning, president/editor of DV-Ent Artists Group (www.dv-ent.com ). "We do know that we're being asked to provide a lot of flash for smaller and smaller amounts of money, and the best way to do that is talk ahead of time,"
For ESPN's Streetball, effects/edit house Perception shot Harlem and Queens footage that they then composited with textures and graphics.
This consortium of independent editors and artists who operate under one roof in Minneapolis was established two years ago and does provide post production supervision for its corporate and commercial clients. The individual owner/operators provide offline, online, telecine and graphics services.
Project/Challenge: When General Mills bought Pillsbury, merging the two companies together, it wanted to create several corporate programs with a commercial flair to explain the merger to employees. DV-Ent put three editor/producers on the job to create eight two- to five-minute programs which, tied together, was delivered at the end of 2001. Each editor acted as a producer and post supervisor, taking the script and materials, then cutting the pieces with little supervision. One music video style piece, House of Meals (a parody of the cable show House of Style), was influenced by the post supervisor's idea.
NYC effects boutique Guava was brought in early to make a red liquid droplet come to life.....
"The client needed to shoot with Digital Beta and MiniDV," says Browning. "The editor helped coordinate with the director the best way to use high-end and cheaper resources. They used Digital Beta for essential shots, the wide master shots, and then went crazy with MiniDV. That influenced that director, so in subsequent shoots for the same project they used that technique as well. We encouraged them to use multiple cameras in situations where they thought they could only afford to have one nice one." The client was an internal producer plus two freelance producer/directors. DV-Ent editor/producers were Rich Coleman, Brian Kerr and Browning.
TIP #3 Get the word out that the service is available.
"At a facility like ours where we offer both edit and post aspects, we're always encouraging clients to talk to us," says Kevin Gottlieb, producer at Madhouse (www.madhousenyc.com ) in New York City. "Sometimes they might not even know that they need more assistance in post. We're aware of that, we know all those pitfalls and post scenarios. Our editors are a tightly knit crew with our graphics people, and there's a continuous flow of information there, and that team can work with the director so you have everyone playing the right roles in order to get the project where it needs to be."
This edit/post house, established about a decade ago, provides graphics, visual effects and sound design, offering Discreet's Flame and Smoke on SGI Octanes, plus Mac G4s running Adobe software. It caters to agencies and producers of short films. Post production supervision is a regular service. "We've been overly enthusiastic about post production supervision and have tried many times to involve ourselves early on," says Jason Sedmak, editor/director of effects.
To ensure that JWT's concept of a Ford truck towing a freightliner....
TIP #4 Don't try to be all things to all people.
"In modern post, so many creatives are looking to own their own systems in order to do it themselves," says Steven Wagner, director at Astropolitan Pictures (www.astropolitan.com) in Chicago. "You need to think about ramifications - updates, support, hardware and compatibility. If you are a director, then direct. [Clients] owe it to themselves to find a post supervisor and facility they can trust.
Astropolitan has considered its working methodology carefully - it maintains a lab of creative tools, just enough gear to develop pieces and complete offlines. For finishing they go elsewhere. As a hybrid production/post company, its artists take responsibility for their own work.
For Pillsbury's House of Meals, DV-Ent editors also served as producers and post supervisors.
Project/Challenge:Visual effects supervisor Andrew Honacker charted the workflow for a recent HD music video called So to Speak for DJ Acucrack since 100 percent of the shots required digital effects. Daily activity was then guided by lead digital artist Talon Nightshade. Much of the background in this cyber-erotic clip is miniatures, which were photographed at high rez and photomapped using RealViz's ImageModeler software. Nightshade jumped from 3D to 2D several times using Discreet 3D Studio Max and Adobe After Effects 5.5.
For So to Speak, a DV animatic with rough 3D, compositing and conceptual art elements headed off many potential post pitfalls and helped narrow the focus to the right post techniques. "For one set-up, our actress's head was going to be placed on a segmented, rotating 3D body. We were afraid that a special rig would have to be constructed to maintain her proper rotation. Instead, some early testing in Pinnacle's Commotion software proved that we could stabilize the footage after the fact, so we shot the actress without a need for any rigging. This probably saved an hour of set time and the expense of the rig," says Wagner. The clip began airing on MTV last month.
The Post Group senior digital compositor Mark Intravartolo (center) on location supervising effects on HBO's Normal.
TIP #5 Ask for another take
"That's something that's often not very welcome because there's a time crunch," says Madhouse's Gottlieb. "But sometimes that extra take, whether it's just a backplate or a take with fewer elements in it, can be the savior of a shot when you're in post." Fewer last-minute fixes in post means fewer financial pitfalls. "Not that we're adverse to helping out at the back end. We do a lot of fixing on things that never would have been anticipated."
Please visit our Web site, www.postmagazine.com, for more tips from Madhouse.
TIP #6 Anticipate post scenarios.
Remember the basics for special effects work. For rig removal, make sure they shoot a clean plate in order to avoid cloning from the same frame. For CG elements being added later, make sure those tracking marks and reference items are there in the proper spots. For creative compositing, ask for different lighting takes.
"With car spots, I like to light the car differently, shoot it in different ways and then combo the different lighting schemes on the one car," says Danny Gonzalez, visual effects director at Perception (www.perceptv.com). "It becomes a five-layered car instead of one straight shot. I picked up that little trick from a director that shot a lot of cars and told me it was a nice way to get the lighting on the bumpers, on the doors, then just combo them up in post."
Matchframe's Ken Ashe.
Perception, a member company of Ron Soodalter Associates, is a New York City-based visual effects/design/edit house that opened in March 2002. Gonzalez came from R/GA. Commercial clients are offered uncompressed Apple Final Cut Pro for editorial work, Discreet Combustion and Commotion, as well as Mac G4s for graphics.
Project/Challenges: For this fall's new eight-part ESPN series Streetball, Perception shot footage of players in Harlem and Queens for a :44 open. The client wanted a look that was different from traditional NBA coverage so shot selection was the most important key, says Gonzalez, who notes that some of the best shots were not pre-planned and came only after the cameras started rolling. Street ball players have their own patented moves and Gonzalez climbed up a backboard to capture one from a bird's eye view. Perception then composited those shots with dramatic environment textures and graphics to create the finished open.
TIP #7 Have a meeting between artists and the DP and director.
"I'm the artist on this particular show [HBO's Normal] and with me being on set, I can figure out what's going to go wrong. An artist can tell you everything he's going to need," says Mark Intravartolo, senior digital effects compositor for The Post Group (www.postgroup.com) in Los Angeles. "Usually the producer is going to run out of time and money and they'll not do everything you say, but it's good to at least give them the warning signs: Shoot green instead of blue in this case; no spills on the set; people shouldn't cross a certain line depending if you're going to take shots and put them together; what film stock to use; some are better for bluescreens; what equipment they'll need on the set to pull this off."
Planet Blue's Rosenfeld goes on set for bank shoot
Established in 1974, The Post Group is a full service post facility in Hollywood and has much experience providing post production supervision.
Project/Challenge: For this fall's HBO movie Normal, some of the shots were done in a Chicago cornfield, first in June, then in August. Obviously, the corn had grown much higher and, rather than take the actors back to Chicago, the production crew shot new backplates.
"This was challenging because we had to be in the exact same spot when we first shot it, so we had to triangulate and mark and measure where we were in the cornfield. Some of the problems we solved were when the director changed the angle of the shot from what we had originally storyboarded. With the DP and me being there, we were able to composite the shot so it would work and be less expensive when we come back to put it together," says Intravartolo. He took a video assist, video switcher and tape deck with him in order to do a rough composite in the field with the higher corn. Post work included scanning the 35mm footage to computer files using a Cintel DSX, taking the files into Inferno for composition, then sending them out and shooting them to film. Intravartolo doubled as the post production supervisor on this job, due to his good relationship with the client.
"That was a win/win situation - I had no one else to yell at," he laughs.