CUTTING 'THE INCREDIBLE HULK' DOWN TO SIZE
Universal Pictures’ The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier, stars Edward Norton as the tortured scientist who’s been poisoned by gamma radiation. Interestingly, Leterrier chose three editors to cut the feature.
Here we talk to Rick Shaine, who shares editing credits with John Wright and Vincent Tabaillon, about the film’s workflow and the challenges of cutting an effects-heavy film.
Post: What were your biggest challenges in editing this film?
Rick Shaine: “It was a race to the finish. We were constantly trying to get all the visual effects shots in the best form possible, to see what had been changed and to keep moving forward. It was so complicated to keep on top of all the decisions being made right up until the end of the project.”
Post: You were one of three editors on the film. How did you split up the work?
Shaine: “It was an interesting and complex challenge to involve all of the editors on the project and keep the workflow going. Louis [Leterrier, the director,] would get to know our strengths and weaknesses and make assignments accordingly.
“The thing that was really important was for each editor to have the chance to complete work in his particular area of the film before someone else dove in [and refined it]. I was given the whole end of the movie, the third act, to edit. This section of the movie doesn’t involve many flesh and blood actors [only CG characters]. I had never encountered a situation in which I only had plates to work with. It was a major challenge.”
Post: What editorial gear did everyone use?
Shaine: “We had nine Avid Media Composer Adrenaline systems on the project at once, all connected to the same Avid Unity system [with 17TB of shared storage]. The systems could accommodate HD, which enabled us to capture the full extent of the image during editing and screening. We used the Avid DNxHD 36 codec. We used the same set-up in Toronto during production, only we had five Avid systems there.”
Post: What are the benefits of editing in high definition?
Shaine: “It started right from the beginning when we were reviewing dailies. We could build a selects reel very quickly on the Adrenaline system, put it on a FireWire drive and bring it to the studio in Toronto, which had its own Avid set-up hooked up to a large plasma monitor for screening. It is so much better for everyone to see all of the dailies in HD [with such visually-rich images].
“We could also easily tailor the length of the dailies to how much time was available each day, so we weren’t wasting anyone’s time. This process made it easy to get a good sense of all the material and be able to discuss it right away. We also did HD screenings on a large format plasma monitor right in my editing suite. We could easily look at the screenings with the director — sometimes with the producer.”
Post: Were there particular editorial techniques that helped you handle the effects-heavy scenes?
Shaine: “Pam [Choules, the visual effects editor,] was able to do extraordinary things using the AniMatte tool in the Adrenaline system. Before a certain CG effect was ready, she was able to composite images [with live-action footage] and give us a precursor of what the effect would look like. We were able to superimpose rough CG shots on the Avid timeline and play the pre-viz shots in a small box at the bottom of the screen as a reference to follow the intended action. Working with Louis this way, I was able to narrow down the plates and decide what animation would best serve the action.
“We also used the Adrenaline system’s new color correction tools. They were really helpful in making a scene look consistent. We could smooth out a scene and make the entire scene match. Say if there was a second unit shot with clear skies, but the scene called for a rainstorm brewing at the end of that sequence, we could use color correction to darken down the shots quickly and make it look like a storm was coming.”
Post: What did you enjoy most about working on this film?
Shaine: “I view this film as sort of a fulfillment of a journey. I’ve edited other movies with visual effects, such as Pitch Black, where we didn’t have a lot of money for visual effects. We had to tell a complex story without a lot of resources. So, just the possibility of working on a project that had this many visual effects was attractive. We also had the chance to reinvent the Hulk character himself with a fresh approach and new animation. Plus the director has a very inventive style. He was trying to do such ambitious work and had so many resources available to him, but limited time.”
Post: How has the editing of effects-heavy movies evolved through the years?
Shaine: “As the quality of visual effects has improved, I have the freedom to stay on shots much longer than I would have in the past. I could, for instance, let a shot of the Hulk play for a few seconds without the audience seeing any flaws, while creatures in [other, earlier films] were better if seen very briefly.
“Also, everything has become so much more streamlined now. The speed of being able to render visual effects instantly and send them back and forth across servers has made our work much faster and easier.”