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August 2014
Issue: October 1, 2011

Cover Story: 'Puss In Boots'

By: Randi Altman
GLENDALE, CA — DreamWorks Animation (www.dreamworksanimation.com) has taken one of the most beloved characters from its Shrek franchise and chosen him to star in his own film. No… not you Donkey; it’s the Antonio Banderas-voiced Puss in Boots. 

The upcoming film, directed by Chris Miller, who helmed Shrek 3, actually takes place before our amorous cat meets up with our favorite green ogre. 
Eric Dapkewicz, who tackled stereo 3D for the first time on Monsters vs. Aliens, edited the film on Avid Media Composer in DNx36. Is Puss in Boots a comedy? An action-adventure? Well, it’s a bit of both, which actually drew Dapkewicz to the project.

POST: You cut the film on Avid Media Composer. Is that your go-to tool or the best one for this film?
ERIC DAPKEWICZ:  “The system was the best for the project. DreamWorks studio uses Avid to cut all their films. There is an infrastructure already set up for all the different shows to work with different departments and the Avid has been integrated into that interface, so it’s easy for us to bring material in and export material out.”

POST: Did you use the stereo tools within the Media Composer?
DAPKEWICZ: “We cut with V.4 on Puss in Boots. I know DreamWorks did roll out V.5, with stereo tools on some of the newer shows, but we started Puss in Boots about three years ago and it’s hard to upgrade once you’ve started on a project.”

POST: So how did you address stereo in the editing process?
DAPKEWICZ: “I cut Monsters vs. Alien,  our first stereo film here at the studio. We created our own mock-up version of how to see things in 3D right off the Avid. We take one frame of a shot and put both the left and right eye into that shot. The top image would be the left eye and the bottom would be the right eye, and then when we bring them into the Avid we have different effects that we created that can put those shots together into one 3D image when we put the glasses on...or if we just wanted to cut mono — my eyes would basically bug out of my head if I cut everything in 3D. Most of the time we did work in mono and I could just focus on the left eye and I would just bring up the left eye on the screen and cut that way.”



POST: Are there any scenes with things coming off the screen at the audience, or is it more subtle 3D?
DAPKEWICZ: “There are a few moments when we have stuff coming off the screen, but more often than not it’s about having the person feel immersed in the scene itself. With an animated film we have the ability to really work with the depth and get it to feel like you are actually in a shot several layers beyond the screen because we can manipulate what you see on the screen and change it.”

POST: Can you describe your workflow?
DAPKEWICZ: “The animation process is pretty long. We start with the storyboard, and in the beginning there are only a few of us: the story team, the director, the producers, my team…the animators haven’t even come on to the show yet. We build a version of the film with just storyboards and we do this several times. It’s like an evolutionary process where we keep trying to put the film up in different versions to see what works, what doesn’t work, how it plays as a film. 
“Once we have a section of the film — we call it a sequence — that everyone seems to like and thinks is strong, we’ll put that into production. So it might be a three-minute scene in the film. We give it to our cinematographer, basically our head of layout, and they start creating animatics, or layout shots, based on the storyboards I cut together. It’s like having a cinematographer right there mapping out all the different camera moves and even giving me coverage so I have different options to choose from. Then he’ll give me that footage back and I’ll cut it together with the director and we’ll choose the best shots for that scene. 
“Once we lock that down we send that off to the animators to start animating, and they’ll take each shot and animate to the timing and dialogue I’ve given them. Even before it goes to the animators we have to record the actors so they can animate to their voices. Once it goes to animation we have basically dailies every day. The director and I sit in with the animators and we look at each of the shots as they are animating them. Sometimes we’ll give notes for continuity, or director Chris Miller will give notes for the acting. Then the animation department will start feeding me back their shots and I’ll start plugging them into the cut and see how it’s working. It basically becomes a big puzzle piece.”



POST: So the scenes are out of order?
DAPKEWICZ: “They can be. We may send the first 10 minutes of the movie into production and then we find the middle of the movie has a couple of sequences we like a lot and we’ll send them into production. It’s never totally linear as far as how we put stuff into production.”

POST: Had you ever worked with Chris Miller before?
DAPKEWICZ: “No, this was my first time. Chris was the director on Shrek 3 and I was just finishing up Monsters vs. Aliens; I had an interview with him and we hit it off. I liked the direction and the approach he wanted to take with the film.”

POST: Was he open to seeing notes from you?
DAPKEWICZ: “He was great, and very open to any notes or ideas that either I had or the animators or cinematographer. If it was something he felt would plus the film we would try it.”

POST: Is this a comedy, an animated action-adventure, or both?
DAPKEWICZ: “It’s basically both. There is an adventurous tone that sets it apart from the Shrek films, yet there is comedy behind it as well. That is what drew me to the project in the first place. I am a big fan of the Zorro and Indiana Jones films, and it definitely has that kind of vibe, with a lot of humor in it as well.”

POST: What are the challenges to editing comedy?
DAPKEWICZ: “There is a lot of timing and pacing involved with getting the comedy down right. With a film like Puss in Boots, there are a lot of jokes where we take our time, there are certain pauses… there are lead ups to jokes. So when I am cutting it together I have to make sure it’s just right so people can get the joke.”

POST: But you have to have quick cuts as well because it’s also an action-adventure, right?
DAPKEWICZ: “Exactly, we have to kind of pick and choose our moments. What are the moments in the film where we really want to play up the suspense, the action and drama, and when can we take a step back and have people laugh a little bit. That’s a big part of putting the film together, pacing it the best we can.”



POST: Were there any scenes that were more challenging than others?
DAPKEWICZ: “It ranges. Some of the scenes toward the back end of the film where we are trying to explain some exposition or get more drama in; trying to land those moments just right can sometimes be the most difficult areas to cut. People might think it’s the big action scenes because there are technically more shots to put together. So much is also dependant on the animators themselves in what they deliver back to me in terms of the acting and the performance. A lot of times I am just guessing how much time Puss in Boots needs to react to something to get the drama across, and I give it to the animators and they take it from there and try to work within the timeframe that I’ve given them.”

POST: Any surprises?
DAPKEWICZ: “Not for this film. I started working with 3D for the first time on Monsters vs. Aliens, and that was a bit of trial and error for me in terms of how 3D affects the film as far as cutting goes, so I brought that with me to Puss in Boots. It helped me to better understand what works pacing wise in 3D. What is very important when watching a lot of these films is the pacing of watching in 3D and how it sometimes affects people the wrong way. If you cut things way too fast and you also have too much depth in your shot, I finally realized that’s what makes people sick. 
“What we tried to do early on, before any scenes actually went into animation, is look at all of the scenes in the very rough layout form with the cinematographer; we looked at everything in 3D just to see how the scene played. If there was a long shot with not a lot of cutting involved, we would add more depth to it so it felt like you were actually immersed in the scene. Then if we had an action scene with a lot of quick cutting, we’d pull back on the depth so it wouldn’t be so jarring on people’s brains.”