VFX supervisor Rob Legato details 'Hugo'
Michael Goldman
Issue: December 1, 2011

VFX supervisor Rob Legato details 'Hugo'

As Martin Scorsese's Hugo arrives, Scorsese and his team have been out on the promotional trail discussing his creative use of 3D as a storytelling device in a largely non-action oriented drama. Among those joining Scorsese on the trail is the film's visual effects supervisor and second-unit director, Academy Award-winner Rob Legato, and he has likewise been promoting Hugo's use of 3D and what it might portend for the genre's future, as well as discussing the film's 800 stylized visual effects shots. You can read about Legato's views on these issues and more in an article by Christine Bunish in the upcoming December issue of Post. 

However, Hugo also exemplifies the next step in another paradigm shift that Legato has been working on for a long time—the role he personally plays in the data workflow process as a bridge between production and post production. It's an HD-based workflow methodology, and a role extension for someone with the ostensible title of "visual effects supervisor" that Legato has been honing on commercials and on Scorsese's films in recent years. Hugo represents in many ways the maturation of this methodology and its transition from a streamlined HDCAM-SR-based assembly line into a file-based assembly line that he personally manages in addition to his other duties. 

Legato's method allows him to use color corrected dailies and lay down color grade templates for the final DI, as well as offer Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, vendors and others on the project a smooth data management and collaboration system, and finally, to personally conform the movie himself. This role puts Legato into position as a foundational collaborator with Scorsese from start to finish by personally streamlining ways that the director and his team shoots, views, edits, color corrects, and conforms individual pieces of the movie on the way to creating the greater whole. 

Legato spoke about these and other issues recently in a conversation conducted for Post Contenders. He argues that although Hugo was "as technically challenging a film as I have ever worked on," his method permitted Scorsese and Schoonmaker to "pretty much work as they always have." With his skills and experience, and this kind of data workflow method, Legato claims some of these processes were "easier and more direct for me to do myself," such as conforming the movie, playing a direct role with colorist Greg Fisher in the color correction process beyond specific visual effects shots, making sure the production had more control over how the evolving movie would be displayed in different viewing environments, and so on. 

Legato admits this kind of working method does, by definition, blur lines between what he calls "previously regimented things—the cinematographer, the colorist, the person who conforms it—it can all be blurred. But, (for the production) that can be a good thing—it doesn't all have to go out of house, to a number of other facilities, and I can directly and quickly show (filmmakers) more options of what works or doesn't work." "My task was to take a technologically challenging workflow or methodology and make it as seamless as one can, and still get the work done," Legato says. "In multiple roles, I was involved as visual effects supervisor in planning and previsualizing what sets we build or don't, how we will get the shot of it, which portion is going to get made by me (in visual effects) and what portion is going to get shot live-action, and when they meet together. And then, there is the whole workflow—how do we color correct it? What is the workflow for that? How do we get it into Lightworks (Schoonmaker's preferred editing platform)?

"Plus, we (started the DI process) from the beginning, so dailies were actually done as a live DI. Subsequently,all the visual effects temps were color-timed using Greg Fisher's original dailies' Baselight corrections to fit seamlessly into the screening assembly of the film." Legato built the basic workflow mechanics for these processes, collaborating with his colleagues over a high-speed Aspera file transfer network. This proved crucial in allowing him to communicate quickly and seamlessly with Scorsese and Schoonmaker, particularly on issues of color and detail, so that they could keep moving approvals forward in their normal process, without the delays and detours normally associated with huge data-oriented projects like this one. CLICK HERE to hear Legato discuss this process from his recent conversation with Post Contenders.

And to learn more about the work that went into Hugo , check out Christine Bunish's ARTICLE.