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Cinesite's battle ready vfx

Sony/Columbia’s new Jonathan Liebesman directed disaster movie Battle: Los Angeles centres on a series of striking visual effects from Cinesite. The vfx giant created many of the film’s intricately detailed battle sequences as well as the Commander Alien character.

Liebesman chose Cinesite after seeing its work on HBO’s Generation Kill and being impressed by the military hardware, helicopters, armoured vehicles and elaborate explosions in the production.

To create the effects in Battle: Los Angeles, Cinesite took physical elements shot on location and composited them onto digital matte paintings, adding layers of cg smoke, dust, haze, fire and water explosions. Cinesite used Maya Fluids and its own proprietary software cSmoke to create many of the effects.

For a sequence involving an invasion of Santa Monica airport, a plate was shot with three helicopters, which Cinesite multiplied to 12 helicopters using cg models. It also populated the airfield with tanks, armoured vehicles and distant smoke rings.

Ben Shepherd headed up Cinesite’s vfx team and worked on the movie for 10 months, including six weeks on set in Louisiana.

Here are some 'before' and 'after' shots of Cinesite's impressive visual effects work on the film...

All images Copyright Sony/Columbia

Posted 14 March 2011 by Jake Bickerton

UK's top 15 colourists

Televisual has revealed its exclusive list of the top 15 colourists in the UK, based on the opinions of fellow colourists, grading system makers and the various awards that honour colourists (the UK Music Video Awards, the British Arrows Craft Awards and the RTS Craft Awards).

Topping the list for the second year running is MPC's Jean-Clement Soret, who is widely admired for his outstanding work on high-profile features and beautiful looking commercials.

Next up is 'rising star' Aubrey Woodiwiss from The Mill, who co-graded one of 2010's best spot, Nike Write The Future.

Another The Mill colourist, Adam Scott, takes third place, while the top 10 also includes Rushes' Simone Grattarola, The Farm Group's Aiden Farrell, Narduzzo Too's Vince Narduzzo and Molinare's Gareth Spensley.

For the full run-down of the UK's top colourists, including profiles of each of the grading artists featured in the top 15, go here.

Posted 09 March 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Post roles blurring

The blurring of job roles within post and vfx (with colourists doing bits of vfx, for example) is gathering momentum, with the current generation of vfx artists apparently keen to “break out of silos” and become experts at everything.

Autodesk calls them ‘suite students’ and is taking them very seriously. To the point where it’s re-engineered key elements of its vfx programmes (3ds Max, Maya, Motion Builder, MudBox, Softimage and Smoke on the Mac) to make them much more closely integrated.

It’s Autodesk’s belief that the ‘old days’ when artists specialised in a single application are gone. So, the forthcoming 2012 releases of its vfx software packages isn’t just about flash new vfx features, it’s “the moment you’ll see things differently in a truly integrated environment – there are no longer silos, we’re driving commonality in all our products,” says Marc Petit, senior vp of media and entertainment.

This functionality is most obvious in a new universal interface shared by all the applications and ‘one click’ transfers from one package to the next.

Petit reveals Autodesk has also scrapped its separate product development teams and replaced them with a centralised design team working across all its creative products.

Meanwhile, Autodesk Flame Premium (Flame, Smoke and Lustre packaged together) has also been fine-tuned to remove all incompatibilities between the three applications and to give them the same look and feel of interface.

But is all this convergence necessarily a good thing? It makes sense from an efficiency point of view, but whether vfx artists or colourists welcome it is quite another thing. “It will involve a change in persona of what a colourist, for example, will be in the future – it’s a Darwinian process and some will be scared of ‘foreign’ ideas, while others will embrace it,” says Autodesk’s lead product designer Philippe Soeiro.

And, to quote Darwin: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Posted 09 March 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Surprise viral success

In a little downtime spent browsing Youtube, creative Mathieu Cuvelier at digital agency Work Club stumbled across a dodgy looking, very shaky film of some old French farmers fighting and immediately thought it would look better with light sabres. Well, most things do.

So he asked his colleague, designer Dan Scott, to get to work on the footage and enhance the fight scene with different coloured light sabres.

Scott’s task was made more tricky by the poor video quality meaning auto-tracking wasn’t possible, so the sabres had to be added in frame-by-frame.

Still, it was worth the effort as Cuvelier and Scott’s ridiculous clip, which was done for no budget and with no client in mind, has gone on to clock up over 3 million views in the four days it’s been online so far.

Cuvelier, who previously worked at The Viral Factory, says the pair just distributed the film to friends and put it up on Twitter and Facebook, but it was soon posted on to, which helped ramp up the hits. These grew massively after the film made it to the top of the front page of within a few hours of going up on

The clip received 400k views in its first 24 hours of going online and 1.2 million after two days, becoming the most shared video on Twitter at the time.

Cuvelier says he did it “just for fun...I try to release as many small/easy films as possible as tests to see how many views they get...some fail, some get millions of views! It's a good way to learn from the internet”.

Posted 01 March 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Real time slow motion

These Sony Champions League idents, which are currently being used to package Champions League matches for the whole of Europe, were created by Anomaly and directed by Bare Films’ Jim Weedon. The vfx and post work on the clips were by Soho’s boutique vfx house Big Buoy.

The idents were made to market Sony 3d TV sets on a 2d TV screen and consist of two spots – the first, called Fans, shows a fan leading the crowd in a football chant, while the second, called Handkerchief, depicts an emotional group of supporters waving hankies as a sign of defeat.

To attempt to show the extra dimension of 3d, Anomaly decided to go for the tried and tested method of using extremely slow motion footage, spruced up with elements that “very clearly define space for the viewer”. So, in Fans, the extreme slow motion centres on exhaled breath and in Handkerchief, the focus is on frozen water droplets from falling rain.

However, what sets these spots apart from the recent batch of slo-mo ads is Weedon’s choice to create the slow-mo effect using posed actors and a real-time camera rather than going for a slow-mo camera.

Physical props were used for some of the frozen elements, supplemented by additional elements created in cg. The physical parts created by the art department include frozen clothing, handkerchiefs, jewellery and a glass of coke mid spill. The rest of the frozen effects are created in post.

To convince an initially sceptical agency that the cg elements (including cg breath) would sit alongside the physical shot effects, Big Buoy shot a test using a Canon 7d showing some slow panning moves around a model’s head with a few tracking markers.

Big Buoy’s footage went to its cg department, which used Maya fluids to create convincing breath, augmented with live action elements of steam in Flame. This was enough to convince the agency.

The idents were shot on 35mm using an AR Move camera rig for smooth freehand camera moves. The actors were primed to move in extreme slow motion and the footage was shot at 50fps to “take the edge off any little wobbles the actors may have that would have given the game away”.

To ensure the footage looked convincing, Big Buoy did what vfx advisor and lead Flame artist Jim Allen describes as “a hefty amount of stabilising work where actors were unable to keep their movements steady enough, or where people were obviously moving at a different pace to their neighbours”.

With Handkerchief, Big Buoy 3d-tracked the scenes, creating rough geometry to match the live action characters. This was imported into Flame where the rain particle system was created using the Flame particle generator.

Similarly, with Fans, the main breath clouds were created in Maya and exported to Flame where shot steam elements were placed in 3d space to enhance the look. Dust particles and body steam were also added in Flame.

A physical model of spilling coke was enhanced in Flame to “create a sense of movement”, with ice cubes shot separately and comped into the final scene.

Posted 23 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Guide to BVE's seminars

Here's my guide to the best seminar sessions at BVE at Earls Court 2 this week (15-17 Feb).

The Audio Room
On the first day of BVE, the audio room is dedicated to a ‘new radio day’. These seminar sessions obviously have a radio focus, including Monty Funk Productions/Prism Sound’s Pete Nash’s seminar at 1pm entitled ‘The drama documentary – creativity at its best’. Nash’s background is as a sound designer on BBC radio drama docs, which be began working on in the early 1990s.

“I’ve done around 20 of them and they represent the ultimate in crafting sound design, being free of the constraints of video,” he says. “One not infrequently ends up with around 2,500 edits in a 45 minute drama documentary.”

In this session, Nash takes the audience through the making of Laocoon, a drama documentary for BBC Radio 4 about a sculpture coming to life. “I’ll be taking the drama/doc apart and showing how it’s constructed,” says Nash. “I use SADiE as it’s really the only tool that can cope with such large numbers of precise edits in real-time, and without having to watch the system ‘rendering’ all the time. It’s also the primary craft editor of the BBC for national radio.”

From 16 February, the audio room’s focus turns to audio for TV and film – on Thursday, at 2pm, the chairman of the Association of Motion Picture Sound, Chris Roberts runs a panel discussion called ‘From production to post – managing audio workflows’.

“The aim is for the panel to represent a good cross section of those who handle sound media, so we’ll have a sound recordist, film sound syncing specialist, assistant picture editor and sound editor/dubbing mixer,” says Roberts. “I hope to be able to discuss the challenges presented dealing with sound files through the various workflows from production to final mix. As part of this, we’ll cover the solutions that have been discovered or devised, issues with metadata and its importance in workflows and the continued importance of EDL management, particularly for conforming and re-conforming. I’d like the session to be fairly informal, so there will be no ‘death by PowerPoint’”.

Broadcast meets IT
The ‘Broadcast meets IT’ section of the seminar programme is, naturally, rather tech-heavy, with sessions covering video standards, IT infrastructures and ‘The Cloud’. One session that should appeal to a broad audience though is ‘File-based workflows mean operational efficiencies – or do they?’, which is being run by ITFC’s senior operations director Lesley Marr at 12.30pm on Tuesday 15 February.

“My experience is that technology suppliers claim file-based workflows improve efficiencies, but, in reality, many facilities struggle with this,” she says. “In this open discussion panel session, we debate whether it’s really possible to create operational efficiencies going file-based and, if so, how? The common assumption is that everything is faster, easier and simpler, but is this necessarily true? You have to integrate legacy systems, add in transcoding time and things like that, and this all stands in the way.”

Marr intends to cover everything from production shooting ratios to post production file formats and the interoperability between different technologies. The panel members will be a mix of technology providers and users, including Chris Wright, md of Dalet, and Niall Duffy, md of MediaSmiths.

Arri Production Skills Centre
Camera and production kit maker Arri has its own ‘skills centre’ as part of BVE’s seminar programme. What’s sure to attract the bulk of visitors is its daily DoP focused sessions centring on Arri’s recently launched Alexa digital cinematography camera.

The seminar, which is being held at 12.30pm every day, has a different DoP each time explaining how the Arri Alexa was used on their production. The sessions include clips from the productions in question.

On Tuesday 15 February, the speaker for the ‘Alexa - the camera of choice’ session is Adam Suschitzky, the cinematographer on Outcast (shot with an Arri D-21) and the well received remake of Upstairs Downstairs, which he shot with an Alexa.
The session on the following day is dedicated to the use of the Alexa for shooting commercials, and will be held by a yet to be announced DoP.

The final day’s Alexa session will be presented by Mike Spragg, who recently shot Kidnap and Ransom with an Arri D-21 and is currently shooting ITV’s Paul McGuigan-directed Monroe on an Alexa.

The Producer’s Theatre
The producer’s theatre has a large number of producer-centred sessions, covering everything from casting actors to 3d, music and pyrotechnics. One of the stand-out sessions is ‘Ad-funded Productions: 5 Top Tips for Success’ on Wednesday 16 February at 1pm.

The seminar is being organised by the Indie Training Fund, and presented by Tiger Aspect’s commercial partnerships director Claire Heys. “I aim to give content makers five key steps to deliver successful advertiser funded deals,” she says. “I want to give them an understanding of an advertiser’s expectations and why they might invest in TV programmes.”

The session covers the best practice in deal making and liaising with the advertiser and the media agency and “client management tips from the start of the process right through to transmission,” says Heys. On top of this, the seminar looks at the new product placement regulations – what they cover and how to put deals together between the producer, advertiser and broadcaster.

Post Production Theatre
The post theatre spans sessions mostly centred on the technology used in post production. Televisual is, however, hosting a session that’s broadly business rather than technology focused. Entitled ‘The Televisual Industry Debate’ and being held at 3.30pm on Wednesday 16 February, this panel session brings together those running some of the UK’s biggest and best post houses to talk about the future of the post industry.

Televisual’s contributing editor David Wood is chairing the seminar while the panellists include Helen Stanley, md, commercials, Framestore and Darren O’Kelly, md, The Mill. The session centres on what it means to be a ‘post’ house in 2011 – is post still a service industry or are post houses now more like production partners to their clients? The panellists will also talk about how they see the post industry developing over the next five years, and whether they believe post will have continued its move up the production food chain and if traditional service-only post houses will still exist. As well as this, there will be a discussion about the key areas of post production in 2011 and whether 3d is here to stay and really worthy of significant investment.

Total Delivery Theatre
The total delivery theatre hosts a series of seminars about web and mobile based content delivery, including IPTV and broadcasting to the iPhone/iPad. One of the highlights is a session (at 3.45pm on Wednesday 16 February) called ‘How to start, operate, monetise and sell your own UGC channel’, which is being held by i2i’s Philip Radley-Smith.

Radley-Smith says the session is aimed at companies and individuals wishing to become online content aggregators, broadcasters or “to just jump on the internet TV band wagon.”

He aims to cover issues including what’s required to customise an ‘out of the box’ channel to create your own channel. The session also looks at key factors such as who is going to watch your channel and submit content to it, how to market and promote your channel and, of course, how to monetise your channel.

Production Theatre

‘Production on a budget’ kicks off the seminar programme in the production theatre at 10am on Tuesday 15 February. Presented by Urban Fox’s Christina Fox, “This session is designed to help anyone buying shooting kit on a budget to get the best value for money,” she says. “We’ll take people through the most essential features on a camera and help them decide which is best for their shoot.”

By the end of this session, Fox says, visitors will be able to “understand the differences in cameras, have a list of essential equipment with which to get started and also have a summary list of microphones to consider.”

Posted 14 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Sky's refreshing new promos

Sky's been busy commissioning some beautiful promos for its channels of late - here are two that have recently landed in my inbox.

Sky 360
The first, Sky 360, is a 50-second stereoscopic 3d promo for Sky’s film channel that centres on the eye-catching, impressive vfx work of MPC. Directed by Sky Creative’s Esther Wallace and Nick Tarte, Sky 360, slowly spins around an ever-changing landscape in a 360 camera move, gorgeously showcasing different genres of films.

“This is our invitation to enter another world.  We wanted to create a 360 pan around massive, epic landscapes populated by movie iconography. The journey takes us through a range of emotions – in a similar way that a movie would do,” say the directors.

The five main genres in the promo required different landscapes to be created – a desert for a western, space for sci-fi, a city for a romantic comedy, countryside for a period drama and an icy Christmassy scene to represent family. 

A stereo camera on a circular dolly track was used to capture the live action footage on each of the locations, but much of the locations themselves were cg creations made by MPC.

Working alongside Sky Creative from pre-production onwards, MPC created each of the fully cg environments and rebuilt the live action shots in the promo, with everything being made in stereo.

“This was a job that required very specific timings and planning from 3d pre-viz,” says 3d supervisor Duncan McWilliam. “If we could prove all the permutations worked in a pre-viz accurate to real world scale scenarios then we knew the shoot would work....give or take.”

Click here for more information and to view the promo

Sky Atlantic Bringing Cultures Together

Branding agency Heavenly has created another not entirely dissimilar set of Sky promos, for the launch of its Sky Atlantic channel (the home of HBO).

The set of five idents, called Bringing Cultures Together, explore the similarities and differences between the UK and the US by subtly cutting between the two iconic locations as the camera pans across the scene. The series of short promos consists of Bridges, Trains, Bright Lights, Cafe Diner and City Cab.

To view each of the Bringing Cultures Together promos, click here.

Posted 09 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Molinare re-launch for Spring

Most of the management team has quit Molinare as the Indian owners gear up for a big relaunch of the company. So, what does the future now hold for one of London’s longest standing post players? Here are the thoughts of acting CEO and md, Molinare's COO Scott Holmgren.

“The beginning of the year has seen several changes at the top of Molinare’s management structure, with both Mark Foligno and Richard Hart choosing to pursue outside interests within the film industry. Moving the company forward will require a strong focus on not only our sales efforts but on creating efficiencies,” says Holmgren.

“This is coupled with significant expenditure that’s seen upgrades and expansion in all departments. A relaunch of a new Molinare is planned for the Spring,” he adds.

“Over the past five years Molinare has been very successful within the feature film market, but we have always had a very strong offering in TV as well. Our recent film offering has tended to overshadow the TV work, and this is something we want to rectify,” he says.

“This isn’t limited to drama either – we want to build up our portfolio of fact ent and docs, along with shortform/commercials work, produced via our internal creative agency.”

Posted 02 February 2011 by Jake Bickerton
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