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Cinesite spoof ad becomes huge viral hit

A 30-second fake commercial for baked beans, made by vfx house Cinesite, which is probably the most finely polished take on the age-old fart gag you're ever likely to see, has become a viral hit, receiving over half a million views in less than a week.

The short, which takes the familiar footage of the moon landing, throws in a huge scary space monster and the aforementioned fart gag, has been in development for months as a pet project to show Cinesite's production credentials on its showreel.

"Six or seven people did the bulk of the work and additional artists drifted in and out when they had the time," says Eamonn Butler, animation director. "It's been seven months in development. We wanted it to be very creative, and develop a real creative culture internally. We're going to be doing a similar thing ever year from now on."

"It's all cg, using heavy photographic references of astronauts. The background is the real moon, while the foreground is a cg version of the moon. It has the fixed depth of field you see on moon footage," he adds.

"Beans is a short, cheeky film with an unexpected ending. Written and directed by animator Alvise Avati, it was completed by the London-based team at Cinesite, who were behind the vfx on World War Z, Skyfall, Iron Man 3 and many other major productions. Creating our own animated short has given us a chance to show off Cinesite’s creature skills and the talents of our creative team, who also had a great deal of fun making it," says the company.

The cinematic sound on the spot was created by Molinare, which also graded the fake commercial.

The full Cinesite credit list is as follows:

Written and Directed
Alvise Avati

Eamonn Butler

VFX Supervisor
Richard Clarke

Art Direction
Jean-David Solon

Concept Art
Andrea de Martis

Modelling and Rigging
Grahame Curtis
Royston Willcocks
Richard Boyle

Alvise Avati
Eamonn Butler
Peter Clayton
Tom O'Flaherty
Adam Bailey

Texture Artists

Nicolette Newman
Gary Newman

FX Animation
Andreas Vrhovsek
Luke Wilde

Lighting and Compositing
Zave Jackson
Nikos Gatos
Jonathan Vuillemin
Dan Harrod
Joel Bodin

William Marshall-Wilkinson
Christopher Learmonth

Posted 18 December 2013 by Jake Bickerton

Another great Christmas video - this time from Rushes

Another great Christmas video, this time from Rushes, which follows a deer as it leaves the safety of its field for a trip into London.

Once in the Smoke, it roams the streets before ending up in Soho, where, after a visit to the pub, the deer leaves, now donning a red nose, and eventually stumbles into the sanctuary of Rushes.

It's a really well executed piece of work, which in all honestly is worthy of far more than a throwaway Christmas video. Check it out below.

Director: Martin Goodwin & Andy Nicholas
Senior Executive Producer: Norra Abdul Rahim
CG: Craig Travis, Chris Hutchison, Andy Hargreaves, Liam Hoflay, David Drese
Nuke: Noel Harmes, Eleanor Rogers & Sarah Breakwell
Flame: Martin Goodwin, Richie White, Glenn Cone, Andy Barnard
Colourist: Simone Grattarola

Merry Christmas From Rushes from Rushes on Vimeo.

Posted 17 December 2013 by Jake Bickerton

Clever Christmas Rube Goldberg video

I'm not a huge fan of corporate Christmas videos - who is? - but definitely make an exception for this one. DMI Productions spent 10 days creating a fantastic Rube Goldberg machine using vintage and retro toys to "spread a little festive cheer this Christmas." It worked.

The filming of DMI's Christmas video, where the machine was finally given its ultimate test of a complete run through, was recorded over "one very long night". DMI insists it "really is done in one take, with a cast of two and a crew of seven." It does admit there were an "awful lot of takes" but says there were four successful complete run throughts in the end.

Ironically, Mousetrap was the most unreliable of all the toys taking part in the great experiment.

Amazing machine made with retro toys from DMI Productions on Vimeo.

Posted 12 December 2013 by Jake Bickerton

How to set up a cost effective post house

Coffee and TV’s co-founder Derek Moore recently got in touch to explain the thinking behind the setting up of his new boutique vfx-focused post house. "The big traditional post model isn’t working. Kit, rent and staff are expensive, and clients don’t have the budgets to pay for it all," he says. Here he details how his new type of post house, built around inexpensive kit, low overheads and partnerships, is the way forward.

While an employee of a very big post house, I spent a good deal of time thinking about how to strip out the overheads of a business to just leave the talent, without compromising the creativity for some time. Like all staff, you think you can do it better yourself.

Smoke on the Mac
Around the time I was thinking about how to create such a business, a press release came out the blue from Autodesk, where they announced a new version of Smoke for the Mac that had the best bits of Smoke and Flame, and all for £3k, which is £117k cheaper than a traditional suite.

At which point I phoned Truss [co-founder John Trussler] and said, ‘You know all that stuff we were talking about – being able to afford to do it on our own? Well, this is our ticket to being able to do that.’ We were both Smoke operators who had moved over to Flame and there aren’t many people in town that can do both.

Low overheads
At this point Phil [co-founder Phil Hurrell] also becomes available. He’s the best cg guy I’ve ever worked with, so you kind of go, right, if we can add cg to our Smoke/Flame offering we can do just about any type of job. Maybe we don’t need an office and we can all just work from home remotely and collaborate on the internet and try and build some sort of virtual company which might work around that with no overheads on cheap but good kit.

But then we started talking to Chris [co-founder Chris Chard] about how we were going to do this and was he interested. He’s the best producer I’ve ever worked with and he also saw the writing on the wall for the days of the big post houses and got quite excited about what we could do.

When we got a decent producer on board, that gave us a sense of scale which requires a presence in Soho and a meeting room and a presentation suite and that kind of thing. So, that’s how we kind of structured the size of the company.

Getting up and running
And then it was really a case of testing the Smoke and Flame stuff worked as it was supposed to do. It does, and, in fact, there were a lot of complaints from existing Flame users at the time about why Smoke on the Mac is two to three times faster than their £120k box. Knowing what we know, I wouldn't touch a Flame at the current price; Smoke on the Mac is better, faster and cheaper.

We added a 12TB server on a Thunderbolt cable with an iMac connected to it, and that was pretty much it, we were ready to go.

And then it’s all about trying to phone everyone up and tell them what we’re doing and building things up slowly. It was exciting. I thought when we started this we could probably limp along on Smoke on the Mac for a few months – get in some money and do some jobs – we didn’t expect to be doing high-end difficult stuff; just the run of the mill Smoke jobs.

Becoming established
Now we’re in a position such that April 2014 to April 2015 should be nicely profitable. We’ve done our cap-ex, now it would be good to have 12 months of solid earnings so we have money in the bank. When the lease is up on our current office, we can then take a view on how big we can or should go and whether we need to raise some more money.

Although the internal structure of the company changes frequently, I don’t want the size we are to change very much. I want to know all of our clients myself to offer that personal service, otherwise we just become another big post house and there’s just no point in that because we know that doesn’t work well any more.

So we’re sort of limited by our physical footprint but that’s a good thing because it stops us from messing it up.

A virtual footprint
The next year will be about how we can build up an even bigger virtual footprint than we currently have, although we’re already as far reaching as Nepal, where we have a rotoscoping team working on a big job at the moment. The fact we can offer services through outsourcing to other companies allows us to offer the kind of scale the big guys have, but without the overheads.

We now plan to build on that sort of model and extend our teams of decent Flame and Smoke ops virtually – we know the best guys in town and they now have the kit themselves, they can work remotely from home, feed stuff in and come in as and when they need to.

We can then just build a kind of network of people we can call upon so our clients get specifically the best talent for their particular part of the job, rather than just an employee who happens to be free that day.

PICTURE: Final Fantasy XIV promo, vfx by Coffee and TV

Posted 10 December 2013 by Jake Bickerton

Guess who's got a new name?

It's got to be at least a year since Deluxe 142 last underwent a rebrand, which means it’s probably about time for another. Sure enough, it is. The company, which has had three names – Deluxe 142, Ascent 142 and Ascent Media – in the space of just five years, will now be known as Encore.

The name change doesn’t impact on the other UK brands owned by Deluxe – Rushes, Company 3, Method and Editpool – but, as of today, Deluxe 142 becomes a thing of the past.

Encore is Deluxe’s global broadcast post production brand, and used for its facilities in Hollywood, New York, Vancouver and now London, which begs the question as to why Deluxe 142 wasn’t just named Encore when Deluxe took over Ascent 142 a few years ago.

Aside from the new name, nothing major appears to be changing at Encore, with the management team and business structure remaining as it is.

Posted 28 November 2013 by Jake Bickerton

How to brand a TV channel with music

Here’s a really illuminating video revealing how to brand a TV channel using music. It was created by music production company Hum’s md and composer Joe Glasman and expertly takes the viewer from the initial thinking about the music design through to the implementation of the music in a multitude of different themed idents for the TV channel.

The channel under the spotlight is Italy’s La 7, which, in the series of idents, takes its No. 7 logo and films it in familiar outdoor locations across Italy, and wanted an immediately identifiable piece of music to brand the films.

The thinking stages and creative process involved in making the music to match the requirements of the channel are laid bare in Glasman’s film, making it very interesting viewing in discovering how to brand a TV channel with music.

The Power of 7: How to brand a TV channel with music from Joe Glasman on Vimeo.

Posted 20 November 2013 by Jake Bickerton

IBC2013: Filming on a souped-up iPad Mini

IBC2013: While chatting to a fellow journalist – Randi Altman, ex-editor of US-based Post magazine - in one of the after show events last night, I asked if she was filming any of her interviews, to which she responded by whipping out from her bag an intriguing looking device surrounding what looked like an iPad Mini.

Turns out it was an iPad Mini and the Heath Robinson styled contraption was a 3D-printed surround for the tablet, which turns it into halfway decent digital film camera.

It includes mounts for lights, a microphone and a tripod connection, as well as a small lens that sits over the iPad Mini’s camera.

The device was designed and 3D printed by a friend of Altman’s, who lent it to her for the show. He is currently trying to get the manufacture of his device funded via a Kickstarter campaign.

Posted 16 September 2013 by Jake Bickerton

The art of the edit

In advance of the inaugural EditFest London event this weekend, I caught up with six editors at the top of their game to discuss the art of editing, the processes involved in cutting and the skills required to be a successful editor.

Organised by The American Cinema Editors (ACE), EditFest takes place in Soho (June 29th), with an impressive roster of some of the best editors in the world convening on London to talk through their craft in a series of Q&A sessions.

The editors taking part include Oscar winners such as the much-celebrated Anne V. Coates, whose editing credits include Lawrence of Arabia, The Elephant Man, Erin Brockovich and Becket, and Chris Dickens, who won an Oscar for his edit of Slumdog Millionaire.

The lineup also includes Primetime Emmy winner and Game of Thrones editor Frances Parker, Kick-Ass 1&2 editor Eddie Hamilton, Downton Abbey and Billy Elliot editor John Wilson and Tracy Granger, the editor on Still Life.

Anne V. Coates  (Lawrence of Arabia, The Elephant Man, Out of Sight)
It was quite difficult to change over from film editing to computer-based editing in the mid-90s. I knew very little about computers, but when I did Congo [released in 1995], I had to go to computers; I had no choice. They fixed up lessons for me and my crew so we all learned together. It was really difficult at first. I was fairly old and thought I probably wouldn’t need to change, but it came to the point where either you change or you move on and leave the industry.

So I took it as a challenge. I knew it was where the business was going, and while I resisted initially as it was difficult to learn and I kept wanting to kick the machine, I knew I had no choice. Originally I learned on a Lightworks, which I wanted to do as it was British and it was supposed to be easy. I cut four or five films on that, until Out of Sight [released in 1998], where I moved over to Avid on request of the sound editor. That was quite difficult as it was quite a complicated picture. There were lots of technical problems, and the director said I could go back to Lightworks if I wanted, but I was determined to master it.

In the end, I embraced the change. The editing software is only a tool – you’re still making movies, telling stories, creating humour and excitement, the same as before. You’re doing exactly the same thing but in a different way.
Another change has been that more directors come into the cutting room with you these days. Previously it was thought of as very unusual, now it’s an everyday occurrence. There are still some directors who don’t want to see anything you’re doing at all during the shooting. Then you show the first cut to them and it’s very nerve wracking. Handing over a film is like handing over a baby.

Now I’ve slowed right down and am in semi-retirement, with a bad back and leg. I used to always take time off between pictures anyway as I think you need space between films. It’s only a film, you have a life to lead as well. I like to have the summer off each year and I’ll look to get something around September. I quite like doing ‘doctor jobs’ where they need another pair of eyes on an edit that’s already been worked up.

My favourite of the films I’ve edited is Lawrence of Arabia as there’s nothing else like it. I loved Becket and Out of Sight too, and The Elephant Man. I’ve cut so many different films it’s difficult to choose just one.

To be a good editor you need to have a certain authority, a storytelling quality and a lot of patience. Women make good editors – they generally have more patience as they deal with children all the time, which is much the same as dealing with directors.

Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire, Les Misérables)
There are many different schools of thought – some think editing should be invisible, some think the opposite, but it’s all about serving the story. If a film works, it’s been well edited – it’s not just a series of shots cut together well, it’s to do with the whole. The edit is the essence of filmmaking.

Every morning you get whatever they’ve shot from the day before. You cut that and feed back to the director. You try to keep up with the shoot – both to have something to show the director and for your own sake. It depends how much time you have but I aim to watch all the rushes. If you don’t, you don’t know the progression and why the camera changed or whatever. Watching everything also helps formulate a plan for how to edit. You can’t get the edit right first time. Later you might find you need to re-cut something and if you don’t know what’s there, you won’t know how to do it.

50% of the way something functions is down to the sound so I do as much as I can of the sound editing during the cut.

You’re always located close to the shoot, though you don’t want to be too close as you need to be independent and have your opinions uncoloured by what’s going on.

The aim is to have the first assembly ready a few days after the shoot, to show the director and producer. Some directors like to open the process up quickly by doing screenings of fairly early cuts, whereas others are very protective of it and don’t want anyone to see it until it’s 100% ready. You can miss things if you work in isolation, if you protect a film for too long.

We test screened Slumdog Millionaire twice. The audience didn’t like the orignal ending very much, which is quite a commonplace occurance. Following a screening, you can schedule in a bit more shooting to adapt it if you feel the feedback merits it. Then you re-screen to test the reaction.

How long it takes to edit depends on what kind of thing you’re shooting. Four minutes is probably the average amount of screen time you’ll edit in a day. Generally, if it’s a 9-10 week shoot, it’s 9-10 weeks after this you’ll be expected to have the director’s cut ready.

An editor has to have patience, diplomacy, and a willingness to start again. You need to be able to listen to people’s opinions and not be too precious. Editing is more related to art, sculpture and painting and is more about your feelings and trusting them; you need to be able to control and channel that.

Frances Parker (Game of Thrones, Band of Brothers)
Editing is such a subjective discipline – pretty much everyone can agree as to what makes great photography, great design, great costumes, make-up and music but most people would be hard pushed to comment on how the editing has enhanced the film or TV show. The overall aim is to be on the right shot at the right time, which is sort of obvious, but I can give you an example of when no editing was the most effective way to go. It was in a dialogue scene – as one of the actors delivered the big speech, the pivotal point of the scene, the editor chose to play the whole speech on the face of the listener – not because the speaking actor was no good but because the sense of the dialogue was more effectively conveyed on the reaction rather than the delivery. So it’s not always obvious.

I suppose the closest analogy to editing is music – it can be melodic or discordant, it can change pace abruptly or you can hang on a sustained note – but it must always have a logic of its own that draws the audience in.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult with the rise of digital photography but I try to watch all the footage that comes into the cutting room. I know this is not everyone’s practice but I can’t bear the idea of overlooking a shot or a performance. I make notes against the script as I go – nice section of wide shot here; great performance for that line there; perfect reaction to this piece of dialogue etc, etc. As I watch the same sections of the scene over and over in various setups it becomes clear what the director’s intention is. Then I roughly construct the scene trying to include those moments I’ve noted. It’s then a good idea to put the scene to one side before it gets over-thought and sneak up on it later.

I’ve always enjoyed working collaboratively but it’s always been the case that we’ve worked on individual episodes so there’s never been a clash of styles within an episode. Just mulling things over with other editors is an interesting thing to do, as we share the same preoccupations. If it’s a multi-strand series like Game of Thrones it’s a good idea to discuss the various strands with the others to see where the emphasis lies in their episodes and to make sure we’re not inadvertently repeating something.

It used to be the gold standard that editing should be unobtrusive and seamless. Some of the best editing still is but there is far more scope now to be less conservative. The average audience is not going to be thrown off by jump cuts, discontinuity and crossing the line.

Eddie Hamilton (Kick-Ass 1 and 2, X-Men: First Class)
A good edit is something that produces the correct emotional response from the audience. People pay to have their emotions manipulated – they want to feel scared, to fall in love – if we deliver that, they get their money’s worth. It’s when you get the right timing for a joke, the right amount of shock value in a horror, the right amount of misdirection in the edit, the right amount of close-ups on a couple and so on.

Experience plays into it a lot – you can only break the rules once you know the rules. I try out new stuff to freshen things up a little and make sure I watch lots of movies and TV so I know the fashions and trends. It’s also key to have a good shorthand with the director.

The editor is solely focused on the storytelling and I’m always brutally honest with script feedback, as audiences are always brutally honest. Aded to this, if there are any problems with the script they will still be there when you get to the edit. When reading a script, I look for things like pace, a confused storyline, characters dropping out of the script and so on. If you minimise the issues in advance you’re in a good position for the edit.

The edit usually starts on day two of the shoot. My approach is to dig in and throw a cut together before I’ve watched all the footage. I’ll then swap out line readings if and when I find something that works better. I’ll also go through and mix in sound effects and temp music and really build up theatrical level sound in Avid to show the full potential of a scene.

My job is to make the film the director wants to make, and the norm is for the director to drop in every few days to see what is and isn’t working. The first assembly is really just for the director. Then a couple of producers might see the next version, and you slowly widen the circle each time. You often have a dinner party screening to garner opinion, then a bigger screening, then eventually you go up to 200 or so people to get a much broader sample base for feedback.

Millions of dollars are spent between the words ‘action’ and ‘cut’ with hundreds of people worrying about it all. Then it literally just comes to me and I build the film. I’m the first person to set eyes on the film – it’s incredibly exciting, and a very privileged position to be in. I love going to work every day. I take a step back when I’m having a bad day just to be grateful for the position I’m in.

Having a passion to edit is the most important factor in being an editor – it can be quite a solitary job and you’re always focussing on the minutest of details. You need to be an expert storyteller and a technical expert – f*ck ups cost a fortune so have to be avoided. And politically there’s a lot of stress with all the money at stake so you have to be very diplomatic and keep calm, especially when things aren’t going that well.

The process of refining a film or TV programme is largely the same – though with TV work there are fewer rushes, and generally you have to fix fewer problems. There’s also not so much money at stake. One mediocre episode can be skipped through whereas film has no room for failure. Film is more complex and takes more time to get right, although a lower budget film may have the same timescale and a similar amount of money spent on it as a TV production.

John Wilson (Downton Abbey, Billy Elliot)
With TV, there’s a definitive maximum running time. I was having a real struggle to contain all story strands in series two of Downton Abbey within the 47 minutes or so permitted running length. On telling the producers this episode could only fit the permitted time slot if one of the storylines was dropped, it was sensibly decided to permit the episode a 10-minute overrun, which was then applied to all the subsequent series two episodes.

There was always plenty of good material to find its way into the episodes and, owing to the huge appeal of the programme, the audience certainly wasn’t complaining about slightly longer doses of their favourite Sunday night fix.

When I started out in the 70s it used to be said that an editor’s role was 90% diplomacy and 10% ability. There is still some truth in that. I believe an editor’s prime roll is storytelling with as much clarity as his material will permit. Often in the shortening process, a story strand can be removed and it’s the editor’s duty to make sure the audience is kept in touch with the narrative flow. It’s also vital to keep one step ahead of the audience – if they know what’s going to happen before they should, you lose their attention as well as their overall interest.

Directors are sometimes surprised by how an editor may put a scene together completely differently to how they envisaged it – perhaps because the editor hasn’t been on set, so there is more freedom in how to construct a scene.

Tracy Granger (Still Life, Frank, Boys Don’t Cry)
A good edit is when you sit down to watch a film in a theatre and you are sucked into the story and characters, completely engrossed and never think of anything else until it’s finished. It’s about the images, sound and music all transporting you to this other place. If you find yourself thinking, ‘Did I leave that parking thing on the dashboard?’ you’ve got a problem.

For a feature film, first I do a rough cut or assembly with everything that was shot. I leave in all the best moments for each character, milking everything as much a possible. I immerse myself in this cut. This is how I get the movie into my head. Then it’s just a slow process of elimination really. The director and I deciding, ‘Do we need this? Do we need that?’, slowly reducing it, tightening it, making many, many passes through the film, sort of moulding it like clay as we go. We’re constantly tweaking and shaping it, building an emotional narrative until we don’t feel the beginnings and endings of scenes any more.

Then once we’ve finished a cut, we screen it for an audience because that’s where you really feel where the energy drops or when you’ve cut something too short and a moment feels too clipped.

When it’s working, it just flows. But it takes a good while to get a cut to that place. Sometimes the director and I will look at a sequence we’ve spent all day working on and think, ‘Yes that works’. The next morning, we watch it fresh and think, ‘God, we have to rethink it yet again.’ Editing really is the final rewrite.

Posted 26 June 2013 by Jake Bickerton
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