Archive for February, 2012

What do VFX editors do? Really.

February 29th, 2012

Video Effects Job

by Joshua Saeta

First, let’s paint the current scene…

Fact 1: Most picture editors these days work the video track on their systems to create visual effects, from routine dissolves and fades to green screens, split screens, and all kinds of motion effects.

Fact 2: VFX are used to tell or enhance the story today more than ever in film history. As more and more VFX permeate the screen, they are becoming less noticeable. Chris Dickens, 2009 Academy award winner for Slumdog Millionaire, remarks about editing an earlier movie – the sizzling action-comedy Hot Fuzz: “A lot of the cuts are nearly invisible and others are intentional, such as jump cuts. We [Dickens and director] wanted the cutting at times to draw attention to itself. There are also other invisible things, like hid­den split-screens in a shot to pick up the pace within that shot.”

Fact 3: Editors and other fimmakers who create VFX for a living can be the unsung auteurs of the film and are pretty damn busy these days with live action and animated features as well as TV shows, often working side by side in a room full of computers.

To understand who will be creating the effect – picture or VFX editor – it’s first necessary to know what types of VFX there are.

Categories of VFX

VFX can be categorized by the time and money they suck up:
1) Simple VFX

–    Include transitions, flips, and filters.

–    Most common.

–    Easily created on the digital system by the editor.

2) Complex VFX

–    Layered, consisting of two or more shots, and perhaps some text and a dissolve or superimposition.

–    Editor creates on the system or by using Adobe After Effects (AE), Boris (Avid FX), or other motion graphics software and imports into editing system.

–    May be outsourced to the post house (wire removal and other routine VFX) or to the VFX house (original, more involved VFX).

3) Super complex VFX

–    Combine many types of effects.

–    Can include live shots, 3-D, CGI, and animation.

–    Created at VFX house by a team of artists, craftspeople, and editors on AE, Combustion, Flame, Maya, or other compositing, motion graphics, or 3-D animation software.

The creation of VFX follows two main workflows, depending on whether the picture editor creates them or they’re delegated to a VFX editor. The next post of this three part series will cover how the editor creates VFX in the cutting room.

Editor’s role, Visual FX editing

Oscar Blog: Animated Shorts

February 22nd, 2012

I guess I should be talking about the editor noms for next Sunday’s, (Feb 26), Academy award ceremony, but, as usual, all nominated editors deserve the award, and, as I stated previously, I hope Thelma Schoonmaker gets it for Hugo just because she’s will break a three way tie with three male editors and be the first editor to take home four Oscars.

So, on to what caught my eye this week: The five animated shorts nominated by the Academy this year:

Dimanche (Sunday) – France

A Morning Stroll – U.S.A.

Wild Life – Canada

La Luna – U.S.A.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore – U.S.A.

A short film, according to AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) rules, must have a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits. The bunch I saw ran from seven to fifteen minutes. While there were female producers and other female crew, the shorts were all directed by men and mostly featured male characters.

As I sat in a local theatre, watching short after short, I was awed by the marvelous ideas and images. I also noticed that animation can play much faster and looser with transitions in time and place, and therefore story as all took leaps unfeasible in live action shorts – or longs for that matter.  As I watched short after short, soaking up the clever images accompanying the good stories, I waited for the film that would soar into the stratosphere with a story and theme above the others. It finally came in the form of…

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Since I saw it this 2-D flick in the theatre, I have now watched it three times online – twice with other people who were equally entranced – and I am still seeing things. View it yourself and see what you think and if you agree that it deserves the Oscar.

It’s a 15-minute fable from Shreveport, LA based Moonbot Studios that uses CGI and miniatures to tell the tale of a book lover and writer who lives in the New Orleans. Since it has no dialogue, it qualifies as a silent film, though there’s music and spare sound effects. Throughout the movie the “Pop Goes the Weasel” melody plays – slow, fast, upbeat, forlornly, etc. – always underscoring the mood of the moment. The animation allows for some unexplained moments – or at least I didn’t figure them out – but they are part of the charm and power of the medium. Also, if you spell out the central character’s name syllable by syllable – “morr is less more” it’s a bit nonsensical.

The real genius of Moonbot’s creation is that it’s both a book and a film, evocative of the “live” paintings in the Harry Potter movies and books but much more. Let me explain…

Shot from short
Act 1

In the first act a Katrina-like storm destroys the city and his book, literally spinning his life in a new direction. In his porkpie hat, body, and actions, Morris is a ringer for Buster Keaton.  The film also pays homage to the Wizard of Oz when it reverses the tornado scene, transitioning from colorful New Orleans to a colorless land of destruction where the storm deposits houses drop from the sky, upside down, and Morris emerges from one of them. The act ends with a black out.

Shot from short
Act 2

The second act then begins with Morris in Bookland (my term) where the color slowly seeps back into the landscape and opened books fly like birds, flutter their “wings” like butterflies, and walk on stilt like legs. The power of the reaction shot is proven once again as books – primarily an old fashioned copy of Humpty Dumpty – react to Morris – laughing, urging, crying, etc. often via flip book motion.

Shot from shortAs the act progresses, Morris revives a book in an operating theatre as one books becomes a heart monitor machine, another a heart pump, another provides operating instructions, and a third looks on – Humpty Dumpty again – with encouragement and concern. He also revives the local population, handing books via a takeout window. The people are colorless until they receive their book – in color – which breathes color into them.  Morris also takes up writing his own book again inside a 19th century library – his new, post-hurricane home – where books form his family.

Shot from short
Act 3

The third act shows Morris, now gray-haired, finishing his opus, and completing the hand off of it and his library-home to the next generation.

The animation allows for some unexplained moments – or at least I didn’t figure them out – but they are part of the charm and power of the medium. Also, if you spell out the central character’s name syllable by syllable – “morr is less more” it’s a bit nonsensical.

Lastly, the film is avilable as an interactive e-Book on iPad, completing the translation of book to film and back and placing it firmly in 2012. In the end it’s the force of story that holds the viewer-reader attention as “book” and “film” meld and the words lose their meaning. Long may the force be with us!

But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself in this trailer for the iPad app. Yes! A trailer – another connector between the world of film and books. (FYI: I haven’t accepted a dime from any commercial sources so far on this site and will let you know when I do. I just rave or pan as I see it.)

Awards, Joy goes to the movies

What do editors do?

February 15th, 2012

Editor's Job

by Guillaume Choquette

It’s all about perception, at least according to this rendition. And speaking of renditions, the last image is of a visual effect being rendered, translating to “Editors actually sit and wait too often for the machine to complete the edit.” True.

There are other of these cartoons floating around – on producers, writers, etc. In fact, another one’s coming up in the next blog and kicks off a three part series. So stay tuned.

Fun & games

Indexing and Editing

February 8th, 2012

Cut by Cut 2nd edition coverGood news! My new book, Cut by Cut: Editing Your Film or Video, Second Edition, comes out June 1. You can already pre-order it at Amazon.

Less great news: For the past three weeks I’ve been writing the index – a tedious task that has meant that blogs (and other things in my life) have been less frequent. However…

Indexing is a lot like editing

…I’ve discovered. When deciding what terms to index I think about how a reader will look up things up in the book. Will s/he look up “click track?” which has only two entries. Or will “track, clik do?” This parallels how an editor constantly stands in for the audience, deciding what to show them next. Ralph Winters, A.C.E., whose pictures included Gaslight, The Pink Panther, 10, and Victor Victoria stated, “You’ve got to learn where the audience’s eye is going to be.”

Second parallel

You can’t create an index entry like this:

3-D, 9, 27, 55, 65, 72, 111, 113, 173, 176, 180-182, 195, 235-236, 282, 336, 347, 355-357, 404, 407.  These are too many pages for a reader to wade through to find the exact info they need. You have to break the wad of page numbers up with modifiers like this:

3-D, 27, 111, 113, 173, 347, 404, 407; disk finish, 355-357; editing, 9, 176, 180-182, 195; and sound, 282, 336; VFX, 55, 235-236; and workflow, 65, 72

And in the case of editing, you can’t bore or frustrate your audience or they will not recommend your show.

Director-editor Edward Dmytryk writes in his classic, ever-reprinted book: On Film Editing, An Introduction to the Art of Film Construction:  “… cutting should always be con­ceived to show the viewer what he should see at every point in the film. Sometimes it is what the viewer, whether or not he is aware of it, wants to see; some­times it is what the viewer, whether or not he likes it at the moment, should see; and some­times (quite often, really) it is what the director and/or cutter manipulate him.”

Third parallel

Indexing seems to go on forever, one word leading to another. For example “sound”: Should I also include “audio?” How about “track?” And how to handle “video tracks”? The choices are endless; one indexed word leading to another. I jump around, doing easy words to break up those like “editing” and “sound” that demand more thought. It’s endless, and yet, just like editing, someday soon I will make the last edit, er, refine the last entry. And get to blog and think about something else. See you soon, I hope!

Editor’s role