Wizardry at its Best: A nuanced analysis of the sprawling cosmos of post-production: where the magic really happens (Part 2)

Editing, Morgan Swift, Final cut pro, Adobe Premier Pro, Roongta, Animation, Audio editing, Post-production, Anant Roongta, Famous Studios, Production, Mac Pro Cylinders, Munro Acoustics, Jack Foley, Visual effects, Colourists, Lighting conditions, Ben Turner, Motion capture, P V Sindhu


Taking its name from Jack Foley, the Hollywood sound editor regarded as the ‘father’ of these effects, Foley is the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to films, videos, and other media in post-production, to enhance audio quality. Foley sounds are used to enhance the auditory experience. Foley artists recreate the realistic ambient sounds that the film portrays, often with props which mimic the actual sound required for the scene, albeit, in a recording studio. Foley art can be broken down into three main categories — feet, moves, and specifics.

Feet: The category entails the sound of footsteps. To make the sound of walking down a staircase, Foley artists stomp their feet on a marble slab while watching the footage, which requires different kinds of shoes and floors to create the right sound. These floors, known as Foley Pits, vary from marble squares to gravel and rock pits.

Moves: All subtle sounds heard in films come under this category. For instance, the swishing of clothing when two actors walk past each other, is created by rubbing two pieces of the same material together near the microphone at the same rate that the actor’s legs cross

Specifics: Foley can also include other sounds, such as doors closing and doorbells ringing; however, these tend to be done more efficiently using stock sound effects, arranged by sound editors.
Foley effects help the viewer judge the size of a space. For example, a large hall has strong reverberation, a small room may have only slight reverberation, while outdoor spaces usually have no reverberation at all.

The use of VFX and colour grading is not new to the production industry. Colourists improve the appearance of an image for presentation in different environments on different devices. Various attributes of an image may be enhanced - whether for motion pictures, videos, or still images. Colour correction refers to adjusting white and black levels, exposure, contrast, and white balance to give an image with accurate, unprocessed-seeming colours. This is to ensure that subsequent colour adjustments have more precision and consistency. Colour grading refers to the stylised colour scheme of the footage. This can either be extreme or rather subtle so as to achieve colour fidelity and well-defined curves and edges. It is used to evoke continual emotion in a sequence of scenes.

Colour correcting compensates for variations in the material (i.e. film errors, white balance, varying lighting conditions) and the intended viewing environment (dark, dim, bright surrounds). It helps optimise base appearance for inclusion of special visual effects for an artistic look.

Colour grading affects the whole image by providing control over the colour density curves of red, green, blue colour channels, across the entire frame. This is achieved using masks, mattes and motion tracking. Motion tracking automates the process of isolating a colour on a moving subject using algorithms to evaluate the motion of a group of pixels. Grading enhances/alters the mood of a scene — the visual equivalent to the musical accompaniment of a film.

VFX manipulates imagery outside the context of a live action shot in filmmaking. It involves the integration of live action footage (special effects) and generated imagery (digital or optical effects) to create environments, inanimate objects, animals or creatures which look realistic, but would be dangerous, expensive, impractical, time-consuming or impossible to capture on film.

At Famous, colour grading involves using a combination of Baselight and Lustre. The Baselight suite is equipped with Blackboard One and offers a collaborative 4K workflow with TV Logic LUM-318G 4K monitors and storage. The suite is also equipped with a projector to grade feature films.

The Lustre suite comprises of a grading panel along with Flame which runs on a HP Z840 workstation equipped with SAN storage. This is part of an integrated work flow and look creation process for the clients. “We are equipped with 8 Autodesk Flames as part of our pipeline for finishing and visual effects. Flame offers the best tools with a user-friendly interface to do real time 3D compositing, advanced graphics, design and colour correction,” said Roongta.

The seamless integration of the elements of colour grading, colour correction and VFX, constitutes a perfect scene. A good case study, exhibiting an immaculate blend of these three components is that of a spot for UK telco, BT. Director, Fredrik Bond, along with The Mill, a VFX and creative content studio in London, worked out a spot for UK telco, BT. In the spot, the hero comes home to find it full of soldiers, angels, dancers, fairies, a giant and a horse – characters from the myriad of games and movies the family are watching simultaneously. The look demanded multiple layers of compositing, which had to be convincingly scaled and colour matched, with similar lighting applied, so all the layers sit together. In a traditional workflow, this would have meant a lot of loops between VFX and grading to get the best from each layer, and a certain amount of compromise as the colourist imposed changes on virtual elements to make the final grade.

To avoid this, and to speed progress, The Mill has recently started using BLG for Flame, the plugin from FilmLight that allows the much-used Baselight grades to be rendered identically within Flame – with no back and forth to the colour suite to render out new versions of shots. It means the VFX supervisor is continually seeing the latest grade, and the colourist can access the latest Flame elements to match them in.
Speaking of the traditional post workflow, Ben Turner, VFX supervisor, said, “Of course it was frustrating to grade a sequence then drop the VFX on top. To get the results our collaborators expect, we were constantly pushing material to and fro. We could end up with more than a hundred publishes on a single job.”

With the BLG for Flame plugin, the VFX artist sees the latest Baselight grade automatically applied, either from FilmLight’s BLG format files or directly from a Baselight scene, even while the scene is still being graded. Baselight grades non-destructively, by building up layers of metadata that are imposed in real time. The metadata includes all the grading information, multiple windows and layers, effects and relights, textures and more – the whole process. This information can be imposed on the raw footage by any BLG-equipped device for real-time rendering and review (even remote). Bond was back in Los Angeles by the time of the post. He sat in a calibrated room in The Mill in LA and could see the graded images at every stage. He could react quickly to the first animation tests.

The workflow brought the different creative talents together throughout the pipeline, rather than VFX creating and compositing elements, which Dave Ludlam, colourist, then had to match. Instead there was continuous collaboration. Turner admitted that it means more to-ing and fro-ing, but that is a positive benefit. “If I need to talk to Ludlam then I can pop in and solve a specific challenge in minutes. By creating the CGI to work with the background, I know that he will never have to push anything too hard in the final grade,” he said. Ludlam agreed that this is a complete change, but extremely beneficial.

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