Seeing Tomorrow VFX – Part Two: The Making of Metal and Men

Independent Filmmaker Series

Some time ago we were approached to conduct a workshop on successful workflows in Shading and Material construction for Independent Filmmakers.

PART ONE: The following videos (see below) represent Part One of the Workshop which deals will laying a solid foundation for Independent Filmmakers to be able to follow. Part Two, which is more of an application workflow tutorial is in production now. SEE BELOW FOR PART ONE VIDEOS

  • Designed for the Filmmaker who wants basic education on Shading Next Steps
  • Foundation aspects of Shading and Material Creation
  • Role of Production Design
  • Use of Color Palette creation tools
  • Identifying Render Engines


  • Step by Step Vray Shader Creation
  • Creation of Color Palette
  • Texture Material Creation in Photoshop and Mari
  • Diffuse, Normal/Bump, Reflection/Spec Map Creation
  • Scene Reference Linear Workflow Explained
  • HDRI Light Setup

If you have been invited to ask a question, for the workshop, please use the link here: Send Shading and Material Questions Here or Send an email with your shading question to subject line: IFS Shading Video Question


Medium Rear Shot of Communications port
Medium Rear Shot of Communications port

The IFS Price for the Video will be $34.95, follow the link belong to get the video from us at a discounted rate. If you would like to advance purchase the IFS Shading Video, go to the SideBar and Choose BUY NOW.




The IFS Price for the Video will be $34.95, follow the link belong to get the video from us at a discounted rate. If you would like to advance purchase the IFS Shading Video, go to the SideBar (Right) and Choose IFS Shading Video and click BUY NOW.

The Art of The Guillotine: Finishing Sentences

“The best collaborations are the director-editor teams, where they can finish each others sentences,”

These are the words of Writer/Director and all around “Do-it-Different Guy” Quentin Tarantino when asked what the most important collaborations where in making a film. He went on to add that his own editor, Sally Menke, was his “only, truly genuine collaborator”. Indeed, even noted Film critic Walter Kerr has argued that editing is comparable in its importance to directing itself, and should be credited as such; he wrote “At the very least, it seems to me, the editor’s credit should be rescued from its place near the bottom of the list, an area we may call Oblivion…. Second position is where he belongs, and no lower, if we’re still going to hold him to also-ran status.”[1]

Oscar winning Editor Thelma Schoonmaker

Recently, we’ve seen a lot of films where the end credits read as such, Written, directed, edited, sound mixed and starring…. insert one name. Never mind the circus which comes with acting and directing yourself, but the one that gets us is the WDE (writer, director, editor) or Indie Trifecta.

The greatest downside to cheap digital tools is that any Filmmaker can now pull off the Trifecta (writing, directing and editing) or even the dreaded Quad Singularity, Writing, Directing, Editing and Acting!  (See that black hole ahead, that’s your film!). The old world notion that a filmmaker should have to raise funds to hire or pitch professionals to work/gift on their films is no longer necessary (Hint: if you can’t convince an individual to invest in your project (funds or gifted work), maybe a re-evaluation of your Project might be called for) In the words of one filmmaker, “Final Cut Studio comes with a manual, so why do I need an Editor, Colorist or Sound Mixer?” (The next Oscar winner to get up and thank Apple or Avid for creating a great manual will be the first)

This post is not a comment on the hobby filmmaker or the occasional practitioner, but to the auteurs/pros and career filmmakers who dream of one day holding a statue in their hands (as we do also).

Today, filmmakers yearn for EPICs and Scarlets, but how many times have you heard someone long for a Murch or a Cox? I think the latter is far more vital to success (I have an EPIC and I’d trade it for a Murch/Cox or even an Angus Wall in a heartbeat). As proof I point to this long list of Oscar winning filmmaking collaborations;

35 years and more

30–34 years

25–29 years

20–24 years

15–19 years

9–14 years

Sure, we’ve all heard repeatedly the wounded cry of a lot of filmmakers, “look at Akira Kurosawa (who both directed and edited many of his best-known films, Seven Samurai (1954) and Kagemusha (1980)) or The Coen Bros, who edit under the name Roderick Jaynes, they can do both well”. I think if your opening statement is to compare yourself to the above auteurs well, have a nice day, because I really don’t think you are in the same Astral plane as the rest of us. These are unique individuals, that’s why the list above is sooo very long and this paragraph has three names, nuff said.

So what am I saying? Get an editor. An Artist. Someone to finish your sentences. Beg, Borrow, Bribe and/or just Ask. Develop inhouse (Many wanna be directors would do far better learning storytelling, pacing and angles by editing than crowning themselves helmer and asking mom and family to crew. And not growing or maturing as an artist because of it) .

Why get an editor? Because it helps to have someone who knows your goals, but can see with a fresh pair of glasses. (Editing IS directing, it’s just done at a keyboard instead of on a set.) Someone once said; A Film is made (3) Three times, once with the pen, once through the lens and finally in the edit. If you as the filmmaker helm all three times, how many opportunities did you miss to re-tell the story or explore other avenues in the plot because you can’t see anything other than the story the way you wrote it? A good editor can see and shape audience reaction, even if the Director missed getting the footage needed to tell the story in production. (When problems shooting the mechanical shark on Steven Spielberg’s Jaws threatened to sink the show, Verna Field’s legendary edit of ordinary b-roll shots of a shark fin slicing through water, transformed the movie from ordinary thriller to box office legend). Two storytellers, each seeing the goal and working, together to complete the vision.

(As Martin Scorsese garners another statue for his visionary film Hugo, one has to ask, would “Marty” be Marty without Thelma Schoonmaker? Maybe so, maybe not.) For an inside story on the Scorsese/Schoonmaker collaboration on Hugo go here

Another point is that if and when you are lucky enough to get funding for your projects, know that very few investors are going to be comfortable with the WDE scenario. Most will outright prohibit you from holding all three hats, often bringing in their own editor or (worse yet, Director). Despite the fact that securing funds with yourself listed as WDE is difficult to impossible (unless you have a proven track record of success with that model), why not start collaborating before that?

Personally, I’ve completed projects where I was forced for reasons to edit my own work and I’ve helmed projects edited by amazing collaborators that saw my vision. I’ll take the latter, every time. And though I can edit, I’m NOT an editor, as I’ve seen that a good editor is a storyteller and artist in their own right, and not just the Director’s (or Producer’s) puzzle builder. (I’m also a Colorist and I love collaborating with talented Directors and Producers as it gives me a chance to tell stories with light and color, adding my uniqueness to their vision)

I hire or beg good artist to work with me because I want to collaborate, with talented artist, some even though we don’t share anything in common but a love of good storytelling. The fact that they work with me, helps me to understand that I’m maturing as an artist myself. And having someone to finish my sentences makes me a better filmmaker. Good collaborations produce good results, from Production Design to End Credits, thus producing the best product-Films people enjoy and want to watch. And isn’t that the point?

My After Effects CS6 Wishlist

Recently, I found an unlicensed copy of After Effects 3.1 in cleaning out our storage room and I began to delve into the confusing world of the Adobe upgrade process. A morning glass of Orange Juice, a few mouse clicks and a new version of CS5.5 would soon reside on my drive. I had a mission.

Half the day later, my mission in flames and my sent box littered with emails, I found myself communicating with Steve Forde, product manager for After Effects via the forums. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I immediately abandoned my upgrade quest and asked the most relevant question I could think of, “What is planned for the next release of Ae?” Steve pointed me over to Todd Kopriva’s blog article discussing the same. The article which covers the most talked about request from the forums is more of a People’s Choice edition of have’s, must have’s and suggestions. Todd spends a great deal of time explaining that to ask for a feature is nice and encouraged, but specifics are what they need to give the request wings. He compiled the feature request based on popularity as following;

  • import of AAF files:
  • keyboard shortcut editor:
  • Vector Paint effect:
  • grouping layers in the Timeline panel:
  • variable-width mask feather:
  • saving projects backward so that they can be opened by a previous version of After Effects:
  • scopes (waveform and vector):
  • better handling of image sequences:
    • ability to see each image sequence as a separate item, not as a gazillion files
    • report showing exactly which frames are missing from an image sequence
    • auto-creation of a folder to hold each exported image sequence
  • extrusion of vector graphics:
  • GPU/CUDA acceleration:
  • scaling: better algorithms and ability to choose:
  • nodal compositing:
  • custom zoom values:
  • import of 3D objects:
  • After Effects for Linux:
  • bones and inverse kinematics within Puppet effect:

A good list, but as anyone who has followed After Effects for any significant time knows, a lot of the items above were addressed in CS5.5 or dropped in the 64bit port and would eventually be included back in (Ability to go back to Cs4 projects for example). To read Todd’s comments or to view the whole document go to (Steve Simmons also writes about this on his article for Studio Daily this week)

So what are my request for After Effects? My list includes some of the above (Scopes, CUDA Acceleration), but I’ll be more specific in my wish list and say for instance Scopes, specifically RGB-YUV Parade with realtime update and a ability to adjust sensitivity equal to the plugin from Test Gear (or port the technology over from Speedgrade). Here’s my list:

  • Integrate every cool thing from Speedgrade (RAW Support, HDR Support, Scopes, Multiple Timelines, Ability to play 4K Clips from timelines from GPU (even without RED Rocket)
The interface for Speedgrade NX
Interface for Speedgrade NX
  • Dynamic linking with upcoming new Adobe Speedgrade Product for Color Correction, specifically sequence import with color descision list (CDL) intact and ability to port plugins across the product (example: Sapphires show up in Speedgrade, provided you have license of course)
  • Mercury Engine Playback (or Speedgrade Engine) in Ae (Please!)
  • Vector Graphic Extrusion of Illustrator objects and Text into 3D space with Bevel and material and texture assignment. (This last feature could be done in Illustrator and imported)
  • Grouping of layers using an Uber-Twirl
  • Nodal Compositing of Adjustment Layers, Plugins and Mattes: This gives the user the ability to assign a plugin to an Adj Lyr then node connect only the layers they wish to the layer, so say goodbye to sitting layers at top of timeline and having to re-order to disconnect influencing layers below
Nuke Interface using Nodal Compositing feeding multiple Lyrs
Nuke Interface using Nodal Compositing feeding multiple Lyrs into one Mask
  • Matte Layers: Ability establish a matte on an Adj Layer and then connect layers to it via nodes noodles (like Fusion and Nuke)
  • Variable width mask feathering or just ability to read those attributes from programs such as Silhouette or Mocha
  • Python scripting for creating gizmos (Similar to Nuke) or applications containing both Plugins and Scripts that can be saved as gizmos or such (For example someone who does Keying might want a Key App that contains a sequence ready for keying but contains all the scripts also) This app can be pluged in, instead of opened
  • Better handling of RED Metadata by making the dialog box more accessible and including feedback in Project bin in a column. Also more integrated reading of RED Time of Day, and Absolute Timecode.
  • Better handling of Canon Color Science
  • Bring back AAFs support
  • Changing workspace to Display LUTs to be more in line with industry
  • Add CUDA support to Render Engine (Free up the CPU) This would allow you to buy one low cost PC, stock it full of  Nvidia Cards and use it a GPU Render Farm!
  • And finally, let users with RED Rocket engines enjoy realtime playback of RED clips

There’s my list, feel free to comment and I’d love to see yours, maybe I can compile all our list and send to Steve for his thoughts, and post here in future. Or better yet see some of them in April integrated into the next version of After Effects!

A Little bit of Color in my Life

Having done quite a few Grading jobs for Indie Film and taught the fundamentals of color for the last three years at workshops and as a Professor, I’m often astounded when the subject of Color grading tools come up, especially when that conversation is usually between the Producer and myself and not the Director of Photography. The tendency to say “We’ve got Colorista” or “Apple Color comes with FCP”, “Our editor will just tweak the colors at the end or he’ll just do it in FCP!” is almost as common as the hiring of a DP because he has a RED or a 5D with Lenses these days.

Here’s where the decision to “Finish on your own” if you are an indie filmmaker can turn into a nightmare

While Colorista and Color are wonderful tools and they have saved my butt many times, Stu Machowitz (the creator of Colorista) never intended for them to replace a DaVinci or the skilled artist that uses one. Colorista and Color’s toolset is impressive, especially given it’s price, but the fact that sophisticated but necessary task such as tracking are difficult, if not impossible to do easily in these programs, frame those tools as Primary and simple shot grading tools more specifically.

Sophisticated re-lighting or painting with light, in essence, recreating the mood or making a shot into a work of art, similar to a painting are the domain of the Colorist, not just making every shot balance out before a Quicktime is rendered

Tangent 200 Colorist Board

That is not say that your feature or short can not be done in Color or Colorista by your Editor or yourself, quite the opposite. But given the fact that more times than not, an Indie shoot is rife with let’s say “Less than ideal conditions” means that your footage is going to need MORE, not less attention in the grading stage. And that demands an artist, a Colorist, not an editor or producer “watching tutorials” minutes before starting a primary. My point usually to the Producer is to be as concerned with finishing as they are with sound. Both make or break a film. Both need capable professionals in tune with capturing an audience. Color decisions that make sense in a Quicktime environment such as FCP (like stacking 3way Color nodes to get a look), can prove disastrous if then that Quicktime is used for a DCI theater presentation (Film Festival). XYZ colorspace not with standing, the false gamma given by Quicktime has been known to make have many filmmakers scratching their heads trying to find out why the image on the movie screen was so flat.

Rum Runner Title Sequence

Rum Runner
Shot on Canon 5D, Zeiss Lenses,
Courtesy of ACK, ACK Productions

Color Correction

I wanted to pick an example which is reflective of the experience most Indies are having these days. The above image is from Rum Runner, a wonderful short directed by up and comer, Andrew Fenske, debut DOP’d by Kevin Coyne and Produced by Gina Brinker. Veteran Canon shooter John Turk served as Steadicam and Camera Operator for Kevin which allowed him to spend a great deal of time researching his look, but unfortunately as time constraints threatened the production, Kevin had to adjust on the fly. As a result, although lit adequately, he was not able to get the look he had hoped for in camera. The edit was done in Final Cut Pro and then sent to Apple Color where I performed a quick Primary and Secondary Grade on the film in order to get it out for a festival showing. But because Kevin and I had talked extensively before, during and after the production phase, I had a good ideal of what he was looking for and planned to go back later and do a full grade My workflow in Color was as follow, establish a Primary Grade, using the ProRes 442 online files with a roundtrip back to FCP in ProRes 422 with a gamma of 2.6 for theater delivery. Once the festival was done, I went back and looked at my notes for the shoot and CineSync reviewed all the shots. Below is the result.

Review session of colorBecause a lot of the shots on the production were done on a stabilizer and/or with a handheld approach, tracking a lot of the Color correction changes would be necessary. Faces, adding lighting to walls, corners, etc. would require a track first to compensate for the camera drift. Here’s where the decision to “Finish on your own” if you are an indie filmmaker can turn into a nightmare. While Colorista, MBLooks and Boris can use the AE tracker to apply an Adjustment layer with color changes applied to it, the process means stepping out of the plugin, tracking, then going back to the Color software. Not to mention that finding a reliable tracking point on a face is an adventure upon itself. The novice quite often chooses to just do a Primary using Magic Bullet Looks for getting a safe (Film, Television, web) deliverable rather than tackle a series of time consuming, tracking task along with stacking of Colorista nodes to get a look. The Colorist takes many different factors into account, such as concatenation (the negative result resulting from stacking plugins of same mathematical process on top of each other) 8 bit banding, and chooses the tool best suited to getting the job done. Sometimes Colorista is the best tool, sometimes DaVinci.

The second grade of Rum Runner saw the shots converted from the Canon master into Tif files (I usually like to use 10bit DPX files, especially if the master is RED, ArriRaw or some format that can give me a Log file. Since CineStyle was not available when we shot, the files were already encoded REC709, so Tif worked as a grading solution. I also want true 10bit images so I needed to bypass the ProRes Quicktime curve and acquire in as close to original master look as possible. The files were then taken into Scratch (my tool of choice for Canon 5D grading) and then a series of mattes, secondary scaffolds (Power windows), a key matted Diffusion pass (to smooth out skin) and a lens flare was added. A paint pass to fix skin blemishes was done and finally the color was graded for DCI (Theater, Film Festival) and REC709 (Television) and two different passes were output to digital files.

While the snapshot above does not reflect the finished shot, it is a significant improvement of the first grading session that I would call equal to what most indie filmmakers do. Quick, down and dirty. And while the software chosen helps, the point is that in order to compete, one has to emulate as much as the Hollywood experience as possible, for audiences will not except anything less. Grading is an art form and while the failure to do it well won’t destroy your film, a good Colorist can most definitely propel your film from ho hum to memorable.