Reflections On Being An Indie Film Producer #14

#14 Visual Effects, part 2

After completing the arduous task of getting a viable work flow, it was time to have creative fun with visual effects in Blood Pledge. We discovered there are 3 types of effects needed. They are:

1.   Clean-up

2.  Enhancements

3. “The money shot”

Clean-up is just as it sounds. There’s a lot going during the shoot, and we missed glaring errors in the filming. Most notably, all the actors wore wireless mic kits which were attached on their lower back, out of sight. Of course, they move and turn and in the post you see an obvious mic kit. The digital clean-up technology is quite remarkable in this regard. They simply erase the kit and replace it with matching color and texture from the wardrobe. We found around 40 clips that needed clean up.

Because of insurance costs, we instructed our armorer not to bring any kind of ammunition to the set. In the rifle scene, Matthew did an excellent job of faking the recoil from an empty rifle, which was a shotgun, but hey, that’s what the armorer brought. Obviously, this needed to be enhanced for realism. We went back and forth with the VFX team because they kept getting the muzzle blast “wrong.” They kept using a pistol style blast and modifying it. Eventually, they came around to my side after I sent them a YouTube clip with the exact visual from a hunting rifle.

Following that, the death scene of Matthew’s victim also became a back-and-forth discussion. To be honest, this was quite interesting to do, as it’s another form of creating a scene. They added the usual blood splatter from a gun wound, which looked great until we looked at it frame by frame. Then it didn’t look great. Gib intervened and was satisfied with the results since most everyone doesn’t look at movies frame by frame, only directors.

Last thought on enhancements—I wasn’t happy about the pooling blood scene. It looked like animation. Blood doesn’t spread along a floor in a perfect circle with a flat surface. Blood expands in a scallop formation with irregular textures. Well, I got the scalloping, but the texturing turned out to be beyond our budget.

Finally, the “money shot.” Big callout to Janet Place for insisting on a frightening horror visual and finding the funds to get the extraordinary results. It paid off. When I sat with the colorist for the first view, she gasped and grabbed my arm. The scene had its intended effect.

You can see the results here.

Reflections On Being An Indie Film Producer #13

Visual Effects, part 1

Like every other aspect of post-production, we found visual effects to be complicated, technically challenging and time consuming. We thought, “Gee, we’ll just hand this off to a VFX studio and just get back a final product.”

Didn’t work out that way…

For starters, we had to deal with outputting the frames from the original data source to a format that the VFX folks could work with. Should have been simple, it was not. Our visual effects editor, “Spike” wanted the frames in a format known as “open exr” the industry standard for adding effects. Our film editor, “Gib” felt that Spike should take the original format and do the conversion. Emails went back and forth with no resolution in sight. So “Dan” the director, besides now working full time on the sound edit, became a visual effects supervisor.

Essentially, I had to convert from the raw data to the open exr format. Sounds rather straightforward, right? Almost. The process involved first importing the clip into Adobe Premiere Pro, then exporting to After Effects which supports the exr format. It took several hours of trial and error to get the resolution, color depth and aspect ratio to be consistent with the original format.

Then, we had to deal with file sizes. Each exr frame came in at 200 megabytes. Thus, a three second clip at 24 frames per second comes out to 14.4 gigabytes! We had 60 clips that ran as long as 15 seconds to deal with and bandwidth and storage became an issue. We could only upload several clips in a day as to not exceed data storage restrictions.

Okay, we got past that hurdle only to discover when Gib reinserted the final VFX clips back into Blood Pledge, the timing was off. The clips were too short, leaving these black gaps in the movie.

Again, we had to interrupt VFX production to solve this issue. Turns out open exr seems to prefer a 30 frame rate. We shot Blood Pledge in cinematic 24 frame. I assumed After Effects would follow the native frame rate of 24—No, of course not. Even after we discovered this bias, the clips were still coming back too short.

Turns out a “frame” to a computer can be quite arbitrary. Unlike real film which has fixed images, software can interpolate as many frames as it likes in one second. So Spike’s team had to adjust their software as well because VFX software also prefers 30 frames per second.

Now that we had the technical issues solved, it was time to output the visual effects. In next week’s blog, I’ll discuss the new challenges with creating the final image.

You can find out more about open exr here.

Blood Pledge had over 20 effects, you can check out the results here.