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Behind-the-scenes of The Interview

Our recent short The Interview was an unusual project, in that it was originally created for an 85-second competition, over the course of a long weekend. Subsequently we went back and re-edited the film into a longer format, resulting in two very different versions of the same film. We’ve covered pre-production and production on the blog already and now it’s time to take a look at post-production in a bit more detail.

The edits

First up, we have the two edits of the film. Let’s take a look at them in case you haven’t watched them yet.

Here’s the original 85-second cut:

And here’s the 140-second cut:

Other than the evident difference in length, there are some key changes in the extended cut. Rather than expanding upon the original edit, I went back to the drawing board and edited on a clean timeline, building it up from scratch. A few things to note about the extended cut:

  • No side angles or dolly shots are used. It remains exclusively with the straight-on shots, cutting from the wide to the close-up (with a couple of extra close-up inserts of key details). Holding on the straight-on shots maintains a tension throughout; an uncomfortable focus on the lead character, making him the centre of attention, just like the feeling of being in an interview. Cutting to side shots added nothing to the story.
  • Awkward pauses between lines have been stretched out artificially in a few places by using additional footage on the end of takes. One fun example of this is right at the start, in the mid shot, just after Tom adjusts his tie: that wasn’t even a proper take. It was just a camera test which was recorded, with Tom waiting for the director to call action. Looking through the footage, it jumped out as a nice blank opening shot.
  • The IAT ident is reinstated at the start. Didn’t seem right without it. Note how the cuttlefish enters shot from the top of a 16:9 frame, but the steamwhale enters a wider aspect ratio which is then used for the rest of the film. A minor detail but I thought it was quite fun to have the cuttlefish bust out of the boundaries of the letterboxed frame.

VFX

The original cut had a single VFX shot, right at the end, with subtle ‘devil horns’ visible on Tom’s shadow as he says the line “see you in hell!” This shot was removed from the extended cut and replaced with some more elaborate ideas.

The location featured two conveniently placed doors, leading through to a couple of generic offices. In the 85-second cut these offices are dark and nondescript. Here’s a frame from the original footage:

original wide

And here’s the same shot in the extended cut:

enhanced wide

The ‘Heaven’ door was given a soft blue glow and the ‘Hell’ door a soft red glow. It’s hopefully subtle enough that to new viewers it’s not immediately evident, but it does serve to highlight that there’s a choice at work in the story.

The main VFX shot arrives at the end with the ‘demon face’ glitches. I wanted this to be a relatively naturalistic demon, rather than the over-the-top horror movie style face distortion often seen online. The film was never shot with this in mind but the key shot at the end of the film is locked off and features limited movement from Tom, making it possible to track on some digital prosthetics.

My original plan was to have the demon face flash up for just a couple of frames, so I took this frame:

078

And then brought it into GIMP and hand-painted some demon prosthetics. This I then exported out as its own layer for compositing inside HitFilm 2 Ultimate:

078-demon

You can see in the image above that the original plan was to augment Tom’s beard into something a bit more pointy and devilish, but I decided against that for the final shot, focusing instead on the eyebrow removal and ears.

Next up was tracking the movement of Tom’s face. For this I used HitFilm’s built-in 2D tracker, which worked just fine. A more complicated head move would require a more sophisticated track, perhaps shifting over to using mocha’s tracking abilities as used on the TV show GRIMM. Anyway, here’s all the tracked data I ended up with:

facetrack

I then duplicated the prosthetic layer into multiple pieces for each ear and the eyebrows and tracked them onto the relevant sections. It only required a little bit of fine tuning to get the effect working. You can see a raw version of the effect in action over the duration of the entire shot here:

There are, of course, errors in the shot, primarily with the eyebrows drifting a couple of times, and of course all the prosthetics go flying off in a comedy fashion at the end. In this particular case it didn’t matter, however, as I already knew that I was going to use the shot sparingly, appearing very briefly in a jittery, glitchy manner.

The glitching appearances were really easy to handle. I’d edited the film in Premiere Pro CC and was using HitFilm Plugins to grade the film. Each glitch segment required the application of three effects from the plugins pack:

  • Jitter automatically causes stuttering and out-of-frame-order playback. You could do that manually, of course, but slapping on a plugin makes it a lot easier.
  • Film damage adds all the dirt and gunge to the frame, plus random defocusing and frame jumps. I went for quite an extreme usage – more than you’d use if you were using it for a whole shot.
  • Shake adds artificial movement, giving the shot a floaty feel as if shot handheld. Notably, I applied shake after the jitter effect, so that the floaty virtual camerawork plays out in order even as the underlying frames are played out-of-order.

Finally, the extended version has a completely new grade. The original grade was done in a hurry and suffers from ridiculous over-sharpening – entirely my fault – which didn’t do Josh’s camerawork justice by any means. The extended cut gave me an opportunity to go back in and regrade, with more successful results.

That was about it for The Interview. The final step was to have the credits play in reverse direction, descending down into the depths and turning slightly red as they went.

We hope you enjoyed this glimpse behind-the-scenes!

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The Interview – extended cut now out!

We’re excited to present the extended cut of The Interview, originally created for the Locke 85 Second Challenge and now expanded to tell more of the story.

A behind-the-scenes video will follow soon going into more detail about the two versions of the film and the different challenges we encountered.

Find out more about the project here.

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Damien’s Interview – competition cut

A new short film from IAT is now online! Check it out above and over on the main channel.

This is the competition cut, designed to fit into the 85 second running time restriction as set for the LOCKE challenge.

We’re also now working on an extended cut which we’ll put up on the channel soon, along with some behind-the-scenes insight. The extended cut will also deliver a tweaked grade, which unfortunately suffered somewhat at the hands of YouTube’s processing, resulting in it being overly crunchy and sharpened. We wanted a high contrast, bleached look…but not quite that much. Nevertheless, we decided it was best to upload the competition version as that’s the version we submitted – that way you can contrast it with the final cut when that arrives.

Let us know what you think!

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“Locke” 85 Second Movie Challenge – Production Update

Setup began at 1pm on Sunday. Not only had Josh Davies come on board at very short notice to act as DOP, but also generously allowed us to use the FXHome office in central Norwich. The scene we were filming was of a character being interviewed in front of two doors – this location both gave us the necessary office vibe and miraculously enough even had two adjacent doors with plenty of space for us to film (once we had moved a few people’s desks out of the way – apologies to the FXHome development team for any signs of disturbance they noticed on Monday morning!)

Josh sets up the initial camera angle whilst Nigel reviews the script
Josh sets up the initial camera angle whilst Nigel reviews the script

 To help with the lighting we had to improvise various methods of blocking the natural light reflecting off the glass walls that would be in shot. Luckily being in an office meant that there were plenty of sofa cushions, whiteboards, unassembled bookshelves and the like that could be pressed into service.

Our actor Tom Butterworth arrived shortly after two o’ clock and got to work learning the lines that had been hot off the press only two hours earlier. Fortunately he had written some of them himself which must have helped, but even so it was a big ask – an eighty-five second time limit seems very short to everyone involved with the exception of the actor who has to memorise the script…

How difficult can memorising a page and a half of dialogue at short notice actually be?
How difficult can memorising a page and a half of dialogue at short notice actually be?

The scene was filmed from a face on perspective and then from an angle to both left and right – for reasons that will hopefully become stylistically apparent in the final edit. With such a small crew on set we all had to pitch in most of the time – for example when we realised that two of us were needed to be in position behind the doors during a shot Nigel found himself directing whilst also wrangling the microphone boom.

 Director, sound engineer and apparently make-up artist
Director, sound engineer and apparently make-up artist

 Josh was filming on a Sony Nex FS700 which gave us beautiful picture quality but also imposed another time limit in the form of camera battery life. We also realised fairly early on that battery drain was also greater than it would normally be as our Rhode boom mike was drawing its power from the camera as well. Consequently we were slamming the battery into the charger whenever we had a break in shooting to gain a few more vital percent of power.

Our attempt to power the camera through the power of Christopher's mind didn't succeed
Our attempt to power the camera through the power of Christopher’s mind didn’t succeed

 We remained very conscious of the film time limit all the way through – often Nigel would re-shoot a line minus a couple of words that weren’t vital; saving mere seconds but seconds that might make the difference for coming in under time in the edit. Perhaps an extravagant three minute long director’s cut might appear in the future – watch this space…

Hand-held close ups
Hand-held close ups

With all the “must-have” shots in the can we made use of the final few minutes of camera battery life to try a couple of glide shots on a wheeled camera dolly – another advantage of working in the office of a visual effects software company! By seven o’ clock the battery was down to 1% and Nigel called the wrap – after six hours of solid work we were all pretty tired but hopeful that we had everything we need to edit together a nice looking (very) short short.

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IAT shooting a new short this weekend

This weekend we’re throwing together a very short short for the LOCKE 85-Second Challenge. We’ve found that time limited challenges often bring out the best in us, forcing proper creative thinking. This time round we don’t have the theme and genre restrictions of the Sci-Fi-London 48-hour Challenge but we do have an extremely tight running time in which to tell a contained story.

Yesterday some of IAT linked brains to test out a few different story concepts. From this highly successful pub meeting came a number of potential short film premises, though several of them we decided to park so that we could give them a proper treatment outside of this particular challenge.

Meanwhile, the selected subject we decided upon and the project’s chosen scribes Chris Burdett and Tom Butterworth set pen to paper today, delivering two connected but alternate takes on the subject. These are now being coalesced prior to tomorrow’s afternoon shoot. It’s a super-quick turnaround for a super short short, which seems appropriate. The plan is then to close the edit on Monday before passing it off for finishing.

The crew shakes down something like this:

Directors: Christopher Puttock & Nigel Clegg

Writers: Chris Burdett & Tom Butterworth

Actor: Tom Butterworth

Editor: Christopher Puttock

Director of photography: Joshua Davies

Grading/finishing: Simon Jones

Once again we’re very pleased to welcome regular IAT collaborators Josh and Tom to the fold and look forward to unleashing their particular talents on the project.

We’ll see you on the other side.

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Arms Race Escalation at Phoenix Comicon

We are pleased to announce that Arms Race: Escalation is going to be shown at Phoenix Comicon (http://www.phoenixcomicon.com/) 23rd-26th May.  We are even more pleased that it has been nominated for awards in the following categories:

  • Best of Festival
  • Best Web Series
  • Best Steampunk / Diesel punk

If you get a chance to go to the event please do so – we’d love to hear what you think!

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Phoenix Comicon Award Nominated

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Arms Race: Escalation, Episode 6 – Smoke on the Water