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Alan Bell's Unique Editing a la FusionBlackmagic Design Interviews Adam Bell on the Why and How
Alan Bell: It makes me really happy to be able to talk with you about all of the work I do with Fusion. I am not really doing final visual effects that often but I literally do hundreds of effects on every movie when it comes to the type of editing I do.
Blackmagic Design: You have a fix-it-in-pre approach that is a very smart way of working and we wanted to understand this a bit further. You worked first with Francis Lawrence in "Water for Elephants". What is your intrinsic methodology that has Lawrence stealing you away to deliver again on The Hunger Games franchise?
Alan Bell: I call it performance crafting or scene crafting. A lot of times when I am editing and I'm cutting lines out, for example, I'll do what people would normally think of as a jump cut. Only I won't jump cut it. I'll actually take out what works perfectly on the first line, and then, where the next line is required, put something else in from the same actor, clean up the background, and make sure everything looks seamless. On any of the movies we've done, you'll see a number of these scene adjustments that nobody has ever noticed because they're invisible effects.
Blackmagic Design: Can you give us a bit of background on how you came to use Fusion specifically for this type of work?
Alan Bell: I met you guys at one NAB when I actually had a small effects company, Handmade Digital. I needed a new compositor and, after taking a look at Fusion when I was on Spider-Man, I fell in love with it and the Dimension tools. Now Fusion is like my second skin.
Blackmagic Design: I remember when you called the office and you were excited about having just fixed some shots you thought were beyond repair. We learned something that day about Dimension. We had designed it for Journey 2 as a stereo tool. The math that was put into this toolset for Fusion was basically for stereo only. Yet you were using it on Spider-Man as a morphing tool, and for slow-mo, and suddenly there was this entirely different blending use of Fusion that we discovered from your work!
Alan Bell: I did a lot of that on Spider-Man where I literally took one scene and turned it into two completely different scenes using just compositing. I know there is a lot of this being done but what I do is more of a subtle thing where I can blend images together to make the scene work. For example, if an actor is not looking in the right direction, I'll find a shot where he or she is looking the right way and I'll roto and paste the eyes to fit the shot. I do that stuff routinely. It's now just a part of my editing process."
Blackmagic Design: By taking elements from one shot that didn't work and bringing them into another shot you must save be a lot of time and money.
Alan Bell: There is definitely a cost savings. Fortunately, I'm at a point now with the way I work, and certainly the directors that have worked with me are used to this being part of my skill set, that I'm on movies where money isn't really the issue anymore. It's simply how can we make this the best possible version of the movie, and Fusion can do that quite well actually.
Blackmagic Design: In developing how you can get the best process, you started looking at using Fusion with editing more tightly via Fusion's Avid plugin, Connection. Fusion Connection was in early stages then. When did you start using Fusion with Avid?
Alan Bell: I don't think I implemented Connection until Catching Fire. I just want to say that it's great that Blackmagic now owns Fusion. The fact that they made it free, we're going to see it get used all over Hollywood by effects editors.
Blackmagic Design: By using Fusion via the Connection plugin, how would you put Fusion in context with the recent Hunger Games film?
Alan Bell: Editing and the story, that's my primary job. For instance, the entire rescue scene from Mockingjay when they're in the hovercraft and the command center, the images on the wall and at the window of the hovercraft were all blue screen. I can work really fast in Fusion, do things simultaneously while I'm editing in Avid, I send shots to Fusion using Connection, work on the comp blending elements together and back in the Avid have my edit updates with the effects done in Fusion.
Alan Bell: So as I'm cutting the shot where we panned down to a radar scene flying toward the gun, I quickly created a motion graphic that indicated topography.
I was able to do that in literally 20 minutes with confidence. And then when Katniss is in the command center and she's looking at the screen, all of those elements were added in Fusion because they're part of the story.
By adding these quick elements onset, it helped in creating the tension. I would do those comps very, very quickly in Fusion. When they're flying in the hovercraft and going through the city, they turn on the strange shimmering city view in 3D. I animated and rendered a city and took the wire frame into Fusion, which helped again tell the story during the blue screen performances. I was able to screen the movie for the director, for the people in the studio, so everyone understood what was supposed to be happening. That's what I do with Fusion. It's really fast at doing exactly what I need to tell the story.
Blackmagic Design: Your idea is that if you're an editor, you need to know how to composite. You can piece elements together in pre-vis but it's also about the performances and knowing when you can do some adjustments to get the scene just right. How do you think Fusion helps you the most with this?
Alan Bell: Once people get their minds into the node way of thinking, they're blown away at how fast they can go back and reuse certain elements. They see how it's so much easier to figure out what's happening in a flow. The two vfx editors that I've been working with, Steve Miller and Tom Reagan, have been really loving Fusion. And everybody's just super happy that the free version is out! Now, everyone's got it and they're all learning it. The reality is that creativity and technology are not separate ideas. You can't be creative without using technology anymore and finding the technical solution to a problem is a creative endeavor in of itself!
Blackmagic Design: Is there any other reason that is at the heart of why you use Fusion every day?
Alan Bell: The reality is that Fusion is so wicked fast. I even did two final shots on Mockingjay using Fusion. I did a shot right in front of another editor who was working with me who doesn't have compositing skills and he was just blown away. It is unbelievable how much faster Fusion is. It's not only the speed, though. Even if it sometimes get messy with all of the nodes, that's actually a feature. There's a value to all of those nodes. Several roto splines, for example, can be piped into one node that becomes a wrapper for all of the nodes. You can still use parts of each initial node to make up other nodes but all will be neatly on the flow.
Blackmagic Design: It becomes like a visible channel view.
Alan Bell: That's right. The beauty of a Fusion flow is you're not hiding anything.
Blackmagic Design: Do you have any recommendations for a budding editor?
Alan Bell: If somebody's starting out in the world and wants to be an editor, to be a great editor, you need to learn all the tools you possibly can. You should be able to cut on anything that is available. Even though you might prefer one thing over the other, you owe it to yourself and your client to learn them all. Also, compositing is a huge part of editing now. If you're going to craft scenes, you need to become a compositor as well as an editor to compete in the kind of world that is blossoming. Fusion is a great compositing app for any editor.
Blackmagic Design: Would you say that compositing is essential to scene crafting and is only an effective part of the process if it can be done quickly?
Alan Bell: When you're in the room with the director and you're trying to craft a scene that doesn't exist in all the takes, you can blend them to create the essential moment. You can tighten the moment or accentuate something using Fusion then and there. If you have to ship that off to somebody else to see if it works or not, then you're not working at your full capacity. It has to be something that you can do intuitively and quickly in order to make the scene really work.
Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Fusion, Cinematography
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