DC Comics’ Caped Crusader has been covered for decades in television and cinema. Sometimes campy, sometimes more dramatic. Director Matt Reeves’ latest take on Bruce Wayne/Batman (starring Robert Pattinson in the title role) takes us into a considerably more gritty version of Gotham.
No superhero film is possible without extensive visual effects work and The Batman is no exception, with numerous top-flight effects house contributing to the film. I recently spoke with Anders Langlands, Wētā FX visual effects supervisor, about his company’s contributions to help bring The Batman to life.
Anders, what are some of the scenes that ended up on Weta FX’s “to do” list?
We supplied a number of scenes. The biggest and most exciting one was the highway chase. We also did all of the work on the Batcave and the City Hall environment for the Mayor’s Memorial sequence. We worked on a few fight scenes in a couple of different locations, like the Iceberg Lounge. These required fight augmentation – speeding up and adjusting punches and kicks to make people look like they’re actually hitting each other – as well as some face replacements between Rob Pattinson and his stunt double. There are also CG bats in the Batcave and in a cage in the Riddler’s apartment.
As a kid my mom worked at a small town newspaper. Although offset (photographic) printing was becoming the norm, they still used old Linotype presses. This gave me an insight into typography. There are plenty of videos on YouTube explaining Linotype presses, but the short explanation is that you type a sentence on its custom keyboard and the press uses a master set of that typeface to create slugs for a line of type. Slugs are comparable to the key slugs on an old mechanical typewriter, except these are the full sentence in a row instead of individual letters.
The process uses molten lead to form these slugs, which are molded and cool as they exit the device. An operator then aligns the slugs on a tray that forms the layout for a page. Once inked, these print the text onto paper – for example, a newspaper page. To change fonts requires replacing the tray of one master typeface with a different tray.
Prior to this semi-automated system, type was laid out by hand using individual letter slugs. One advantage to the Linotype press over hand was that you only needed a single character set, rather than individual slugs with a ton of additional letters. You wouldn’t run out of the letter E, for example. The hand printing process points to the origin of the terms kerning (space between individual letters) and leading (space between lines of text – originally using lead spacers).
My first TV job was as an audio operator/booth announcer on the evening shift at a PBS station. With downtime between program breaks, we also prepared title cards to be used for the studio productions. This was prior to the general availability of electronic character generation. Titles were typically black cards with white text. The cards were shot with one camera and then keyed over another shot, such as for lower thirds. If you liked arts and crafts in elementary school, then this was right up your alley!
To create a lower third title card, you started with tabbed booklets of individual white letters on a black background – sort of like a stack of Post-it notes. Tear off a letter or a spacer and place it with the backside facing out into a special ruler-like guide to build a line of text. Once the little paper tabs are properly aligned and that name complete, run double-stick tape across the back. Then place the row of text onto the black card, sticking it with the tape. Since the edges of the torn paper tabs are white, the last step is to take a black Sharpie pen and ink out any specks of white that aren’t text. Whew!
My first editing gig at a real post house was still prior to electronic titling being common. What gear was available created terribly crude-looking text on screen. In our case, graphics and/or titles were integrated into the edit using cameras or a slide projector connected into a film chain (telecine island). It was common for edit suites to include one or more black-and-white “titling” cameras that were vertically mounted on a stand with lighting. Place the black-and-white card on the table, manually straighten the card by eye or a grid while viewing a monitor, and use the camera’s zoom lens to scale the graphic.
Our biggest client was a regional grocery chain and there was a whole process at the facility to efficiently crank out multiple weekly “price & item” commercials. No electronic method at that time would support graphics like “$3.99/lb, Limit 3 per customer” in different typefaces, font sizes, kerning, or proportions. So we had an art department that generated art cards for the main titles ($3.99/lb), as well as 35mm slides for the smaller disclaimer text (Limit 3 per customer).
Even when electronic systems like Chyron were introduced, the early systems could not generate clean, anti-aliased text with infinite size options. The ability to generate extra small “mouse type”, like a retail disclaimer, only came later with more advanced product versions. The shop’s engineer had rigged up a home brew slide system that fed one side of our film chain. It used a standard Kodak 35mm projector mounted on a platform with thumbs screws for leveling. A thin strip of art tape was placed on the safe title line of the monitor for visual alignment. The editors could easily line up the slides, both centered and level. That certainly sounds crude today, but it was a bit of old school ingenuity that resulted in quality text on screen for the time.
The next time you are wrestling with that titler plug-in, just be glad you don’t have to run into the next room to level the graphic. Or to wait an hour while the art department makes a change or fixes a typo!
The concept of the digital audio workstation stems from a near-century-old combination of a recording system and a mixing desk. Nearly every modern DAW is still built around that methodology. Gabriel Cowan, CEO and co-founder of Audio Design Desk, sought to modernize the approach with a DAW focused on sound design, using the power of metadata for workflow efficiency. The application was launched a couple of years ago and has since won several trade show awards for innovation, including a Product of the Year Award for audio just last week at the 2022 NAB Show.
Every video editor knows that a kicking sound track can often elevate an otherwise lackluster video. Audio Design Desk is intended to do just that, regardless of whether you are an editor, musician, or sound designer. The application is currently a Mac-only product that supports both Intel and M1 Macs natively. It breaks down into sound design (synthetic sounds, like whooshes, drones, hits, and risers), foley (real world sound effects), ambiences, and music.
“Jack of all trades, master of none” is a quote most are familiar with. But the complete quote “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one” actually has quite the opposite perceived meaning. In the world of post production you have Jacks and Jills of all trades (generalists) and masters of one (specialists). While editors are certainly specialized in storytelling, I would consider them generalists when comparing their skillset to those of other specialists, such as visual effects artists, colorists, and audio engineers. Editors often touch on sound, effects, and color in a more general (often temp) way to get client approval. The others have to deliver the best, final results within a single discipline. Editors have to know the tools of editing, but not the nitty gritty of color correction or visual effects.
This is closely tied to the Pareto Principle, which most know as the 80/20 Rule. This principle states that 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes, but it’s been applied in various ways. When talking about software development, the 80/20 Rule predicts that 80% of the users are going to use 20% of the features, while only 20% of users will find a need for the other features. The software developer has to decide whether the target customer is the generalist (the 80% user) or the specialist (the 20% user). If the generalist is the target, then the challenge is to add some specialized features to service the advanced user without creating a bloated application that no one will use.
Applying these concepts to editing software development
When looking at NLEs, the first question to ask is, “Who is defined as a video editor today?” I would separate editors into three groups. One group would be the “I have to do it all” group, which generates most of what we see on local TV, corporate videos, YouTube, etc. These are multi-discipline generalists who have neither the time nor interest in dealing with highly specialized software. In the case of true one-man bands, the skill set also includes videography, plus location lighting and sound.
The “top end” – national and international commercials, TV series, and feature films – could be split into two groups: craft (aka film or offline) editors and finishing (aka online) editors. Craft editors are specialists in molding the story, but generalists when it comes to working software. Their technical skills don’t have to be the best, but they need to have a solid understanding of visual effects, sound, and color, so that they can create a presentable rough cut with temp elements. The finishing editor’s role is to take the final elements from sound, color, and the visual effects houses, and assemble the final deliverables. A key talent is quality control and attention to detail; therefore, they have no need to understand dedicated color, sound, or effects applications, unless they are also filling one of these roles.
My motivation for writing this post stemmed from an open letter to Tim Cook, which many editors have signed – myself included. Editors have long been fans of Apple products and many gravitated from Avid Media Composer to Apple Final Cut Pro 1-7. However, when Apple reimagined Final Cut and dropped Final Cut Studio in order to launch Final Cut Pro X many FCP fans were in shock. FCPX lacked a number of important features at first. A lot of these elements have since been added back, but that development pace hasn’t been fast enough for some, hence the letter. My wishlist for new features is quite small. I recognize Final Cut for what it is in the Apple ecosystem. But I would like to see Apple work to raise the visibility of Final Cut Pro within the broader editing community. That’s especially important when the decision of which editing application to use is often not made by editors.
Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve – the über-app for specialists
This brings me to Resolve. Editors point to Blackmagic’s aggressive development pace and the rich feature set. Resolve is often viewed as the greener pasture over the hill. I’m going to take a contrarian’s point of view. I’ve been using Resolve since it was introduced as Mac software and recently graded a feature film that was cut on Resolve by another editor.
Unfortunately, the experience was more problematic than I’ve had with grades roundtripped to Resolve from other NLEs. Its performance as an editor was quite slow when trying to move around in the timeline, replace shots, or trim clips. Resolve wouldn’t be my first NLE choice when compared to Premiere Pro, Media Composer, or Final Cut Pro. It’s a complex program by necessity. The color management alone is enough to trip up even experienced editors who aren’t intimately familiar with what the various settings do with the image.
DaVinci Resolve is an all-in-one application that integrates editing (2 different editing models), color correction (aka grading), Fusion visual effects, and the Fairlight DAW. Historically, all-in-ones have not had a great track record in the market. Other such über-apps would include Avid|DS and Autodesk Smoke. Avid pulled the plug on DS and Autodesk changed their business model for the Flame/Smoke/Lustre product family into subscription. Neither DS nor Smoke as a standalone application moved the needle for market share.
At its core, Resolve is a grading application with Fusion and Fairlight added in later. Color, effects, and audio mixing are all specialized skills and the software is designed so that each specialist if comfortable with the toolset presented on those pages/modes. I believe Blackmagic has been attempting to capitalize on Final Cut editor discontent and create the mythical “FCP8” or “FC Extreme” that many wanted. However, adding completely new and disparate functions to an application that at its core is designed around color correction can make it quite unwieldy. Beginning editors are never going to touch most of what Resolve has to offer and the specialists would rather have a dedicated specialized tool, like Nuke, After Effects, or Pro Tools.
Apple Final Cut Pro – reimagining modern workflows for generalists
Apple makes software for generalists. Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Photos, GarageBand, and iMovie are designed for that 80%. Apple also creates advanced software for the more demanding user under the ProApps banner (professional applications). This is still “generalist” software, but designed for more complex workflows. That’s where Final Cut Pro, Motion, Compressor, and Logic Pro fit.
Apple famously likes to “skate to where the puck will be” and having control over hardware, operating system, and software gives the teams special incite to develop software that is optimized for the hardware/OS combo. As a broad-based consumer goods company Apple also understands market trends. In the case of iPhones and digital photography it also plays a huge role in driving trends.
When Apple launched Final Cut Pro X the goal was an application designed for simplified, modernized workflows – even if “Hollywood” wasn’t quite ready. This meant walking away from the comprehensive “suite of tools” concept (Final Cut Studio). They chose to focus on a few applications that were better equipped for where the wider market of content creators was headed – yet, one that could still address more sophisticated needs, albeit in a different way.
This reimagining of Final Cut Pro had several aspects to it. One was to design an application that could easily be used on laptops and desktop systems and was adaptable to single and dual screen set-ups. It also introduced workflows based on metadata to improve edit efficiency. It was intended as a platform with third parties filling in the gaps. This means you need to augment FCP to cover a few common industry workflows. In short, FCP is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of today’s “professionals” and not how one might have defined that term in the early 1990s, when nonlinear editing first took hold.
For a developer, it gets down to who the product is marketed towards and which new features to prioritize. Generalists are going to grow the market faster, hence a better return on development resources. The more complex an application becomes, the more likely it is to have bugs or break when the hardware or OS is updated. Quality assurance testing (QA) expands exponentially with complexity.
Do my criticisms of Resolve mean that it’s a bad application? No, definitely not! It’s powerful in the right hands, especially if you work within its left-to-right workflow (edit -> Fusion -> color -> Fairlight). But, I don’t think it’s the ideal NLE for craft editing. The tools are designed for a collection of specialists. Blackmagic has been on this path for a rather long time now and seem to be at a fork in the road. Maybe they should step back, start from a clean slate, and develop a fresh, streamlined version of Resolve. Or, split it up into a set of individual, focused applications.
So, is Final Cut Pro the ideal editing platform? It’s definitely a great NLE for the true generalist. I’m a fan and use it when it’s the appropriate tool for the job. I like that it’s a fluid NLE with a responsive UI design. Nevertheless, it isn’t the best fit for many circumstances. I work in a market and with clients that are invested in Adobe Creative Cloud workflows. I have to exchange project files and make sure plug-ins are all compatible. I collaborate with other editors and more than one of us often touches these projects.
Premiere Pro is the dominant NLE for me in this environment. It also clicks with how my mind works and feels natural to me. Although you hear complaints from some, Premiere has been quite stable for me in all my years of use. Premiere Pro hits the sweet spot for advanced editors working on complex productions without becoming overly complex. Product updates over the past year have provided new features that I use every day. However, if I were in New York or Los Angeles, that answer would likely be Avid Media Composer, which is why Avid maintains such dominance in broadcast operations and feature film post.
In the end, there is no right or wrong answer. If you have the freedom to choose, then assess your skills. Where do you fall on the generalist/specialist spectrum? Pick the application that best meets your needs and fits your mindset.
Now your individual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription includes a Frame.io account at no additional charge. This includes 100GB of cloud storage (separate from existing Creative Cloud storage) for up to five projects, use by two collaborators, and unlimited access for reviewers. If you need more storage or to add more collaborators, then you can upgrade to a larger Frame.io plan, but at additional cost.
Adobe Creative Cloud Team and Enterprise accounts don’t fall under this plan and those admins will need to consult Adobe or Frame.io for a plan that best meets their needs. In other words, if you are a production company paying for an Adobe Team account with multiple users on the account, you don’t get 100GB of “free” Frame.io storage for each user. This offering is primarily designed for individual Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers.
Something to know before you start
There’s a gotcha for some existing Frame.io customers. You activate your new Adobe CC Frame.io service by logging in with the same e-mail and password as used for your Adobe ID. Let’s say you work freelance at a facility and are a collaborator on their Frame.io Team account. In that case, you might be using a personal email address to log into Frame.io. However, if that email is the same as used for your personal Adobe ID, then Frame.io does not know how to differentiate between the two.
To rectify this you need to use a different email for one of these two log-ins. This is generally a minor issue, since most people have more than one email address that they use. In my own case, I needed to change my Adobe ID email, which was a relatively quick procedure. This allows me to separately access either of the two Frame.io accounts as a collaborator, based on which email I log in with.
One confusing thing I encountered was that the account starts as a 30-day trial for a Frame.io Team account, so it looks like you are going to get billed extra after the trial ends. This is not the case. I think it’s a mistake for Adobe and Frame.io to do this, because they are trying to upsell you to the paid account. Fortunately there’s no need to enter payment information up front. I wish that this was clearer in the marketing details. Hopefully Adobe will correct this after the initial rollout. At the end of the 30-trial, you will be asked whether to pay or end the trial. If you opt to end the trial, then the account reverts to the free plan, which is the one included with your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.
Open the Review with Frame.io panel in Premiere Pro or After Effects and sign-in using your Adobe ID. This will open your default browser and send you to the Frame.io website to complete the sign-in. As long as you stay signed in, you can access Frame.io either in your web browser or within the panel. If you sign out, then next time you’ll need to sign in again using the Adobe ID.
I won’t go into how Frame.io itself works, since there are plenty of tutorials. This integration doesn’t change any of the operation. The Frame.io panel works like the previous extensions panel. A clip with reviewer comments can be synced to your Premiere Pro timeline for easy changes. Or you can simply work from the web portal and ignore the panel entirely. 100GB is plenty if your intent is to use Frame.io for low-resolution review files. However, if your intention is a larger, more complex workflow, then you may need to upgrade your Frame.io account after all.
Let’s say your videographer is recording a corporate CEO interview in Los Angeles. The company’s PR rep is in New York and the editor in Atlanta. And there’s a very short turnaround schedule. In this basic scenario, both the videographer and editor are collaborators on a Frame.io project. While the interview is being recorded, the feed is being uploaded to Frame.io in near real-time. This requires some hardware on the camera side or it could be done by someone on set right after the recording ends. Once it’s in Frame.io, the PR rep in NYC can access and review the takes. The editor in Atlanta also sees the footage appear in the Frame.io panel within Premiere Pro. Files can be downloaded from the panel to the editor’s drives and the edit can start right away.
Given most standard internet speeds today and the 100GB bucket, this workflow makes sense if you are uploading smaller camera proxy files. Some proxies can actually be good enough to master with – especially in fast turnaround situations. In other scenarios, the proxies might be used to start the edit and later replaced with the high-res camera originals, once received from the shoot.
I feel that such situations are a lot fewer than the marketers want you to believe. Moving high-res files over the internet is never fast. FedEx often still offers the better option. So unless you really do need to get started right away, just wait for the media to arrive a day or so later. However, C2C for the purpose of an out-of-town producer reviewing takes remotely – especially in light of workflow changes caused by COVID over the past couple of years – has gained steam.
If you are a current Frame.io customer without any Adobe subscription – no problem. Nothing changes for you. I’ve been using Frame.io since it launched and have been happy with the service. There are occasional glitches, but no worse than any other internet service, including your regular e-mail provider. Better yet, clients love the process. It’s not perfect, but it is one of the better review-and-approval sites and services on the market. If this is the first time you start using Frame.io by virtue of your Adobe subscription, then you are bound to see your daily workflow enhanced.