Demystifying the VFX process.


Demystifying VFX-1

If you missed our interview with Master the Workflow’s Richard Sanchez, fear not. Our three-part series will break down every part of his process, from clarifying complex terminology to explaining how he finds work in the industry.

Meet Richard Sanchez.

At Shift Media, we believe in not only creating tools for collaboration but also sharing techniques on how to collaborate with one another. And to that end, today we’re talking about VFX Turnovers with Richard Sanchez. Now Richard is a VFX and assistant editor. You may have seen his work on “Robinhood,” “Naked,” the TV series “The Good Place,” as well as the long-awaited “Bill and Ted Face the Music.”

Recently Richard has worked on “She-Hulk,” which you can see on his sweatshirt. Richard is also the co-creator of Master the Workflow, which provides in-depth training for film and television editors. And just about every help forum I’m on or industry advice column I see, Master the Workflow gets mentioned. It’s a great program.

Why do we need VFX turnovers?

Michael: Now, Richard, before we dive in headfirst on exactly how you do, maybe you can give everyone watching a big-picture overview of why you need to do VFX turnovers.

Richard: Well, you know, VFX turnover, really just like a sound turnover and a picture turnover, you’re getting the elements out to your vendors. In this case, you can’t necessarily turn over the camera raw; you have to convert those into the most usable form of material. In our case, it tends to be EXRs. It used to be DPXs, but EXRs are the current format. Depending on your workflow, you might acquire at, say, 4k, 6K, or 8K and your plates might only be 2K because, quite honestly, a lot of VFX rendering is incredibly time intensive and expensive. And so, there’s a variety of pipeline needs there. And making sure your plates are getting out to your vendors accurately and according to the specifications that your studio needs to deliver is essential. And then, once you get going, your shot will naturally change because that is the name of the game – chasing the cut.

How do you find the projects you work on?

Michael: So Richard, who is bringing you in? Is this a case of it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Are there special words you have to put in your resume or demo reel? How do you get brought into projects like these?

Richard: It actually depends on the size of the production. If it’s a show that doesn’t have massive VFX needs, you might not have the specificity of a VFX Producer. You might just have the show producer or an associate producer. And in those cases, like everything, it tends to be a matter of recommendation. You work with the editor on some other show, or the editor asks for a recommendation. They got your name, they pass your name along, and you get brought in that way. And on much bigger shows where you might have a distinction between the picture editorial department and the VFX department, it might actually be a VFX producer, in which case you’re not necessarily going to go through the editor and the assistant editors. It’s going to be a completely separate department. In that case, you might work with the VFX Production Manager or the VFX Producer. Those are the names that will bring you on to a show like that. So, it varies largely on the scale of the show.

Demystifying VFX terminology.

Michael: Now, speaking of names, Richard, we had a chuckle about this before we started recording today. Several terms are conflated with one another during the production and post-production process with VFX—words like pre or postvis or even temp comp. Perhaps you can demystify those terms for us.

Richard: You know, the term that I hear used sort of interchangeably very often is previs. And before I worked on a heavily prevised show, I always thought that anything that comes prior to the final shot was previz, because it’s prior to the final shot. But through working with it, I learned a separate company often does previs. One of the biggest names is THE THIRD FLOOR. They do everything. And it’s a completely separate entity that is sort of like the evolution of storyboards where you have the ability to animate and do crude, and I say “crude,” but I mean, the quality of this stuff is getting better and better every day. It’s kind of crazy. I mean, things that are previs that we’re going to redo could have been actual shows six years ago. And so with previs, the intent is all about building something that you will then execute. It’s going to inform what’s shot and goes prior to shooting.

Related to previz is a term that I hadn’t seen until I started working on bigger shows, which is TechViz, which is a really interesting one. It’s sort of a combination of previz, but it also involves when you’re mapping a 3D camera as you would in a 3D animated show, you have the ability to plot your digital actor like you’re doing in your previs shot, your little animated element. And then, you can track the camera elements so that you are getting real-time information. The camera needs to be 20 feet, and it needs to be pushing in at an interval of this, and it needs to start tilting down. When you’re talking about the kinds of shots where you’re going to have to line up six or seven different elements, and it’s absolutely critical that the camera is at the same tilt and same pitch and same push in, in every shot, that becomes really important. And so that’s a big task that tends to happen. We’re trying to plan it all out, make sure we’re telling the story, but then also inform the production team how that’s going to be executed.

And then once we get into the edit and we start playing with the footage, that’s when postvis comes into it. Because, again, the interchangeability between previs and postvis, with postvis you’re actually using plates as shot and postvis, for all intents and purposes, are temp comps. It can be anything from you, the VFX editor, just doing a split screen to tell a story or to make sure that the plates actually support that kind of split.    It’s always funny, with these temp comps, that the big things are never the hard part. It’s always the little things. So, you start doing that split screen, and the minutiae of something creates a problem. So that’s what postvis is.

And in some cases, postvis might be handled by a completely separate company because if you’re talking about CG character insertions and you need to make sure that this character can walk across the frame – I can’t do CG 3D characters in the Avid, and that’s still postvis because now you’re working with elements. Then it becomes all about informing based upon the plates that were shot, will the shot work? Because you plan it in previs, you execute it to the best of your ability in previs, and hopefully, most of that execution is done correctly, and invariably, things go wrong or the plan changes. And so, you are in that situation where you need to work with what you have and see if you can accomplish what you wanted to or something close to that.

Does previs shape how you tell and edit a story?

Michael: Now, Richard, you mentioned storyboards, which brings up a really good question. Given the cost of VFX, do the pre-visualized shots shape how you can tell and thus edit a story, given that your cut needs to match the shots that VFX may already be working on?

Richard: Absolutely. And you know, with the previs, you’re kind of starting with this early edit of it, and you are telling the story, and then a variety of things can happen. The writing can change. Changes happen on set. You continue to work with the previs as you get into editorial when the previs team is long done, things constantly evolve, scenes get reordered, and maybe even episodes get reordered. And, you know, you’re still evolving. And also, previs can often be used as elements for postvis in the sense that, with previs, you’re using digital environments and digital characters, and sometimes it can be really handy to go, “I got a blue screen, I need to get rid of that blue screen.” Well, it’ll be better to have the previs background to that and throw the actor behind that and really just make sure things are working.

But yeah, it all builds upon each other. That’s sort of the first iteration of the story. It comes to the editor, and you might be getting new previs delivered as you’re still very much into the edit. You may be planning for re-shoots or just in full CG shots. You need something rough and crude that tells the story. Make sure it even works. And then, if you think it’s going to work and tell the story, you’ll contact the VFX vendor and have them do it for real.

Come back next week when we’ll review a VFX turnover demo for our audience. Don’t want to wait? Watch the entire interview now. 

For tips on post-production, check out MediaSilo’s guide to Post Production Workflows.

MediaSilo allows for easy management of your media files, seamless collaboration for critical feedback and out of the box synchronization with your timeline for efficient changes. See how MediaSilo is powering modern post production workflows with a 14-day free trial.