In this final installment of the 3 part series, I walk through the audio-post, score, VFX, motion graphics, color grade, and final delivery of this documentary to the client.
After reaching basic picture lock was where things picked up. Rafael helped finalize the main cut, and I built title VFX in After Effects pretty easily and the final motion graphics animation at the end with an updated look on the client agency’s logo actually only took me a day at most. With the motion graphics for the client logo, I originally had them send me their graphic file but the logo felt like it needed updating, so I built vector silhouettes of the “green parent” and 4 foster children in black silhouettes and imported them into After Effects. I have never used the puppet tool before but figured it was worth a shot to get some subtle movement out of these silhouettes beyond just camera and scale motion.
The puppet tool in After Effects is actually pretty easy to get acquainted with. It can get time consuming when you have a lot of points to manage for creating realistic constraints on the image warping effect the puppet tool does, but overall it only took me maybe 4 hours tops to do all of the blocking, and fine tuning the animations and timing to drop into the video sequence.
I quickly graded the film in Speed Grade and exported myself a preview render to get to sound and start composing and producing the music. The whole film was cut to a temp track that was inspirational for the visual direction and undertones that Rafael liked.
It took me nearly two and a half weeks to complete the score, struggling with inspiration and ideas that felt cohesive but also matched the energy and allowed the transitions in the narrative to cue the audience the change in the tone and mood. Since a majority of the score would be orchestral, I mocked up as much as I could, iterating between concepts for each “motif” and trying to figure out the transitions between those motifs last.
Preliminary sketching started out with guitar for tone and texture. The workflow was fairly easy to approach but I wanted to try a new processing chain I had been contemplating to make tracking scratch guitars an easy approach to full production at any moment I felt like committing to the idea.
This workflow of mine helped speed up the iterative process I go through, yet still get a good approximation of what the final recordings should sound like. For this approach, I would run the guitar directly into the 4710D preamp and utilize the compression to my advantage. Since the signal was already being recorded dry with the compression baked in, I could still feed the output of that channel back out to my JD7 Injector and listen to it live through my Vetta combo cab with the settings I had dialed in.
When it came time to re-amp, I was able to focus on just setting up the gear in the arrangement I felt would be best for a particular tone I wanted. I didn’t want the guitar to sound too prominent, but rather moody and somewhat subdued with just enough clarity in the top end to identify some of the articulation in the instrument on occasion.
I moved the microphones between two positions to capture either side of the layered performances I wanted to get. This allowed me to build the guitar mix a certain way with lots of options without having to re-track.
It took me a while to get through the 2nd motif and I had a decent idea for the 3rd and final segment of the song, but no clear ideas with guitar. So, I experimented with my electric acoustic via DI and a violin bow, e-bow, and the piranha guitar bow. Eventually I landed a couple of textural phrases I liked and the final layer to the puzzle to complete the 3rd motif was a simple finger plucking pattern with the acoustic.
I would follow a similar approach I had with the first motif guitar re-amping for this final segment, but I simplified my approach a bit instead of segmenting and layering between the amp models and tracking them separately. This time I focused on isolating off each speaker and only going for the large diaphragm off-axis sound. I also recorded the direct outs from the amp with the A.I.R. modelling applied. This allowed me to get a unique parallel mix built for these guitar passages by using the direct outs as a clean source with no compression applied, and the microphones running through the 4710D would have compression baked in.
The mixing stage took me a bit longer than I anticipated as I was back and forth between trying to get the impact out of the master, and putting the music intentionally low to be subservient to the picture it was intended for. Ultimately I think I managed to strike a happy balance. I took my time using some outboard processing on some of the virtual synths as well, which tonally gave them more character, but also allowed me more control with parallel mixing.
Finally, it was time to bring in the dialog elements. I cleaned up what I could, removing any noisy artifacts that were too distracting. I remember in one particular shot with Paulina (as a B-shot cuts in) there are some extraneous noises coming from the deli machinery in the background that I ended up leaving in.
For Paulina’s shots which were particularly noisy even after de-noising and removing what artifacts of the background I could, I ended up cutting quite a bit out of the low-end just to have it less apparent, and hopefully between the score and her talking it would still sound like a “location” but not be too bothersome to listen and hear her clearly.
With a full build of the project ready to deliver to the client, I made the effort to deliver in person and let them review it together. With final payment invoicing and everything taken care of it seemed like I was ready to call this project done. Until the branch manager had shown it to her boss and the request came in to have a shot fixed. In the initial B-shot of the donation at the office, one of the workers was wearing casual clothes but sleeveless and had a tattoo exposed. Only the higher-up was concerned about this and asked for the shot to be altered however it took to hide it.
With an extra work order, we scheduled a re-shoot day where I went out to their office, this time with appropriate attire on the worker. I tried to match the same camera angle as in the previous shot as quickly as I could and got all the takes I needed for safety, quickly came back and dropped in the footage, applied the same grade from the previous clip to the new clip, and re-rendered the entire project. The new version was delivered, and everyone is happy!
So there you have it, a complete production. Hopefully more from the angle of the learning experiences and struggles. With every project there is exponential growth. If you’re waiting to produce something you have a vision for, stop waiting and make it happen! Worry less about professional standards and more about achieving what you want. Hopefully this series was an eye opener for some of you who might see productions and wonder what exactly goes into making the illusion a reality on screen.
To watch the full documentary, listen to the score, see more information about the project, check it out here.
As a bonus, and if you need even more inspiration to get out there and realize your vision, check out this 8 minute spiel by Robert Rodriguez about being a filmmaker!