Legion on Subsidies

It’s raining in Los Angeles as I write this. Listening to Delerium “Poem.” I listened to it a lot when I worked in San Francisco. It reminds of these amazing ham and cheese sandwiches on sourdough. Cafe Centro. Amazing.

There’s an upheaval in the VFX industry right now. The primary reason for this is the lingering subsidy battle going on across the globe. This has an effect of distorting where a show gets awarded. Producers have a fiduciary responsibility to get the biggest bang for their buck. Right now, that is pretty much everywhere BUT California.

There are two solutions that come readily to mind. One of them is to bolster California’s own meager subsidies so they we can compete on the same artificial field as everyone else. This would, in theory, help keep jobs here in California. All of the major studios are  within 45 minutes of Legion Headquarters. 3 of them within 10 minutes. 1 across the street. “Hi Mickey!”

The other is to fight back with this whole CVD thing. Which is basically a tariff on the amount of money that is given back by foreign governments to try to win productions over, by punishing the studios. You can find more information about this battle on VFX Soldier’s blog.

The latter will not help keep work in California against New York’s 420 million dollar give away to the movie studios. It wont help us compete with Louisiana, Georgia, Nevada… Any one of the 40 states that offer more competitive tax credits than California. Like all good ideas, CVD’s have a lot potential, but it has to be seen all the way through and something would have to be done about the interstate bleed of talent.

 Why is Legion addressing this issue? 

Glad you asked. We don’t really stand to benefit from any particular action. Our business model is a hybrid of old school bid/award and a new way to do the work.  We have artists in many states and many countries. We are incorporated here in California and we use the talent that is best for the job, regardless of where they live. That’s an important distinction to make. Legion is about the artist. Not the city, not the state, and not the country. The beauty of the VFX world, and one of the reasons I got into it was to travel and work all over the world. It seemed like the best way to see the world on someone else’s dime.

Turns out, by the time I felt competent enough to go traveling the world as an artist, I had my first child, and the idea of running away for 6 months at a time, or longer, wasn’t really an option. As it was, I did go up to ILM, in San Francisco, and had a fantastic and challenging time working on Pirates 3. That lasted for almost 6 months. My wife and son were able to visit once in a while, but it was certainly a lonely period away from a precious 2 year old.

thegang

A few years later I started working in Television. The first day was 8 hours. The second was 12, and after that I was routinely there 16 – 20 hours a day for most of the rest of the season. It became the new normal. That was 1 month into my daughter’s life. I saw them all in the morning for a few sleepy minutes before I started my hour long commute back to work. It stayed as a variation of that for the next 3 years. I don’t have any regrets. I got much better at my craft and I started taking on a bigger role on the shows. I started to see a broader picture and I could see things that needed changing.

So here we are, a rainy February day with a protest march coming up for the Oscars, all set to try and make the awareness of the plight known to the general public. Every solution though, doesn’t really help Legion. If there is a mandate, like there is in Vancouver to do the work IN Vancouver, here in Los Angeles, then we would be stuck. Our goal is to connect the people with the work on a global scale. To make our platform modular and franchise-able. Stargate Studios is doing something similar, by joining with studios in other countries and creating a brand, and I think that is brilliant. Legion needs to go one step further and unplug from the studio model. To reduce the overhead, and spread out the work to the best talent regardless of location.

So, subsidies. Yea, they suck. We don’t want to be forced to have an office in New York,Louisiana, or Connecticut because that’s not where the artists are. Enough with telling people where they have to go. Let us work however is natural for us to get you the best possible imagery at the most competitive price. Value. Value is what we offer. Skill, professionalism, and value.

Let us know what you think about this. How do you see the Legion model working with and without subsidies?

So You Want Visual Effects In Your Show Part 2

“The steps needed to complete a shot…”

Visual effects is an art.

A craft. Like forging, sewing, architecture, or professional cooking. One can’t just jump in and “be a VFX artist.” Like everything else in the world that is a craft, there are a series of processes that make up the final piece. All of these processes must come together at the end. What makes it cost more or less, is how well put together and how organized these steps are in the first place.

There are 3 words every producer/director/filmmaker should know. Planning, planning, and … wait for it… PLANNING. Every step of making a film, requires amazing amounts of planning and attention to detail. One of the things that is often left off of that planning is visual effects.

Like cooking, visual effects requires a recipe, the right ingredients, someone who knows how to put them together, and time. There’s an order to it all and a path that you must travel in order to control costs and schedule. Let’s continue with the food analogy and make a proper meal out of a visual effects shot.

Today we are making a green screen car composite. We will also be making a prosciutto wrapped Chilean sea bass over polenta with a mango salsa. There’s no reason not to learn both of these things in one post.

Let’s get started.

VFX

1. The plan. This is the thing that binds together all of the ingredients. It decides what is going to be needed for any particular shot. In this case, we have a greenscreen driving shot. We need to know what we are going to have to have on hand to get the best green screen shot. A good greenscreen shot needs a few things to start out. A place to shoot, a VFX supervisor, green screens, lights for the screen, and interactive/talent lighting.

Cooking

1. The recipe. This is the thing that binds together all of the ingredients. It decides what is going to be needed for any particular dish. In this case, we have a prosciutto wrapped sea bass. For the sea bass, we really need a list of all the things that will facilitate getting it cooked. In this case. 2 4-6 oz portions of sea bass. 1 package of prosciutto (or have your own cut at markets like Whole Foods.) 1 mango, 2 tomatoes, shallots, 1 jalapeño, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, rosemary and polenta.

VFX

2. The setup. Once you know where you are shooting you will have a VFX supervisor on set to make sure the post process is as easy and cost effective as possible. They will help you with light placement, making sure seams are not visible in the final shot, and tracking markers if needed. All of the things that they are trained to look for from years of being on set or years of being on the box as an artists.

Cooking

2. Mise en place. It means, everything in its place. This is where you will fine dice the shallots, fine dice the garlic, small dice the jalapeño, cut the mango and tomato into a dice. (1/4 inch cubes) Take out the fish and the prosciutto and put them on a surface that you will be able to work without restriction. Clean cutting board, or better yet a butcher’s block. Wood has more anti microbial properties. Take that plastic!

VFX

3. The edit. Now that you have shot your footage it goes into editing. The editor or assistant editor will often use the system’s keyer to pull rough keys and do temporary composites so that the footage is watchable. This is where it is super important to know your costs, and make sure if there are tradeoffs between number of shots and dialog, that you have those options. Once the edit is nearly complete, you will send it off to your VFX vendor and they will adjust their production bid to reflect the number of shots and difficulty if there was any change. For example, if there was no giant Techno crane move in the original bid, but there is one in the offlines, then you can expect to incur an extra charge for the difficulty of the material. Once you have been given and approve the ‘post bid’. Files are transferred to your vendor and ingested into their pipeline. This may mean changing names or adding unique characters to the shots to help identify them. It will be given to an artist or team of artists and work will be completed in a timely fashion. There will often be a screening that you will need ‘temps’ for. Always be mindful of that schedule. Rushing VFX is a zero sum game. If you know you are going to need a short turnaround. Assess what can be done, and communicate. At Legion we always work on the shots as a final. We don’t budget to bang out something slightly better than editorial temps. Our temps are 70-90% of the final image.

Cooking

3. Let’s cook. Turn on your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure your fish is dry, lay out the prosciutto out on the cutting board and use two pieces to make a cross. Lay the fish on the top of the cross and fold up the arms in over the top of the fish and then roll towards yourself. This should create a nearly encased piece of fish inside italian dried ham. Once this is done. Let it rest. Take all of the fresh fruit, onion, garlic, diced jalapeño and put it in a bowl with a little vinegar between 1tsp and 1 tblsp. Add a few pinches of salt and pepper, then pop it in the refrigerator while you cook the rest of the dish. Grab an oven safe skillet, cast iron pan, non stick, it doesn’t matter too much, but you are going to sear the prosciutto and start cooking the fish. Put some olive oil in a hot pan, and lay in (away from you) the wrapped fish. Sear it about a minute to 90 seconds on each side. Make sure it has some nice browning (golden). After the first turn put it in the oven for 8-10 minutes. (depending on size) It would be good to check the fish every 3 or 4 minutes. if it doesn’t easily bend in the middle, then you are close to being done and it can come out and rest. Slice your polenta into one inch slices, and sauté in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until lightly brown on both sides.

VFX

4. Finals. So, you’ve followed the whole process. You’ve got all your temps done and now you are waiting on your finals. Hopefully in this process you are seeing their work. Legion has a lot of different ways of showing progress, whether it is to send single shots or carefully edited ‘overcuts’ of our shots over the editorial QuickTime. You should always communicate your desires to the vendor. Always understand the limitations of the notes that they can easily address. Your vendor can not easily change the type of car in this part of the process. Make sure that you give them notes with their shot numbers and versions. This way there are no mixups about what you want done. Part of the job of VFX producer is to make sure that the lines of communication are always open. You should see your finals come in and be happy with them. Once the mix and color are done, your film should be done. You will receive the final invoice from your vendor with any overages or credits* that were incurred.

*credits can come from all manner of things. There are times when shots are omitted, or cut from the picture. Legion assesses what has been done on the shot that was omitted, if anything and credits back any labor that was not used. If no work was done, this would be the total of the shot from the bid.

Cooking

4. Final plating. Once you’ve got it all cooked and rested. Bring out the mango salsa. Place your fish on a slice of polenta on the plate with a spatula and then scoop a couple of tablespoons worth of salsa over the top or on the side. Serve with a steak knife, fork and a glass of white wine. Serve it to your friends and family and get some feedback on it*.

* I forgot something. The last few times I made this, I added rosemary to the top of the fish, under the prosciutto. That would be great. So let’s un-cook this food and add that.

A little freshness goes a long way with this succulent dish.
A little freshness goes a long way with this succulent dish.

Summary

As you can see the process is similar between cooking and getting a shot done in visual effects. Each requires planning, preparation, thought, and discipline. It also has a structured order of things that need to be done.

I honestly did forget to write about adding rosemary into the fish dish, and as I could have easily edited it, I wanted to make the point that going back to any part of the process in cooking or VFX is not only hard, sometimes it is virtually impossible without throwing out all the work that has been done.

As in the example. If the car needs to be different. Then all of that work will need to be redone, or completely changed. You could safely expect to pay for all of the shots again, as well as an addition to make the car into the new car. This is part of planning and cost control. Both of these are up to you and your vendor to make sure the plan is seen through.

Contact us for more information about the process and how we can help advise you through it.

So You Want Visual Effects In Your Show. Part 1.

So you want Visual Effects in your show. Part 1.

Welcome to this installment of “SYWVEIYS”

What are the first things that you need to think about as a film maker who wants to have visual effects in your feature/ad/television show/internet short? Who do you call and when do you call them? How much is it going to cost? How long will the process last? What can I do as a film maker to make it work for me?

Those are some of the best questions. Let’s hit them in the order they came in. Who to call and when. All visual effect companies are always hungry. It’s part of being in business. So ask friends, search the web, look for names you’ve heard before and then ask for a reel, or go online and see what kind of work the studio you are looking at has done. Does their work look like something you would want representing you? As soon as you have a script that is shootable, or before, you should start talking to VFX vendors.

You should always get at least 3 bids. Send them an NDA and a script and get them to bid it out. If you have done your own breakdown about what YOU think the VFX should be, then send that along as well. This will give the vendor a chance to see what kind of things you are looking for. As a vendor, when we bid on lower budget shows, our goal is always to help save money and make sure that it is all well spent. Often times we will assume that you have special effects on set and a lot of the work can be shot on the day. If that isn’t the case, let your vendor know. It isn’t always possible to have the prop guns shoot, whether it is location or permits, sometimes you need VFX where it seems unlikely.

The first bid you will get and have to approve is called the ‘production bid’. This is the estimate from the vendor based on what is on the page. A careful reading should get you close to the numbers that you will see on the post bid. In some cases, it is not possible to start shooting with a vendor’s bid that is too high. Even if you love them, something has to change. That means talking to the VFX producer and supervisor about how to control costs so that you have all the numbers lined up where they need to be. Don’t be afraid to have this discussion. As a vendor, we need to know when we are over your budget. We can often offer solutions to do things practically or help out in meaningful ways to control your costs.

How much is it going to cost? That’s a huge variable and there’s a complex answer to this. There are levels of work, levels of artists, and locations. If you are chasing a tax credit, then you will have savings eventually, but you will have to have your work done in a remote city with possibly no local interface. New York has a nice credit as well as Louisiana, and many parts of Canada. One of the downsides of doing all the work in a tax credit city/state is that you have no control over the quality of the talent that is being put on your show. In the spiraling race to the bottom of visual effects, VFX houses are forced to use only locally sourced talent. In many areas, there is no senior level talent. There are a lot of kids and hobbyists that can work. Which means, that the work done on your show may be the best thing in the world, or it will need constant revisions in order to achieve your vision. If you are simply looking for the best quality at a fair price then you can still find quite a few VFX houses in Los Angeles that can accommodate that. Something Legion offers that is a little different than other vendors is to show you what artists would likely be on your project. You would be able to see their reels and make sure that you are comfortable with the level of experience we are offering.

The second bid you will get from a vendor is the ‘post bid’ This is based on the offline that editorial provides. This is very often where the budget creep happens. There is a real financial cost to ‘fixing it in post’ and this is where that comes in. Sometimes you will be faced with a couple of choices. Change the edit or eat into contingency funds. As a vendor we can only offer what cost controls we can. The production bid could have been off by a little or a lot. The advantage of having a supervisor on set is that you can find out early and often when things are looking like they will cost more money. This, at least, provides for planning in post. It is also worth making sure your line producer or UPM is aware of what can push up costs. We’ve seen a lot of production people push things off to post, because by the time the VFX vendor sits down to bid on something, the people that pushed into post are well onto other shows and aren’t really accountable.

Once you have all the numbers, you know the costs. Now comes the time to control those costs, to make sure they don’t go spiraling out of control as you move forward with VFX. A solid understanding of the steps that take place to create the work is important.

Stay tuned for So You Want Visual Effects In Your Show part 2: “The steps needed to complete a shot…”