Victoria (Wendie Malick), Joy (Jane Leeves), Elka (Betty White) & Valerie (Melanie Moretti)
TV Land’s first original series, Hot in Cleveland is scripting its 5th season, and if you haven’t discovered the series’ witty dialogue you should probably tune in or set your DVR for a few episodes. The show centers on a trio of former, successful Los Angeles women Victoria (Wendie Malick), Valerie (Melanie Moretti), and Joy (Jane Leeves) who find themselves in Cleveland leasing a house with Betty White playing Elka, the home’s caretaker.
From the hilariously irrefutable one-liners White dishes out to Victoria hanging on to her soap star days, the women friendly sitcom created by Suzanne Martin is the network’s highest rated show. Tapped to piece the narrative together is Ron Volk, ACE, a respected storyteller who’s been cutting frames in TV since the early 90’s. He recently sat down with S&P to talk with us us about his Emmy nominated work.
Most will remember your work on the fantastically produced sitcom Frasier, but you’ve been working on several projects since. Monk, Out of Practice, even Hank. What gravitates you towards picture editing comedies? That’s easy. If you have to be in a room by yourself for up to 11 hours a day looking at a show, wouldn’t you rather be laughing and enjoying yourself? I never thought about it too much until I worked on Monk for a few months. Monk was a great show, but I couldn’t take all the drama and murder investigations day-in-and-day-out, week-in-and-week-out. I decided then and there to go back to sitcoms, or at least single-camera comedies, and make that my niche.
Already weeks into shooting the beloved show’s fourth season, GOT’s visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer stepped in from the sun-filled skies of Reykjavik, Iceland to talk Valar Dohaeris – the premiere episode of season three which gave GOT their third VFX Emmy nomination in a row.
On set with Joe Bauer
Joe matted his taste for visual effects in the early 90’s working on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Voyager before venturing off into film – working on projects like Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Elf and Get Smart. It was long-time friend Steve Kullback (lead visual effects producer) who tapped Joe about joining season three. “I don’t watch too much television so I actually wasn’t aware of the show,” says Bauer. “After Steve suggested I come on, I realized how large the scope of the show was and how popular it is – I couldn’t help but to say yes.”
Season two was lead by VFX supervisor Rainer Gombos who laid groundwork alongside a few VFX houses (Pixomondo, Entity FX, Baked FX) for Joe to use and develop further. “Valar Dohaeris was the first episode I worked on,” mentions Bauer. “The world was established in season one and became more realistic in season two. With Rainer, I was able to inherit a lot of their remarkable efforts. My job is to carry forward what’s established and to expand new worlds and characters.”
From the very first frame of TRON: Legacy, the film places you in a world of absolutely amazing aesthetics. Director Joe Kosinski had a spectacular vision, and this 3D adventure, set in an environment unlike anything else ever captured on the big screen, is nothing short of tech sexy.
Since before the second teaser that illuminated a cheering crowd at Comic Con in 2009, Kosinski has been working alongside digital colorist, David Cole at Laser Pacific. An Australian native, Cole has been grading films like Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and King Kong. It being Kosinski’s first feature, Cole was amazed with everything Joe brought to the table. From the high-end, very complex 3D digital film effects to the overall vision of the film, Kosinski had a great eye and it was fantastic working with him. When Cole sat down with Kosinski two years ago to start TRON: Legacy, I’m not sure if they knew they were making one of the coolest looking films ever — at least in this writer’s geek-filled opinion.
Talking with Cole, he couldn’t help mention how Comic Con played a role in developing the look of TRON: Legacy. The first teaser played in 2008 showed very little “real world” footage and nothing at all in 3D. “There are a lot of tricks you can do in a 2D world that get exposed when they are put into 3D. We had to test and see what we could and couldn’t do and develop new techniques to use in our arsenal,” explains Cole. When the 2009 3D teaser was released at Con with an additional five minutes that pictured the world outside of Tron, and was met with such a positive reaction, Kosinski and Cole felt they were on to something. “We didn’t stop after Con, we continued to develop and hone in on the world every day until its release date (December 17th),” says Cole.
Since the film is set 20 years later, Kosinski and Cole wanted to relate to the 1982 version of TRON, but create a completely new, modernizing look that paralleled the progression of both Tron worlds. “Kosinski had a very strong opinion and established the Tron look very early on. This made polishing the digital pallet of the environments a little easier,” mentions Cole.
Cole exclusively used Autodesk Lustre to grade the film, which allowed Laser Pacific to set up a remote satellite station at Skywalker Sound. Lustre gave them the advantage of only needing to transfer small metadata files for rendering to Los Angeles, instead of terabytes of data, but because Cole also writes his own plug-in software for Lustre, it allowed them to do things in-house that normally would have to be farmed out to visual effects. Kosinski and Cole were pretty unified working together. Cole had a 2D and a 3D projector set up and was grading both concurrently. The interesting thing about this project Cole mentions is that nearly anytime he finished something, they were watching it with all of the audio (dialogue, music, sound effects). Normally, he might watch a movie, grade it and then they’ll put the sound into it. When I asked him if any of Daft Punk’s score influenced his coloring, he said he had no intentional interaction with the music, but he’s sure some rubbed off on him. “If something is supposed to be exciting or anxious, you can help get that feeling with the use of contrast and color and how you focus the eye, but having the music was just another voice to help me out,” says Cole.
There are pieces in the movie that take place in the past and Cole experimented with a lot of different color and saturation techniques. They ended up taking a more subtle approach so the mood of the film changes, but not to make these time transitions too overt. “We wanted the audience to be impacted by what was heard, but we also wanted them to be impacted by what they saw,” says Cole. Certain elements in the film Cole could have swore were practical because he knows the tricks to look out for, but was blown away when he learned they were CG… and vice versa. Some shots he couldn’t believe were physically done by the actors without wires.
The first time Kosinski and Cole watched the movie, they were really happy about it. “When you work on something so hard, you get lost in some of the details, but looking at it as an audience member I was blown away,” mentions Cole. He goes on to say that none of it could have been possible without the help from the entire crew. From Joe and DP Claudio Miranda to the entire team at Laser Pacific, including Nancy Fuller, the in-house DI producer, and Damian McDonnell, who assisted with the color work and was Cole’s eyes back in Los Angeles, everyone pitched in to help make this movie great.
I tried to get Cole to give me a logline of the film’s look and he said, “TRON: Legacy looks like TRON: Legacy.” And it’s true. They created something unique and inspiring. It doesn’t look like anything else. It’s something very different. Very strong. And very powerful. It’s TRON: Legacy.
A large, colorful dry erase board overpowers my peripheral vision. When I look over, greens, reds and blues begin to focus from a hodgepodge of disarray into an organized rainbow of labeled films and television shows. Too many, this unassuming list may seem like nothing important, but to Mike Pryor, the Visual Effects Producer at Laser Pacific, it’s the backbone of his work. He sits directly across from it staring, knowing every tiny piece of information of this board like a waiter at a fine restaurant. Shows like Big Time Rush, Burn Notice, Fresh Beat Band, Greek, One Tree Hill, The Good Wife, Burn Notice, Lone Star and Mad Men are written all over with to-do’s and reminders. Even movies with secret code names are in another colored section, with only Pryor and a few others who hold the cipher. When I asked Mike if he could share any of the names, he jokingly shouted for the receptionist to bring a non-disclosure agreement in for me to sign.
Although a fairly new branch at Laser Pacific, the visual effects team didn’t seem to have a moment to spare. Sitting down with Pryor to ask just a few questions wasn’t easy. Phone calls poured in with brief conversations about status and last minute changes to a project. Pryor says, “It’s like this everyday and I like it. Keeps me on my toes.” As a producer, Mike’s main goal is to keep every job organized and moving forward. “It can be very easy to forget something, but you have to know what you’re doing not to,” explains Pryor. Besides structuring all the current projects, Mike looks for new clients to work with too.
Betty Draper (January Jones)
Touring the Hollywood facility showed me some state of the art technology. Two theatre-sized finishing rooms with all the latest gadgets and file based workflows were the main attractions. While several editing bays for offline work and other offices filled up the rest of the building. When we got to the Visual Effects Department, it was there where I got to meet Jason Wilson, the visual effects designer at Laser Pacific.
He was working on a future Mad Men episode, and it was interesting to hear how intricate and to what lengths the producers of Mad Men go to make sure the authenticity, time period and integrity of the show is correct. Operating Smoke on a Linux PC and on a Mac OS X Leopard with programs that include Nuke, Maya, After Effects and Photoshop, Jason says they haven’t missed a beat. “Each episode of Mad Men has its own details we go through. We have to make sure we are able to provide anything they need. Working on the level of finish for the visual effects on Mad Men is quite high, because nothing can look like a visual effect. It’s almost like you’re working on a feature film each episode,” explains Wilson.
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Faye Miller (Cara Buono)
“Their fans are just as meticulous as the producers are, says Pryor, and it’s our job to make sure the show is that much more believable for the audience.” Pryor goes on to say that the Art Department on Mad Men is unbelievable at what they do, which makes our life a lot easier. Since the show is shot in downtown Los Angeles, out of the corner of the frame, sometimes you’ll be able to make out detail which is not from the 1960’s period that the show takes place in and has to be removed. But to give you an example of how meticulous the Mad Men producers are, Pryor explains an exterior scene they worked on. “The Los Angeles storm gutters have strainers inside them to keep debris from going into the ocean. Well, they didn’t have such a thing in back then in New York storm gutters, so those had to come out.” Now that’s detailed.
Like most of their clients, Mad Men does everything in house at Laser Pacific, from getting their dailies, finishing visual effects and finalizing color in a file-based workflow, it makes it an easier transition for the client when it’s all in one building. “Thankfully, we haven’t been stumped yet, says Pryor, it’s about isolating the problem and finding out the solution so by the time they walk back to their color correction suite the shot is back in their show.”