Ang Lee’s recent film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Sony Pictures) has received widespread attention for its technical innovation and groundbreaking “high frame rate” cinema experience. The film based on the best-selling novel of the same name opened nationwide in November. We recently caught up with industry veterans Michael Huber and Alex Lemke, who co-own East Side Effects, a NYC-based visual effects boutique. Huber and Lemke were brought into the project early as the in-house compositing artists and in-house VFX Supervisors.
The duo began working on Billy Lynn after the first edit. “We were approached by Leslie Hough (VFX Producer) who knew us from previous projects,” says Huber. “Production already had a vendor for the film in Mr. X Gotham (VFX Supervisor: Marko Forker), but she pitched the idea of an in-house team to Ang Lee and and his editor Tim Squyres. Ang liked this concept, so we were set up in his editorial.”
The film was shot at 120 frames per second with stereoscopic 3D which presented big challenges in post and VFX. According to Lemke, high frame rates + stereo 3D equals massive files and keyframing, not to mention workload on their systems:
“Working at 120 fps combined with Stereo 3D was definitely the biggest challenge. Any work involving key framing ended up being 5 times the workload (per eye) of a standard 24 fps movie. On top of that, the additional work for stereo – making sure the effects we added were identical in both eyes – became quite time consuming. And disk space became an enormous issue. We decided to work with uncompressed EXRs, since we found that compression would slow down our file access considerably. So a single 4K stereo frame was 100MB in size, meaning a second of footage was about 1.2 GB.”
To ensure the smoothest workflow possible, the production team built its own in-house lab for dailies, processing, and color grading. “The workflow and process were very intricate. Luckily, since we were right next door to the lab, we had access to a full 4K stereo 120 fps playback solution in the later half of production,” notes Huber. “We certainly had to deal with quite a learning curve on this format. But we were able to use our increasing knowledge to help communicate better with external vendors and additional in-house artists.”
Imagineer Systems’s mocha Pro was used on approximately 90 shots to augment the team’s NUKE compositing workflow. “We had a lot of screen inserts that needed to be tracked, and mocha sped up this process considerably,” states Lemke. “We usually preprocessed the source footage into degrained JPEGs to speed the tracking up even further. We didn’t need to use mocha’s stereo functionality since tracking only one eye and applying a constant or animated offset worked well enough. mocha’s Planar tracker is still the best out there.” East Side also used mocha’s planar tracking when foreground objects obstructed the track. “The layering system helps to quickly set up hold-out-mattes based on any given object’s distance to camera,” adds Huber.
“mocha’s Planar Tracker is still the best out there.”
“Working with Ang and Tim was a great experience. They have been working together since Ang’s first feature film, so they have a really close work relationship,” ends Huber. “It was great to be just two doors down from their edit suite – sometimes they would call us in to ask us a question about a shot and get our opinion, other times they would come to our workstations to discuss certain aspects of a shot. This direct approach sped up approval times enormously.”
Learn more about East Side Effects. East Side Effects has used mocha Pro on other projects including Netflix’s The Get Down; feature films Indignation, Creed, American Ultra, A Most Violent Year; and the upcoming 2017 comedy The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter.