Digital Production Buzz
October 30, 2014
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
Darroch Greer, Co-Director/Producer“The Millionaires’ Unit”/em>
Larry O’Connor, President & Founder, Other World Computing
Sean A. Williams, Russell Frazier, and Sean Stack, VP Design, Senior Designer/Animator, and Colorist and Finishing Editor, Alpha Dogs, Inc.
Digital Production Buzz
October 30, 2014
Hosts: Larry Jordan
Guests: Darroch Greer, Co-Director/Producer, “The Millionaires’ Unit”
Larry O’Connor, President & Founder, Other World Computing
Sean Williams, VP Design, AlphaDogs, Inc.
Russell Frazier, Senior Designer/Animator, AlphaDogs, Inc
Sean Stack, Colorist and Finishing Editor, AlphaDogs, Inc
Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Blackmagic Design, creators of the world’s highest quality solutions for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries; and by shutterstock.com, a global marketplace for royalty free images and videos. With over two million royalty free HD and 4K video clips, Shutterstock helps you take your creative projects to the next level; and by Other World Computing, providing quality hardware solutions and extensive technical support to the worldwide computer industry since 1988.
Voiceover: Live from Ralph’s Maytag Museum and Podcast Studio in beautiful downtown Burbank, it’s the Digital Production Buzz.
Voiceover: Production, post production, distribution.
Voiceover: What’s really happening now and in your digital future?
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Larry Jordan: And welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan and joining us is our co-host, the stunningly handsome Mr. Mike Horton.
Mike Horton: Hello, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Michael, it’s good to see you back again.
Mike Horton: Well, I was here last week, remember?
Larry Jordan: I know, and I’ve missed you every day.
Mike Horton: I was wearing a different outfit.
Larry Jordan: I only see you every Thursday.
Mike Horton: I was unshaved and I looked different and my hair was shorter.
Larry Jordan: Yes, but you look very, very spiffy tonight.
Mike Horton: I do.
Larry Jordan: Yes, I tell you, it’s that suit that you have on.
Mike Horton: Hey, by the way, it’s going to rain.
Larry Jordan: No it isn’t.
Mike Horton: For those watching the drought in California, it’s going to rain tomorrow.
Larry Jordan: It is not going to rain tomorrow.
Mike Horton: It is going to rain tomorrow.
Larry Jordan: Water does not know how to fall down, it just knows how to evaporate up.
Mike Horton: Please rain, please.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got an interesting show.
Mike Horton: Oh, we’ve got a good show. This is going to be fun.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to start with Darroch Greer. He’s a documentary film maker who, along with his partner Ron King, just finished ‘The Millionaires’ Unit’, a film on naval aviators at the start of World War I. We begin tonight with a discussion with him of how they created the film.
Larry Jordan: Then, in our next segment, we talk with a part of the creative team that handled the visual effects and color grading. The company that did it is Burbank-based AlphaDogs and we’ll talk with Sean Williams, the VP of Design, Russell Frazier, the Senior Designer and Animator for the show, and Sean Stack, colorist and finishing editor.
Larry Jordan: One of the things I like best about this is we’re able to contrast the creative side with Darroch with the technical side of putting all the effects and the visuals together.
Mike Horton: Yes, I think this is the first time we’ve done this, isn’t it?
Larry Jordan: Mhmm, I can’t think of a time we’ve devoted the…
Mike Horton: I like this idea of just taking the creative side and the technical side and putting it all together and seeing how it all works; and I love the story. I love history.
Larry Jordan: Yes, and this one is, well, wait ‘til you hear about it because it’s really captivating.
Mike Horton: Oh, it is. It’s a story I’ve never heard of.
Larry Jordan: No. By the way, just as a reminder, we’re offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page. You can learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making it possible.
Larry Jordan: So what’s keeping you busy, Michael?
Mike Horton: I’m always keeping busy. Working on the next LAFCPUG meeting, which is going to be on November 19th.
Larry Jordan: Oh, that’s with what’s his name, the editor.
Mike Horton: With Arthur Schmidt. In fact, I just had lunch with him yesterday. Oh, it was so much fun. He had such great stories. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to repeat those stories in public, but boy there were some good stories.
Larry Jordan: Those are the best stories, the ones you can’t repeat.
Mike Horton: Yes. Unfortunately, I said, “Well, we’re taping the meeting. Oh, well, can’t do that.”
Larry Jordan: What’s he going to be talking about?
Mike Horton: We’re going to be talking about all of his movies and we’re going to be talking about his creative process. We’re going to show clips and he’s going to talk about what he was thinking of when he put the clips together.
Larry Jordan: And what movies did he cut?
Mike Horton: Oh my goodness, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Contact’, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, ‘Castaway’, ‘Last of the Mohicans’, ‘Marathon Man’. The list goes on and on and on.
Larry Jordan: Ah, and when’s the meeting going to be?
Mike Horton: November 19th.
Larry Jordan: Oh, that’s going to be fun. I’m definitely going to curl up in the fireplace.
Mike Horton: This is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, because he doesn’t do this stuff.
Larry Jordan: That’s going to be very cool. Thinking of cool stuff, visit with us on Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com; we’re on Twitter @DPBuZZ, and subscribe to our free weekly Buzz newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to be back to learn about documentary film making and World War I, right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Darroch Greer is a documentary film maker and he and his directing partner, Roy King, just completed ‘The Millionaires’ Unit: US Naval Aviators in the First World War’. This documentary was made in conjunction with the Humanus Documentary Films Foundation and there’s a really cool story behind it. Welcome, Darroch, good to have you with us.
Darroch Greer: Thank you very much, Larry. How are you?
Larry Jordan: Well, I’m not sure. It depends upon how badly I’ve messed up your first name.
Darroch Greer: Quite all right, it happens all the time. It’s a Scottish spelling and it’s pronounced Darroch.
Larry Jordan: Darroch. Oh, I got the ‘k’ sound right, Darroch.
Darroch Greer: You did.
Larry Jordan: Well, ok, Darroch, thanks for joining us.
Darroch Greer: My pleasure.
Larry Jordan: What is ‘The Millionaires’ Unit?’
Darroch Greer: First of all, it was a book that came out in 2006 written by Mark Wortman and he lives in New Haven and it was about a group of Yale students who, in 1916, took it upon themselves to learn how to fly; and being Yale students, they were mostly rather wealthy young men and the young man that started it, F. Trubee Davison, was the son of JP Morgan’s Senior Business partner. So there was a lot of attention paid to him and somebody in the New York press, I can’t remember which newspaper, dubbed them The Millionaires’ Unit just in recording things that were happening while they were training. They had a sudden drop in one of their planes over the East River and they all left school. There were 29 in all and all but four eventually went overseas to serve with the Naval Air Reserve. They actually became the founding squadron of the Naval Air Reserve in World War I.
Larry Jordan: I was just counting this up on my fingers. World War I was before you were born.
Darroch Greer: Indeed.
Larry Jordan: What was it that caught your attention about this story?
Darroch Greer: It was actually my film making partner, Ron King. He’s an old friend of mine from college, we were roommates, and he walked into a bookstore one day and saw his grandfather’s picture on the cover of the book ‘The Millionaire’s Unit’. His grandfather was one of these pilots, from Ohio, and he called me up and said, “How do you make a documentary film?” and I read the book and the characters are spectacular. We quickly got in touch with a lot of descendents of these men, their families, and realized that there were a lot of private collections of photographs around and that at the Sterling Library at Yale were the F. Trubee papers, which not only had a slew of photographs, but hundreds of letters from these guys. I don’t want to take away a big surprise of the film, but Trubee, who started it, in his flight test to get his Navy wings, crashed and broke his back and could not go overseas and so everybody else who did go overseas wrote him letters. We very much wanted people to understand the milieu of where these guys lived, but also what it was like to fly World War I airplanes, all the while having it be a very character driven story. I got 400 pages of letters of these guys, who were writing home to Trubee and letting him know what was happening and where they were, and we pretty much tell the story from their point of view – their training, their shipping overseas, more training, their first times in battle and then the outcomes, which were pretty spectacular. It’s one of the great stories where the diversity of characters is all there. We just had to find out if we had the visual material.
Mike Horton: It was the characters that drew you to this story? It was the story that drew me to the story, the actual ‘what do we do with these new fangled things called airplanes’.
Darroch Greer: Exactly, exactly, but the characters are so vivid and they’re so excited about flying that they really describe it in detail, they really talk about their training and they talk about how these different types of planes flew, so that was the second part of it. Ron and I realized we had to film some planes and the first bit of money we got, we went out to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome up in the Hudson River Valley and had a very successful day shooting air to air with some German Fokkers. There was not a Sopwith Camel, which we really wanted, but there was a French SPAD and so we started putting together some footage, started showing it around. But the whole time we knew we needed to find a Sopwith Camel and we wanted one with an original engine. They’re rotary engines, the whole engine revolves with the propeller, and they have a very distinctive sound. There were really only three, maybe four, of them in the world and the one that finally worked out for us is in New Zealand. It’s at this exceptional place called the Vintage Aviator and they build exact replica World War I aircraft, many of them with original engines. We wrote to these guys, told them what we wanted to do, told them how much money we had and they said, “Come on out,” and we did.
Larry Jordan: I was about to ask, the book was written in 2006 and the film is coming out eight years later, what took you so long? But just finding the aircraft must have taken, like, a lifetime.
Darroch Greer: It did, but we also had to raise the money. We started a non-profit and we put together a board and we built a website and nobody knew who we were and so we sort of had to prove ourselves and let everybody know that we really cared about the story, cared about their relatives, the family members of these people, and we would take trips back east as we visited museums and, as we interviewed people for the film, we would have little fundraising get-togethers and show them several minutes of what we had been doing. We took a long time trying to engage the Navy and we spent a fair amount of time in the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, which is just a fantastic museum, and we developed a part of the film about the birth of naval aviation and how this group, who were known as the First Yale Unit, how they fit into that. But that was really tangential to the story, it’ll be on the DVD, but it really took us a while to hone the story through these characters while trying to put them into the context of what America was like 100 years ago, what World War I was and why America got to it so late and bringing all these things out as it went along. But mostly fundraising was what took us so long.
Larry Jordan: How did you decide to cast this? All stories are character driven, but really the contrast between a Yale student and the war is really a special moment which makes this story so captivating. How did you find your cast?
Darroch Greer: We really spent a lot of time reading their letters and looking at their photographs and they’re very distinctive people. Robert Lovett, who went on to become President Truman’s Acting Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense during the Korean War, was very much an avuncular patrician type of guy, very dignified and held together. Da Gates, who was shot down and became a prisoner of war, was captain of the Yale football team and he was a very shy, large man. They called him The Indian, he was very dark featured. Dave Engels, who became the only ace for the Navy in World War I, he was the first naval ace, he was kind of a wiry, skinny guy, very energetic, very enthusiastic; and then you have the poet. He wasn’t really a poet, but he was Archibald MacLeish’s brother and he was a very sensitive guy and didn’t believe anybody took him seriously and really didn’t find himself until he started flying. He was roundly believed to be the best pilot from the Yale Unit and he did not survive the war. It’s really quite an amazing cast; and then our narrator is the actor Bruce Dern, and it turns out that Bruce is the grand-nephew of Kenny MacLeish and came from that MacLeish family from the north shore of Chicago, so he came in as our narrator, which was a nice synchronistic element to the film.
Mike Horton: Wow. Let’s get back to that fundraising, which is always the tough part of anything. You talk to any film maker, what’s the hardest part about making a film? Getting the money. It’s getting the money. What was your background prior to this? This isn’t about just a great story. People have to trust you.
Darroch Greer: Right. I’m a documentary film maker and I mostly work in American history, a lot of it 19th century history. I’ve done several things on Native Americans and Native America and several things around the Civil War. For five years, I worked as a researcher in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and so I feel very much at home in history. I really didn’t know much about World War I and that was incredibly exciting to me, to fill in that gap and black hole in my knowledge of American history.
Mike Horton: And there aren’t a lot of documentaries done on World War I. Why? That’s the Great War.
Larry Jordan: Yes, but World War II is more recent and a bigger war, I think.
Mike Horton: Yes, I know, but they still do more on the Civil War and that’s still several generations away. I don’t understand.
Darroch Greer: We got into the war very late and World War I, which I would argue is the more important of the two world wars, was really very much eclipsed by World War II. World War II is five times bigger in terms of men and munitions, but World War I was the end of three world empires and it changed the map of Europe. It’s really what allowed America to come to the forefront as the leading power on the world stage in the 20th century, because in Europe, even though we sort of invented aviation and motion pictures, even, really because of court battles, because of the Wright brothers and Thomas Edison, Europe and France in particular surged ahead in aviation and photography, plus art and music. Europe was really exploding with all sorts of cultural diversity by 1914 and they all decided to go to war and they just destroyed it all. We were able to step up, we were a younger country and we still had plenty of resources, but that really changed the whole footing of the 20th century. World War II was really just a continuation of those same problems and grievances that people went to war for. Also, there’s more film and photography of World War II, so it’s an easier story to tell.
Larry Jordan: That gets me to, I think, a very interesting question, which is you did a lot of recreations for your film, although they’ve been declining in popularity with television networks. Did you make a conscious decision to recreate, or did you just not have any other visuals to work with?
Darroch Greer: I actually don’t like recreations in documentaries and the stuff that we recreated was shots of hands writing letters and we got a lot of props and shot in a lot of different locations. These guys trained on the north shore of Long Island, then they trained in Palm Beach, Florida, then they went to England and then to France and they were in Dunkirk. You never see, except for when we introduced the Sopwith Camel, re-enactors pretending to be these guys except hands writing letters in these milieus that we set up. But we have so many photographs of them and there really is a lot of good footage and I had to say we spent a lot of money licensing very high quality footage from the Imperial War Museum in London and British Pathe, Gaumant Pathe in France, gorgeous black and white photography that we had scanned at 2K, so it really looks quite good. Since a lot of our film is about naval aviation, which a lot of people don’t focus on, you’re going to see a lot of very interesting flying boats, the seaplanes, the ones that have hulls that look like ships that take off from and land on the water. In that way, I think it’s quite original.
Larry Jordan: How big a crew did you use to shoot this?
Darroch Greer: It was pretty much Ron and me. Ron is more the cameraman and very much more the technician and more the writer/researcher, but I always went along and shot as well. I went to Europe by myself for about five weeks and I used a Canon 60D and I had to track down the graves and a couple of cemeteries of these guys and I filmed in Dunkirk and I filmed in Felixstowe, England and Belgium. I filmed on the North Sea. I took a ferry ride to go into the harbor to see the mole Zeebrugge, where the German submarines were kept, and that was very exciting. But Ron really arranged our shoot in New Zealand and we rented two RED cameras down there. Ron shot from the ground and we hired a gentleman, Richard Bluck, who’s a second unit DP for Peter Jackson, and he did our shooting from a Cessna we rented and from a helicopter. We ran into a wonderful man, John Coyle, who invented the shot over mount and it’s a rather sophisticated, pretty cutting edge mount that we had to harness onto the bottom of the helicopter and then work from the inside of the helicopter with a joystick. So we got up there with those airplanes and we were there in New Zealand’s fall and there was some wind, and some rain, and clouds, and rainbows and we got quite a variety of shots. We spent about five days shooting.
Larry Jordan: Before we run out of time, because we’ve only got a few minutes left, as you look back on this eight year journey you’ve been on, what would you do differently now that you’ve got the experience of having done it?
Darroch Greer: Boy, that’s a very good question, Larry. What would I do differently? It’s been such a great journey. We didn’t waste some time trying to bite off too much of the story. We wanted this to be a big, epic film, and it is a two hour film and it really takes that to tell it, but we really did try to fill out all of naval aviation and more of World War I than we should have bit off and it took us a while to hone down our story, to have it be character driven, and we believe it works very well now. We’ve just finished the final edit and we’re starting to make our deal with PBS and look for distribution.
Larry Jordan: For people who want more information, where can they go on the web to learn more?
Darroch Greer: Millionairesunit.org. The name of the film is ‘The Millionaires’ Unit: US Naval Aviators in the First World War’.
Mike Horton: It’s a great story.
Darroch Greer: It is a great story. Thank you for your interest.
Mike Horton: Well, I’m looking forward to this.
Larry Jordan: When are you going to release it so Mike and I can sit and enjoy it? Hurry up!
Darroch Greer: That’s a very good question. I’m going to New York in two weeks and we need to work that out with PBS. I don’t know if PBS is going to wait until 2017, which is the big centennial of when America, it’s the 100 year anniversary of when American joined.
Larry Jordan: They can run it twice.
Mike Horton: Exactly.
Darroch Greer: Exactly, exactly, and we’re going to get it out on DVD and we’re putting together the supplemental material now. We want to get it out as soon as we can.
Larry Jordan: For somebody who’s interested in history, this has to be a dream project, because every time you turn around there’s some new piece of history to discover.
Darroch Greer: That’s exactly what it is. I love doing the research, and I love to travel and I got to go to Europe and New Zealand and a lot of trips to the East Coast, which I just love – I used to live in New York.
Mike Horton: Life is good.
Darroch Greer: And digging into the archives, which I just love. The national archives and the Library of Congress are just these gifts to the American people and it’s there for us to use.
Larry Jordan: Oh, that’s very true.
Mike Horton: The story of ‘We’ll show you what to do with these airplanes’.
Larry Jordan: The website is millionairesunit.org and Darroch Greer is the documentary film maker who, along with is partner Ron King, created ‘The Millionaires’ Unit: Naval Aviators in the First World War’. Darroch, thanks for joining us today.
Darroch Greer: My pleasure. You’re welcome. Thanks for your interest.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Larry O’Connor founded Other World Computing, which we all know as OWC, in 1988. Their website is macsales.com. They’ve been supporting all things Mac for more than 25 years and were recently recognized as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in the Chicago area. But what I like is that Larry understands storage. Hello, Larry, good to have you with us.
Larry O’Connor: Yes, likewise, Larry. Thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: It is my pleasure. Just recently, and Michael is looking at his calendar to look up the exact date, Apple released its latest operating system, Yosemite, and there’s some news from a storage point of view. What’s happening?
Larry O’Connor: I’ll just say right off the cuff that 10.10 is probably the best upgrade that I’ve enjoyed out of Apple in a long time. It was not a big Mavericks fan but 10.10 has been a fantastic upgrade, a smooth upgrade, and we’re really enjoying the benefits of it. One thing that certainly came out of the 10.10 update was a change in policy to handling, not to be overly technical, but text edits and the impact from this change happens to impact a very large number of people who are using SSDs with a TRIM enabler.
Larry Jordan: Wait, wait, are using SSDs with a what?
Larry O’Connor: A TRIM enabler.
Mike Horton: What’s a TRIM enabler?
Larry Jordan: I haven’t seen scissors around my computer in a long time. What’s this?
Larry O’Connor: Indeed. Most solid state drives depend upon OS side management for the optimal placement of files and effectively keeping the system in sync with where available space is and where data can best be stored, where the free blocks are. In the event of not having Trim, that resource, that management is put entirely on the SSD itself. Years ago, SSDs in a Mac environment, before any TRIM support existed, performed really poorly. They worked really great initially and then within just a few months they would significantly slow down as things became, for lack of a better term, grossly mismanaged and out of optimal organization. OS side TRIM puts the burden on the OS to keep things in check and allows the SSD to primarily be there as a storage device. There’s interim garage collection, other things that go on, but TRIM is something that a lot of SSDs require the OS to manage, and it also keeps right amplification low. And right amplification just simply is a measure of how many blocks after you’ve written to the drive for the actual data to be stored, kind of like a Point A to B thing. If, as the crow flies, you could travel a mile to get to your destination, the best route would be no more than a mile. In the case of certain drives, they have a wormhole that opens up and they can get there traveling less than a mile in distance. With right amplification, there may be a mile of actual distance to travel, but you can end up traveling three, five, ten or 20 miles to get to the destination. In the case of…, just like on a car’s tire, that’s wear on the device, wear on the storage medium, which reduces its life.
Larry Jordan: Ok, take a deep breath here for a second. So there’s this function called TRIM which does file management on the SSD drives, gets rid of the stuff we don’t want, organizes the stuff we do want, so what does Yosemite have to do with all of this?
Larry O’Connor: A lot of drives that require TRIM really depend upon the OS to take care of the TRIM functions so they can do the rest of the work. Yosemite disables TRIM for non-Apple drives in a way that’s hard to work around. There have been hacks – effectively it’s a hack, for lack of a better term it’s software that’s a hack that then allows you to enable TRIM for non-Apple drive – but Yosemite changed some security settings and effectively took away that option. In fact, if you have a TRIM enabler operating on your 10.9 install, when you go to upgrade to 10.10, the first time you boot, it actually hangs up during the boot process because it’s not a recognized software edit.
Mike Horton: Does this happen to you a lot when we have OS upgrades?
Larry O’Connor: Typically not.
Mike Horton: Or is it just that this is an aberration and that’s it?
Larry O’Connor: This is kind of an aberration. On the one side, I think it’s wrong that Apple doesn’t support third party TRIM. They should. On the other side, we got into this marketplace, got into solid state storage ourselves, because the SAN 4 solution, the … controller that we were to build our products with offered a solution that didn’t require any OS side TRIM, that did all the management internally by design, as opposed to having a dependency by design outside of the device. Our products never required TRIM. In fact, there’s demonstratively no real benefit to enabling Trim, to hacking on Trim, to using the OS side TRIM with our product. I must say, it’s nice to be able to say, “Well, our stuff doesn’t need Trim.” On the other side, I support upgrades, end user upgradability and certainly choice in terms of what you put in your system. Of course, we’d love to see you always use OWC stuff, but nonetheless Apple’s not going to allow people to make this particular edit. It’s relatively a small percentage that are doing this and it would be a nice thing that Apple just support third party TRIM in the first place. Windows has for years.
Larry Jordan: Wait a minute. I’m trying to decide exactly how panicked I should be about this. So because TRIM is not enabled, are you saying that every SSD which is not made by Apple will lock up when you go from OS9 to OS10? Or only boot disks? Or only exterior drives?
Larry O’Connor: It only affects your boot drive and only if you’re using a hack, a TRIM enabler, which Apple never supported in the first place.
Mike Horton: Most of us don’t even know that.
Larry O’Connor: Yes, how do you know…
Larry O’Connor: Well, you should know that. Well, I guess there are two things. If you put a third party drive and it doesn’t have a SAN 4 controller, whether it’s performance or drive longevity, you already have a less than optimal situation. Most people who are upgrading do a bit of research and they are aware of TRIM enablers. Everybody’s talked about TRIM enablers, it’s been a couple of years since the first TRIM enablers came out that effectively used Apple’s internal TRIM for non-Apple drives. But you would know if you put a TRIM enabler on your system.
Mike Horton: Well, all I know is when I buy a product from OWC, which I do all the time and everybody I know does, that’s just like a no brainer, you make good stuff, I buy an SSD drive, I install it. I don’t know what the hell it’s got in it.
Larry O’Connor: Well, that’s the beauty. In fact, we’ve blogged about this multiple times because some people are like, “Oh, I’ve got to have TRIM.” We’ve made it very clear that you don’t need a TRIM enabler for their drives. We don’t recommend installing or activating. You don’t have to do anything with our drives, you’re correct. Our drives, you plug them in and go.
Mike Horton: I never saw the word ‘TRIM’, I never looked for the word ‘TRIM’. I still don’t even know what the word ‘TRIM’ means. I just bought the damn drive and it worked.
Larry O’Connor: That’s the way it’s supposed to work and that’s the way it still works.
Mike Horton: Ok.
Larry O’Connor: If you have an OWC drive, nothing to worry about with 10.10.
Larry Jordan: Ok, but for people who don’t have OWC drives, there may be a problem if you’re running a third party SSD drive as a boot drive – not as an external drive, you’re saying external drives are fine, it’s just the boot drive – how does somebody find out if they have a TRIM enabler or not? Because if you asked me, and I pay attention to this stuff, I would have no clue where to look.
Mike Horton: Yes, I wouldn’t know.
Larry O’Connor: You have to manufacture the drive… There’s one particular drive out there that I know actually provides a TRIM enabler with their solution. If you had to install software for the drive to operate properly, then you probably have a TRIM enabler. If you bought the drive and you read somewhere that you shouldn’t use a TRIM enabler and you download and install such a product, you would know that you’ve got this. It doesn’t magically appear on the OS, you have to install it and enable it. In fact, if you were using a TRIM enabler, every time you install a new OS version, even going from 10.9.1 to .2 to .3, any new iteration, you end up having to reinstall the enabler. So if you’re using an enabler you know about it. It would just be a surprise for a lot of people, whereas if you had an enabler with 10.9.5, whatever your last OS was, upgrading from that version to 10.10, that software stays put and…
Mike Horton: Ok, I’m not using an enabler.
Larry Jordan: So it sounds like the answer is before you upgrade from OS 10.9 to OS 10.10, if you’re running an SSD drive as your boot drive, contact the manufacturer of the SSD drive to make sure that it’s compatible with 10.10 before you upgrade. Is that a true statement?
Larry O’Connor: They may have problems. They’re probably confused a little bit. It won’t be a compatibility issue by any means. If you’re using a non-Apple drive on your Macintosh, by default there is no TRIM support. Apple does not recognize non-Apple drives. It doesn’t matter, even from a standpoint of a hard drive, Apple really only recognizes drives that Apple shipped you from the factory, otherwise they don’t support such drives and in this case there’s no TRIM support enabled. The compatibility is the same. For optimum performance with a lot of third party drives, you need to enable TRIM. On the Mac, the only way to enable TRIM is with a third party TRIM enabler. If you don’t enable TRIM, long term there are performance issues.
Larry Jordan: Ok, but Larry, hold it, time out. I just need a short answer. There is a chance that, when you upgrade from 10.9 to 10.10, your SSD drive won’t work because of the differences in the operating system and you should therefore check with the manufacturer of your SSD drive before upgrading. True or false?
Larry O’Connor: Well, I guess I’d take false with the exception of one – the manufacturer’s not asking you to install this third party software. Compatibility with the physical drive itself isn’t affected by the OS update. What’s affected by the OS update is a particular piece of enhancement software that’s out there, it’s freeware, it was put out there to enable TRIM and bring the benefits of TRIM to non-Apple drives.
Larry Jordan: So you wouldn’t get this TRIM enabler from the manufacturer of the SSD drive, you’d have to search around on the web to download it as a separate entity?
Larry O’Connor: Correct. There is one exception to that rule. One particular manufacturer did promote a TRIM enabler with their drive, but other than that one exception, none of those manufacturers are promoting any kind of third party software on the Mac. They really don’t even talk about it for all effective purposes.
Larry Jordan: Okidoke. Larry, for people who want to learn more about the products that you’ve got, where do they go on the web?
Larry O’Connor: They can go to www.macsales.com. If they go to our blog site, rocketyard.com, we also have a lot of information that goes into better detail. It may be a little less confusing than I spoke about. By no means do I want to scare anybody in terms of drive compatibility but…
Mike Horton: You don’t have to worry about me.
Larry Jordan: The website is macsales.com. Larry O’Connor is the CEO of Other World Computing. Larry, thanks for joining us today. Bye bye.
Larry O’Connor: You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: When you’re working with media, one thing is essential – your computer needs peak performance. However, when it comes to upgrading your Mac, there are so many different options to choose from that the process can be confusing. That’s why Other World Computing carries the best upgrades that let your computer’s performance and storage grow as your needs grow. Since 1988, OWC has become one of the most trusted names in quality hardware and comprehensive support to the worldwide computer industry.
Larry Jordan: With an extensive online catalog of Mac, iPhone and iPad enhancement products, as well as a dedicated team of knowledgeable experts providing first rate tech support, OWC has everything you need to take your current system to the next level. Whether you need to maximize your system’s memory, add blazing speed or enhance reliability, look no further than the friendly experts at OWC. Learn more by visiting macsales.com. That’s macsales.com.
Larry Jordan: We began our show talking with the director of ‘The Millionaires’ Unit’. Now we get to talk to part of the creative team that handled the visual effects and the color grading. The company is Burbank-based AlphaDogs and Sean Williams is the VP of Design. Hello, Sean.
Sean Williams: Hi, Larry.
Larry Jordan: I need to have you get closer to your phone, because sitting next to you is the Senior Designer and Animator, Russell Frazier. Hello, Russell.
Russell Frazier: Hello, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Good to have you; and calling in as well is the Colorist and Finishing Editor, Sean Stack. Hello, Sean.
Sean Stack: Hello, Larry, thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: It’s good to have all three of you on.
Mike Horton: This is really cool. There’s going to be five people talking at the same time. It’s going to be awesome.
Larry Jordan: And we can all hear each other, which just amazes me as well. Sean Williams, because we’ve got two Seans – this is going to be impossible for all of us – Sean Williams, how would you describe the overall challenges that were inherent in working on The Millionaires’ Unit from AlphaDogs’ point of view?
Sean Williams: Oh boy, that’s a big question. We may have to break it down between the three of us, since we did work on different shots. Certainly, Sean Stack had the bulk of the film to work on because he worked on every single shot in terms of the color grading; and then Russell and I worked on a number of visual effects shots to enhance particular key scenes.
Larry Jordan: Ok, we’ll let Sean Stack defend himself in a few minutes. Let’s talk about the design, the animation and the visual effects and we’ll talk about color grading in a minute, so tackle just your part of it.
Russell Frazier: I would say that one of the great things about this project was that it wasn’t so much a challenge as just a great pleasure to work on this particular topic. When Ron King and Darroch first walked in and talked about the subject, I immediately mentioned that, as a kid, I had gone to a place called Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome and seen World War I planes fly as a kid and they said, “Yeah, we shot there,” and we immediately had a rapport. It was great to see the Sopwith Camel, the SPAD, the Albatrosses, all those old things come back in my memory, so it was a very vivid subject and quite a pleasure for me to work on.
Larry Jordan: Russell, what did they ask you to do?
Russell Frazier: My big thing was a night raid on the port city of Bruges, which was actually the first combat mission of one of the main subjects of the film and, like much of the film, it was visuals to go with a letter that he had written describing the event. There was such excitement in the letter that one really had to pump up the visuals to match that, which made it pretty interesting because you weren’t necessarily going for realism, you were going for his experience as he would have seen it. So the lights are slightly brighter, the darkness is darker, the mysteries are more mysterious and all that, just making it as vivid as his description made it sound.
Larry Jordan: Sean Williams, you’re the VP of Design and, I suspect – and correct me if I’m wrong – that one of the roles you serve is the interface between the company and the film maker. How do you work with a film maker to minimize problems and maximize communication? In other words, what do you recommend they do before they even come to you?
Sean Williams: The most important thing is to have, if at all possible, a face to face meeting. We definitely like sitting down with the clients so that we can discuss the project, get a feel for each other. I tend to find that doing that only through email or over the phone can be a challenge sometimes. It’s great to be able to sit down and establish a rapport, get to understand where the client’s coming from, figure out what they’re looking for and then to start working from that point. That’s definitely very key.
Larry Jordan: So then what’s your role, Sean, with the process? I’m avoiding Sean Stack, and we still love you, but hold on, we’re going to get to you in a minute. This is Sean Williams. How do you describe your role within this process?
Sean Williams: I don’t put myself as some kind of intermediary between them and Russell, for instance. We definitely try to break down a project into the shots that are needed. We tend to split it into different groups and then I would tackle the shots that I’m working on, Russell works on his shots and then we collaborate and confer with each other if we’re sharing a particular shot. But we tend to have as direct communication as possible. I find it’s best not to pass through one person, pass through another person. It’s best to just have a direct communication with the client whenever possible.
Larry Jordan: Russell, when you were setting up the visual effects pipeline, how did you design the workflow? How did stuff get processed?
Russell Frazier: We had Sean Stack in on it from the very beginning as far as the overall look is concerned. The shots I was going to do had to match other shots in the movie of the same battle. We did not do every shot for that sequence, and so Sean Stack created some visual references for us and I matched my backgrounds and such with those references. It was done in After Effects and essentially we would render out to ProRes and Sean Stack would drop them into the cut. One interesting thing about it was that the shots I worked on and that we worked on in general had to match a patchwork of other sources. They had historical footage, they had still photographs which had to be sort of animated into the scene and so the look was basically largely determined by the source and the surrounding shots. But yes, Sean Stack actually had a great deal to do with it from the start as far as getting the look that we would work with.
Larry Jordan: That is a perfect cue to go to the other Sean in our conversation, Sean Stack. Tell us about how you worked with the director to create a look for the film.
Sean Stack: The first thing was knowing that these battle scenes that Russell and Sean were talking about were night time and there were also some daytime scenes of battle recreations that they were doing. The directors came in and we sat down with the footage they shot and tried to set a look that would match the surrounding clips of archival footage that existed already and come up with a feel that wasn’t realistic as much as it was like a hyper-realism, because it’s coming from these letters and so we just wanted the viewer to feel what was going on more than actually trying to create something so real looking, even though it is fairly realistic looking. It was more going for a feel, so we sat down with that footage that was going to be treated first and went into Resolve. We set a look and I exported a 4K file for Sean and Russell to work with, in the event that they needed to push in or move things around to make their graphics work. They had the ability to reframe and resize and then we finished in HD in the end, but having that 4K resolution from a shooter’s perspective is great to be able to play with it a little more.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe the look? Is it all desaturated romantic? What was the idea you had in your head?
Sean Stack: For overall picture or for the scenes that were treated in graphics?
Larry Jordan: Overall picture. However you want to answer the question, but I’m sure you had a concept in your mind of how you wanted this to look. What was the concept?
Sean Stack: Yes. When I first sat down and saw the cut and got excited about working on it, one of the first scenes is this aerial footage of the Sopwith Camels some of the other older aircraft flying over New Zealand. Immediately, I’m like, “Wow, I want to work on this so bad,” and we didn’t want to oversaturate the images, because we wanted the planes to speak for themselves. Throwing too much color at it would do too much to it, so even though the landscape was so beautiful, we desaturated that a little bit so the planes would stand out against the background. Then, with the archival footage, again, I think that’s best left to a minimum. If there was shadow detail that I can bring out from whatever we got from the historical archives, then I tried to bring the detail out and not go too far with it. That was my take on that.
Mike Horton: Did you have to clean up the archival footage at all? Was it damaged at all?
Sean Stack: Minimal, actually. When I saw it in the offline edit, most of the footage that was cut in was SD samples downloaded from the internet from the archive sites cut into the show and I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is going to be all kinds of frame rates, all kinds of frame sizes. In the online, trying to get it to look good, it’s going to be a problem,” and then magically they were delivered in 23.98 HD. As Darroch was saying earlier in your show, they were going for the best quality they could find and I was so relieved to see it come in looking so good.
Mike Horton: Yes, he said he scanned it at 2K or something like that, he was able to do that.
Sean Stack: Yes, much of it was really well done, so I was just relieved to see it looking so good so I could just focus on, “Ok, well, what do we want to do with the color? And is there detail in some of their faces that we can bring out, or detail in the airplanes and underneath the airplane where it’s all shadowy there might be something there.” In many cases, we were able to pull a little bit more out of it, which was fantastic.
Larry Jordan: Russell, let’s switch back to doing effects. You needed to add billowing smoke or searchlights and tracer fire. How did you add those elements?
Russell Frazier: For the searchlights, basically it was a two and a half D scene set up in After Effects and the terrain we were flying over was a photograph that existed of approximately the right location, a port city in Europe, and to that I added a little life, some moonlight glinting on the water and also the searchlights themselves, which were 3D shapes in After Effects which had an amount of blur and other things necessary to make them seem like beams of light passing through atmosphere. It was just a matter of setting up a two and a half D scene in After Effects and flying through it. The shot you mentioned with the billowing smoke, I added much less to that. It was basically live footage of a landing airplane. There was sort of swerving around and the camera was shaking a bit, so the only trick there was tracking both the scene and the airplane so that the smoke wouldn’t seem to be in a different environment than what it was trying to follow, and then doing a bit of roto to keep the smoke behind the airplane instead of in front of it and that was about it. Sean Williams worked on the various tracer fire shots.
Larry Jordan: So Sean Williams, how did you do tracers?
Sean Williams: The tracers were interesting. There were two different set-ups. There was basically a POV of a pilot flying one of these re-enactment scenes – I believe those were the shots from New Zealand, some beautiful footage – and Darroch and Ron wanted to add just a little bit of drama to some of these scenes so they weren’t just shots of the planes flying around. They wanted to have a hint of the actual combat going on, so again there was either POV shots of a pilot being shot at, or several shots were the perspective of another pilot seeing a battle between two other planes. It was a matter of doing a bit of tracking, some rotoscoping, trying to make sure that muzzle flashes and tracers didn’t float differently than the planes; and then with the POV shots, we added a bit of fisheye to the lens. The pilot was wearing, I think, some helmet mounted cameras so you could actually see him looking around as he’s flying forward. I added tracers that were going past him and he would turn around and look behind him and see the plane that was following, so I had to match the curvature of the lens a little bit. I think that worked out pretty well. It was a bit of a challenge but not terribly difficult.
Mike Horton: All right, tell the truth, are there tracer plug-ins?
Sean Williams: No.
Mike Horton: Well, there should be.
Sean Williams: In fact initially, one challenge was to figure out what these things would look like. We went online and looked at a bunch of historical footage, but that was all from World War II and so, rather than trying to match the World War II look, which may or may not be that accurate for these older planes, we went back to the initial letters and diaries from these pilots where they describe the color and the feel of these flashes going by and really tried to use those as a jumping off point to get the look.
Larry Jordan: Russell, you mentioned something about an unlocked timeline. What does that mean and what’s the implication?
Russell Frazier: I do not know.
Larry Jordan: Ok, I will take my notes outback and speak strongly to them. Sean Stack, when you were doing the color grading, what software were you using to keep track of all your shots and get them to look good?
Sean Stack: I was using both DaVinci Resolve and Apple Color.
Larry Jordan: Why both?
Sean Stack: Why both? Well, when I was pulling the 4K footage initially and setting the look, that was RED footage that was shot in New Zealand, it was just so easy to import it into Resolve with the R3Ds and go for it. But then, knowing that, as you mentioned, the timeline was not locked, they were still editing the picture and trying to finish. So when they got the first third of it locked, they sent that over and then there were gaps in that because they were still waiting for the archival footage to be delivered and to come in and be cut in by the offline editor and then sent over again. So working in color and the Final Cut 7 color workflow is just so solid, I didn’t have to really prep anything. There were a lot of still images, there were a lot of mismatched frame rates footage and it was simpler for the workflow. I ended up having about ten projects that finally got melded into one timeline.
Larry Jordan: So I asked the right question of the wrong person. The unlocked timeline should not have been a Russell question, it should have been Sean Stack question and it means that the editors were still editing while you’re doing color grading? That must have driven you nuts.
Sean Stack: It’s not the normal way to work. It’s not the recommended way to work, but it was the situation. We were under a deadline to meet a screening that they had set up at an air show and we were not going to miss that deadline. I sat back and said, “Well, let’s do whatever it takes,” so that was a matter of me communicating with their offline editor, their conform editor. She was wonderful and I think our back and forth of, “I’m going to send you this and it’s on this track. Cut it in,” that was critical. Without proper communication, all is lost.
Larry Jordan: Yes, very true. Sean, very quickly before we run out of time, what’s the one or two tips you want to give a film maker who’s coming in for color grading? What must they know to help you?
Sean Stack: Know where you want to go with the color. Be able to describe the feel of your film and the emotions you’re trying to communicate and maybe the arc of the story so that I can be on the same page with the film makers. I need to know, of course, what cameras you shot on and the frame rates and all the technical details, but anybody can work on technical details. I’m interested in the art of the film maker. When they come in, I want to know what they’re about. Like Sean was saying earlier, sitting down with the film makers in person, I agree, that’s the best way to get on the same page and know that they feel comfortable working with you because they can see that you’re getting what they’re saying.
Larry Jordan: Sean Williams, for people who want to learn more about what AlphaDogs can do for them, where can they go on the web to learn more?
Sean Williams: They can find out more about us at alphadogs.tv.
Larry Jordan: That’s alphadogs.tv. Sean Williams is the VP of Design; Russell Frazier, the Senior Designer and Animator; and Sean Stack, Colorist and Finishing Editor for the film ‘The Millionaires’ Unit’. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today.
Sean Williams: Thank you, Larry.
Sean Stack: Thank you.
Mike Horton: Thanks, guys.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Michael, now I want to see that film.
Mike Horton: Yes, so do I. The topic is awesome. There’s not enough World War I history out there.
Larry Jordan: Well, first there isn’t enough.
Mike Horton: World War I history, there’s not enough out there.
Larry Jordan: You’re just revisiting your childhood is the problem; and the other is I think the reason World War II wins more is there’s just so much more footage of it. Look at how much they had to recreate – not recreate, but they had to work with letters and they had to work with still images. They didn’t have as much film.
Mike Horton: Yes, I don’t know, there’s just not a lot of interest. There’s not a lot of interest in the Korean War, and when we talk about presidents during wars, who even remembers Wilson? He was the President during World War I. We remember Roosevelt, we remember Lincoln, we remember Washington. Wilson? No, not a chance.
Larry Jordan: And who was it that said ‘Peace in our time’? Remember that?
Mike Horton: Larry Jordan?
Larry Jordan: No, no, no, no. Just assessing your history.
Mike Horton: Peace in our time.
Larry Jordan: Neville Chamberlain, but it was for World War II.
Mike Horton: Oh, for goodness’ sakes.
Larry Jordan: Right person, wrong war. Forget that.
Mike Horton: That’s not even American.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week: Darroch Greer, documentary film maker; Larry O’Connor, the CEO of Other World Computing; and, from AlphaDogs, Sean Williams, Russell Frazier and Sean Stack.
Larry Jordan: There’s lot of history in our industry, as well as in the world. It’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com – hundreds of past shows…
Mike Horton: Hundreds.
Larry Jordan: …and thousands of interviews, all searchable and all available to you. You can talk with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ and Facebook, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Music on The Buzz is provided by Smartsound, text transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription and you can email us at info@digitalproductionbuzz.
Mike Horton: And we will get back to you.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Cirina Catania, engineer Megan Paulos. On behalf of Mike Horton, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Mike Horton: Goodbye, everybody.
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