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Editing Metamorphosis With FAST Silver

Gonda-Bastian Sinagowitz reports on the production of an film by Spectral New Media Production GmbH using a Silver system from FAST Multimedia. By Gonda-Bastian Sinagowitz

A despondent scientist hopes to bring his dead wife back to life and develops a machine to do so. He battles against fate and fights with himself. Should he really he start this machinery of creation? On a stormy autumn night, he decides to test his work.

To his surprise, it is not his wife who climbs out of the "creation pool", but a butterfly in unusually vibrant colors. With a beat of its wings, the butterfly releases a virtual storm of images, revealing a colorful, better world to the scientist. As the storm passes and day breaks, the sun that shines through the window illuminates a more beautiful world.

Apparently a Frankenstein setting with interesting new twist at the end. When will the film be shown in theaters, or is it already on television? Hardly: the production described above is the new film of Spectral New Media Production GmbH from Munich, Germany. Brothers Ekkehart and Christopher Böhm, managing directors of the company founded in 1998, quickly came to an agreement during the planning of the project. The fictitious story -- much better than a documentary -- can communicate the knowledge and possibilities of their enterprise. Under the motto "Spectral unleashes creativity," director Marc Tscharntke developed the story.

[Click for larger image] Using FAST Silver, Spectral New Media created a world in color and black and white.

Black & white -- but how?
As convinced users of Silver, the MPEG-2 editing system from FAST Multimedia, the multimedia makers counted on the abilities of the system from the very beginning: editing with numerous layers, complex color correction, and the integration of character animation.

Under these circumstances, color quickly became a key element of style. "The butterfly represents Spectral," Christopher Böhm said. In addition to post production, he was also responsible for the project's camera work. "The butterfly's appearance had to be staged in a special way." The first two-thirds of the film are in black-and-white. Color doesn't enter it until the appearance of the butterfly.

Director Marc Tscharntke from Munich who shared the post production work with Böhm said: "Since we produced on video, Silver let us carefully consider in advance what kind of a look we had to give the images which were filmed in color."

What does a picture have to look like in color to be effective in black-and-white through post production? The intention was not to create a classic black-and-white film look, but rather a version appropriate to the video medium. To this end, the two editors developed a "formula" for post production: every clip is placed on two layers over each other. With the Equalizer in the Color Editor, the red percentage is set to 100% on the lower layer. This shifts the weight of the color values which in turn effects the different grayscales in the black-and-white final result. A second color editor is then placed on the clip that is used to completely shut off the chroma. The picture is then darkened using "Contrast and Brightness". This layer is primarily responsible for the dark areas of the picture within the overall picture.

The upper layer is initially a copy of the lower layer. With another color editor "Contrast and Brightness" is raised. The clip is again slightly colored using Equalize and Gamma. Finally, the posterize effect in the Filter Editor is used for blue and the clip is assigned a transparency of 80%. This layer is ultimately responsible for correcting the light areas.

Once this groundwork had been completed, it was then easy for Christopher Böhm and chief electrician & light designer, Reiner Kienemann, to develop a simple lighting concept for the black-and-white scenes.

The best storms are homemade
Another highlight of post production was the development of the establishing shot. Initially, director Marc Tscharntke planned on making the entire film on original locations -- specifically, a fortress. The Spectral team soon rejected this plan for practical reasons. Ultimately, the only shots actually filmed at a fortress are the two lead-in pictures. In the final production, an old wall is shown that is exposed to the whims of nature. Rain, thunder and lightning. Only a window below the merlons is illuminated.

"We wanted to get a clean shot in the dusk," Christopher Böhm said in remembering the shooting. "We had only visited the location during daylight and were surprised that the fortress is illuminated at night." At first the team was horrified. "But, it turned out in post production that we were able to give the fortress an exciting, shining look," he went on to say.

From the outset the plan was to post-incorporate the forces of nature in the filmed motifs.

The picture, seen from the lower to the upper layer, is composed as follows in FASTstudio: A Photoshop graphic with cloud texture constitutes the lowest layer. Over it there is a layer of "background rain" previously filmed against a black night sky. The original picture of the fortress is the third layer. And, everything over the horizon line was rendered 100% transparent with a mask in the Keying Editor. Finally, a layer for "rain" is added to the foreground.

The entire constellation gets even more complex when lightning strikes. The lightning bolt artificially generated in 3Dstudio Max is placed as yet another layer over the existing layers. As lightning "strikes", the fortress and background are both modified in different ways with "Brightness and Contrast" in the silver Color Editor. The entire picture is rounded off with flashing, bright flecks in the sky which suggest lightning flashes in the clouds.

The Music
"In a film in which feelings, the forces of nature, creativity and beauty are spotlighted, you can't begin to place enough importance on the music," surmised Yann Kuhlmann from Orange Music in Munich. Together with his colleague Patrick Banush, he composed the film music and developed special sound effects. The close cooperation of the two editors was based on excellent import and export processes between FASTstudio and the Logic Audio and Pro Tools Mix Plus used by Orange Music. "Without technical difficulties the creative process simply develops better," reported the composer in looking back on his years of experience. And, proof that the creative process went well can be heard in the finished film.

The main character: a butterfly
The most important and complex task was the creation of the butterfly. The precise linking of graphics and video picture was especially difficult. Ekkehart Böhm developed the butterfly using 3Dstudio Max. "Although it closely resembles a real butterfly, it is given a supernatural touch through the choice of colors." The colors are the same as those used in the Spectral logo. An important point to note: The viewer learns the skills of the Munich company in graphics and animation.

"Of course, you tend to develop a relationship to your own creation," Ekkehart Böhm said with a grin. "My experience wasn't all that different than that of the scientist in our image film." This is probably also the supernatural, bold touch that the butterfly exudes. The 30-year old graphic designer said that characteristic traits were also important during the development of the butterfly. He even found himself fondly calling it his "little animal". In order to move the head, for example, it had to be larger than that of real butterflies. Moreover, the body was composed of many individual joints to give the "little animal" more freedom of movement. In this way, the figure could be moved more uniquely and was more human in appearance. "The butterfly represents our enterprise," Ekkehart Böhm self-confidently explained. "It is a symbol of beauty and creativity and can change the world with a beat of its wings."

A lot of hard work had to be done to finish the production. Peter Kaiser, who plays the scientist, described filming with his imaginary partner as follows: "And then, my colleague enters the scene! But, he doesn't say anything. He doesn't do anything and he doesn't react. There is absolutely nothing there." Director Marc Tscharntke had worked hard with his "real" actor in advance to "develop" the reactions of the butterfly in the mind of the actor. Nevertheless, he had to take a deep breath as he saw he butterfly placeholder for the first time that Ekkehart Böhm designed. "He had simply tied a type of pea to a nylon filament," Kaiser remembered. This was sufficient for the calculation of the butterfly - and finally, the actor completed his job brilliantly under the gentle direction of the director.

The System
FASTstudio with its unlimited layers had a major impact on the success of the project. "When a graphic element is inserted into a picture that already consists of several layers, FASTstudio delivers incredible opportunities," Christopher Böhm admitted. The butterfly alone took up to three layers. For a complex background and a smoky foreground it may be necessary to use up to ten layers.

The young team at Spectral is fully convinced of the performance of their editing system. And, Ekkehart and Christopher Böhm are certain that their latest image film will bring in a number of new customers.

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Related Keywords:Digital Video Editing, Digital Media Net, Silver, MPEG-2 editing system from FAST Multimedia, Spectral New Media Production GmbH, editing with numerous layers, complex color correction, integration of character animation, Gonda-Bastian Sinagowitz

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