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Hit Squad Keeps it Real with GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins on Ice Cubes Laugh Now, Cry Later DVD Release

Sapphire Plug-ins play a pivotal role in differentiating the videos and keeping the material fresh. (November 20, 2006)

DMN Newswire--2006-11-20-- Widely hailed as the Godfather of Rap, Ice Cube is a controversial, influential and multi-talented artist who has spent the last 15+ years defining and dominating the genre of Gangsta rap and rap culture. With a string of platinum albums in the 1990s, and successful acting, producing and directing efforts, Ice Cube has never been afraid to challenge himself or the stereotypes that he raps about. The release of his sixth solo album Laugh Now, Cry Later represents Ice Cubes return to his Gangsta rap roots, and answers his critics who have labeled him a Hollywood sell-out. Laugh Now, Cry Later debuted in June 2006 at the top of various Billboard charts, including #2 on the Hip Hop/R&B chart., and proves that Ice Cube is still a relevant, powerful voice in the rap zeitgeist?albeit an older and wiser one.

In support of the album release, Ice Cubes Cube Vision Productions enlisted the expertise of Santa Monica-based Hit Squad ( to executive-produce and edit 17 original videos for a limited edition bonus DVD. Open for business since 2000, Hit Squad is a full service post production company with a focus on promotional videos, feature film documentaries, commercials, trailers, and reality TV and awards shows. Their track record of successful involvement with MTV Productions, and the unique ?rockumentary production style of VH1s Behind the Music, have positioned the Hit Squad team as experts in this scrapbook-style editing of mixing still images with live footage. According to Welborn Ferrene (, lead editor on the Laugh Now, Cry Later DVD project, the facility has a laid back, Southwestern feel, with notable perks such as a daily craft service for employees and clients, and a company-funded coffee run every afternoon. ?Owners TJ Mahar and Martin Cutler are very supportive and really take care of their people, enthuses Welborn. And the appreciation is apparently mutual. Welborn has been a regular, freelance collaborator on many Hit Squad projects since 2003.


With limited original footage and 17 new videos to create for Ice Cubes DVD, Welborn also had access to archival footage, including: previously shot music videos, extra b-rolls, backstage footage shot by production assistants, and an array of still images. As Welborn put it, ?The great and very challenging aspect of the project was that every song had a different message and vibe, yet I had to figure out how to edit a lot of pre-existing material to be relevant and visually support the lyrical narrative of each song. Hit Squad was well-positioned for the types of challenges that the Laugh Now, Cry Later DVD editing presented with the only motion control machine with mounted hi-def camera on the Westside of Los Angeles, and 8 Avid systems loaded with GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins.

Sapphire Plug-ins are a collection of 190+ high-end, organic visual effects, each with comprehensive and intuitive parameter controls for unlimited, unique results. According to Welborn, Sapphire played a pivotal role in differentiating the videos and keeping the material fresh. Making a point of not using effects bins or pre-set defaults, Welborn chalks up his ability to stay creative to Sapphire Plug-ins flexibility. He explains, ?I wont go back to the well and use standard effects over and over?or even the same combination of effects twice. In my experience on the Avid, just using a stock effect is not enough to achieve a compelling result?you have to constantly play around with parameters to find your own, unique look. Sapphire Plug-ins are so versatile. Every time Im using an effect Im finessing it and occasionally stumbling upon the right look by accident?so every frame looks different and unexpected.

For the title track, Laugh Now, Cry Later, Welborn decided to leverage the album cover, which depicts the somber profile of Ice Cube gazing down on the burning skyline of Los Angeles. Welborn used the motion control machine to animate the image, moving the camera across it at extremely close range and a regulated speed. When dealing with still images, the motion control machine is one of Welborns signature techniques, as it allows him greater flexibility than if he were just building the desired footage in a compositor. ?You could just import the images into the Avid and use the 3D effects tools?or import it into Final Cut Pro, plot points and motion control it?but that way you dont have the pixel control and its going to end up looking smeary and amateur. Whereas with the motion control machine you can get unbelievably close and ultimately have total control over the image, he explains. Welborn also employed some patented ?ghosting tricks with the camera lenses, which he knew?from previous testing?would complement the Sapphire Plug-ins that he intended to use. Then he digitized the moving images back into the Avid and turned it into video footage. The next step was to stack the Sapphire Layer and Glow effects to create multiple, vaporous layers of the image and vivid, bleeding glows. The impact is a visually powerful reinforcement of the eponymous album title.

The video ends where it begins, with the addition of Sapphire EdgeRays for the grand finale. Welborn then cranked up the luminance parameter within the Glow effect to cover the jump-cut and create a suffused transition into Ice Cubes profile.

The Sapphire Layer effect is used throughout this video, and turned out to be an essential part of the editing process all-around, according to Welborn. ?I used the Layer effect constantly. Being able to stack footage and then control every aspect of each layer allowed me to build a visual narrative out of unrelated footage. Its a truly amazing effect, he enthuses.

On Click, Clack - Get Back! Ice Cube delivers an unsparing earful to gang-bangers, wannabes, and anyone who would get in his way. The audacious lyrics are pure Gangsta fodder, which Welborn translated into a high concept piece with Ice Cube as the larger-than-life superhero in a comic book?complete with page-turn transitions. The Sapphire HalfTone effect, which generates a monochromatic version of the source clip by using a black and white pattern of dots, was integral in achieving this stylized, cartoon-esque look.

Welborn found that the HalfTone effect worked well with the page-turn transitions, because the black and white dots rolled right up onto the page corners, making them look less commonplace. In other spots he used the HalfTone dots themselves as transitions, lowering the Dots Frequency parameter to make the white dots grow larger and larger, and then shrinking them to reveal a new image. Throughout the video Welborn coupled the HalfTone effect with the Layer effect, often in instances where the source clip was a still image. By layering in video?for example footage of Ice Cube rapping?he was able to make the stock images appear dynamic and fresh.

While editing Click, Clack Get Back! Welborn also relied on the Sapphire Zebrafy effect, which modulates the brightness of the source clip to create a saturated, black and white, solarized effect. Just using the default settings within Zebrafy was not an option for Welborn, who manipulated the Source Blur and Phase Speed parameters to create a liquid-like, reflective look.

As Welborn puts it, ?Thats what I love about Sapphire?you can visualize a look in your head, find just the right effect, tweak out the settings, and youve achieved it. There are so many parameters, and variables within each parameter, for total control over every aspect of the look. This sets Sapphire apart from any other effects package out there.

For the editing of The Nigga Trap, a searing diatribe about the ghetto and its many pitfalls, there was a great deal of relevant material. Shots of Ice Cube in jail, footage of the LA race riots, home videos of life in Compton?all different qualities: from high-end 35 millimeter to mini-DV?presented an editing challenge to create visual continuity. Welborn turned to the Sapphire FilmEffect plug-in, which mimics stock film exposures, color-corrects, and can add grain and soft-focus. ?You cant put 35 millimeter film next to home video because its so obviously not the same quality?one is shot on some cheap camera while the other has a lot of production put into it. I used FilmEffect when I came out of some really crisp footage and into DV to ensure that the disparity wasnt blatant, he explains.

Thanks to the variety of footage at his disposal, Welborn was able to employ another signature trick. He took some film leader b-roll that had light leaks on it and used that as the first layer, then added another layer using the Layer effect to allow the source clips light to leak through. Adding Sapphire GlowDarks on the fill and dropping FilmEffect and Shake over the sum total created a compelling, gritty look like surveillance tape, which was well-suited for images of burning neighborhoods and adolescents loitering in the streets.

The Sapphire Shake effect is evident throughout The Nigga Trap video as well, which adds a credible camera shake effect. According to Welborn,?When Im doing a bump or have a beat and want to change my image concurrently, I will animate the Shake effect for about eight frames so it has a higher amplitude and frequency at the beginning of the clip, and then grade it down towards the end so there is a bounce. Ive found that I have to be careful with this trick though, because sometimes when you change the Shake Phase or Amp parameters you can actually see the edge of a frame. So when Im cranking up the amplitude I will pull on the Z-axis at four frames, drop a 3D element on top to obscure the edge, then do the reverse on the next four frames, and this creates a really dynamic snap-back effect that goes well with a musical transition.

Welborn has been using Sapphire Plug-ins for over three years, and is constantly discovering new ways to manipulate the parameters, and stack or reconfigure effects to produce dynamic, new looks. ?Effects should feel organic and not stock, and thats the greatest thing about Sapphire?that the effects are flexible enough to fully integrate into any concept, he asserts.

As a freelancer Welborn expects that his employers will have Sapphire, insisting, ?I cant imagine cutting without Sapphire. As an editor if you dont have Sapphire then you have your hands tied behind your back, creatively and tangibly. You can cut anything but without Sapphire its going to look average. Sapphire raises the production value of your work?end of story.

About GenArts, Inc.
Founded in 1996 in Cambridge, Mass., GenArts, Inc. is the premier provider of digital visual effects plug-ins for the film, broadcast and video industries. Their product, Sapphire Plug-ins, equips digital artists with a collection of over 175 state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis effects such as: Glows, EdgeRays, LensFlare, Lightning, FilmEffect, Warps and Textures. The effects seamlessly integrate into a number of editing and compositing systems including: Adobe® After Effects® and Premiere® Pro; Apple® Final Cut Pro® and Shake®; Avid® AVX Products; Autodesk® Compositing & Editing Systems and Combustion®; Eyeon® Fusion®; Sony® XPRI®; and Quantel® generationQ products.

Sapphire Plug-ins have become the industry standard for high-end visual effects creation by providing unrivaled image quality, a unique organic look, and ease of use. They have been used extensively in an array of television programs, music videos and feature films, including: Superman Returns, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars Episode I, II and III, Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3, Sin City, The Matrix trilogy, X-Men 1, 2 and 3, Titanic, Lost and CSI. Additional GenArts product information can be found at

©2006 GenArts, Inc.  All rights reserved.  GenArts and Sapphire Plug-ins are registered trademarks of GenArts, Inc. All other trademarks mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.

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Related Keywords:plug-ins, visual effects, VFX

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