Ric Holland's Blog

Bryn Farrelly interview

Ric - Welcome to the Art of Making Marks.  So Bryn, could you just introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Bryn - My name is Bryn Farrelly and I’m a Digital Compositor and Editor.

Ric - Extraordinaire!

Bryn - [laughs] Extraordinaire, yeah, for editing and digitally compositing. 

Ric - So can you tell us how long have you been using Wacom tablets in your work?

Bryn - I’ve been using Wacom probably since about 2000. I really got into it, when I started doing digital compositing.

Ric - What sort of computer system would that have been on?

Bryn - That was on Shake, when working on Ghost Ship up at Photon VFX in Queensland. I also always used tablets on Quantel products, and so that’s why I sort of have the big tablet now, because I’m used to it.

Ric - So what type of tablet have you got there?

Bryn - Oh my beautiful Intuos3. I think it is a 12 x 9.

Ric - Yes very good. 

Bryn - The bigger the better.

Ric - And how long have you been using that tablet?

Bryn - This one I bought two years ago as soon as they released the Intuos 3s.

Ric - and you bought it?

Bryn - Yes, bought it, yes it’s mine. It travels around with me from place and job to job because usually I turn up and they don’t have one so I whip home and grab it.

Ric - What advantages does using the tablet give you in the user interface?

Bryn - Well depending on if I’m using dual screens or one, I can always custom shape the palette for how much sort of desktop and how much movement I want to use. It’s just easy to get around, easy to customise from place to place, download the driver, away you go.  They’re usually installed anyway on the machines I have to work on because somebody’s usually had a tablet connected before I get there.

Ric - And what software are you using there?

Bryn - Well I’m working on Final Cut Pro doing a commercial  which comes out next week.  100 years of scouts.

Ric - Well I hope we will be able to see a little bit of that. So just tell us a little bit more about your work; what really does a compositor do?

Bryn - A compositor composites pictures together.

Ric - Moving pictures?

Bryn - Moving pictures, yes, as I’ve always said, anybody can make a billboard, the trick is making it move which is the hard part.   Compsiting and cleaning up anything from images to supers to graphics to special effects, anything that moves and that somebody wants to put together; making the unreal look real. That’s what I do. Last one was Catch a Fire, by Phillip Noyce – is it Phillip Noyce? Better check that. He did Rabbit Proof Fence.  His latest movie, Catch a Fire, nice little doco on the end of apartheid in South Africa, which involved a lot of factory explosions where we blew up an oil factory or parts of an oil factory, yeah, which was quite amusing for a few months down in Melbourne – very cold place.

Ric - So there are times where you get all this material and you have no idea how it’s going to go together is that right?

Bryn - Nobody really knew what a big oil fire looked like, but they shot some very nice plates for us from the real oil factory that the story revolves around, because it’s a true story.  Nice aerials, and they had some great pyrotechnics, they blew up things and made big, big, big explosions – very big, the biggest I’ve ever seen for a movie. [laughs] Makes the Americans look like girl guides!

Ric - So with things like fire, how do you isolate or should I say ‘key’ it out of the background and composite into your shot?

Bryn - Well unfortunately sky is the worst thing to key off.

Ric - But It’s blue?

Bryn - Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.  It never does.  A lot of techniques, you start off keying and you get the best result you can and then it’s down to Roto Scoping, painting out frame by frame.  Ah …such an enjoyable sport, Roto Scoping!

Ric - And this is where painting with the Wacom Tablet becomes important?

Bryn - Yes where it really comes into its own because you can get around your roto splines and your paint work and touch up your mats very quickly and easily and so much better than using a mouse it’s not work thinking about.

Ric - When was the last time you used a mouse for this type of work?

Bryn - I still use a mouse, but not as much.  Depends on what the job is.  If there’s paintwork and stuff like that involved, I definitely use the pen, because it’s just better and you get sick of hearing the click, click, click.

Ric - So you’ve got them both plugged in to your computer so that in any situation you can use the mouse or the pen at any point depending on what’s required?

Bryn - Yeah, and away I go.  But it’s usually the pen, especially for using Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Shake applications, it’s easier just to grab things – especially with Shake, it’s usually a two handed operation.

Ric - Can you describe fore us what you are working on right now?. 

Bryn - OK on this film job, you get artefacts off the actual film as in scratches, which usually people don’t like and they want to get rid of.  So down here we’ve got a nice big scratch which was induced by the camera and seemed to appear at the beginning of each roll. There must have been something inside the camera that’s scratched the film but the director wants to use this take. So basically I have to remove the scratch at the end of the day and so I have to do a lot of roto splining, repositioning, junk matting. Here I’ve got what’s called a travelling matt but it’s very rough because I just started it.  That’s the section that I’m going to replace so I basically take some image and move it over a bit using a roto shape to cut just the section that I want, and then re composite it back over the original image with a travelling mat using  a bit of a blur to make it nice. My usual trick is do the easiest things first so you can get them out of the way so when you get down to the tricky stuff, then you don’t have to worry about any of those silly little things.  Doing the tricky stuff takes as long as, well how long is a piece of string?

Ric - Just like in fashion photographic retouching, many people don’t realise that these days just about every single frame that you see on TV or at the movies  and on average there are 25 frames to every second, has had some sort of digital manipulation or alteration done to it. Has the advent of these digital tool bean the sole cause for this phenomenal increase in compositing work done to motion pictures? 

Bryn - In my experience going back to the days of actual film edit suites, as soon as we went digital and we could do this work, we did. Mainly because it was just one last extra finishing touch you could do to the work at the end of the day. You could remove all the artefacts, scratches, neg dirt, just anything that sort of caught your eye and instead of spending hours and hours and hours sending it off to a lab with a video Paintbox system where they would suck in each frame at a time at a very high cost, we can now get in there and within half an hour retouch a whole commercial, just as a finishing touch for the client to make sure they are happy.  So these days as soon as I’ve finish editing a job, I’ll just go through it frame by frame, and if there is any neg dirt or scratches or anything like that, I’ll just touch them up without the client’s knowledge so as soon as they see their finished product, they’re amazed at the wonderful quality that they have achieved due to some brilliance that hasn’t been seen by anybody.

Ric - So back to using the Wacom tablet what part of your digital process is essential to using tablets.

Bryn - Without the tablet, especially when you start getting into paint work, painting with the mouse, and if anybody’s ever tried it, is impossible.  It’s good for doing stick figures, which is one of my specialties, stick figures, but when you go into touch up work, rigs, rope and wire removal and things like that, you actually have to start painting frame by frame, that’s when it’s indispensable.  Like when I was working on House of Flying Daggers, or was it Seven Swords?

Ric - [laughs] Now you’re starting to name drop.

Bryn - Yeah, I’ve got to name drop. There’s a scene in Seven Swords where there’s a little village being attacked, and this guy escapes from the village, and he’s running out through an arch way and he’s got this humongous red lantern that he’s attacking the baddies with, and it was attached by ropes, not wires – ropes are a bit thicker than wires, and so there was lots of ropes and lots of stunts going on. It was a 199 frame sequence and they needed all the ropes removed, and it had wonderful things in there like dust, smoke, cloth, you name it. Ropes were overlapping everything, it looked like an Italian spaghetti fest, so I did a rough calculation at the end of the job, after about three weeks of painting it on and off, because you know, you could paint for a while and then you get sick of it and so you go and move on to another shot, then move back to it and get into it again.  I think I did about 80,000 paint strokes over 119 frames at 2K digital film resolution.

Ric - That’s a lot of pounding on that tablet.

Bryn - Yeah, you get a bit of a hand motion going. I tried every trick that there is to get rid of wires using plugins, matting, roto shaping, all the tricks I could come up with and at the end of the day I’d get 80 percent there and then just start doing the hard yards painting frame by frame. Moving pixels from one side of the screen to the other to cover something, but it seemed to work and it got approved.  It made it into the final cut and into the cinema, and I’ve seen it, it looked cool.

Ric - You didn’t see ropes?

Bryn - No, but I knew where the ropes were, you just know.

Ric - It must be hard for you watching any sort of film without pulling it apart that way?

Bryn - Well I usually sit there watching and say, there’s one, there’s one, oh look at that dodgy one!  I saw a movie one day and it’s a big blockbuster out of the US, and the guy flew across the road and you could see the crash mat that he landed on, and like it wasn’t just off shot; it was in the middle of the shot and he lands on this crash mat and then jumps up amazingly unhurt. It was like – wow how did they miss that!. In most blockbusters there is a lot of rigour removal, especially in the Asian action movies where people are doing triple back flips.

Ric - So if you had the opportunity to have a wish come true from Wacom as far as providing you with some new tool or feature for the future, what might that be?

Bryn - Oh this is something I’ve been wanting for years ever since I started getting into the retouching stuff, I want a spinning tablet. People have laughed at me about this one in the past, but basically, when you’re doing a touch up job, you know, it doesn’t matter what it is, you sort of get in to a rhythm and you’ve usually got a paint stroke that works the best, so when you get to a situation where you’ve got to reverse the paint stroke, it’s a bit annoying. So what I’d like to see from Wacom is the spinning tablet, so you spin the tablet, and as you spin the tablet, your picture revolves at the same way. So whatever my tablet does, my picture does to. If I wanted to go and touch up, say some guy’s ear, I could spin the tablet around and he just span around on screen, and then I could touch it up at any angle really quickly.  Because I’m doing touch up work so much, it doesn’t matter what I’m looking at, I just want to get rid of something, so instead of doing a reverse hand movement, I could just get in there and then away I would go.

Also here’s one for those Wacom software engineers who might find a solution, Some guys I was working with last year at the same studio and we were in the same room cramming away on a film project and one of the guys on the night shift was left handed, and one of the guys on the day shift was right handed, so every time one of them sat down in front of the computer and tablet while the other one had gone home, had to go and change all his settings and presets in the Wacom tablet driver menu. He had hot keys and all kinds of stuff going, and because the other guy had set it up completely differently, even the button on the mouse was different, there was always five minutes of swearing from this guy as he went through the process of changing all the presets and settings. 

Ric - He could have re booted the machine with a different profile setting but maybe the IT manager didn’t want to do that or something.

Bryn - I usually don’t have a problem because when I’m on a job I’m dedicated to the one machine and nobody touches so I have free reign there. Also usually nobody has time to touch it because I’m stuck in the room for 24 hours a day 7 days a week!

Ric - Well Bryn it’s a crazy life but I bet very rewarding also. Thank you for sharing your insights with us and opening up your darkened room door of digital compositing for motion pictures.