David Fincher is known for his masterful visual storytelling. Through precise shots and, arguably, even more precise editing and visual effects work, any film with the name “David Fincher” in the credits is sure to be a hit. Under his impeccable direction, his post-production team has honed their skills to rival those of the critically acclaimed director.
Fincher’s latest film to hit theaters, “Gone Girl,” based on the New York Times Best Seller by Gillian Flynn, is making headlines for a number of reasons. Most notably, for those in the world of cinema and post-production, it’s the first 6K Hollywood feature film to be edited entirely in Adobe Premiere Pro.
Two-time Academy Award®-winning editor Kirk Baxter, A.C.E., has been working with David Fincher and his post-production crew for a number of years on films such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Social Network,” “House of Cards,” and most recently, “Gone Girl”.” Known as “Team Fincher,” Baxter’s team of assistant editors led by Tyler Nelson are blurring the lines between editing and visual effects. They delivered more than 200 final shots on “Gone Girl,” using a workflow built around the Adobe Creative Cloud, with Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects as their foundation. mocha AE the bundled tracking and roto utility from Imagineer Systems, played a huge role in the workflow used on projects like “Gone Girl”, “Birdman” and “House of Cards”.
Post-production jack-of-all-trades Chad Peter joined Baxter and “Team Fincher” on the latest films and credits his mocha planar tracking skills for landing the job. “Many of the skills I developed in post production – be it visual effects, editorial, or otherwise – all came from a place of having to learn it myself,” he comments. “It was during my time working independently that I learned how to use mocha. I had to stabilize clips with some pretty severe rolling shutter issues, which ultimately ended up being the skill a good friend of mine, Tyler Nelson, was looking for. Tyler had been asked to stabilize certain segments of ‘Birdman’ using a technique he had developed while working under director David Fincher. He needed people with After Effects and mocha experience, and so I came on board. From there, I was able to grow as a stabilization artist and ultimately into a VFX compositor as well.”
Tyler’s mocha AE stabilization method was originally conceived in a hotel room on “The Social Network.” David Fincher had tasked him to smooth and reframe the camera motion on a particular shot “in-house.”
Asking for just one night to develop the mocha assisted stabilization workflow, Tyler had a final shot the next day. As the story goes, Fincher loved it and said, “We’re going to do this on EVERYTHING from now on.”
The method Tyler developed, which Chad later helped to hone, primarily uses the Adobe After Effects bundled mocha AE CC for planar tracking to pull position data from complex motion shots, which they can use to “smooth out the curves” in After Effects’ graph editor. “This allows us to re-animate every camera move, which gives the camera a stabilized look,” Chad says. “Over the years, Tyler honed the stabilization method, and when I joined the team, we improved the method even more, developing fixes for rotation stabilization and composited stabs. This method has been used on ‘Birdman,’ ‘The Social Network,’ ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Gone Girl.’”
When a new shot comes in, the team would analyze the complexity of it, and decide whether or it would be point-tracked or planar tracked. On more complex shots, they almost always use mocha AE to pull a track. Every shot is then ultimately finished in After Effects. “This particular method allows us a tremendous amount of control over every little specific detail, especially since our end goal is to re-animate every camera move.”
“‘Gone Girl” had at least 1,000 shots that used mocha for tracking, rotoscoping or compositing purposes,” Chad reports.
“I would occasionally need to pull a good planar track to paint out objects in any given shot. More often than not, mocha helped ease the pain of rotoscoping an object – I’d track a shot in mocha first, and use that data to lead a mask along to where it needed to be. Fellow in-house compositors on “Gone Girl,” Christopher Doulgeris and Eric Weidt swear by mocha and know it even better than I do.”
According to Chad, mocha comes particularly in handy when they’ve got a long, sweeping shot, which typically throws off most tracking software. “mocha cuts through the BS of having to track point-by-point and gives us a solid track without having to spend the time to do a billion off-set tracking point hand-offs from beginning to end. There are benefits to both methods, but in this particular example when you’re in a time-crunch, and we usually are, the fastest method is also the best.”
When working with the best of the best, it’s vital as a visual effects artist to get the shots as close to perfection as possible. This means Chad and the crew need to get a temporary stabilization in place for any rough-cut screenings whenever possible. This also includes any pre-vis VFX that the assistant editors put together on a whim.
“Most, if not all, of these quick and dirty VFX and stabilizations are finalized somewhere down the road, but there are some that never change if done right the first time. With mocha, that’s possible.”
With more than 200 visual final effects shots and more than 1,000 shots tracked in mocha AE, it’s safe to say that the tightly integrated workflow “Team Fincher” put to use has helped give “Gone Girl” the classic David Fincher touch to make it yet another box-office success.
To read more about the post-production and editorial on ‘Gone Girl”, read this story on Adobe’s Premiere Pro Blog.