Editor of Spike Jonze's HomePod ad details production process

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 2018
Apple already gave us a behind the scenes look at the making of their incredible HomePod commercial starring FKA Twigs and directed by Spike Jonze. Now, Frame.io offers a closer look at the technical side of the production in an interview with editor Jeff Buchanon.

Jeff Buchanon Editor Standing
Credit: frame.io


Buchanon, who has worked with Jonze on a number of other productions including the popular indie film Her, was in charge of editing the highly regarded Apple ad.

Like all Apple projects, the timeline was tight, which meant that editing needed to begin as soon as the footage was shot. In rare form for an editor, Buchanon was on set nearly the entire time during the filming of the HomePod commercial.

The entire ad spot was filmed in only four days, and post-production was completed in two weeks. Buchanan recalls the first footage was already being edited no more than two hours after filming began. Instead of being locked away in a remote editing bay collecting the dailies, footage came straight off their ALEXA XT cameras, to the DIT, to the assistant editor, then to Buchanan.

All of the footage, which was 1080p encoded in Avid's DNx36 code, was cut in Media Composer and handed off for color correction and conforming.

Jeff Buchanon Editor Sitting
Credit: frame.io


A big detail that was revealed in the previous behind the scenes footage, was that most of the effects were practical, and shot on camera. Barring the mirror shot that relied on some light motion capture work, the lion's share of effects were elaborate hydraulic and human-powered set pieces.

This made the load a bit lighter on the editing team as there was not much VFX work to be done.

Another focus of the editing team was sound. Buchanan even highlighted setting the mood of the spot as one of the most difficult challenges. As soon as he saw the script, Buchanan was sourcing different sound effects to create that mood, especially the gloomy and dismal opening shots of the spot with heavy rainfall and the monotonous rumble of the train.

The full interview on the frame.io blog provides further detail.

Frame.io, for those uninitiated, is a video collaboration platform. It allows users to privately upload, review, and share video with the rest of their team, regardless of location. Aside from other editing platforms, they also have a plugin for Apple's Final Cut Pro X.

Apple's Spike Jonze ad, one of the most recent HomePod commercials, has received acclaim from viewers and critics. So far the YouTube video has racked up over 9 million views. It stars British performer FKA Twigs as a tired and overworked city dweller who has her day turned around by the HomePod and features a lively, and colorful, dance number choreographed by Ryan Heffington. Heffington is known for choreographing scenes in Baby Driver

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 9
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    I'm amazed at how much isn't CGI. It's already an incredible achievement from a creative and visual perfective, but even more more remarkable seeing how it was made.
    cornchipRayz2016
  • Reply 2 of 9
    All of the footage, which was 1080p encoded in Avid's DNx36 code, was cut in Media Composer
    Why is Media Composer so widely used? Does it have some capabilities or workflow benefits that other editors lack? Is it just inertia from its early days? What am I missing?

    Several months ago I looked into finally finding a video editing platform for amateur personal use to replace my retired Final Cut Studio 7. I tried Final Cut X, DaVinci Resolve, and Avid Media Composer.

    I really wanted to like Media Composer because it seems to be the most widely used in high-end production circles (yes, I know lots of pros use Adobe Premiere or Final Cut, but MC still seems to be the de facto standard). I figured since I'm proficient in Pro Tools I shouldn't have too much trouble picking up Media Composer. I was wrong. I'm sure with some training I probably could have figured it out, but absent that, the workflow seemed completely opaque.

    Then I tried Final Cut X. One quick YouTube "how-to" video and I was getting work done. I don't know if my previous experience with FCP7 give me a leg up with FCPX or if it's just a lot easier to use, but I found myself wondering why it isn't more popular. I decided that, for me, the ease of use and low cost of Final Cut trumped any potential employability advantages of being proficient in Media Composer.

    Is anyone here a full-time cutter who can weigh in on what makes MC the King of the castle? Should I be giving it another look? Aside from Avid editors always being in demand, are there compelling reasons to choose it over Final Cut?
  • Reply 3 of 9
    All of the footage, which was 1080p encoded in Avid's DNx36 code, was cut in Media Composer
    Why is Media Composer so widely used? Does it have some capabilities or workflow benefits that other editors lack? Is it just inertia from its early days? What am I missing?

    Several months ago I looked into finally finding a video editing platform for amateur personal use to replace my retired Final Cut Studio 7. I tried Final Cut X, DaVinci Resolve, and Avid Media Composer.

    I really wanted to like Media Composer because it seems to be the most widely used in high-end production circles (yes, I know lots of pros use Adobe Premiere or Final Cut, but MC still seems to be the de facto standard). I figured since I'm proficient in Pro Tools I shouldn't have too much trouble picking up Media Composer. I was wrong. I'm sure with some training I probably could have figured it out, but absent that, the workflow seemed completely opaque.

    Then I tried Final Cut X. One quick YouTube "how-to" video and I was getting work done. I don't know if my previous experience with FCP7 give me a leg up with FCPX or if it's just a lot easier to use, but I found myself wondering why it isn't more popular. I decided that, for me, the ease of use and low cost of Final Cut trumped any potential employability advantages of being proficient in Media Composer.

    Is anyone here a full-time cutter who can weigh in on what makes MC the King of the castle? Should I be giving it another look? Aside from Avid editors always being in demand, are there compelling reasons to choose it over Final Cut?


    Hey Lorin, I cut for scripted television and that's all Avid. It's mostly because it's what people know, gets the job done, and people "get" the workflow.

    That said, it's a crappy piece of software that hasn't ever been majorly updated. They'll do tweaks here and there that bring it ever-so-slightly into the modern age but if you looked at it at the inception and now, it's largely the same.

    The sub-35-somethings may make waves with FCPX, Premiere, or Resolve but most anyone over that is firmly entrenched in Avid. The botched release and bad-blood didn't help FCPX either.

    I personally love FCPX and use it for my personal projects. Resolve seems interesting but haven't used it for editing. Premiere seems like Final Cut 7.5, people like it, but I don't.

    Anyway, that's the short version of the Avid love, but I tell everyone I can about FCPX.
    fastasleep
  • Reply 4 of 9
    Looks like the interview was pulled. The link redirects to the frame.io blog homepage, and the article doesn’t seem to be listed there.


  • Reply 5 of 9
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    tuckerjj said:
    Looks like the interview was pulled. The link redirects to the frame.io blog homepage, and the article doesn’t seem to be listed there.
    This isn't an interview, but the making of, in case someone hasn't seen it.


  • Reply 6 of 9
    Lorin asked:
    "Is anyone here a full-time cutter who can weigh in on what makes MC the King of the castle? Should I be giving it another look? Aside from Avid editors always being in demand, are there compelling reasons to choose it over Final Cut?"


    Assistant editor on tv and film here with one answer.

    The best way to understand why people use Media Composer (henceforth MC) would be to work on a long-term project with thousands of shots on a SAN, tons of sequences (different versions of every reel), and multiple editors and assistants. That's where MC is king. The project sharing features in other NLEs are not as robust at the moment, MC's functions for turning over to other departments are unparalleled, and the non-monolithic nature of Media Composer project files tends to reduce the project file size and memory usage to the point that the project works just as quickly 10 months after it was created as it does the first day.

    As with any complicated piece of industrial software, there's a steep learning curve and it may not have as many advantages for smaller projects. It will lack features available in consumer software that aren't a priority for film and television work. For example, I can do a much better mix in FCPX than MC (and often think of FCPX as a cheap way to run sounds through "space designer" to bring back to MC), but with MC I can do turnovers to a sound editor in their desired flavor of AAF and EDL settings and then that editor can do a much better job with the audio than would I. MC's actually a very deep application with a lot of features designed for its particular professional uses, and its priorities are very different than the other NLEs. Just look at the bajillion settings available in the List Tool or the AAF export settings.

    Premiere Pro is making some inroads in the commercial world, and for something like this ad it'd have been fine. But when you have people working on a project who are maestros with a particular tool, why muck things up by changing anything about the workflow, and there may also be a lot of hiccups and workarounds required in the turnover phase with a new workflow.

    I've used Premiere Pro professionally and use FCPX and Resolve for my personal projects, and I gripe about Media Composer as much as anyone. I'm definitely non-partisan, and am happy that there's competition in the NLE space. But all it takes to understand Media Composer's continued use in film and tv work is to work on a single feature film cut in a different NLE. It's a good tool.

    (edited to add extra carriage returns as apparently double-newlines don't cut it and the whole comment went through initially as one unreadable block, had to go html on it).

    edited April 2018
  • Reply 7 of 9
    zachnfine said:
    Lorin asked:
    "Is anyone here a full-time cutter who can weigh in on what makes MC the King of the castle? Should I be giving it another look? Aside from Avid editors always being in demand, are there compelling reasons to choose it over Final Cut?"


    Assistant editor on tv and film here with one answer.

    The best way to understand why people use Media Composer (henceforth MC) would be to work on a long-term project with thousands of shots on a SAN, tons of sequences (different versions of every reel), and multiple editors and assistants. That's where MC is king. The project sharing features in other NLEs are not as robust at the moment, MC's functions for turning over to other departments are unparalleled, and the non-monolithic nature of Media Composer project files tends to reduce the project file size and memory usage to the point that the project works just as quickly 10 months after it was created as it does the first day.

    As with any complicated piece of industrial software, there's a steep learning curve and it may not have as many advantages for smaller projects. It will lack features available in consumer software that aren't a priority for film and television work. For example, I can do a much better mix in FCPX than MC (and often think of FCPX as a cheap way to run sounds through "space designer" to bring back to MC), but with MC I can do turnovers to a sound editor in their desired flavor of AAF and EDL settings and then that editor can do a much better job with the audio than would I. MC's actually a very deep application with a lot of features designed for its particular professional uses, and its priorities are very different than the other NLEs. Just look at the bajillion settings available in the List Tool or the AAF export settings.

    Premiere Pro is making some inroads in the commercial world, and for something like this ad it'd have been fine. But when you have people working on a project who are maestros with a particular tool, why muck things up by changing anything about the workflow, and there may also be a lot of hiccups and workarounds required in the turnover phase with a new workflow.

    I've used Premiere Pro professionally and use FCPX and Resolve for my personal projects, and I gripe about Media Composer as much as anyone. I'm definitely non-partisan, and am happy that there's competition in the NLE space. But all it takes to understand Media Composer's continued use in film and tv work is to work on a single feature film cut in a different NLE. It's a good tool.

    (edited to add extra carriage returns as apparently double-newlines don't cut it and the whole comment went through initially as one unreadable block, had to go html on it).

    Thanks for the insight. What you're describing sounds pretty similar to my own relationship with Avid. Pro tools is a fickle and high-maintenance dance partner, but every time I try to find something to replace it -- preferable something that doesn't involve an annual USD$400 anniversary present -- I'm forced to accept that there's a reason it's top of the heap.

    I do audio-for-video, which is part of the reason I wanted to learn MC. When an audio edit just won't work, but moving the picture edit five frames would accommodate the audio transition without adversely affecting the project, it would be nice to be able to just make the change right there (with approval, of course), rather than generating another round trip. Since the stuff I work on is cut in MC, having my own license would make that possible. Of course, I'm dealing with a workflow that only involves two workstations -- one picture, one sound -- so I have no idea how letting sound change the picture edit would work in multi-editor settings.

    Speaking of that, do you know anyone who does audio post in Vancouver who might be willing to let me be their shadow for a day? I'm not looking for work, I just think it would be fun to spend a day quietly and invisibly watching the workflow for an episodic TV project from the back of the room!
  • Reply 8 of 9
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,751moderator
    All of the footage, which was 1080p encoded in Avid's DNx36 code, was cut in Media Composer
    Why is Media Composer so widely used?
    According to Avid's filings, they have 94,000 active subscribers. They make 6% of their revenue from video products, so that was $25m for 2017. Given that their subscription is $200/year and the standalone license is $1300, that would be 94k subscription plus 4800 standalone. About 100k users.

    Apple has 2 million seats of FCPX now. Apple sold the 2 million over 6 years so ~333k/year but these are all active users. Avid's active users are the 94k subscribers plus 4800 standalone plus whoever has older perpetual licenses. Every year, Avid made about $50m from video sales (~40k users). I doubt they'd be new users every year over 10 years so maybe 130k users or 230k total. Around 1/10th Apple's active users.

    FCPX is more widely used but it will be used more by home users than professional editors. A lot of Avid's revenue comes from their services and support. They are going into facilities and providing them with end-to-end solutions, including hardware.

    You might not need to use MC to do the edits to match the audio. Even if you used MC, someone might use Premiere. You can do the video change in your preferred editor and send them a copy of the changed video. They can match the edit to that.
  • Reply 9 of 9
    Marvin said:
    [...] their subscription is $200/year and the standalone license is $1300
    Hey, that's new. Apparently they've "tiered" Media Composer into different versions, the same as Pro Tools. When I looked into it last fall there was only the crippled free version and a single paid version. The subscription was USD$600 and the perpetual license was USD$2500.

    Marvin said:
    FCPX is more widely used but it will be used more by home users than professional editors.
    Looking back at what I wrote I see that I wasn't clear about what I was asking. I meant to limit the scope of the question to just high-end post facilities. I'm sure some of what's on TV right now is cut with Premiere and Final Cut, but the vast majority will be Avid. That made sense several years ago, but what I was wondering is why it continues to be the case when other solutions seem to offer similar strengths and better ease-of-use. Of course, that's the perception of someone who doesn't sit in that chair all day, which is why I asked those who do for their opinions.

    Marvin said:
    You might not need to use MC to do the edits to match the audio. Even if you used MC, someone might use Premiere. You can do the video change in your preferred editor and send them a copy of the changed video. They can match the edit to that.
    Again, I wasn't as clear as I could have been. I was referring to a specific scenario using Avid's asset management system called Interplay that allows everyone in the facility access to a common timeline. I think it's clumsy and inelegant, but one of the benefits is Pro Tools (the audio software) opens the project with the original tracks from the picture editor, including edits, rather than a consolidated proxy video with mixed audio guide track. (Thinking about it now, the fancy version of Pro Tools includes basic video editing, so maybe it would be possible to make picture changes right in Pro Tools.)

    All that aside, recutting a consolidated video produced in something other than Media Composer wouldn't work in the way I was thinking. The only change I can make to a consolidated video is to remove stuff, which would shorten the project length. I couldn't just make an edit happen a few frames earlier or later, because I wouldn't have the source footage to "fill" the space before or after the edit. In order to shift the edit while preserving the duration (which is critical for broadcast stuff), access to the original edit timeline is required.
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