London-based postproduction facility LipSync relied on ftrack to manage its post workflow on the six-part BBC miniseries Wolf Hall.
Based on the Hilary Mantel novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, Wolf Hall transports viewers to a meticulously recreated vision of 16th-century London. Here, the implacable Thomas Cromwell must seek a way to annul the 20-year marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, despite heavy opposition from the Pope and the entire continent of Europe. An intensely personal, claustrophobic affair, Wolf Hall treats its 1520s setting with reverence, paying the utmost respect to even the smallest historical detail – from the embroidery on Cromwell’s tunic to the panoramic landscapes of Tudor London.
Key sequences created by the LipSync VFX team included the 16th-century London setting around Cromwell’s home, Austin Friars; the Thames and areas around London Bridge; the Tower of London as seen from inside Traitor’s Gate; and the surrounding environments at the coronation of Anne Boleyn. This was in addition to the show’s title sequence, audio work and grading.
“We were looking at London 500 years ago,” said Paul Driver, producer at LipSync Post. “You’re always going to have a whole bunch of historians on your back trying to point out every little feature, saying that it’s not part of that period, so there’s a lot of pressure on the studio there to get everything looking just right.”
LipSync recreated London as it was in the process of being built up, expanding outwards from the Thames as the area grew ever more prosperous. “We had to remove a lot of modernity that features in those areas, and keep it all within the period,” said Driver. “There was a lot of research done into what needed to be removed from the Thames.”
Using tools such as Autodesk’s Maya and The Foundry’s MARI and NUKE, the LipSync visual effects team created 2.5D matte paintings using asset models of the various Tudor buildings, then laying out the textures and lighting them in the scene environment. The 2.5D matte paintings and 3D pipeline in NUKE meant that the cameras were able to move within the scene, adding to the already immersive 16th-century atmosphere.
The large amount of assets, as well as a team of ten artists, meant that careful and considered organization was a necessity across the project.
“Ten years ago, working on a project like this would mean a huge paper trail – we’d try to manage schedules in Excel, which would then all be broadcast in an email,” said Driver. “As soon as we got ftrack at LipSync, and could put out new schedules live to the artists, or pick out their workload automatically, that just changed the way we did everything. There’s just less running around, less typing of emails. It’s a huge timesaver.”
LipSync adopted ftrack last year and Driver finds the functionality for scheduling, project hierarchy and version management useful, particularly for a project with the level of complexity found in Wolf Hall.
“At LipSync, both myself and the show coordinator use ftrack for checking when a new shot has come forward for review, and giving the artists an overview of the schedule,” said Driver. “The supervisors can tap into it if they need to and make sure everyone is working on the right tasks at the right time.”
“Wolf Hall is a really big show,” continued Driver. “There are a lot of moving parts across each of the different art departments. From a scheduling point of view ftrack just streamlines everything and makes it really simple. I like the way that if you make a change it goes live to the artist straight away, cutting out the need for time-consuming emails. Artists can then just pick up their schedule and, because we have the option of customizing their overview, read it in the way that makes most sense to them.”
This customizable aspect is key to the success of ftrack on Wolf Hall. “We have an in-house support guy who’s pretty savvy with ftrack,” said Driver. “He’s able to redesign things like the overviews page, which breaks the shot schedule down nicely and makes it easy to pick up. The team has been using that redesigned page on Wolf Hall, especially with things like seeing the statuses of different parts of the project and seeing their end dates. So there’s a lot of flexibility in the way artists can approach the software.”
Working on such large and detail-intensive environments meant careful monitoring of shot progress across individual artists was key on Wolf Hall. “Having the shots schedule was incredibly useful. For instance, being able to add notes specifically about how different departments were supplying what the compositing artists would need eventually was a huge help, as it keeps everyone up-to-date and working off of the same information,” said Driver. “You’re working more as a fully functioning team, rather than different departments all updating at different times.”
In his role as producer, Driver also found ftrack’s reviews functionality helpful. “Coordinating reviews was just so much simpler using ftrack,” he said. “Things like using Quicktime videos when an artist has produced a comp are really useful features. You can see ahead of time if there are any problems or if you want to change anything before it goes to review – you can just type the notes in there.”
“With TV productions you’re often going right up to the wire, and you have a shorter turnaround for getting the VFX done, so quick-and-easy import work with ftrack makes things a lot easier for sure,” said Driver. “You definitely get many hours saved just in terms of broadcast and schedules.”