VFX supervisor and director Rob Legato, along with producer Ron Ames, runs The Basement, an effects boutique located in, well, his basement. Legato’s credits as visual effects supervisor include The Aviator, Bad Boys II, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, What Lies Beneath, Armageddon, Titanic (for which he won an Oscar) and Apollo 13 (through Digital Domain). Here he shares the tools of his trade.Below the Line: Tell us about your current tools.Rob Legato: The three central tools of our workflow are Avid, Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects. Avid serves as not only the editor but also the main database whereby any information can be obtained from a cut or a shot and works as an interpreter for some of the other editorial systems we interface with. We use custom ALEs (Avid Log Exchange) to track keycode, timecode notes and shot descriptions.After Effects is our basic software package where we create and finish our shots. Along with Adobe Photoshop, it serves as the translation or conversion tool between all of our other programs. These two programs serve as the forum through which we can convey notes or give a basic setup for a shot to vendors and companies using other software packages. I can lay it out first for the artist in After Effects to give them a clear idea of what I have in mind, then hand over the project. Everyone has a copy, making it a common denominator between all artists.We use Adobe Premiere and Apple Final Cut Pro for HD conforming and finishing. Adobe Premiere, along with the Blackmagic suite of hardware, allows us to finish in everything from standard definition to uncompressed HD with 4:4:4 color space. Premiere allows us to assemble anything in the timeline from another editor and quickly and automatically open that same composition in After Effects with the click of a button. This seamless integration is essential in today’s digital workflow.For all of our digital files we use two workflows. For films using a more traditional photochemical color correction and finish, we scan negative to Kodak Cineon files, giving us the same latitude from the original negative. Upon shot completion, we render out to the same Cineon file format for filmout. The second option involves the very latest in digital filmmaking. We use our Sony HDCAM SR deck, giving 4:4:4 uncompressed color space with a similar look to that of Cineon files, giving it the same latitude. The best part is that you get all the same control, but unlike Cineon files, which have to be on a fast and very expensive server for realtime playback, HDCAM SR lives on a piece of tape that can be played in real time, captured, cut, composited, and reassembled to be filmed out all on a desktop machine with off-the-shelf products like Premiere and Blackmagic.BTL: What were you were using five years ago?Legato: Some similar products were around, but digital filmmaking was not as seamless and integrated as it is today. We were using After Effects in much the same way, as an all-around conversion package between myself and the artists.From a shot-creation-compositing standpoint, most houses were using their own proprietary software. At Sony Pictures Imageworks we were using Bonzai. Not all vendors could talk to each other because of everyone’s specific software packages. This is where my use of Adobe After Effects became quite useful.The only digital version of film was the Cineon file format scanned from the negative. It required a huge amount of disk space and fast, expensive computers to play back the scanned sequences in real time. BTL: What are you looking forward to in the next 18 months?Legato: I see a continued stride towards the completely digital workflow, where more and more filmmakers adapt to HD technology and complete their films using it. More films using HD technology will give way to more theaters taking advantage of digital screenings. Software packages are becoming more integrated where the simple push of a button can take you from the editor to the compositor and back again. Adobe, for example is thoroughly integrating its packages for creation, editing, compositing, and finishing—all without a tedious conversion process.Communication with the editing tool is essential. The editor is becoming the central database and storing house for all elements of a film after production. The tools for sending and retrieving this information are already becoming more robust and carrying much more information. The XML is the new EDL, carrying with it much more than simply tape, timecode and shot name. BTL: What projects are you working on now?Legato: We have just finished second unit and are starting postproduction for the VFX on Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and we are shooting second unit and doing the VFX on Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd. We are also working with Avid and Adobe to create tools that fit into that all-digital integrated workflow just over the horizon. In addition, I’m experimenting with the HDCAM SR technology to test its incorporation to not only completely digital projects, but also mixed media films, where digital files have to play right along with film and be completely unnoticeable.We are combining production with post and creating a new workflow where all the separations are lifted. We cut and composite on set. We shoot and edit at the same time. By the end of the production day we can not only have a rough cut to work from but also one with temp compositions already laid out. I can now look at and immediately work with the material, and know that I don’t have to wait until I edit to discover if a shot is missing. I can get it on set at the same time.
Written by April MacIntyre