Five Things to Know About the VFX in Independence Day: Resurgence

It took 20 years, but the Independence Day franchise returned last Friday to kick some landmark-destroying alien butt and dazzle audiences with a stellar variety of large-scale explosive visual effects. The new film, like the 1996 original, is VFX supervised by Volker Engel and features effects built and blended by some of the best facilities in the business.

1. The sequel has a monster load of effects shots—but not the most ever.

Independence Day featured 430 Oscar-winning visual effects shots, which at the time were some of the most sophisticated on screen. The sequel includes 1,750 effects shots by Uncharted Territory (run by Engel and Marc Weigert), Weta, MPC, Scanline, ImageEngine, Cinesite, Luxx Studios and Digital Domain. For comparison, that's more than 2013's Man of Steel yet just under the 2,100 shots ILM completed, with partner studios Virtuos, Hybride and Base FX, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But it's still only a bit more than half the VFX shots in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. While studios may define digital effects shots differently and sheer numbers don't necessarily equal the most complex, no film has yet come close to the 4500+ shots reportedly created for the 2015 epic Bollywood film Baahubali: The Beginning.

Emmerich on Set

Emmerich on set

2. The secret to a more fluid VFX workflow? A barely-there VR camera tracker.

According to FX Guide's deep and exhaustive examination of the film's effects, the virtual production tracker Ncam was used for some 90 percent of the VFX shoot. Ncam uses a lightweight sensor that can be attached to any camera for an unfettered, continuous stream of super-precise positional and rotational data that flows directly into whatever VFX software and graphics engine is being used in post. Camera operators use the Ncam data when framing virtual sets and VFX supes rely on it to build final shots. Director Roland Emmerich thinks "this kind of system is the future" and although he found it took a certain amount of patience to learn to use it effectively on set, it is now his favorite tool.

3. Uncharted Territory did the most shots, but Scanline and Weta among the most complex.

Engel and his team at Uncharted Territory served as the hub for all the effects in the movie and worked closely with Emmerich from start to finish. But Scanline, known for its proprietary Sci-Tech Oscar-winning fluid effects software Flowline that makes quick work of water-based VFX while also making them breathtakingly real, had the gargantuan task of figuring out how to visualize a 3,000-mile-wide alien spacecraft as it descended through earth's atmosphere (at top). Weta pulled out all the stops for the final bus-in-the-dust vs. galloping alien chase sequence.

MPC green beam

4. A green beam for the new era.

The iconic green beam that destroyed the White House in the original film is back with a vengeance. We first see it in the opening shots set on the moon. VFX supervisor Sue Rowe and her team at MPC worked alongside Engel to bring geological fidelity to every simulation of the lunar landscape using concept art, NASA images taken through the Hubble Telescope and close study of the moon’s surface. It's one reason the eventual destruction of the organic surfaces look so real. When the alien Mother Ship strikes back, the familiar laser—this time created with RealFlow and Houdini—takes it all down in a flash. MPC also created full CG digital doubles of the actors in their space suits for the final moments of destruction from detailed scans and photographs. 

5. This is the fourth film for Roland Emmerich that VFX supe Volker Engel has also produced.

Volker was Co-Producer and VFX Supervisor (with Marc Weigert) for Emmerich's White House Down (2013) and 2012 (2009), and was Executive Producer and VFX Supervisor for the director's 2011 film Anonymous. He co-produced Independence Day: Resurgence. The additional credits were apparently brokered by Emmerich with the studios as a way to give credit where it was long overdue.

It’s Adobe Day: The New Creative Cloud Applications Are Out

Adobe today launched new versions of applications in Creative Cloud, including Premiere Pro, After Effects, Media Encoder, Audition and Photoshop.

As we previously reported, chief among the new features are new capabilities in Premiere's Lumetri Color Panel (including HSL secondaries), performance enhancements in After Effects, and improvements to the ever-intriguing Character Animator. (That latter is still officially a "preview" release, which seems odd for software that's already been used to generate several minutes of live prime-time programming for a major television network.) Audition now includes some options giving editors access to useful combinations of filters and effects without requiring them to tune the stacks from scratch, and Media Encoder comes into play as part of an end-to-end refinement to queueing, rendering and proxy workflow.

One thing to be careful of — Adobe says that projects saved in v2015.3 of its applications cannot be opened in earlier versions. So if you think you may need to open current projects on systems running earlier versions of Creative Cloud apps for some reason, this might be an update you want to skip until you're sure all of the workstations you use are on the same page.

The downloads are available through your desktop Creative Cloud app. Here's a video with Adobe's Dave Helmly introducing the new features in Premiere Pro, followed by Adobe's official what's-new indexes for both Premiere Pro and After Effects. 

Adobe Premiere Pro CC

Performance optimizations

  • Apple Metal GPU supported by Mercury Playback Engine (Initial support – some effects not currently supported)
  • Native decode (i.e. no QuickTime installation required) on Windows of Apple ProRes
  • Improvements to MorphCut face detection and tracking
  • H264 playback GPU acceleration (Windows platform with Intel IRIS chipsets only)

Enhancements to the editing experience

  • Import, edit, and create Open Captions (subtitles), including options for font, size, position, color, weight, background color and background opacity
  • In-application licensing of Adobe Stock assets from Project Panel or Timeline
  • New badge in Project Panel for unlicensed stock assets
  • Support for Arabic and Hebrew languages in the Titler
  • Timeline auto scroll when range selecting
  • See more tracks at once with smaller minimum timeline height
  • Remove Attributes to remove individual effects from clips
  • Newly assignable keyboard shortcuts:
    • Add/remove a keyframe in the Effect Control Panel
    • Nudge keyframe left or right by one frame
    • Select next/previous keyframe
    • Increase/decrease keyframe value
    • Constrain Direct Manipulation horizontally or vertically while dragging
    • Toggle timeline zoom to single frame level
  • Twirl state of intrinsic effects shared between all clips in Effect Control Panel is remembered
  • Twirl state of parameters in Export Settings dialog is remembered
  • Show all clip markers in a sequence in the Markers panel
  • Filter markers in the Marker panel by color
  • Frame count offset updates dynamically while trimming with the mouse
  • FCP XML time remapping (speed ramps) support
  • Adjust multiple clips’ field options simultaneously
  • Create dedicated folders for each Scratch Disk file Premiere generates
  • Multiple fixes to known issues with voice-over recording using Mercury Transmit

New and improved format support

  • AS-10 export
  • Direct export to XDCAM HD disc
  • HEVC 10-bit export
  • Improvements to J2K export (24p and 30p now supported)
  • Panasonic AVC-LongG export
  • RED Weapon 8K, RED Raven support
  • QT XDCAM HD to MXF XDCAM HD Smart Rendering
  • ‘Sony device compatibility’ checkbox added to XAVC export settings
  • Match Source controls for still image formats
  • Create separate mono channels for DNxHD exports


Adobe After Effects CC

  • Enhanced video and audio playback: After Effects CC 2015 (13.8) uses a new playback architecture to deliver real-time playback of cached frames with synced audio. The new architecture is shared with other Adobe applications, like Premiere Pro and Audition.
  • Effect rendering on the GPU: The Lumetri Color, Gaussian Blur, and Sharpen effects can now render using your computer’s GPU. This improves rendering performance for these effects by 2x-4x over rendering using only the CPU (depending on the frame being rendered and the speed of your GPU). GPU effect rendering is controlled via the new Video Rendering and Effects option in the Project Settings dialog.
  • Performance improvements: Many small changes under the hood include faster import and caching of image sequences, asynchronous drawing of viewer panels, faster opening of large projects, improved expression caching, and more.
  • Additional native format support: Apple ProRes QuickTime files can be decoded on Windows without needing QuickTime installed on the system. RED camera raw file decoding now supports RED Scarlet-W, Raven, and Weapon cameras, including 8K .r3d footage.
  • Lumetri Color effect improvements: The Lumetri Color effect can now render using your computer’s GPU, and includes new HSL Secondary controls and new SpeedLooks presets.
  • Gaussian Blur effect improvements: The Gaussian Blur effect has been updated to a new version. The Repeat Edge Pixels option from the Fast Blur effect has been added, and the effect can now render using your computer’s GPU. This version of Gaussian Blur replaces both the previous Gaussian Blur (Legacy) effect and the Fast Blur effect, which are still available but have been moved to the Obsolete category.
  • Add compositions to Adobe Media Encoder with render settings: You can now send compositions from the Render Queue to the Adobe Media Encoder queue with the options you choose in the Render Settings dialog. When you click the new Queue in AME button in the Render Queue panel, queued render  items are added to Adobe Media Encoder. Compositions will be rendered by Adobe Media Encoder with the render settings you chose in After Effects.
  • Read-only collaboration with Creative Cloud libraries: Assets in Creative Cloud libraries can be set to read-only, so they can be shared but not changed or deleted.
  • Libraries panel improvements: The new Libraries workspace makes it easier to search and add assets to your project. Find the right content fast using filtered search for Adobe Stock, display of length and format for Stock video, and links to video previews.
  • Scroll panel tabs using the Hand tool: When a panel group has more tabs than you can see at once, you can now scroll the tabs by panning with the Hand tool. For example, hold the spacebar key to activate the Hand tool, then click in the tab well and drag left or right, the same way you would to pan in the Composition panel.
  • Maxon CINEWARE 3.1: The latest version of Maxon’s CINEWARE plug-in includes bug fixes, enhanced OpenGL rendering, and scene coordinate matching.
  • Maxon Cinema 4D Exporter: The Maxon Cinema 4D Exporter now exports animated 3D text and shape layers into the .c4d file. 3D text layers can be exported as extruded spline objects that retain animation fidelity, or as extruded text objects that preserve the ability to edit the text in Cinema 4D.
  • And even more: Many additional small improvements, such as a Swap Colors button in the Tint effect, refinements to project auto-save, and many bug fixes.


More details on all of the application updates are available at the Creative Cloud blog.

Which Way to the Set? Film Shoots by the Numbers, from California to Canada and the U.K.

This week, the nonprofit film-permit office Film L.A. released its annual feature-film production study, tracking locations used for production and post of 109 U.S. theatrical releases by the six major Hollywood studios (Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Sony and 20th Century Fox) and six of the "mini-majors" — Dreamworks, Lionsgate/Summit, The Weinstein Co., CBS, and Blumhouse. The numbers map out trends in film across the U.S. and internationally, showing how productions react to tax credits and other incentives for shooting or doing VFX in a given state or country.

You can download the full report online. Here are some key excerpts.

Locations: California Is King …


After a startling result in 2013, when three more films were shot in Louisiana than in California, the Golden State has returned to its preeminent spot as the leading location for Hollywood production. Nineteen films were shot in California for 2015 release, compared to 12 in Louisiana. (The U.K. was in second place, with 15 productions shooting there.) Still, that means fewer than one in five 2015 theatrical releases were filmed in Hollywood's home state. 

… Depending on How You Count

Film L.A. Top 25 Box Office California chart

Source: Film L.A.

But the study also found that the biggest films don't shoot in California any more. In fact, it said, 2015 was the first year on record when none of the top 25 live-action movies at the worldwide box office were filmed in California. That will change, Film L.A. noted, with recent improvements to the state's tax credit program bringing business back to California. 

New York: Can You Make It Here?

New York came on strong in 2014, placing second only to California with 13 films shot in the state. That number dropped to 7 in 2015, placing New York well behind California, the U.K., Georgia, Louisiana, and Canada. The report notes that, unlike some of its competitors, New York's tax credit program is capped at $420 million annually and excludes above-the-line expenses, but doesn't delve into the reasons for the year-to-year decline in New York feature-film productions.

VFX in the U.K. and Canada

Film L.A. VFX chart

Film L.A. says California is no longer the leader in VFX work. Only nine 2015 movies had VFX created primarily in California, the study indicates, trailing behind both the U.K. (15 films) and Canada (14 films). "The growth of work in Canada and the U.K. suggests that California is unlikely to regain its position as a major player in VFX in the near future, if ever," the study says.

Give Us Some Credit(s)

Two movies shot in the U.K. were, far and away, the leaders when it came to taking advantage of tax credits. The Avengers: Age of Ultron, made on an estimate budget of $316 million, collected $48.6 million in incentives from the British government, Film L.A. said. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, made on an estimated budget of $306 million, was right behind it with $47.4 million in incentives. The biggest beneficiaries in the U.S. were shot in Louisiana: Terminator: Genisys ($33.10 million in incentives) and Fantastic Four ($29.10 million in incentives). 

Location, Location, Location?


Source: Film L.A.

The scripted setting of a film has less than ever to do with where it's actually filmed. For example, 11 2015 releases were shot in Canada and 12 were shot in Georgia, but none of those films were either primarily or partially set in those locations. However, out of 19 movies shot in California, 15 were primarily set there.

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Script Tips: Bring Scenes to Life By Making Them More Cinematic

Nothing can kill the cinematic experience of a film faster than the use of excessive dialogue over imagery. This is because dialogue is inherently uncinematic. It originated in Greek drama and then developed through the plays of Shakespeare right up to modern-day TV.  

Conversely, nothing can elevate a film faster than replacing uncinematic, dialogue-driven scenes with more cinematic, visually-driven scenes. That's  what I want to show you how to do in this article. 

I’m going to take a look at three hypothetical scenes and give you two versions of them — one uncinematic and one cinematic — before discussing the difference between them and how to apply the techniques of visual storytelling to your own scenes. 

Scene 1: Anna has to tell her neighbor, Jim, who’s just this minute returned from vacation that while he was away she accidentally ran over his cat.

Uncinematic Version
Anna knocks on Jim’s door and tells him she ran over the cat and it’s now recovering in an animal hospital. Jim flips out. She apologizes. He asks her a million questions. She offers to drive him to the animal hospital. They jump in her car and drive off. 

Cinematic Version 
Anna knocks on Jim’s door and starts talking about anything but the injured cat — the pesky neighborhood kids, the hot weather, the neighbor’s trip, etc. Then Jim notices something — uneaten cat food in a bowl. He asks, “Where’s Smokey by the way?” CUT TO: Anna driving a furious Jim to the animal doctor. 

Comparing the Two
In the uncinematic version, everything is laid out just as you’d expect. We know Anna has to tell Jim she almost killed his cat, and that’s what she does. He reacts exactly how we’d expect, and they both drive off to the hospital. 

The cinematic version of this scene is a good example of simply making a character hide information, rather than say everything that’s on their mind up front, in order to increase tension. Anna can’t bring herself to tell Jim what’s happened which, if you think about it, is how people behave in real life. We then have a reliance on imagery over dialogue when, instead of Anna simply telling Jim she ran over his cat, the camera focuses on what he sees — the uneaten cat food. 

Scene 2: In the middle of a high school basketball play-off, star player Chad realizes the girl of his dreams, Laura, likes another guy.

Uncinematic Version
Chad weaves his magic on the court. He keeps glancing at Laura, the girl of his dreams who’s watching with her friends from the stands. During a time-out, Chad’s friend tells him Laura’s going to the prom with another guy, Vincent. Chad can’t believe it and asks his friend a ton of questions about Laura and Vincent. The buzzer sounds and Chad’s forced to re-start the game. 

Cinematic Version 
Chad weaves his magic on the court. He keeps glancing at Laura, the girl of his dreams who’s watching with her friends from the stands. During a time-out, Chad sees high-school hunk, Vincent sit next to her. Chad grows more and more uneasy as he sees Vincent lean in close and make her laugh. The buzzer sounds and Chad’s forced to re-start the game, but now his concentration is totally shot and he plays like a clown. The crowd get on his back and he runs off the court to the locker room. 

Comparing the Two
In the uncinematic version, the plot point (Laura likes Vincent) is revealed through dialogue when Stevie tells Chad. We then have more dialogue as Chad tries to figure out what’s going on, followed by him simply returning to the game. 

In the cinematic version, the same plot point is revealed through imagery. Always eschew dialogue for the visual if at all possible. It’s much more visual to have Chad glancing up at Laura throughout the time-out and see her flirting with Vincent, rather than just being told this. Visuals are then employed to show Chad’s reaction — he can’t think straight anymore, messes up the game, and flees to the locker room. Character reactions are a great place to employ visuals. What’s more interesting — having a character say “I’m mad that he asked her out”, or having them punch a mirror?

Scene 3: While driving back from a work function one night, Jane is told by her husband, Max, that he’s been having an affair with one of her colleagues. 

Uncinematic Version
Jane talks about the evening with her colleagues as she drives down the freeway. Max listens, distracted. Finally he plucks up the courage to tell her — he’s been sleeping with her assistant for the past six months. Jane is apoplectic. She rages at him and he defends himself, saying she’s been so caught up with work she never has time for him anymore. They drive on, arguing like hell. 

Cinematic Version 
Jane talks about the evening with her colleagues as she drives down the freeway. Max listens, distracted. Finally he plucks up the courage to tell her — he’s been sleeping with her assistant for the past six months. Jane says nothing. Then she laughs. Max doesn’t know what’s going on. Suddenly, she executes a hairpin U-turn and starts driving back the way they came, against traffic. Max is terrified until she finally swerves back onto a street and screeches to a halt outside the workfunction restaurant. 

Comparing the Two
In the uncinematic version, again everything happens just as we expect, through dialogue. Once the secret is revealed, the dialogue doesn’t let up all the way through the scene. This is how most novice screenwriters and filmmakers approach scenes like this — a constant Q&A back-and-forth. But this quickly gets tiring and is deeply uncinematic. 

In the more cinematic version, the dialogue more or less stops once Max reveals his affair. We’re then relying on visuals — Jane’s silence. Her laughter. Turning the car around and driving against traffic. Max’s panic, etc. Okay, so her driving the wrong way down the freeway might be a little over-dramatic, but it illustrates the point — always look for the unusual, the surprising, the outrageous responses and reactions, over the predictable dialogue reactions. 

Alex Bloom is the founder of Script Reader Pro, a screenplay consultancy made up of working screenwriters and filmmakers. Alex and his team provide a road map to take people out of the often confusing land of filmmaking advice, and toward a place where they’re confident of what works and what doesn’t. 

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Take a Filmmaking Master Class with Werner Herzog This Summer

Teacher Herzog

Throughout his prolific, provocative and famously independent career, Werner Herzog has brought a probing, operatic intensity to each of his films. The 73-year-old director of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Grizzly Man and nearly 70 other features and documentaries, "has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons, or uninteresting," Roger Ebert once observed. "Even his failures are spectacular."

Now a full-time resident of Los Angeles, he's still making movies that way—Lo and Behold, his late-to-the-party but no less penetrating exploration of the connected world, comes to theaters in August and has a lot to say about what motivates, inspires and confounds him as a filmmaker. That's one reason he created his Rogue Film School, a series of "infrequent" (roughly once a year) four-day seminars for some five dozen people he has delivered in person at locations around the world since 2009.

Visit the series' Web site and you'll find a set of defining principles that exude Herzogian creed with a technology-free passion for craft, poetry and his chosen "way of life": "The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted," he writes. "It is for those who have traveled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lock-picking or forging shooting permits in countries not favoring their projects."

He teaches all of those things in his seminars, requires each participant to complete a viewing and reading list—including Virgil's Georgics and The Warren Commission, which he continues to recommend during public appearancesand prohibits the use of "laptops, iPads, cell phones, and recording devices of any kind." That's necessary, he believes, for active participation but also to help his students better understand how he achieves his filmic holy grail: "illumination and an ecstasy of truth." 

Ten years before he launched Rogue Film School, Herzog introduced his theory of "ecstatic truth" in filmmaking in the Minnesota Declaration, a personal/professional manifesto that laid out his separatist views on cinema verité. He delivered it publicly with Roger Ebert at his side during a Q&A at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The museum's tribute to Herzog featured a month-long series of his diverse body of work that has eddied between features and documentaries from the start. Reading it now, one can almost see Herzog popping up in Westeros, a voice-over knight of the realm — or virtuous High Sparrow — with camera in hand: "Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.…The gauntlet is hereby thrown down."

To gain an audience with the master in his Rogue Film School seminars, the most recent of which took place in Munich in March, one must first spend $25 to apply, then pay a $1500 fee upon acceptance. You might get lucky and hear bits of his curated philosophy during a screening Q&A or at international conferences, but the longform masterclass is clearly where Herzog shines. (Back in 2006, however, he had not yet embraced his own professorial potential in this interview with StudioDaily's former sister publication Film & Video.)

A more affordable and accessible option is coming to the Internet this summer: San Francisco-based MasterClass will present Herzog's five-hour lesson in feature and documentary techniques. The director will touch on such topics as storytelling, financing, leading a crew, cinematography, working with actors, locations, editing, and interview techniques. Pre-enrollment for the $90 session opened last week and MasterClass CEO and co-founder David Rogier couldn't be more thrilled. Herzog "is fearless," he says. "He inspires, pushes and teaches you how to see the world differently and then capture it for an audience." Plus, adds co-founder and Creative Director Aaron Rasmussen, "The class will save you from personally having to drag a ship over a mountain in the Amazon or go to Antarctica in the freezing cold."

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