Software Company Is Ramping Up New VFX Elements for TV and Film

Orlando, Florida-based Rampant Design Tools has opened a new permanent studio space where founder and VFX artist/compositor Sean Mullen says he and his team can more rapidly create the "drag, drop and go" visual effects elements, animated backgrounds, mattes and transitions that he began selling in 2010 to the film and television market. The effects and transitions, used increasingly in network and cable TV shows and promos, are compatible with every NLE and any compositor that reads QuickTimes. They are also priced affordably, between $49 and $99 a set.

Fabricating a new studio, says Mullen, was the only way for the new company to meet and exceed growing demand. "I can now go from concept to completion really quickly," he says. "I have a huge recipe list that I personally want to get done for my clients. But I also have big studios that call me and say, 'Hey, Sean, I really want you to do X, Y or Z for us, can you get that done?' Before, I'd have to first figure out where I could set up shop through barter or favors or whatever. Now, I can pretty much do same-day turnaround for those guys, which makes for a much happier client." 

Mullen got his start as a compositor on Ally McBeal, Charmed, Roswell and a number of other shows and would typically shoot his own elements when comping out a scene. "I've always created elements for my work because I feel that organic and digital work really well together. The more organic elements you can put in your work, the better your work will be and the more it will stand out," he says. "My editor and other content creator friends, however, rarely have that luxury to make their own elements and frankly, the other libraries out there are either too dated or too expensive. So they'd ask me to create sets of elements that they could use repeatedly in different projects. I made a private library of these elements for my friends, and I could never get my hard drives back—they held on to them as long as they could! We knew it was time to put the elements out there for a wider audience and so far, the response has been incredibly positive."

Rampant Design brought 30 new products to NAB last April, including gradient overlays, light impacts and the kind of simple yet sophisticated animated backgrounds seen across the major cable networks. Mullen says that number will more than triple by next year's show. "Because of our new setup, we'll probably bring about 100 new products to NAB in 2014," he says. "We're in the studio probably 20 hours a day and I love every minute of it." He shoots all of his elements in the highest resolutions possible using his two in-house cameras, Blackmagic's new Cinema Camera and Red. "Though most of our customers have 1080p deliverables, a lot of our customers want 4K and higher," he says. "They need the latitude, and only BMCC and Red can deliver on that latitude. I've shot on other cameras, but the waveforms and data were always lacking. Those two not only continue to deliver for me but work really well together. If my Red is busy, I can jump over to my Blackmagic and get work done." Mullen has also invested in Nila, LitePanels and Arri lights for his studio shoots.

Rampant customer Casey Faris, a motion graphics artist at The Division in Springfield, Oregon, uses Rampant's Glitch Transitions regularly for Graveyard Carz, a show the production company produces for Discovery's Velocity Channel. "When we first started producing the show, we were using a TV static look a lot," says Faris. "It's become one of our signature looks, and given the name of the show, we've rolled that old-school horror movie feel into just about everything. All of our titles, transitions and graphics have some sort of TV static in them."

For the show's first season, the production company used Final Cut Pro 7 and Apple's bundled plug-in Bad TV to get the gritty, off-kilter video look they were after. "But a few episodes into our second season, we switched over to Adobe Premiere when CS6 came out," Faris says. "We shoot the show with DSLRs, so working with CS6 is so great." The one thing Premiere CS6 did not have, however, was a filter comparable to Bad TV. "We considered making our own static elements, but it would take a half an hour just to make one little transition," he says. "We obviously didn't have time to do that. Luckily, Rampant's Glitch elements came out right around that time, and it was better looking than what we'd been using in the past. We can also easily layer the elements to create really cool effects unique to our shop and our show, which is something you don't really get with a plug-in. You can play with the options of a plug-in, but the difference with Rampant's tools is you can have six or seven layers of video and have those layers interact differently." In addition to Premiere Pro and Rampant Design Elements, The Division uses the rest of the CS6 suite, including After Effects, Photoshop and Audition, and grades the show in DaVinci Resolve. They shoot the show with the Canon 7D and 60D.

Faris says budget was always an issue because Graveyard Carz started out as a labor of love. His boss at The Division, Mark Worman, is also the show's star and executive producer. "Mark had this idea for the show and hired me and another guy to help him produce it," he says. "It was probably three or four years before we got any attention from anyone. We were just doing it out of his pocket and sending out demo tapes and reels. When Velocity acquired the show, we sold them season as a finished product. It's how we've done season two and how we'll do the upcoming season three."

Rampant elements are also a big part of The Division's less high-profile work. "Every day I use some sort of effect from those guys, whether it's a sizzle reel, DVD project, promo or even media outside of work for my church," Faris says. "Style Mattes, Film Clutter, Dust FX and pretty much everything else we have we're putting into use weekly."

(The Rampart Design Tools company logo seen at top was created with CInematic Flares and Light FX.)