MATRIX: When did you start on THE MATRIX production?
JODY: We started in March 2001 in Alameda [California] and have been shooting visual effects shots for the last seventeen months. Basically we work very closely with the Editor and the Directors; once they start cutting the film they turn the VFX shots over to us to distribute to the vendors and we coordinate all of the elements that pertain to a shot. They can shoot anywhere from a couple of elements to twenty elements that make one shot composited. We’re also the liaison with the scanning facility, so once all the elements are in we have them scanned and delivered to the vendor so they can start working on them.
MATRIX: What do all those stages entail?
JODY: Once they shoot we have to telecine the dailies that go into our AVID — those digital files are what the Editor edits and cuts with the Directors. When we’ve locked down the cut to exactly what will be shown in theaters the negative is then pooled and sent to a facility where it’s scanned so the vendors who are working on the shots can manipulate it on their computers. So we can see their work as it progresses – they’ll send us QuickTime video files over the Internet that we review with the Directors and the Editor. We make a few tweaks, give them feedback, and go back and forth until the Directors and everyone is happy with the shot. At that point we tell them to go to film; they take the digital files, output them to a film recorder, send us the work print and we screen it, and hopefully all is good.
That process takes months and months; we have over five hundred shots in progress now. Some are on the easier side, but the majority involve processes that are state of the art and have never been done before. We’ve seen them from their infancy at the pre-visualization stage, and now they’re starting to come together into their final form. So far we’re eighteen months in and we’re just starting to get those first five hundred shots back, which is nice to see.
MATRIX: Eighteen months ago when you first started on THE MATRIX sequels, what was your initial role?
JODY: A lot of work was still in pre-visualization from the vendors at that stage, so organizing that material into the AVID for the Editor so they could start shooting was my major role — to define what the Brothers really wanted to see. Then about two or three months down the road, the Brothers would come in and edit and lock down the picture so that we could start scanning footage and feeding the vendors as much as we could.
MATRIX: Do most films have a VFX Editor as well as a traditional Editor?
JODY: Yes, I’ve been doing this for eighteen years. We utilize the same skills, we have benches, we work with film, and we also work with the AVID. But it’s a little different coordinating massive amounts of elements, keeping track of which shot has what elements belonging to it. A lot of database entry is involved; again the tracking is a massive undertaking where we get iterations both from QuickTimes and film. We also track negative and its status and what needs to be done if the Directors have feedback, which we’ll feed back to the vendors. Some films also use VFX Editing Assistants, it just depends on the complexity and the time.
MATRIX: Could you give an example of a group of different elements that might go together make up a particular shot?
JODY: First they’ll shoot a main pass, which could be two actors that are the same character, so they’ll use that first pass to get the footage to set up for a split screen. You might have an explosion, so they’ll go and shoot a separate element of an explosion, then you also need debris, so they’ll shoot bits of debris. You can have multiple passes to work in stuff like clouds and rain into a sky shot — all sorts of different elements may go into a shot. They all have different syncing, so where you place your rain or explosion hits depends on the action within the shot. It’s easier for us kind of being the middle man to work all those kinks out on our end, instead of wasting the vendors’ time which is more expensive.
MATRIX: Could you describe your “average” day?
JODY: Our day usually starts by going straight to our emails. Our multiple vendors have their requests; they need to see dailies, they need to see sequences, they need counts, and if the shot has been shortened they need to know. You try to facilitate whatever their needs are for the day. We also get QuickTimes from the vendors, and we have to download those, organize them, and get them ready for the Editor to cut in or we’ll cut them in for his review.
We also get film, and setting that up for screening for the Directors at night is our job as well. We log into our system all of the dailies that were shot along with the relative lens information —all the different information that editorial may not require but we know that the vendors will need down the road, such as lens information and camera speeds. Throughout the day we’ll be called on to work not only with all the Visual Effects Department but our own Editorial Department. Bridgette [Fahey-Goldsmith, VFX Assistant Editor] has been doing a lot of data entry – we’re up to nineteen thousand takes, each containing different elements that potentially could be used that we have to sort out and organize.
MATRIX: How do you coordinate the compiling of a shot with the Visual Effects Department to ensure you each get what you need from the vendors?
JODY: Every show is different. The Visual Effects Department are able to look through the QuickTimes and give feedback from that, which frees us up since we don’t need to see work that’s not up to scratch. That way we don’t waste the Editor’s or the Directors’ time, but when it’s good to show, we’ll download it and give it to the Editor and he’ll cut it in.
The best way to review shots is on the AVID. It’s most cost effective to see everything on video before they print it out to film.
JODY: Right after college in Oklahoma I went straight to LA — I wanted to work in the film business. My first job was being a production assistant on Captain EO; it was a Disneyland ride that included a Michael Jackson short film. That was only for two weeks and I wanted to stay working, so I looked around to see what departments stayed working the longest and it happened to be editorial. I became friends with them, and that led to my first visual effects editing job as an assistant, and it stuck. I’ve been doing it for eighteen years and it has been amazing.
The technology has grown from when I started in the old optical days — now it’s all digital on computers, which is nice – it’s easier in some respects, but it also gives you more work to do because you can do more.
MATRIX: What are some of the other films you have worked on?
JODY: I worked on Planet of the Apes and before that Hollow Man, I worked on Babe: Pig in the City in London, Starship Troopers, The Abyss, and a couple of Nightmare on Elm Streets [A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare], just to name a few.
MATRIX: How does the scale and the breaking new ground aspect of those films compare to THE MATRIX sequels?
JODY: Hollow Man was very impressive with the work they did creating their 3D man. This film, though, is beyond anything I’ve ever done; it’s massive. I have to say the organization is just incredible, with the visual effects team working with the Directors organizing so many elements for the most incredible effects yet to be seen — it’s going to be amazing. I’m not even sure how they’re doing a lot of the work; I’m looking forward to seeing it.
EQUIPMENT & TECHNOLOGY
MATRIX: From your point of view, how has technology has changed in the last eighteen years?
JODY: In the optical days we would still handle several layers of elements, but not the capacity we’re doing now. What you’re able to do now and the look you can achieve is just incredible; it has all changed immensely. You had limitations with opticals – you just had mats that had to be redone physically and it would take a day just to move a mat edge, and now it’s just a touch of a button and you don’t have edges showing in shots. I’m glad it has moved on.
MATRIX: What equipment are you using?
JODY: As the Visual Effects Editor I don’t need an audio mixing board since I don’t work with audio, just visuals. There are four AVIDs in the department that we’re all connected to so we’re able to share files and see what each other is working on. Every day we’ll look through Zach’s cut and make sure he hasn’t made any changes that we need to alert the vendors to; if he has made adjustments and the cut is longer, we’ll let them know they need to work on more shots or longer frames.
We’re able to do our pre-compositing on the AVID, it can do multiple layers and preserve many versions and iterations. The Supervisors, Producers and Editors are all able to come in and review past iterations alongside the new iterations and see what the differences are. From here we can go to the Internet and download files from any of our vendors directly into our AVID — it’s a very quick and easy process.
MATRIX: Have you spent any time on set?
JODY: Zero. You have Visual Effects Supervisors and Producers out there; you don’t need an Editor. I don’t get what has been shot until after it has been edited, so I have no need to be down there — my only reason would be out of curiosity and to see how things are done.
MATRIX: 3rd Unit just started up recently and their filming is completely visual effects work with the APU; do you deal with their footage differently?
JODY: No, it still goes through the same filtration, it’s just another element: the dailies come here and are digitized in the AVID so we can look at it. We’re also sending the vendors clips at this point — we send them the whole take so that they can start pre-vizing the backgrounds and the action that’s happening in them. We do it that way because we know they’ll take a while to do their part and they probably cannot wait until the edit has happened. It’s a big collaboration and it has worked nicely on this show; sometimes it can get tricky and messy, but everyone has been very professional.
MATRIX: Was the transition from one country to another at all difficult?
JODY: No, not at all. I had gone to London and worked for a year on Babe: Pig in the City to set up their Editorial Department at Mill Film, and found it incredible being able to deal with both Australia and America over the Internet. We would do teleconferencing almost in real time with the Director in Australia, giving feedback in person to the artists at the same time. Technology has made it a small world. I find the same here in Australia; I talk to America ten times a day, and am able to shuffle negatives and data tapes back and forth.
MATRIX: Where do you see technology taking the visual effects editing portion of film?
JODY: I hear that Visual Effects Editors are becoming more and more in demand. The effects are getting more and more amazing and able to do more things that people are interested in, so I see that the future is still good for Visual Effects Editors. I know some departments are scared of technology taking their jobs, and it has; it’s done that to some people. Hopefully we’ll be able to stick around for a little while.
MATRIX: When did you have the opportunity to first read the scripts for RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS?
JODY: Probably a week before I started, which was so exciting to read. They were good.
MATRIX: How do they help you; do you refer to them on a regular basis?
JODY: Actually for me I don’t. It just helps you get more familiar with the sequence and where it lays in the movie; it’s more for communication and what’s happening. When you have continuity issues it’s helpful to refer back to the script because questions do arise as far as lighting or creating the right atmosphere if a scene is supposed to be at dawn or later in the morning — little things like that. But after it’s filmed a shot is pretty much set; you have an overall idea how it all fits together.
MATRIX: When will your job finish?
JODY: I’ll probably be on it right up until end of the third one. By then we’ll be collecting our last shots, and what usually happens is you’ll start getting many iterations of the same shot just as a last attempt to get your best shot out, organizing negative and getting it into the cut. Also, I don’t know if it has been determined if we’re going to be fully digitizing or outputting digitally on a couple of sequences. That would mean organizing data tapes instead of film and outputting that material to film.
MATRIX: Thank you very much, Jody.
Interview by REDPILL