Hunting Down Angels

Last night, Hunt Angels won three Australian Film Institute awards, including Best Visual Effects. fxphd Professor Rose Draper and fxguide co-founder Mike Seymour were on the podium to receive the award. In this story and podcast, the two discuss the XML-based production pipeline for the film while nursing their hangovers after a sleepless night of parties in Melbourne.

Rose and Mike at the AFI win for best VFX at the AFI

Hunt Angels, starring Ben Mendelsohn and Victoria Hill, is the true story of film industry outlaws Rupert Kathner and Alma Brooks. The pair began a movie-making spree that took on Hollywood barons, a police commissioner and the cultural cringe, all in their passionate pursuit to make Australian films.

Producer Sue Maslin and Director Alec Morgan accepting for best documentary

Producer Sue Maslin says, “Being the first film of its kind ever produced in Australia, Hunt Angels presented unique challenges.” Maslin herself won in the category of Best Documentary feature. The film was shot in a range of stocks and formats and involved hundreds of visual effects shots, as well as film restoration, blowups and a complete DI grade.

Rupe and Alma are rebel film makers of the 1930s who fought the system

The post process involved a team in Melbourne and one in Sydney. The Sydney team completed the online and also the final assembly and direct review. Files were exported from the Final Cut Pro HD system – headed by VFX editor Nick Deacon — and sent to Melbourne.

After the various VFX teams had their shots, the project was exported using XML from FCP and imported into an Assimilate Scratch system, which is a real time online 2K review and grading station. As vfx shots were completed, the files came back from Melbourne, were scanned by the XML database and then automatcially loaded into the XML-based Scratch. This also managed the versioning, allowing real time preview of reels with immediate test grades. As Scratch does realtime 2K grades using metadata, various test grades could be applied during the direct review – to determine if the shots could be finalled in the DI or needed to be revised first. Days could be spent reviewing material without eating into the DI budget due to the fact that using Scratch is very cost effective. It also meant that the review process happened with the shots in context of the edit and not just in isolation.

Rose Draper and her team composited these greenscreen elements with stills and archival footage in combustion

The Visual effects team in Melbourne used Combustion for most shots, with some use of After Effects. The Sydney team used Flame and some Maya for the animated 3D wings on the Hunted Film Financing Angels. The visual effects were heavily stylised, requiring live action green screen to be seamlessly compositied into archival footage and orginal black and white stills from the period.

Details of the visual effects work can be heard in the companion podcast to this story.

After the inital test grades, the files were moved as completed reels on a 2 terrabyte drive to the LaB sydney.
The film was graded on the DaVinci 2K by Dwaine Hyde. Maslin explains that “senior colour grader at the LaB sydney, Dwaine Hyde, worked closely with our Director of Photography, Jackie Farkas to achieve this look which is completely original and astounding critics and cinema audiences alike wherever the film screens”. Jackie Farkas won in the category best documentary cinematography.

Flame was used to add two and a half D animation and perspective in the opening shots in Sydney

Post Supervisor and Effects Consultant on Hunt Angels Mike Seymour comments “the LaB sydney did a great job in supporting the visual effects team and particularly Will O’Connell, the Fire Editor, did an outstanding job. Will represents everything great about the LaB, he is professional, yet fun to work with, fast yet meticulous and someone whose opinion you can trust. You want people like that on your team. The Pipeline was extremely innovative, breaking the traditional offline, online model and involved Combustion, Flame, Scratch and FCP XML. It was great to have the LaB working with us and being so open to this new vastly more efficient pipeline. It was the first of its kind for an Australian film and frankly we could not have done the film had we not being willing to innovate and the LaB were extremely comfortable in working with us and helping in every way they could.”

Hunt Angels also won several other major local awards

Hunt Angels has already won Best Feature Documentary at the FCAAs and Best Achievement in Sound for a documentary at The Australian Sound Guilds Awards. At the AFIs in addition to the two categories it won, Hunt Angels was also nominated for Best Cinematography in a Documentary Film and Best Direction in a Documentary Film. 2006 also saw the documentary nominated for Best Screenplay in a Documentary Film at the AWGIEs and Best Documentay Film at the ATOM Awards.

We wish to thank the Australian Film Institute for their help in publishing this story