fxpodcast #310: Proof’s Ron Frankel + Beyond Trek’s Previs

This week we speak to Proof Inc. founder and President Ron Frankel at his offices in LA. (This was recorded just prior to Siggraph 2016).

Ron Frankel has been pivotal in the adoption and advancement of previs internationally. Frankel is a remarkable film maker, incredibly nice guy and someone who has many sides, as you can hear in this week’s podcast. In our fxpodcast Ron talks with Mike Seymour about Previs, the nature of the work moving forward and Ron’s own background in Architecture – something he still lectures in, even today.

In addition to the podcast, Ron spoke to us about Proof’s work on Star Trek Beyond.

Proof first got involved in the latest Star Trek when Ron Frankel got a phone call from Alex Vegh (2nd unit director) in the Christmas of 2014. The director of the Star Trek Beyond film, Justin Lin, had first worked with Frankel on Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift. This was the first Fast and Furious film that Proof had done and at the time, Alex Vegh worked for Proof. “Alex is a really big gear head and got on really well with Justin” commented Frankel. The team of Proof, Justin Lin and Alex Vegh went on to do many Fast & Furious films: F&F 3,4 5, and 6. After 6, Alex Vegh joined Justin Lin’s production company doing previs supervision and concept work, and in the case of Trek, also second unit directing. Vegh looked to Proof to provide the rest of the pre-viz unit for Star Trek Beyond. As Vegh was split between previs and second unit directing, Proof added an additional in house previs supervisor reporting to Vegh, as someone who could cover for him when his 2nd Unit duties meant he would otherwise be stretched too thin.



Proof did both big story development such as the swarm scene above, as well as more technical previs. “There was a lot of figuring out the nature of the swarm, the pacing of the sequence – what the big action beats were along the way, and discovering what to do with the swarm… we were like… OK now we have a swarm, what do we do with it?” laughingly recalls Frankel.

The company does both narrative exploration and very precise technical previs. Listen Ron in the podcast for more info on the development of Previs overall.

Proof and the team started doing work on the show in Jan 2015 and delivered their last shot just 2 weeks before Siggraph in August. Not that Proof has much time off, as when we visited their LA offices they were already deep into their work for the next Fast And Furious 8 film, the first trailer of which is due in December, with Fast 8 is set to hit theaters April 14, 2017. The film will be directed by F. Gary Gray.

From the instagram feed of Gary Grey
From the instagram feed of Gary Grey

For Star Trek Beyond the team did both previs and post-vis. Initially the team was located on the Paramount lot, and then a small team that followed the production to Vancouver, while the rest of the team stayed in the Proof LA office. When the film came back from principal photography, it moved to an editorial office in South Pasadena. Proof moved a team over to join them for post-viz and actually some of that team remained on until the end of the film doing actual comps and fix ups as ‘Production in house effects’. The primarily visual effects were done by Double Negative and Atomic Fiction (See our story here).

Proof’s production pipeline approach is to render in Maya directly, as flexibility is key. The team need to be able to iterate very quickly, – after all Previs is the time to experiment and try new ideas, without a financial penalty. Proof provides a very director friendly environment for that exploration so that things can be tried out. This also allows a director on set to be much freer to focus on the actors and their performances, knowing the structure is in place. Previs also helps the actors contextualise their performances as they can better understand what is happening around their specific shots and visually get an idea of what will be in place of that ‘giant blue screen or empty section of set’.



Final shot

The remarkable thing about Ron Frankel’s team of artists is just how many disciplines they need to master. While there is, of course, mastery of the tools to get the most out of Maya, there is also a need to speak the ‘correct’ cinematic language of that particular director and DOP.  Do they like fast cuts? Do they like to be close in on a wide lens or out wide on a long lens? Do they keep the camera still or like to constantly move it? It is no wonder then when a great action director like Justin Lin finds a team that can solve the complexity of scene in a style that is his the directors, that he keeps working with them time after time. Previs, while incredibly technical, is also one of the great ‘people’ roles in modern visual effects. Proof has mastered not only understanding how to make a complex scene understandable to an audience but how to connect with the director and interpret their rough cinematic ideas into precise fast cutting complex action sequences and dramatic cinematography.

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