Dumb Money: Clever Effects

 

While Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve gets an enormous amount of attention, and rightly so, but BlackMagic’s Fusion software also continues to expand its use and supporters. VFX Supervisor Sam O’Hare recently used Fusion Studio visual effects for Black Bear Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ Dumb Money. Fusion Studio’s speed and scripting abilities allowed O’Hare to quickly handle the numerous screen close-ups required for the online trading-driven ‘Samson and Goliath’ comedy.

 

Dumb Money is based on the insane true story of everyday people who flipped the script on Wall Street and got rich by turning GameStop (the mall video game store) into the world’s hottest share on the stock exchange. In the middle of everything is regular guy Keith Gill, played by Paul Dano( Little Miss Sunshine, The Batman, The Fabelmans), who starts the extraordinary story by sinking his life savings into the stock and posting online about it. When his social posts start blowing up, so does his life and the lives of everyone following him. As a stock tip becomes a movement, everyone gets rich, until the billionaires fight back, and both sides find their worlds turned upside down.

The film pivots when Paul’s internet blog causes the prices of a stock to shoot up. As Wall Street traders had anticipated that the price of Gamestock would decrease in the future, they had shorted it. This involves ‘borrowing’ shares of a stock and selling them at the current market price, with the intention of buying them back later at a lower price. As the film shows, having the stock rise dramatically exposed the Wall Street investors to astronomical losses.

Pete Davidson and Paul Dano in DUMB MONEY.

Dumb Money also stars Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley and Seth Rogen. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film is written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo and is based on the book “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich.

O’Hare, a New York City based VFX Supervisor, led the team that delivered more than 500 shots for the movie. “I’ve been using Fusion for years. It’s still my go-to when I need to execute compositing quickly and efficiently. For Dumb Money I had four VFX vendors, but due to logistics and budget constraints, it made sense for me to handle some of the shots myself, for which I turned to Fusion,” said O’Hare.

With online trading and news playing a large role in the film’s plot, O’Hare used Fusion Studio for a significant number of screen closeups and treatments. “Screens play a big part in the film, and we had a variety of shots that were extreme closeups on graphics,” he explained. “In Fusion, I built a look for the closeup shots of the screens using reference photography of screen LEDs as a base and concatenated transforms to downres and pixelate the provided graphics and footage. These were combined using various blend modes and color corrects and finished off with vignettes, defocus and grain.”

 

“Since I was executing a lot of shots and needed to keep my naming conventions straight, I wrote various Python scripts for Fusion to give me a basic pipeline. These ensured my OpenColorIO pipeline was accurate, my files and outputs were always named correctly, and my frame range was always set, as well as built slates and burn-ins that automatically updated per shot,” he said.

Nick Offerman and Seth Rogan

Additionally, O’Hare used DaVinci Resolve Studio editing, color grading, VFX, and audio post-production software to help manage the various VFX shots across the film’s four vendors, further relying on its and Fusion Studio’s scripting abilities. “I also used Python scripting to speed up my use of Resolve, which I turned to when reviewing shots because I needed to sync up the color between the LogC4 plates, Linear EXRs and Rec.709 editorial references. Using an exported list of shots, my script would make a Resolve sequence with all those elements added, color-coded, and the QuickTimes trimmed to length. A second script used DaVinci Resolve’s Fusion page and Resolve’s native nodes to automatically add the correct gamut and OpenColorIO color transform for each EXR sequence. This meant I could easily check shot length, transform, and color, and look at cleanup and keying work against the plate with a click of a button, as well as play everything back in real-time at 4K,” he added.

O’Hare continued, “Since I also wanted to check the differences between versions, I wrote a third script that would automatically search for other versions of EXR sequences or QuickTimes in the folder and move to the next or previous one with a keystroke. All of this allowed me to eliminate a lot of busy work and focus on the imagery. Setting up a hundred shots for review was as simple as doing one. Lastly, I used Resolve to output sequences for approval by the director.”

While most of O’Hare’s work on the film is invisible, he finds that to be the biggest praise. “It’s all intended to be invisible VFX, so when the audience doesn’t realize it’s there, that’s the biggest compliment. All in all, we had more than 500 VFX shots in the movie, including bluescreen car sequences, a whole load of screens, environment replacement for dozens of trees with CG to turn autumn into winter, and adding actors into scenes for which they couldn’t be scheduled and had to be shot separately,” he explained.

“The main things I return to Resolve and Fusion for are their ease of use and speed. I can often accomplish something in a matter of minutes that would take a lot longer in other software. I’m also confident in their color management which is vital for a VFX pipeline,” concluded O’Hare. “Without using Fusion and Resolve, we wouldn’t have been able to execute all the work that needed to happen within the schedule and budget, simple as that. By relying on those tools, I was able to respond in a timely manner to vendors, execute shots, keep producers and the director up to speed, and not have to work crazy hours to make it all happen.”