David Gaddie is director of Beautiful Dreamer, a new short film which spans generations. The film just made it’s West Coast premiere at the Dances With Films Festival in Hollywood, on June 5. Gaddie has been known for some years as a high end director of major television commercials and branded content for scores of clients including Coca Cola, Sony, General Motors, Audi, Toyota and Heineken. In that time he has garnered a raft of prizes that include gold and silver Cannes Lions.
Gaddie, formerly of Sydney, founded the film production company The Colony in New York and The Shanghai Job in Shanghai, China. He is also the founder of visual effects studio Afterparty which started as a visual effects solution for TVC work but has grown as he explained to fxguide when we spoke as part of Beautiful Dreamer’s festival run.The film charts the course of a dying mother as she travels at near-light speed, bending time to watch her baby daughter grow up.
fxg: Can you discuss the location of principal photography and what format you choose to shoot on please? How big was the crew?
The Film was shot around New York City in winter- the opening scenes look towards Manhattan and the George Washington Bridge from the Palisades in New Jersey, the park scene was shot in Long Island City and the Ice Skating at the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District. We knew we really wanted an icy wintery feel so we worked really hard to put the shoot together quickly to make the last snow.
We shoot on the RED Dragon in 6K, but finished in 2k. The film was shot very quickly and with a small crew. Almost all the light was available, so we really took advantage of the latitude of the camera to see into the shadows and hold highlight detail. The most impressive scene for this approach was the nursing home scene which was shot with almost no fill light, against windows looking out towards a blizzard. We managed to hold all the highlight detail and keep the faces looking beautiful. To make the small crew approach work – I decided to avoid camera moves, and give the film a very formal feel with long static shots. When the camera moves you really feel it and it has meaning because it happens so rarely.
fxg: Did you set this company up for TVC work and feature projects? You clearly have a great body of award winning TVC work. But is Afterparty vfx currently doing commercials work or is it a general service company aimed at doing vfx for film and tv in addition to commercial work?
I initially set up Afterparty VFX to be able to handle post production on commercials that we were producing through my production company The Colony. Gradually, we started doing more film visual effects work and have now made that a key part of the business. Right now the company does film, television and TVC visual effects, and TVC finishing.
fxg: The story is beautifully told, with technology key but very much in the background. Could you discuss this relationship between the humanity of the story and the role of technology, and how that manifested itself on screen?
My primary goal was to tell a human story that would move people, so I knew that the world had to feel very real and familiar. This couldn’t be a comic book future. At the same time, I knew that the world had to be richly detailed with future technology to convince the audience that we were in the future, and that future had to evolve over the 80 years of the film.
As we started exploring near future technologies, we found things that we thought sounded very cool – and that would definitely be great to have – and other technologies that we decided would drive us crazy – like drones. We used that idea to help the technology reflect the state of mind of the characters.
When we first go outside with the family – I wanted future New York to be exciting, so I imagined buildings covered in greenery as a response to peoples concerns about global warming. I unified the advertising on all the billboards in Times Square, imagining that one big Google like corporation was controlling it. That made everything feel very sleek and impressive. That scene finishes with a ride home in a driverless car, which I think sounds like a great car – but in the film feels very ominous because there is a sense that the characters are taken on a journey that they can’t really control.
The technology was fun – but it was also always as subtle as it could possible be – and it always connected to the characters state of mind. Part of that was also budgetary. I knew that the cheapest way to create a future, would be to have cool looking screens everywhere with nice animation. For the same reason, I avoided cars when I was shooting. I imagined that a responsible future might eliminate cars, so I designed the personal rail system you see in the park system. In my mind, the train which runs on a magnetic track, allows individual pods to change tracks automatically to go to wherever the occupant wants to go.
fxg: What was the pipeline for the vfx and who were your lead artists?
We used Resolve as our conform tool.. All shots that had visual effects were composited in NUKE. The space ship interior, the driverless car and tunnel, the drones, the rail system and the robot were all built in Maya, textured in Mari and rendered in VRay. Elias Saliba was the CG lead and Nick Crist was 2D lead. Jordan Lister (who you will know as Simon Lister of Nylon Studios son) – was colorist and handled conform. He also designed all the user interfaces and the transition sequences. Matte paintings were by Sue Jang.
fxg: Is this a story you would like to take to being a feature or is it just a short film as part of your overall creative output?
I made the film because I would like to make a feature in the spirit of this film. If you asked me this question six months ago, I would have said that Beautiful Dreamer is complete and I look forward to a new project. With time, however I can certainly see that there is the opportunity to develop Beautiful Dreamer as a feature or series, and I am exploring that possibility. Right now I am writing another science fiction film project.
The script didn’t have much in the way of technology discussion. We knew Mom went off into space and came home from time to time. We wrote about the space elevator because it felt like a powerful image. All the rest of the technology was designed as we started to design the film and plan shots, and kept on evolving through post. We scoured the internet for new technology ideas and came up with scrapbooks full of ideas. Everything had a story.
I figured that if drones were going to start delivering packages for Amazon, they would need to be safer than they are now. That led me to the idea that the drones would need to be propellor-less and so I came up with an idea for an air blade like on the Dyson fan. The production designer had the idea for the mirror because he had seen a prototype at a home show.
I knew that everything we see should be very familiar, but it should have a sense of being evolved from where we are now. That is how I got onto the holo-photos which I thought should would be a cool idea, and we have various possible technologies to make them possible. In edit, I really thought that the scene needed more magic – so I had the idea that the photos automatically switch on as you get close to them. That gave the wall a really nice sense of movement and magic.
fxg: You edited the project yourself from material you both wrote and directed. Do you like the continuity of that process, or do you sometimes feel the need to bring in ‘fresh eyes’?
I definitely like the idea of fresh eyes. On this project however, I really benefitted from cutting myself to give me the time to really figure things out in the edit. I spent several months cutting – which I think would have been a big ask of an editor when I didn’t have budget to pay them.
fxg: I see some Australians in the credits such as noted Australian editor Danny Tait. Was the production split between countries?
Shooting and visual post was all done in New York, however Danny Tait had planned to edit for me in Australia. In the end due to scheduling conflicts, Danny ended up being more of an editing mentor as I cut. We sent cuts back and forth and gave me notes, or tried things and sent me back new sequences. Nylon Studios in Sydney did all the music and sound design. Simon Lister was lead sound designer and Mark Beckhaus was music producer.
Post-Production Producer: Ryan Cunningham
Senior Visual Effects Supervisor: David Gaddie
Visual Effects Supervisor: Nickolas Crist
Lead CG artist: Elias Saliba
CG Artists: Wenwen Hou, Zac Saltzman, Kintan Chauhan, Kevin Lu
Matte Painter: Sue Jang
Digital Compositors: Patrick O’Keeffe, Joshua Boliver, Phil Massimino
Motion Graphics Jordan Lister, Joshua Howard
Creative Director/DI Colorist: Jordan Lister