Images courtesy of Imaginary Forces

6 Pro Flame Tips: "Stranger Things" Title

Prepared by Eric Mason of Imaginary Forces

Imaginary Forces had one day in Flame to perform finishing on Stranger Things’ main title sequence and episode titles. Flame's workflow, architecture, and speed enabled us to create fast, modular solutions that helped us get our deliverables out on time.

– Eric Mason, Imaginary Forces

The show creators and Imaginary Forces’ creative director, Michelle Dougherty, developed a specific heavy grain/flicker look where the blacks were lifted and contaminated, referencing older optical titles for film. Aside from the main title, every episode has its own mortised title where the camera flies through red text on black and into the scene. The directors naturally wanted continuity between the blacks in both titles, enabling them to flow seamlessly together.

Since I already had mattes for the episode titles, I had Lead Animator, Eric Demeusy, render me an ample amount of "treated black" from the main title sequence. I used this with my mattes to create the individual episode titles quickly and procedurally in Batch instead of having each episode title rendered out of After Effects at UHD. Nothing groundbreaking, but since Eric was already on another project, this saved us a good chunk of time and I was able to QC the deliverables as I went.

Also, simply being able to cache the entire main title sequence and QC it on a large screen is a big help most of us take for granted, as most animators are on workstations with smaller monitors. Flame's stability in playing/scrubbing through the sequence at UHD on a large calibrated monitor allowed us to hone in on animation segments that revealed subtle areas we wanted to adjust and refine. We were also able to preview looks quickly in Flame. To Eric's credit, I didn't have to do much; he did a fantastic job.

Here are a few things I typically do to keep UHD/4K jobs moving quickly. Hopefully, you'll find some of these useful:

1/ Work in Proxy for UHD, 4K, and heavy setups

Being able to toggle proxies on is a huge timesaver when my Batches start getting complex. The added interactivity can mean getting in several more passes at finessing before rendering Full-Res. I also make sure to spot-check and toggle back to Full-Res to make sure everything still looks the way we intend so there are no surprises.

2/ Pre-Render or Cache sections of a complex Batch that are *unlikely* to change

I personally like to pre-render sections of really heavy setups and leave the render-nodes wired and disabled for a breadcrumb trail. Caching out a heavy section of a Batch allows me to focus on refining/iterating other aspects of a shot without being penalized with overly long render times.

3/ Leveraging Flame's architecture to temporarily bypass sections for interactivity

Flame's node-based workflow makes it simple to bypass processor-intensive segments so you can achieve better interactivity while attacking other problems. Whether you're hiding layers of complex geometry and projections/textures/particles in Action, or bypassing complex setups in a Batch to gain better interactivity for a removal, Flame's flexibility allows you to focus on the task at hand as quickly and efficiently as possible and put it all back together when you're ready to render.

4/ Make sure media is cached locally

If network traffic is heavy and you're not on a dedicated NAS, make sure media is cached locally to your framestore. Sometimes, I've found random soft-linked footage (or footage that never finished caching due to a crash, etc.) can be the culprit of a slow setup.

Using GPU-accelerated plugins wherever possible

GPU acceleration is our pixel-crunching friend! Matchbox, Lightbox, and the LOGIK community have enabled a set of plugins I've now found indispensable. What you can accomplish if you don't have access to third party Sparks is impressive, and makes the software incredibly robust on its own. In addition, the Flame community is a resource second to none.

6/ The fewer moves to checkmate, the better

You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: Keep it as simple and clean as possible. This will make life easier for you when revisiting setups and also, whoever inherits your project will thank you.

Eric Mason
is a Freelance Flame Artist / VFX Supervisor based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked with Imaginary Forces for over 11 years and has had the privilege of working with them to create Title sequences for Film/TV/Streaming, CG/Live-Action Commercials, TV/Gaming Promos, Theatrical Studio Logos, and Feature Marketing projects.

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