Images courtesy of Significant Others

Serious emotional impact: Flame in "Moonlight"

Sometimes it’s the effects that you can’t see that can make all the difference when it comes to sustaining emotion in the
narrative.

Visual effects and motion graphics producer, Alek Rost from New York’s Significant Others reveals how Flame helped heighten the emotional impact of the Oscar-winning film, Moonlight.


Juan (Mahershala Ali) in a still from Moonlight

 

STAYING FOCUSED

For Moonlight, there were a variety of invisible effects required to maintain the emotional
continuity throughout the film. We had to work to minimize the visual distractions that occurred during the shoot, to ensure the audience attention was locked on the characters.

The film opens with a street transaction or drug deal involving a long tracking move during which the camera accidentally shifted focus off the main character Chiron. We had to find a way to bring him back into focus, and we could do that with Flame. It had to feel hand-held and natural; they didn't want anything to be taken away from the shot because the scene informs who the character is and who he will become.

We used a combination of sharpening, graining, de-graining and removing noise. Adding the grain of the camera and particulars of that shot back into the footage, while keeping in mind the overall aesthetic that the director was going for, we made it seem as if the focus was maintained throughout the shot.

 

"The ocean plays a very symbolic role in Moonlight...we needed to find a way to composite it into the shot."


Still from Moonlight

 

MAKING WAVES

The ocean plays a very symbolic role in Moonlight because it’s where Chiron has an emotional revelation and begins to accept his sexual identity. It almost becomes another character in the story, and it helps bring everything full circle. Closer to the end of the film, Chiron is looking across a parking lot towards the beach, and he is supposed to see the ocean. The ocean wasn't visible at that point, so we needed to find a way to composite it into the shot.

Set at night, it’s a very dark shot, and we had to make it look like there was some oceanic life off in the distance, mostly through the use of waves and little movements on the water. We accomplished this effect quickly and seamlessly using Flame. It also made going back and forth with the colorists easier. We had to make sure that we were hitting all the marks for him to correct the color and add as much detail as possible for the final master grade.

We were involved with Moonlight on and off, for about two weeks. Flame is perfect for this sort of work. We can output our shots, put them in a posting, have the director review, and as he's giving us notes we can look at everything in real time; whether it's play back, individual effects or just small adjustments.

 

"Working on features is nice because they usually have a deeper message, something that people can relate to."

 

SWITCHING PATHS

Significant Others started working on features back in 2013 with the film, Hit by David Cross. I was originally trained to become a visual effects artist on Flame but after about eight months, my mentor asked me to switch to producing. Fortunately, I acquired enough rudimentary knowledge of Flame during my effects training that it helped me better understand how it could be integrated into a production workflow or in the pipeline. Before features, we mostly did commercial work, which is good because it keeps doors open and you also come across a lot of the invisible clean-up work that we ended up doing on Moonlight. Working on features is nice because they usually have a deeper message, something that people can relate to. They’re not about selling a product or convincing someone to go out and buy something. 

 

 

"...what I enjoyed was...being deeply rooted in a bigger story...[it] was a story we wanted to help tell."

 

A MEANINGFUL MESSAGE

From a visual effects standpoint, this project entailed relatively standard work but what I enjoyed was having a higher purpose, being deeply rooted in a bigger story. It’s more meaningful to affect people emotionally through storytelling as opposed to affecting their minds and emotions to buy something. So, while Moonlight didn’t extend our abilities, this was a story we wanted to help tell. It was important to us because we could see how enthusiastic Barry and his whole team were about the project and its message. 



THAT OSCAR BLUNDER

I was watching at that moment when they said, "Wait, hold on, we made a mistake, it's Moonlight." It was a pivotal moment. We all felt like the stars had aligned and it was a very well deserved win for Barry and his team. We were all talking about it for days.

 

Guy with dreads (right) and Juan (left) in a still from Moonlight


MOVING FORWARD WITH FLAME

We appreciate a lot about Flame – it opens up other avenues, whether it's contracting freelancers or more independent people who want to work remotely – but what we appreciate most is how Autodesk, as a company, is very good at staying up-to-date with technology. On a regular basis, we're seeing new pieces of content, new media formats and new creative challenges that involve us using mixed media; whether it's frame rates, resolutions, cameras, or the ways that things were shot. The accessibility that Flame offers for these different types of formats and the ability to integrate them all is helpful and probably the most efficient for a client viewing experience.

There are other pieces of software that we use such as Nuke or After Effects and those are great tools, but we found that they are work best supporting our Flame workflow, rather than as primary tools.

 


Thank you to Alek Rost and Significant Others for sharing your Flame story with us.

Learn more on Significant Others' work on the Academy Award-winning, "Moonlight."

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