Sapphire Plug-ins Provide Big Help on ''Little Manhattan''
: Autodesk Combustion
: Alan Edward Bell
: Sapphire Plug-ins Provide Big Help on ''Little Manhattan''
When you're ten years old, living in New York, and in love for the first time, the signs of your beloved seem like they're
everywhere. You think you see her face in every store window, billboard, and movie-house marquee you pass. At least, that's the experience of Gabe, the principal character in 20th Century Fox
and New Regency Pictures' romantic comedy, "Little Manhattan." Starring Josh Hutcherson as Gabe, and featuring Charlie Ray, Cynthia Nixon, and Bradley Whitford, the film opened in New York in
September, with wider distribution later in 2005.
The task of creating Gabe's experience fell in part to editor Alan Edward Bell, who also handled the majority of visual effects on the film. One tool he came back to again and again was
GenArts' Sapphire Plug-ins -- both during the editing stage to create effects within Final Cut Pro, and during the finishing stage to finalize the effects at film resolution within Autodesk
"This isn't a big
visual effects picture, but there were many cases where I used Sapphire Plug-ins to save time and achieve a realistic result as opposed to creating effects that would stand out on their own,"
Bell explained. "Like most people probably do, I got them initially to solve a particular problem. I needed a quick way to generate a very high-quality, natural-looking de-focus effect." He
downloaded the trial version of Sapphire, "threw on an effect to see how it would work," and after noting the quality and depth of the de-focus tool, purchased licenses for both his Mac-based
editing system and Windows-based compositor.
The scene that prompted Bell to enlist Sapphire is a turning point in the film. In it, leading boy Gabe imagines visuals of his beloved are everywhere he looks in Manhattan. The filmmakers
had shot one part of the scene on Broadway, with Gabe in the foreground and the famous Beacon Theater in the background, thinking they would spell out a message about Rosemary, the object of
Gabe's affection, on the marquee. When the theater wouldn't allow them to change the signage, they composited in what they wanted during post production. Bell explained, "The shot rack
focused from the kid's face to the sign, then back to the kid's face. The issue was that when we shot the clean plate with just the sign, it was shot sharp. We couldn't just rotoscope and
replace the sign – the defocus would have looked fake. When a real shot goes out of focus, things don't just blur – the highlights bloom and dark elements blend and squeeze down. The Sapphire
RackDefocus plug-in was perfect. It did more than just apply a blur and made it amazingly easy for me to match."
He noted, "That plug-in alone was worth the cost of the whole bundle to me. It saved me hours that I would have spent creating a complex matte from scratch. The fact that it integrated right
into the Final Cut and combustion UI made it extremely fast and easy to use."
Another corrective fix that Sapphire simplified for Bell was in removing the interlaced look of NTSC footage that had been composited over shots of a clean TV screen. "The Sapphire
de-interlacer plug-in, FieldRemove, looked fantastic. I could have worked with the standard interlace effects in either Final Cut Pro or combustion, but it would have taken me hours to get to
the quality of the Sapphire effect."
While Bell had brought Sapphire into play initially for corrective use, he also applied it as a creative tool, using the BlurMotion effect to complete the look of a unique ‘postcard' approach
he had developed. "There was one scene where Gabe was describing the 9-block radius where he's allowed to roam. It was just done in voiceover, and we had to find an interesting way to show
it. We had a map and red line showing the area, but it wasn't enough. We came up with the idea of showing postcard vignettes of each of the key places. I went out one morning with a digital
still camera and took pictures of each place, and got the idea of doing a stop-motion-like thing where we'd zoom from one place to the next. We took a picture, zoomed 25 feet, took the next,
zoomed 25 more feet, around to all four places, and compiled the whole thing in Final Cut Pro. As the image turned each corner and we got closer to each place, we wanted to create a blurry
tunnel-vision feel, and we judiciously added Sapphire's motion radial blur, BlurMotion, to help blend the shots together and generate a greater sense of speed. I roughed it out in Final Cut
Pro, and used the same plug-in to re-master at film resolution in combustion. When I showed the director, he was completely wowed."
Bell also used Sapphire BlurMotion to create a ‘snap-zoom' look. "Some of the shots you see that zoom in from a wide angle to an extreme close-up weren't actually shot. We had the wide shot,
and we had the close-up. We manufactured the zooms using Sapphire's BlurMotion. I just took the wide shot, blew it up to match the size of the close-up, reversed it, and added an extreme
amount of blur on top so that it would appear we were zooming in super fast to a clean close-up."
For his work on "Little Manhattan," Alan Bell didn't come close to using all of the package's 175+ image-enhancing effects. "I probably just used about five of them," he said, "And I probably
could have rolled my own and eventually gotten what I needed. But the time it would have taken wasn't worth it – especially when you have an effect that works exactly the way you want it
He added, "As a freelance editor, I now have a great package that I can use on other projects. Sapphire is great! It has the whole gamut – the standard stuff that you need and take for
granted, and the really creative stuff that you can use if you want to do something crazy."
Click here for more information about GenArts and Sapphire Plug-Ins .
Click here to watch "Little
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