The Making of Gone Girl

Inside the Gone Girl Post Production Workflow

David Fincher’s Gone Girl seems to have created the perfect storm for post production geeks (like me!) who are both excited by the prospect of a great Fincher film as well as a groundbreaking editorial workflow. Gone Girl is the first major Hollywood feature to be edited in Adobe Premiere Pro and conformed in After Effects.

This also means there are plenty of great making of articles, interviews and technical details to be digested. What’s most exciting is hearing that the Adobe team worked so closely with the Gone Girl post team, which hopefully transfers into a better piece of software for everyone.

Kirk Baxter on Editing Gone Girl

Kirk Baxter Gone Girl

In this 30 minute interview editor Kirk Baxter shares his process on working with David Fincher and his particular methodologies, as well as some of the intricacies of cutting particular scenes and moments. If you’re not seen the film yet you might want to wait to watch it first as there’s a fair amount of ‘spoiler’ detail in the interview. But it’s well worth a watch over on Moviola.com.

Post Perspective has a really focused interview with Kirk that covers a lot of the ‘craft’ elements involved in the editing of Gone Girl.

Variety’s Justin Chang says, “Kirk Baxter cuts the picture to within an inch of his life, while still allowing individual scenes and the overall structure to breathe.” What do you think he means by that? 
My interpretation of that quote is that it’s at an unrelenting pace. David and I are always on a constant quest to reduce screen time without reducing content. During that process I sometimes break it, but the nature of editing and the environment that I have with David, it’s not a problem because you just go back in and fix it. You find the sweet spot from the constant back and forth.

FX Guide has a detailed interview with Kirk on his process and the challenging of keeping up the pace whilst maintaining the element of mystery.

fxg: How much coverage was there, how much footage was shot?

Baxter: 500 hours.

fxg: What was your process in working through that and cutting that down?

Baxter: We always go through the long way around – each scene is cut as if it’s the only thing that exists – as if it’s the movie. I’ll be editing as David is filming – I’m usually three or four days behind what he’s doing. There’s a bunch of back and forth with David during this. The hardest part of the assembly is that David’s usually somewhere else and a lot of coverage comes in. It’s not just the volume of takes, it’s finding the road map of how to tell a scene, and where to be, how to move through it and how much we want to present to the audience. It’s mostly the mathematics I have to work out first. Once I have that in place I get to the nuance of what are the best pieces of performance.

Editing Gone Girl on Adobe Premiere Pro CC

Editing Gone Girl in Premiere Pro CCIf you’re after all the technical details of what went into the film’s post production workflow then these resources will have all the answers you need. In terms of hardware this post from Studio Daily will give you the fine grain details – the headline is they cut on HP Z820 workstations.

Gone Girl is the first feature film to use the brand-new Quadro K5200 GPU in its pipeline. Red footage was converted to DPX using a GPU-accelerated system for efficient delivery to VFX. For the creative edit, footage was converted to 2.5K ProRes files, corresponding to a 5K center extraction, and the editors viewed a 1920×1080 timeline. The Quadro-based workflow also supported up to four streams of 6K multi-camera playback with repositioning, stabilization and color-correction happening in real time, Nvidia said, and also allowed real-time downscaling of 6K footage to 4K.

There is also a wealth of technical details on pioneering a 6K workflow, in this post over on Post Perspective, including assistant editor Tyler Nelson’s visual effects workflow.

Nelson explains that they processed offline and online/VFX files concurrently. For offline they transcoded everything to 2304×1152 QuickTime 422LTs, a scaled down version of the 6K (6144×3072) R3D files. For online/VFX they rendered full-frame 6K DPX files. To keep track of this they created a “code book.”

“This is not your standard code book,” Nelson states emphatically. This code book provides all the metadata associated with every clip that goes through that system. And by doing so, says Nelson, “it accelerates everything that we do from offline into online. We can take an offline edit, output an EDL or an XML, ingest it into this code book and it takes all the clips and the metadata associated with them and makes this “online package,” which is rendered out based on specific parameters. In our case, we’ve run everything out as RedColor3, RedLogFilm 10-bit DPX for image sequences.

“Every single VFX shot that was delivered went through our code book and was tracked with it as well. If I needed to deliver a VFX shot to one of our in-house vendors I can literally have it to them in about five minutes.”

gone girl making of

Oliver Peters has a great article on the entire post production workflow over on Creative Planet Network, that is also well worth a read.

“The hardest scenes to cut are the emotional scenes, because David simplifies the shooting. You can’t hide in dynamic motion. More complex scenes are actually easier to cut and certainly quite fun.”

The Adobe Premiere blog has this initial post on how Adobe worked with ‘Team Fincher’ to ensure they could work as smoothly and efficiently as possible, largely utilising the dynamic link between Premiere and After Effects.

Jeff Brue was tasked with designing the storage system that would enable Premiere Pro to work smoothly within a demanding 6K production pipeline.

“Our goal was to get as many iterations as possible of the opticals and visual effects in a given period of time to make the story as strong as we could,” explains Brue. “The ask was for nothing less than perfection, which pushed us to do better. When it came down to it, Adobe Premiere Pro CC was faster than anything else in the market. That speed meant more iterations, more time to work on a shot, and more time to perfect an edit.”

In this short presentation, Jeff Brue talks through the infrastructure needed to handle post production on a 6K feature film. In this article from PVC you can get even more details from Jeff on the productions edit suite and drive set up.

The raw speed of Premiere Pro CC surprised me. We chose the best hardware we could throw at it and it took advantage of every bit of power. We used Premiere Pro to view the 6K DPX files using Fusion IO cards and we were able to playback at more than 2.6 GBPS. We knew we could export the entire reel of the film in 10 to 15 minutes, rather than two to three hours. We ultimately had to build an all SSD array to keep up with Premiere Pro, which led us to invent a new line of products at Open Drives.

In this technically detailed interview with both Jeff Brue and Tyler Nelson you can glean a whole load more fine grain information. Excellent reading. This article also mentions this Case Study from NVIDIA which you can download here.

I see lots of talk about the utilizing of After Effects and Dynamic Link in the process. After Effects isn’t a particularly realtime playback tool so how would you utilize extensive AE work in Premiere Pro? Did Dynamic Linking require a lot of rendering for playback? Did you export self-contained compositions from AE and bring those back into Premiere Pro? What file format and codecs did you use when bringing effected media back into Premiere Pro?

Tyler Nelson: We debayer everything to 10-bit DPX sequences, so we’ve never needed to rewrite from the raw R3D file. When we were using our offline After Effects projects, we would always render out within the timeline of Premiere, and it would hold that render most of the time. We ran into some render holding issues, but most of those have since been resolved by a new feature Adobe has just announced.

Jeff Brue: It’s a feature we specifically requested, which is the After Effects Dynamic Link render and replace, and it’s in 2014.1 that was just released. What it does is it renders in a Quicktime movie that’s static until you decide to manually update it to the latest version of the After Effects comp. Essentially, that ability allows you to create a VFX versioning methodology, which is really quite nice.

Tyler Nelson assistant on Gone Girl

Assistant Editor Tyler Nelson shares some technical details of working with Fincher’s footage in Premiere and the benefits of shooting 6K, in this excellent 4 page article from HD Video Pro which is an absolute must read.

“Fincher really likes to pad his images, and we shot 6K 2:1, with pixel values of 6144×3072, but we were extracting a 2.40:1 center extraction at 5K, which was 5120×2133. Basically, that allotted us enough padding to move the image up and down, left to right, and we used that in our editorial environment. So when we were working with our dailies, we were actually scaling down these 6K plates to a pixel value of 2304×1152 for our edit media, and when we brought these into editorial, mathematically, the 5K extraction was scaled down to 1920×800, which was the size of our record monitor in Premiere. In previous films, we cropped our edit media to the center extraction, so if we wanted to move the image up and down too far, or left to right, we’d have to go back to the original source material, whereas with Premiere, we were able to use this padded image in our timeline, using this 2304×1152 image and moving it around, and not compromising losing any area of the image. So when Kirk is working, he can just slide the image left or right, and have all that real estate available, and that ability had been on our wish list for a long time.”

Shooting gone Girl

There are a couple of details about the colour grade, performed by Ian Vertovec of Light Iron Digital, in this great post from ICG Magazine that is really aimed at anyone interested in the details behind the film’s cinematography.

Light Iron had accommodated Dragon Tattoo’s 4.5K workflow, but in order to deal with the new 6K pipeline they had to soup-up their Quantel Pablo Rios. “Quantel helped with code in order to make this happen,” Vertovec states, “which really facilitated our being able to deliver a 4K end product. We worked in log, straight from the R3Ds to REDlogFILM.” The feature was edited from shard solid-state disks in 2304 × 1152, with a subsequent 1920 × 800 extraction to allow for stabilization and any reframing.

Check out the excellent video from Light Iron Digital on handling 6K media in this recent post. How To Be A DIT – Part 10.

Cioni emphasizes, 6K is nine times 2K and 2.5 times bigger than 4K. The DPX footage is 75MB per frame so a three-second 72-frame shot is going to be over 5GB. When you get over 500 frames, we’re talking 60, 80, 100 gigs for just a few shots.

“If someone said, ‘If you could point out one great thing about Quantel, what would it be?’ I would say, ‘Storage.’ They’re robust 2.5-inch, 9,000 RPM drives that have the low-sync, high-response times. The system also has four Nvidia Tesla K20 graphic cards threaded together on three accessible systems. That’s what gives us 6K playback with 5K extraction with 4K scale with color correction, in realtime, in multiple rooms,” describes Cioni.

For a more detailed read about Light Iron’s work to finish the film with Quantel’s Pablo Rio check out this interview with Light Iron CEO Michael Cioni from Post Perspective. The post also includes some interesting insights on Fincher’s colour grading style from Light Iron colorist, Ian Vertovec.

Fincher is a 15- to 20-layer color correction director. “We’re talking where it comes down to every light bulb in the shot, every window in the shot, foreground, background, multiple people’s faces and then even down to very, very subtle adjustments in certain corners and areas.”

This is way beyond the “power window” says Cioni. “We refer to them qualifiers because they’re not always windows anymore. We’re sampling the color of that jacket, the color of that carpet, the color of that ceiling. We call them qualifiers because we’re qualifying elements of the frame, not just drawing a feathered oval.

A quick aside – How Assistant Tyler Nelson uses After Effects

As a quick aside, these two videos from Adobe give you a good idea of the kind of work Assistant editor Tyler Nelson performed on The Social Network and I presume it’s the same kind of work he performed on Gone Girl.

Gone Girl Split Screen Work

Jason Bowdach posted this similar collection of articles on his site, Cinetic Studios, and included this interesting image showing the level of split screen work in a shot, colour coded for reference. There are more details of the split screen work performed in After Effects in this post over on PVC.

Tyler Nelson Assistant Editor PVC has another interview with Tyler Nelson in this post, which has a couple of extra nuggets in it.

The majority of our video sequences included visual effect, and this Render & Replace feature in Premiere Pro really helped accelerate playback. The ability to have an After Effects project inside the timeline in Premiere Pro also increased the production value of what we had offline. It’s something that you don’t really get with any other non-linear editing system.

Mocha also is jumping on the band-wagon with this post about how Tyler used the bundled Mocha plugin in Adobe’s After Effects CC to perform planar tracking on complex motion tracking shots. Worth a quick read.

The method Tyler developed, which Chad later helped to hone, primarily uses the Adobe After Effects bundled mocha AE CC for planar tracking to pull position data from complex motion shots, which they can use to “smooth out the curves” in After Effects’ graph editor. “This allows us to re-animate every camera move, which gives the camera a stabilized look,” Chad says. “Over the years, Tyler honed the stabilization method, and when I joined the team, we improved the method even more, developing fixes for rotation stabilization and composited stabs. This method has been used on ‘Birdman,’ ‘The Social Network,’ ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Gone Girl.’”

In the video above (which you can watch on Vimeo) you can check out the visual effects breakdown reel from Artemplehollywood.com, who created some of the ‘invisible’ effects on Gone Girl. This includes things like set extensions, green screen replacement and more. A swift and insightful 2 minute watch.

Gone Girl Script to Screen Comparison

In this seven minute episode of Lessons from the Screenplay you can learn some great insights into just how well written the script is, and some of the visual results of that work.

Tweets from Gone Girl Post Production Panel

Editor Monica Daniel (@monica_edits) shared some great details of a post-production panel event hosted by Adobe, featuring the entire Gone Girl post team.

(In this last tweet Monica meant to say 6K 10-bit DPX sequences.)

More Tweets From Tyler Nelson Post Talk

Jason Bowdach from Cinetic Studios helpfully tweeted this great info from a recent Los Angeles Post meet featuring Assistant Editor Tyler Nelson.

A Feast For Fincher Fans

If you’re after even more David Fincher filmmaking insights then check out this recent post over on PremiumBeat, along with these other previous posts listed below.

A Filmmaking Masterclass With David Fincher

Colour Grading a Fincher Film

The Best DVD Extras For Film Editors (including Se7en and The Social Network)

Grading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Editing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Post One | Post Two

Creating The David Fincher ‘Dark Look’

Director David Fincher recently shared plenty of anecdotes on his cinematic craft and career in this 24 minute BAFTA interview – A Life In Pictures. Watch the full interview on the link or check out a 50% cut down highlights above.

3 Comments

Leave a Comment