In this episode of Art of the Frame we interview the VFX leads behind the new Marvel Blockbuster, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. In addition to the embedded link to the podcast, we have a full transcription of the interview, for those of you who prefer the written word.
About the guests
Jeff Baumann is the show’s visual effects supervisor and was also second unit director for the Underwater Unit. Jeff has a VFX career spanning over 20 years and has a long history with the Marvel Universe working as a supervisor on Black Widow, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the original Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man III, and the original Avengers movie.
Joining Jeff is Michael Ralla, also a visual effects supervisor on the show. Michael has a storied visual effects career, working as a supervisor on the award-winning 2021 Joel Cohen adaptation, the Tragedy of Macbeth, the acclaimed 2018 film, Christopher Robin, as well as many other high profile features, music videos, and commercials.
Damian Allen: Welcome guys. We are talking about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, obviously a huge show—and the box office and critics agree. You could say, “Hey, it’s Marvel, it’s going to do well anyway,” but we’re in the post COVID theater-going era where attendance is unpredictable. People are not necessarily going to risk showing up to a movie theater these days. And also, I would say the other thing about this particular film that made it difficult was actually handling Chadwick Boseman’s passing in the storyline.
That could have gone very wrong, but by most accounts was handled extremely well. Frankly it also gave a lot of powerful female African American actors a chance to somewhat address the overrepresentation of white male superheroes. So, I think incredible success just from all of the obstacles that came with this one…
But we are here to talk about the visual effects. It used to be, back in the day, we would talk about how many hundred effects shots there were in a movie. But in a film like this, it’s almost like how many weren’t VFX, right?
Geoff Baumann: Yeah, I think we touched… About 90% of the film shots were visual effects. Now, obviously those are to varying degrees from cleanup to all CG. So, we touched 90% of it, and that was right around 2,350-ish shots.
Damian Allen: I mean, that’s an insane amount and the run time—2 hours, 47 or something like that, I think? To keep the majority of critics positive for a film that long is a testament in itself.
Geoff Baumann: I think you touched on a number of the things in your intro there with regards to the challenges that we had to overcome, and I couldn’t agree more with how successful Ryan was at doing it. It was a delicate balance, I think overall of appealing to all of the crowds out there that wanted different things from this film. The superhero fans, they want the action, yet we need to deal with Chadwick’s passing and T’Challa’s passing and how do you do that respectfully and emotionally, and I think Ryan did a phenomenal job.
Damian Allen: So let’s start out by talking about approach. I’m always curious in terms of the division between in-camera effects work and post production CG effects work. So when this one got going, obviously certain directors lean very much into CG, others just say “No, we gotta build everything we can.”
What was the balance here?
Geoff Baumann: I think Ryan on this one wanted to try to build and shoot as much as he could practically. So that was kind of a mandate I appreciated as well. Because I feel now there is sometimes a tendency to lean a little bit more towards CG and visual effects. From the standpoint of, it’s easier on the shoot day just to kick the can a little bit.
And I think, now I find myself kind of fighting to convince people that it can be done in-camera. Rather than when I started my career, it was “No, we can do that in CG. That could be something we could do.” Whereas now, shooting something practically…sometimes it’s a bigger challenge to get the whole team moving in that direction.
So something Ryan really wanted to do—even for the underwater sequences as well—was to shoot it wet for wet. And that’s where I think the collaboration between all of the departments really came into effect was trying to determine, what was achievable. In the timeframe that we had.
Because that was another factor in this: our schedule was pushed due to Chad’s unfortunate passing. Our release date was still there. And so the post time got shorter and shorter. As did the prep. So it was kind of, we were getting squeezed somewhat from both ends. So we needed to be efficient with all of the departments to make sure that their energy was being put into the right areas.
So, from a special effect standpoint, a lot of these gags that Dan Sudick and his team had to come up with aren’t things that you can come up with overnight. So he and I would often kind of brainstorm together to see what they could achieve. And then he could pitch something to Ryan that I was already aware of and vice versa, so that we knew something that we were pitching was achievable.
And I think that process kind of rippled across multiple departments, through props. Our prop master Drew Petrotta was always communicative with us after his meetings with Ryan about things that he saw coming down. And the same for us: where we would flag things that were a concern to us and see if Drew could practically help us out with a prop.
And that went to stunts and everything as well. But I think that the main kind of relationship, or the cornerstone I should say, of that relationship was probably visual effects. And Autumn, our DP. Because that image that she created, or vision or style, that “vibe” as she likes to say, is what we needed to gravitate towards.
And embrace it and try to find ways that our CG… for the heavier CG shots, still had that same sense or feel of an in-camera shot that she would do. So there was a seamlessness to the overall picture.
Damian Allen: I guess a testimony to the film is that it was hard for me to figure out where the practical sets left off on some of this. Let’s talk about downtown Wakanda. How much of that was practical and how much—obviously the backgrounds were extensions—but how much of that did you build?
Geoff Baumann: There were exteriors, what we call Big Blue and Baby Blue in a location in Atlanta. There were big container yards and we built probably about a city block for the flood sequence of the Golden City there. And then a little area on the edge of a river—“Rivertown” we called it.
So those were two pretty significant builds. Although once you put the water and the set dressing, they end up being much smaller. They all look a lot bigger on paper. And then once we get into that, you realize that a lot more CG that’s needed.
Damian Allen: Did you build a tank?
Geoff Baumann: We did. So both of those sets had a four foot retaining wall that was surrounding them. And then there were dump tanks in each of those. And the larger one, the little Rivertown one actually then had a 10 foot basin dug into the ground there, so that we had a little more depth. And that’s where we did do some of the underwater work for the mining mission, which was the first sequence in the film with the two divers that go underwater.
Damian Allen: Were there any scaled models or was most of the water stuff just at scale with the actors?
Geoff Baumann: We did scaled models just for development and research and reference. So Dan Sudick built for both of those sets third scale models that we evaluated kind of the flow of it. But then we also did shoot a miniature for the window where the hydro bombs hit when Ramonda is standing at the glass.
So that was shot practically on set in a real scale. And then we did shoot a one third scale miniature window of the same getting hit with water for the glass breaking. So we really tried to touch as many different methodologies or disciplines in this. There were miniatures, dry-for-wet, wet-for-wet, CG characters—pretty much the gamut, both on the CG side and special effects side.
Damian Allen: Explain to people what “dry-for-wet” means if they don’t know.
Geoff Baumann: No worries. So yeah, there’s primarily, I guess, two approaches to shooting something that is supposed to give the illusion of being underwater. And the dry-for-wet approach is shooting something on dry land, where we then visually try to change the image or manipulate frame rates—that kind of thing—to make it look like it is underwater.
And then the other approach would actually be going into a tank and then shooting it wet-for-wet, in the water. And there are great benefits to that, but there are also hurdles to overcome. So our approach was to shoot wet-for-wet first because for me, I think there’s a lot of verbiage and dialogue that can get lost in conversation with regards to what “underwater” means. It’s a part of the earth that nobody’s completely explored, in those areas that are unknown. And also perceptions of what visibility is underwater and how color is absorbed.
And so in a lot of that we went through an educational process—both with all of the filmmakers and ourselves—to make sure we were referring to things in the same way. You know, so turbidity: what is turbidity? So that when that came up, we knew what that meant or similarly depth hazing, where we had back scatter of particles in the water.
And so early on was just establishing a little bit of verbiage for us all. So that Ryan could give us notes, Autumn could give us notes, and then also ourselves educating us—myself, Michael—and then Ryan and everyone else as far as what happens to color and how it’s absorbed underwater.
And that color still exists. It doesn’t disappear. It’s just that it’s absorbed by the water. And it has to do with the distance that the camera is away from a certain color and whether or not there’s light on that particular wall or piece of color. And then evaluating that in a dry-for-wet world…
So let’s say now you’re not underwater. How do you deal with aspects of specularity? Certain specularity doesn’t exist as it does above water, underwater, because that’s absorbed. So trying to come up with solutions to keep that illusion alive if you’re shooting in a dry-for-wet world versus wet-for-wet.
Damian Allen: Were there practical solutions like dulling spray, or was it just working out ways to filter off some of those speculars and things like that?
Geoff Baumann: Exactly. It was more working out ways to kind of filter those off. For Namor, for example, probably the biggest scene underwater is where he’s sitting in a throne after Shuri’s escaped Talokan and he’s talking to his people that they’re not going to move and they’re going to go attack the Golden City.
We tested that early on as kind of our test bed as far as what water could do. And we shot that wet-for-wet and dry-for-wet. But to your question there, he has gold epaulettes and we did have to try to knock those down a little bit in post. At the same time we did try to also add a little bit more, “halation,” you could say—around it, or a little bit of bloom from the water, the back scattering of those highlights off of those epaulettes.
But we always tried to be true to the reference that we had of it underwater. And I mean, Tenoch Huerta absolutely crushed his performance underwater. I mean, he delivered a two and a half to three minute monologue underwater for that scene. And I think the big challenge for me visual effects-wise is the ability to hopefully be able to intercut—and we do in the film—from a wet-for-wet shot to dry-for-wet and back to wet-for-wet, and then a couple of dry-for-wets in a row.
And the hope is to kind of lose people a little bit so that you were like, “Wait, they did shoot that underwater? But wait, that is not underwater.” And hopefully you don’t think about it too long and you get lost…
Damian Allen: No, it, I have to say that scene stood out because it was one of those things where it was like, “There’s something kicking in my brain that doesn’t quite understand how this was shot,” if that makes sense…
Geoff Baumann: Yeah. No, totally.
Michael Ralla: It’s worth adding too that we’re not only cutting back to back between dry-for-wet and wet-for-wet, but there’s also all-CG shots sprinkled in. And the big benefit of shooting wet-for-wet is you have a perfect reference of what it looks like underwater. So you also have a perfect target for your CG.
And I think that generally was the approach on this film. We weren’t trying to “make shit up” as some people would sometimes accuse us of in VFX. Everything that we did was reference-based, whether that was in terms of movement or in terms of opticals—and we’re going to get into the lenses and all that stuff later.
But also in terms of overall look and behavior and like, “What is it, what does it look like under water?” It was all based on actual look reference. And almost every single shot in the whole movie has a photographic base element. Whether it was used or not, that’s a potentially different question.
But everything was as much grounded in reality—and not only in reality, but also in a photographic and cinematic-referenced reality.
Damian Allen: And so for those dry-for-wets, did you guys run hair sims to get the hair working with them?
Geoff Baumann: Yeah. Even the wet for wet stuff we often replace the hair underwater.
Damian Allen: I have to stop and say, that was really well done. I just assumed that was all practical. But obviously to have it choreographed so well…it couldn’t have been.
Geoff Baumann: Exactly, and that was the balance of working with Ruth Carter in costumes as far as like, “Okay, what layers do we wear when we are in the tank in the water?” Because you know, Ruth designs these amazing, intricate, beautiful costumes, that may not move exactly how we want, so those probably need to get art directed a little.
So we would maybe take that outer layer off and we would then shoot with an underlay and have to put a CG layer over the outside of that and then run a cloth sim across that. The same with the hair in the wet-for-wet. So shooting in the tank didn’t necessarily solve all of the problems, but it did ground us even in those moments.
And then we would take the costume in the water and move it around so we could see what it moved like. But it was kind of one of those things, knowing—especially on these films—people change their minds, and we want to be prepared to be able to adjust that. But then we would have a similar problem shooting dry-for-wet because you didn’t want that costume just kind of hanging on somebody, because there would be a little more float to it in water. So then we looked at the costumes to think about which pieces made sense to keep on in the dry-for-wet world. Some casting shadows, like 10 inches or head pieces, those are pretty significant. So we tried to come up with ways of having something on his head that still allowed him to move so that it cast a shadow correctly. And it felt like something was there, knowing that we would probably have to replace all of the kelp leaves and feathers, et cetera, that were in the headdress themselves.
So it was really trying to find that balance and then interacting with all the other HODs to determine what they could achieve on the day.
Damian Allen: Did you play with camera crank on the dry-for-wet to try and get it feeling a little bit slower?
Geoff Baumann: Yeah, everything dry-for-wet we shot at 48. And we also developed a stereo camera system that was attached to both hero cameras for all of our dry-for-wet work which Weta helped us develop. And essentially, I mean—Ralla you can touch on it a little bit more, because Michael helped build it with our camera department.
And it was pretty phenomenal in generating 3D mesh with the hero camera, with the two stereo pairs right underneath the main lens.
Damian Allen: So kind of a rudimentary volumetric capture using the stereo?
Geoff Baumann: Exactly, that was the thought.
Michael Ralla: Correct. Exactly. So it was an on-camera stereo witness camera set-up. I think about 12 inches off to the side on each side using little Blackmagic cameras that were genlocked to our main camera. And we tested that fairly early on, even during pre-production.
And the goal was not only to get a volumetric/depth representation of the scene, but also tap into some markerless motion capture that Weta wanted to test out on this project. Which, even the tests that they showed us early on, were incredible. I mean, their whole pipeline, their whole comp pipeline is heavily Deep based.
So now all of a sudden having access to the the depth of what’s happening in front of the live action camera is invaluable. And it gave them a lot of different ways and means to integrate elements into what we were shooting.
Damian Allen: So just for the audience real quick, “Deep”: it’s actually almost a “brand name” for a system of storing pixel data that basically fills up all your hard drives.
Michael Ralla: [Laughing] Yeah. Yes.
Damian Allen: But it stores multiple depth information for every pixel. So it’s very powerful stuff and obviously Weta have it deeply embedded in their pipeline so they can take advantage of all that data, right?
Geoff Baumann: And we knew kind of going into this because of our schedule and timeframe, that it was going to be difficult to do traditional mocap, and could you do underwater mocap? And all of the trials and tribulations that may go along with that. So we definitely leaned into image-based capture.
Damian Allen: So was it a machine learning-style mocap?
Geoff Baumann: Exactly. It was primarily through Weta, and we did the same thing in the underwater tank. We had eight underwater witness cameras that were surrounding our cylindrical tank. And we opted to go that route from a motion capture standpoint, if you will.
For character motion as well—for background motion and all of that—rather than trying to do actual underwater motion capture.
Damian Allen: Wow. I’m curious: How clean and reliable was the mocap data coming out of that process?
Geoff Baumann: It definitely required manual work on the back end, and cleanup for sure. But it was better I think than we anticipated.
Damian Allen: And way better than eyeballing it from the 2D frame, right?
Geoff Baumann: And I think the other part there is I think, I was trying to factor in the amount of time it would take to get an actual underwater volume. Just getting a volume set up for regular mocap isn’t the most straightforward thing. So now doing it underwater… And then what are the technical implications or things that could break, or errors, et cetera, that come into that process?
Damian Allen: Has anyone done optical mocap underwater?
Geoff Baumann: I don’t think so.
Damian Allen: I mean, I don’t even know how the infrared would work. Right? With the water blocking.
Geoff Baumann: No, I believe…well on Avatar, I think they did.
Damian Allen: Oh, okay. Well, that would make sense. Yeah.
Geoff Baumann: We tried to be considerate and not get too much into their business as far as what worked and didn’t work necessarily. I just knew from our standpoint we needed to be ready to pivot and move.
Damian Allen: Well, you guys didn’t have 20 years of R&D…
Geoff Baumann: No, exactly. So yeah, so we needed to have a quick solution that hopefully the brain trust at Weta would be able to figure out, and in the worst case scenario, you had traditional witness cameras to do rotomation to. So our approach going in was like, “Okay, hopefully this can be more. At a bare minimum it’s this great reference we keep. We’ve got multiple angles of the same animation. All the cameras are shutter synced, so we’ve got the right position in space.” And then hopefully it could be more.
Michael Ralla: Correct, and you’ll always have the depth reconstruction as a fallback, which gives you a pretty good reference in terms of where things are and what they’re doing and all of that. And I mean, the typical issue is that you don’t have very good temporal consistency between frames and that it gets a little noisy.
But that was the one aspect where they really surprised us. Even the tests that we shot early with just a Canon C-300 as main camera and using the same paired left and right of that produced surprisingly good results. That was a moment when Jeff was like, “We’re definitely going to move forward with that.”
Damian Allen: As someone who ran a stereoscopic conversion studio in the dark, dark, past I would’ve loved to get my hands on that stereoscopic camera footage. But I’m guessing the conversion was all just a straight post process…
Geoff Baumann: Yeah that’s unfortunately where, a lot of these…
Damian Allen: It’s a reality of pipelines.
Geoff Baumann: Yeah, the ideas unfortunately, often drift into Weta, DD, ILM or whoever the wizards are at whichever partner you’re working with. And then at that point I’m kind of relying on them to get that information back, because you bring up an interesting point there: With the size of these shows and the number of assets that cross vendors or partners, I wish there was more—and it’s getting better and better—but I wish there was a better way for them to play together. That being said, you’re getting into really deep nuts and bolts with that type of tech. Other than that, I think this show was an extremely great example of collaboration across all of our partners.
Damian Allen: How many vendors would you say touched the show?
Geoff Baumann: We had 17 officially on our end, but I know, ILM, for example, worked with Whisky Tree who aren’t in that [count].
Probably just under, around 2,350-ish shots. I think at the end of the day. We touched, like I said, I think 90% of the film. ILM, DD, and Weta were probably the biggest partners as far as complexity goes. But Rise and Cinesite were equal up there with it as far as shot count goes.
They had close to 300 shots. Weta didn’t have quite as many shots as everyone else, but they had probably the most complex, because all of the underwater work was Weta. Other than some of the pieces in the third act, which were Digital Domain.
Damian Allen: So let’s talk a little bit more about the underwater stuff. I mean obviously everything’s amazing, but that was to me, fairly groundbreaking in terms of the realism. It really felt grounded. It didn’t feel like a bunch of people pretending to be under water, and I’m guessing a lot of that is to do with the practical nature of the shooting.
But tell me what the breakdown was: how many of the elements were underwater typically? And I’m guessing you had to do some cheating in terms of visibility. But it still looked very plausible. I mean, I’m looking at it going, “Okay, there’s no way I would be able to see that thing way back there.” But it didn’t feel like, “Oh no, they just fudged it.” It actually felt very natural, so I’m sure a lot of thought went into that.
Geoff Baumann: A lot. And Weta was our first partner on the show from a development standpoint. So we were really exploring water early on, like I was saying, to get the terminologies back and forth and to educate ourselves and Ryan about what water characteristics do to an image. I think the goal then for us was to have that foreground element if at all possible always be practical. And another challenge to working with Autumn’s choice of detuned Panavision, C series lenses was we didn’t have much extra frame at the top and bottom. So she was using that full sensor. Normally, I think, you and I would’ve said, “Hey, let’s shoot this spherical underwater so we get a little bit of extra room.” So framing, we don’t need to be quite so perfect. But she was very adamant about everything underwater for the sequences being two times anamorphic.
Damian Allen: So her retical was the entire frame.
Geoff Baumann: It was the whole frame. So there was no extra wiggle room, top or bottom, of that.
Damian Allen: Come on…Did you cheat and blow up a couple of the shots? A bit…? Just between us and everyone listening to the podcast?
Geoff Baumann: [Laughing] Right.
Michael Ralla: This is really interesting because there were several moments when we were like, “Oh, it would be really nice to have clean VFX elements that have a little bit more headroom, top and bottom.” And we both tried and we both got the same answer. It was always, “My lenses, bro. Nice try.”
Damian Allen: So she could tell where the lens distortion disappeared or whatever.
Michael Ralla: Yeah. That’s right.
Geoff Baumann: She was very adamant too. I think, you kind of touched on the fact that, tonally, this film is a bit more somber overall. But also the imagery and the lighting is much more moody than the first film. And Autumn was very adamant about maintaining that underwater.
Damian Allen: Interestingly, I’ll say that—looking at some of the reviews—there were some criticisms of that, but I think the film had a feel and I think with the seriousness of this whole handling Chadwick’s passing, it kind of needed something like.
Geoff Baumann: I agree. And I think then to your question, the underwater world, we did have to have some of those city scape shots. Where you do have more depth of field and you see further in the water than you would. And so we kind of knew that there would be a couple of those in there.
But we did our best throughout—and I have to attribute it to Ryan as well for staying consistent and being confident with his choice of allowing water to let things disappear. To let something come out of the deep blue. Like when you’re in the ocean, it falls off and all of a sudden a whale could appear before you.
And he was willing to embrace that. And also willing to embrace the falloff of color, which was another concern I had of just having color be consistent everywhere. And we did test, early on, and Ryan then asked Michael and I, “Are we breaking it? It’s too red.”
He wanted Namor’s temple to be red, and then once you’re far away you don’t see the red. And so I think he had a little bit of an internal struggle there of whether that was the right choice, was red the right choice? And I think ultimately, yes, he wanted it to be red but then wanted to just accept that red falls off. Red is a color that’s absorbed. So he really stuck to his initial instincts and let the characteristics of water be water. And I think that’s what separates it a little bit from some of the other films that we see out there that, that take place underwater.
Michael Ralla: It’s really interesting because he not only embraced all of that, he defended it eventually. I remember there were repeated requests from all sorts of different angles. “Hey, can we just have this be a little bit brighter, more colorful?” Who knows what, and he routinely came back to all the rules that we had set up at the beginning that were all based on actual reference, on our findings of shooting color charts underwater and pulling them away from camera, pulling them away from the light to see what happens.
He really stuck to all of that, and that’s what made it look cohesive.
Geoff Baumann: And I think that was because we did a lot of tests early on, as Michael was saying. In our tank, we had a row of color charts, I think maybe with like seven or eight color charts each, a meter or so apart from one end of the tank to the other. And we went to the bottom of the tank, which was 20 feet deep and we shot them there and then came up a couple of feet and so on and so forth.
And you could see the difference in absorption the closer you got to the surface. And then we did the same as the camera pulled back, passing each of the lens charts. And then we did the same thing with a character in the water.
Damian Allen: Where did you get waterproof lens charts? Was that an ordeal in itself?
Geoff Baumann: Well, we sacrificed a few, but Dan and his special effects team actually laminated a bunch of color charts for us. Which then that was its own process of, okay, let’s see what resin they’re using. What is that doing?
Damian Allen: Just the laminate coating causes issues…
Geoff Baumann: Everything turns into a science experiment. Every turn seemed to be another challenge in this one.
Damian Allen: The underwater sun scene…It wasn’t like, “Okay, everything’s all of a sudden day”. But it also wasn’t so murky that it didn’t have impact and power. I think that kind of indicated the way everything was nailed really well in these sequences. So, was there a practical element to that? How did that work?
Geoff Baumann: Yeah. So for the most part, anything that was a deep character scene or character moment, we ended up knowing that was going to go dry for wet to allow Ryan to shoot something practically. And I think, as Michael said, every piece of the film—for the most part—has a practical piece to it.
So the overs, and even if it’s just over Namor and over the big, atmospheric suit that Shuri was in against bluescreen. We did have something for that. We had representation of what the city looked like from Hannah in production design. So we kind of knew what was out there.
And sometimes the photographic piece we had was pretty small. But that’s always where we would try to start.
Damian Allen: I’m guessing you did a bunch of diffusion effects, things like that just to layer things in. That was all Weta, the compositing on that?
Geoff Baumann: Yeah, that was all Weta and I think the other things that I actually should mention is they were using a spectral renderer as well. That was a big change as well as far as how color works overall.
Damian Allen: Explain a little bit about that, because that’s even a little foreign to me.
Geoff Baumann: Visually we were trying to be as accurate to the real world as possible, which gets us to the spectral aspect. But I think since we’re talking about images, the other part that was very important to this film was to make sure the aspects that did go heavily CG had the same type of characteristics as those detuned Panavision lenses. So we did extensive tests for Weta to develop a lens pipeline—a toolkit, if you will—that Michael kind of oversaw with Paul and the Weta team.
Michael Ralla: So just to continue that, let’s start with the spectral renderer, because that’s a really interesting subject in particular when you’re underwater. So, spectral rendering means that you’re not dealing with RGB values and you’re not adding the typical numbers that you’re picking in Nuke together to get to a specific value at a specific point in 3D space, but you’re actually dealing with waves and the math is all happening based on wavelengths.
I’m probably not the best person to explain that, but what that means is that especially when you are in a different medium than air, aka underwater or in water, the absorption is very different. And absorption means how color or light of different wavelengths just passes through that medium that becomes really relevant.
Damian Allen: So I’m trying to get my head around what the data looks like. It’s not RGB encoded, but we’re talking about a spectrum. So is this like a massive array, like another thing that fills up your hard drive? Like Deep I mean, do you know how the data looks?
Michael Ralla: No, this is what Jeff mentioned earlier, where we are like having them make the sausage for us. We tell them what we would like, but at the same time, I mean, it just means that the math is happening using wavelength and the respective frequency of light or the different hues of light—I think that’s all about like 500 nanometers, if I’m not completely mistaken.
Geoff Baumann: My understanding too is, I mean, I think essentially with traditional rendering as in RGB, you’ve got the three colors.
Michael Ralla: Correct.
Geoff Baumann: When you go underwater, red being the color that’s absorbed first and turns to black essentially, being one of three gets hit heavily quickly. Versus the spectral rendering…Your fall off, your curve of absorption is drastically different, where because there are so many more levels, for lack of a better term, I guess, or wavelengths. So as opposed to just that one red pixel going away, you’re able to maintain other colors for longer, at a greater distance from camera.
Michael Ralla: 100%, and that kind of takes us directly to the lenses because that’s again where light is traveling through a different medium than air. In this particular case, that’s glass. And when light just travels through different glass elements it ends up getting altered.
With the lenses that Autumn was using on this film, those rays were getting heavily altered. I remember on the first day that I joined the show and we went straight to a tech gala somewhere in the south. And I met her for the first time and she was one of the big reasons where I was so interested in this project along with working with Jeff. The first thing she told me is “Dan just built me a lens.”
And Dan—that’s Dan Sasaki from Panavision, who I had worked with briefly before. He is the guy who kind of is in charge of detuning Panavision lenses for DPs. It’s come to a point now…
Damian Allen: Can you explain detuning for people?
Michael Ralla: Yes. So, the majority of films these days are shot on digital cameras.
Digital cameras have come so far that essentially the image that they’re capturing is perfect. You have an almost noise free signal. You get, like, perfect color representation. But it also takes away some of the creative choices that DPs were used to making in the past where you have different film stocks and those stocks have different amounts of noise levels or grain and different color response.
Now we’re in a world where if you follow, for instance, DPs like Steve Yedlin, you can look at the camera as a data collector and you can profile any data collector. And the data that you get out of it can be basically identical no matter what you use. Now the one tool that DPs still have left is the glass that they’re putting in front of that perfect sensor.
That’s their footprint or their signature style. Now we have arrived in a world where it’s become very, like—I don’t wanna say “fashionable”—but DPs just like the optical footprint, especially of old vintage anamorphic lenses. And detuning is basically the process where you just change a couple lens elements or move them around or smudge ’em up or rub the coating off those kind of things so that they are…
Damian Allen: So that they are bane of matchmovers’ existence…
Geoff Baumann: They are.
Michael Ralla: Correct, but because you’re introducing intentional imperfections—and in our case, they were not just minor imperfections. There were massive aberrations that create a very characteristic and actually cool-looking style. Once we saw the first test images from, I think, when was it Jeff? June 2021? And we looked at them on the big screen at Company Three in Atlanta. We were like, “Oh, okay, we’re going to be in for a ride.” Because at that point we couldn’t even describe what we were looking at. Once you moved away from the center of the lens, everything just became, well blurry, but blurry in a very interesting way.
Swirly, defocused, like, bluey, creamy. All sorts of things. And from then on, in order to keep consistency across the whole film between live action footage and CG—and consistency was a very, if not the most important aspect to Jeff and myself. Just looking at our past relationship, we were always going for, “Everything needs to be like nothing can stand out.”
It was clear that we had to replicate all those artifacts. But at that point we didn’t even know what they actually are. Because let’s be honest, up until a couple years ago it was always up to individual compositors to make sure that you’re matching what you’re seeing in your shot.
And I’ve been there myself, just seeing some sort of aberration but it’s not entirely clear what that actually is.
Damian Allen: So did you guys run grids through and stuff like that? Or how did you approach it?
Michael Ralla: Yes. So this is where it gets really interesting. I mean, first of all, we had to actually understand and learn what those aberrations are.
And in order to just trying to assess them we realized pretty quickly that we needed more than just your typical checkerboard grid shot. So, I mean, it was a fairly big lens kit, but we shot an even bigger set of grids, maps, and charts, which I think ended up being like almost 115 terabytes for the whole show.
And it was charts with LEDs put in for sampling the bokeh at different angles and PSF charts that we developed together with Weta, and all sorts of different test patterns that would reveal what’s actually happening. And then on top of that, we went through and we compared what that checkerboard actually looked like before we printed it.
And comparing that to what you get when you film it through those lenses. And we started trying to like find out what those aberrations actually are. And I went down like this rabbit hole to come up with a terminology. And in that course I came across like, aberration correction for space telescopes.
And I learned about the Five Seidel Aberrations and anything that goes beyond that.
Damian Allen: So you had to go back to school just to figure out how to do it?
Michael Ralla: Pretty much, yeah and then early this year the Cine Lens Manual came out from, Probst and Holden—it’s a DP duo—and that became the Bible.
That’s where I was like, okay, so we are seeing chromatic aberration here, spherical aberration over there. And then there’s some mechanical shading and the cat’s eye defocus and it’s actually caused by this and that and that, all of a sudden we were able to break it down. And then from that point, we worked very closely with Weta to develop a toolkit that would recreate all of those—I think it was eventually like 10 or 12 aberrations—that created Autumn’s look and we really…
Geoff Baumann: Yeah, per lens too, so that you could pick. Because the 35 was different than the 60, et cetera.
Damian Allen: How many primes were on this?
Geoff Baumann: We used primarily, I think three or four lenses, Ralla?
Michael Ralla: That is correct. Yeah. Almost 50% of this film was shot on a Panavision T Series 35 millimeter with I think it was a serial number 101. We counted slates and went through the whole thing, but it was predominantly 35, 60mm, 128mm, that most of this film.
Geoff Baumann: Yeah. So essentially after that experiment, Weta built this toolkit that was then shared across all of our 17 partners to try to keep that consistency. So everybody was applying the same look for that particular serial number.
Damian Allen: So you had to have, when you were comping CG, those aberrations which would flow completely naturally in with the live action lens footage. That’s impressive, given what you’re telling me about what the lens actually did to the picture…
Geoff Baumann: Yep. It was great. One of the interesting things is in shooting these grids, a lot of them were shot off axis at like a 45 degree angle. So you could see the fall off of the grid, fall off of the bokeh in racking through focus. And then Weta would do basically a split screen across the bottom of the frame, and the top half would be the practical
What we photographed in the bottom half would be the CG version of said grid with the bokeh. And so we could track and see how they were moving. And it was, fascinating to see how complex this glass actually was.
Damian Allen: So given how crazy that was for the match moving, did you have any onset camera tracking data, or was it all still a post matchmove for the most part?
Geoff Baumann: It was a post matchmove for the most part. And I do know it was quite a challenge, especially for post vis.
Damian Allen: Right.
Geoff Baumann: You know that trying to work quick with these lenses definitely were a challenge for them on some of the longer shots.
Michael Ralla: That is correct. Matchmoving was generally a huge challenge and it was clearly because of those lenses. And initially the ask for our partners to recreate all those lens operations…there was a little bit of wondering like, “What’s going on here and why are we doing this?” And then especially once Weta started licensing their toolkit to everyone else.
So at some point we ran a couple of one hour Zoom seminars with some of our partners around the world—actually with all of them at some point, to just educate and train them on what the lenses do and build a common terminology and explain why we are doing this.
And again the target was to just achieve consistency, not only between live action and CG, but also between the different partners and the different companies, different sequences. And now what is really interesting is that some guys who came back to us were like, yes, it was a quite a steep mountain to climb, to recreate all that stuff.
But then once you applied your CG, you’re getting an instant 5% more realism hit because it just goes on top and it, “F’s up” the image the same way Autumn’s lenses put “vibe” on what’s in front of the camera.
Damian Allen: I can understand that resistance from them…especially with modern digital, the lens distortion is usually so minimal that unless you’ve really worked on some of these grungy anamorphic shows you kind of think, “What’s the fuss? You guys are taking this way too seriously.” But obviously in this show in particular, it was critical.
Michael Ralla: It was absolutely critical, and there was so much more than just lens distortion and chromatic aberration. Once you start looking at Autumn’s photography, there’s no way you can do VFX without having a toolkit like that. Because I mean, at the beginning she was a little bit like, “Yeah, you guys are just making shit up.Nothing ever looks like it was shot through my lenses.”
And she came back and just the other day was like, “Man, I really gotta say this looks…” I mean, she’s got shots on her webpage that are all CG shots.
Damian Allen: Wow. Yeah.
Geoff Baumann: I think the other part to that puzzle was then also trying to understand and learn Autumn’s style, like how she lights. That she uses negative fill. That she likes deep shadows, and then educating the compositors about that, the lighters about that. And then for the CG shots, making sure that people understand how she likes to frame.
Like she’d always center punch. When we were shooting—I’d sit in the DIT tent with her, and I just hear her on the coms to the operators, “Center punch!” She’s always about keeping that subject or that item right in the center of frame. So making sure that our partners then in post know, “Hey, this CG shot, let’s frame it up. Autumn would never shoot this way.”
Damian Allen: Interesting you say that…I mean, that is really one of the big struggles, these days, certainly. Most VFX CG people just “grow up” in front of a computer during their career. And it’s not like the old days where people would gravitate from cinematography into visual effects.
So there’s often that disconnect, right? Where you’re kind of having to train people on cinematography.
Geoff Baumann: Yep. No, exactly. And so that was great. And I think once it clicked for people that…she wanted it silhouetted, she didn’t want to see everything. It was okay for things to be in shadow. Once that clicked, and then once we had these lens tools, that’s when we really started to get momentum.
And then it was over, then we got to the end.
Michael Ralla: But to a point where she really wanted to come in. I mean, she spent a good amount of time with us in post, especially during the last six to eight weeks. She was there almost every week and it was great to have her input and look at charts.
Geoff Baumann: It really helped with us presenting shots to Ryan in the studio. Having had a review with Autumn, where we looked at shots we were struggling with to get her notes on it. She’d be like, “Oh, that’s fine. I can help fix that in the DI. I’ll just put a window.” Or, “Oh no, that one—let’s relight.”
It was a great relationship to know that we could show and share with her. And it also gave Ryan comfort knowing that she was happy with what we were doing. So he didn’t worry so much about the look and focused more on the characters. So it was a great experience.
And like I said, kind of the cornerstone of all of our work was that relationship with Autumn.
Damian Allen: Typically production and post production are two different beasts. Production doesn’t care if they screw over the VFX supervisor because it’s “not their budget” and those kinds of things.
But it sounds like there was definitely a significant continuity between production and post on this one.
Geoff Baumann: There was, and I was thinking about that today. If the DP and the visual effects supervisors can actually unite and be on the same page, there’s almost nothing that those two, that group can’t do.
As far as moving the imagery forward, if they’re in lockstep together and they’re supporting each other we can get that side of the stage built, we can get those windows taken out. There’s a lot more that can be done if those two departments are working together. They’re a pretty formidable group then.
Damian Allen: So the big fight scenes at the end—I’m always curious about this… So you’ve got these superhero action mechanics. You know, you’ve got this guy that has wings on his ankles—which clearly would not be sufficient to propel him—but then there’s some magical, mumbo jumbo kind of Vibranium craziness happening here.
Obviously at some point, some of the action just has to get cartoony. You cannot hit the beats without it, but how do you straddle that fence between plausibility and like, “Hey, these are guys are superheroes, so not all the rules apply?” I’m curious.
Geoff Baumann: It’s tough. I mean, it’s a great question because you want everything to be real. We want it to be based in physics. We go through all of these things and there’s no magic. But then at the same time it’s like, “Wait, the guy has wings on his ankles, right?”
So there is a part in the process—and I think it’s different for every person—where they’re willing to take that step into something that’s a little more
“mystical,” shall we say? And I think for us, the early days of Namor’s motion or his ability to fly, it was important for Ryan for it to be different than anything else we’ve seen flying, any other characters and any other universes that we’ve seen flying.
And he was a college athlete as well. Played football, plays basketball, did track and field, so those were sports that he related to. And we actually referenced those a lot for Namor’s motion. So, to find something that looked different—and I think we didn’t necessarily focus or think too much about the lift that you’re describing as far as, “Are those surface area of the wings big enough?”
We did have that conversation as far as like, “How big do the wings need to get?” But at a certain point, we opted to let the reality of how much lift you needed go and focus a little bit more on the scale of the wings relative to the body. Like, did they look out of place, or did they look like they fit relative to his calves?
And it became more of an aesthetic look as far as the size of the wings went knowing that we needed to find a motion that was interesting. Like the movement of football, the high knees and spin moves or triple jumps, that kind of stuff. It became a little more shot-driven as far as what camera movement was in there. And I’d say for the Golden City portion, which was islands in the middle of the film, we probably had a little bit more time to polish, versus the third act where we were trying to figure out a little bit more as we were going.
And didn’t have enough time to do as many iterations as we did in that first portion, once we’d established how he could fly. I think you do have to accept that you’re in an MCU… We’re superheroes as you said. So there has to be a suspension of belief a little bit.
As much as we wanna not do that. I think you kind of do have to, at a certain point.
Damian Allen: Well, there’s just so much going on in those last sequences…
Geoff Baumann: There is. And I think that’s where sometimes MCU does get criticized with how much is going on in those third acts. But I do appreciate it from the standpoint—and it hurts us visual effects-wise because it’s the imagery sometimes that suffers due to the fact that we’re chasing the best story.
Damian Allen: I think you had, like, three boss battles going on simultaneously at one point, right?
Geoff Baumann: Exactly. But they’re doing that and Ryan is continually trying to tell the best story for all of the characters. And I think unfortunately in doing so, sometimes the visuals are what gets sacrificed in that process. And in my mind, I justify it in a way that as a viewer, I think if you enjoy the characters and if you’re in the film with the characters, you’re more forgiving of imagery if you like them. And the stories moving forward because you’re in the adventure. You’re going, “We’re in the theater, we’re having this journey together.” Whereas I think if you don’t care for the characters or you don’t care for the story, then it doesn’t really matter what the visuals are anyways.
Then it’s just another picture. So I do struggle with that a little bit as far as the cartoony aspect of it, as you said. But I think there is a moment where we do have to just accept it’s a comic book reading and accept it for what it is and not try to become over-critical of it…
Damian Allen: Ground it so heavily in reality that it just stops working…
Geoff Baumann: Yeah. I think you do need to kind of separate a little bit at a certain point.
Damian Allen: And just in terms of the mass of that last, fight melee, how many of the outlier characters were extras and how many were digital doubles? Or was it like a one-for-one and you just crossed depending on what was happening to them?
Geoff Baumann: I mean, I think that Digital Domain—and I think they had somewhere around between 115 to 120 character assets of the Wakandans and Talokaneel, and the Jabari and the Dora—so we basically had full CG armies that could battle each other for that. But again, we would try to keep as much of that foreground and midground practical to help blur the line in-between those as well. But there were a ton of digital characters in that third act.
Damian Allen: One of the things that is probably most critical in visual effects is the actual role of the visual effects producer.
Geoff Baumann: Yeah.
Damian Allen: You have an amazing visual effects producer. A little bit about her?
Geoff Baumann: Yeah, so our visual effects producer on this was Nicole Rowley. And I would say that she was instrumental in pretty much every aspect of this film being put together. From the development phases early on, the relationships with our partners, the understanding that filmmaking isn’t cheap.
And then also facilitating conversations between all of the heads of department, from production designer to costume designer to special effects. She was really at the hub of all that communication, and really a team player, that kept us all moving and working together.
I think as well as keeping the eye on the end goal of finishing the film, the reality check as well as far as like, “Okay, that’s a great idea, but we need to do it tomorrow.” So I couldn’t say enough about her support, not just I think for visual effects, but Autumn as well from her end. She definitely supported all of us.
Damian Allen: And unless you’ve been in it, people don’t realize just the sheer mass of information…I mean, it’s a terrifying complexity of stuff that a VFX producer has to deal with.
Geoff Baumann: Absolutely. And then you add on top of that all the legal aspects as well, as far as contracts back and forth. There’s so much work and responsibility that goes onto those shoulders that I think, as you said, isn’t understood and is often taken for granted.
Because at the end of the day, often the producer is the one that gets left holding the bag. The creatives…we can kind of drift away, whereas I feel like she definitely had the responsibility. As did we, but she was phenomenal, and I don’t think that we could have done it. And Ryan, I would bet, would agree as well. She was a support for him as well, throughout the process from beginning.
Michael Ralla: 110%. You don’t realize how instrumental a good VFX producer is until you don’t have one.
Damian Allen: I’m always amazed how they keep their cool, like there’s such a pressure cooker gig and they’re just…
Michael Ralla: Yeah. Yeah. A big theme on this production was consistency through collaboration, and she really made that happen. Like, I have nothing but good things to say.
Damian Allen: One last question I wanna ask you: So no LED volumes on this one, is that right?
Geoff Baumann: Well, we did.
Damian Allen: Oh, you did? Okay. Because I’d heard there wasn’t anything but…
Geoff Baumann: Well, it wasn’t…we didn’t go to 11. It wasn’t Mandalorian or anything along those lines, but we did do LED walls and they’re actually in- camera finals for the car chase in Boston. So, again, it wasn’t tracking cameras or any of that kind of stuff, but there were in-camera finals of LED walls.
Damian Allen: So you’re saying that the camera wasn’t tracked, it was more like a…
Geoff Baumann: They were simple. It was car process work. So essentially, for the most part you’re, on the…
Damian Allen: Glorified rear projection…
Michael Ralla: Correct. But I mean it was two days and basically all close up and mid up shots, or almost all of them, are actually volume shots. And there was very little done to them. I think we boosted some flares or we brought some highlights up or something like that.
But overall there’s a lot of in-camera finals or more than you would ever think, and it was a full 270 degree volume with a couple of wild walls for additional reflections and all that. And that was another thing that I actually am kind of almost a little proud of, is we redesigned some of the existing array solutions just because I didn’t think any of the ones that were out there were good enough for what we wanted to do.
Damian Allen: I was going to ask about that. I mean, even the dynamic range of these panels has always been questionable, right? So what did you think of the final dynamic range?
Michael Ralla: That’s a really good question, because that can wildly vary depending on how you run the wall, in which color space, and what content you feed into the video. So we ended up designing a stabilized seven camera array that could be adjusted for a motorcycle and a sports or muscle car height fairly quickly.
And then we ran that for basically every single shot in Boston. And that was six horizontal Monstros in a sort of tangential minimized parallax layout and then one fish eye looking up. All that stuff was stitched to 24 K by 12 K latlongs and prepared for volume playback in high dynamic range, using the full 15 or 16 stops that we can get from those cameras.
And we were also feeding the volume in what is called a PQ transfer curve so that you get over-brights on the wall and so it wasn’t Rec709 highlight soft clip or anything like that. There was a lot of light coming from those panels and we had the car on a rig and the bike on a rig so that they could slide forward and backwards against each other and we ended up shooting there with a Venice and Autumn was actually pleasantly surprised. That was her first time shooting in a volume and it was a custom-built volume.
Damian Allen: I was going to say, she sounds like she would be a tough lady to convince. So if she was pleased with it…
Michael Ralla: No, we were able to win her over and I think she was happy with what she got, and that in that particular moment it was the best way to achieve those shots. And getting them pretty controlled and in a safe environment and all of that. And it was a custom-built 270 degree—I think it was a 40 foot volume that we had set up at Tyler Perry by a company called Monolith which worked really well.
The advantage that we had is that we kind of knew what we wanted and how to achieve it and, there wasn’t this whole, what’s the nicest way to describe it? The “bottomless barrel” of Unreal Engine environment development and endless rounds…
Damian Allen: I love the tact with which you say that, but yeah…
Michael Ralla: Oh, I’ve done those projects before and I went through a full round of testing with Epic early in 2021, so I knew what was doable and what would give us good results.
Damian Allen: I do want to say, hats off to Epic, right? We’re not criticizing Epic. We’re just talking about the reality that we are still in the Wild West. This stuff is still emerging,
Geoff Baumann: Yes. And I think you have to know who your filmmakers are as well, to know whether or not we, they—all of us—have the discipline to utilize that technology. And I think that’s where I knew that we—Marvel—wouldn’t have the discipline to do all of the prep necessarily to go to 11 in a volume.
However, this kind of simpler middle ground thing is totally right up our alley. And I think it was great to have, not that they were going to be hard shots had we done a traditional process work-wise, but every little bit helps. And I think the interactive light, the nice bokeh, and the defocus that we got on the volume once that was out of focus, all of that in camera was great and worked really well.
And as Ralla said, I think the only thing we really had to do was boost the highlights a little bit, just because we weren’t getting quite enough range at that top end.
Michael Ralla: That’s correct, and don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of volume shooting. We were briefly considering it for reshoots because we had all the scans and all that. We just didn’t have enough time to get the content to a good enough level. And then the other thing that you have to be mindful of is our anamorphic lenses had such a heavy optical footprint. You can’t use plates that were shot on the wall and then reshoot them again through an anamorphic lens. You just have to hit the wall with really clean, spherical content. And that was also part of that array redesign. We went with the cleanest Zeiss lenses you could find.
We went through a lot of testing trying to find the ones that have the best edge-to-edge sharpness, the least amount of flaring, the least amount of distortion, so we can get the highest fidelity and sharpness on the wall. And then let Autumn’s lenses do all the “grunging up, adding vibe” business.
Geoff Baumann: Yep.
Damian Allen: Before we wrap, I always love to hear how people came into this biz. So Jeff, how did you get started? From looking at IMDB, you did a bunch of survey stuff like lidar at the beginning. How did that all come about?
Geoff Baumann: I was theater and art all through high school. And then I actually went to college and university and studied public relations. So nothing very exciting. Then I moved out to California in 96/97 and got a job at this little company called Digital Domain. In operations. So I was actually working for the Director of Operations. But the cool thing about the job at that point was I interacted with the finance department, all the artists, but as well as the stages, and the model shop and the machine shop. So I was involved in taking stuff to go get anodized for a motion control rig.
And so I was able to see a lot of what Digital Domain was doing. And at that point in time, nobody had any of these computers at home. You couldn’t really do any work at home and they had a training room and you could kind of teach yourself. So I just basically learned Nuke at DD, where they came up with it.
Damian Allen: That was the only place to learn it at the time…
Geoff Baumann: Right. So I kinda learned there and DD was like a college almost at that point where if you showed interest in hard work, anybody could do anything. So I just slowly worked my way from there onto a show. I was a PA on a show and then a coordinator on a show, and then they started to send me off to locations.
And so I came up the 3D side through matchmove integration at Digital Domain, eventually doing environment work. And then CG supe there. I was at DD for about 15 years and then left DD to go work on a Marvel show, Cap Two: Winter Soldier as the additional supervisor for Dan DeLeeuw.
At that point though, we didn’t stay on for post. After that I worked for Chris Townsend as his additional supe on Avengers Two. At which point, that’s when the additional supervisor basically stayed on through post.
And then I’ve been in the Marvel wheelhouse since then. Just going from one to the next. And I think this now is potentially my first break where they don’t have something to just jump onto since then. That’s kind of it in a nutshell.
Damian Allen: Now I feel like I can’t wrap this up without bringing up the fact that you seem to have—on IMDB, at least—a dark skeleton in the closet going by the name of “Superheroes, the Movie.”
Geoff Baumann: [Laughing]Yeah.
Damian Allen: I need to know the backstory on that…
Geoff Baumann: Okay. So that’s funny, that’s… So when I first moved out here, friends were making a movie and I was like, “Yeah, sure, we’ll help out.” And this is like 1996, I think. And I helped in any way I could, and I didn’t know much about filmmaking at all at that point.
And then they needed some surfer to run out of the water. And I was like, “Sure, I’ll do it.” I mean, I don’t even think I knew how to really hold a surfboard at that point. And so I ran out of the water. And it [the movie] kind of disappeared for years and I never really knew what happened. And then all of a sudden it popped up on IMDB or Amazon or something, like a year ago. And I’m like, “Oh, wow, Okay.” So…that was a long time ago.
Damian Allen: But what’s funny is I think because of your, “IMDB SEO juice”, you’re like the number two actor billed on the movie.
Geoff Baumann: Oh, that’s funny.
Damian Allen: I saw the trailer on Netflix. I just had to look it up. I was like, “Wow, that’s pretty special.”
Geoff Baumann: Oh no, that was a long, that was a long time ago.
Damian Allen: Yeah.
Geoff Baumann: That was fun. All those things shape us to make us who we are…
Damian Allen: And then Michael, what about you? How did you get messed up with this business?
Michael Ralla: Oh, with this business? Well, I never wanted to have anything to do with filmmaking because I wanted to be a professional, heavy metal drummer.
Damian Allen: Oh, awesome. Yeah.
Michael Ralla: And, that kind of evolved because my parents were like, “You wanna be what?” And so at that point I was like, okay, maybe I’ll become a sound engineer. Which I was already going to university for.
And then I had something with my ears and I had a feeling, “Oh, I should probably not necessarily build a career on this now.” So I realized that compositing is essentially the same thing as sound mixing, just with images, which takes us back to waves or wavelengths, because it’s just a different frequency.
And then I remember it was like in the early two thousands and there was a film that came out. Well, not really a film, a short. On a webpage for the DivX codec that you would use when you rip DVDs,
Damian Allen: Oh, I remember DivX yeah, that was funny.
Michael Ralla: And this 405 film was basically about an airliner landing on the 405 freeway.
Damian Allen: That’s famous. I remember that now. Yeah.
Michael Ralla: And it was done by two guys in their basement with off-the-shelf computers.
And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to do.” And then from there on… I mean, I lived in Germany. I grew up in Germany. I did an internship at Scanline in 2004. And then stayed with them for a couple years and then left Germany because I just wanted to learn how to surf.
So I lived in Australia for four or five years and worked at Animal Logic for a good amount of time, and at this little company called Fuel, where I really learned how to comp and then that paid off because I think end of 2010, I got a call from Digital Domain to work for them on Transformers.
And I was like, awesome. I’ve always wanted to blow shit up, so let’s go. Stayed there for a little bit, then bounced back and forth between ILM and DD. And then I met Jeff in 2012 and he was the CG supervisor on Ironman Three. And that kind of left an impression on me and he left I think, just before we delivered the show. Then I worked at Framestore in commercials for a little bit here in Los Angeles because I felt I needed to just get my butt on set for a little bit of time, which is a lot easier to do in commercials.
And then I think Jeff: you sent me an email in like, when was that? End of 2020? “Hey, do you wanna…would you be interested…?” And I was like, “With you? Hell yeah.”
Damian Allen: You still play heavy metal drums?
Michael Ralla: I wish! But I still listen to the music
Damian Allen: Sometimes I feel like this whole industry is filled with musicians that had to get a real job. It just seems like that—I’m in the number…
Geoff Baumann: Yep, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right.
Damian Allen: All right. Thank you so much guys. This has been really fun. I hope we can do this on the next film you guys work on.
Geoff Baumann: Hope so.
Michael Ralla: Sounds amazing.