Earlier this month, National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) premiered “The Wereth 11,” a movie about a group of African American soldiers caught behind enemy lines in Belgium during World War II. The rest of their story — like most war stories — is brutal. The story of the efforts to shine a spotlight on their sacrifice is inspiring. And the story behind the making of this film is innovative, ingenious and deceivingly creative. Here is that story...
Director Robert Child had a vision for Wereth 11. When executive producer, Joseph Small, approached Robert with the idea - and the challenge, Robert rose to it. Small had seen Robert’s work and knew his creative and innovative approach for tackling projects. In this case, the challenge was to capture the intensity of this compelling drama, but with a modest budget and a steep VFX aspect. Robert had done this sort of thing before, and he knew he could turn to Frederic Lumiere of Lumiere Media to help him bring his vision to the screen. Frederic describes his encounter with Robert:
“I was both amazed and inspired when Robert told me what he wanted to do, and how he wanted to do it. I was familiar with the story, and could visualize the battle scenes, with hundreds of soldiers marching through forests in the dead of a snowy Belgian winter. But that’s where the story got interesting. You see, Robert didn’t shoot hundreds of actors in the forest. He worked with maybe 6 or 7 actors. And most were filmed in front of a blue screen. The challenge was becoming clear to me.”
So with a modest budget and the goal of stretching the VFX as far as possible without compromising the theatrical experience, Frederic enthusiastically dove in.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, then Robert handed me hundreds of rushes of soldiers running in front of a blue screen. He had shots of soldiers running away from the camera, running toward the camera, some at 45 degree angles, some ducking in reaction to an imagined explosion; he had pre-thought everything. It became clear to me what he was thinking. It was ingenious; he had visualized the entire sequence in his mind, shot every conceivable action pose or movement individually, and had a plan for piecing it all together to come out with a dramatic, suspenseful and gripping action sequence. And this is where I came in.”
“Diving into the project, I really didn’t have the entire story, just the vision of the scene. For weeks, I placed individual actors onto my timeline, almost like placing stills in a collage - in fact, many shots were actual stills. Working in Final Cut Pro, I edited each soldier into the scenes, taking into account where CG vehicles - like tanks, cannons and trucks, would be inserted later by the VFX team in Toronto, headed up by Jonathan Gibson, VFX supervisor at C4 Studios.”
“What I was left with was 67 tracks of HD with over 70 layers; after all, each soldier was a layer. And it looked beautiful, it was working. Of course, Jonathan’s VFX team now had to do its magic - adding looks, explosions, planes, tanks, trucks, and even snow on the soldier’s shoulders and the trees since everything was shot in the summer. But it was at this point really where I realized my biggest challenge; a potential deal killer. How was I now supposed to get 67 tracks of HD with these beautifully crafted layers to the VFX crew at C4 in Toronto? So far, I had edited all my work in Final Cut Pro, and they were doing just about all their compositing in After Effects. It’s not like FCP talks to AE, or does it?”
“The answer was simple: Automatic Duck Pro Import AE! All I had to do was export the XML files from Final Cut, email them to Jonathan’s team in Toronto, and they simply imported them into After Effects. The result was astounding; the timeline - every layer - appeared perfectly in the After Effects timeline. In fact, it was so easy and instant, I could even export the layers into my own version of After Effects, make notes for the VFX team, then send them the After Effects files via email. All they had to do was reconnect them to the rushes; it worked perfectly. This workflow not only made this seemingly impossible project quite possible, it made it easier to communicate with the VFX team and just a breeze to work.”
“I’m amazed at how accurately Automatic Duck held the layers together, with all the back and forth. There were never any surprises, which is unheard of. I had all of this media on a single 700 MB/s RAID array and I never had to compromise. Automatic Duck was so fast, I never had to wait for the media to show up. It was magical.”
Once the picture was locked, each section was exported to After Effects for color grading and additional last minute VFX I could do myself such as muzzle flashes, explosions, falling snow, day for night and equipment stencil replacement in shaky cam battle scenes - and Automatic Duck enabled all of it seamlessly and without a single hiccup.
“In fact, this film couldn’t have been done without tools like Automatic Duck. These tools are so important for people like me; we have to make the most of tight situations, and in this case, there was so much at stake. We all truly believed in the story, and Robert’s vision, and we wanted to make this work.”
It’s been asked, ‘why not make your lives easier and do it all in CG?’
“Sure, we could’ve done that. But Robert believes, and I totally agree, that for such a human story, you can’t replace that with CG. We as humans can’t really relate to a CG character, it’s just our nature. But with tools like Automatic Duck, we could eliminate the fears of ‘will this even work’ and focus on making each scene as immersive and intense as possible, with the confidence that, no matter how far we pushed it, it would work!”
“Automatic Duck Pro Import AE is life-saver tool, and this project would’ve never come together without it.”
Caught By The SS: The Wereth 11 made its debut on NatGeo on February 16, 2011 and will air again on February 23, 2011 at 5:00 p.m. EST. For more information, please visit: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/caught-by-the-ss-the-wereth-eleven-6366/Overview
About Frederic Lumiere
Lumiere is an award-winning filmmaker who's first feature film, "Tomorrow is Today" starring Scout Taylor-Compton ("Halloween I," "Halloween II") received 11 awards, including the Directorial Discovery Award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival. He has also produced, directed, and edited award-winning programming for Cinemax, A&E, History, Biography, and The National Geographic Channel. Before executive producing and editing "The Wereth Eleven," Lumiere produced, directed, and edited the groundbreaking Emmy Award-winning series "WWII in HD," narrated by Gary Sinise.
Wereth Exposed (Video Clip demonstrating the VFX process): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgoVUqj1KyA