In March we began work on the second season of YouTube Red’s Escape the Night. We learned a lot the first time around working with YouTube Red and other partners so season two presented new opportunities. After two seasons I think we have some insight that’s worth sharing.
I have broken the post into 5 parts:
- Planning and Preproduction
- Visual Effects and Color
Each part goes into some depth of what went on where we were involved. From early in the process through final delivery. The schedule for each of the 10 episodes was approximately as follows.
- Three weeks editorial
- Three weeks VFX and MGFX
- Two days in color
- One Week in Sound design and mix
- Three Days in pre quality control
- Delivery to Youtube Reds quality control house (Premiere Digital Services)
- 45 Day Quality control period. Usually took about a week.
The episodes were delivered on a weekly cadence for both seasons.
Planning & Preproduction
6 months before production began Chariotdrive put a comprehensive budget together followed by a schedule for post production and visual effects based on the concept for season two and our experience on season one. This allowed the producers and YouTube Red to have a true picture of what the necessary post costs would look like.
As the date of production drew closer we began to plan for editorial and VFX. Start pre production for post early. You must assume that no one except the key department heads is reading the scripts, so familiarize yourself with the material as much as possible.
We looked at the scripts and did a basic breakdown of all the visual effects we saw. Although only a few were called out in the pages, this is never a definitive list, as for one, it does not include fixes, so be thorough. With breakdown in hand we scheduled time with the showrunner to talk about all the visual effects. You will need several hours to do this depending on how effects heavy your series is.
We worked closely with the Executive producers, show runner, Director and Producers to provide creative planning and support for pre visualization of complex VFX sequences and design and planning of motion graphics that were consistent throughout the series.
We worked with the camera department to plan and pre visualize shots prior to shooting. We gave input on the camera systems used and settings that would save the most money and make sense for a fast turn around in post.
Post planning and project management was done using Ftrack, which allows a waterfall style gaant project management as well as agile task management and planning. After lengthy discussions with the show runner the VFX breakdown was entered into Ftrack and the possible number of shots was projected based on the available budget.
In this season, there were far more visual effects required than the budget allowed, so we worked closely with the show runner, allowing him to prioritize what was needed so no episode went without the required effects.
There is never going to be enough money in post to get the show runners vision. It’s not a reality. Problems in production will roll into post and visual effects and the term fix it in post comes into play as usual.
The show was broken into two separate weeks of shooting. The first week comprised of the all of the single camera scripted content, which is at the beginning of each episode. The DP used Alexa mini, outputting UHD at 23.976p in Prores 4444 which was adequate for post needs. There was a week between shoots, the second week was the unscripted portion of the show and it was shot on eight Canon C300 mk2s. Six with zoom lenses and operators, two set up at interview stations with prime lenses. There were 40+ 256GB CFast cards.
Chariotdrive outlined media needs and oversaw media management and ingest on set. We ran a thunderbay with 10TB drives in a raid 5 as the primary offload and then we had a Qnap with 50TB also set up in a raid configuration. The footage was duplicated onto the Qnap and then duplicated again onto external usb3 4TB Seagate fast raid drives.
4 workstations were set up close to video village with10G Ethernet switch and access to the footage on the Qnap meant editors could put key scenes and sequences together on set, to make sure the production had exactly what it needed before it moved on to the next scene. To add to that an assistant editor began putting the episodes together in prep for editorial to begin at the end of the shoot.
We provided VFX supervision, taking hundreds of photos and measurements for use in CGI should it be needed later.
A key cost saver at this stage, is to hire VFX production assistants that are present on set to fix potential issues before they require fixes in post. For example, making cables clean, placing markers, moving crew and equipment out of the shot or looking for camera operators to adjust there shot.
Thousands of dollars can be wasted rotoscoping equipment, people, ear pieces, water bottles, etc. out of shots so that the content can pass quality control at the point of delivery. This can be saved up front at much lower cost by just having people that understand VFX there on set, making these fixes.
Editorial for season two differed from the first. In season one, three editors shared the work on the 10 episodes. The lead editor took episodes 1, 4, 7 and 10. The other editors took 2, 5, 8 and 3, 6 and 9.
For season two we realized that more lead time on the visual effects would make for a better season overall, so we scheduled five episodes to be editied simultaneously. So rather then three editors, we set up five editors working simultaneously. This is about the limit for a show runner who is very involved with the project. In addition to the editorial, he/she is giving notes, working with Youtube Red, deciding on the looks and designs for MGFX, reviewing and feeding back on visual effects, reviewing sound design and attending final mix and working with a colorist on coloring and grading. This makes for a very busy schedule and more than 5 episodes at a time could hurt the show if the show runner had too much to contend with.
For editorial the decision was made to have all the editors working together in an open floor plan. The show runner was also set up in the same area so they could all work in close proximity. Editing an eight camera multi cam can be complex and time consuming, especially when the characters separate into smaller groups. Talented assistant editors and editors lead by someone with success and a great deal of experience editing these types of shows is a must. Especially if you want to complete editorial quickly.
In the case of season two, each episode had to be completed in 3 weeks. Editorial was 6 weeks from begining to end. The first week was rough cuts, the second was fine cut and the last would take it to a locked cut. This included several rounds of notes from the show runner and YouTube Red.
In addition to the editors there were two assistant editors (AE) who set up the episodes based on specific design by the lead editor. The AEs would support the editors, flatten sequecens, prep for sound, create AAFs, insert graphics and prep for color and grade. Do not save money by not using AEs. They will make the process better and cheaper overall.
The show was edited entirely in Adobe Premere Pro. We tested premiere for teams prior to the show to see if the additional features would allow us to streamline the process and let me tell you, the beta badge that was added to the software after its release is well justified. In our testing the features were a totla disaster and use in a setting with tight dealines would have been disasterous. The benifits definitely did not outwiegh the potential risks this time around.
As locked cute were completed the VFX and MGFX were added and the process of passing them to sound began on a weekly cadence.
In season one the Visual effects were primarily done in After Effects. Some 3D elements were created in MAYA and some compositing was done in NUKE. We also used Element 3D, other Video Copilot plugins and various Red Giant plugins.
There were over 800 individual effects throughout the 10 episodes. Motion graphics were built in Photoshop and After Effects.
Effects includes animated sequences, on screen titles, rotoing fixes (crew members in shots, non 1930’s fixtures, etc), 2D composites, particles, 3D CGI, background replacements, smoke, fire, gun fire, blood hits and more.
Time to complete the efects for each episode ranged from 1-2 weeks, so it was an insane schedule to get sometimes more than 150 effects shots completed with never more than 2 or 3 artists.
Season two had a similar theme. All the effects, motion graphics and CGI were handled by a team of 3 people working 10 hour days, 6 day weeks for 4 months. Effects we completed mainly in After Effects and NUKE. The intro title sequence was made using Element 3D.
Color Correction & Grade
Color correction was done partly in Resolve and partly in Premiere using the Lumetri engine and Colorista.
Grading and the look of the show was pushed to an slight pink overall (which host Joey Graceffa loved) and the levels brought way up to account for the majority viewership being on phones or mobile computers.
Each episode had a cinematic intro and these were graded more cinematically and stylistically which elevated the look of the show overall.
Episodes were output low res mpg for sound while work was finished on the color grade and VFX. One final effects were complete we output to 2 versions of the episode. A broadcast master and a textless master in DNxHR HQX UHD 23.98. This had each episode coming in at about 130GB which was quite manageable.