Media Composer Makes 2012 a Reality Today

In an era when audiences have become largely jaded by action movies overloaded with gratuitous violence and threadbare plots, director Roland Emmerich’s epic 2012 has been critically acclaimed for its striking realism, intricate storyline, and cutting-edge visual effects.

In an era when audiences have become largely jaded by action movies overloaded with gratuitous violence and threadbare plots, director Roland Emmerich’s epic 2012 has been critically acclaimed for its striking realism, intricate storyline, and cutting-edge visual effects. For film editors Peter Elliot and David Brenner and assistant editors Rob Malina and Rich Molina, having Avid Media Composer systems at the heart of the production, from beginning to end, enabled them to meet the demands of a tight production schedule, incorporate over 1,400 visual effects sequences, and collaboratively edit in two countries.

The film’s storyline revolves around the apocalyptic Mayan prediction that civilization will end on December 21, 2012. As the Earth’s core rises and the planet’s crust begins to shift, massive earthquakes and tsunamis wreak havoc, cities collapse, and California falls into the sea. While disaster reigns on the big screen, Media Composer helped prevent it from striking behind the scenes.

“Media Composer really played an indispensable role, even during the earliest stages of preproduction,” says Elliot, adding that it “really shines during the pre-visualization process.” Pre-visualization, Elliot explains, is like a moving storyboard, where computer-animated images are used to map out the action before a single scene is shot. “Pre-vis gives me an opportunity to work with the director prior to shooting, to see what he’s anticipating. Particularly for an effects-driven movie like 2012, Media Composer allows me to map out those pre-vis shots and cut them into the film, so I can work more intuitively, without using a greenscreen or having to imagine what it’s going to look like.”

A Tale of Two Cities

The logistics of working in multiple locations always present unique challenges, and 2012 was no exception. “The whole movie was shot on sound stages in Vancouver,” says Elliot. “I was working in Vancouver, and David was in Los Angeles. Roland was working between both locations, so we had Sony’s technical people create the same setup in both rooms for consistency — same monitors, same speakers. We were sending files back and forth constantly, and the [Avid] Unity [shared storage] system made the whole process completely seamless.”

“We’d set up a Skype chat and have both systems online,” adds Brenner. “Working with Unity, we were able to share the same media and maintain a workflow between Vancouver and L.A. that was literally no different than if we’d been in the same room.”

The scalability of the Avid Unity system offered distinct advantages as the project developed and more Media Composer workstations were added. “When we’d fill up a drive it was no problem to just increase the size of a volume,” explains assistant editor Rich Molina. “The whole system is infinitely adaptable.”

That adaptability also enabled the crew to provide director Roland Emmerich with a working environment that enhanced the creative process. “We had the mixing stage and the screening room both connected to the Unity system,” says assistant editor Rob Malina. “Piping the edits into the screening room was a huge timesaver, and the director loved it. He’s very comfortable working in the screening room, and we could work on edits right from there.”

Keeping it Together

For an assistant editor, organization is essential. “A first assistant editor’s responsibilities include disseminating information and content to pretty much everyone on the project,” Molina says. “We’re like librarians, keeping things organized so everyone else can find what they need quickly. Media Composer plays a big role in my job, in organizing a massive catalog of visual effects.”

Malina agrees. “Organization is everything when you’re working on a feature film. It’s critical to be able to pull up anything at any time, and know where everything is. Media Composer and Unity have enabled me to stay organized. All my shots, all my info is there at my fingertips, and the folks here at Sony's Digital Picture Editorial really know how to support a configuration like this.

The Eyes (and Ears) Have It

While high definition releases have become mainstream, integrating HD into the entire production process has, until recently, been a processor-intensive proposition. Using Media Composer Nitris DX empowered Brenner and Elliot to work in full HD from start to finish, significantly enhancing the editing process.

“Editing in HD with Nitris has really changed the way we work,” Brenner says. “Especially for a director like Roland, who’s all about visuals, being able to view the material so clearly enabled us to make critical decisions on focus and color content, and to screen our edits on a big screen. No one has any questions on how things will turn out.”

The other challenge in working with HD is that of storage space, with each second of uncompressed data demanding 1.5 GB of disk space. Using Avid’s DNx36 codec provided the crew with a compression technology that uses 80% less disk space while delivering images far superior to standard def. “Using DNx36 makes life so much easier,” says Molina. “With this much footage, the amount of hard disk space would have been overwhelming, and any kind of edits or comping would have been far more difficult.”

The expanded audio capabilities in Media Composer enabled the crew to incorporate much of the film’s sound design into the editing process too. “It’s a very sound-oriented picture,” says Elliot, “and Media Composer enabled us to really work with manipulating the audio. We were working with a three-channel, left-right-center setup, and having 16 tracks allowed us to create six mono tracks and five stereo pairs.”

“The ability to seamlessly import and export OMF files to and from Pro Tools is a tremendous asset,” adds Malina. “It really enhances the communication between the audio and video aspects of the production.”

The Tools of an Artist

“To me, the editor’s job is an extension of the script — we’re storytellers,” Elliot concludes. “Media Composer’s workflow is intuitive — it allows me to explore different creative options, try different edits, and execute them quickly. That enhances the creative process tremendously. Media Composer has helped make the technology more transparent, so I can concentrate on the story.”