Cutting The Great Gatsby in 3D on Two Continents with Media Composer

Australian director Baz Luhrmann brought his distinctive visual style to The Great Gatsby, the latest motion picture interpretation and first stereo 3D version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic tale of an enigmatic millionaire in the roaring 1920s.  A trio of editors – Matt Villa, Jason Ballantine and Jonathan Redmond – who partnered with Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge and Australia, reteamed to cut The Great Gatsby, once again relying on Media Composer to bring the director’s unique vision to audiences worldwide.

Spoiled for Choice

The editors faced an embarrassment of riches when they began to cut Gatsby in August 2011.  “Probably the biggest challenge was mining the vast amount of footage shot for the best performance possible, and that’s hardly what you’d call a bad thing,” says Matt Villa, ASE.  “Here was a cast of top-class performers at the top of their game, and Baz never shied away from leaving the camera on and doing rolling takes.  There was a lot of great footage; we were spoiled for choice.  We carved out the story choosing the best performances and nuances available to us.”

Villa isn’t kidding when he says the editors were spoiled for choice: The first rough assembly ran three-and-a-half hours.  “That’s when the collaborative process kicked in,” he says.  “We all worked on crafting it to match Baz’s vision.”

During production Luhrmann had an Avid Media Composer on a 17-inch Apple MacBook Pro on set or on location with the laptop breaking out to a 3D monitor through a Matrox MX02 Mini with three Pegasus 12TB drives for media storage.  Each of the Pegasus chassis was raided to 10TB.

“During post, this and a similar laptop system were used as workhorses to create deliveries and exports for other departments during the turnover period,” explains Jason Ballantine, ASE, who serves as president of the Australian Screen Editors guild.

Establishing Workflows on Two Continents

While most of the editorial department used Avid Nitris DX running Media Composer, two iMacs running Media Composer with newly-introduced Stereoscopic 3D tools enabled the team to do rough composites in side-by-side mode, allowing the editors to maintain a 3D viewable edit on Nitris DX thanks to backwards compatibility.  “The incredible editorial crew worked hard to maintain a 3D-viewable cut, particularly in times of screening preparation,” says Villa.

All of the systems sourced media from a 42TB ISIS 5000 using ISIS Client Manager for connection.

“As the edit evolved, the Avid timeline was always carrying proxy footage representing final shots that would eventually come by way of additional photography or final VFX,” says Ballantine.  “These placeholders, delivered by the design department, the VFX department or sourced within editorial, consisted of jpegs, tiffs, pngs, different format QuickTimes, video footage and DVD references.”

Postproduction lasted 15 months, and for five-and-a-half months cutting rooms in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles essentially ran 24 hours a day.  Christine Cheung, the 1st assistant editor, navigated the technical maze across two continents, Villa and Ballantine report.

“Both cutting rooms were fully-functional mirrors of one another and stayed in sync without flaw,” Villa reports.  “By incorporating one or more products from the Avid family into our editorial set up and having an extraordinary crew manning it, the system hardly faltered through the intense 18 months of production and post.”

Jonathan Redmond admits that as “a relative newcomer to the Avid ecosystem” he was “blown away by the rock stability of the platform.  It continued to perform extremely well even after we scaled up to more than a dozen seats spread across two continents.”

Avid Easily Tackles 3D Complexities

Gatsby was the editors’ first project in 3D.  Luhrmann opted for native 3D, shooting on RED EPICs with 3ality Technica 3D rigs, to immerse the audience, “as if they were there on stage,” says Villa.  The director wanted viewers in the room during the confrontation between Gatsby and Tom Buchanan and feeling a part of the gaiety in the lush party sequences.

But 3D inevitably added complexities to the edit.  “When we first started on the show, Avid was just weeks away from releasing the Media Composer update that would completely incorporate 3D,” Villa recalls. “3D was incorporated into all of its functionality, including the ability to adjust convergence, resize images while maintaining 3D and make titles in 3D space”

The software was still beta testing when the editors started, nevertheless they were able to make a 3D title or resize a shot by moving over to the iMacs running the v6 beta dongle, creating new media and reimporting it into Media Composer, Villa says.

Redmond found that, “the ability to edit in 3D at a resolution sufficient for preview screenings in a multiplex environment was a huge bonus as well.”

Avid Evolves in Functionality and Power

With Gatsby behind them Villa and Ballantine have moved on to other projects.  Villa is cutting the time-travel thriller, Predestination, for the Spierig brothers, and Ballantine is co-editing Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth in director George Miller’s Mad Max franchise.  Once again, Avid Media Composer is their tool of choice.

“Our workflow is pretty similar from film to film,” Villa says.  “The elements that do change from project to project are the system with which the footage is shot, which dictates the best methodology to prepare it for the cutting room; the amount of footage anticipated over the course of production; the number of systems required to do the work; what additional elements will be feeding into the edit; and how the film will be finished.

“This is where Avid’s flexibility comes into its own.  It can adapt to any source of material and has a choice of rock-stable storage solutions that can cater to any capacity requirement.  Avid can interface with all the tools commonly used by other postproduction departments – sound, VFX, DI.  And, depending on the type of production and type of system used, it can actually produce a finished, graded output at the end.”

Ballantine notes that while “stability, flexibility and familiarity are Avid’s greatest assets and the reasons Avid remains our tool of choice, it would be foolhardy for an editor to chose a tool just because they were comfortable using it if it was unable to accommodate and deliver on the demands of the production.

“No matter what the requirement, Avid remains an industrially strong and ever-reliable editing system,” Ballantine says.  “Avid is constantly evolving in functionality and power but does so behind the same user interface so the editor is always in familiar territory and can just get on with telling the story.”