When Director Tatia Rosenthal captured a story with her special stop motion technique,
the frames were recorded asdigital stills, converted into Cineon files and
given a painstaking digital post production, resulting in a stop motion
feature with a completely original look and style.
Digital Media World Magazine issue 117 out now

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In 2005, Australian feature film producer Emile Sherman, known from ‘Candy’, was in Tel Aviv and visited Etgar Keret, whose short stories he admired. Keret showed him the script for ‘$9.99’. Sherman read it overnight, fell in love with it and also believed it would lend itself well to stop motion.
After contacting Tatia, Sherman proposed they reconceive the project as an Australian-Israeli co-production, making the film in Australia and doing the postproduction in Israel. Without much of a budget, Tatia directed the film, art directed and scheduled it and managed much of the crew.

At the heart of the production design was the six apartments in which the narrative takes place. From drawings of each apartment, model makers and scenic artists built their entire world – the locations, furnishings and all other props and the puppets themselves. Sets and puppets were made at 1/6th scale, with the latter about Barbie Doll size. Sets of puppets hands were made a little larger, at 1/5th scale, to help them grasp props and make the puppets easier for the animators to handle.
Pre-production began in Sydney where Sherman Pictures is based in August 2006. It ran for five months to accommodate the extensive set build. The shoot began in early 2007 and lasted over 40 weeks at Sydney’s Carnival Studios. The film was shot with a Canon 30D digital stills camera by the cinematographers Susan Stitt, James Lewis and Richard Bradshaw, and, as is the norm in stop motion animation, edited concurrently. During the shoot five or six sets shot simultaneously, with duplicate models of the lead puppets distributed between them, while the cinematographer lighted each set ahead of the animators.
Once production was complete, post-production, and with it director Rosenthal, transferred to Tel Aviv in January 2008. Amir Harel’s company Lama Films completed the film there.


Post production was done at 10Fingers Studio by Head of Post Production Eddie Gavriely, VFX Supervisor Tal Korjak, Lead CG artist Andre Lutsker with Studio Manager Shimy Viskovsky. This was their first animation feature and they said they couldn't have hoped for a better start. The main challenge was the amount and complexity of the post production. They sat with Tatia, analyzed every shot in the movie and decided on exactly what work needed to be done. 
“We estimated at first that it would be around 150 shots but we ended up doing about 350 shots, which varied from simple wire removal to complicated assembling of the whole shot from scratch - all 2k 32-bit Cineon files. Almost all required keying, meticulous cleaning and major wire removal, very complicated set extensions and design and adding many CG elements.”

They had a team of about ten. Eight compositors did the keying, cleaning, wire removals and compositing. Two 3D artists created CG elements like water and set extensions. For the opening title sequence, they collaborated with Studio-Aiko who modelled the city for the wide open view and handed it over to 10Fingers for final compositing. Tatia also gave them a hand on some shots.
“We were using After Effects, 3ds max and Photoshop, plus a few third party plug-ins Final Cut was used for offline editing and online of the Cineons before sending it all to ARRI for colour grading. We had three G5 workstations. Two are normal dual processors with 2.5GB RAM, and one is a dual processor 8core with 16GB RAM. We had 9TB hp storage.” Tatia had her own G5 from Australia and about 10 PC stations, some used as a network render farm for compositing, rendering and 3d rendering.

During the opening shots of the movie, night falls on the city to the sound of the theme music and the city lights turn on. Then night fades and the sun rises. This wide open shot, planned as a virtually full-CG shot, is looking over the street corner where the film’s outdoor scenes, mostly take place.
What we had to go with were some drawings, street plans, a partially built miniature set of the main building, pictures of selected buildings in Tel Aviv and, of course Director Tatia Rosenthal's vision. In fact, in her mind, Tatia knew exactly how every building should look. Now we had to make it happen.
The partially built set at the shoot is in the photo above, at an angle similar to the final shot. The emphasis at the shoot and for set construction was more on the indoor locations. Outside locations were only built partially and it was our job to fill in the gaps. Yair Alony and Meny Hilsenrad from Studio Aiko, with meticulous instructions from Tatia and Eddie Gavriely Head of Post Production, did all the modelling, lighting and texturing using 3d studio max.
Then it was handed back to us at 10fingers for final compositing. The lighting effects and look was achieved using the 32-bit colour information stored within the Cineon files. This file format stores a very wide colour range and when working in 32-bit colour space, its potential comes to life wonderfully. With AE exposure effect, we tuned the lights of the city, night and day, to this information.
The lights turning on was done in AE using a Windows matte we rendered out of 3ds max from Alon Feuerstein, the digital artist. We then rotoscoped each window into a layer and together with Tatia, tweaked the tempo of the lights until the whole shot - lights, music and titles were playing together like an orchestra. The sun and final colour correction was done with AE built-in tools compatible with the 32-bit working space then rendered out as 32-bit log Cineon files.
This shot was a major task for our work. Once we had it up and running we could go and extract from it different camera angles of the street and buildings, for a variety of shots throughout the whole film, as shown in the images here.

To illustrate wire removal, in this scene Mr Peck, seeing the character approaching him with a gun, is taking out his purse and coins fall to the ground. What we had were wires and the wires’ shadows falling on his suit. The shot also involved keying and CG set extensions, so the scene makes an all-around good example of our part in the project.
In most wire-removal shots, we had a clean background plate without characters, objects or wires, to give us a good starting point. But for this shot, there was no background. The side of the street that would have been behind Mr Peck had never been built up as a miniature set, so we didn’t have a clean plate to work with.
To repair his suit, we used frames from the shot itself at different points in time where the suit was clean of wire. The clean parts we needed were masked and composited over wires and shadows. However, since Mr Peck moves, the clean parts didn't fit from all frames and we used AE paint to clone and paint the suit clean, not forgetting to leave shadows created by the falling coins.
After wire removal, we had keying and background compositing. Because the missing side of the street at the back of Mr. Peck didn't exist on film, it was up to us to create it in 3D. As a start point, we used the full 3D model of the city from the opening sequence and let Tatia position the camera inside the model, as if she had the proper set. Having the director and the post production team in the same place has many advantages, and this situation illustrated one of them.
Keying this shot was tougher than expected because Mr. Peck's suit has a lot of blue in it and there is a lot of blue spill over the characters and the gun. We used keylight keyer inside AE to get it right. Rotoscoping was needed to fix places where keying was eating into the gun and Mr Peck's suit.
Also, this shot involved combining two-frame and one-frame animation, as described above, which added extra complication. Characters were animated in two-frame animation, while the falling elements were in one-frame animation. Wire removal, creating the 3D background, keying and compositing, all in one shot made this one a tough assignment. Our end result is shown here.

In another scene Mr Peck is at a pond feeding the ducks and his son Dave comes looking for him. The ducks were shot separately, and the sequence was completed in two parts.
First we keyed out the ducks and removed the wires, scaled and positioned them correctly in the main shot and synched their animation correctly so it would match Mr Peck's animation when he throws the bread into the water.
We used keylight inside AE as in all our keying shots and rotoscoping where needed, obviously.
The second part of the work on the sequence was to add CG water that responds correctly to the ducks’ motion and blend it into the overall look and feel of the shot, with regard to colour and lighting. Here, Andrey Lutsker, a 3D artist with a special talent for water, laboured long and hard to create these great water dynamics inside 3d studio max. He rendered out a few passes - base water, reflection, highlights, etc - separately so we could easily fine tune the water to fit nicely within the shot. We had around 15 water shots and used the same workflow for all of them. Some were night shots or different times of day, so different colour correction was used, but the workflow was basically the same.
10Fingers Studio www.10fingers.tv
Studio Aiko www.studio-aiko.co


The post production team said they kept two main rules throughout the whole project, as well as a lot of small ones.
1. “We don't mess with the animation, because it was shot on set.”
The stop motion animation was actually shot as 12 fps and every frame was recorded twice to make it 24fps, as in two-frame animation. However, sometimes the animation progressed in consecutive frames, as one-frame animation, for falling objects, fast motion, or just because the animator decided to do it that way.
This caused a number of problems, especially with rotoscoping. We would have to make the masks and effects hold for two frames in order to match the rate the animation changed. This is not the way keyframes, the effects system in After Effects, behaves as its default. The default method is interpolation between keyframes, making changes in every frame. Fortunately, we realised this discrepancy in the very early stages of the project and overcoming it became part of the workflow but nevertheless, it made extra tweaking necessary for each shot.
2. “Colour grading will be done outside at ARRI in Germany.”
That was important to remember because, when keying out shots, we had to be extra careful with colour issues such as blue/green spills. Also, all CG set extensions we made – for water, buildings or streets - had to blend in seamlessly with the colour environment of the shots, and all colour tools had to be compatible with AE 32-bit colour space.
The pictures you see in this document just show our approximation of what the shot looked like. Final colour grading of the footage was done with Autodesk Lustre at ARRI, where it was printed to film for delivery. All shots going to ARRI for grading were rendered as 32-bit log Cineon files.

Line producer, Richard Clendinnen, contacted Fuel International for advice on developing a shooting and post-production pipeline for ‘$9.99’, to be shot on digital cameras.  Fuel VFX supervisor and owner Paul Butterworth had been a colleague of Richard’s on the crew of the ‘Farscape’ series. Paul and 2D VFX supervisor Sam Cole visited the set to assess the production’s setup.
Initially there were problems with flickering and distorted images being recorded out of the digital cameras. Sam worked with DOP Susan Stitt to identify the source of the problem and with testing, the source of the electronic noise, developing an in-camera technique to produce consistent images. Cole remembers, “When shooting quickly, a harmonic vibration was set up in the camera from the shutter.  A mirror lockup or software shooting interval was used to allow these to dissipate. Electronic noise, from the camera hardware, was minimized by very tightly controlling the exposure and lighting.”
FUEL also calibrated the camera department’s reference monitors on set, to give the director and cinematographer the best possible view of the images they were capturing.
Initially, Fuel needed to research the process of converting the digital camera’s RAW camera files to film friendly Kodak Cineon files for use in the post house 10Fingers in Israel. They extended publicly available dcraw code to debayer the RAW sensor data to preserve as much colour information as possible while mapping into a logarithmic colour-space.
An Nguyen from FUEL’s R&D department wrote pipeline code to handle the conversion and the enormous quantity of data, over 130,000 frames in total. An Nguyen oversaw the mostly automated aspect of the project once it was operational which included converting, logging, archiving and producing Quicktimes for editorial. Fuel Internationalwww.fuelvfx.com

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