Editing for the Horror Genre

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The horror genre in film is just as old as cinema itself; starting with silent films back in the late 1890s, through the masterpieces of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Stanley Kubrick’s depiction of The Shining (based on Stephen King’s novel), to more recent films such as The Conjuring. Every Halloween you see an increase in horror films being released to the public, that point should be obvious. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself exactly what makes up a horror film? On the surface, you know a horror film is supposed to invoke terror or fear within you. However, there are specific techniques and timeless elements that are seamlessly woven into these films that make you cover your eyes and make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. To get in the right mindset, take a gander at the finest moments from these horror movies:

As a filmmaker, you should be aware of some of the basic pieces of the horror puzzle. Not everything relies on how good of a scream your actor has, or how well the make up and costume on your monster looks. A good horror film first starts on paper with a solid story as a foundation. From there, it moves into the camera, the acting, and then down through post production – where I feel the real magic occurs.

Outlined below are three foundational elements every editor should have at their disposal for any horror film:

  • Color
  • Sound
  • Perspective

 

COLOR

On the set, gaffers and light technicians are in charge of creating the core atmosphere for each scene; whether it be something with high contrast, or just dark enough for a creature to creep out of the shadows. Sometimes, a filter will be put on the lens to add or enhance a specific color in the scene. Generally, a blue or green filter would be used with horror films. However, in-camera lighting can only go so far. These days, I find there is no filter added on the camera because you can change the color so easily in post production. The director may want to play around with an assortment of colors and hues to achieve their desired effect. In these instances, CURVES is an editor’s best friend.

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Curves can be found in most Non Linear Editing (NLE) programs such as Final Cut Pro, Premier Pro, and Avid. It can also be found in compositing programs such as After Effects and Nuke. Generally, the option will be under some type of IMAGE CONTROL menu or COLOR CORRECTION menu – if you cannot find it, I recommend consulting the Help Menu. Using Curves gives you control of an image’s highlights, shadows, and the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color spectrum. If you receive editing notes from the director asking you to “push the image further,” generally, they mean to increase the shadows or contrast. A term they use for this in editing is “crush the blacks.” To do this, click and drag your curve to the proper settings of adjustment. By rule of thumb, blacks are located in the lower right and highlights are located in the upper left of the curve.

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If the director wants to increase a color tone, use the drop down menu to select the color of choice – whether they want to add more blue or green into the footage, respectively.

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SOUND

You sometimes cover your eyes during a horror movie, but most of the time you forget to cover your ears. Even if you can’t see the horrific image, you can still hear the bones crack, the blood spray, and the victim let out one last shriek or a dying breath. A lot of the sound effects are created by Foley Artists (the people who create sounds used in movies). For example, a foley artist would record the sound of a machete slashing a watermelon into little bits to be used where the serial killer slashes a victims skull into little bits. In larger budget films, a foley team is generally hired to produce the sound content for the film, supplying the editor with the appropriate sounds to populate the movie. However, in smaller, or micro budget films, the editor needs to turn to online sound libraries for this content. There are websites out there filled with random sounds, music loops, and scores – sometimes free – to populate your horror film. There are literally hundreds of these websites all over the internet. However, some websites I have had good luck with and recommend include:

 

PERSPECTIVE

This one tends to be less obvious to most editors just starting out in the field. Perspective plays a large part in creating a horrific landscape, or an uneasy tension. Often times, the director of photography will partner up with the director to explore the ‘look’ of the film, mapping out the best camera angles and shots to best achieve the directors vision. In some cases, the director will need the editor to adjust a scene or image to help intensify the scene. The easiest way to add tension to a plain scene is by rotating the image on a angle.

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By putting the perspective on an angle you subconsciously tell the viewer that “something isn’t right.” People like to see their world on an even playing field, and when you start to mess with that perspective, you begin making the viewer uncomfortable and on edge.

There you have it! A solid foundation in editing for the horror genre. Do you know of another horror element you would like to share or know of a link that could help out your fellow editor? Leave it in the comment section below!

 

Tips for Cutting Event Highlights

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Starting out as an editor, there are variety of projects you’ll be asked to cut that can help establish your editing style and workflow. These projects can range anywhere from weddings, testimonials, music videos, commercials, and much more. One particular type of video that you may come across in your career is the event highlight. For the sake of this article, we will focus on events such as conventions, parties and fashion shows. There are multiple ways to go about cutting an event highlight, but I will provide you with some tips that can help you on your next project. I found this interesting article by Vashi Nedomansky about cutting event highlights. He includes tips for cutting behind the scenes footage for music videos, which I found to ring true with how I would approach an edit of an event highlight. In this post, I will borrow some of his concepts, but place my own spin on it.

Be organized, ready to adapt, and know your footage and assets all around

This goes without saying, but you should always be organized no matter what project you are cutting. However, the way you would organize for an edit of an event highlight may be different than how you would edit for something like a music video or a wedding. Organization will be key because the last thing you want taking up your time is poor organization. It pays to have a strong bin structure, sequence structure, and project labeling scheme that will ensure success. Always be ready to adapt. In other words, you want to be ready to handle changes such as more footage, assets, or complete change in direction of how you are cutting the event highlight. Sometimes, you will encounter outside forces that can derail what your vision for the final edit was and you have to be prepared to adapt if you want to get finished in a timely manner. If you are organized and ready to adapt to changing circumstances, you will survive the project.

On top of being organized, you need to know your footage backwards and forwards. You will spend the most time with it and the last thing you want to run into is a client asking you for a particular shot and not being able to find it right away. Take time to screen your footage and develop a mental storyboard of what clips and assets will help best highlight the event. Depending on what NLE you are using, it helps to have a metadata/tagging system that will allow you to call up particular shots at a moment’s notice to quickly insert them in a segment. One technique that I have used when working with track based NLEs is the Pancake timeline method. I have my main sequence at the bottom, and a sequence of my best shots in the sequence above. I can drag or copy/paste shots from the top sequence to the bottom sequence to test out what works best. Overall, have a competent system of being able to call up shots at the drop of a hat.

Build the story with your dialogue first

In most event highlight videos, you will have interviews/soundbites involved in the piece. The last thing you want to do is randomly insert them and not have them amount to much. One of the things I do is watch, trim, and sequence my interviews based on importance and relevance. For example, if I have a event highlight at a car show, I would want to hear from the host/MC of the event first, rather than last, as they will help inform the viewer what is to be expected. Not only does determining the order of your interviews help you with the edit, it also helps establish the structure of the video. Things that are said or seen in an interview will help you determine what shots need to make it in, versus what shots are expendable. Cutting your interviews first will help establish a direction and the 3 act structure you need to tell a great story.

Craft the edit in a 3 act structure

This is said repeatedly amongst all editors, but it needs to be said again. Anything you cut has to tell a story. You can have a lot of great b-roll and soundbites, but you’ve already lost if they don’t build towards anything. Just like you would cut a wedding highlight by highlighting the preparation, the ceremony, and the reception, you have to approach your event highlight with a 3 act structure. You should have a strong intro, followed by a cohesive and informative middle, followed by an ending that leaves the viewer wanting more. The way I approach this 3 act structure is starting with strong visuals that contain a few soundbites underneath to help bring the viewer in. Next, I will show more strong visuals in the middle with relevant soundbites that capture the event as a whole. I try to end by using strong moments that will leave the viewer wanting more. In the midst of building this 3 act structure, I try to make sure that I have strong creative direction and pacing to bring it altogether.

Determine the creative direction/pacing and stick to it

It’s real easy in the midst of structuring your highlight to want to try a variety of transitions and effects. For this reason, after I have gone through my footage and chosen my best shots, I try to determine a creative direction that is suitable for the event at hand. This involves the use of music, transitions, and effects. Using the wrong song allows your viewer to interpret your highlight differently. Using too many over the top transitions or effects may show that you didn’t believe the footage could speak for itself. Overall, the creative direction you choose should be consistent and focused. It’s meant to enhance your video, not distract from it. By not having a consistent creative direction, it can effect the pacing of the finished product and possibly lead to more revisions.

It’s meant to be a highlight, not a showing of the entire event

This is something you will run into… not only while editing, but also when dealing with clients. The point of an event highlight video is to showcase the best parts of the event, not to show the entire thing. It is your job as the editor to make sure that this is communicated constantly. If you were a viewer watching this video, would you be willing to sit through a video showing the entire event? Not likely. The event highlight is meant to give the viewer a taste of what the event was about, as well as to serve as an enticement to attend. That’s why Sportscenter has highlights of games because the viewers want to see the best and relevant parts of any sport. Very rarely will someone want to sit through an entire game and see every action that was made. Above all else, it’s very important that you remember this tip.

Here’s an example of a Macy’s fashion show highlight video I cut for a society/entertainment show:

These tips are meant to help guide you through the editing process, and make you aware of some of the things you may encounter. Not all event highlight videos are cut the same way, but if you remember some of these tips, they can help you in the long run.

I’m the NLE Ninja with AudioMicro asking you to stay creative.

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Fun Effects with Radio Waves

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One of the things I love about using After Effects is that just when you thought you mastered it, it still shows more than you can imagine. As a user of the product for several years, I’ve picked up tips and tricks from various AE gurus in the business while also making discoveries myself. I’ve also had a chance to play with the numerous plugins that are available that make the post production process run much smoother. What still surprises me about After Effects, is what you can do with the filters that are native to the program. One in particular is the Radio Waves filter. At first glance, you wouldn’t think it does more than generate concentric shapes. With further experimentation and combining other plugins, Radio Waves can create elements on its own without the need to purchase additional plugins. Thanks to After Effects guru Chad Perkins, I’ve seen that Radio Waves is most known for mograph users of After Effects. Below, I summarize a few examples things you can create with Radio Waves.

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Light Ribbons

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Courtesy of a tutorial from How to Cheat with After Effects, Chad Perkins shows us how to make light ribbons with Radio Waves. This was achieved by first adding an expression to the Producer Point then adjusting the frequency of the waves to about 500. He kept the lifespan down to about three to four seconds and changed the settings in the Stroke Parameter. With the addition of the Glow Filter and a background with the Ramp Filter, he was able to come up with a cool light ribbon element. In most cases, folks would turn to Trapcode plugins, Particular, or Form to create this effect. But with some experimentation, you can create this cool background element/overlay and use it on projects.

Grid Tracker

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I learned this effect from the Making it Great series on the Motionworks site. This is achieved by creating a square composition and applying Radio Waves to a solid the same size as the composition. By manipulating the settings to create a pulsating circle over one second, you can precompose this solid and have it follow the animation of the Grid Filter. I set up the Grid filter to follow stops at multiple points on the world map. When it stops, I place an instance of the Radio Waves precomposition to indicate a marked location. With these two effects working together, you are able to create tracker animation for a weather video, or a heads up display.

Glowing Streaks

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Figuring out how to create this effect was a combination of studying After Effects templates and a bit of trial and error. This is an effect I would turn to Particular for, but knowing I can create it with Radio Waves makes for a great alternative. Especially when I need it 2D. This is achieved by animating a solid that is 100 x 100 in a streak-like manner. I would create two instances of Radio Waves on 1080p solids in a 1440 x 1020 composition. Then, I would create an expression on their producer points that would follow the animated solid from earlier. By manipulating Radio Waves with non-additive masks and the color parameter, I would get a nice particle streak. Add an adjustment layer with the Glow filter in that composition, and I would complete the base of streak. In a 1080p composition, I would duplicate instances of the streak elements sequence until I got this look from this video below.

If that explanation seemed a bit much to take in, I’ve provided the project for CS5.5 and CS6, as well as render of four glow streaks for those of you who don’t have After Effects here.

Overall, Radio Waves possesses more capability than meets the eye. These are just three examples, but I believe with further experimentation it can do great things. AETuts has some great tutorials which push the limits of Radio Waves.

I’m the NLE Ninja with Audio Micro asking you to stay creative.

Sound Effects

Spooky Sounds and Terrifying Tracks for Halloween

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There are lots of reasons why I love October. The air is getting cooler and the colors are changing. Football is in full swing and the World Series is within sight. I can finally start using Rocktober on my social media feeds. I never pass up a chance to get my German on at Oktoberfest while indulging in beer and brats. And, of course… pumpkin spiced EVERYTHING.

But the real reason to celebrate this time of year is the one night when you can dress up in not-safe-for-work attire and no one cares… Halloween! Before you hit up your costume parties as Bret Michaels or Bon Scott (Yep. I’ve done both. Bret Michaels was a bigger hit. Can you believe that?), you probably need to put the finishing touches on that creature feature and slasher flick you’ve been working on. Or maybe you want the perfect background royalty free music track to scare the kiddies as they venture on to your porch while trick-or-treating. Now is the time to take advantage of our top Halloween music and sound effects. We’ve already set aside our favorites here:

Hottest Halloween Music

Hottest Halloween Sound Effects

I love anything involving Zombies, so make sure to download the “Single Zombie Snarl” sound effect. It would go perfect with “Movie Homicide” and would even make George Romero proud.

And what’s scarier than a creepy little kid in a horror flick? That’s right. Nothing. “House of Marionettes” seems sweet and innocent, but there’s definitely something sinister going on. It makes me shudder just thinking about it. Juxtapose that with “BANSHEE, SCREAM” and you’ve got yourself a heart stopper.

We all know that picking the right song or sound effect can make or break a project. The right file could be the difference between making the next “Exorcist II: The Heretic” and “The Exorcist.” Keep the evil spirits at bay and choose wisely… you might just be able to sleep at night.

Creating 3D Text in Cinema 4D (C4D to AE pt.1)

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This is the first of a series of blog posts explaining how to create basic 3D forms and composite them into your After Effects CC program.

Included in the numerous upgrades with Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of programs, After Effects CC is now built with a plug in to import and interpret 3D footage from Cinema 4D. But what exactly are these programs and how can they be used in the world of post production? Well in the grand scheme of things, Cinema 4D is a phenomenal program for creating, shaping, coloring, and giving physics to three-dimensional objects. After Effects CC is first and foremost a motion graphics program for creating animations and graphics however has evolved more into a compositing program over time. Compositing is the process of putting together the post production pieces (3D models, VFX, matte paintings, and the source footage) into one final image. Now with the new Cinema 4D plug in After Effects CC you can easily composite your 3D models into your source footage with extreme levels of control and detail. However, in order for you to import your model into After Effects you first need to create a model in Cinema 4D. If you are new to the world of 3D one of the easiest things to learn to first create is 3D text, and I am going to show you how to do it in 3 simple steps:

  • Using a Freehand Spline to Create Your Text
  • Using NURBS to Give Your Text 3 Dimensions
  • Adding Materials and Refining the Look

Using a Freehand Spline to Create Your Text

At first glance all the icons and tools can appear daunting, however in time you will come to discover the logical pattern in which they have been organized and find confidence in your usage of the application. For right now we are only going to focus on two icons along the top bar. The first one is the Freehand Spline tool which appears to be an inverted blue ‘S’ symbol. If you click and hold on the icon a drop down menu will appear with all the types of Freehand tools you can create with. You will want to choose the ‘A’ symbol for the TEXT tool.

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Once you select the TEXT FREEHAND tool you will notice a placeholder text will appear on your canvas.

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To control this text and change it to want you want go over to the ATTRIBUTES panel located in the lower right of your layout. Under OBJECT PROPERTIES you will first see the TEXT attribute and a box which you can populate with your own words and phrases.

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Using NURBS to Give Your Text 3 Dimensions

Now that you have your text saying just what you want it to, you have to give it some depth. To do this we are going to use NURBS (non uniform rational b-spline) to help us achieve this effect. To the right of the FREEHAND SPLINE icon is a green box icon which is labelled as the HyperNURBS OBJECT, click and hold down, and choose EXTRUDE NURBS.

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By definition, extrude means to “thrust or force out,” which is exactly what we are going to be doing with our text — we are going to force it out and mold a 2D form into a 3D form. Initially, when you select EXTRUDE NURBS you will notice that nothing has occurred to your text spline. This is because if you direct your attention over to the OBJECTS panel in the upper right of your window you will notice that the Text form and the NURBS are two separate items — they need to be combined together.

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To do this all you have to do is click and drag your text object onto the NURBS object in the OBJECTS panel.

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You will notice immediately that your text has taken on a crude 3D form that we can now mold as we see fit.

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Adding Materials and Refining the Look

There are numerous preset materials that come built in with the Cinema 4D program. To  apply one to our text go to the MATERIALS panel near the bottom of the program and go to FILE >> LOAD MATERIAL PRESET >> choose the material you want. Once the material is chosen you will see it has been added to the Materials panel.

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To add it to our text simply click and drag the material onto the EXTRUDE NURBS.

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If you hit COMMAND + R on your keyboard it will create a quick render of your text showing you the clarity of your material.

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From there all that’s left is refining the text form itself. To do that go over to the EXTRUDE NURBS object in the OBJECTS PANEL, choose it, and go down to the ATTRIBUTES PANEL. Here you will see various tabs for modification — BASIC, COORD, OBJECT, CAPS, PHONG. By going through each of these tabs we will be presented with various sliders and adjustments to tweak and mold our font form to what you want including font type, depth, angle, caps, and more.

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