UPDATED: Asst. Editor Erik Jessen wrote in with some updates and corrections. Also see the links he recommended at the bottom of the post.
Last night I went to the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group (LAFCPUG) meeting to hear editor Eric Zumbrunnen and assistant editor Erik Jessen talk about the multi-year process of editing Where the Wild Things Are.
Some of the reasons for using Final Cut Pro, and not Avid, which Zumbrunnen had used since 1989, were the ability to work with 24bit sound, and the speed of importing Quicktimes. (Remember, they started in 2006 when it was still final cut 5.whatever.)
One of the innovations right at the start was being an early tester of using the Zaxcom Deva, a sound recorder that can lay down 10 tracks at a time. From the initial recording sessions with the wild thing voice actors, they had 8 audio tracks and up to 9 DV video reference tracks (a camera tried to follow each Wild Thing to capture facial movement for later animation reference.) They multiclipped these and cut for sound.
Then Zumbrunnen got to Australia for the live action shoot and director Spike Jonez told him he also wanted it cut for blocking and reference for the suit actors as well.
This version was used for playback on set for Max to react to, as well as for the suit performers to study. The suit performers were not suit acting professionals, but rather regular professional actors who were trained to work blind in the heavy suits.
The suits were wired both directions for sound, and Max wore an earpiece – so everyone could hear Spike barking directions. Zumbrunnen joked that the audio from Spike’s directions would make a great commentary track.
The live action was shot on 35mm, but immediately scanned out to HDCam-SR at true 24p, which essentially became the negative. They never went back to film, but instead worked from the high-end 1920 x 1080 HD.
“It wasn’t shot like you’d shoot an effects movie,” Zumbrunnen said. “We were in denial we were making an effects movie.” It was all handheld. That’s probably why they chose Framestore CFC to do effects, because they’ve been highly successful with complex motion tracking (Children of Men) and creature animation (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian).
Production ended in 2006 and full-time cutting began at the start of 2007. They had some issues with the Final Cut project files getting so massive that they were taking 15+ minutes to open. Jessen ended up splitting them up into smaller sections.
They had the 8 tracks from the original voice sessions, plus 8 tracks from the live recording, plus there was a lot of ADR and re-writing in post. Careful notes paid off when they were able to go back and find good grunts and sniffs to layer in at the end.
An additional reference video of Spike Jonez’ “spotting sessions” where he acted out for the London-based animation team how he wanted the characters to act, also had to be worked in to the cut so the appropriate pieces could be sent over with the plates for animation. Until animation was completed, editorial did temp comps in After Effects.
Spike wrote the script with specific songs playing and also played them on set, Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” being a key one, which ended up in the first teaser and some subsequent marketing materials, thanks to the inspiration of one of the Australian editors, Nick Myers, who cut a sizzle reel that used it.
Zumbrunnen used a Mackie pro when doing the temp sound mix, making heavy use of FCP’s keyframes, a feature he didn’t use much in Avid. Skywalker Sound did the final sound mix. The final sound mix was done at Skywalker Sound, overseen by Ren Kylce.
Zumbrunnen talked about meeting author Maurice Sendak at the premiere. Sendak told him: “A beautiful piece of art has come out of this… and fuck everyone who doesn’t think so.”
I saw Where the Wild Things Are a week ago; I’m not sure I’ll get around to reviewing it. I agree it’s a beautiful movie — I think the story may be somewhat flawed but the editing is certainly superb. Maybe so good that it masks the story problems.
Anyway, it was great to hear how the team tackled such a long and complicated project. All the talk about the music pushed me over the edge, and when I got home I went to Amazon and downloaded the great soundtrack.
ALSO CHECK OUT: From Erik Jessen: “Steve Bobertz, the other 1st assistant on the film, and I started a FCP discussion board for union assistants if you want to link to it. It has a non-member section with some information and tips and tricks that might be helpful to people. We also started a Facebook group that doesn’t have membership requirements.
I’ve only just clicked around these but it looks like it’s full of yummy technical discussions and time-saving tricks.