HPA’s Winners And Their Craft

Cannes Film Festival

Krupp – Eine deutsche Familie


The Hollywood Post Alliance offers many opportunities for the talented men and women working in film, television and commercials to gather, network, and enhance their skills.   Early in the year, they offer a four tech retreat that focuses on everything from new technologies to legislative and regulatory rule changes.  In the fall they host the HPA Awards, honoring the work preformed by Southern California based post professionals.  Throughout July, members of the production community are welcomed to submit their recommendations for the 2010 HPA Awards, to be honored in November.


Many innovative moments filled the voting slate for last year’s awards, including audio post for “The Watchmen” and “Up,” editing for “Star Trek” and “The Hurt Locker,” and color grading for “Pride and Glory” and “Julie and Julia.”  Awards were presented to individuals including Stefan Sonnenfeld for Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial, Chris Dickens, A.C.E., Outstanding Editing – Feature Film, and Paul Haggar for Lifetime Achievement Award. 


Amongst the crop of winners were individuals whose efforts provided amazing television moments: the Gradient FX team who provided the compositing work seen in the German mini series “Krupps – Eine Deutsche Familie” and The Walt Disney Studios Post Production Services for “Fringe.”  What follows is a profile of the achievements these teams made as told by members of the winning organizations.


Thomas Tannenberger, Gradient FX


“Krupps – Eine Deutsche Familie” was a historical miniseries made for German television that represented the 150 year history of the Krupp family: a family of steel manufacturers and industrialists that eventually developed the largest, privately owned enterprise in the world.   The mini series provided the first dramatic telling of the Krupp’s rise to fame – all other accounts of their history were previously presented through documentaries.


The compositing team was involved with recreating historical landscapes, cityscapes, and factories. The first step Thomas Tennenberger and his team took in preparing for their work was to research the locations that would be used in the story.


“We had to deploy a team of visual effects second unit photography to shoot all over Europe, wherever we could find a steel factory or historical sites or rent a historical site,” said Tennenberger.  “We would take pictures; we would take layer scans, and then come back to LA and put CG landscapes together, which provided the backdrop for many of the grand vistas in the series.”


Because steel manufacturing has changed so drastically over the last century, Tennenberger and his team also had to construct interiors of the steel mills.  These composites not only consisted of the machinery used to make and transport the steel, but of the steel itself.


“Making steel is a very dangerous undertaking and you can’t put actors in touch with it for three reasons: A) it’s hot, B) it’s heavy, and C) it’s poisonous, so we had to recreate flowing steel, glowing shapes, to fill these factory halls,” said Tennenberger.


“And of course, they were heavy duty weapons manufacturers as well, which was how they made their fortune.  So we had lots of war related things also.  We had to recreate battle fields, digital extras, marching digital soldiers, so it was a very, very involved visual effects project, recreating a reality that is no longer there.”  


Tenneberger and his team had the challenge of working with a design approach that would be used on a feature film in the timeline of a television series.  Communicating with the production offices in Germany through emails, skype, and exchanging sequences by cell phone with the editorial team in Germany, the Gradient FX team worked around the clock to stay on top of the tight schedule.


“We could shape every change that was basically transmitted to us by internet on a daily basis so we could adjust the length of our scenes at any given time in the cut,” said Tennenberger.  “We made great use of the nine hour time difference between Germany and California.  So, we were closely chaffing and picking up something.  There weren’t too many big changes that came up in the last minute.”


Mark Fleming and Tom Dahl – The Walt Disney Studios Post Production Services


The audio post team at The Walt Disney Studio Post Production Services provided a lot of complex, layered sound and music effects for the first season of “Fringe.”  However, it was their work creating a specific monster for the episode entitled “Unleashed” that earned their award. 


“This monster was supposed to be part wasp, part octopus, part tiger, part bat, and a bunch of other animals mixed together,” said Fleming.  “The hero is caught in kind of a subway tunnel where he and the monster face off.  I think that’s probably the scene that sold us to the judges the best because it was a scene that had a lot of quiet moments with a lot of incredible effects that Tom and our effects team mixed.”


Part of the trick to making the sounds of the action, creatures and effects merge with the music properly is by rearranging the compositions after the composer has provided them.  Another trick the sound effects editors have is creating multiple versions of the requested sounds based on the descriptions they receive.


“The sound effects editor can’t always second guess what people are going to like, so he’ll deliver a lot of different versions of something,” said Dahl.  “It’s a matter of picking and choosing what would record the best for television.  Some elements are really good for a feature, but not good at all for television because you’re in a much smaller environment.  So it’s was a matter of picking and choosing and playing things against each other in the right combinations to make it work.” 


Prior to refining the requested sounds, the audio team splits their tasks.  The sound designer separates the dialogue track removing any noise: ticks and pops and other sounds, which can take up to five days.  The sound effects editor creates the environment the characters are responding to, which can add up to over 100 different sounds per a scene.


”When we arrive in the morning, you see a picture on the screen and dead silence,” said Dahl.  “We have a lot of meters and audio controls in front of us, and as you begin to open them and there’s a line of dialogue or there’s some music or a gunshot, there’s a couple of hundred of these elements to work with.  It’s a matter of opening these to the levels you want, you treat them, you put reverb in them, you place them on the screen whether it’s left or right or surround.  That is what’s ultimately most time consuming.”   


Beyond the levels and controls, foley sound effects are also incorporated into the sound effects mix.  Because there are so many layers of sound handled by different audio technicians, the sound effects team has nine pro tools software stations set up, allowing them to work simultaneously on necessary tracks, maximizing time efficiently.


“What we get from the editors are pro tools sessions,” said Fleming.  “Each one of us has a D command, which is an individual pro tools mixer, so we can mix down the pro tools sessions and bring them to the main board.  Everything is being controlled separately.  I can dialogue at the exact same time someone else is doing effects in a different area of the show, so we are working in full efficiency all day long.”


For more information about the HPA Awards, please visit: