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DaVinci Resolve Helps Swordfish Mix the Old with the New

- and Preserve History in Stop Motion Animated Film 'Crickets Would Sing'
As filmmaking continues to advance, it's important to invest in new technology, but also not to forget the traditional art forms and to continue to create in the original mediums. And often times, mixing the old with the new produces an even greater result. Mauricio Baiocchi, senior creative at San Francisco based motion design studio Swordfish, did just that on "Crickets Would Sing," a stop motion animated film based on short stories written by Frances Fabri.   

"Where technology is at this moment is very harmonious with traditional art forms like stop motion animation. What we can't build we can 'build on' digitally, and whether a miniature is shot in a garage or a sound stage, the image quality can be the same by leveraging new workflows and a small dose of imagination," said Mauricio.

Frances Fabri was a prisoner in Auschwitz at the age of 14 where she witnessed many beautiful accounts of human spirit surviving through horrific conditions. Frances translated those accounts into short stories, which she left to a friend shortly before passing away in 2007, and the stories were later published as the book "Crickets Would Sing."

"I received the book as a gift from that friend about five years back and thought I could find a filmmaker to take on the project. In the meantime, I directed 'Cicada Princess' and that film went on to do really well," said Mauricio. "It dawned on me that an animated film was actually the perfect medium for Frances' stories and would immediately make them available to a younger generation. I decided that I would take on the project leveraging our team and the lessons from 'Cicada.'"

Mauricio continued, "Our project is meant to be the world's most expensive free movie. It will live in schools and museums to help educate future generations about a very important part of our recent history. To capture and compete for the imagination of children, our film must live in the same quality universe as movies they are used to seeing. To get there, we need the very best artists, the very best of intentions and to be creative and nimble in our craft, both practically and digitally. Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve opened the door for us to edit and color in one environment. We can craft a workflow for our tiny production that even large studios haven't moved into."

The teaser for "Crickets" was shot and built at the Swordfish stage in San Francisco, otherwise known as the "Fish Tank." The production has raised more than $100,000 to date through donations and is in preproduction while fundraising continues. Most importantly the team is looking for executive producer talent to shepherd the film through completion.

Painting with Light
In "Crickets Would Sing," Anna, an elderly Jewish prisoner, has managed to survive the daily selections at Auschwitz while younger women and girls are put to death. She doesn't understand why this is and struggles with survivor's guilt. Johann, a Nazi commandant responsible for the selection and extermination of the prisoners, begins to crack under the pressure and guilt of what he has done. Word of the impending Allies' victory spreads: the Germans will flee and the camp will be freed. With time running out, both Anna and Johann must make difficult decisions to survive with their souls intact. Viewers discover a lesson about choices more universal to the human condition, one not limited to the horrors of concentration camp life.

Director of Photography Ray Gilberti was very particular about every part of the image he created and spent a whole day moving tiny lights to get incredible detail and depth from the miniatures. "He basically paints with light," said Mauricio. "But even with such amazing footage, there were certain things we just couldn't do on set. Enter DaVinci Resolve. Working in Resolve on uncompressed footage meant we could dial in his highlights and color treatments for the perfect look."

San Francisco based freelance colorist Will Smith was responsible for color grading the project.

Shot as RAW stills, the team had a lot of latitude to control every detail without much hassle. After the general looks of the scenes were established, DaVinci Resolve's secondary color correction and tracking helped isolate problem areas in the frame and fine tune incredibly quickly and effectively. Will used DaVinci Resolve's Power Windows and gradients to accentuate interior light sources and shadows, as well as blur and contrast to add a sense of atmosphere to interiors and depth of field to the landscape. One particular shot in the film takes the viewers back in time to the character's childhood. Using animated keyframes, Will was able to transition his grade over the shot, invoking change in time and place effectively.

"I love the speed of working on the uncompressed footage of the film. Color suites are great, but we are independent and completely self financed through contributions. Being able to work on a local desktop means we can color and review with a much lighter footprint. We don't have to compromise the quality of the final image by working this way," said Mauricio.

Editing down Workflows
After finishing the teaser for the film, the team decided to edit the whole film in DaVinci Resolve. "Traditionally, we work with QuickTime proxies which then become masters for onlining the uncompressed EXRs for post production. From there, more QuickTime proxies are generated of the post work in progress and updated into the timeline," explained Mauricio.

"For final color, that would require the additional step of conforming the edit into a color session. Using DaVinci Resolve and editing with the uncompressed EXR sequences meant we completely cut out the QuickTime proxy workflow as well as the conform workflow," he continued. "If an edit change happened after color, that used to be a huge ordeal and tedious back and forth between applications. Now that the environment for color and editorial are one and the same, we can just focus on the work."

In conjunction with DaVinci Resolve, Swordfish used a Mac Pro with an outboard drive array running off Thunderbolt. They kept to one uncompressed file format throughout the whole process, allowing them to be one step closer to the final picture the entire time. Mauricio noted that the film was essentially finished when they were done working on it.

"DaVinci Resolve allowed the 'Cricket's' team to handle creative editing and finishing in one tool with incredible power and flexibility while maintaining maximum quality. It really is a revolutionary product eclipsing anything else we have tried on the market today," concluded Matt Silverman, executive creative director and owner of Swordfish.

"'Crickets Would Sing' will be completely free and available to schools, institutions and anyone who wishes to download the film and educational materials. In a sense, it will live in an open source environment," said Mauricio. "2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but current events in the world show that anti-Semitism is still alive. My hope is that through our work, younger generations are able to look at what happened, search for the deeper truths and foster compassion and peace forward through time."

About Swordfish
Based in San Francisco, Swordfish specializes in motion design for marketing and user experience. Our team of directors, designers, animators and technologists work with direct clients and agencies to design memorable pictures in motion. We are fearless storytellers, focused motion design innovators and forward thinking UX tacticians. When you need to move something, we're here to help.

For more information about "Crickets Would Sing" please visit: http://www.cricketswouldsing.com/

About Will Smith
Will began color grading in 1995 doing telecine film dailies for commercials and feature productions such as "Rent" and "Flubber." He currently works exclusively with DaVinci Resolve on Mac Pro platforms. He can be reached at coloristwillsmith@gmail.com

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, DaVinci Resolve, Cinematography, stop motion animation, design studio Swordfish, Frances Fabri


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