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  • Writer's pictureDave Ellis

Editing 359 (Part 2: The Visuals)

With the shot logs and storyboard in hand (see Editing Part 1), I sat down to start the edit. I was kind of learning as I went so, early on, I made some minor mistakes.

First, if I were to do it all over again, I might have spent some time tweaking the chromakey (green screen) composition. It looked good but, in some cases, it could have been better. For example, in the first scene with Zahn, there was a shadow or lighting issue on the left side of the shot that causes some minor brightening and darkening throughout the scene. (I've noticed because I watched the movie like 100 times at this point...)

Second, there's some artifacting and "sparkling" along the top of Boyd and Webber's hair in some scenes that probably could have been fixed with a little tweaking.

I didn't really notice either of these things during the initial edit and, by the time I had finished a rough cut from beginning to end (which took about a week of work on and off), I wasn't keen on the idea of going back to fix it.

The second mistake I made in the early scenes was deleting the sound in sections where the actors weren't talking. As mentioned previously, someone was off-screen feeding lines to the actors. Therefore, when the actors are reacting, there's an off-screen voice that needs to be removed while the actor in the other shot is talking. I had to cut the shots so that these sections were isolated and remove the sound. But, instead of just lowering the volume to zero, I initially split off the sound and deleted it. Then I selected the whole group of sections and recombined them into a single scene. That meant that the combined footage had sections with no soundtrack. It made things difficult when I wanted to go in and tweak the length of shots, who was in the main shot, and so on. Luckily, I discovered the problem early-on and just lowered the volume in later scenes.

Visually, the edit went very smoothly for the most part. The one problem I had, however, was getting the picture-in-picture shots to be the same size and to be aligned correctly from cut to cut. When you drag to resize a piece of footage, Final Cut Pro shows you the dimensions of the shot. It also displays screen coordinates when you move it around. But, for some reason, it's not very accurate.

Initially, I was only putting a thin border around the inset shots, so it was easy to see the images jump or change size by a few pixels from cut to cut. I don't know how many times I went through and realigned and resized to try and get it right, only to make it even worse every time.

The solution to that problem was to hide it. I was watching an episode of Star Trek: Picard and saw that, when they did picture-in-picture on the main viewscreen, they put an LCARS border around the image.

I decided that was my answer. I found an LCARS frame online, imported it into a paint program (I just used Paintbrush) and filled the center with chromakey green. Then, I resized it to fit my inset shots and saved off a version for each of the three positions I needed for my picture-in-picture scenes. This ensured that each of the three frames would always be in the same spot when I added them.

Unfortunately, I didn't come up with this clever solution until I had completed the rough cut of the edit. That meant that I had to go through from beginning to end and add the LCARS to every single scene. It was a huge pain...but it really worked. All I needed to do was move and resize all of my inset shots so that the edges were under the LCARS frame. That way, any minor movement or resizing was hidden by the frame.

Speaking of LCARS shots, I cheated a bit when it came to the handful of inset shots I needed for animated screens. I couldn't find a 2D artist who could do custom animations for me, so I sourced my animated screens online, where I found recreations of LCARS animations that have appeared in the Star Trek shows and films. They aren't precisely what I wanted...but they were close enough for the short time they appear on screen.

After the rough cut was complete and I had added my LCARS, I spent a lot of time tweaking. Much of this involved changing the timing of the cuts--who was in the "main" view at any given time, for example.

Among the more challenging tweaks were those that involved the timing of reactions. The off-screen reads of the lines that the actors are reacting to often didn't match the timing of the actual lines as they were performed. Therefore, I had to cut the reacts that were too long and stretch the ones that were two short so that the reactions to major "beats" in the story timed out properly. This is where the magic of Final Cut Pro came in handy (again).

One of the reasons I selected Final Cut Pro over other editors was that the reviews said it had a huge library of built-in visual and sound effects and filters (beyond the usual dissolves and cross-fades)--and that is very true! One particular visual filter called "Bad TV" became my best friend. Throughout the film, the characters are discussing the distortion that's blocking their communications, so I leaned into that visually.

You can adjust how "bad" the "Bad TV" is. For times when I needed to cover up a place where I cut reaction shots for time, I used a little burst of light distortion. You can still see the jumps in footage, but it looks like the glitch was caused by interference (instead of by a director who was sloppy about timing shots).

And, for places where the interference is playing a direct part in the scene, I cranked up the level of distortion even higher.

There are also visual effects for shaking the camera. I used that one for shaking Zahn's pod when Boyd stabilizes him with a tractor beam, and when Frazier collides with Margaret's escape pod later in the film.

To accomplish these FX, I simply cut the footage into segments and applied the FX to the segments I wanted to distort. For a glitch to cover timing, that just meant cutting the shot, sliding it on the timeline to match the timing I wanted, and then copying and dropping in a piece of the same shot in the blank space and applying the FX to that new middle segment.

For shots where I wanted the interference to become progressively worse, I'd chop the shot into more segments and change the level of distortion for each progressive segment.

(Yeah, I know the timeline screen shots don't show the effects...but you can at least see the segments of the shot.)

One other thing I would have done differently from a visual standpoint is adjusting the lighting in all of my shots before I edited them together. Unfortunately, I didn't think to do that and, when I realized I really needed to bring down the brightness throughout, everything was edited together.

Because I was unwilling to go in and adjust every single piece of every single shot, what I ended up doing was rendering out the entire film and, then, applying the lighting adjustments to the film as a whole.

This didn't give me the level of shot-to-shot control I would have liked...but it was better than nothing. And it did improve the look quite a bit by making it warmer and a little less harsh. Like I said, my lighting skills need improvement. But "fixing it in post" least a little.

I started editing the film on December 22, 2022 and completed the first complete rough-cut edit on December 30, 2022. My final edit, with all the visuals and sound design locked, was completed on March 18, 2023. I'm a perfectionist, and I was adjusting things to the very end, especially the sound.

Speaking of...sound will be the subject of the last of the Editing blogs. Stay tuned!

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