Collected metadata for all: how LockitNetwork supports post-production, DIT and VFX on “Die Schule der magischen Tiere” (The School of Magical Animals)
Coming soon to German cinemas is “Die Schule der magischen Tiere” (The School of Magical Animals), a highly anticipated cinematic experience for children. In this literary adaptation, magical animals attend school together with children and together they go through fantastic adventures. The team relied on LockitScript for this lavish German-Austrian VFX production – because metadata doesn’t just pay off in editing.
On the occasion of the film’s release, we are publishing an interview we conducted at the end of shooting in late 2019: Script Supervisor Silvia Ladoupolos, VFX Supervisor Frank Petzold and DIT Ioan Gavriel talked to us about their experiences with our app on set.
Hi, I’m very glad you found time to talk to us!
Frank: With pleasure!
Ioan: Yes, it’s an exciting topic.
Silvia, you have been working with LockitScript for several years. What is the app’s advantage in your opinion?
Silvia: I have been working in this field for 25 years and for several years now I have been working solely with LockitScript. What has improved for me is that I only need to enter something once and the editor’s log, the shot log and parts of the production report are generated from it. That means for me it’s of course much more comfortable because I don’t have to create these three reports separately anymore. Especially with the daily report, there are also no more errors unless I enter something incorrectly. It just works, which is very pleasant. It makes it much easier to work with the other departments.
Frank, you’re involved in the film as VFX supervisor from prep to post-production. What VFX shots were there on this project and where did you face challenges?
Frank: In “Die Schule der Magischen Tiere”, as the name suggests, magical animals are presented to children in a school class by the new teacher. The children have to take care of their respective animals with which they can communicate.
Shooting this, you have to work with digital animals, which means that we worked a lot with puppets. Or with so-called eye line aids, so that the children knew where to look. There were also substitute actors on set who played the puppets when there were dialog scenes or when the animals were supposed to run around the room.
Interaction with a virtual character is also challenging. Animals were sometimes taken in the arm or petted. Then there were blue-screen puppets so that the children could feel the weight and take them in their arms. What was also challenging: I had to build not only the animal in this project, but also the whole environment. Because when an animal jumps on a table, for example, it casts a shadow. So in order for the animator to find his way around, you have to recreate the whole environment.
Ioan, how did you experience this as DIT?
Ioan: From a technological view, “Die Schule der Magischen Tiere” was really a great project. I was able to try and apply a lot of new things in my field as a DIT. We had live grading on set, sometimes live chroma key on set – meaning: the director has already seen bluescreens, greenscreens, everything already cut out. We also set up virtual images with the director and camera. The challenge with a VFX production is always the big data battle you have to master. But that really worked out great for “Die Schule der Magischen Tiere” and that’s where LockitScript played a really big role.
You mentioned earlier the challenge of big data in VFX productions. How were you able to use LockitScript in this area?
Ioan: The basic principle, where it gets interesting for me, is the cross-departmental
metadata collection. On set everyone collects metadata. Streamlining that and running it through the same channels makes extreme sense to me. For me personally, this is the future for digital departments in film.
But not just for them, areas like costume and makeup could also benefit significantly. If the technology here becomes more and more advanced and intuitive – the same way you work at LockitNetwork – then no one needs to collect metadata for themselves, but a central data hub replaces these individual activities and brings all the important data together. That’s what I think is so great about LockitNetwork.
Frank: Yes, metadata is something relatively new. The camera now saves information on its own that you would normally save manually. Now the camera can send that out itself and add that to the image information. For visual effects, we’re interested in data like what optics were used, how high and at what angle the camera was placed, how long the duration of the take was, and so on. So far, the camera assistant and VFX have each written that down on their own.
“Die Schule der Magischen Tiere” was the first time for me to work with LockitNetwork. As Ioan has already explained, I also used to have each department recording its own data. Then, of course, the thought often comes up, “Wait a minute, we’re using the same data in the VFX department. Let’s share that.”
So I thought it was really great that we were able to contact you guys and enter our VFX data directly through the website. Conversely, the script supervisor could also pass our data back. By collecting it centrally via LockitWebtools, it’s much easier to access that database during post production, of course – instead of everyone checking their little paperback notebook individually. Now we all have the information together. If there was ever an important piece of information missing, I was able to reconstruct much better from other data.
Ioan, you worked with us to develop a metadata extension for this production. How did that work?
Ioan: Basically, we did something very simple but essential, which is extremely useful especially for VFX productions: We need optical metadata like focus distance, aperture and focal length. These are also called dynamic metadata and they must be entered on a frame-by-frame basis – because when an actor walks through the room, this data changes at every frame when a focus pull is pulled along.
There was already the possibility in LockitNetwork to sync the script supervisor data online, but only on a clip basis. That’s a quantum leap and saves a lot of work in post-production – but if you’re shooting a VFX movie, you’re more interested in the frame-based metadata.
You can now easily find out this metadata through the newly developed workflow with LockitNetwork. The only thing I’m still missing is the camera height, for example. But I would like to work on that with you again, if it is not already possible. You guys were really great and always took your time to refine the workflows together with us.
Thanks for the compliments! What else could be improved about LockitScript?
Frank: I found it very comprehensive and helpful. On this project, it was all wonderful. Of course, every project has new requirements all the time. What would definitely also be helpful is the ability to include an image or sketch in the metadata. That would be particularly exciting for projects like action movies, where there are not two but sometimes twelve cameras running, then you could know exactly where the car went around the corner.
Then there’s the pipeline aspect during post production. One company uses Shotgun, the next one uses Filemaker – it would be great if you could flexibly transfer data from one program to the next.
Ioan: That’s an important point that Frank raises here. For example, my colleague Maurice Miller, who also worked centrally on the data extension, tried to continue using these CSV tables that we created – by writing plugins for other software, if they have a console for it or are willing to talk about it. We may as well come back to you on another project and say, “This compositing program uses this specific file format – can you integrate that into your product?”
Silvia: I liked the LockitScript app pretty much from the start because it’s exactly how I work. I noticed right away that the programmers developed it together with script supervisors and Continuities – very user-friendly. My way of working is still the same, you just have to adapt input information digitally – but what you put in is exactly what you need as a script supervisor. As for the other team members, it’s a great thing: there’s a feeling that everyone is pulling together and a consensus is being worked out. That way, we can also keep the director and camera off our backs quite well and have a lively exchange with each other.
Frank: Yes, I can only agree with that. There was a very lively exchange with Silvia and Ioan on set. We sat together in front of the monitor a lot. Because for the VFX department we always rename the takes specifically, which was definitely a very pleasant experience on this shoot.
What is your conclusion about LockitScript?
Ioan: Next on my agenda is the Sky series “Ich und die Anderen” – also with LockitNetwork. (Note: the series is available now on Sky)
Frank: I have my requirements for software that I need for a shoot. For the next project, I would definitely suggest LockitNetwork.
Silvia: Ditto. The cooperation with LockitNetwork is very pleasant, in case of difficulties you get help quickly and it’s definitely worth booking the service.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Ioan: Thanks also!
Frank: Likewise, bye!
Silvia: Yes, with pleasure!
The movie “ Die Schule der Magischen Tiere” will be released in German cinemas on October 14, 2021.