Collaboration and Creativity on 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'

Troublemaker Studios integrates workflow with Avid Everywhere.
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Robert Rodriguez and his team at Troublemaker Studios adopted Avid Everywhere to complete the visual effects-heavy 3D feature film Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Rodriguez’s vision was brought to life by the Avid MediaCentral Platform, using solutions from the Avid Artist Suite and Avid Storage Suite, to power fast, efficient and collaborative workflows.

“The performance of Avid’s solutions has allowed me to keep my post process quick, streamlined and personal,” says Rodriguez, “and the workflows they drive enable me to collaborate with a close creative team to make big features in a family environment.”

The first film in the series, 2005’s Frank Miller’s Sin City, was filmed almost entirely on greenscreen to bring Miller’s black and white graphic novels to life. The sequel retains the signature film noir visual style but adds a dimension. Rodriguez says, “I always thought if any movie could lend itself to 3D, it would be the Sin City books. With the 3D, you feel like you are inside a graphic novel.”

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Rodriguez was insistent on shooting the sequel in 3D rather than converting to 3D in post. Having shot with the ARRI Alexa camera on previous films, he understood its possibilities and used a Pace 3D system with it.

The entire film was shot against greenscreen with very few set pieces. The only pieces used were doorways for actors to walk through, stairs when necessary, and basic props like tables and chairs. The rest of the set was created with visual effects.

As in the first movie, the Sin City world is all digital; however, advancements in technology allowed Rodriguez to achieve a look even closer to that of Miller’s illustrations. The film’s VFX producer, Crys Forsyth-Smith, comments, “Robert wanted to push the graphic elements more this time. The 3D further brings viewers into the Sin City world.”

VFX house Prime Focus handled the majority of the effects and 3D work, with just under 2,300 effects shots in the film.

Co-editor Ian Silverstein collaborated with Rodriguez on Avid Media Composer | Software (part of the Avid Artist Suite) to cut multiple versions of scenes in a fluid editing process that involved a lot of back and forth. “Media Composer takes you into the stratosphere of a completely different realm of what you can do,” says Silverstein.

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From left, Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez and Mickey Rourke

Avid’s ISIS shared storage solution (part of the Avid Storage Suite) enabled multiple editors to work on sequences at the same time, and provided expanded storage capacity. “The way ISIS handles project sharing helped streamline the whole process and make it all run smoothly,” says Jay Mahavier, digital conform editor and first assistant editor.

This improved workflow also helped the team cope with tight deadlines and the multiple deliverables needed for a stereo 3D film release. “We had to deliver three full features: the mono version, the left eye, and the right eye,” explains Mahavier. “The ability to manage all of that data is one of the strengths of Media Composer. A lot of people look at it as merely a video editing tool, but for an assistant editor it’s also a database of information that I can use to manage and organize the project and make sure that it gets done right.”

The sound department’s workflow was centered on the Avid Artist Suite’s Avid Pro Tools | Software for sound editing and mixing. The mix stage included Pro Tools systems for dialogue, music, effects and recording—all networked using Satellite Link. The sound team used Pro Tools | HDX, enabling all the sound effects elements from the editors to be carried through to the final mix without any pre-dubbing or premixing. Some reels feature 500 or more sound effects.

The speed of Pro Tools | HDX enabled the team to experiment with different creative ideas while adhering to demanding time and budget pressures. “Usually in feature films there’s never really time to experiment creatively because the stage time is so expensive,” says Brad Engleking, sound supervisor/re-recording mixer. “But the processing power of Pro Tools | HDX frees up more time to try things you might not have otherwise, enabling the creative process. Your actions become more intuitive so that you think about what you’re trying to accomplish instead of how you’re going to accomplish it. That’s what Rodriguez calls ‘mixing at the speed of thought.’”  


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