Interview with Red Giant Films' Aharon Rabinowitz and Seth Worley

nickcharles · July 21, 2015 12:47 am

Tags: Aharon Rabinowitz, Magic Bullet Suite, Red Giant, Seth Worley

Back in February of this year, Red Giant released a short film entitled Old/New, to show off the latest updates to their Magic Bullet Suite, a set of tools for color correction, film looks, and more that enables filmmakers to realize their vision in incredible fashion and with relative ease. But, this short film is not the first for Red Giant, as they have several other short films to their credit, including Webby Award-winner, Plot Device. In producing these short films, they not only show what their products can help to achieve, but they also manage to tell good stories, and it sure looks like they have a lot of fun doing it. They are not simply providing great tools for filmmakers, but are filmmakers themselves, and it really shows in their products, and in their films.

Having long been a fan of Red Giant's products and short films myself, I decided to get in touch with Red Giant's Head of Marketing, Aharon Rabinowitz, and film director, Seth Worley for an interview about their work and what went into their latest film, Old/New.


       Seth Worley                                      Aharon Rabinowitz


I've long been a huge fan of Red Giant products, but, I always find myself just as excited at the introduction of new tools/updates, as I am at the wonderful short films you create to show off those tools. Any particular new features you were especially excited about showing off in the Magic Bullet Suite this time around in the short film "Old/New"?

AHARON: Our projects are almost always based around showing off a Red Giant product. Sometimes the look of the film is driven by the tools - in Plot Device we had a guy jumping from film genre to film genre to show off the different film looks in Magic Bullet Looks. Sometimes the story is driven by a tool. In Form 17 we wrote a fun story built entirely around needing several cameras and a lot of dialog, just to show off how powerful PluralEyes is for syncing audio and video.

In this case both the look and story came from the same place - Magic Bullet Film - a tool that gives your footage the look and color of real film. We created a story that begged for the look of film.

SETH: Our best films have been the ones where we started from scratch, just looking at the product and figuring out what excited us about it, and then went to work trying to extract themes or situations from it. Magic Bullet Film inspired us with the joke “pictures look better when you make them look worse,” referring to the general public’s (ourselves emphatically included) current taste towards “oldifying” things.
You can tell when a cool idea was retroactively manipulated to fit a product. I think great ideas are often just responses to interesting challenges, and we like responding to the challenge of “here’s a product, here’s what it does, now tell a story that lets it do that.”



Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds? How did you get interested in filmmaking?

AHARON: I have known I wanted to work with VFX since I was three years old, when I saw a behind the scenes of the visual effects of Star Wars - although, back then it was called “special effects.” I was making little films with my friends as a teenager, writing full scripts for (bad) plays and films in college, and eventually, after I graduated, I got an internship at Sesame Street where I did some work on set, and then I eventually became a technical manager there - that had me working with animators, so I got exposure to After Effects and 3D. I taught myself to use the same tools they were using, and, soon enough, I was doing animation, mograph, vfx and producing for a bunch of networks and brands. It wasn’t film, but I did get to do a lot of interesting stuff, and I learned a ton moving around from gig to gig.

SETH: Entertaining people has been my obsession since I was 9, when I took every family member I had one at a time to see Jurassic Park. Initially, this was my method of seeing it as many times as I could. But, I eventually realized that the joy I was deriving from exposing people to this entertainment experience was even more potent and addictive than the joy of actually experiencing it myself. From then and on through high school, my eyes were either in a camera viewfinder or on an edit bay screen. I eventually got work doing press kit videos for record labels, which led to doing videos for conferences and live events. Some of these events actually allowed me to create narrative material, which Aharon somehow found online and offered me the chance to make a short film for Red Giant, which became Plot Device.


Magic Bullet Film example


What kind of films inspire you, and what has carried over into the films you've made?

AHARON: I’d like to tell you I am a deep person with a love of thought-provoking stories, where the journey is just as, if not more important, than the destination - but the truth is that the films I tend to love are the ones where I had a ton of fun watching them. Star Trek First: Contact, Galaxy Quest, The Princess Bride, Avengers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed much deeper films, and I’ve also watched VFX extravaganzas that have almost no story to speak of (Seth has even said to me: “Dude, the things you put in your eyes…”), but the ones I like most are good fun stories supported by beautiful VFX. The films I want Red Giant to be making are the ones that are fun and tell a good story. And where stuff blows up.  

SETH: I think my tastes are probably pretty obvious and predictable to most people -- I grew up at the altar of Spielberg and Zemeckis, so about 70% of my sensibilities come from repeated viewings of Back To The Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, E.T., Jurassic Park, Jaws, Raiders, etc. These days, a lot of my inspiration comes from Pixar, JJ Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Rian Johnson, Brad Bird, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Sam Mendes, Jon Favreau, Edgar Wright, and a thousand others that I’m forgetting.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Old/New"


How did you two start working together to make films at Red Giant. How did you originally meet up?

AHARON: I watched some early stuff from Freddie Wong, and it had some great Behind the Scenes stuff, and I said: “Man,we (Red Giant) should be doing that. We should be making fun shorts that show off great vfx. It’s what our customers do, and we should do it, too.” Then I packaged it up as a marketing idea, and got a small budget approved. Then I started looking for a director I could work with, and after seeing some of Seth’s work online, it was clear he was the guy. Great storytelling on a budget, and exactly the right kind of humor and vibe that I was trying to find.

Can you give us an example or two of specific problems faced while creating any of the short films that brought about the ideas for a certain new product, or major addition to a product?

AHARON: We kind of work in reverse of your question - Like I said earlier, almost every story we tell is inspired by a product we have. And we work around that software to tell it. I can’t think of any Red Giant film where a very specific problem led to new software. But, that said, much of our software was created through TV or film production. Stu Maschwitz created Magic Bullet as he worked on films like Sin City and The Spirit, and wished he had tools that he could work with on set. Knoll Light Factory is built from films that John Knoll at ILM worked on. Offload is built on the trouble any of us has had where we’ve lost footage from a card that got damaged, lost, or corrupted. I, personally, have designed tools like Holomatrix and Glitch from my own personal needs as a VFX artist. We make products that we need and use as filmmakers.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Old/New"


I really love the stories you tell in each of the short films. How much of the story is normally fleshed out prior to shooting? Is there an example of a last minute addition that you felt just had to be included in any of the films that perhaps dramatically enhanced it?

AHARON: On the VFX side, there are times stuff ends up in the script that makes me wonder how we’re going to pull it off on such limited resources. Sometimes Seth has a plan, and sometimes he has faith we’ll figure it out. We usually do, but it isn’t always painless. Sometimes, though, it turns out to be a lot easier than we thought.

SETH: The story is always trying to become itself, and up until the point when it’s posted online, it’s our job to listen to it and respond. The best ideas are often born as creative solutions to problems, and those come up during every stage of production. For example, the script for Old/New originally called for a shot featuring elephants driving cars. Turns out, there’s not a lot of stock footage out there of elephants driving cars (which is disappointing to me personally, and really speaks to the depravity of our human race that one cannot currently throw a rock and hit a stock clip of an elephant operating a motor vehicle), so the solution we came up with was to just take one of the many clips of elephants walking around being normal elephants, and composite lasers shooting out of their eyes. Which is the best shot in the film, honestly. If you look very closely, you can actually see my career peak.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Old/New"


How much time went into shooting and post of "Old/New"? Was there anything different in workflow this time around that really helped move the production along, and perhaps made it easier than in past films?

SETH: Principal photography was on and off for about a month (August 2014).

We had two separate films that essentially had to share the same budget. The second film was slightly bigger and more ambitious, so we opted to make Old/New for as cheap as possible and then pour as much as we could into the other (bigger) film.

This meant I would serve as my own director of photography, and that I could only afford a tiny crew. We also naively assumed Old/New would be a breeze because it was such a small, character-driven story, clearly ignoring the fact that it called for an absurd number of locations, wardrobe changes, props, and complex visual effects like elephants shooting lasers from their eyes. So we had to get really creative and resourceful. Which was challenging, but I think led to really fruitful problem-solving and creativity.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Old/New"


In any of the Red Giant short films created, was there anything that stands out as a turning point in how you now approach a film?

SETH: Not really. They’re all learning experiences that’ll affect how we approach the next. And, if we’re doing our jobs right, they’ll all have their own unique challenges and needs that arise from the story we’re tackling.

What was the most difficult project to date?

SETH: I think Tempo was our most ambitious to date, and we had a very small window to complete it. And, it was one of those projects where literally everything we tried failed on the first two or three tries. There was nothing about that film that worked on the first try. So, it was definitely the most difficult to execute, but I’m extremely proud of the results.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Tempo"


Seth, your brother Ben Worley's soundtrack work is amazing, as well as his acting. Do you ask him for anything specific going in, or is it all Ben? How does the scoring process work in the films?

SETH: I usually bring him in on the idea early on, because I value his creative input, and also so that he can come up with a musical theme before we start shooting. We’ve found this is really helpful in developing creative cohesion over the course of production to have at least a melody established early on.

Then I tend to send him my first assembly cuts and let him decide where to put music. Then it’s a back and forth process all the way up until the final cut.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Old/New"


There are so many clever gags throughout "Old/New," and what a great choice of Patton Oswalt for the narration! Are there any gags/scenes you wanted to include, but couldn't due to time, etc.?

SETH: One negative thing about telling a story that has a literal rhythm and rhyme is that if you cut one gag, you then have to cut up to three other gags with it. One section that shot, but had to cut for pacing was during the section where Ben’s character is discovering old things:

Songs that have banjos! Old blueprints and maps!
An old pallet is literally anything if you DIY that crap.

Then there were several things we wrote but never shot. One example:

He bought a new house -- never lived in.
Then he bought one the next day, then three weeks from then.
He owned nine computers in one year alone,
seventeen tablets, and 32 phones.
He never drove the same route to work more than once,
partly because he changed jobs twice a month.
He’d be in your newsfeed an obnoxious amount,
but by the time you’d click like, he’d delete his account.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Old/New"


Aside from a Red Giant film, is there any kind of film either of you would really like to make in the future?

AHARON: I know that I’d love to do a long story, like a web series or feature length film for the web - but good - not like most of what’s out there now. I want to keep the quality and feel of the content we’re creating for these shorts. I also think that short branded content is interesting, and allowing a lot of filmmakers to get started. Of course, we’re doing that with Red Giant Films, but it’s obvious to me that, as Hollywood has become more and more interested in only creating blockbuster films,  some of the most interesting stuff you are going to watch will be sponsored content on-line.

SETH: Obviously, the holy grail for all directors is a feature film. If we can figure out a smart and effective way to distribute long-form content online, we’d be all over that. The problem is that most people are only going to pay attention to something that feels like 5 minutes at the most. But genre-wise, we actually try to tackle different genres for every film. I’d argue that we haven’t yet made a straight-up action film. Hopefully, that will happen soon. I’d definitely love to direct an animated film at some point, too.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Old/New"


Any hard lessons learned over the years? Pitfalls, or things to look out for on a shoot, or in post?

AHARON: This is probably not the kind of answer you’re looking for, but I’ve learned that talent is no substitute for experience. Obviously, you want to work with people who have both, but when it comes to slogging through post production challenges, the people I have come to depend on aren’t always the most talented - they know how to get the job done and take feedback and direction well. I find that working with people like that, I can often get the result I want.

With Seth, I’m lucky to have found a guy who is both talented and experienced, and who likes to constantly challenge himself.  

SETH: Collaboration is so important. Trusting the people you work with and letting them do their job, while keeping a very respectful, but honest, communication line open. Also, be realistic with yourself. Keep your expectations in check. A video will only get so many views. Be constantly asking yourself, am I working too hard? Will this payoff? If not, figure out how this could be simpler. And constantly challenge yourself. Resist self-satisfaction and complacency.


Still from the Red Giant short film, "Plot Device"


It really is an incredible time for budding filmmakers now, with all the incredible tools that are much more accessible than in the past. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

AHARON: Put the story first. Really. Even as someone who has to co-write and produce films designed to introduce and sell products, we would never do a film that didn’t tell a good story that people could connect with and enjoy. We’ve done this a bunch of times, and it always proves true - when we set out to tell a good story, the rest falls into place.  

SETH: Put as much of your money into production design as you can. If all your money goes into your camera, you’re going to get really high quality footage of really uninteresting things. Also: copy everything you love. But, don’t copy the obvious stuff, copy the the minute details. You’ll end up building something totally your own.



I sincerely thank Aharon and Seth for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer my questions. Keep up the great work, guys!

While the short film Old/New expertly shows the use of Magic Bullet Film, from Red Giant's Magic Bullet Suite, there are also other incredible suites available with tools for shooting, keying, and effects. Please do check out the Red Giant website for more info. I can personally attest to the fantastic quality of the Magic Bullet Suite and the Trapcode Suite from Red Giant. If you are a filmmaker, you can do no better than get some of these tools into your arsenal.

On a final note, I'd like to mention that the Red Giant Film team recently introduced Film Team Experiments, which brings you super-short action and VFX-packed videos and behind the scenes breakdowns each month. Be sure to check them out.

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Nick C. Sorbin is a digital artist, sculptor, musician, singer/songwriter, and Contributing Columnist for Renderosity's CG Industry News.
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