- Chris Salters
Handcarved Cinema | Pinocchio Case Study
In mid-2022, I was approached with a long-form creative opportunity to edit the making-of documentary for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio that would live alongside the film on Netflix. Taking the project on would mean putting my brand film and commercial editing focus on the back burner for anywhere from 4 to 6 months. Not an easy decision. I’m a sucker for animated movies though and with this feature being helmed by a true master filmmaker, did I really have a choice?
Carving Out the Creative
Summing up how a stop-motion movie of this magnitude was crafted would be no easy task. Thankfully, Javier Soto would serve as my producer and guide. Javier’s experience in Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes industry speaks volumes and his vision of this half-hour making-of documentary laid the roadmap for our journey.
We wanted to not only explore Guillermo’s vision for this Pinocchio, but take a deep dive into the world-class talent that was pulled onto this film to achieve that lofty goal, while also learning about the dedicated techniques and intricate processes used. Three teams of artists spanned the globe from Portland, to London, to Guadalajara to bring the world of Pinocchio to life using never-seen-before approaches, like engineering the world's first 3D-printed puppet.
However, before the storytelling could start, we needed somewhere to put it all.
The Storage Shed
This Pinocchio has been in the works for a very long time. The last few years of production were heavily covered by various behind-the-scenes teams and included a smattering of interviews. Even as my time on the film began, interviews and BTS were still being captured. In all, we’d end up with over 30 terabytes of media - oh dear.
Luckily, an 8K system upgrade for my office in 2021 included a new Synology server in RAID 10 offering a (then) spacious 32TB capacity. Talk about squeaking by!
Some lesser-used media was eventually migrated to a set of external drives to give the server some breathing room. Never did I imagine one project would fill the entirety of this storage, but true to the film, this Pinocchio was full of surprises.
Given the amount of footage I’d be organizing, alongside cutting a half-hour-plus documentary, I knew a standard Premiere Pro project would balloon in filesize and eventually lead to frustrating hangups. Enter Premiere Productions. I utilized a production on a large project in 2020 with stellar results and trusted that it would be a great fit for Pinocchio as well.
Using a production allows multiple Premiere projects to all share media assets interchangeably with one another. In this way, one project could be a dedicated media master for behind-the-scenes footage, another a media master for interview footage, while the documentary and featurette projects could stay relatively empty, housing only working sequences. This method of project management kept filesizes small, decreased save times, and helped to prevent annoying crashes.
A Mountain of Interviews
59 to be exact. 59, 4K and 6K, multi-cam interviews including multiple Guillermo del Toro setups, Cate Blanchett, Christoph Waltz, David Bradley, and other actors as well as crew members and creatives. Not to exaggerate, it was a lot.
All interviews were transcribed using Premiere’s speech-to-text tools and though its accuracy isn’t perfect, it is an impressive addition to the Creative Cloud toolset. The tool is fast, free, and provides interview searchability that rivals Avid’s ScriptSync. Finding words, phrases, and syllables to enhance soundbites was made so much easier thanks to the Adobe Sensei technology.
Taking that usability to the next level, all transcripts were exported and then uploaded to Google Drive, which allowed searching of all 59 interviews at once for specific words and phrases using Google Drive’s built-in filters. Feedback and client notes were addressed more easily thanks to this enhanced searchability.
Once transcribed, the fun started. I spent the better part of a week only watching interviews and logging them according to predefined topics that Javier prepped as the backbone of the documentary. By stacking timelines, portions of interviews could easily be copied into broken-out sequences and marked up into more granular topics.
From there, I focused on the documentary’s three chapters and built the a-roll for each independently by quickly referencing the broken-up interviews. After finessing and feedback, we locked the story for each chapter before pulling everything into a single sequence, adding music, then covering it with supporting b-roll.
Color coding was used to keep track of Guillermo, actors, and crew to give us a real-time understanding of who was carrying the narrative as the doc progressed. We would later lean on color coding score and library music tracks to visually see how much of the piece was covered with the film's unique score.
This style of organization would pay immense dividends a few months later, once the documentary was locked and we moved on to the 8 additional featurettes requested by Netflix for use on social media and awards. Each of the featurettes highlighted a specific theme from the film, like the score, practical effects, production design, or a combination of each, like the one below. Since the interviews had already been split and categorized, pulling together a solid a-roll for each piece usually took less than a day.
Movies on Movies
As a feature film is cut together, it’s common for it to have many iterations and this is especially true of an animated film. Through the project, I would work with 4 different versions of the film, many of which still included green screens, rigging, and even animatics. As each version of the film was sent our way, I needed a quick way to reference all versions of the film we had been given in order to update the feature shots used across the documentary.
A stacked sequence containing all versions of the film as well as the dialogue, music, and sound effects splits, helped to keep things in check. You’ll notice that some of the clips in the sequence have edits. I’m not bold enough to re-edit Guillermo’s masterpiece, but needed to add cuts to help align certain scenes that were lengthened from version to version. With everything lined up, overcutting feature clips in the documentary is as simple as match-framing, copying, and pasting.
In one of my favorite sections of the documentary, we learn about what most folks expect from Guillermo del Toro, extraordinary creatures. Pinocchio has a handful of these beings and in one bite, Guillermo succinctly sums up the relationship of all the film’s creatures to one another. The bite begged for a split screen to view all the creatures at once, but we needed an elegant way to present them. So I leaned on a split screen effect that I had originally built a year prior for some Public Lands commercial spots while working with Stept Studios.
The pillar split screens seen in the Public Lands spots were perfect for Handcarved’s creature build. Unfortunately, the technique for these picture-in-pictures isn’t a copy-and-paste situation, but requires a lot of hands-on finesse to line up time remapping, crops, keyframes, and bezier curves across multiple timeline video layers. For me though, the result was worth the effort.
Once locked, the documentary needed some cleanup beyond the usual color grade and audio mix. A few logos on shirts (48 - but who’s counting?) needed to be removed and there was a pesky paper snowflake wiggling in the background of one of Guillermo’s interviews that was a flagrant distraction. Compositing is a guilty pleasure of mine, and using a different side of my brain after spending months on the doc was welcome. So I took a few days to clean all of the affected shots with a combo of Mocha Pro and After Effects.
Tilda Swinton’s EPK interview for the film was shot on a solid black background by another group, so the look didn’t match the rest of our interviews, most of which had been placed in front of various sets from the film. Wanting a cohesive look, I tapped Runway AI’s magic tools to pull a matte from Tilda’s entire interview, then replaced that matte with a solid green background. Back in Premiere, Boris FX’s Primatte keyer made light work of the keying, and Tilda was placed onto a plate of one of the sets. Easy peasy.
Color would be handled by the fine folks at Picturehead. For simplicity’s sake, we agreed on a Prores 4444 bake and blade approach to get the doc’s media from Texas to LA and back. Aspera and MASV were used to quickly shuttle everything back and forth. This method saves on media management and conform times with only a minor trade-off in color grading flexibility.
Netflix and Chill
Is that weird? Too late, already typed it. Though nothing compared to the artisans that crafted Pinocchio, a lot of work also went into this making-of and I’m immensely proud of it and excited to have it so prominently displayed on Netflix.
Pinocchio is a wonderful film for kids and adults that touches on what it means to be human and this short documentary only serves to enhance the filmmaker's vision. I hope you’ll click below to watch Pinocchio, follow up with Handcarved Cinema, and then maybe consider what you were doing 15 years ago when the origins of this film were first being discussed.