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Behind the scenes at New Deal Studios


Great creators need the right kind of tools to suit the task at hand, particularly when moving between wildly different jobs across multiple facets of the industry. LA-based New Deal Studios is indeed famous for its physical modeling prowess and amazing set designs, but this dynamic studio also relies heavily on The Foundry's diverse software solutions to drive its pipeline on projects ranging from features films like The Lone Ranger to shortform commercials for Vizio and beyond.

 

Watch the full interview and join us behind the scenes at the famous studio.


"MODO's renderer gives you incredible results, but it's also extremely fast, especially if you're doing a lot of replicators work. I see it being used as our primary asset generation tool for both production and digital."


Over the past 20 years, New Deal has expanded from being a model shop to a full production studio. The team scales anywhere from 20 to 50 people depending on the project, and it has a broad range of impressive credits on large-scale feature films, commercial projects, game industry teasers, and much more.
 
The expansion of focus hasn't dampened New Deal's appreciation for blending real-world models with fantastic visual effects. Rather than eschew its physical modeling roots, the studio merged its art department and digital department so that everyone is tightly integrated and using the same tools. If anything, this evolution has proved invaluable in shaping the team's flexible and effective creative process. 
 
"We can go from a sketch, to design, then to a physical model with digitally programmed motion control camera work, and then back into a post FX digital scene seamlessly," explains Digital FX Supervisor and Technical Lead Jeff Jasper. "We are also always pushing integration between our digital workflow and CAD workflow to make that as seamless as possible. For us it has never been about digital vs. practical. We do and love both, so we use the best tools for the job, and The Foundry’s tools help us immensely to realize that vision."

A game changer

From NUKE and MODO to HIERO and MARI, Jasper and his team appreciates being able to use The Foundry's software solutions right out of the box as much as possible, he says, adding they're well-designed and don't require lots of heavy custom scripting to suit the team's workflow. Adding new tools from The Foundry to their pipeline has been an ongoing process at the studio over the years.

Back when Apple ended Shake development, New Deal immediately began exploring alternatives for compositing. That was when New Deal set it's sights on NUKE. "It was amazing how quick and stable it was," says Jasper. "It revolutionized 3D compositing for us at the time." For the type of work the studio focuses on, he says NUKE is the best compositing solution, and it's used on most of the studio's projects.

The team particularly enjoys pushing NUKE to handle 3D solves. "We use NUKE’s 3D tracker and modeler to solve scenes that we can then push to 3D apps like MODO," he explains. "On a few of our recent projects, we used those solves to build geometry that we could then apply projections or textures onto. Alembic support in NUKE and MODO allow us scene integrity between the two apps."


"With HIERO, we can take an edit and build out a shot tree, NUKE scripts, and then round trip back to editorial. As a bonus it is fantastic at transcoding. HIERO has saved us huge amounts of time on projects and has become the core of our post pipeline."


Virtual cities and weather control with MODO

Jasper was a long-time MODO user on personal projects before he eventually brought it to the studio. "MODO's renderer gives you incredible results, but it's also extremely fast, especially if you're doing a lot of replicators work," he says. Now, New Deal is pushing MODO more and more into new areas of its 3D pipeline. "I see it being used as our primary asset generation tool for both production and digital." 

On "PC Metropolis", a recent Vizio commercial project, the studio build a detailed cityscape model for the foreground and used MODO to replicate thousands of futuristic buildings that extended all the way to the horizon. "We were able to render this entire city at around two minutes a frame with brute force global illumination and textures that we had captured from the set, which, as far as I know is unheard of with about anything else you can come across outside of maybe a game engine," he says. "MODO saves us a lot of time on that end, which gives us a lot more flexibility for design creativity and trying things out."

Among other tools in The Foundry's line-up, MODO was especially useful in helping with camera matching and casting realistic shadows to overcome real-world lighting challenges on-set for The Lone Ranger.

"For The Lone Ranger we had to plan for where the sun was going to be casting shadows across our sets months in advance of the actual shoot," he says. "We actually used MODO's physical sun and sky, and we were able to do that down to the inch."

In another complicated train crash scene, the team had to merge digital and physical assets while match-moving the scene to the reference footage. They brought the footage into MODO, and built a virtual set around that camera to visually fill-in-the-blanks of the action unfolding in the chaotic scene.


"We use NUKE’s 3D tracker and modeler to solve scenes that we can then push to 3D apps like MODO. Alembic support in NUKE and MODO allow us scene integrity between the two apps."


HIERO and MARI join the party 

New Deal is always working to push the limits of what it can do and integrate new tools into it's workflow. Bringing MARI into its NUKE pipeline and adopting HIERO on the product end has helped in this envelope-pushing pursuit. 

"The decision to pick up HIERO was all about saving time," says Jasper. "It used to take hours, even days of manual process for building shot trees, transcoding footage, making scripts, and working with editorial. Not anymore," he adds. 

HIERO was used on the Vizio "PC Metropolis" spot, and it's also being used extensively on current unreleased film projects. "We added HIERO because it fit in perfectly with our workflow. We were always editorially driven so having a tool that built a pipeline between editorial and post was a no-brainer," he says. "With HIERO, we can take an edit and build out a shot tree, NUKE scripts, and then round trip back to editorial. As a bonus it is fantastic at transcoding. HIERO has saved us huge amounts of time on projects and has become the core of our post pipeline." 

MARI, the latest addition to the team's toolset, is transforming the way New Deal handles digital asset texturing, he says. Previously, the studio relied solely on practical photograph of traditional painted models mapped on to digital versions of the same model. They've found MARI makes this process faster and easier, and it also allows the team further refine things or start from scratch right from within the program. 

"Plus, with the tight NUKE integration, we use MARI for clean plate generation and projection painting for composites," he adds. 

Jasper says they've always designed their pipeline and workflow under the "Keep It Simple Stupid" approach, and The Foundry's tools have helped save precious time and resources along the way.


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