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Images copyright ©HBO

LVLY is a collection of creative leaders specializing in branding, editorial, design, beauty and VFX to create best-in-class content. They also work on live action, episodics, music videos and interactive content for large events. With a proven track record and relentless commitment to crafting the perfect image, LVLY creates custom creative solutions that address the challenges of business today.

We interviewed Andy Milkis, Director of Visual Effects & Technology at LVLY about their work on The Plot Against America for HBO. It is an American alternate history drama television miniseries created and written by David Simon and Ed Burns. LVLY got involved with the show because of their previous work on seasons 2 & 3 of HBO’s The Deuce, also created by David Simon.

Tell us about the initial goals for this project?

For a company used to creating commercials and short form content, the notion of hundreds of shots at scale was a new challenge. The team at LVLY decided to leverage Autodesk Flame and Shotgun in order to be able to complete that volume of work. During the project span of five months, we needed to maintain the quality of work for a team of up to eight people across two offices as well as a few outside vendors, while continuing to offer our commercial clients the level of service and resources that we are known for providing.

What challenges did you face and what were your top requirements?

The Plot Against America is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Philip Roth and it is set in 1940-1942 in New Jersey during World War 2. A lot of the work required by LVLY involved keeping everything correct in terms of reflecting that time period. The VFX Artists removed non-period items from the live action shots, such as traffic signals, air conditioners and non-period people, signage and cars in the background. We also took on a couple of large day-for-night sequences, a driving sequence that combined green screen comps with full live-action scenes, and numerous shots that needed cranes, lights and crew removed from reflections.

At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, there were large non-period crowds that had to be removed from the scenes. There was also a limitation to having only five people at a time for the interior shots. This required the use of split screens to recreate the scenes that were meant to include a large family.

PAA 1 Before PAA 1 After
PAA 3 Before PAA 3 After

Images copyright ©HBO

What software was used for the project?

Autodesk Flame was an integral part of the project; from the bidding process and visual effects all the way to delivery. Andy Milkis, who was the VFX Supervisor and Lead Flame Artist on this project, also wrote Python scripts to translate the shot and time code notes from the bidding Google Sheet directly into Flame, speeding up the bidding process exponentially. This Series was the first large project in which LVLY used Autodesk Shotgun.

We were truly able to see the benefit of something that tracks everything. Autodesk Shotgun helped to manage our production load from a central connection in the cloud. We used it to flag shots and to provide review and feedback to the artists, freelancers and vendors. Having all the data in one place is the only way we could have completed so many shots in the schedule we were given.

The client only required three formats for delivery, plus various naming and slating conventions. In all three different cameras were used at five resolutions with 32 provided LUTs. All of this information was logged into Shotgun and Python scripts were written to used to automate the color management and slate generation.

What services did CineSys provide?

The commercial and long form worlds are miles apart. Managing resources for a five month show was a challenge. In early December, we had to call for a Flame system rental from media workflow specialists CineSys and they delivered right away. Part of the success is the long standing partnership we have with them. With the volume of media files, some of the burden was also on our SAN storage. CineSys was amazing in helping support and scale the infrastructure for use of Flame, while addressing the needs of commercial work.

What was the final solution that made the project a success?

The project was made a success with the amazing and creative work by the team at LVLY using Flame, Shotgun and Python scripting, supported by CineSys and Autodesk.

How would you describe the business outcomes?

It was a successful outcome, which proves that it can be done again. The project helped LVLY expand and solidify its pipeline, which has also benefitted its commercial work. More than anything, it proved that we have implemented a system that can accommodate larger long-form projects. It’s a business model we can embrace and thrive in.

CineSys has been our reseller for many years and they were great in helping us manage our technical resources. The Autodesk community was also essential to the process. Autodesk Flame Feedback is very useful in that they listen to the Artists and include the requests in future updates. With this being such a long term project, we could make feature requests and get new updates with some of them implemented.

Company: LVLY
Locations: New York and Los Angeles
Name: Andy Milkis, Director of Visual Effects & Technology
Project: HBO’s The Plot Against America (Miniseries, 6 Episodes, HBO)
Project Duration: 5 months

Show Premiere: March 16, 2020