The Art of the Tease: Jonathan Gitlin

  • Jonathan Gitlin

GIM: I would imagine it’s tough when something like, say, 2012, I don’t imagine they have everything put together exactly as it’s going to be, or everything rendered. Do they give you a series of shots and say, “Here’s what you have to work with?”
JG: Oh yeah. A lot of times we’ll work with animatics or green screen footage. When we worked on the Alice in Wonderland campaign, I remember most of the footage in the beginning was just shots of characters in motion-capture suits on a green screen, some stills comped in there for giant mushrooms. You start cutting with that footage.

GIM: If you’re putting together the title card, how closely do you work with the editors and sound designers for the stuff that comes previous to that?
JG: We work with editors on title design all the time because generally the animation has to match the feel of the trailer. Some go out with a bang and some go out really slow. So if you have this big huge title and the trailer’s winding down, it’s going to feel really odd.

GIM: Who comes up with the overall scheme: the story, the colors, the sound? Is there one person who oversees it all? Or is it some marketing department?
JG: It’s a conjunction of the producer talking to the client and understanding, to a point, where they want to take the trailer. And then the producer will sit down with the editor, then the editor will look at the footage and have his input. At that point a music supervisor will be pulling music for the editor. The editor will be doing all the sound design, then graphics will be brought in to do the title design and the cards. Sometimes graphics can be a much bigger deal than usual. Sometimes there’s not that much footage, or they’re trying to hide the fact that this movie’s not going to be very good so they want to start it off with a big 30-second graphic piece where all this stuff is happening and you’re trying to coax the viewer into thinking it’s like this when honestly, it’s probably not. Hey, it’s marketing!

GIM: Is there a lot of rejection?
JG: Absolutely. Happens every single day.

GIM: Tell me about your experience on the trailer for This Is It, because that’s a remarkable piece of work.
JG: We were approached by Sony; they had just bought the rights to the footage and the footage was so under lock and key that we had to have our producer and editor work on Sony’s lot. They were there night and day because they had to get a first cut out in two weeks, which is pretty unreasonable when you haven’t seen any footage yet, nor do they have a movie. The footage was never meant to be seen, so the footage was not shot in that manner – it was handheld, some of it wasn’t in HD. There are moments in the trailer where you hear this horrible “hiss” because that’s the best audio we had. It was a nightmare, like aimlessly throwing darts at a dartboard. At the end of the day, it was the most rewarding piece we’ve ever done. It was all hands on deck for that one. It won the Golden Trailer for best music.

This is It - Michael Jackson Trailer from Create Design LA on Vimeo.

GIM: It seems like such a minuscule thing, but the two guns that make the “T” in the trailer for Hitman won you some acclaim. What went into that?
JG: That was the first time we ever created a full graphic piece. When we did that, myself and the associate creative director, Jake Black, had maybe a year of experience between the two of us, we had no real render farm to speak of … it was a technical nightmare, I’ll tell you that much. And we won a Golden Trailer for it, so it was quite a year.

GIM: Is there enormous pressure when you’re adding something to, say, Up, where every frame of the footage is a piece of art and you have to—
JG: Match Pixar’s style? (laughs) Well, when we worked on Up, we went full-throttle and created these graphics but they weren’t up to Pixar standards, so they actually took the idea and did it themselves. Which we were totally OK with!

GIM: Metal Gear Solid seems like even more pressure because so many people have such a personal stake in it.
JG: Oh my god, video games … the fanboys are always, “OK, that’s fine but what does the game look like?”

GIM: Well, it seems like you have people playing these things that could reasonably make the game themselves.
JG: Video games for us, the graphics side, there’s much more pressure. These guys look frame-by-frame, they know your tricks and you can’t have a random screw-up anywhere or they’ll know.

GIM: What about the tools in your tool belt? What’s your big go-to software?
JG: For compositing we use After Effects. Right now, we’re on CS3. Obviously we use the Creative Suite. For 3-D we’re on Maya 2010. We’ve used Vue for terrain. Whenever we do fluid dynamics we use RealFlow. You have to license all that stuff, whether it’s stock footage, fonts, music. A lot of times we buy 3-D models off this site called TurboSquid then just detail it with ZBrush or Mudbox, texture library. The best thing to do is buy it and tweak from there on, because to have a designer create it from scratch, you’re just going to lose money.

GIM: There are certain fonts that all trailers use. How inaccessible are they? How exclusive?
JG: Oh, they’re all accessible. (laughs) They’re all the same … Trajan is a huge one. Fonts like Bank Gothic, Impact, they’re used constantly.

GIM: Do you have an ace up your sleeve, something highly specialized that’s a good trick?
JG: There are a lot of things that are technically hard to do, but whenever you show a client they are never impressed.

GIM: What’s a trailer graphic that really floored you or made you jealous?
JG: Probably the first time I saw the first Transformers title. I thought that was really, really cool.

GIM: The one that transformed?
JG: It actually transformed. And the title for Zombieland. They created the title on this huge, post-apocalyptic world. It’s so beautiful.

GIM: What piece of knowledge – software, hardware – do you wish you had learned more of in college?
JG: It’s not knowing one piece of software, it’s that the software was taught separately. There is a synergy that goes on between all the software packages, and if you’re just a 3-D guy, that’s not enough. You need to know how to take that 3-D render and make it really sing in your compositing package. Even when I sit down with younger designers and they come in and say, “I want to be better, I want to make more money, what do I do?” I say, “Be perfect at everything.” I can’t say, “Do nCloth or Maya.” That one thing is not enough.   Get In Media

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Fun!

I worked as a promotions editor for 9 years at different tv stations. I always thought that building movie trailers would be really interesting because you could focus on one large creation at a time instead of a bunch of small things. I had no idea that they took them out of house to be produced though. I did find it amusing that you end up with a lot of the same problems (“Can I get this in a week?”) as you do on the smaller scale work. ;) haha