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LateNite Films Wows Audiences with The Wizards of Aus

What happens when a wizard gets tired of fighting epic battles and decides to lead a quieter life in the suburbs of modern day Melbourne, Australia? You’ll have to watch LateNite Films’ hit series The Wizards of Aus to find out. Filmed in 4K, the mini-series was funded by Screen Australia and originally conceived as six 15-minute episodes for YouTube. When Australian TV network SBS2 saw the behind-the-scenes content and asked to license the show for television, LateNite Films repurposed it to air as three 30-minute episodes.

Two incredibly talented young men—Michael Shanks (who is also the lead actor) and Chris Hocking—post-produced the film with the help of a few freelancers, and the visual effects are nothing short of amazing.

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Adobe: Tell us about your backgrounds?

Shanks: I made my first short film in my final weeks of high school. Somehow, that short went on to win an Internet video contest where the prize was a job making a short-form narrative comedy series. Suddenly, I was 17 and was contractually obligated to create a comedy/action serial without any film education. Thankfully, a whole bunch of internet tutorials and luck made me realize that I didn’t necessarily need a degree to make films—just a PC, some Adobe software and a disdain for a fulfilling social life. I found it was surprisingly possible to do visual effects with resources that I could get even as a teenager.

Hocking: I started working in animatronics and concert lighting, but after a few years decided to follow a childhood dream and study filmmaking at university. This is where I met my business partner Nicholas Colla, and we founded LateNite Films. After university, I worked as a post-production supervisor at an advertising post house—whilst doing lots of LateNite jobs on the side. However, after a few years, eventually I took the leap to running LateNite fulltime.

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Adobe: What does LateNite Films do?

Hocking: Our main source of income is advertising and corporate videos – however, our goal is to start generating all of our income from our own creative projects like music video and series such as The Wizards of Aus.

Adobe: Tell us more about the series.

Shanks: It’s an idea I had for a while but the right opportunity never came up to do anything with it. After somehow keeping my head afloat in the industry making short films, sketches and music videos, I was incredibly fortunate to be approached by Screen Australia to talk about the opportunity for securing some funding – and ultimately Wizards got up.

The opening scene of the show is an epic battle fit for Lord of the Rings, which we then kinda turn on its head. It was really important to me that the opening scene had to feel cinematic and at least almost hold up when compared to some of Weta’s work on LOTR. When Jack the Wizard arrives with his sarcastic attitude, it has to feel like he’s subverting the fantasy genre – so if we couldn’t convincingly setup the fantasy genre visually, then there’s nothing for him to subvert and the show would immediately fall over.

Ultimately, Jack’s weariness gets the better of him and he decides that rather than fight dragons every day, it might be a bit more peaceful to move, so he does – to suburban Melbourne.

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Adobe: Tell us more about your workflow?

Hocking: We shot all of the episodes in just over three weeks with a few extra days of pickups. Pre-production took a couple of months before that, with a huge number of speaking roles to cast, locations to scout, and lots of crazy puppets and props to construct. The original plan was to spend about 12 weeks in post, however it eventually took about 37 weeks of doing 12 to 16 hour days – mostly in Michael’s mum’s basement.

We shot on the Red Epic Dragon in 5K, and then converted everything to 4K Ultra HD ProRes, which we used for editing, VFX, and grading. The show was cut on Adobe Premiere Pro CC, and all of the effects were done in After Effects CC. We also were constantly jumping across to Photoshop CC for things like matte paintings, and Media Encoder for things like DCP exports and After Effects renders.

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Adobe: Were there any obstacles that worried you?

Shanks: One main factor is that I’m a PC guy and Chris is a Mac guy. Chris started off using Final Cut Pro 7 earlier in his career, but then switched after winning a copy of Adobe Creative Suite 6 and trying out Premiere Pro. For The Wizards of Aus, both Chris and I were on the same editing software: a bonus.

We wondered how it was going to go with the two platforms involved, but it was seamless. We easily threw projects between Mac and PC without a glitch. We didn’t do a traditional offline; instead, we did a completely online workflow. We converted the files on set and used the same ones throughout the process, from editing right through VFX and color grading. We could jump between VFX and editing, which made things much easier. We used Adobe Media Encoder CC to encode files and were able to distribute a wide range of formats for various purposes from there.

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Adobe: Tell us more about the VFX.

Hocking: Every scene in our show has some kind of crazy visual effect. We had a huge amount of work to do, with only Michael and I for the most part to do it. What was fantastic was that we were able to do basically everything within After Effects – from epic crowd simulations with thousands of soldiers fighting goblins to fully 3D animated characters (with the help of Element 3D) – all in UltraHD. We also made heavy use of the Mocha After Effects plug-in for rotoscoping and tracking – which was a lifesaver for the opening battle scene in which pretty much every shot had to be rotoscoped.

Adobe: If you had advice for other filmmakers embarking on an independent project such as this, what would it be?

Shanks: Get more money so you can outsource the rotoscoping! We only had AU$333,000 to produce a film with 70 characters and about 640 VFX shots. That’s hardly a comfortable proposition, but it was still a crazy amount of fun! Other than that, I’d say: be fearless. Tools that were unfathomable even 15 years ago are here today. Given a camera and Adobe software, anything you write can become real on the screen. Adobe software is now being used on feature films and TV shows. If you’re willing and able to put in the time, learning and creating has never been so easy.

Adobe: Where can people check out The Wizards of Aus?

Hocking: You can find The Wizards of Aus for free on YouTube in UltraHD on Michael’s YouTube Channel – www.youtube.com/timtimfed.

Watch LateNite Films’ theater presentation at NAB Show 2016:

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Join the discussion

  • By Katharine (Kat) Gilbert - 9:56 AM on April 11, 2016  

    Awesome work!!!

  • By Michael W. Perry - 6:23 PM on April 13, 2016  

    Be advised that it starts funny, but gets very depressing. Nothing goes right for the likeable main character. Nothing.