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Why Do We Need Editors?
Think back to the last time you cut a reel...
It probably went something like this. You sat in front of the computer, picked out that perfect track of music, found all of your projects, brought them into After Effects, and then you had to make a TON of decisions...
What shot do I chose? When do I cut? Is there a better shot for this? Did I cut that too soon? What beat of the music do I cut on? Is that shot too long? Does that shot look good next to that other one? Is that shot too slow?
There's no expression or plugin to help you cut a good reel. You need to learn how to think like an Editor.
We've got a new Podcast episode ready for your ears featuring Mike Radtke, the Editor Extraordinaire from Digital Kitchen. This time Joey plays devil's advocate to really dig into why we need editors in our industry, why Motion Designers don't do both jobs, and what a MoGrapher can learn from the editing world to get better at their own craft.
Joey Korenman: Us motion designers really love cool transitions in work, don't we. Well here's a pop quiz. What's the transition that gets used more than any other one? Yes, it's a star wipe. I'm just kidding. It's a plain old cut, an edit. And the fact that most Mographers forget that is pretty telling I think. We get so caught up in the design and the animation, that we forget the real purpose of what we're doing most of the time, which is telling stories. Editors on the other hand, focus almost exclusively on the story, the pacing, the arc, the mood.
A good editor can add so much to a motion design piece, and today we have a great editor with us. Mike Radtke from Digital Kitchen in Chicago. In this episode I grill Mike with a bunch of questions about what the heck an editor has to do with motion design. I mean come on, editing's easy right? You set an in. You set an out. You add some clips, put some music in. Come on. I mean I'm kidding of course, but I do play devil's advocate, and I try to get to the bottom of just what makes some editing good.
Quick note about this episode. I may have had my mic settings a little wrong when we recorded, and I sound a little bit like I'm talking into a shoe or a tin can. I apologize. It was a rookie move, but it shouldn't affect your enjoyment of this episode. And the important person, Mike, actually sounds amazing. I hope you dig this conversation, and before we get into it, we're going to hear from one of our brilliant boot camp alumni Lily Baker.
Lily Baker: Hi, my name is Lily Baker. I live in London, United Kingdom, and I've taken Animation Boot Camp, Character Animation Boot Camp and Design Boot Camp with School of Motion. These courses genuinely launched my whole career into animation and motion graphics and illustration. School of Motion has literally taught me everything I know. I've been amazed that I've gone from being self-taught and messing around with Adobe, to actually being able to quit my job and start freelancing the next day. And it's been a year, and I haven't been out of work. And I 100% owe that all to School of Motion. My name is Lily Baker, and I'm a School of Motion graduate.
Joey Korenman: Mike, dude, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I cannot wait to get really geeky with you.
Mike Radtke: Yeah absolutely. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, no problem man. So first thing I want to get into is your LinkedIn page. So I did my homework, and I'm like all right this guy is an editor, oh look Digital Kitchen, I've heard of them. Imaginary Forces. And then I see After Effects Artist on there. And I think you even used the word Motion Graphics Artist on another one of your previous gigs. So I'd love to hear a little bit of your story, because it sounds like you, you know, making your way to Senior Editor at Digital Kitchen, you were actually doing After Effects for a while.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, I feel like that's a little grandiose, me calling myself an After Effects artist. The stuff that I did for "Community" was actually, it was more for ... My friends were doing all of their webisodes. So I did, like the graphics were supposed to be really bad, which is right up my alley when it comes to motion graphics. They were supposed to look like community college, not good. So that worked out really well for me. There was one thing that made it to air that was ... I don't know if you were familiar with the show, but on "Community" Abed took a film class, and he had to make a video where he was talking with his dad. And it was all about this relationship with his dad and everything. And all of these heads are superimposed on the characters from his family. And that also looks really bad, and it was supposed to, because Abed obviously doesn't know how to do that. But that was something that I made for that. So an After Effects artist is a little grandiose, like I said, but it was something to put on my resume.
Joey Korenman: Awesome. You know sometimes it's harder to make things look bad, than to make them look good. So you know it actually takes a certain kind of talent to do that. So you shouldn't be ashamed of your bad After Effects job. So how did you end up ... Let me ask you this, because, I don't know, people listening to the podcast may not know this, but I actually started my career as an editor. And I was kind of on track to do the editor thing, and I want to talk about that with you a little bit. Did you aim at becoming an editor? Or were you kind of finding your way through post-production and landed there? How did you end up in the spot you're in?
Mike Radtke: Yeah, I definitely had more of a ... I really wanted to be an editor more than anything. After Effects was something that I just kind of started picking up when I was in college. So I was taking a lot of post classes, and I got interesting in it and was just doing tons of tutorials online. And I got pretty good at it, to the point now where I still sometimes will have friends ask me to do something motion graphicsy and I have to tell them, "I'm really not that good at this, so you might want to find somebody else." So yeah I started doing it in college, and then editing was really what I wanted to do. Then when I moved to Los Angeles, I looked for companies that did exactly what I wanted to do, which was like title sequences and [inaudible 00:05:33], I got a job there and just kind of went down the editorial path from there.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha. So one of the things that ... And this actually in a way was one of the things that kind of helped to turn me away from editing. So I was an editor in Boston, which is a town that's kind of set up similar to New York, in the way post-production houses work. Meaning if you want to be an editor, typically you have to be an assistant editor first. And you can be in that role for five, six years.
Mike Radtke: Oh yeah, forever.
Joey Korenman: So that part's bad. Now the good part of that, is that you're essentially getting an apprenticeship under someone really good. And in motion design, there's not really a corollary to that. That doesn't really exist. So I'm curious, is that sort of the path you took? Starting as assistant editor and learning, and if so was that really helpful? Did you learn a lot doing that?
Mike Radtke: When I started as a PA at Imaginary Forces, which means you do a lot of everything around the office. I kind of just let my interests be known, and I tried to talk to the editors as much as possible. There were two there that were awesome at the time. I eventually talked to them enough where I started doing things for them when I was a PA. Then I got moved into the vault, which a vault doesn't really ... Most places don't have vaults anymore, but that's where you used to store all the tapes, and like actual hard media, and you would check things in and out of there, like assets for people. Probably the last time a vault was ever used at Imaginary Forces, I was like the last vault person there practically.
And then from there I started assisting more and more because I had the time, and then eventually I started editing a little bit here and there. But at the same time, I kind of got taken under the wing of our Flame operators. And I kind of expressed interest in doing Flame too, so they started teaching me Flame, and I was assistant editing, and I was assisting them. I eventually started doing like split shifts where during the day I would assist and edit, and at night I would do Flame stuff for those guys. Until it got to the point where my editorial needs took over so much more of the time, and I didn't have as much time to be working on Flame stuff. So I eventually was just editing during the days all the day.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha. So for people listening because Flame is not something everyone's going to have any experience with. Can you explain what Flame is, and how it's used at Imaginary Forces?
Mike Radtke: Yeah, so Imaginary Forces, it was like their finishing tool and compositing tool. People might know what Nuke is. It's similar to that in a sense, and it's a node based compositing software. But Imaginary Forces used it for like it's heavy lifting in terms of compositing and color correction and fixing any shot. The two guys we had there doing Flame were like magicians. They could fix anything. It was like the go-to for like problem solver.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it's interesting. So, a little more context about Flame. I don't know what it costs now, but it used to cost like-
Mike Radtke: Significantly cheaper.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, yeah. But I mean it used to cost like two-hundred, three-hundred thousand dollars. And it's a turn key system right? You buy the hardware and the software. And I think they now have some sort of Mac application that you can buy for like 20 grand or 30 grand or something. Don't quote me on the numbers.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, it's like subscription based now. I think you can get a Mac subscription for it. I know that's how Smoke is, which is their editing software. Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Gotcha. But Flame ... It's interesting, we've kind of turned some of the same corners. There was a time when I thought I wanted to be a Flame artist. And the problem with Flame ... And you're very lucky that you got to work at Imaginary Forces. The biggest problem is, by the time I felt like I knew enough about compositing to be useful as a Flame artist, I was freelance. And I wasn't going to buy my own Flame, so I really didn't have any opportunity to learn it. So I'm curious, was it difficult for you to learn Flame, coming from, you know you knew After Effects pretty well.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, they kind of go hand in hand. Some of the things I learned in After Effects were definitely applicable to Flame. Except now if I want to do a compositing thing, I think in terms of how a Flame would do it with nodes and all of their actions and things like that. And so that's really difficult to jump back to After Effects, when I'm like, I could have just done this so much easier with a couple of nodes. But it is difficult to learn. I mean it's a hard software to understand and wrap your head around.
But like I said, I was doing it at night, and the guys Rod Basham and Eric Mason are two like amazing artists. And they were super patient and helpful, and wanting to show me this stuff. And I'm very grateful that they took that time to do it, because I could just sit in there at night. I could go in on the weekends, and just pound away at this thing and try to figure this stuff out. And then just ask them questions when something came up or like when I couldn't do anything, I would just be like, "I don't know how to fix this problem," and then one of them just be like, "Yeah you just do it like this." And you're like, "Oh come on."
Joey Korenman: I know.
Mike Radtke: But I mean Rod would intentionally give me stuff that he knew would just be annoyingly hard, just to try to figure this out. And I'd just work on it for a couple of days and then inevitably be like, "How would you have done this? Because I have something that's kind of okay, but I don't know. It's not the right way." And then he would show me five other ways to do it that were faster and easier and look better.
Joey Korenman: Okay, so this is interesting about you. You have a lot more experience with After Effects and things like Flame. You know compositing and probably animation than a lot of editors have. And so my next question, and this is kind of a softball. Has that experience helped you as an editor, and has it helped your career as an editor?
Mike Radtke: Yeah, it's one of those things where places want you to know how to do everything now. It's hard to get past like, "Well yeah, you can edit, but can you do After Effects? Or can you use Photoshop?" Or whatever, like everybody wants you to do a million things. So it's definitely just having Flame Assist on my resume is helpful, because that kind of implies that I understand those things. But it helps with the work, especially this type of motion graphics and really graphics heavy work. Like I understand how to do certain compositing things that are really basic for a real Flame artist. But for editorial, it's really helpful to be able to do like rough composites in edit software, that push an edit a long ways that just goes to show somebody what it will eventually be like, where maybe not every editor might not do that.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha, gotcha. Okay, I can imagine that those skills would come in really, really handy at a place like Imaginary Forces or now Digital Kitchen where you're at. So having some experience in the compositing and mograph world, and now a lot of experience in the editorial world ... Let me put this question a different way. So when I made the choice to go from editing into motion graphics, to me the main reason was I felt like when I'm editing, I'm limited. I'm given like four colors. I'm given like an hour's worth of footage. Here's what you have, make something with it. But in After Effects I can design whatever I want, I can animate whatever I want. The sky's the limit, there are no limits right? And I'm curious if you would agree with that, or if I'm missing something?
Mike Radtke: I think they're just different you know? Like if you have a pile of footage, there's endless ways you can put that together. I mean I guess you are limited in the fact that you can't put something in that footage that's not there easily, you know. In that sense you're limited but if you're trying to make a narrative out of an interview or dialogue or something, there's a lot of ways you can do that to make something completely different. But yeah, I mean it is ... It's not quite as expansive as you can be with motion graphics probably.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Mike Radtke: I guess I don't look at it as limiting so much as like you're kind of helping the process along by telling a story in a different way. Especially when you're working with motion graphic artists like you're helping mold a story in a different way. I see it more as a support role a lot of the time, but it's still another tool for them to make something really awesome.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha. Okay. And I agree with you by the way, just for any editors listening, that may have been angered by my question. That was like devil's advocate. All right let me ask you this, so there are things ... By the way, everyone listening to this, we're going to have show notes. You can check out Mike's reel. He's got amazing, amazing work. Man, you've worked with some amazing people, by the way.
Mike Radtke: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: So there are things on your reel that are like 90% footage, and you can tell that they've been edited. But then you have things that there's zero footage. Literally. It's just an animated piece, but you're listed as the editor.
Mike Radtke: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: So, can you kind of explain to me, on one of those jobs, right? Where there's literally ... there's not even any edits really. I mean maybe there's a couple of edits in there, but it's like this you know. It's like an animated piece. What is the editor doing on those jobs?
Mike Radtke: Yeah, so I don't know if you have one example in mind specifically that I could speak to. I could come up with one if you don't have one, but-
Joey Korenman: There was one that I watched that was called "Lagoon Amusement Park" and everyone listening you should go check out the spot. But essentially, it's kind of, I don't know, like a 2 1/2 D with some 3D kind of really cool stylized, illustrated looking amusement park promo. And there are some edits in it, but there are some really long shots in it that have no edits.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, something like that, that was done by Joan Lau who's awesome. She makes like really pretty things all the time. Basically for an editor in that role, like this is a spot for this amusement park that's a regional thing, and we have a script. So we have a script that ... I don't even know if that one has voiceover on my reel, but there's music, so you have a music piece, you know how long it is. And you know what you're trying to do, because somebody had drawn out boards. Basically frames. I think in this spot, this was a long time ago, but Joan and some other artists had made style frames, and that's how they sold this idea. Then they would give me those style frames. There was probably only a handful of them at the time. And I would time things out according to those frames.
So you would just put them in the timeline, and you'd just have these blocked out sections. And then we would talk together and be like, okay well we should probably have a couple more frames here to get this idea across. To get like movement ideas across, like when things are spinning, or a roller coaster's going up. You know you kind of talk about, all right what's the action in here? And that way I can know how much time to give something, like a reasonable amount of time. And then I can ask them to maybe make a couple more frames, so that we get a better idea of that.
Or sometimes I'll go in and even edit frames myself, so that I have new frames that get an idea across. And then eventually you just pull together this entire animatic or boardamatic rather that is showing this whole piece, just in a handful of stills. When I made the original boardamatic, there was way, way more stills, but the thing is, it doesn't look like there's cuts in the actual piece because the beauty of motion graphics. They made everything seamless, but I mean in the original thing that I made, there was tons and tons of cuts. They weren't all like meshed together perfectly like they are now.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha. Okay, that was a really good explanation, and that's what I kind of assumed, that your role is kind of invisible, because it was more on the front end, doing the animatic or the boardamatic.
Mike Radtke: Yeah it's all timing. With things like that, you're just doing timing. I'll talk to whoever put the boards together, and whoever's art directing this thing. And we'll talk about the motivation behind each frame, and what's supposed to be happening there. And what they envision happening there. And then I'll take that back, and I will do my best to put the right amount of time for that, and then it's always a back and forth. Sometimes I'll just do one or two really quick animatics. I hand it over, and then they just run with it, and I never see it again. And then other times, I'll put together boards. They'll make some rough animations, and they'll give them back to me. I'll re-time things, or I will adjust the edit to make it work for their timings. And then I give them another reference, and then we just keep going back and forth until things are working the way they're supposed to.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha. Okay, so I have a few questions. So first of all, when you're cutting these things, how much animation are you doing kind of in the editing app? Like you know scaling up the frame or twisting it, or even maybe taking a couple of layers and shifting them to show something. How much of that are you doing in that edit?
Mike Radtke: It really depends on the edit. Sometimes a lot, and then other times if it has to be really quick and fast, then I won't do much of anything. There's usually like some sort of scaling or positioning changing, just to get the idea of movement a little bit. But yeah, sometimes we'll break apart layers and do some motion there and fade certain things on and off with a background up. It depends on how much control I have over those images.
Like I said, sometimes I'll go in and make my own frames that will showcase those sorts of ideas. And other times, depending on how many people are on it, I can ask somebody to like, I want a frame that does this or a frame that does this. And they'll make it or after we all review it, the person that's in charge of it will just be like, "Yeah I actually want a couple of more frames. I'm going to go make those for you real quick, and then you'll put them here." And we just go from there. But there's a lot of key-framing and animating, like rough animation that happens in editing when you're doing animatics.
Joey Korenman: Okay, so I mean that's interesting, because that's not something that you think of when you say, "I'm an editor." You don't think of the fact that you're actually kind of animating. And I'm assuming that your experience using After Effects and using Flame, and using apps where you're animating, that's got to be really handy. So have you run into editors that maybe, I don't know, old school editors that don't do that? Or is that old breed of editor that just cuts, are they able to still operate at a place like Digital Kitchen?
Mike Radtke: I feel like, yeah, they're still around. There's certain people that are more savvy in terms of the sorts of compositing and animating you can do in editing. I feel like most people, the people that I worked under that were like the first editors I assisted for. They did a lot of that stuff, so I kind of ... That's not something I would have thought an editor was doing either. And I kind of had motion background, so it wasn't foreign to me, but I didn't think like that's something an editor did.
But then going through their projects, it was like, oh okay, so you're actually motivating a lot of these things. So I was introduced to that really early on in editing, but there's definitely editors that ... Not to say they couldn't do it or don't, but I feel like don't spend a lot of time doing any animating in their projects.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I mean I've run into, not very many, maybe one or two in my career that were kind of purists, you know? Like editing is cutting film, and I don't want to deal with any of this effects and animation and stuff like that. Yet they were really good editors.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, absolutely.
Joey Korenman: And here's the thing that it took me a long time. I feel kind of like embarrassed to admit this, but it took me a long time to really realize ... And I'm going to ask you about this in a second, but it took me a long time to realize that editing is really hardb and there are people that are rock stars at it, and are really, really good at it. I'm curious if there's any qualities that you see in really, really good editors.
Mike Radtke: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Like any commonalities.
Mike Radtke: I feel like the really good editors that I know or ... Yeah, I think one is it always seems like editors are musicians.
Joey Korenman: Yes.
Mike Radtke: I know tons of editors that are musicians, and that makes perfect sense. You know I'm a musician and one of the editors that I worked with she literally was, she's like a DJ. She knows more about music than I'll ever know probably. And other ones they all play guitars. You go into an edit bay, there's usually like a guitar sitting there. It's like some people play music, and I think that helps a lot. Or at least a passion for tons of different kinds of music.
Joey Korenman: Oh I'm so glad you said that man. Yeah, so we should mention a mutual friend of ours, Yuhei Ogawa, he's an editor out in Los Angeles. I can't remember the name of the company he works for now, but he worked at Imaginary Forces. He and I worked together, and what I loved about his editing was it was so rhythmic, and he got the way music works. And then I found out he's like a break dancer. So you're right, it is kind of scary how many editors that end up at the highest levels, they understand music. I'm curious, do you have any theories on why that is?
Mike Radtke: I mean yeah, editing's all about rhythm and timing and finding the places that feel right, and in finding grooves and things like that. That's one of the most important things, and people always are like, well how do you know when to cut. You're like, "Well shit, I don't know. I just know. It feels right." You know sometimes it's really motivated by something's that's happening, or a voiceover line or something, but other times you're just like that shot felt two frames too long. Let me trim that down or something. It doesn't make any sense really why that felt wrong, because most people wouldn't even have noticed it. But I think it's just a sense that you have, and if you're in tune with rhythm and timing and stuff, it makes sense that you would be influencing the pace of a bunch of pictures put next to each other.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I also found too that the editors who are musicians, they tend to give their pieces a little bit more of an arc. And there's a little bit more contrast between fast moments and then stop-downs and slow-mos. And you're really coordinating like so many things, the pace of the cuts, the music, the sound design, all that stuff. So let me ask you a very leading question here. This is devil's advocate. The art of editing right? Let's leave that for now. The technical side of editing is frankly learning how to use Avid or Final Cut, or Premier or something like that is to me, a lot easier than learning After Effects. A lot easier than learning Nuke or Flame or something like that. I think that a motion designer could learn enough Premier to know how to edit and cut music and things like that, the technical skills. They could learn that in two weeks. Why do we still need editors? Why shouldn't motion designers just edit their own stuff?
Mike Radtke: I mean a lot of them do. So there is that, but I think-
Joey Korenman: So your answer is we don't. Uh-oh. I'm kidding.
Mike Radtke: Well, my real answer is you can go talk to any one of my fellow employees, like the joke around our office is that, "Oh Mike doesn't have time to go do this. Let me run down to Starbucks and grab one of the baristas. He can probably get it done in that amount of time." Their joke is that everybody can edit, and it doesn't matter. So yeah, that's the consensus, is that anybody can do it. And you're not wrong, I mean it's not complicated to throw a couple of clips in a bin and a music track and then go throw them on a timeline. That's not a huge deal. But doing things the right way, and doing things the fast way, you know there's always a give and take. Like I can go online and do an Andrew Kramer tutorial and figure out how to do like a demon face, that doesn't mean I know how to do-
Joey Korenman: You could do a School of Motion tutorial too by the way.
Mike Radtke: I could do that too. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have plugged the wrong guy.
Joey Korenman: I'm an Andrew Kramer fan, it's fine, it's fine.
Mike Radtke: No, he was always very entertaining, so that's why I thought of it.
Joey Korenman: He's the OG.
Mike Radtke: But I think what you're getting with a real editor is that intuition that we were just talking about. Like that, "Well when do you do this?" "How long should this be up?" Like you're getting the experience of millions and millions of cuts, and that doesn't come with just opening up a program. You know it's experience and it's rhythm, and it's understanding stories, and it's understanding arcs, and it's being able to put together a dynamic sequence that that's experience that not just everybody has. That takes time to figure out.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. So I agree with you 100%. That was devil's advocate.
Mike Radtke: I know I figured you were just giving me a hard time.
Joey Korenman: Again, I have to just repeat myself. I don't feel that way, and I'll tell you my take on it. I ran a studio in Boston for a while, and my two business partners were both editors, and they were really good editors. And I had the same conversation with them. And the reason I had the conversation was because our editing rates were much higher than our motion graphics rates. I didn't understand why. But what I ended up realizing, was that not only is editing a very subtle art, that looks easy and is ridiculously hard. It's easy to edit, but it's very hard to be a good editor. Incredibly hard.
But then the other thing is this. When I'm in the throes of a motion design project, and I'm in After Effects juggling 200 layers and key-frames and expressions and this and that. I am not looking at the big picture, and someone needs to. And the editor typically is in a better position to do that. Would you agree with that?
Mike Radtke: Yeah, absolutely. I mean on top of that, every time I'm working closely with animators and designers, I'm kind of like the gatekeeper for a while, until it goes to finishing. Where if something comes back to me, I'm like oh that's not right, you know we need to do this, and this motions not right. Or we're putting everything back into a cut and you see it all in one, and so the editing's important there too. On top of that, how many times have you done like a client motion session? Like you don't every have clients come sit behind you and watch you manipulate key-frames all day? Whereas I'll have to sit with clients behind me sometimes like for days on end, just putting together images and making edits and things like that. And it's a tangible thing that somebody can come and sit, and participate in also, and that's another reason.
Joey Korenman: You just brought up another one of the reasons I kind of got out of editing. Let's talk about that for a minute, because that is definitely something. I think most motion designers, you know especially After Effects artists ... Flame artists different story. But After Effects artists for sure, most of us don't have clients sitting behind us eating lunch and throwing darts at the work that we're making right in real time. But editors do have to do that. So tell me about the first time you had to sit in a client supervised session. How was that for you?
Mike Radtke: It was awful. I was like an assistant editor, and I can't remember what happened, but there was some reason, it was on a weekend maybe, and I got called in to do it. And it was a project I wasn't familiar with. And I don't know, the clients weren't like the friendliest, and they didn't have any patience for the guy that was trying to help out. It was not good. It gets better. That was just one of those experiences that just made me realize you need to be prepared. And if someone's like, "You're going to do a client session tomorrow." It's like "Whoa. I haven't even looked at that yet. You need to give me like a day to really familiarize myself," because I mean one of the really other hard parts about editing is that you're keeping track of tons of assets, and especially when you're doing client sessions, you need to be able to recall where that is at a moment's notice.
So editing's more than just throwing clips in a timeline. It's organization. That's like one of the number one things, is being super organized and keeping track of everything, so you can find it when the client goes, "I think I remember seeing a shot where this guy did this," and you're like "Oh yeah, hold on a second, it's over here." And then you go grab it, and you find it in two seconds and have it up and in the cut. That's the sort of thing that makes things run smoothly, and when you're an assistant editor that didn't know what they were doing, and you didn't know where anything was in a timeline and in a project, it makes it really hard to run a productive session. And now as a more experienced person, I make sure that stuff's on lockdown before anybody gets into the room, so that I don't look like an idiot, and we can have a productive day.
Joey Korenman: Exactly yeah, I mean I've done my fair share of supervised edit sessions, and I've actually done a fair amount of supervised After Effects sessions too which are-
Mike Radtke: Oh really?
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Yeah.
Mike Radtke: I've never seen that.
Joey Korenman: I kind of want to go into this a little bit. So, okay I'll give you the quick story. We were set up to service ad agencies. So we weren't doing a lot of broadcast work. It was mostly ad agency spots and stuff like that. And the reason that I was doing supervised After Effects sessions was not because it was necessary, it was because the client wanted to get out of the office and get lunch bought for them, and hang out in our cool office and drink beer out of our fridge. Which I get, I totally get by the way.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, it's great when you get to do that.
Joey Korenman: Yes, exactly right? Now on the editorial side, I saw a fair amount of that as well. So we could be very politically correct about this, but have you experienced that too? The supervised edit session that really doesn't need to be supervised?
Mike Radtke: You know, I don't think I've really had that before. Anytime I've had people come in, it's been really good reasons, and we actually get a lot done. Like I've never had one where I felt like I wish you would have just stayed home. Anytime they've come in, it's been really productive, and the clients have contributed quite a bit, and made the process go a lot faster. And I'm not even just saying that to be nice. It's always been much more productive having them come in and be a participant in whatever we're doing.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome man. And I know that it can be nerve-wracking, and especially if you're doing After Effects and you know it crashes quite a bit. So let me ask you about this too. So I'm always curious about the technology you know that studios are using, and it's interesting because in motion design, it really doesn't change very much. It's After Effects and it's like Cinema 4D, and maybe some Maya and there's like different plugins and different renderers people use. But with editing, I feel like there's always a new version of Avid, or there's a controversy about the new Final Cut. So what's going on in the editing world. Like what software is Digital Kitchen using? What's the hot new thing? Is it Premier? Is it Avid still, like what's the deal?
Mike Radtke: I'm a Premier person, and have been since right before I left IF, like once Final Cut X came out and when it first came out it wasn't as usable as a professional software. So we started kind of transitioning away pretty quickly. And we were actually using Final Cut VII for a long time. Some people still are, which is kind of crazy to me, but I went to Premiere once Creative Cloud came out, and I've been using that ever since. There's a few times I'll use Avid. I really don't like Avid as much. I feel like it's a little more limiting.
I'm sure there's Avid editors out there that will disagree with me. I feel like it's a little more limiting when it comes to the type of work that I do, like having to do rough comp stuff and work with tons of mixed media and things like that. It's just a little easier working with Premier. And plus it works really well. A lot of our animators are using After Effects obviously, so there is some cohabitation there that they work really well together.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, if I was recommending an editing app to a motion designer, it'd be Premiere, without any hesitation.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, it works really well, and I've had a lot of success with their new features, and I really like what they're doing a lot of the time, and Final Cut Ten, or Final Cut X has gotten a lot better. I really like a lot of things in there. I've never used it professionally, but I've played around with it, and it's becoming more viable in my mind. Like it's something that I would feel comfortable using again in a professional setting, whereas Avid I could use it. I prefer not to. Sometimes I'll have old jobs come up at DK where I have to open Avid, and I'm always really clunky in it for now. But it comes back to you after a while.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha yeah. And just for anyone listening that really doesn't know the difference between all these apps. When you're a motion designer, you need the bare bones editing tools. You need to be able to set an in point and an out point, and put that clip down on a timeline and maybe cut some music. When you get into the upper levels, and Mike you know way more about this than I do. You can edit multiple camera shoots, and you can do all kinds of nesting of clips. And you can output to tape and things like that. Are those the types of things that a professional editor needs to worry about? Or is it really just turning all digital? It's all pretty much the same now.
Mike Radtke: I mean I haven't put anything on tape in I don't know, like five or six years I don't think. At least. And if it happened, you'll just send it out of house now. There's no reason to have decks in your studio anymore. It's just too expensive to buy them. And you can just send them to like Company Three or something, and they'll off-put it, and that's fine. But I mean yeah, external video monitoring, that's important for me. I need to have a broadcast monitor that hooks up and even probably like a big plasma that sits over me so the clients can see things. That's always good. But besides that, I really care about really good speed ramping tools, and adjustment layers, and compositing modes, and things like that. And good key-framing and animating tools, and then as long as I can organize stuff, that's all that really matters.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha, gotcha. And so when you're doing these client supervised sessions, are they typically editing sessions? Or are you doing a lot of that stuff, compositing and key-framing and basically sort of a miniature version of motion designing?
Mike Radtke: It really depends on the job. There's been a couple of jobs where I've had to do a little more of that than other times, but usually it's edit sessions, and if I can do a composite really quick while we're sitting there chatting or something. I'll totally do it just to kind of get the idea across because usually what's happening in a client session is we're working with an agency or something who by the end of the day, they have to send something to their client. So the closer I can get it to looking like polished for their clients to see, the better. And they kind of appreciate having something that has a little more effort put into it. So if I can do it quickly, I'll definitely do it. But if it's going to take time, I will usually just kind of make a note that it's rough.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha. Okay. So let's talk about a specific project and one that a lot of people may have seen, because it did get a lot of attention when it came out. And that's the "Jessica Jones" titles.
Mike Radtke: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Which are just gorgeous by the way. If you haven't seen them, you can find them on Mike's portfolio, and I'm sure they're also up on the IF website. But they're amazing looking. It's really hard to tell how they were made. If it was footage that was [photoscoped 00:39:21], if it was completely created from scratch, but either way I'm sure that what you edited doesn't look a lot like the finished product. You know, so I'd love to hear the story, like how does a job like that pass through you and turn into the final product?
Mike Radtke: So this job was really fun to work on for a lot of reasons. But my part in it came in after the boardamatic had been made. A really, really good editor named Danielle White. She came in and did the boards. I think I was working on something else at the time, but then after the boards were done, I got put on the job and essentially after that ... So we had the blocking, like somebody had made story frames, and she put together those boards. So then I had access to tons of Jessica Jones footage and B roll. So I would go through and try to find shots that one, would be suitable for the style that they were going for. Knowing what they were trying to do to frames, and the animation that they were going to do. Like looking for shots that would necessitate that sort of paint streaky look and being able to animate on.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Mike Radtke: But then also, just shots that would match the board frames. Like we weren't necessarily going to stick with that, but if I could find a frame that matched that composition ... That composition was made for a reason, so I was looking for those and just other good shots. So it was a lot of mining through footage, bringing that in to edit, and then basically rebuilding this boarded out edit. A lot of things kind of stayed similar, but a lot of it changed too. So it's not even close to the boards anymore. So once you get that footage in there, and it's looking good. It's time to out well. It feels like a good pace, we'll start sending ... Well that kind of gets approved by the client. They're looking at it and being like, "Yeah, we're okay with these shots." Knowing that a lot of work's going to be done to them.
So then I start breaking those out and sending them to the animators. And they'll start doing their thing over top of it, and they'll send them back to me once they have versions. And we just keep going back and forth, and adjusting the edit for timing, adjusting the edit for the animations that they're doing. I'll re-time things if we need to, and we just kind of go back and forth, and back and forth until there's something that vaguely resembles the actual thing that people are going to see.
This one was really cool from a motion perspective, because you could read a good article, like Michelle Daugherty who made this. She's amazing and she did a really cool write-up. I think it was on "Art of the Title" about this, that she kind of explains some of this stuff. But there was a whole shoot that we did for the characters that you see in this actual cut. So besides going through and finding the footage from the show, we did a shoot where all the silhouettes you see are people that we shot on camera. So we had to go through, and then I had to cut all those shots in from our actual shoot to make the edit.
And then we also did element shoots, where like a lot of those paint streaks that you're seeing, and like inkblots and things like that. Those are all, a lot of those are shot practical. So then I have to go through, and I have to find the really cool elements of that, and I export that stuff for animators to use as elements in their compositions.
Joey Korenman: Wow. Okay.
Mike Radtke: So there's a lot in there.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it really is. So okay, let me ask you this. I have two questions. So first one, how many versions were there? And I mean how many sequences in Premiere were there before this thing was done?
Mike Radtke: I'm really bad ... I make so many versions. Like anytime I change things I make versions. There was tons. Tons of versions. I wish I could tell you the exact number, but I can't.
Joey Korenman: It's got to be like a hundred or more. I mean that has to.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, there's lots. And they're all just different variations and like the initial ones, there's a ton of initial ones where I'm just throwing together different versions for Michelle to look at and be like, "Yeah I like this shot and this shot. Maybe put this in version A, and I like this shot in Version C, so put that in there." And then you're just kind of slowly combining all these versions to make one. And then once you have this base edit, and then animations start coming in. Then you keep versioning those up too, and there's a lot of edits in a project.
Joey Korenman: Okay so let me just make sure I understand the process. So you might find a cool shot from the inside of a car looking out, and then you have a green screen footage of a woman walking, and you kind of do a rough comp for timing, and it doesn't look at all like what it's going to. And then that's what goes to the animators and they composite it?
Mike Radtke: Well, I think again, in this case ... Sometimes those elements weren't even there, like the car. I don't even think the car was actually there. I don't remember, I'm sorry. But I mean sometimes there wasn't an element there, and I would just get a person walking on a sidewalk, and then Eric DeMussey or Thomas McMahon who are two of the guys that worked on this heavy, like made amazing stuff. They would just make up things and put them in frame, and it would just look amazing. You know?
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I mean so what's kind of striking to me is how much you kind of had to imagine as you're editing this thing. And you do this all day, every day, and you're working with the compositors and the animators. How hard is it to get a client to see the potential of what it is you're doing.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, some of them are really good at it. Some of them do this stuff all the time, also. So you put up a really rough edit, and they're like, "Yeah I get it. That's cool. That looks good. I can go with this. Let's start animating," you know? And it's really easy. And then other times you have to block things in a lot more and start giving them rough elements, or show them style frames where you're like, "Well here's one frame of kind of what it's going to look like. This will give you a good example, and just know that this element's ... " You have to talk them through it. You know?
Some are really good, and others just don't have the capability to see that far down the line. That's another thing as editing for this type of stuff, is you really do have to use your imagination for thinking about how long something has to be up to feel right. And also to get that animation on in a good amount of time and not be too fast or too slow.
Joey Korenman: And are you cutting to the music that's actually going to be used? So you can kind of use the music as a guide? Or is the music sometimes composed after using your timing as a guide?
Mike Radtke: Usually no, and sometimes it can be really frustrating. Sometimes you're working with the track that's always going to be there, and that's awesome. That's the ideal situation. Sometimes you're working ... You kind of get into trouble, because as like the production side of it, we'll have to pick a piece of music that we think works really well, knowing that they're going to make something later. So we'll find something that sets the mood in our mind, and then everybody gets attached to it. So when you actually see the real music, you're a little turned off by it.
And with Jessica Jones, that was one of those scenarios where we had a different idea of what the music for this should sound like, when we were originally making this. And the music we had was a lot darker and a little more ominous. And I'm not familiar with the Jessica Jones character or universe, so to me that seemed right with the visuals we were doing. Like you know, this feels good. It seems kind of dark and ominous, it's great. And then when the actual music came, I put it on, and I didn't know what to think. It was so different than what we were using, but it's like all right, well that's the music. This is what it's going out with.
And then I remember seeing articles about this title when it came out, and that was one of the things people were like, they were like the music is on point. This is perfect. This is exactly what I would expect for Jessica Jones. And I was just like, man, I couldn't have been any further off. Like I had no idea. But that's what people thought was right, you know, and it works great for it, because that fits this universe, and I just didn't know it.
Joey Korenman: It's really interesting. I mean you really have to juggle all of these unknowns and just kind of put it in the best position to succeed and a lot of it's out of your hands, once your job's done right?
Mike Radtke: You can only do so much. Yeah. You can only do so much.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Oh my gosh. So I want to touch on one thing. We talked a little bit before we started recording this about the crazy security that some of these jobs require. You know, I mean Digital Kitchen and IF both work with big franchises and big brands, and some brands require an extra measure. Can you just kind of give me some examples of the types of security measures that are in place at a studio like that?
Mike Radtke: Yeah, a lot of it is your servers have to be up to a certain standard that I don't understand as a non-IT person. But a lot of it has to do with how you secure your connections with the world. And some jobs, like you're working on it, and you can't even be on a computer with an internet connection. Like that sort of thing, and offices aren't set up like that. So in some scenarios you just have a bunch of dudes sitting in a room by themselves because nobody can see their screens. Like people that aren't working on that job, that haven't signed the correct forms, can't even look at a screen or one image. So you have to section everybody off, and they sit in a room all day, with no internet and are just working like away from the world.
Joey Korenman: Man, that is ... You know what? My initial reaction is, "Man that's sick," but I kind of get it though. I mean I get it yeah.
Mike Radtke: It makes perfect sense. They don't want that stuff getting out, like I don't hold it against them at all. You gotta protect that stuff, and things get out all the time. So I get it. It makes sense.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, they're spending a ton of money on these shows and on these spots, and they gotta protect it for sure. All right so let's try to give some motion designers out there some editing tips, because actually this is one of the things I kind of harp on. When I used to teach at the Ringling College of Art and Design, and I would be critiquing student work, one of the things I wish with motion designers is they tie themselves into a pretzel, trying to make one continuous, seamless thing. When a lot of times you can just like have a white shot, and a close up and cut, and save yourself a week of work, and it works better. And so it's like editing is a tool, and motion designers should be using.
One of my old business partners used to say, "The most widely used transition in motion design is a cut." Right? So you should be using cuts more. So let's say that you've got a motion designer, they're not a musician, and they're cutting their reel. And they want their reel to be edited well. What are some of the things that you would tell them to do that might help them?
Mike Radtke: I think picking a dynamic piece of music. Don't get something that's going full tilt, crazy off the wall the entire time. Something that has some ups and downs, you know? Works into things, maybe it has a break in the middle where you can slow it down. It starts kind of definitively, and it ends definitively, and it has some emotion in it. That's one really good thing. When you're cutting, don't feel like you have to go fast all the time. Play up to the music that you're using. Let's see, what else?
Joey Korenman: Let me ask you this real quick. When you're editing music, let's say you have a 30 second spot, and you're given a piece of stock music that's 3 1/2 minutes long. How many edits are in that music track to make it 30 seconds?
Mike Radtke: It could be one, and it could be like five or ten. It depends on how that's built up, and the changes throughout the edit sometimes. It just depends on the arc that you're building. So it could be like, well I want to start with the beginning, and I want to end with the end. And you have one cut, and you figure out a good way to transition that. Sometimes you might need three cuts in there because you have to get a section from the middle of the song to bridge those gaps, because it goes from too soft to too fast. There's a ton of them. It just depends on the kind of mood you want to set in that piece, in the dynamic piece that you want. You can also just fade it out at the end, if you want to be kind of lazy about it, but sometimes that works, you know? Like you can-
Joey Korenman: That is kind of lazy. I wouldn't recommend that.
Mike Radtke: Yeah, I mean I wouldn't either, but sometimes it works. You know? You can just get a piece, like it'll happen to end at a really good time, where if you have a quick enough dissolve at the end, it's done.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha, gotcha. And so, are there any kind of editing tricks or things maybe ... I don't know if you've read that Walter Murch book, "In the Blink of an Eye", it's like the book on editing that all editors are supposed to read. If you haven't don't tell me and just go read it.
Mike Radtke: I have not-
Joey Korenman: You'll lose your cred. But are there any things that you would tell a motion designer to look for? Because one of the issues that a motion designer has, typically editing their reel, is everything looks different, and there's no rhyme or reason to it, right? And it's like, well this is a spot for a bank, and this is some weird 3D thing I did that's just a personal project. How do you connect those? What are some ways you can generate connections through editing.
Mike Radtke: So, it could be composition. It could be shapes. It could be color, you know. Let's say you have like two spots with like somewhere's there's a circle and a similar place. If you do a fast enough cut when those things are over each other, they kind of look like they were the same thing. They look seamless. Or if you're going from like in one spot, and it like takes over red, or everything feels really red. And you have another spot, where you have another completely different clip, where it comes out of red and goes into something else really cool. If you just kind of put those together, it starts to feel like it was meant to be, like it was one piece.
So I think things like that. You're looking for patterns that are on the screen and shapes and things like that, that can tie together action. If you have something falling from the top of your screen, you can find something else that just fell into ... If it comes through frame, you can look and find a shot that has something that just had something land on the ground or something and it kind of feels like it was all one action.
Joey Korenman: That's amazing, and it's funny that you said that because we run a course called Animation Boot Camp that's one of the principles we harp on is the idea of a reinforcing movement. If one thing's moving to the right, make something else move to the right, and it kind of makes things ... There's a lot of correlations between editing and what feels good and what works. And the same things that make animation feel good. It's really fascinating to me man.
Mike Radtke: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: So, you know what, I feel like my head's going to explode with all the editing knowledge that we've kind of dumped into this episode. This is amazing. So the last thing I want to ask you is are there any ... So let me first say this, and I mean this, I'm not just blowing smoke. Go to Mike's website and look at some of the things he's edited. There was a piece, and I'm going to go find it while I talk about it, because I watched it, and actually our buddy Ryan Somers was the creative director on it. I saw his name on there. The Nat Geo Explorer title sequence.
Mike Radtke: Oh yeah.
Joey Korenman: Awesome. Like when you watch it, it's one of those rare things where you watch it and you're like, "That's edited really well."
Mike Radtke: Thank you.
Joey Korenman: It hits the beat, and there's these little moves and these little jump cuts, and it's awesome. Are there any other editors that you think motion designers would be into that can cut like you, that do this sort of thing?
Mike Radtke: Yeah, I'm bad at remembering people, not that I don't remember them, but coming up with things like this. So I'm just going to name people that I've worked with that I know that I've learned a million things from that are just awesome. Keith Roberts is a guy that's ... Most of these guys are in LA. Keith Roberts or Joe Dank and Danielle White, those three, and Justine Garenstein. Like those four I learned so much from, and they have reels I would die to have. And then there's other people like Yuhei like you said, and this guy Heath Belzer that's awesome. Him and I kind of were doing things at the same time. He's great too. They all have really, really good work that are similar to mine and probably better.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome, and we'll link to all of them in the show notes so people can check them out, and send them fan mail and stuff like that. Where are we going to be finding you, in the next like 5-10 years, where does Mike Radtke end up when he's at the top of the mountain?
Mike Radtke: Man, I don't know. I kind of just want to keep working on these short form graphic heavy things. I'd like to get more into probably directing them more, or even being more a part of the shooting, and finding really cool projects like that where I can just take more of a creative lead. Not that editing's not creative, but if I could get a little more hands on with that stuff. That would be good.
Joey Korenman: I see that a lot. I mean editors making their way into the director's chair. I mean you're in a great position to do it man, and you clearly have the talent.
Mike Radtke: Well, thank you. I mean yeah, those things, they go hand in hand and sometimes when you're on set, and the best thing to be would be to know how you're going to put something together. So if you have an idea of how you're going to put it together, it just makes sense to be on set and directing somebody and the shot that you need to get to make your edit work. So they work together, I just need to start doing it.
Joey Korenman: Awesome, well I can't wait to see when you make that move, and you're too important to come on podcasts like this one. But I'll be watching with bated breath to see what comes out of you next.
Mike Radtke: Thank you.
Joey Korenman: Thank you so much for coming on. I mean this was awesome, and I know our audience is going to get a ton out of it. At the very least, everyone's reel should get reedited right now and get a little bit better.
Mike Radtke: Well I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I mean hopefully it wasn't too dense and boring for people, so.
Joey Korenman: Well if it was, I hope you're not on Twitter, because they'll let you know.
Mike Radtke: I'm not so it's good.
Joey Korenman: Awesome.
Mike Radtke: They can say all the things they want out there.
Joey Korenman: Awesome man. All right well thank you. I'll have to have you back on.
Mike Radtke: All right definitely. Thanks Joey.
Joey Korenman: Thank you so much Mike for coming on. Now listen if you're a motion designer, and you would like to instantly raise your stock, become a more versatile artist, and improve your storytelling chops, try editing. It's definitely one of those things that's easy to learn, very tough to master, but even getting a little bit of editing experience, and learning to think more like an editor can open up a whole new toolbox for you, the mograph artist. So try this. The next time you're stuck on a project, and you're trying to think of something to do with your animation. Try rendering out your animation as a wide shot, and then render it out as a closeup. And then edit between those two quote "angles". It instantly adds energy to your piece, and it's really simple. There's no fancy tutorials required.
That's it for this episode, if you dug it please, it means so much, leave a review for us on iTunes and rate us. It really helps us spread the word and helps keep this party going. This is Joey, and I will catch you on the next episode.