High-end artist on how she got her start, using Silhouette and Mocha Pro to save precious time, and what it was like working on The Book of Boba Fett.
Why I 🖤 Continuum: Darren Hallihan, Assistant Editor
9 minute read
Find out which effects he uses on Star Trek: Discovery and what it's like making the switch from reality TV to scripted.
Darren Hallihan is an assistant editor who recently wrapped up season 4 of Star Trek: Discovery. He has over 20 years of experience working on Avid as a technician, assistant editor, and Emmy-nominated editor. His credits include Project Runway, The Goldbergs, Sneaky Pete, and The Good Doctor. He is currently the first assistant editor on Disney’s upcoming holiday heist film The Naughty Nine. Follow him on Twitter.
Find out why he turns to Continuum plugins inside Avid Media Composer.
Where are you from, and how did you get your start in the industry?
I’m from Millbrae, California. I moved to Los Angeles in 1994 to attend California State University Northridge where I majored in Radio/TV/Film. I received an internship through the University at a post-production house where I learned to be a tape operator. I was hired after my internship, and the post house purchased an Avid while I was there, so I was the one to set it up (this was way back in the ABVB days with RMAG Chassis). I ended up being an Avid Technician for about 6 years and then decided to be in front of the system instead of behind it.
You began your career working on reality/unscripted projects and made the switch to episodics/scripted TV in recent years. What was the switch like? How are they different?
Being an assistant in reality TV is more like being a media manager. Typically there are a lot more cameras rolling at once, which you have to group together for the editors to use. The episodes are shot back to back so you are receiving footage daily and just focused on getting it in and ready for the editors. There are more editors per show in reality TV. On Project Runway we had 12 editors — 4 teams of 3 editors. There also may be issues and/or troubleshooting that editors or story producers are having and need help with. However, shows usually have more than one assistant to help with all of this.
Being an assistant in scripted TV, you are much more involved in the process, working on sound design, temp VFX, and scoring. You usually end up working one-on-one with an editor. (There are exceptions like shows that work a 3/2 which is 3 editors and 2 assistants.)
The switch was not difficult at all, it was just learning the process. There’s more paperwork to deal with in scripted and it is a bit more detail-oriented, but I feel it’s not a hard transition at all if you’re a good assistant. The hard part is getting someone in scripted TV to hire a reality assistant to work on a show. It’s unfortunate as some producers feel a reality assistant can’t handle the job of a scripted TV assistant. Once you learn how to do all the paperwork and understand the workflow, you should be good to go.
I prefer the scripted side as an assistant. As I mentioned you are more involved with the process. It’s a great feeling when you see the temp VFX you did, used as the blueprint for how the VFX vendor is delivering the final or how a needle drop you picked for a scene makes it into the show that airs.
You’re an assistant editor on Star Trek: Discovery. What’s your typical day like on the show?
It depends on what stage you are in on your episode but when first starting you’ll be in dailies. After the first shoot day of our episode, the footage is sent to our post house (Picture Shop Toronto as we film in Canada) and they process the dailies overnight and upload them to our Nexis. I’ll start 2 hours earlier (8 am) than normal so I can group, script sync, and set up the bin for a few scenes before my editor starts. That way he can get started right away. After I finish with dailies, I’ll see what scenes my editor has ready for me to start doing sound work on such as leveling the dialog, adding ambient background SFX, and other scene-specific sounds like footsteps, phaser fire, or hologram key presses. I’ll also add temp VFX where needed.
Image credit: Paramount
You mentioned using Continuum a lot on the series. How does having access to the plugins help you on a daily basis?
Discovery has a lot of VFX in it. Our first episode of season 4 had over 600 VFX shots. When you are first putting the episode together, all you have is the footage and a lot of green screen. We create temp VFX to help the director and producers visualize how the show will end up looking. Without Continuum, you would constantly need to export clips to another program such as After Effects to do your VFX and then bring them back into the Avid. That takes time and you have to keep track of all the elements you use in After Effects to make sure they are in the timeline so when it’s time to turn over to online, they have everything they need to recreate your effect.
Which Continuum effects/features do you use most — and why?
BCC Pixel Chooser was by far my most used plugin on Discovery. I used it constantly to rotoscope actors so I could have them interact with temp holograms. I also use it for split screens where my editor preferred one actor’s performance from one take and another actor’s performance from a different take. You put them together to make it look as seamless as possible, which can be tough if they occupy the same space on camera. BCC Primatte Studio is another plugin I use very frequently. As you can imagine with a show taking place in space there are a lot of green screens in our footage.
Continuum includes Mocha’s award-winning tracking & masking/effects isolation tools. How has this integration helped streamline your overall workflow?
Having integrated Mocha makes rotoscoping go much quicker than doing it by hand if you were using Avid Animatte. Learning how to use Mocha properly has greatly improved my roto and speed in getting temps done. When I first started using it, if I had an MCU of an actor showing his head and shoulders I would outline it all on 1 track. As the actor turned his head or body, areas of the track would lose connection to the actor. After watching some great tutorials from Boris FX (Mary Poplin and Ben Brownlee are amazing! I’ve learned it’s much better to break out individual parts of the body — 1 track for the head, 1 track for the neck, and 1 track for the shoulders. While you think that tracking the same shot 3 times would take longer than doing it with just 1 track, you end up spending a lot of time fixing the 1 track by hand where it loses its connection. (Watch the free Mocha Essentials training series)
What are your top 3 reasons why assistant editors like yourself should use a plugin like Continuum?
- Time-saving. Not having to round trip things into other applications such as After Effects and back is a huge plus.
- BCC Pixel Chooser. It’s like Avid Animatte on steroids.
- BCC Primatte Studio. While Avid Spectramatte is great, you can really dial in green screens. I highly recommend checking out this tutorial on it.
You also turn to Sapphire on the show. What effects/features have you used — and why?
I used Luna to place an alien moon in a scene that looked great. I also use Zap quite a bit when temping in Discovery jumping away somewhere. Star Trek was the first show I worked on that had Sapphire in addition to Continuum and it was quite fun getting to use new effects. I was excited to learn that the feature I am moving on to next will also have both Continuum and Sapphire.
How long have you been using Boris FX products?
I started using Continuum when I was an editor on Project Runway (2015). For 2 seasons I cut the runway segment where the models show off the contestants' looks. I used a lot of the BCC Lights such as Lens Flares, Glitter, and Glow, and BCC Transitions like Cross Zoom, Flutter Cut, and Light Leaks. It was a great plugin to have to help stylize the segment.
Image credit: Lifetime, Project Runway, Season 14
Have you found it advantageous to your career to know the products? Has your experience helped you land new/more jobs?
It helps me get my job done quicker and time is always of the essence when working on a show. The feature I’m currently working on wanted someone who is very good at temp VFX. Understanding how to use Boris FX products has definitely been an advantage.
What role have mentors played in your career?
When I worked in reality, I had 2 mentors on Project Runway, Lisa Trulli and Eileen Finkelstein. With their help and guidance, I was eventually promoted to editor, and they continued to mentor me as I worked during the next 2 seasons with them.
When moving to scripted you work one on one with an editor. When things gel between the two, you really become a team that trusts each other and will move from show to show together. Sandra Montiel was one of my biggest mentors when breaking into scripted. I’ll never forget sitting in her bay on the first season of The Good Doctor watching the episode down with the executive producer David Shore. As we were reviewing the episode she asked him how he liked one of the scenes, and he said it was great, and she said “Darren cut that.” While he hardly knew who I was, it’s people like her you want to be lucky enough to work with. A person that gives you suggestions and feedback on your work and when the time comes, also be your champion. The editor I currently work with (Chad Rubel) is also a great mentor. (Read our profile on Chad)
What advice do you have for anyone looking to break into an editing career?
It depends on what you want to edit — reality, scripted TV, or features. Getting a start in reality TV is much easier than jumping straight into scripted TV or features. You’re also more likely to have the opportunity to move from assisting to editing more quickly in reality. In scripted it’s best to find an editor that you work well with and is a good mentor. If the editor is willing to let you cut some scenes and give you feedback, great, but sometimes there isn’t enough time in the schedule to allow that. You should still practice cutting scenes, even if your editor already cut them, and then ask them their thoughts and feedback when there is time.
What’s your favorite project you’ve ever worked on?
I’ve enjoyed quite a few of the shows I’ve worked on but Star Trek is my favorite so far. It’s a show known around the world. It’s quite a production that takes over a year per season. Doing temp VFX is one of my favorite things to do as an assistant. While there is plenty of VFX in dramas and comedies, it’s a show like this that really lets you flex your creativity.
What are some of the tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way to help keep yourself sane, beat creative burnout, etc. during the pandemic? Do you have any daily rituals?
Working from home had its challenges when it first began, but the lack of commute was by far a shining star. Starting dailies 2 hours earlier didn’t mean waking up at the crack of dawn to make it to the office. My home office is probably 1/3 edit bay and 2/3’s home gym. Having that outlet to work out before/after work really helped my wife and my sanity stay in check when getting through the times where you felt like you were living in the movie Groundhog’s Day. Being able to take our dogs out for a walk while I’m rendering or exporting a show is also an amazing benefit of working from home. I do miss the interaction, having lunch with other edit teams, and networking during a show especially if you’re at a studio lot. That just doesn’t happen on Zoom calls.