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Inside View: STEELE Studios

by Christine Bunish

Jo Steele

Jo Steele
Executive producer/co-founder
STEELE studios, Culver City, California • www.steelevfx.com

Markee: You've had a busy summer with Shakira's “Waka Waka” music video for the official FIFA World Cup song and Lady Gaga's “Alejandro” music video inhouse simultaneously.

Ms. Steele: “STEELE was asked to come on board by [director] Marcus Raboy of DNA to handle all the post effects, conform, online, beauty, stereo convergence and mastering for ‘Waka Waka.’ It was an impossibly tight timetable made all the more complicated by the need to deliver different 2D and 3D versions on opposing schedules; the client, Sony Music, wanted to represent the piece for the duration of the World Cup in their 3D pavilion there and in point-of-sale demonstrations worldwide for Bravia 3D TVs. When completing effects and beauty in 3D it is imperative that the work done on one eye match the other so many more hours were spent ensuring that pen strokes and composites were identical. “Then, for the gorgeous 8.5-minute ‘Alejandro’ by Lady Gaga, STEELE did the HD online/conform, beauty, additional color correction and a lot of effects. There were 13 artists working around the clock to complete all the rotoscoping, compositing and beauty. The video was directed by [photographer] Steven Klein who had a very particular vision and knew exactly what he wanted to achieve throughout the project. The imagery was dramatic and engaging but, again, this project had an almost impossibly tight deadline and STEELE artists were hard-pressed to complete the work in time.”

Markee: Did “Waka Waka's” 3D pose special challenges for STEELE?

Ms. Steele: “There were not a lot of challenges in terms of the actual 3D. The convergence was set in camera and only minor manipulation in post was necessary. All the VFX, including crowd replication in 3D space and additional color correction, were completed in our Quantel Pablo, the best machine for the job, it made the management of the data and the project very simple. The challenges came mostly from the different parties brought together for the project. Everyone is somewhat new to 3D so a lot of time was spent explaining requirements and getting parties to understand new pipelines and conditions that aren't present in the world of 2D finishing.”

Markee: Are you seeing more stereo 3D projects?

Ms. Steele: “We are now getting calls regularly for stereo 3D. Some people need costs and information, but we also have several projects booked. It's a very exciting time for us! We have been involved in the 3D ‘movement’ for years now, doing tests for the studios, helping vendors with their development. Now we are seeing a ton of active production happening in the industry. No doubt, 3D is the future and will be as commonplace as HD is to us now.”

Markee: How has STEELE evolved since you and your husband Jerry launched it in 1996?

Ms. Steele: “We have tried to maintain a boutique-style operation since the beginning, but we've been through some dramatic changes seeing formats come and go: analog to digital, SD to HD, now 2D to 3D. We have always tried to stay ahead of the technology and have been very successful using Quantel hardware with their allencompassing machines. Our artists are trained to approach any project from many different directions utilizing developing techniques and many different platforms, but the Quantel boxes remain our workhorses and the staple of our operation.”

Markee: What's next at STEELE?

Ms. Steele: “We're just finishing the HD conform/online, color, VFX, titles and mastering for the indie film Dead Awake; a music video for Sugarland; a stereo 3D music video; and a commercial for Vizio LCD HDTVs.”

Markee: What's the secret of STEELE's success, especially during economic hard times?

Ms. Steele: “Diversity, diversity, diversity! Our services are endless. That's been our saving grace during these rough times. But since we are independently owned, we've also had the ability to be flexible in our services and do more for less, unlike most who have huge overheads. We have always respected our clients and never treated them as a ‘number.’ It seems to me that the notion ‘service with a smile’ or the ‘client comes first’ has diminished in these times, but it's very much alive at STEELE.”