VFX: Editing With Extra Imagination
When most scenes come across my desk there's a good chance that everything I need will be in the footage already. Occasionally you'll need pickup shots or a close-up of a prop that will be picked up later, but every now and again, a little more imagination is required.
Over the past few years, I've worked around drama productions that have used both visual effects and animations to take viewers to a place that wasn't possible otherwise and every scene has its challenges and charms. Early in 2022, I went back to edit The Dumping Ground (Series 10). I've worked on the show quite a bit over the years, dating back to when I was an assistant editor, and when I heard that Jonathan Wolfman was producing I knew it would make for good TV. I first worked with Jonathan in 2014 on the CBBC drama, Wolfblood, and those who have worked with Jonathan know what a great experience it is.
CBBC had tasked Jonathan with starting series 10 with a bang and Jonathan, along with Jane Dauncey (executive producer), came up with a very ambitious opening sequence that would introduce several new characters whilst destroying a large care home. Director, Lee Skelly, did a fantastic job on a tight schedule of bringing this to life, from the script to his storyboards, and then the real fun began for me with the edit after filming had finished on these scenes.
When editing visual effects scenes often you can be dealing with as little as an empty frame and the big challenge for the edit is understanding the pace and final image and being able to make sure the shots are timed correctly. Like
much of editing, this sometimes comes down to an instinct that you feel from the timing of the surrounding shots. Many times an editor will take a couple of frames off, or add them on, with no more than just a feeling the edit needed it.
For this opening sequence I was given a lot of creative freedom to edit it how I saw fit, and for such a key sequence that mattered to me greatly. The Dumping Ground has long been scored by composer, Simon Rogers, who does a fantastic job and I knew we'd need something a little different from our usual music for this. After many hours of playing shots alongside film scores, I settled on the track 'Debris' from the 'Gravity' original score. This track gave me the perfect building block to start creating a rhythm for the edit. I wanted a piece of music that would act as a building block so I could time when certain parts of the house would crash down, or crumble. As much as the visual effects were important, the right score and sound effects were just as important. The house needed to feel almost alive as it creaked and groaned under the weight of the unseen disaster about to unfurl. Throughout the edit, from my first assembly to the channel notes I was always very proud of how little we changed this sequence.
Unfortunately as an editor, you often finish your contract long before the final piece is complete with the visual effects and score taking much longer to be finalised, but when I eventually did get to see everything I was very pleased with the final product. Flipbook did a marvelous job with the VFX on a tight budget and Simon Rogers took the temporary score and turned it into something that still had the feeling I had hoped for, but also felt much more 'Dumping Ground' in essence.
Children's TV is a great place to use VFX, adding to the imagination and fairy tale elements that inspire younger viewers to no end. In 2021 I worked on the show 'Princess Mirror-Belle' originally written by Julia Donaldson as a book, and turned into a TV series for CBBC. The show centers around Ellen, whose reflection has a cheeky habit of transforming into the mischievous Princess Mirror-Belle, from an alternate fairytale land. Mirror-Belle enters Ellen's world through any reflective surface she can find and has a habit of causing both fun and mischief in equal measures. In 2022 I went back to the show for a second series and like many shows, the plans were bigger and better the second time around. With restrictions upon child filming hours, and also dealing with one actress playing two parts, we made use of a lot of split screens, visual effects and many other tricks to seamlessly present the two characters on screen at the same time in a magical world.
Whilst editing with visual effects is fun, at the heart of every scene remains the core principle of editing, does the scene work and am I telling the story in the best possible way with every shot selection and edit I make? You can have the best visual effects money can buy, but if those principles aren't adhered to, then it just won't matter.
The full six-minute opening of The Dumping Ground, Series 10, is available to watch below, or on iPlayer. I would love to hear from you if you enjoy it!