How director and editor Evan Halleck uses Runway for films, music videos, and commercials

Evan Halleck is a freelance comedy director, editor and VFX artist working across commercials, music videos, documentaries and feature films. In this interview, we spoke about how VFX styles can enhance comedic timing, adding VFX to a music video for Hollywood hitmaker Finneas, and why Runway played a pivotal role on a recent documentary shot on the North Pole.


Hi Evan, can you start by introducing yourself?

Yeah! I’m an editor and compositor for music videos, commercials, films, all sorts of things. Some of my recent projects include VFX on Everything Everywhere All at Once starring Michelle Yeoh and Finneas’ “Naked” music video.

Let’s talk about Everything Everywhere All at Once. You were part of the VFX team. How large was your department?

So the VFX team was kind of unheard of. There were seven people on the entire film, and I was one of the two part-time people and I believe there were 5 full time. When COVID happened, everything got shut down. Zack Stoltz (VFX supervisor) pretty much created a workflow where there was an online server that we could all use, and all of the VFX were done by people in their bedrooms scattered across the country. I actually did a lot of my work in my parents’ basement in a small farm town in Illinois while I was visiting them during COVID.





The film has been described as a science-fiction black comedy action film. How did the various genres impact your experience on the project?

I made a few different versions of Michelle Yeoh in different universes and it was really fun to know that I could try anything. I think one of the best things about the concept of the film is that it sets up a world that you can pretty much go anywhere with it.

How do you feel like the comedy enhanced the narrative of the film?

Its ability to make you laugh one minute and cry the next is something I don’t see done so well in a lot of modern movies. I think that's what really makes the film so unique is its abilities to change genres so smoothly.

What sort of eye did you bring to the project?

I did a lot of clean up shots so a lot of my work is invisible in the film. But I was able to make about 10 different still frames of Michelle Yeoh’s character “Evelyns” as she flies through different versions of herself in the multiverse.

You’ve said you really like working with compositing.

Yeah, I really like to incorporate compositing into my workflow. A lot of times, the traditional rotoscoping process takes a very, very long time, especially if you don't know if it's going to work into the video.

Runway gives a really quick idea of whether we can use the content or not. Just a couple of clicks can save me several hours. It’s been really nice to incorporate it into my workflow. Saving that time can make me try three or four different things and make a better product overall.

Can you tell us an example of one scene in Everything Everywhere All at Once where you used Runway?

I used Runway for one of the moving rock scenes in the film. For whatever reason, I was having a hard time even though it’s a hard edge getting it cut out. So I used it on Runway and it gave me the perfect cut out. It gave me a nice, clean cut that I can use to create my background and track everything. It was easy peasy for that one.

How quickly can you tell if something works on Runway, or not?

My experience is, right away. It either works, or it doesn’t. Certain times, it'll be really, really great right off the back and then other times it just can't figure out certain small elements of it, I can then use the matte from Runway and cut that out manually. That saves me from having to cut out 95% of the thing and just having to do a small part.

Do you think this more DIY style of effects will last?

Yes, I think there's a world for both types of effects to exist. There will always be an audience for huge CGI blockbusters and I think there will always also be a demand for more practical and less in-your-face effects . But things are now so accessible for people to learn After Effects and stuff. I go on YouTube sometimes and there’s an 11 year old kid in Germany teaching After Effects to me. I didn’t even know what After Effects was when I was 11, let alone be so good at it!





You recently used Runway for Finneas’ "Naked" music video.

Yeah, there’s some hand-stretch stuff. Mainly to cut out so I could create a background.

What was the process behind this project?

It was shot in New York, and I believe it was just him in a studio. It was all in one take, that they did like 10 times.  A lot of the lights are practical and shot on a white backdrop. I just used After Effects to enhance the color changes and transitions and smooth things out as we “change worlds.”

How long did the project take you?

I worked on it for three weeks, but a lot of it was finding out the vibe. For a week and a half, we had very little effects, and then we went through another reiteration where it had a ton of VFX and CGI. We settled on a nice middle ground where I was just enhancing some of the dance moves and enhancing some of the lighting, instead of just being in-your-face effects.

When you say “enhancing the dance moves” what do you mean?

He pulls his arms out in the dance moves, and in the VFX, we made his arms stretch even longer. We tried to pay respects to the nice choreography that's in it, but also without kind of being really jarring visual effects.

What do you think it added to the video?

It adds a fun element to the music video. I think the song is very fun, and it’s fun to play around with distortion.

Was there a brief for the video?

It really changed by the day. The director had a very clear vision. He wanted a lot of VFX, and then we saw it, and then we didn't want a lot.  So we really went back and forth to try and find a middle ground that felt like it fit the piece.

Which parts did you use Runway on?

I used Runway for a couple of things. Mainly just to cut things out and save time. The hand I used Runway for that I ended up kind of comping like lights and galaxies, like transitioning into his hands or arms. And then I believe I used it to cut out some of his feet so I could put things behind him. Yeah, generally just to kind of cut things out, there are really nice hard edges on this one and renovated it really fast, quick job on it.



Another recent project of yours, is the documentary Exposure about the first all-women expedition to the North Pole. What was it like working with expedition content?

It’s not out yet, but a lot of the footage is very, very shaky documentary shot in the North Pole in tents. I had to remove a lot of logos, and I don't know if I could have done the project without Runway because it was hard to choose to find some of the edges with your own eyes. Runway was picking them up right away, because it's just like documentary footage and it's windy and it's the North Pole and we're in a tent and the lighting is good, and I used it on like 35 shots.

At what stage did you enter the project?

It was already edited when I was brought on as kind of a cleanup artist. A lot of the material was funded by like a big based conglomerate and there was a logo for it everywhere. The documentary didn't really want to have that. So I took out lots of logos around the tents and the jackets to not make the logos so prominent.

What challenge did the project bring?

When I first saw it, I thought it was like a year-long project because the camera is very shaky, and grainy. But between Runway and Rotobrush 2 and a lot of these machine learning programs, it was picking up things and finding hard edges that I probably couldn't even see were there, that were blending into dark parts of the video and stuff.

It was giving me really great starting points where I would use some of Runway, and then I cut out little small elements of other parts and it was a plan. It really saved me weeks of time.

Head to Evan's website to follow more of his work.

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