Second in a Series
By Carl Marziali
In the previous issue, Below the Line started looking at the quintessential postproduction myth: the notion that any problem during principal photography can be fixed in post.
Like any myth, this one has a grain of truth. Bill Coffin, digital artist at Post Logic Studios in Hollywood, has worked on the set and knows the downside of trying to finesse too many shots. “Sometimes it’s easier to fix it in post because [in production] you have a whole crew sitting there while you try to get something right,” he says.
Of course there’s a difference between perfectionism and due diligence. Joanna Capitano of Digital Domain sees a lot of jobs that could have been handled more cheaply and quickly on the set. “People are getting a little sloppy now because they have burned into their mind, ‘Oh, I’ll fix it in post,’” says Capitano.
The trick is distinguishing between those problems that can be fixed in post (almost all of them, if you have the time and money), and those that should be fixed in post (far fewer). “The most you can do right to begin with, the better off you are,” says colorist Bryan McMahan of Post Logic. Here are a few examples.
Soft focus: If a shot arrives in post out of focus, all the software in the world won’t save the DP’s bacon. “Soft focus I really can’t do anything with. I can electronically sharpen it, but it doesn’t look the same,” McMahan says. “It’s an electronic simulation of focus.”
Relighting with windows: Many directors rely on post houses to improve lighting of key players or props. The process involves defining a window of any shape in the frame and electronically changing the lighting within that window. The effect is tapered at the edges to match the rest of the frame. This is a common and accepted effect. Post Logic’s McMahan has worked on projects that used hundreds of windows. The problems occur with action sequences or other shots where actors are moving quickly. “It gets difficult when you have to track windows and have them move at exactly the same speed as the camera pan,” he says.
Sound equipment: “Boom mikes and things like that are always an issue. The sound people want to get the boom as close as they can, and I understand that,” McMahan says. Painting out a boom can be cheap and easy or hard and expensive, depending on what’s behind it. Place it between the camera and an actor’s face and you have a recipe for an expensive post repair.
Wires and rigs: The Matrix spawned a new age of wire-guided action sequences – and a new source of steady revenue for post houses. The biggest problem comes when a rig passes between the camera and an actor. Rebuilding a face can be extremely costly in time and money. “There are shots that run two seconds that take us a week, two weeks,” says Coffin.
Crowd scenes: The days of the massive casting call for stadium extras are over. These days, directors shoot a small number of fans and rely on post artists to clone them all over a stadium. In practice this can be difficult, says Coffin, but hardly impossible.
Actor enhancement: If an actor is overweight but important enough, they can request a skinnier look throughout the picture. By definition, this is something that can only be achieved in post. Coffin calls it “digital cosmetics.”
Restoration: Studios usually supply a new interpositive when they need a post house to clean up a film. But now McMahan at Post Logic has started asking for the actual negative, regardless of how scratched and dirty it might be. Post Logic recently started using Oliver, an upgrade to Cintel’s C-Reality telecine. “When you’re transferring the film… Oliver scans the surface looking at any anomalies.” The big advantage is a drastic reduction in surface defects that normally get scanned in and imported into a digital intermediate. Oliver isn’t perfect – it has trouble with frames that have a heavy scratch on one side and light ones on the other – but McMahan swears by it. On a recent restoration, he says, “it cleaned up probably 98 percent of the stuff, [and] it does it in real time”
Most important, it saves money in post – and that is no myth.
Second in a Series