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Post to Production-Part 1


In the first of a new series, Below the Line examines how the entire content creation paradigm is changing as new digital tools are deployed on set.With the adoption of digital technology throughout the production and post chain, a fundamental seachange is underway. It’s not just a question of new tools or cheaper production technologies. What’s going on is a fundamental paradigm shift in the way content is created.Tools like previsualization software and on-set color correction are pushing postproduction tools into production and even preproduction, but at the same time, the tools are bringing new people on to the set. Visual effects supervisors, DI colorists, and even editors all want to be involved earlier in the process to make their work easier, and improve the overall workflow. At the same time, a new class of high-end digital cinematography camcorders has introduced an entirely new film credit—the digital imaging technician.“The line between what’s post and what’s production is pretty vague now. To make production go better, now they’re bringing editing machines and all kinds of stuff on set with them,” said industry guru Price Pethel, one of the original founders of Digital Domain. “Why not have a color paradigm like the offline/online model? Why not be able to do the whole world of color in an offline environment, so you only go the ‘Taj Mahal’ when you’re doing the last print?”Pethel, whose VFX credits include Titanic, Apollo 13, True Lies and Interview With a Vampire, explained that the emergence of on-set color grading is following the same evolutionary pattern as the online/offline editing workflow, only drastically accelerated (thanks to Moore’s law).“It used to be there were two completely different cultures between film and video, but not anymore,” said Pethel. “There’s a true convergence where how you produce the media and how you distribute the media is all kind of blurred together. Now people do full feature films on DVCam, and at the other end people still shoot 65mm. What’s common to all of it is that the postproduction phase is almost all digital now.”For Jérôme Sabourin, one of Quebec’s leading cinematographers, who is also a colorist at Montreal-based In Extenso, Iridas’ SpeedGrade has become an indispensable tool.“By default, I became a colorist. It became obvious that there is an urgent need for color correcting for DPs, and I realized that if you don’t know about color correcting, you’re screwed,” said Sabourin. He explained that time and time again he has seen colorists completely alter the look of a film, and that, for example, scenes that were lit for red can often come back blue.“This situation repeats itself on every project, which is kind of a frustration. Because of this frustration, I became postproduction-aware and also I wanted to follow my work,” he said. Iridas recently released the OnSet version of its SpeedGrade software—a $200 package designed to give DPs basic color-correction tools to enable them to communicate their intentions with the colorist.But Sabourin goes a step further. He believes that the full version of the software, SpeedGrade DI, is a far more useful tool, even in a fast-paced production environment.“I think DPs are going to need the full version of the software. My advice is just spend the money and buy the whole thing. After they touch it, DPs will want more.”But he stressed that cinematographers still won’t want to delve too far in the color grade. “It’s more like a rough cut,” he said. “And I told Iridas that you have to be realistic about how DPs live. SpeedGrade OnSet should really be called ‘SpeedGrade in the Motel Room.’”Marco Bario, VP of theatrical postproduction for Technicolor Creative Services, explained that Technicolor’s most successful projects have seen the DI colorist involved during production.“Color software is great, but those are just tools; you still need the human involvement,” he said. “So one thing that’s important is to involve the DI colorist in the dailies somehow.”He explained that all too often, producers overlook the human element.“It’s important that everyone agree on the look of the film as early as possible. There’s a lot of strife when you get into the DI room and you’ve got different ideas playing out of what the movie is going to look like,” he explained. “It’s just not a good use of the client’s money when that happens, and it creates too much stress on the process.”“The other trick is to use the HD dailies, and then ultimately HD previews. Then as you move closer to final DI, use those steps as a preview to what the final DI is going to look like,” he said.John Nicolard, head of digital production, Digital Film Services, at LA-based FotoKem explained that ultimately the DI process isn’t as important as image capture. “I think the most important thing to keep in mind for filmmakers is it’s all about the image that you capture. That’s going to make the biggest difference rather than finishing. We can finish at 4K, 2K or HD, but if it’s not there in the origination, it’s not there.“The term DI is becoming very generic. We started out talking about a 2K data finish years ago, and now when people talk about DI, I think they’re talking about anything that’s not a photochemical finish, regardless of the capture,” he said.He explained that there are really three routes to a digital intermediate.“4K finishing, staying in log space all the way through, is obviously the best way to do a DI with regard to quality,” he explained. “At the same time, it also is the most expensive and the most time-consuming. Second is oversampling—doing a 4K scan and then working at 2K. It’s a nice compromise. Third is a 2K 4:4:4 pin-registered scan that can capture all 10 stops of exposure latitude that’s on the film.”But another option becoming increasingly appealing, especially to independent filmmakers, is staying in the video world rather than the data world and working at uncompressed 4:4:4 HD.Juan Carlos Astoquillca, director of engineering at Global Entertainment Partners (GEP) explained that there’s a whole class of post houses that have been working at HD 4:2:2 and the upgrade to 4:4:4 is remarkably simple, (converting single link HD-SDI connections between the telecine and the color timing suite to dual-link HD-SDI). The result is a very cost-effective alternative to the full DI route.“The quality is very close between the 4:4:4 RGB workflows and 2K, said Astoquillca. “For the lower- to mid-range budget shows, the use of 4:4:4 RGB workflows provides a way to get to cost-effective DI without the expense of the 2K infrastructure. Since both data and 4:4:4 RGB workflow video formats are 10-bit RGB, and since both formats provide higher pixel counts than is ultimately displayed on a theatrical screen, the two formats can be considered comparable.”It’s an approach that can save a lot of money. Director Robert Rodriguez used it on Sin City (using a Quantel eQ at Austin-based 501 Post, rather than the more expensive iQ bays), and Astoquillca reported that GEP will color grade the upcoming feature film Flyboys at 4:4:4 HD for Electric Entertainment.“Test for yourself,” said Astoquillca. “Your proof will be in the pictures.”One bit of advice from postproduction that emerges over and over again is to plan ahead and try to get it right the first time rather than handing problems to an artist in post.“The problem that crops up all the time is people don’t really understand the difference between what can be done, and what should be done,” said Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato. “They jus
t think, ‘well you can fix anything in post, can’t you?’”He explained that producers and crews need to remember that it’s cheaper and easier to take down a flagpole, move a truck, or physically remove a rig, rather than trying to do it digitally in post, “because to get rid of it later could add up to a huge amount of work. People are getting lazy, because you can do it.”For Legato, previs has become an essential part of preproduction, and he would like to see it employed more often. “I do that almost exclusively,” he said. “The previs later becomes a guide. It makes it easier to reassemble everything later and it expedites the editorial discipline of cutting it back together again, as it was originally planned out to be. Then you can change it from there, but it’s really to get the editor going.”Robert Nederhorst, VFX supervisor at Sway Studios, agreed. “I’ve found previs to be invaluable because everybody has a visual idea of what’s going on. Storyboards are great but moving pictures of what is going to be shot are just perfect.“Slowly but surely it is catching on,” he said.Nederhorst also stressed while the tools are important, the human interaction is vital.“The idea is for the VFX supervisor to be involved in the shooting as much as possible,” he said. “It can only help. When I go on set, the first thing I do is find the AD and introduce myself—tell him who I am, where I’m coming from,” he explained. “You can make a shot easier using your VFX knowledge. There are so many ways that the VFX guys can help the production crew out.”

Written by Scott Lehane

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