Category Archives: Color Grading

Colorist Stephen Nakamura on grading Stephen King’s It

By Randi Altman

A scary clown can be thanked for helping boost what had been a lackluster summer box office. In its first weekend, Stephen King’s It opened with an impressive $125 million. Not bad!

Stephen Nakamura

This horror film takes place in a seemingly normal small town, but of course things aren’t what they seem. And while most horror films set most of the action in shadowy darkness, the filmmakers decided to let a lot of this story unfold in the bright glow of daylight in order to make the most of the darkness that eventually takes over. That presented some interesting opportunities for Deluxe’s Company 3 veteran colorist Stephen Nakamura.

How early did you get involved on It?
We came onboard early to do the first trailer. The response on YouTube and other places was enormous. I can’t speak for the filmmakers, but that was when I first realized how much excitement there was out there for this movie.

Had you worked with director Andy Muschietti before? What kind of direction were you given and how did he explain the look he wanted?
One of the concepts about the look that evolved during production, and we continued it in the DI, was this idea that a lot of the film takes place in fairly high-key situations, not the kind of dark, shadowy world some horror films exist in. It’s a period piece. It’s set in a small town that sort of looks like this pleasant place to be, but all this wild stuff is happening! You see these scary movies and everything’s creepy and it’s overcast outside and it’s clearly a horror movie from the outset. Naturally, that can work, but it can be even scarier when you play against that. The violence and everything feels more shocking.

How would you describe the look of the film?
You have the parts that are like I just described and then it does get very dark and shadowy as the action goes into dark spaces and into the sewer. And all that is particularly effective because we’ve kind of gotten to know all the kids who are in what’s called the Losers’ Club, and we’re rooting for them and scared about what might happen to them.

Can you talk about the Dolby Cinema pass? People generally talk about how bright you can get something with HDR, but I understand you were more interested in how dark the image can look.
Right. When you’re working in HDR, like Dolby lets you do, you have a lot more contrast to work with than you do in the normal digital cinema version. I worked on some of the earliest movies to do a Dolby Cinema version, and when I was working with Brad Bird and Claudio Miranda on Tomorrowland, we experimented with how much brighter we could make portions of the frame than what would be possible with normal digital cinema projection, without making the image into something that had a completely different feel from the P3 version. But when you’re in that space, you can also make things appear much much darker too. So the overall level in the theater can get really dark but because of that contrast you can actually see more detail on a person’s face, or a killer clown’s face, even when the overall level is so low. It’s more like you’re really in that dark space.

It doesn’t make it a whole different movie or anything, but it’s a good example of where Dolby can add something to the experience. I’d tell people to see it in Dolby Cinema if they could.

There was obviously a lot of VFX work that helped the terrifying shapeshifting clown, Pennywise, do what he does, but you also did some work on him in the DI, correct?
Yes. We had alpha channel mattes cut around his eyes for every shot he’s in and we used the color corrector to make changes to his eyes. Sometimes the changes were very subtle — making them brighter or pushing the color around — and sometimes we went more extreme, but I don’t want to talk about that too much. People can see for themselves when they see the movie.

What system do you use, and why? How does that tool allow you to be more creative?
I use Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. I’ve been a colorist since the ‘90s and I’ve used Resolve pretty much my whole career. There are other systems out there that are also very good, but for the kinds of projects I do and the way I like to work, I find it the fastest and most intuitive and every time there’s a new upgrade, I find some new tool that helps me be even more efficient.

Agent of Sleep: The making of a spec commercial

By Jennifer Walden

Names like Jason Bourne and James Bond make one think “eternal sleep,” not just merely a “restful” one. That’s what makes director/producer/writer Stephen Vitale’s spec commercial for Tempur-Pedic mattresses so compelling. Like a mad scientist crossing a shark with a sheep, Vitale combines an energetic spy/action film aesthetic with the sleepy world of mattress advertising for Agent of Sleep.

Vitale originally pitched the idea to a different mattress brand. “That brand passed, and I decided they were silly to, so I made the spot that exists on spec and chose to use Tempur-Pedic as the featured brand instead. I hear Tempur-Pedic really enjoyed the spot.”

In Agent of Sleep, two assailants fight their way up a stairwell and into a sun-dappled apartment where their altercation eventually leads into a bedroom and onto a comfy (albeit naked) mattress. One assailant applies a choke hold to the other but his grip loosens as he falls fast asleep. The other assailant lies down beside the first and promptly falls asleep too.

LA-based Vitale drew inspiration from Bourne and Bond films. He referenced fight scenes from Haywire, John Wick and Mission Impossible too. “Mostly all of them have a version of the action sequence in Agent of Sleep — a visceral, intimate fight between spies/hired guns that ends with one of them getting choked out. It was about distilling this trope, dropping a viewer right into the middle of it to grab them and immediately establishing visuals that would tap into the familiarity they have with the setup.”

Once the spy/action foundation was in place, Vitale (who is pictured shooting in our main image) added tropes from mattress ads to his concept, like choosing a warmly lit, serene apartment and ending the spot with a couple lying comfortably on a bare mattress as a narrator shares product information. “The spies are bursting into what would be the typical setting for a mattress ad and they upend all of its elements. The visuals reflect that trajectory.”

To achieve the desired cinematic look, Vitale chose the Arri Alexa Mini with Cooke anamorphic lenses, and shot in a wide aspect ratio of 2:66 — wider than the normal cinemascope. “My cinematographer David Bolen and I felt like it gave the confined sets and the close-range fist fight a bigger scope and pushed the piece further away from the look of an ad.”

They shot in a practical location and dressed it to replicate the bedrooms shown in actual Tempur-Pedic product images. As for smashing through the bedroom wall, that wasn’t part of the plan but it did add to the believability of the fight. “That was an accidental alteration to the location,” jokes Vitale.

The handheld camera movement up front adds to the energy of the fight, and Vitale framed the shots to clearly show who is throwing the punch and how hard it landed. “I tried to design longer takes and find angles that created a dance between the camera and the amazing fight work from Yoshi Sudarso and Cory DeMeyers.”

In contrast, the spot ends with steady, smooth shots that exude a calm feeling. Vitale says, “We used a jib and sticks for the end shots because I wanted it to be as tranquil and still as possible to play up the joke.”

Production sound was captured with a Røde NTG-2 boom mic onto a Zoom H5 recorder. The vocalizations from the two spies on-set, i.e. their breaths and efforts, were all used in post. Vitale, who handled the sound design and final mix, says, “I would use alt audio takes and drop in grunts and impact reactions to shots that needed a boost. The main goal was that it felt kinetic throughout and that the fight sounded really visceral. A lot of punch sounds were layered with other sound effects to avoid them feeling canned, and I also did Foley for different moments in the spot to help fill it out and give it a more natural sound.”

The Post
Vitale also handled picture editing using Apple Final Cut Pro 7, which worked out perfectly for him. Editing the spot was pretty straightforward, since he had designed a solid plan for the shoot and didn’t need to cover extra shots and setups. “I usually only shoot what I know I will use,” he says. “The one shot I didn’t use was an insert of the glass the woman drops, shattering on the floor. So structurally, it was easy to find. The rest was about keeping cuts tight, making sure the longer takes didn’t drag and the quicker cuts were still clear and exciting to watch.”

Vitale worked with colorist Bryan Smaller, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. They agreed that fully committing to the action film aesthetic, by playing with contrast levels and grain to keep the image gritty and grounded was the best way of not letting the audience in on the joke until the end. “For the stairwell and hallway, we leaned into the green and orange hues of those respective locations. The apartment has a bit of a teal hue to it and has a much more organic feel, which again was to help transition the spies and the audience into the mattress ad world, so to speak,” explains Vitale.

The icing on the cake was composer Patrick Sullivan’s action film-style score. “He did a great job of bringing the audience into the action and creating tension and excitement. We’ve been friends since elementary school and played in a band together, so we can find what’s working and what’s not pretty quickly. He’s one of my most consistent collaborators, in various aspects of post production, and he always brings something special to the project.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer. Follow her at @audiojeney on Twitter.

Dell 6.15

DP David Tattersall on shooting Netflix’s Death Note

Based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, a man who obtains a supernatural notebook that gives him the power to exterminate any living person by writing his or her name in the notebook. Willem Dafoe plays Ryuk, a demonic god of death and the creator of the Death Note. The stylized Netflix feature film was directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, You’re Next) and shot by cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III) with VariCam 35s in 4K RAW with Codex VRAW recorders.

Tattersall had previously worked with Wingard on the horror television series, Outcast. Per Tattersall, he wasn’t aware of the manga series of books but during pre-production, he was able to go through a visual treasure trove of manga material that the art department compiled.

Instead of creating a “cartoony” look, Tattersall and Wingard were more influenced by classic horror films, as well as well-crafted movies by David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick. “Adam is a maestro of the horror genre, and he is very familiar with constructing scenes around scary moments and keeping tension,” explains Tattersall. “It wasn’t necessarily whole movies that influenced us — it was more about taking odd sequences that we thought might be relevant to what we were doing. We had a very cool extended foot chase that we referred to The French Connection and Se7en, both of which have a mix of handheld, extreme wides and long lens shots. Also, because of Adam’s love of Kubrick movies, we had compositions with composure and symmetry that are reminiscent of The Shining, or crazy wide-angle stuff from A Clockwork Orange. It sounds like a mish-mash, but we did have rules.”

Dialogue scenes were covered in a realistic non-flashy way and for Tattersall, one of his biggest challenges was dealing with the demon character, Ryuk, both physically and photographically. The team started with a huge puppet character with puppeteers operating it, but it wasn’t a practical approach since many of the scenes were shot in small spaces such as Light’s bedroom.

“Eventually, the practical issue led to us using a mime artist in full costume with the intention of doing face replacement later,” explains Tattersall. “From our testing, the approach of ‘less is more’ became a thing — less light, more shadow and mystery, less visible, more effective. It worked well for this character who is mostly seen hiding in the shadows. It’s similar to the first Jaws movie. The shark is strangely more scary and ominous when you only get a few glimpses in the frame here and there — a suggestion. And that was our approach for the first 75% of the film. You might get a brief lean out of the shadows and a quick lean back in. Often, we would just shoot him out of focus. We’d keep the focus in the foreground for the Light character and Ryuk would be an out-of-focus blob in the background. It’s not until the very end — the final murder sequence — that you get to see him in full head-to-toe clarity.”

Tattersall shot the film with two VariCam 35s as his A and B cameras and had a VariCam LT for backup. He shot in 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) capturing VRAW files to Codex VRAW recorders. For lensing, he shot with Zeiss Master primes with a 2:39:1 extraction. “This set has become a favorite of mine for the past few years and I’ve grown to love them,” says Tattersall. “They are a bit big and heavy, but they open to a T1.3 and they’re so velvety smooth. With this show having so much night work, that extra speed was very useful.”

In terms of RAW capture, Tattersall tried to keep it simple, using Fotokem’s nextLAB for on-set workflow. “It was almost like using a one light printing process,” he explains. “We had three basic looks — a fairly cool dingy look, one that sometimes falls back on the saturation or leans in the cold direction. I have a set of rules, but I occasionally break them. We tried as much as possible to shoot only in the shade — bringing in butterfly nets or shooting on the shady side of buildings during the day. It was Adam’s wish to keep this heavy, moody atmosphere.”

Tattersall used a few tools to capture unique visuals. To capture low angle shots, he used a P+S Skater Scope that lets you shoot low to the ground. “You can also incorporate floating Dutch angles with its motorized internal prism, so this was something we did throughout,” he says. “The horizon line would lean over to one side or the other.” He also used a remote rollover rig, which allowed the camera to roll 180-degrees when on a crane, giving Tattersall a dizzying visual.

“We also shot with a Phantom Flex to shoot 500fps,” continues Tattersall. “We would have low Dutch angles, an 8mm fish eye look and a Lensbaby to degrade the focus even more. The image could get quite wonky on occasion, which is counterpoint to the more classic coverage of the calmer dialogue moments.”

Although he did a lot of night work, Tattersall did not use the native 5,000 ISO. “I have warmed to a new range of LED lights — the Cineo Maverick, Matchbox and Matchstix. They’re all color balanced and they’re all multi-varied Daylight or Tungsten so it’s quick and easy to change the color temperature without the use of gels. We also made use of Arri Skypanels. Outside, we used tried and tested old school HMIs or 9-light or 12-light MaxiBrutes. There’s nothing quite like them in terms of powerful source lights.”

Death Note was finished at Technicolor by colorist Skip Kimball on Blackmagic Resolve. “The grade was mostly about smoothing out the bumps and tweaking the contrast” explains Tattersall. “Since it’s a dark feature, there was an emphasis on a heavy mood — keeping the blacks, with good contrast and saturated colors. But in the end, the photographic stylization came from the camera placement and lens choices working together with the action choreography.


Evoking the beauty and power of Dunkirk with 65mm

FotoKem worked to keep Christopher Nolan’s 65mm source natively photochemical and to provide the truest-to-film digital cinema version possible

By Adrian Pennington

Tipped for Oscar glory, Christopher Nolan’s intense World War II masterpiece, Dunkirk, has pushed the boundaries further than any film before it. Having shot sequences of his previous films (including Interstellar) on IMAX, this time the director made the entire picture on 65mm negative. Approximately 75% of the film was captured on 65mm/15-perf IMAX (1.43:1) and the rest on 65mm/5-perf (2.2:1) on Panavision cameras.

Christopher Nolan on set.

Nolan’s vision and passion for the true film experience was carried out by Burbank-based FotoKem in what became the facility’s biggest and most complex large format project to date. In addition to the array of services that went into creating two 65mm master negatives and 70mm release prints in both 15p and 5p formats, FotoKem also provided the movie’s DCP deliverables based on in-house color science designed to match the film master. With the unique capability to project 70mm film (on a Century JJ projector) side by side with the digital projection of 65mm scans, FotoKem meticulously replicated the organic film look shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, NSC, FSF, and envisioned by Nolan.

In describing the large format film process, Andrew Oran, FotoKem’s VP of large format services, explains, “Hoyte was in contact with FotoKem’s Dan Muscarella (the movie’s color timer) throughout production, providing feedback on the 70mm contact and 35mm reduction dailies being screened on location. The pipeline was devised so that the IMAX (65mm/15p) footage was timed on a customized 65mm Colormaster by FotoKem color timer Kristen Zimmermann, under Muscarella’s supervision. Her timing lights were provided to IMAX Post, who used those for producing 35mm reduction prints. Those prints were screened in Los Angeles by IMAX, Muscarella and editorial, who in turn provided feedback to production on location. Prints and files travelled securely back and forth between FotoKem and IMAX throughout each day by in-house delivery personnel and via FotoKem’s proprietary globalDATA e-delivery platform.”

A similar route was taken for the Panavision (65mm/5p) footage — also under Muscarella’s keen eye — prior to FotoKem producing 70mm/5p contact daily prints. A set of both prints (35mm and 70mm) were transported for screening in a trailer on location 50,000 miles away in England, France (including shooting on Dunkirk beach itself) and The Netherlands. Traveling with editorial during principal photography was a 70mm projector on which editor Lee Smith, ACE, and Nolan could view dailies in 70mm/5 perf. A 35mm Arri LocPro was also used to watch reduction prints on location.

Oran adds, “Zimmermann also applied color timing lights to the 65mm/5p negatives for contact printing to 70mm at FotoKem. Ultimately, prints from every reel of film negative in both formats were screened by Dan at FotoKem before shipping to production. This way, Dan ensured that the color was as Nolan and Hoytema envisioned. Later, the goal for the DCP was to give the audience the same feel as if they were watching the film version.”

HD deliverables for editorial and studio viewing were created on a customized Millennium telecine. Warner Bros. and Nolan required the quality be high at this step of the process — which can be challenging for 65mm formats. To do this, FotoKem made improvements to the 65mm Millennium telecine machine’s optical and light path, and fed the scans through a custom keycode and metadata workflow in the company’s nextLAB media management platform. Scans for the film’s digital cinema mastering were done at 8K on FotoKem’s Imagica 65mm scanners.

 

Then, to produce the DCPs, FotoKem’s principal color scientist, Joseph Slomka, says, “We created color modeling tools using the negative, interpositive and print process to match the digital image to the film as precisely as technically possible. We sat down with film prints and verified that the modeling data matched a printed original negative in our DI suite with side by side projection.”

Walter Volpatto

This is where FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto says he determined “how much” and “how close” to match the colors. “We did this by using a special machine — called a Harrahscope Minimax Comparator Projector, developed by Mark Harrah and on loan from the Walt Disney Studios — to project still IMAX frames on the screen,” Volpatto elaborates. “We did this for 400 images from the movie and looked at single frames of digital (projected from a Barco 4K DLP) versus film from Harrahscope, and compared, using the data created by the modeling tools.”

Volpatto worked mainly with RGB offsets in Resolve after each single frame verification to maintain a similarity to traditional color timing. “We also modified the DLP white point settings of the projector for purposes of maintaining the closest match,” he says. “Then, once all the tweaks were made with the stills, we moved to motion picture film reels. Everything described in the printer lights at the film stage were translated to digital based on modeling data.”

In addition to working with Dan (Muscarella) on the film screenings to see the quality he would need to match, Volpatto says that working on Interstellar also helped inform him how to approach this process. “It’s about getting the look that Nolan wants — I just had to replicate it with tremendous accuracy on Dunkirk.”

Joseph Slomka

Aside from the standard DCP, two further digital masters were created for distribution including IMAX scans and digital IMAX distribution, and a Dolby Digital Cinema HDR Master from same source material.

“For the Dolby pass, we had to create another set of color science tools — that still represented Nolan’s vision — to exactly replicate the look of film to HDR,” says Slomka. “Because we had all the computer modeling tools used earlier in the process to identify how the film behaved, we were able to build on that for the HDR version.”

Adds Volpatto, “The whole pipeline was designed to preserve the original viewing experience of print film – everything had to integrate purely and unnoticeably. Having this film and color science knowledge here at FotoKem, it’s hard to see that anybody else could achieve what we did at this level.”


Behind the Title: ArsenalFX colorist Greg Werner

NAME: Greg Werner

COMPANY: ArsenalFX Color

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
ArsenalFX Color is a high-end post facility focusing on the television industry. Our 9,000-square-foot facility hosts Lustre color, Flame, Smoke (Flame Assist) and Avid conform, as well as Colorfront dailies toolsets. Arsenal features a file-based architecture and concurrent HD through 4K workflows (including HDR).

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I don’t think most people are aware of the job title of colorist in general. I think people are aware of cinematographers and editors and their part in creating the look and feel of a show, but don’t realize what can be done on the post side. The systems we work with have an arsenal of tools that allow us to modify and isolate virtually any part of the picture in order to give the client exactly what they’re looking for.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Autodesk Lustre

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Lustre has the power to do things other than just color for artistic intent, such as adding grain or noise to a shot, sharpening or softening a portion of the picture or creating a bleach bypass effect.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is viewing a completed show knowing that I had a part in helping maintain the intended look and feel of the show.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My least favorite part of the job may be that color correction can be tedious at times when working on shows that are very cutty with variable lighting conditions. But, it is that challenge that is also the most rewarding when viewing the completed work and seeing how everything comes together cohesively.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would probably be an editor or VFX artist.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I chose this profession because I always wanted a hands-on technical-oriented type of career. Studying communication and media in college, I was exposed to and very interested in the video production and post environment.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Turn: Washington’s Spies, Outsiders, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, Bones, Prison Break (2017) and HBO’s Barry.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I am probably the most proud of being able to work on the new event series Prison Break (2017) because it was given some stylized looks that were fun to work on.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? 
I find inspiration in the world around me. Whether it be zip lining over tropical waterfalls in Hawaii, surfing in the azure waters of Fiji or simply viewing a spectacular sunset (like the one I saw the other night driving home from work). These experiences can shape the way we see things.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Television, of course, my iPhone and my MacBook Pro.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
After the long hours of sitting in a dark room fixated on a monitor the best de-stress for me is to grab my surfboard and paddle out for a few waves and watch the sunset.


Industry vets open NYC post boutique Twelve

Colorist Lez Rudge and veteran production and post executives Marcelo Gandola, Axel Ericson and Ed Rilli have joined forces to launch New York City-based Twelve, a high-end post boutique for the advertising, film and television industries. Twelve has already been working on campaigns for Jagermeister, Comcast, Maybelline and the NY Rangers.

Twelve’s 4,500-square-foot space in Manhattan’s NoMad neighborhood features three Blackmagic Resolve color rooms, two Autodesk Flame suites and a 4K DI theater with a 7.1 Dolby surround sound system and 25-person seating capacity. Here, clients also have access to a suite of film and production services — editorial, mastering, finishing and audio mixing — as part of a strategic alliance with Ericson and his team at Digital Arts. Ericson, who brings 25 years of experience in film and television, also serves as managing partner of Twelve.

From Twelve’s recent Avion tequila campaign.

Managing director Rilli will handle client relations, strategy, budgets and deadlines, among other deliverables for the business. He was previously head of production at Nice Shoes for 17 years. His long list of agency clients includes Hill Holiday, Publicis, Grey and Saatchi & Saatchi and projects for Dunkin Donuts, NFL, Maybelline and Ford.

Gandola was most recently chief operations officer at Harbor Picture Company. Other positions include EVP at Hogarth, SVP of creative services at Deluxe, VP of operations at Company 3 and principal of Burst @ Creative Bubble, a digital audio and sound design company.

On the creative side, Rudge was formerly a colorist and partner at Nice Shoes. Since 2015, Rudge has also been focusing on his directorial career. His most recent campaign for the NY Rangers and Madison Square Garden — a concept-to-completion project via Twelve — garnered more than 300,000 Facebook hits on its first day.

While Twelve is currently working on short-form content, such as commercials and marketing campaigns, the company is making a concerted effort to extend its reach into film and television. Meanwhile, the partners also have a significant roster expansion in the works.

“After all of these years on both the vendor and client side, we’ve learned how best to get things done,” concludes Gandola. “In a way, technology has become secondary, and artistry is where we keep the emphasis. That’s the essence of what we want to provide clients, and that’s ultimately what pushed us to open our own place.”

Main Image (L-R): Ed Rilli, Axel Ericson, Lez Rudge & Marcelo Gandola


Millennium Digital XL camera: development to delivery

By Lance Holte and Daniel Restuccio

Panavision’s Millennium DXL 8K may be one of today’s best digital cinema cameras, but it might also be one of the most misunderstood. Conceived and crafted to the exacting tradition of the company whose cameras captured such films as Lawrence of Arabia and Inception, the Millennium DXL challenges expectations. We recently sat down with Panavision to examine the history, workflow, some new features and how that all fits into a 2017 moviemaking ecosystem.

Announced at Cine Gear 2016, and released for rent through Panavision in January 2017, the Millennium DXL stepped into the digital large format field as, at first impression, a competitor to the Arri Alexa 65. The DXL was the collaborative result of a partnership of three companies: Panavision developed the optics, accessories and some of the electronics; Red Digital Cinema designed the 8K VV (VistaVision) sensor; and Light Iron provided the features, color science and general workflow for the camera system.

The collaboration for the camera first began when Light Iron was acquired by Panavision in 2015. According to Michael Cioni, Light Iron president/Millennium DXL product manager, the increase in 4K and HDR television and theatrical formats like Dolby Vision and Barco Escape created the perfect environment for the three-company partnership. “When Panavision bought Light Iron, our idea was to create a way for Panavision to integrate a production ecosystem into the post world. The DXL rests atop Red’s best tenets, Panavision’s best tenets and Light Iron’s best tenets. We’re partners in this — information can flow freely between post, workflow, color, electronics and data management into cameras, color science, ergonomics, accessories and lenses.”

HDR OLED viewfinder

Now, one year after the first announcement, with projects like the Lionsgate feature adventure Robin Hood, the Fox Searchlight drama Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the CBS crime drama S.W.A.T. and a Samsung campaign shot by Oscar-winner Linus Sandgren under the DXL’s belt, the camera sports an array of new upgrades, features and advanced tools. They include an HDR OLED viewfinder (which they say is the first), wireless control software for iOS, and a new series of lenses. According to Panavision, the new DXL offers “unprecedented development in full production-to-post workflow.”

Preproduction Considerations
With so many high-resolution cameras on the market, why pick the DXL? According to Cioni, cinematographers and their camera crew are no longer the only people that directly interact with cameras. Panavision examined the impact a camera had on each production department — camera assistants, operators, data managers, DITs, editors, and visual effects supervisors. In response to this feedback, they designed DXL to offer custom toolsets for every department. In addition, Panavision wanted to leverage the benefits of their heritage lenses and enable the same glass that photographed ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to be available for a wider range of today’s filmmakers on DXL.

When Arri first debuted the Alexa 65 in 2014, there were questions about whether such a high-resolution, data-heavy image was necessary or beneficial. But cinematographers jumped on it and have leaned on large format sensors and glass-to-lens pictures — ranging from Doctor Strange to Rogue One — to deliver greater immersiveness, detail and range. It seems that the large format trend is only accelerating, particularly among filmmakers who are interested in the optical magnification, depth of field and field-of-view characteristics that only large format photography offers.

Kramer Morgenthau

“I think large format is the future of cinematography for the big screen,” says cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, who shot with the DXL in 2016. “[Large format cinematography] gives more of a feeling of the way human vision is. And so, it’s more cinematic. Same thing with anamorphic glass — anamorphic does a similar thing, and that’s one of the reasons why people love it. The most important thing is the glass, and then the support, and then the user-friendliness of the camera to move quickly. But these are all important.”

The DXL comes to market offering a myriad of creative choice for filmmakers. Among the large format cameras, the Millennium DXL aims to be the crème de la crème — it’s built around an 46mm 8192×4320 Red VV sensor, custom Panavision large format spherical and anamorphic lenses, wrapped in camera department-friendly electronics, using proprietary color science — all of which complements a mixed camera environment.

“The beauty of digital, and this camera in particular, is that DXL actually stands for ‘digital extra light.’ With a core body weight of only 10 pounds, and with its small form factor, I’ve seen DXL used in the back seat of a car as well as to capture the most incredible helicopter scenes,” Cioni notes.

With the help of Light Iron, Panavision developed a tool to match DXL footage to Panavised Red Weapon cameras. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 used Red Weapon 8K VV Cameras with Panavision Primo 70 lenses. “There are shows like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why [Season Two] that combined this special matching of the DXL and the Red Helium sensor based on the workflow of the show,” Cioni notes. “They’re shooting [the second season] with two DXLs as their primary camera, and they have two 8K Red cameras with Helium sensors, and they match each other.”

If you are thinking the Millennium DXL will bust your budget, think again. Like many Panavision cameras, the DXL is exclusively leasable through Panavision, but Cioni says they’re happy to help filmmakers to build the right package and workflow. “A lot of budgetary expense can be avoided with a more efficient workflow. Once customers learn how DXL streamlines the entire imaging chain, a DXL package might not be out of reach. We always work with customers to build the right package at a competitive price,” he says.

Using the DXL in Production
The DXL could be perceived as a classic dolly Panavision camera, especially with the large format moniker. “Not true,” says Morgenthau, who shot test footage with the camera slung over his shoulder in the back seat of a car.

He continues, “I sat in the back of a car and handheld it — in the back of a convertible. It’s very ergonomic and user-friendly. I think what’s exciting about the Millennium: its size and integration with technology, and the choice of lenses that you get with the Panavision lens family.”

Panavision’s fleet of large format lenses, many of which date back to the 1950s, made the company uniquely equipped to begin development on the new series of large format optics. To be available by the end of 2017, the Primo Artiste lenses are a full series of T/1.8 Primes — the fastest optics available for large format cinematography — with a completely internalized motor and included metadata capture. Additionally, the Primo Artiste lenses can be outfitted with an anamorphic glass attachment that retains the spherical nature of the base lens, yet induces anamorphic artifacts like directional flares and distorted bokeh.

Another new addition to the DXL is the earlier mentioned Panavision’s HDR OLED Primo viewfinder. Offering 600-nit brightness, image smoothing and optics to limit eye fatigue, the viewfinder also boasts a theoretical contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. Like other elements on the camera, the Primo viewfinder was the result of extensive polling and camera operator feedback. “Spearheaded by Panavision’s Haluki Sadahiro and Dominick Aiello, we went to operators and asked them everything we could about what makes a good viewfinder,” notes Cioni. “Guiding an industry game-changing product meant we went through multiple iterations. We showed the first Primo HDR prototype version in November 2016, and after six months of field testing, the final version is both better and simpler, and it’s all thanks to user feedback.”

Michael Cioni

In response to the growing popularity of HDR delivery, Light Iron also provides a powerful on-set HDR viewing solution. The HDR Village cart is built with a 4K HDR Sony monitor with numerous video inputs. The system can simultaneously display A and B camera feeds in high dynamic range and standard dynamic range on four different split quadrants. This enables cinematographers to evaluate their images and better prepare for multi-format color grading in post, given that most HDR projects are also required to deliver in SDR.

Post Production
The camera captures R3D files, the same as any other Red camera, but does have metadata that is unique to the DXL, ranging from color science to lens information. It also uses Light Iron’s set of color matrices designed specifically for the DXL: Light Iron Color.

Designed by Light Iron supervising colorist Ian Vertovec, Light Iron Color deviates from traditional digital color matrices by following in the footsteps of film stock philosophy instead of direct replication of how colors look in nature. Cioni likens Light Iron Color to Kodak’s approach to film. “Kodak tried to make different film stocks for different intentions. Since one film stock cannot satisfy every creative intention, DXL is designed to allow look transforms that users can choose, export and integrate into the post process. They come in the form of cube lookup tables and are all non-destructive.”

Light Iron Color can be adjusted and tweaked by the user or by Light Iron, which Cioni says has been done on many shows. The ability to adjust Light Iron Color to fit a particular project is also useful on shows that shoot with multiple camera types. Though Light Iron Color was designed specifically for the Millennium DXL, Light Iron has used it on other cameras — including the Sony A7, and Reds with Helium and Dragon sensors — to ensure that all the footage matches as closely as possible.

While it’s possible to cut with high-resolution media online with a blazing fast workstation and storage solution, it’s a lot trickier to edit online with 8K media in a post production environment that often requires multiple editors, assistants, VFX editors, post PAs and more. The good news is that the DXL records onboard low-bitrate proxy media (ProRes or DNx) for offline editorial while simultaneously recording R3Ds without requiring the use of an external recorder.

Cioni’s optimal camera recording setup for editorial is 5:1 compression for the R3Ds alongside 2K ProRes LT files. He explains, “My rule of thumb is to record super high and super low. And if I have high-res and low-res and I need to make something else, I can generate that somewhere in the middle from the R3Ds. But as long as I have the bottom and the top, I’m good.”

Storage is also a major post consideration. An hour of 8192×4320 R3Ds at 23.976fps runs in the 1TB/hour range — that number may vary, depending on the R3D compression, but when compared to an hour of 6560×3100 Arriraw footage, which lands at 2.6TB an hour, the Millennium DXL’s lighter R3D workflow can be very attractive.

Conform and Delivery
One significant aspect of the Millennium DXL workflow is that even though the camera’s sensor, body, glass and other pipeline tools are all recently developed, R3D conform and delivery workflows remain tried and true. The onboard proxy media exactly matches the R3Ds by name and timecode, and since Light Iron Color is non-destructive, the conform and color-prep process is simple and adjustable, whether the conform is done with Adobe, Blackmagic, Avid or other software.

Additionally, since Red media can be imported into almost all major visual effects applications, it’s possible to work with the raw R3Ds as VFX plates. This retains the lens and camera metadata for better camera tracking and optical effects, as well as providing the flexibility of working with Light Iron Color turned on or off, and the 8K R3Ds are still lighter than working with 4K (as is the VFX trend) DPX or EXR plates. The resolution also affords enormous space for opticals and stabilization in a 4K master.

4K is the increasingly common delivery resolution among studios, networks and over-the-top content distributors, but in a world of constant remastering and an exponential increase in television and display resolutions, the benefit in future-proofing a picture is easily apparent. Baselight, Resolve, Rio and other grading and finishing applications can handle 8K resolutions, and even if the final project is only rendered at 4K now, conforming and grading in 8K ensures the picture will be future-proofed for some time. It’s a simple task to re-export a 6K or 8K master when those resolutions become the standard years down the line.

After having played with DXL footage provided by Light Iron, it was surprising how straightforward the workflow seems. For a very small production, the trickiest part is the requirement of a powerful workstation — or sets of workstations — to conform and play 8K Red media, with a mix of (likely) 4K VFX shots, graphics and overlays. Michael Cioni notes, “[Everyone] already knows a RedCode workflow. They don’t have to learn it, I could show the DXL to anyone who has a Red Raven and in 30 seconds they’ll confidently say, ‘I got this.’”

FMPX8.14

2017 HPA Engineering Excellence Award winners

The HPA has announced the winners of the 2017 Engineering Excellence Award. Colorfront, Dolby, SGO and Red Digital Cinema will be awarded this year’s honor, which recognizes “outstanding technical and creative ingenuity in media, content production, finishing, distribution and/or archiving.”

The awards will be presented November 16, 2017 at the 12th annual HPA Awards show in Los Angeles.

The winners of the 2017 HPA Engineering Excellence Award are:

Colorfront Engine
An automatically managed, ACES-compliant color pipeline that brings plug-and-play simplicity to complex production requirements, Colorfront Engine ensures image integrity from on-set to the finished product.

Dolby Vision Post Production Tools
Dolby Vision Post Production Tools integrate into existing color grading workflows for both cinema and home deliverable grading, preserving more of what the camera originally captured and limiting creative trade-offs.

SGO’s Mistika VR
Mistika VR is SGO’s latest development and is an affordable VR-focused solution with realtime stitching capabilities using SGO’s optical flow technology.

Red’s Weapon 8K Vista Vision
Weapon with the Dragon 8K VV sensor delivers stunning resolution and image quality, and at 35 megapixels, 8K offers 17x more resolution than HD and over 4x more than 4K.

In addition, honorable mentions will also be awarded to Canon USA for Critical Viewing Reference Displays and Eizo for the ColorEdge CG318-4K.

Joachim Zell, who chairs the committee for this award, said, “Entries for the Engineering Excellence Award were at one of the highest levels ever, on a par with last year’s record breaker, and we saw a variety of serious technologies. The HPA Engineering Excellence Award is meaningful to those who present, those who judge, and the industry. It sounds a bit cliché to say that we had a very tight outcome, and it was a really competitive field this year. Congratulations to the winners and to the nominees for another great year.”

The HPA Awards will also recognize excellence in 12 craft categories, covering color grading, editing, sound and visual effects, and Larry Chernoff will receive the 2017 HPA Lifetime Achievement award.


Behind the Title: Carbon’s head of color grading, Maria Carretero

NAME: Maria Carretero

COMPANY: Carbon (@carbonvfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Carbon, which has locations in New York, Chicago and LA, is a boutique design and visual effects company that focuses on art, ideas, and talent. I am based in Chicago.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Head of color grading

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I work with clients to find color palettes and looks that best tell their story.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m still surprised with how much creativity is involved in the grading process. I especially love coming to solutions through mixing art and technique.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Sometimes I’m involved in projects from very early on, which usually entails creating tone and color palettes to be used during filming. I’ve also contributed reference images that help the creative team settle on an overall look or color, and have been present at camera tests to check light and exposure. I love being able to use my artistic background in painting and the fine arts to give projects their maximum creative potential.

Jeep “Two Words”

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
There are moments when I’m grading a piece and I have a strange connection with it as if I’m seeing it clearly for the first time. It’s like I suddenly know it’s going to be a wonderful grade. Moments like that are magical.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Sunset, when all the lights in the city start turning on.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Painting.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
Color grading chose me. Before I had officially started grading, I spent a lot of my time focusing on my painting, and while grading was something I could technically excel at, my art was the priority at the time. Then digital grading started gaining momentum in Spain and I gradually realized that color grading opportunities were more and more important to me. I feel extremely lucky. I’m self-taught and relied on my incredible network of supporters to give me chances to go further and further.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I worked on the last five Jeep commercials with a talented group of people from DDB Chicago and the great director Tobias Granström. Some other projects included a huge campaign for Panama Tourism out of VML, the hilarious Liquid Plumbr spot from FBC Chicago and the newest Machine Gun Kelly music video, directed by Steven Caple Jr., which has more than four million views on YouTube.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m proud of a lot of my recent work, but Recalculating for Jeep was an incredibly challenging and fulfilling project. We did a lot of research around the idea of sunsets, focusing on the sophistication of light and keeping it as natural feeling as possible.

Jeep “Recalculating”

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Art, life, reading and my previous experiences.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My cell, my Dolby monitor and Spotify.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I have Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Movidiam and Instagram, where I recently started @carretero.color to feature my color work.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I always listen to music when I work. Music is great support — it can make you happy in a second! I listen to a lot of different bands, but Band of Horses, Tame Impala, Neil Young, Flaming Lips, Eels, Devendra, The Kills and Spanish music, like Niña Vintage, are some of my favorites!

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I never let stress control me. Sometimes the challenges of the job are huge, but that’s our work and our industry — we know how to get it done. Challenges are wonderful because they point directly at our creativity. Being uncomfortable sometimes is a good thing. It makes you break down your limitations. Working with a great group of people helps a lot, too, so you can always have fun, even on the hardest days.

SAM names Eric Cooney president/CEO, replaces Tim Thorsteinson

Snell Advanced Media (SAM) has brought on former Tandberg Television president Eric Cooney as president and CEO. As CEO of Tandberg Television, Cooney led its merger with Ericsson Group in 2007. He subsequently resigned to accept the CEO role at NASDAQ-listed IT services provider Internap Corp.

The appointment will see Tim Thorsteinson step down as CEO after two years in the role for personal reasons, which, in the near to medium term, limit his ability to travel. Thorsteinson had led the rebranding of the group — which included Snell and Quantel — as Snell Advanced Media. He will continue to be involved in an advisory capacity to the board as part of a succession plan. He will also remain as a shareholder in SAM.

Headquartered in Newbury, Berkshire, SAM employs almost 600 people across offices in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. The group, which recently reported 20 percent year-on-year growth, is backed by LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group.

Commenting on his appointment, Cooney said, “Snell Advanced Media has seen good growth in recent years, in what has been a challenging market impacted by the changing nature of end-user media consumption. This is testament to its commitment to innovation and integration, whilst keeping its customers front and center.”

SAM delivers a range of technology-led products and solutions across the media production ecosystem, including live production, news and sports editing, post, playout and delivery, modular infrastructure and image processing.