Category Archives: Color Grading

Review: LogicKeyboard’s Astra PC keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5

By Brady Betzel

I love a good keyboard. In fact, my favorite keyboards have always been mechanical, or pseudo-mechanical, like those old Windows keyboards you can find at thrift stores for under 10 bucks — in fact, I went back and bought one just the other day at a Goodwill. I love them because of the tactile response and click you get when depressing the keys.

Knowing this, you can understand my frustration (and maybe old-man bitterness) when all I see in the modern workplace are those slimline Apple keyboards, even on Windows PCs! I mean I can get by on those, but at home I love using this old Avid keyboard that is as close to mechanical as I can get.

LogicKeyboard’s Astra latest Resolve-focused backlit keyboard answers many problems in one slick keyboard. Logic’s scissor switch designed keys give me the tactile feedback that I love while the backlit keyboard itself is sleek and modern.

After being a primarily Avid Media Composer-focused editor with keyboards emblazoned with Avid shortcuts for many years, I started using other apps like Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and realized I really like to see shortcuts displayed on my keyboard. Yeah, I know, I should pretend to be able to blaze through an edit without looking at the keyboard but guess what, I look down. So when learning new apps like Resolve it is really helpful to have a keyboard with shortcuts, moreover with keys that have backlighting. I don’t usually run into many Resolve-focused keyboards so when I heard about Logic’s backlit version, I immediately wanted to try it out.

While this particular keyboard has Resolve-specific shortcuts labeled on the keys it will work as a standard keyboard and will run backlit regardless of what app you are in. If you are looking for a keyboard with shortcuts for a specific app check out LogicKeyboard’s site where you can find Windows and Ma OS keyboards for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Smoke and even non-video-based apps like Pro Tools or Photoshop.

Taking it for a Drive
The Astra keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5 is awesome. First off, there are two USB 2.0 cables you need to plug into your PC to use this keyboard: one for the keyboard itself and one for the two USB 2.0 ports on the back. I love that LogicKeyboard has created a self-powered USB hub on the back of the keyboard. I do wish it was USB 3.0, but to have the ability to power external hard drives from the keyboard and not have to fumble around the back of the machine really helps my day-to-day productivity, a real key addition. While the keyboard I am reviewing is technically for a Windows-based machine it will work on a Mac OS-based system, but you will have to keep in mind the key differences such as the Windows key, but really you should just buy the Mac OS version.

The Astra keyboard is sleek and very well manufactured. The first thing I noticed after I plugged in the keyboard was that it didn’t walk along the desk as I was using it. Maybe I’m a little hard on my equipment, but a lot of keyboards I use start to move across my desk when typing; the Logic keyboard stays still and allows me to pound on that keyboard all day long.

As a testament to the LogicKeyboard’s durability, one day I came home after work and one of the shift keys on the keyboard had come off (it may or may not have been my two year old — I have no concrete evidence). My first thought was “great, there goes that keyboard,” but then I quickly tried to snap the key back on and it went on the first try. Pretty amazing.

What sets the LogicKeyboard backlit keyboard apart from other application-specific keyboards, or any for that matter, is not only the solid construction but also the six levels of brightness for the backlit keys that can be controlled directly from the keyboard. The brightness can be controlled in increments of 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% brightness. As a professional editor or colorist, you might think that having backlit keys in a dark room is both distracting and/or embarrassing, but LogicKeyboard has made a beautiful keyboard that glows softly. Even at 100% brightness it feels like the Astra keyboard has a nice fall off, leaving the keyboard almost unnoticeable until you need to see it and use it. Furthermore, it kicks into what Logic calls “smoothing light” after three minutes of non-use — basically it dims to a dull level.

In terms of shortcuts on the Resolve 12/12.5-specific Astra keyboard, you get four levels of shortcuts: normal, shift + key, control + key, and alt + key. Normal is labeled in black, shift + key are labeled in red just like the shift key, control + key are labeled in blue just like the control key, and alt + key are labeled green just like the alt key. While I love all of these shortcuts I do think that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming with so many visible at the same time. It’s kind of a catch-22; I want every shortcut labeled for easy and fast searches, but too many options lead me, at times, to search too long.

On the flip side, after about a week I noticed my Resolve keyboard shortcuts getting more committed to memory than before, so I was less worried about searching each individual key for the shortcut I needed. I am a big proponent for memorizing keyboard shortcuts and the Astra keyboard for Resolve helped cement those into my memory way faster than any normal non-backlit keyboard. Usually, my eyes have a hard time going back and forth between a bright screen and a super dark keyboard; it’s pretty much impossible to do efficiently. The backlit Astra solved my problem of hunting for keys in a dark room with a bright monitor.

The Windows version is compatible with pretty much any version of Windows from the last 10 years, and the Mac version is compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and higher. I tested mine on a workstation with Windows 10 installed.

Summing Up
In the end, I love Logic’s Astra backlit keyboard for DaVinci Resolve 12/12.5. The tactile feedback from each key is essential for speed when editing and color correcting, and it’s the best I’ve felt since having to give up my trusty mechanical-style keyboards. I’ve been through Apple-like low-profile keyboards for Media Composer, going back to the old-school ps/2-style mechanical-ish keyboards, and now to the Astra backlit keyboard and loving it.

The backlit version of LogicKeyboards don’t necessarily come cheap, however, this version retails for $139.90-plus $11.95 for shipping. The Mac version costs the same.

While you may think that is high for a keyboard, the Astra is of the highest manufacturing quality, has two fully powered USB 2.0 ports (that come in handy for things like the Tangent Ripple or Element color correction panels), and don’t forget the best part: is also backlit! My two-year-old son even ripped a key off of the keyboard (he wants me to add, allegedly!) and I fixed it easily without having to send it in for repairs. I doubt the warranty will cover kids pulling off keys, but you do get a free one-year warranty with the product.

I used this keyboard over a few months and really began to fall in love with the eight-degree angle that it is set at. I use keyboards all day, every day and not all keyboards are the same. Some have super flat angles and some have super high angles. In my opinion, the LogicKeyboard Astra has a great and hurt-free angle.

I also can’t overstate how awesome the backlit element of this keyboard is, it’s not just the letters that are backlit, each key is smoothly backlit in its entirety. Even at 100% brightness the keys look soft with a nice fall off on the edges, they aren’t an eyesore and in fact are a nice talking point for many clients. If you are barely thinking about buying a keyboard or are in desperate need of a new keyboard and you use Resolve 12 or 12.5 you should immediately buy the Astra. I love it, and I know you will not regret it.

Check out my footage of the LogicKeyboard Astra backlit keyboard for Resolve on my YouTube page:

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Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

25 Million Reasons to Smile: When a short film is more than a short

By Randi Altman

For UK-based father and son Paul and Josh Butterworth, working together on the short film 25 Million Reasons to Smile was a chance for both of them to show off their respective talents — Paul as an actor/producer and Josh as an aspiring filmmaker.

The film features two old friends, and literal partners in crime, who get together to enjoy the spoils of their labors after serving time in prison. After so many years apart, they are now able to explore a different and more intimate side of their relationship.

In addition to writing the piece, Josh served as DP and director, calling on his Canon 700D for the shoot. “I bought him that camera when he started film school in Manchester,” says Paul.

Josh and Paul Butterworth

The film stars Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty) and actor/dialect/voice coach Jon Sperry as the thieves who are filled with regret and hope. 25 Million Reasons to Smile was shot in Southern California, over the course of one day.

We reached out to the filmmakers to find out why they shot the short film, what they learned and how it was received.

With tools becoming more affordable these days, making a short is now an attainable goal. What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Josh: It’s wonderful. Young and old aspiring filmmakers alike are so lucky to have the ability to make short films. This can lead to issues, however, because people can lose sight of what it is important: character and story. What was so good about making 25 Million was the simplicity. One room, two brilliant actors, a cracking story and a camera is all you really need.

What about the edit?
Paul: We had one hour and six minutes (a full day’s filming) to edit down to about six minutes, which we were told was a day’s work. An experienced editor starts at £500 a day, which would have been half our total budget in one bite! I budgeted £200 for edit, £100 for color grade and £100 for workflow.

At £200 a day, you’re looking at editors with very little experience, usually no professional broadcast work, often no show reel… so I took a risk and went for somebody who had a couple of shorts in good festivals, named Harry Baker. Josh provided a lot of notes on the story and went from there. And crucial cuts, like staying off the painting as long as possible and cutting to the outside of the cabin for the final lines — those ideas came from our executive producer Ivana Massetti who was brilliant.

How did you work with the colorist on the look of the film?
Josh: I had a certain image in my head of getting as much light as possible into the room to show the beautiful painting in all its glory. When the colorist, Abhishek Hans, took the film, I gave him the freedom to do what he thought was best, and I was extremely happy with the results. He used Adobe Premiere Pro for the grade.

Paul: Josh was DP and director, so on the day he just shot the best shots he could using natural light — we didn’t have lights or a crew, not even a reflector. He just moved the actors round in the available light. Luckily, we had a brilliant white wall just a few feet away from the window and a great big Venice Beach sun, which flooded the room with light. The white walls bounced light everywhere.

The colorist gave Josh a page of notes on how he envisioned the color grade — different palettes for each character, how he’d go for the dominant character when it was a two shot and change the color mood from beginning to end as the character arc/resolution changed and it went from heist to relationship movie.

What about the audio?
Paul: I insisted Josh hire out a professional Róde microphone and a TASCAM sound box from his university. This actually saved the shoot as we didn’t have a sound person on the boom, and consequently the sound box wasn’t turned up… and also we swiveled the microphone rather than moving it between actors, so one had a reverb on the voice while the other didn’t.

The sound was unusable (too low), but since the gear was so good, sound designer Matt Snowden was able to boost it in post to broadcast standard without distortion. Sadly, he couldn’t do anything about the reverb.

Can you comment on the score?
Paul: A BAFTA mate of mine, composerDavid Poore, offered to do the music for free. It was wonderful and he was so professional. Dave already had a really good hold on the project as we’d had long chats but he took the Josh’s notes and we ended up with a truly beautiful score.

Was the script followed to the letter? Any improvisations?
Josh: No, not quite. Paul and Jon were great, and certainly added a lot to the dialogue through conversations before and during the shoot. Jon, especially, was very helpful in Americanizing his character, Jackson’s, dialogue.

Paul: Josh spent a long time on the script and worked on every word. We had script meetings at various LA cafes and table reads with me and Jon. On the shoot day, it was as written.

Josh ended up cutting one of my lines in the edit as it wasn’t entirely necessary, and the reverb was bad. It tightened it up. And our original ending had our hands touching on the bottle, but it didn’t look right so Josh went with the executive producer’s idea of going to the cabin.

What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Paul: Wow! The benefits are amazing… as an actor I never realized the process. The filming is actually a tiny proportion of the entire process. It gave me the whole picture (I’m now in awe of how hard producers work, and that’s only after playing at it!) and how much of a team effort it is — how the direction, edit, sound design and color grade can rewrite the film. I can now appreciate how the actor doesn’t see the bigger picture and has no control over any of those these elements. They are (rightly) fully immersed in their character, which is exactly what the actor’s role is: to turn up and do the lines.

I got a beautiful paid short film out of it, current footage for my show reel and a fantastic TV job — I was cast by Charles Sturridge in the new J.K.Rowling BBC1/HBO series Cormoran Strike as the dad of the female lead Robin (Holliday Grainger). I’d had a few years out bringing Josh up and getting him into film school. I relaunched when he went to university, but my agent said I needed a current credit as the career gap was causing casting directors problems. So I decided to take control and make my own footage — but it had to stand up on my show reel against clips like The Full Monty. If it wasn’t going to be broadcast-standard technically, then it had to have something in the script, and my acting (and my fellow actor had to be good) had to show that I could still do the job.

Josh met a producer in LA who’s given him runner work over here in England, and a senior producer with an international film company saw this and has given him an introduction to their people in Manchester. He also got a chance to write and direct a non-student short using industry professionals, which in the “real” world he might not get for years. And it came with real money and real consequences.

Josh, what did you learn from this experience from a filmmaker’s point of view?
More hands on deck is never a bad thing! It’s great having a tight-knit cast and crew, but the shoot would have definitely benefited from more people to help with lighting and sound, as well as the process running smoother overall.

Any surprises pop up? Any challenges?
Josh: The shoot actually ran very smoothly. The one challenge we had to face was time. Every shot took longer than expected, and we nearly ran out of time but got everything we needed in the end. It helped having such professional and patient actors.

Paul: I was surprised how well Josh (at 20 years old and at the start of film school) directed two professional middle-aged actors. Especially as one was his dad… and I was surprised by how filmic his script was.

Any tips for those looking to do something similar?
Josh: Once you have a story, find some good actors and just do it. As I said before, keep it simple and try to use character not plot to create drama.

Paul: Yes, my big tip would be to get the script right. Spend time and money on that and don’t film it till it’s ready. Get professional help/mentoring if you can. Secondly, use professional actors — just ask! You’d be surprised how many actors will take a project if the script and director are good. Of course, you need to pay them (not the full rate, but something).

Finally, don’t worry too much about the capture — as a producer said to me, “If I like a project I can buy in talent behind the camera. In a short I’m looking for a director’s voice and talent.”

MTI 3.31

Dog in the Night director/DP Fletcher Wolfe

By Cory Choy

Silver Sound Showdown Music + Video Festival is unique in two ways. First, it is both a music video festival and battle of the bands at the same time. Second, every year we pair up the Grand Prize-winners, director and band, and produce a music video with them. The budget is determined by the festival’s ticket sales.

I conceived of the festival, which is held each year at Brooklyn Bowl, as a way to both celebrate and promote artistic collaboration between the film and music communities — two crowds that just don’t seem to intersect often enough. One of the most exciting things for me is then working with extremely talented filmmakers and musicians who have more often than not met for the first time at our festival.

Dog in the Night (song written by winning band Side Saddle) was one of our most ambitious videos to date — using a combination of practical and post effects. It was meticulously planned and executed by director/cinematographer Fletcher Wolfe, who was not only a pleasure to work with, but was gracious enough to sit down with me for a discussion about her process and the experience of collaborating.

What was your favorite part of making Dog in the Night?
As a music video director I consider it my first responsibility to get to know the song and its meaning very intimately. This was a great opportunity to stretch that muscle, as it was the first time I was collaborating with musicians who weren’t already close friends. In fact, I hadn’t even met them before the Showdown. I found it to be a very rewarding experience.

What is Dog in the Night about?
The song Dog in the Night is, quite simply, about a time when the singer Ian (a.k.a. Angler Boy) is enamored with a good friend, but that friend doesn’t share his romantic feelings. Of course, anyone who has been in that position (all of us?) knows that it’s never that simple. You can hear him holding out hope, choosing to float between friendship and possibly dating, and torturing himself in the process.

I decided to use dusk in the city to convey that liminal space between relationship labels. I also wanted to play on the nervous and lonely tenor of the track with images of Angler Boy surrounded by darkness, isolated in the pool of light coming from the lure on his head. I had the notion of an anglerfish roaming aimlessly in an abyss, hoping that another angler would find his light and end his loneliness. The ghastly head also shows that he doesn’t feel like he has anything in common with anybody around him except the girl he’s pining after, who he envisions having the same unusual head.

What did you shoot on?
I am a DP by trade, and always shoot the music videos I direct. It’s all one visual storytelling job to me. I shot on my Alexa Mini with a set of Zeiss Standard Speed lenses. We used the 16mm lens on the Snorricam in order to see the darkness around him and to distort him to accentuate his frantic wanderings. Every lens in the set weighed in at just 1.25lbs, which is amazing.

The camera and lenses were an ideal pairing, as I love the look of both, and their light weight allowed me to get the rig down to 11lbs in order to get the Snorricam shots. We didn’t have time to build our own custom Snorricam vest, so I found one that was ready to rent at Du-All Camera. The only caveats were that it could only handle up to 11lbs, and the vest was quite large, meaning we needed to find a way to hide the shoulders of the vest under Ian’s wardrobe. So, I took a cue from Requiem for a Dream and used winter clothing to hide the bulky vest. We chose a green and brown puffy vest that held its own shape over the rig-vest, and also suited the character.

I chose a non-standard 1.5:1 aspect ratio, because I felt it suited framing for the anglerfish head. To maximize resolution and minimize data, I shot 3.2K at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and cropped the sides. It’s easy to build custom framelines in the Alexa Mini for accurate framing on set. On the Mini, you can also dial in any frame rate between 0.75-60fps (at 3.2K). Thanks to digital cinema cameras, it’s standard these days to over-crank and have the ability to ramp to slow motion in post. We did do some of that; each time Angler Boy sees Angler Girl, his world turns into slow motion.

In contrast, I wanted his walking around alone to be more frantic, so I did something much less common and undercranked to get a jittery effect. The opening shot was shot at 6fps with a 45-degree shutter, and Ian walked in slow motion to a recording of the track slowed down to quarter-time, so his steps are on the beat. There are some Snorricam shots that were shot at 6fps with a standard 180-degree shutter. I then had Ian spin around to get long motion blur trails of lights around him. I knew exactly what frame rate I wanted for each shot, and we wound up shooting at 6fps, 12fps, 24fps, 48fps and 60fps, each for a different emotion that Angler Boy is having.

Why practical vs. CG for the head?
Even though the fish head is a metaphor for Angler Boy’s emotional state, and is not supposed to be real, I wanted it to absolutely feel real to both the actor and the audience. A practical, and slightly unwieldy, helmet/mask helped Ian find his character. His isolation needed to be tangible, and how much he is drawn to Angler Girl as a kindred spirit needed to be moving. It’s a very endearing and relatable song, and there’s something about homemade, practical effects that checks both those boxes. The lonely pool of light coming from the lure was also an important part of the visuals, and it needed to play naturally on their faces and the fish mask. I wired Lite Gear LEDs into the head, which was the easy part. Our incredibly talented fabricator, Lauren Genutis, had the tough job — fabricating the mask from scratch!

The remaining VFX hurdle then was duplicating the head. We only had the time and money to make one and fit it to both actors with foam inserts. I planned the shots so that you almost never see both actors in the same shot at the same time, which kept the number of composited shots to a minimum. It also served to maintain the emotional disconnect between his reality and hers. When you do see them in the same shot, it’s to punctuate when he almost tells her how he feels. To achieve this I did simple split screens, using the Pen Tool in Premiere to cut the mask around their actions, including when she touches his knee. To be safe, I shot takes where she doesn’t touch his knee, but none of them conveyed what she was trying to tell him. So, I did a little smooshing around of the two shots and some patching of the background to make it so the characters could connect.

Where did you do post?
We were on a very tight budget, so I edited at home, and I always use Adobe Premiere. I went to my usual colorist, Vladimir Kucherov, for the grade. He used Blackmagic Resolve, and I love working with him. He can always see how a frame could be strengthened by a little shaping with vignettes. I’ll finally figure out what nuance is missing, and when I tell him, he’s already started working on that exact thing. That kind of shaping was especially helpful on the day exteriors, since I had hoped for a strong sunset, but instead got two flat, overcast days.

The only place we didn’t see eye to eye on this project was saturation — I asked him to push saturation farther than he normally would advise. I wanted a cartoon-like heightening of Angler Boy’s world and emotions. He’s going through a period in which he’s feeling very deeply, but by the time of writing the song he is able to look back on it and see the humor in how dramatic he was being. I think we’ve all been there.

What did you use VFX for?
Besides having to composite shots of the two actors together, there were just a few other VFX shots, including dolly moves that I stabilized with the Warp Stabilizer plug-in within Premiere. We couldn’t afford a real dolly, so we put a two-foot riser on a Dana Dolly to achieve wide push-ins on Ian singing. We were rushing to catch dusk between rainstorms, and it was tough to level the track on grass.

The final shot is a cartoon night sky composited with a live shot. My very good friend, Julie Gratz of Kaleida Vision, made the sky and animated it. She worked in Adobe After Effects, which communicates seamlessly with Premiere. Julie and I share similar tastes for how unrealistic elements can coexist with a realistic world. She also helped me in prep, giving feedback on storyboards.

Do you like the post process?
I never used to like post. I’ve always loved being on set, in a new place every day, moving physical objects with my hands. But, with each video I direct and edit I get faster and improve my post working style. Now I can say that I really do enjoy spending time alone with my footage, finding all the ways it can convey my ideas. I have fun combining real people and practical effects with the powerful post tools we can access even at home these days. It’s wonderful when people connect with the story, and then ask where I got two anglerfish heads. That makes me feel like a wizard, and who doesn’t like that?! A love of movie magic is why we choose this medium to tell our tales.


Cory Choy, Silver Sound Showdown festival director and co-founder of Silver Sound Studios, produced the video.


The A-List: La La Land‘s Oscar-winning DP Linus Sandgren

By Iain Blair

Even though it didn’t actually win the Best Picture Oscar, La La Land was honored with five Academy Awards this year, including one for Best Cinematography for Linus Sandgren. This Swedish director of photography, known for his kinetic work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy, collaborated closely with La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle.

Shooting with anamorphic lenses and 35mm film on Panavision Millennium XL2s (with one 16mm sequence) — and capturing his first musical — Sandgren rose to the challenge set by Chazelle (“make it look magical rather than realistic”) by continually pushing the film’s technical and creative boundaries.

That approach is showcased in the bravura opening traffic jam sequence where the camera feels like one of the dancers and part of the choreography. Designed to look like one unbroken shot, it’s actually three, carefully rehearsed, then shot on the freeway ramp over a weekend and stitched together invisibly and seamlessly. For another tour-de-force sequence where stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone literally fly up into the stars of the Griffith Observatory planetarium, the team used wires and bluescreen on a set, as filming wasn’t allowed in the real location.

I recently talked to Sandgren about shooting the film, working with Chazelle (see our interview with the director), the digital workflow and the importance of post to him as a DP.

Is it fair to say that the camera functions almost like another character in this film?
Yes, our whole approach was to let the camera act as both a curious character, with very active movement, as well as a musical instrument, so we had to move the camera to the rhythm of the music. We also designed many scenes in three- to six-minute-long single takes that often included a Steadicam that had to step on or off a crane, and sometimes we needed to shoot the scene in a very limited timeframe of about 20 minutes.

Was the framing also quite demanding?
Damien wanted the film to be very anamorphic and do it in 35mm with the old scope format — before the standard became 2.40:1 — so we did it in 2.55:1 like the old CinemaScope. Then I talked to Panavision and they built some new ground glasses for us, which added to the magic we were trying to capture in the look.

Damien told me that you and colorist Natasha Leonnet actually set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot?
Yes, we began with the tests. To me, it’s really important to try and establish the look in camera as much as possible, so that it’s as natural as possible in post and you don’t have to tweak too much later. So in the test, in order to get that “Technicolor look,” we explored introducing blues and cyans into the blacks, and we tested anything from push process (over-developing) and under-exposing, and pull process (under-develop) and over-exposing the film. The push process gave us more contrast and grain, while the pull process gave us a softer look and finer grain, which we thought was more pleasing.

How did you deal with the dailies?
We decided we were going to use Efilm’s Cinemascan dailies, which meant we scanned all the negative with an Arri scanner instead of the telecine version, and then in post we re-scanned the negative in 6K and downconverted it to 4K. All the tests were done with Natasha, but for the shoot itself, I used my dailies colorist, Matt Wallach from EC3 Lab, which is the location operation run by Efilm and Company 3 together. It’s the same workflow I used on Joy and also on the upcoming Battle of the Sexes. Each day of the shoot the film was sent to Fotokem, who under-developed it one stop, and then it was scanned at EC3.

Linus Sandgren with is Oscar at the Lionsgate Oscar party.

Where did you do the DI?
With Natasha at Efilm. She got all the settings from the EDL and we generally tried to stay with the dailies look, which we were all pretty happy with. We used some windows and worked on the blacks, and me and Damien had about three to four weeks working on the DI, but not every day. We’d go back and forth, and Natasha also did some work by herself. I’m really involved with the whole DI process, and I even ended up doing a last remote session with Natasha from Company 3’s place in London when I was there at the end of the DI.

Obviously, the shoot’s the main focus for any DP, but just how important is the whole post process for you?
It’s incredibly important, and I love the DI and post process. The most important thing for me is that the film’s look is already established before we start shooting, and therefore it’s very important to involve post production creatives in preproduction. I could never shoot a project where people say, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix the look in post.” I want to go into the DI knowing that we already have the look, and then we can work on fine-tuning it.


Blackmagic intros lower-cost color panels for Resolve, new camera

By Brady Betzel

Yesterday, Blackmagic held a press conference on YouTube introducing a new pro camera — the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K, which combines high-end digital film quality with the ergonomics and features of a traditional broadcast camera — and two new portable hardware control panels for the DaVinci Resolve (yes, only the Resolve) designed to allow color correction workflows to be mixed in with editing workflows.

For this article, I’m going to focus on the panels.

The color correction hardware market is a small one, usually headed by the same companies who produce color correction software. Tangent is one of the few that produces its own color correction panels. There is also the Avid/Euphonix Artist color correction panel and a few others, but the price jumps incredibly when you step up to panels like the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Advanced panels (just under $30,000).

I’ve previously reviewed the Tangent Ripple and Element color correction panels, and I love them. However, besides Tangent there really hasn’t been any mid- to prosumer-level products… until now. Blackmagic is offering the new Micro and Mini color correction panels.

The Blackmagic’s Micro color correction panel (our main image) is well priced at $995, which can be somewhat compared to the Tangent Wave (over $1,500 on B&H‘s site), Tangent Element Tk (over $1,135), or more closely compared to the Avid Artist Color Control Surface ($1,299). You’ll notice all of those are priced way higher than the new Micro panel. You could also throw the Tangent Ripple up for comparison, but that has a much more limited functionality and is much lower in price at around $350. The Micro panel is essentially three trackballs, 12 knobs and 18 keys. It is a collection of the most highly used parts of a color correction panel without any GUI screens. It connects via USB-C, although a USB 3 to USB-C converter will be included.

The Blackmagic Mini color correction panel (pictured right) is priced higher at $2,995 and can be compared to a combo of the Tangent Element Tk with one or two more in the Element set, which retail for $3,320 on www.bhphotovideo.com. The Mini adds two 5-inch displays, eight soft buttons, and eight soft knobs, in addition to everything the Micro panel has. It also has pass-through Ethernet to power and connect the panel, USB-C, and 4-pin XLR 12V DC power connection.

I am really excited to try these color correction panels out for my own — and I will, as the panels are on their way to me as I type. I need to emphasize that these panels only work with Resolve, no other software apps, so these were built with one workflow in mind.

I do wonder if in the future Blackmagic will sell additional panels that add more buttons and knobs or something crazy like a Smartscope through the Ethernet ports so I don’t have to buy additional SDI output hardware. Will everyone be ok with transport controls being placed on the right?

“We are always looking to design new products and features to help with the creative process,” says Blackmagic’s Bob Caniglia. “These new panels were designed to enable our growing number of Resolve users to be able access the power of DaVinci Resolve and Resolve Studio beyond a mouse and keyboard. The Micro and Mini control panels provide the perfect complement to our existing Advanced control panels.”

Blackmagic is really coming for everyone in the production and post world with recent moves like the acquisition of audio company Fairlight and realtime bluescreen and greenscreen removal hardware Ultimatte, providing Avid with their Media Composer DNx IOs, and even releasing an updated version of the Ursa camera, the Ursa Mini Pro. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget they provide one of the top color correction and editing apps on the market in DaVinci Resolve, and the latest color correction hardware like the Micro and Mini panels are primed to bring the next set of colorists into the Resolve world.

Oh, and as not to forget about the camera, the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K is now available for $5,995. Here are some specs:

•  Digital film camera with 15 stops of dynamic range.
• Super 35mm 4.6K sensor with third-generation Blackmagic color science processing of raw sensor data.
• Interchangeable lens mount with EF mount included as standard. Optional PL and B4 lens mount available separately.
• High-quality 2, 4 and 6 stop ND filters with IR compensation designed to specifically match the colorimetry and color science of Ursa Mini Pro.
• Fully redundant controls including ergonomically designed tactile controls that allow direct access to the most important camera settings such as external power switch, ND filter wheel, ISO, shutter, white balance, record button, audio gain controls, lens and transport control, high frame rate button and more.
• Built-in dual C-Fast 2.0 recorders and dual SD/UHS-II card recorders allow unlimited duration recording in high quality.
• LCD status display for quickly checking timecode, shutter and lens settings, battery, recording status and audio levels.
• Support for CinemaDNG 4.6K RAW files and ProRes 4444 XQ, ProRes 4444, ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes 422 LT and ProRes 422 Proxy recording at Ultra HD and HD resolutions.
• Supports up to 60 fps 4.6K resolution capture in RAW.
• Features all standard connections, including dual XLR mic/line audio inputs with phantom power, 12G-SDI output for monitoring with camera status graphic overlay and separate XLR 4-pin power output for viewfinder power, headphone jack, LANC remote control and standard 4-pin 12V DC power connection.
• Built-in stereo microphones for recording sound.
• Four-inch foldout touchscreen for on-set monitoring and menu settings.


Looking at the ACES color workflow on Café Society

By Sarah Priestnall

Last year’s Café Society marked a milestone in Woody Allen’s cinematic career — the first of his movies to be acquired digitally, mostly with the Sony F65 camera, and with additional use of the Sony F55. To accompany him in this endeavor, he turned to legendary Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, ASC. Storaro has, of course, shot some of the most iconic movies of all time, including Apocalypse Now, Little Buddha and The Sheltering Sky. A period piece, set in the 1930s, Café Society tells the story of Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), who leaves the Bronx for Hollywood where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful young woman (Kristen Stewart) who is involved with a mysterious married man.

Storaro uses color and tone throughout Café Society to great effect creating distinctive looks for the different locations. For this, he worked closely with Anthony Raffaele, senior colorist at Technicolor PostWorks, New York. Influenced by photographers and artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Hopper, Storaro uses look and color as a tool to help tell the story and place the characters in a particular location —in this case the Bronx, Hollywood and New York. As Bobby Dorfman moves from the Bronx, with its muted tones, to Hollywood, the colors become more vibrant and luminous. His life changes drastically and so when he moves back to New York the color palette becomes a blend of the two, reflecting that Bobby’s life has been changed by his time on the West Coast.

Unlike many of his projects, Anthony Raffaele had the opportunity to grade the dailies as well as the final digital intermediate. Conversations between him and Storaro began in pre-production. “We started a workflow and color conversation very early on,” explains Raffaele. “From our initial meeting with Vittorio and his DIT Simone D’Arcangelo, the color pipeline was paramount so that we could maintain the color decisions from on-set through to the finish.” Storaro insisted on a 4K 16-bit pipeline from the camera through to the digital intermediate. He had used Filmlight’s Baselight before on Muhammed: The Messenger of God, and based on that experience he knew that he wanted to use it again.

Although ACES was not used for the dailies, Raffaele was looking for a way to get a really strong image with deep blacks and vibrant colors — something that Storaro thought was perhaps missing in the dailies, at least compared to a film print. He had successfully used ACES previously on a movie with Dean Cundey, ASC — on the movie Freedom in 2014. After some experimentation with Baselight, he realized that he could achieve the richness that Storaro desired with Baselight’s revamped color pipeline which includes ACES throughout. “Filmlight does a great job with ACES color. I’ve found that using their IDTs (Input Display Transforms) gives me a great starting place, says Raffaele. “You can get a really great image very quickly. Also once you’re in ACES color space, creating any deliverable is very easy. The color mapping is amazingly accurate.”

The ease of the ACES integration in Baselight, together with the time saved by using ACES, allowed Raffaele to maximize the time he spent on creative color grading. The fidelity of the original 4K 16-bit images carried through to the digital intermediate with ACES wide color gamut. As Raffaele explains, the combination of Baselight and ACES also made the creation of an HDR deliverable simple as well as future-proofing the content, “there is the archival benefit to using ACES. The large color space will, in theory, futureproof the color decisions made in the room.”

Like many other colorists, Raffaele is convinced of the value of ACES, using it on every project he can. In fact, he is again collaborating with Storaro and DIT Simone D’Arcangelo on Woody Allen’s latest project and using ACES from beginning to end.


Sarah Priestnall has worked in the entertainment technology for many years, always at the forefront of the digital transition, with companies like Kodak, Hollywood Intermediate and Codex.


Steve Porter

Behind the Title: MTI colorist Steve Porter

NAME: Steve Porter

COMPANY: MTI Film

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a Hollywood-based post facility that specializes in TV finishing, film restoration and software development.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That I am also a skin care specialist, VFX artist and therapist.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Digital Vision Nucoda.

Bates Motel

ARE YOU ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
This career has proven to be as much about color as it is about understanding cameras and technical workflows.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Being able to put my stamp as an artist on a project and working with great DPs and clients that like collaboration.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Working with someone that doesn’t respect the art of it.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Trying to make the professional golf tour.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’ve always loved photography and movies… it was a path that I never even knew existed when I was younger. It was something that bridged those two worlds, and I was lucky enough to have a knack for it.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS?
Outlander, Outcast, Bates Motel, Good Behavior, The Magicians and Hell on Wheels.

Outlander

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
The projects that I just mentioned above… and I love Outlander — the clients and the show, they allow great freedom to create many different worlds. I enjoy that and take great pride in being a part of it.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Watching movies. Getting a wonderfully shot show from a great DP and seeing where something takes me — that’s inspiration.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A cell phone, my color corrector and a set of golf clubs.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I really only check Facebook.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Did I mention I like to golf?


Sound Lounge offers remote audio post between NYC, Boston

New York City-based Sound Lounge is now providing remote audio post and sound mixing services for clients based in Boston. Sound Lounge Everywhere was established to provide clients with the comforts of a mixing studio and seamless remote connection to Sound Lounge artists — along with video and audio for realtime sessions, all using premiere technology.

In creating this service, Sound Lounge partnered with Boston-based creative editorial company Editbar, who will manage the Sound Lounge Everywhere technology. Custom hardware allows Sound Lounge to stream high-quality audio and video from New York to Boston with virtually zero latency, meaning that clients can view their spots live while their talent records in the New York office. The technology also allows clients to speak face-to-face with their sound mixers to ensure their sessions are both efficient and effective.

“We believe that geography is now an opportunity rather than a boundary, and we’re excited to work with new brands and agencies in this unique fashion,” says Sound Lounge partner, COO and sound designer Marshall Grupp.

Sound Lounge and Editbar (pictured above) are also joining forces with creative studio Nice Shoes, who are in the same space as Sound Lounge, to offer sound, color and creative editorial all underneath one roof.

While Sound Lounge Everywhere is currently only being offered between New York and Boston, the studio expects to offer these services in other cities in the near future.


Quick Chat: Freefolk US executive producer Celia Williams

By Randi Altman

A few months back, UK-based post house Finish purchased VFX studio Realise and renamed the company Freefolk. They also expanded into the US with a New York City-based studio. Industry vet Celia Williams, who was most recently head of production at agency Arnold NY, is heading up Freefolk US. To find out more about the recently rebranded entity, we reached out to Williams.

Can you describe Freefolk? What kind of services do you offer?
Freefolk is a team of creative artists, technicians and problem solvers who use post production as their tool box. We offer services including high-end FilmLight Baselight color grading, remote grading, 2D and 3D visual effects, final conform, shoot supervision, animation, data management and direction of special projects. We work across the mediums of advertising, film, TV and digital content.

L-R: Celia Williams, Paul Harrison and Jason Watts.

What spurred on Freefolk’s expansion to the US?
Having carved out a reputation in London over the last 13 years as a commercials post house, the expansion to the US seemed like a natural progression for the founders, allowing them to export a boutique service and high-quality work rather than becoming another large machine in London.

Will you be offering the same services in both locations?
The services we offer in London will all be represented in New York. Color grading plays such an important role in the process these days, so we are spearheading with a Baselight suite driven by Paul Harrison and 2D VFX department being set up by Jason Watts.

Will you share staff between New York and the UK?
Yes, there will be a sharing of resources and, obviously, experience across the offices. A great thing about opening in New York is being able to offer our staff the experience of working in a foreign city. It also gives clients who are increasingly working across multiple markets a seamless global service.

Why the rebrand from Finish to Freefolk?
The rebrand from Finish to Freefolk came about as part of the expansion into the US and the acquisition of Realise. It was also a timely opportunity to express one of the core values of the company, and the way it values its staff and clients — Freefolk is about the people involved in the process.

What does the acquisition of Realise mean to the company?
Realise has brought a wealth of experience and talent to the table. They combine creative skill and technical understanding in equal measure. They are known in both commercials and now film and TV for offering very specialized capabilities with Side Effects Houdini and customized software.

We have just completed VFX work on 400 shots over 10 episodes of NBC’s Emerald City TV series (due to be released early 2017) and have just embarked on our next long-form project. It’s really exciting to be expanding into other mediums such as TV, film, installation work, projection mapping and other experimental and experiential arenas.

You have an ad agency background. From your own experience how important is that to clients?
It’s extremely important and comforting, actually. Understanding what the producers and creatives are challenged with on a daily basis gives me the ability to offer workable solutions to their problems in a very collaborative way. They don’t have to wonder if I “get” where they’re coming from. Frankly, I do.

I think that it’s emotionally helpful as well. To know someone can be an understanding shoulder to lean on and is taking their concerns seriously is beyond important. Everyone is working at breakneck speed in our industry, which can lead to a lack of humanity in our interactions. One of the main reasons I was attracted to working with Freefolk is that they are deeply dedicated to keeping that humanity and personal touch in the way they do business.

The way that post companies service agencies has changed due to the way that products are now being marketed — online ads, social media, VR. Can you talk about that?
To be well informed and prepped as early on in the process as you can be is key. And to truly partner with the producers and creatives, as much as they need or want, is critical. What might work in one medium may be less impactful in another, so from the get-go, how do we plan to ensure all deliverables are strong, and to offer insights into new technology that might impact the outcome? It’s all about sharing and collaboration.

I may be one of the few people who’ve never really panicked about the different ways we deliver final work — our industry has always been about change, which is what keeps it interesting. At the end of the day, it’s always been about delivering content, in one form or another. So you need to know your final deliverables list and plan accordingly.

The A-List: La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Damien Chazelle may only have three feature films on his short resume, but the 32-year-old is already viewed by Hollywood as an acclaimed auteur and major talent. His latest film, the retro-glamorous musical La La Land, is a follow-up to his 2014 release Whiplash. That film received five Oscar nominations — including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle — and three wins, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons.

Now officially crowned as this year’s Oscar frontrunner, Lionsgate’s La La Land just scored a stunning total of 14 nominations (including Best Director), matching the record held by All About Eve and Titanic. It also recently scooped up seven Golden Globes, a record for a single movie, as well as a ton of other awards and nominations.

Damien Chazelle

Set in the present, but paying homage to the great Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and ’50s, La La Land tells the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who meets aspiring actress, playwright and fan of old movies Mia (Emma Stone). They initially ignore each other, they talk, they fight — but mainly they break out of the conventions of everyday life as they break into song and dance at the drop of a hat and take us on an exuberant journey through their love affair in a movie that’s also an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics. It’s also a love letter to the Los Angeles of Technicolor dreams.

To bring La La Land to life, Chazelle collaborated with a creative team that included director of photography Linus Sandgren (known for his work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy), choreographer Mandy Moore, composer Justin Hurwitz, lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and editor Tom Cross who cut Whiplash for him.

I recently talked to Chazelle about making the film and his workflow.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports that the musical is dead have been greatly exaggerated. You obviously love them.
I do, and I also don’t think they’re just escapist fantasies. They usually tell you something about their era, and the idea was to match the tropes of those great old movies — the Fred and Ginger musicals — with modern life and all its demands. I’m a huge fan of all those old musicals, and I drew my inspiration from a wide mix of all the MGM musicals, the Technicolor and CinemaScope ones especially, and then all the films of Jacques Demy. He’s the French New Wave director who made The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room in Town. But I was also inspired by ‘90s films about LA that really captured the grandeur of the city, like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or Pulp Fiction.

It’s interesting that all your films are so music-driven.
I used to be a jazz drummer — or a wannabe — so a lot of it comes from that. Probably frustrated ambition (laughs).

Is it true that you never used a hand double for Ryan Gosling when he was playing piano?
Completely true. He could play a little bit of basic piano stuff, and he’s definitely musical, but he was adamant right from the start that he would learn all the pieces and play them himself — and he did. He practiced intensely for four months before the shoot, and by the time we shot he could play. There’s no cheating. They’re his hands, even on the close-ups. That’s how committed he was.

The dancing must have been equally demanding for both Ryan and Emma?
It was. They both had a little dance experience — him more than her, I think, but fairly minimal and in different styles than this. So they had to do a lot of rehearsal and training, and Mandy Moore is a great dance instructor as well as a choreographer, so she did both at the same time — training them and building the choreography out of that and what suited each actor and each character. It was all very organic and tailored specifically for them.

The big opening dance sequence with all the cars is such a tour-de-force. Just how tough was that to pull off?
It was very tough. I had an amazing crew, and once we’d found this overpass ramp we had to figure out exactly how to shoot it for real with all these cars of different colors and eras, so there was a ton of insane logistics to deal with. That was going on while Mandy was working on all the choreography, either in the studio or in parking lots, since we couldn’t rehearse that much on location. The last thing to add was the crane. I’d storyboarded the whole sequence and shot a lot of the rehearsals on my iPhone so we could study them and see how we wanted to move the camera with the crane.

There’s been a lot of talk about it being one long uncut sequence. Is it?
No. We designed it to look like one shot but it’s actually three, stitched together invisibly, and we shot it over a weekend.

Talk about working with Linus Sandgren, who used anamorphic lenses and 35mm film to get that glamour look.
We had a great relationship, as every time I had an idea he’d one-up it, and vice-versa. So he really embraced all the challenges and set the tone with his enthusiasm. There was a lot of back and forth before and during the shoot. We wanted the camera to feel like a dancer, to become part of the choreography, to be very energetic, and we had this great Steadicam guy, Ari Robbins. He did amazing work executing these very difficult, fluid shots. I wanted the film to be very anamorphic, and today, scope films are usually shot in 2.40 to 1, but Linus thought it would be interesting to shoot it in 2.52 to 1 to give it the extra scope of those classic films. We talked to Panavision about it, and they actually custom-fit some lenses for us.

Do you like post?
I love it, especially the editing. It’s my favorite part of the whole process.

Tell us about working with editor Tom Cross. Was he on the set?
He visited a couple of times, but I think it’s better when editors are not there so they are more objective when they first see the coverage. He starts cutting while I shoot, and then we start. I like to be in the editing room every day, and the big challenge on this was finding the right tone.

While Whiplash was all about punctuated editing so it reflected the tempos and rhythms of the drumming, La La Land is the polar opposite. It’s all about lush curves, and Whiplash is a movie about hard right angles. So on this, it was all about calibrating a lot of details. We had a mass of footage — a lot ended up on the cutting room floor — and while some is heightened fantasy, some is like a realist drama. So we had to find a way for both to coexist, and that involved everything from minute tweaks to total overhauls. We actually cut the whole opening number at one point, then later put it back and dropped other scenes around it. There’s probably no number we didn’t cut at some point, so we tried all possibilities, and it took a while to get the tone and pacing right.

Where did you do the post?
At EPS-Cineworks in Burbank; then on the Fox lot. Justin, the composer, was also there working on score cues next door, and we had our sound team with us for a bit, way before the mix, doing sound design, so it was very collaborative. It was like a mini-factory. Crafty Apes did all the VFX, such as the planetarium sequence and flying through space sequence, as well as the more invisible stuff throughout the film.

Obviously, all the music and sound was crucial?
Yes, and it helped that we had a lot of the score done before we shot. Justin was with us for the edit, and we’d do temp stuff for screenings and then tweak things. I had a great sound team led by Andy Nelson, who were phenomenal. Just like with the VFX, it had to somehow be small and intimate while also being huge and epic. It couldn’t be too glossy, so all the music was recorded acoustically and the vocals are all dry with very little reverb or compression, and we mixed in Atmos at Fox.

Where did you do the DI?
On the Fox lot with colorist Natasha Leonnet from EFilm. She did Whiplash for me and she’s very experienced. The DP and her set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot, and then Linus and I’d go in for the DI and alternate on sessions. Our final session was literally 48 hours long non-stop — no sleep, no trips outdoors — as we were so under the wire to finish. But it all turned out great, and I’m very pleased with the look and the final film. It’s the film I wanted to make.