Category Archives: post production

VFX vet Andrew Bell Joins Method Advertising

Long-time VFX executive Andrew Bell has joined LA-based Method Studios as senior EP/VP of its Advertising division. He will report to Method Advertising MD/EVP Stuart Robinson.

Bell moves to Method after spending nearly two decades with MPC, first as a producer in London and then as head of production and managing director, spearheading MPC’s initial foray, then expansion and relocation, into Los Angeles. There he oversaw all operations, from bidding to building to managing the talent and client rosters in addition to working with directors producing large-scale VFX projects for Coca-Cola, Nike, DirecTV and other brands. Bell also previously served as managing director for Brickyard VFX in Boston and has consulted on VFX operations for Apple.

In LA, Bell will work alongside Method Commercials VFX senior EP/VP Stephanie Gilgar and Digital Studio head Jeff Werner to drive operations, curate talent and bring clients on the West Coast. Method is a Deluxe company.

Review: Custom-built workstations from Mediaworkstations.net

By Brady Betzel

While workstations that optimize the tools you use in the media and entertainment industry are easily accessible, what if you wanted to drill down even deeper?

What if you wanted a workstation built specifically for Adobe Premiere Pro editing of 4K RAW Red R3D files? Or if you are working in Blackmagic’s Resolve, and want playback of 4K RAW Red R3D files? What if you also wanted to dabble in Adobe After Effects?

While the big workstation manufacturers allow customization, that can only go so far online. If you want more personal support and micro-customizations, you will need to find a smaller company that builds very niche computer systems. Mediaworkstations.net is one of those companies.

MediaWorkstations.net’s offerings are custom built computers focused on the media and entertainment professional working in high-end applications like Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Maxon Cinema 4D, Foundry Nuke and many more including realtime renderers like Octane. When you call MediaWorkstations.net you will talk to a real person, like founder Christopher Johnson, who has extensive knowledge about the media and entertainment industry as it relates to hardware configurations.

Customization
To get started, I had a phone call with Christopher to go over my needs in a system, how much of a budget I had to work with and what I thought I would want to be doing in the future. We talked about how I am currently an online editor who does some color correction and grading. For editing, I primarily use Avid Media Composer but I am using Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic’s Resolve more often these days. I also like to jump into After Effects and Cinema 4D to do some basic stuff but without a slowdown. And, finally, I wanted to stay under $10,000 in price.

Following along on the website, Christopher directed me to the i-X series workstation they configure. He ran through some of my CPU options and explained why I would need one processor versus another processor. He suggested putting 128GB of DDR4 2800 SDRAM, which I went with but I considered changing that to 64GB — I would save a little less than $1,000, and it’s something I could always install more down the road.

Christopher had me throw in a 512GB Samsung 960 Pro SSD for the OS drive, a RAID-0 asset drive and the cherry on top was the 800GB Kingston DCP1000 PCIe for another asset drive. The Kingston DCP 1000 is a beast of a drive that I was super excited to test. You can check the specs out here, but essentially Kingston says it can read up to 6,800MB/s and write up to 6,000MB/s (that is megabytes not bits!). Without giving away too much, this drive is the fastest drive I have ever tested. Unfortunately, at the moment you can’t include it in the online configuration to get a price, but it seems like it retails for anywhere from $1,100 to $1,900.

For GPU power Christopher suggested three Nvidia GeForce 1080 Ti 11GB cards, which seem to retail for $979.99 each, according to Amazon and NewEgg. On MediaWorkstations.net that upgrade will run you an extra $4,149 over the standard Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB. Quite the difference in price, but you are paying for full configuration and support.

Beyond the configuration, Christopher took time to explain why I could benefit from three or four 1080 Ti’s as opposed to only two — apps like After Effects would only take advantage of 1 GPU where typically Premiere can harness the power of 2 GPUs and Resolve can handle 10 or more but for my case I wouldn’t see an exponential increase in power if I went above 3 or 4. In the end, the configured system totalled $12,095, which is a full 20% higher than the $10,000 budget I had mentioned. To knock that down I would probably cut the memory from 128GB to 64GB, get rid of a GTX 1080 Ti and bump up the CPU to the Intel i9 7920X, which adds a few cores and cache. This gets me to a total of about $8,828 before adding the cost of the Kingston DCP1000, which I assume would get me around $10,000. However, for this review I was sent the original configuration.

After talking with Christopher for over 30 minutes, I got the feeling that he knew what each part of a computer does and how I could use each component to its full potential. We focused on trying to build as much of a future-proof system as we could for around $10,000. Christopher mentioned that these systems will play RAW 4K Red R3D files no problem, and possibly 6K and 8K. That immediately caught my attention, especially when conforming and coloring the R3D files with all of their added benefits.

You should try to build a system for yourself on the Mediaworkstations.net and check out their other offerings like their Enterprise offering called the i-XL which allows for components like dual Xeons or increased memory like 1TB of ECC RAM. They also offer an i-X2 model, which is more like the i-X but with added Xeon processors as well as the a-X which offers AMD Threadripper processors. You can even call them and dial in exactly what components you will need for your specific needs.

Testing the System
So the i-X from MediaWorkstations.net arrived and boy is it loaded with high-end components. Right off the bat, I opened the side panel and started fiddling with the internal components. One of the more impressive parts of the build is the Fractal Design Define XL R2 case. It is easy to open and even has a layer of dense audio dampening material on the inside, which seemed to significantly reduce noise on the outside. You can check out specs on the case at their website.

Also, the power supply is a beast — I immediately noticed the power cable supplied with the system. The power cable is so thick I thought they sent me the wrong one. It definitely makes you feel like you are plugging in a high-end system. You can check out the EVGA SuperNova 1600 T2 power supply here.

Here is a list of the rest of the components that make up the MediaWorkstation.net’s i-X system:

1. Fractal Design’s Define XL R2 Black Silent EATX Full Tower
2. Intel Core i9-7900X Skylake X 13.75M Cache 10-Core CPU
3. Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU Cooler
4. MSI X299 XPower Gaming
5. Corsair Dominator Platinum 128GB (8x16GB) DDR4 2800
6. 512GB Samsung 960 Pro Internal SSD (OS drive)
7. Two 512GB Samsung 960 Pro Internal SSD (Asset drives – RAID 0)
8. 800GB Kingston DCP1000 PCIe asset drive
9. 3 – ASUS GeForce GTX 1080 ti 11GB Turbo Edition GPU
10. EVGA SuperNova 1600 T2, 80+ titanium 1600W power supply
11. Windows 10 Professional, 64-bit
12. Fractal Design FD-FAN-SSR2-140 2nd front internal fan
13. Two Prolimatech 140mm slim fans

That is a hefty build for any system.

MediaWorkstations.net sells this build at a retail price of $12,095. Besides opening the case right away and messing around with the internal components, I also needed to find out what the premium MediaWorkstations.net is charging on their systems.

I consider myself a pretty advanced user and can build my own computer systems, so what if I wanted to build this myself? Would it be worth it or should I just pay someone else to do it? A great place to build a custom PC from various websites and to find out the cheapest prices is www.pcpartpicker.com. If you want to follow along at home you can find the build I created with some prices here.

There are some caveats when using PC Part Picker: The prices can change, so it may not be 100% accurate, although it is typically pretty close and includes rebates. Also, you must add shipping and tax yourself. And, finally, I had to manually add some parts that I couldn’t find through PCPartPicker. I got my build to $9,387.68 without tax or shipping, this also included $60 in rebates. I would say that we could safely add about $250 in taxes and shipping.

So, if I assume the cost to be about $9,600 MediaWorkstations.net is adding about $2,500. In my opinion that isn’t a bad markup considering someone else is putting in the hours to build and test the system with the applications you use like Resolve, Premiere, Media Composer and many others. In addition to the standard one-, two- or three-year warranties, they offer a 24/7/365, as well next business day warranties available. You may have to add another $500 to $600 for a 24-hour-a-day-warranty, but it’s worth it.

Alright enough tech specs and pricing nerdiness and on to the testing. To be clear, I had a short amount of time to test the performance of the i-X, so I only dove into the basics. This system is very fast. However, I wasn’t able to playback Red RAW R3D files higher than 4K in realtime at full debayer quality in either Premiere or Resolve 14.3.

When I was first asked to review the i-X, I was told it should be able to playback Red RAW R3D files up to 8K in part because of the new Kingston DCP1000 SSD. While this drive was extremely fast, I wasn’t able to playback anything in realtime above 4K resolution. There are a few factors in this that could affect performance, such as whether they were 9:1 or 1:1, but I was told it would work and it didn’t.

On the bright side I was able to color and playback RAW Red R3D files in true 4K resolution. It was pretty amazing that I could add a few nodes and do live grading on 4K resolution Red R3D files without a dropped frame. I also tried exporting the same 18-second 4K Red R3D file in a few different scenarios.

In the first scenario I placed the RAW R3D file on the blazingly fast Kingston SSD and exported it back to itself. Initially, I exported the file with no effects on it other than a simple one-node color correction. I exported it as a 4K DPX sequence, and it took 30 seconds. When I added Temporal Noise Reduction it took 39 seconds. On top of that I then added a serial node with Gaussian Blur that took 40 seconds to export.

I quickly thought that these speeds were a little slow considering the power I had under the hood of this beast. I then exported the same file to the RAID-0 made up of the two Samsung 960 Pro 512GB SSDs, which confirmed my suspicion. With just a simple color correction, the 18-second  Red RAW R3D file took just 10.5 seconds, around 45-48fps to export. With Temporal Noise Reduction it took 38.5 seconds, but with Temporal Noise Reduction and a Gaussian Blur it took 39 seconds. In my testing, I turned off all caching and performance mode improvements.

While I didn’t have the system long enough to test as I would have liked, I was able to get a good taste at how fast the new Intel i9 processors run and how multiple 1080 ti GPUs can help with rendering resizes, noise reduction effects, or even blurring. In the first part of my review, I mentioned that I would likely have swapped out half the RAM and one of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s for a higher-end processor, which would have kept the price down. I didn’t see any improvement in performance because of the the third GPU, but I also didn’t do any testing in After Effects or Cinema 4D, which may have harnessed that extra GPU energy.

Summing Up
Check out the Mediaworkstation site for yourself and maybe even compare those prices with a duplicate build on PCPartsPicker. If you are within a $1,000 or so, then going through MediaWorkstations.net is a great deal. If nothing else, having one single warranty through one company is worth hundreds of dollars in time, money and shipping costs instead of having to manage multiple warranties from dozens of companies.

For peace of mind, I would heavily consider the next–business-day or 24/7/365 warranty instead of the standard one-day warranty simply because waiting for your system to be fixed could leave you without a machine for days or even weeks.

Cinna 4.13

Embracing production in the cloud

By Igor Boshoer

Cloud technology is set to revolutionize film production. That is if studios can be convinced. But since this century-old industry is reluctant to change, these new technologies and promising innovation trends are integrating at a slower pace.

Tried-and-true production methods are steadily becoming outdated. Bringing innovation, a cloud platform offers accessibility to both small and large studios. In the not-so-distant future, what may now be merely a competitive edge will become industry standard practices. But until then, some studios are apprehensive. And the reasons are mostly myth.

The Need for Transition
Core video production applications, computing, storage and other IT services are moving to the cloud at a rapid pace. A variety of industries and businesses — not just film — are being challenged by new customer expectations, which are heavily influenced by consumer applications powered by the cloud.

In visual effects, film and XR, application vendors such as Autodesk, Avere and Aspera are all updating their software to support these cloud workflows. Studios are recognizing that more focus should be placed on creating high-quality content, and far less on in-house software development and infrastructure maintenance. But to grow the topline and stand apart from the competition, it’s imperative for our industry to be proactive and re-imagine the workflow. Cloud providers offer a much faster pace with this innovation than what a studio can internally provide.

In the grand scheme of things, the industry wants to make studio operations more efficient, cost-effective and quantifiable to better serve their customers. And by taking advantage of cloud-based services, studios can increase agility, while decreasing their cost and risk.

Common Misconceptions of the Cloud
Many believe the cloud to be insecure. But there are many very successful and striving startups, even in the finance and healthcare industries. Our industry’s MPAA regulations are much less stringently regulated than their industry’s HIPPA compliance. To the contrary, the cloud providers offer vastly stronger securities than a studio’s very own internal security measures.

Some studios are reluctant because the transfer of mass amounts of data into a cloud platform can prove challenging. But there are still ways to speed up these transfers, including the use of caching and custom UDP-based transport protocols. While this reluctance is valid, it’s still entirely manageable.

Studios also assume that cloud technology is expensive. It is… however, when you truly break down the costs to maintain infrastructure — adding internal storage, hardware setup, multi-year equipment leases, not to mention the ongoing support team — it, in fact, proves more expensive. While the cloud appears costly, it actually saves money and lets you quantify the cost of production. Moreover, studios can scale resources as production demands fluctuate, instead of relying on the typical static, in-house model.

How the Cloud Better Serves Customers
While some are still apprehensive of cloud-based integration, studios that have shifted production pipelines to cloud-based platforms — and embraced it — are finding positive results and success. The cloud can serve customers in a variety of ways. It can deliver a richer, more consistent and personalized experience for a studio’s content creators, as well as offer a collaborative community.

The latest digital technologies are guaranteed to reshape economics, production, and distribution of the entertainment industry. But to be on their game and remain competitive, studios must adapt to these new Internet and computer technologies.

If our industry is willing to push itself through these myths and preconceived assumptions, cloud technology can indeed revolutionize film production. When that begins to happen, more and more studios will adopt this competitive edge, and it will make for an exciting shift.


Igor Boshoer is a media technologist with feature film VFX credits, including The Revenant and The Wolf of Wall Street. His experience building studio technology inspired his company, Linc, a studio platform as a service. He also hosts the monthly media technology meetup Filmologic in the Bay Area.


Point 360 grows team with senior colorist Charlie Tucker

Senior colorist Charlie Tucker has joined Burbank’s Point 360. He comes to the facility from Technicolor, and brings with him over 20 years of color grading experience.

The UK-born Tucker’s credits include TV shows such as The Vampire Diaries and The Originals on CW, Wet Hot American Summer and A Futile & Stupid Gesture on Netflix, as well as Amazon’s Lore. He also just completed YouTube Red’s show Cobra Kai. Tucker, who joined the company just last week, will be working on Blackmagic Resolve.

Now at Point 360, Tucker reteams with Jason Kavner, who took the helm as senior VP of episodic sales in 2017. Tucker also joins fellow senior colorist Aidan Stanford, whose recent credits include the Academy Award-winning feature Get Out and the film Happy Death Day. Stanford’s recent episodic work includes the FX series You’re the Worst and ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat.

When prodded to sum up his feelings regarding joining Point 360, Tucker said, “I am chuffed to bits to now be part of and call Point 360 my home. It is a bloody lovely facility that has a welcoming, collaborative feel, which is refreshing to find within this pressure cooker we call Hollywood. The team I am privileged to join is a brilliant, talented and very experienced group of industry professionals who truly enjoy what they do, and I know my clients will love my new coloring bay and the creative vibe that Point 360 has created.”


Creative editorial and post boutique Hiatus opens in Detroit

Hiatus, a full-service, post production studio with in-house creative editorial, original music composition and motion graphics departments, has opened in Detroit. Their creative content offerings cover categories such as documentary, narrative, conceptual, music videos and advertising media for all video platforms.

Led by founder/senior editor Shane Patrick Ford, the new company includes executive producer/partner Catherine Pink, and executive producer Joshua Magee, who joins Hiatus from the animation studio Lunar North. Additional talents feature editor Josh Beebe, composer/editor David Chapdelaine and animator James Naugle.

The roots of Hiatus began with The Factory, a music venue founded by Ford while he was still in college. It provided a venue for local Detroit musicians to play, as well as touring bands. Ford, along with a small group of creatives, then formed The Work – a production company focused on commercial and advertising projects. For Ford, the launch of Hiatus is an opportunity to focus solely on his editorial projects and to expand his creative reach and that of his team nationally.

Leading up to the launch of Hiatus, the team has worked on projects for brands such as Sony, Ford Motor Company, Acura and Bush’s, as well as recent music videos for Lord Huron, Parquet Courts and the Wombats.

The Hiatus team is also putting the finishing touches on the company’s first original feature film Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win. The film uncovers a Detroit Police decoy unit named STRESS and the efforts made to restore civil order in 1970s post-rebellion Detroit. Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win makes its debut at the Indy Film Festival on Sunday April 29th and Tuesday May 1st in Indianapolis, before it hits the film festival circuit.

“Launching Hiatus was a natural evolution for me,” says Ford. “It was time to give my creative team even more opportunities, to expand our network and to collaborate with people across the country that I’ve made great connections with. As the post team evolved within The Work, we outgrew the original role it played within a production company. We began to develop our own team, culture, offerings and our own processes. With the launch of Hiatus, we are poised to better serve the visual arts community, to continue to grow and to be recognized for the talented creative team we are.”

“Instead of having a post house stacked with people, we’d prefer to stay small and choose the right personal fit for each project when it comes to color, VFX and heavy finishing,” explains Hiatus EP Catherine Pink. “We have a network of like-minded artists that we can call on, so each project gets the right creative attention and touch it deserves. Also, the lower overhead allows us to remain nimble and work with a variety of budget needs and all kinds of clients.”


NAB 2018: A closer look at Firefly Cinema’s suite of products

By Molly Hill

Firefly Cinema, a French company that produces a full set of post production tools, premiered Version 7 of its products at NAB 2018. I visited with co-founder Philippe Reinaudo and head of business development Morgan Angove at the Flanders Scientific booth. They were knowledgeable and friendly, and they helped me to better understand their software.

Firefly’s suite includes FirePlay, FireDay, FirePost and the brand-new FireVision. All the products share the same database and Éclair color management, making for a smooth and complete workflow. However, Reinaudo says their programs were designed with specific UI/UXs to better support each product’s purpose.

Here is how they break down:
FirePlay: This is an on-set media player that supports most any format or file. The player is free to use, but there’s a paid option to include live color grading.

FireDay: Firefly Cinema’s dailies software includes a render tree for multiple versions and supports parallel processing.

FirePost: This is Firefly Cinema’s proprietary color grading software. One of its features was a set of “digital filters,” which were effects with adjustable parameters (not just pre-set LUTs). I was also excited to see the inclusion of curve controls similar to Adobe Lightroom’s Vibrance setting, which increases the saturation of just the more muted colors.

FireVision: This new product is a cloud-based review platform, with smooth integration into FirePost. Not only do tags and comments automatically move between FirePost and FireVision, but if you make a grading change in the former and hit render, the version in FireVision automatically updates. While other products such as Frame.io have this feature, Firefly Cinema offers all of these in the same package. The process was simple and impressive.

One of the downsides of their software package is its lack of support for HDR, but Raynaud says that’s a work in progress. I believe this will likely begin with ÉclairColor HDR, as Reinaudo and his co-founder Luc Geunard are both former Éclair employees. It’s also interesting that they have products for every step after shooting except audio and editing, but perhaps given the popularity of Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere and Avid Pro Tools, those are less of a priority for a young company.

Overall, their set of products was professional, comprehensive and smooth to operate, and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Firefly Cinema.


Molly Hill is a motion picture scientist and color nerd, soon-to-be based out of San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @mollymh4.


AlterMedia rolling out rebuild of its Studio Suite 12 at NAB

At this year’s NAB, AlterMedia is showing Studio Suite 12, a ground-up rebuild of its studio, production and post management application. The rebuilt codebase and streamlined interface have made the application lighter, faster and more intuitive; it functions as a web application and yet still has the ability to be customized easily to adapt to varying workflows.

“We literally started over with a blank slate with this version,” says AlterMedia founder Joel Stoner. “The goal was really to reconsider everything. We took the opportunity to shed tons of old code and tired interface paradigms. That said, we maintained the basic structure and flow so existing users would feel comfortable jumping right in. Although there are countless new features, the biggest is that every user can now access Studio Suite 12 through a browser from anywhere.”

Studio Suite 12 now provides better integration within the Internet ecosystem by connecting with Slack and Twillio (for messaging), as well as Google Calendar, Exchange Calendar, Apple Calendar, IMDB, Google Maps, Ebay, QuickBooks and Xero accounting software and more.


Editor Dylan Tichenor to headline SuperMeet at NAB 2018

For those of you heading out to Las Vegas for NAB 2018, the 17th annual SuperMeet will take place on Tuesday, April 10 at the Rio Hotel. Speaking this year will be Oscar-nominated film editor Dylan Tichenor (There Will be Blood, Zero Dark Thirty). Additionally, there will be presentations from Blackmagic, Adobe, Frame.io, HP/Nvidia, Atomos and filmmaker Bradley Olsen, who will walk the audience through his workflow on Off the Tracks, a documentary about Final Cut Pro X.

Blackmagic Resolve designers Paul Saccone, Mary Plummer, Peter Chamberlain and Rohit Gupta will answer all questions on all things DaVinci Resolve, Fusion or Fairlight Audio.

Adobe Premiere Pro product manager Patrick Palmer will reveal new features in Adobe video solutions for their editing, color, graphics and audio editing workflows.

Frame.io CEO Emery Wells will preview the next generation of its collaboration and workflow tool, which will be released this summer.

Atomos’ Jeromy Young will talk about some of their new partners. He says, “It involves software and camera makers alike.”

As always, the evening will round out with the SuperMeet’s ”World Famous Raffle,” where the total value of prizes has now reached over $101,000. Part of that total includes a Blackmagic Advanced Control Panel, worth $29,995.

Doors will open at 4:30pm with the SuperMeet Vendor Showcase, which features 23 software and hardware developers. Those attending can enjoy a few cocktails and mingle with industry peers.

To purchase tickets, and for complete daily updates on the SuperMeet, including agenda updates, directions, transportation options and a current list of raffle prizes, visit the SuperMeet website.


B&H expands its NAB footprint to target multiple workflows

By Randi Altman

In a short time, many in our industry will be making the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for NAB. They will come (if they are smart) with their comfy shoes, Chapstick and the NAB Show app and plot a course for the most efficient way to see all they need to see.

NAB is a big show that spans a large footprint, and typically companies showing their wares need to pick a hall — Central, South Lower, South Upper or North. This year, however, The Studio-B&H made some pros’ lives a bit easier by adding a booth in South Lower in addition to their usual presence in Central Hall.

B&H’s business and services have grown, so it made perfect sense to Michel Suissa, managing director at The Studio-B&H, to grow their NAB presence to include many of the digital workflows the company has been servicing.

We reached out to Suissa to find out more.

This year B&H and its Studio division are in the South Lower. Why was it important for you guys to have a presence in both the Central and South Halls this year?
The Central Hall has been our home for a long time and it remains our home with our largest footprint, but we felt we needed to have a presence in South Hall as well.

Production and post workflows merge and converge constantly and we need to be knowledgeable in both. The simple fact is that we serve all segments of our industry, not just image acquisition and camera equipment. Our presence in image and data centric workflows has grown leaps and bounds.

This world is a familiar one for you personally.
That’s true. The post and VFX worlds are very dear to me. I was an editor, Flame artist and colorist for 25 years. This background certainly plays a role in expanding our reach and services to these communities. The Studio-B&H team is part of a company-wide effort to grow our presence in these markets. From a business standpoint, the South Hall attendees are also our customers, and we needed to show we are here to assist and support them.

What kind of workflows should people expect to see at both your NAB locations?
At the South Hall, we will show a whole range of solutions to show the breadth and diversity of what we have to offer. That includes VR post workflow, color grading, animation and VFX, editing and high-performance Flash storage.

In addition to the new booth in South Hall, we have two in Central. One is for B&H’s main product offerings, including our camera shootout, which is a pillar of our NAB presence.

This Studio-B&H booth features a digital cinema and broadcast acquisition technology showcase, including hybrid SDI/IP switching, 4K studio cameras, a gyro-stabilized camera car, the most recent full-frame cinema cameras, and our lightweight cable cam, the DynamiCam.

Our other Central Hall location is where our corporate team can discuss all business opportunities with new and existing B2B customers

How has The Studio-B&H changed along with the industry over the past year or two?
We have changed quite a bit. With our services and tools, we have re-invented our image from equipment providers to solution providers.

Our services now range from system design to installation and deployment. One of the more notable recent examples is our recent collaboration with HBO Sports on World Championship Boxing. The Studio-B&H team was instrumental in deploying our DynamiCam system to cover several live fights in different venues and integrating with NEP’s mobile production team. This is part of an entirely new type of service —  something the company had never offered its customers before. It is a true game-changer for our presence in the media and entertainment industry.

What do you expect the “big thing” to be at NAB this year?
That’s hard to say. Markets are in transition with a number of new technology advancements: machine learning and AI, cloud-based environments, momentum for the IP transition, AR/VR, etc.

On the acquisition side, full frame/large sensor cameras have captured a lot of attention. And, of course, HDR will be everywhere. It’s almost not a novelty anymore. If you’re not taking advantage of HDR, you are living in the past.

Netflix’s Altered Carbon: the look, the feel, the post

By Randi Altman

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is a new sci-fi series set in a dystopian future where people are immortal thanks to something called “stacks,” which contain their entire essence — their personalities, their memories, everything. The one setback is that unless you are a Meth (one of the rich and powerful), you need to buy a “sleeve” (a body) for your stack, and it might not have any resemblance to your former self. It could be a different color, a different sex, a different age, a different everything. You have to take what you can get.

Based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, it stars Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman.

Jill Bogdanowicz

We reached out to the show’s colorist, Jill Bogdanowicz, as well as post producer Allen Marshall Palmer to find out more about the show’s varied and distinctive looks.

The look has a very Blade Runner-type feel. Was that in homage to the films?
Bogdanowicz: The creators wanted a film noir look. Blade Runner is the same genre, but the show isn’t specifically an homage to Blade Runner.

Palmer: I’ll leave that for fans to dissect.

Jill, can you talk about your process? What tools did you use?
Bogdanowicz: I designed a LUT to create that film noir look before shooting. I actually provided a few options, and they chose my favorite one and used it throughout. After they shot everything and I had all 10 episodes in my bay, I got familiar with the content, wrapped my head around the story and came up with ideas to tell that story with color.

The show covers many different times and places so scenes needed to be treated visually to show audiences where the story is and what’s happened. I colored both HDR (Dolby Vision) and SDR passes using DaVinci Resolve.

I worked very closely with both DPs — Martin Ahlgren and Neville Kidd — in pre-timing the show, and they gave me a nice idea of what they were looking for so I had a great starting point. They were very close knit. The entire team on this project was an absolute pleasure, and it was a great creative collaboration, which comes through in the final product of the show.

The show is shot and posted like a feature and has a feature feel. Was that part of your marching orders?
Bogdanowicz: I’m primarily a features colorist, so I’m very familiar with the film noir look and heavy VFX, and that’s one reason I was included on this project. It was right up my alley.

Palmer: We approached Altered Carbon as a 10-part feature rather than a television series. I coined the term “feature episodic entertainment,” which describes what we were aspiring to — destination viewing instead of something merely disposable. In a world with so many viewing options, we wanted to command the viewer’s full attention, and fans are rewarded for that attention.

We were very concerned about how images, especially VFX, were going to look in HDR so we had weekly VFX approval sessions with Jill, our mastering colorist, in her color timing bay.

Executive producers and studio along with the VFX and post teams were able to sit together — adjusting color corrections if needed before giving final approval on shots. This gave us really good technical and creative quality control. Despite our initial concerns about VFX shots in HDR, we found that with vendors like Double Negative and Milk with their robust 16-bit EXR pipelines we weren’t “breaking” VFX shots when color correcting for HDR.

How did the VFX affect the workflow?
Bogdanowicz: Because I was brought on so early, the LUT I created was shared with the VFX vendors so they had a good estimation of the show’s contrast. That really helped them visualize the look of the show so that the look of the shots was pretty darn close by the time I got them in my bay.

Was there a favorite scene or scenes?
Bogdanowicz: There are so many spectacular moments, but the emotional core for me is in episode 104 when we see the beginning of the Kovacs and Quell love story in the past and how that love gives Kovacs the strength to survive in the present day.

Palmer: That’s a tough question! There are so many, it’s hard to choose. I think the episode that really jumps out is the one in which Joel Kinnaman’s character is being tortured and the content skips back and forth in time, changes and alternates between VR and reality. It was fun to create a different visual language for each space.

Can you talk about challenges in the process and how you overcame them?
Bogdanowicz: The show features a lot of VFX and they all need to look as real as possible, so I had to make sure they felt part of the worlds. Fortunately, VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and his team are amazing and the VFX is top notch. Coming up with different ideas and collaborating with producers James Middleton and Laeta Kalogridis on those ideas was a really fun creative challenge. I used the Sapphire VFX plugin for Resolve to heavily treat and texture VR looks in different ways.

Palmer: In addition to the data management challenges on the picture side, we were dealing with mixing in Dolby Atmos. It was very easy to get distracted with how great the Atmos mix sounds — the downmixes generally translated very well, but monitoring in 5.1 and 2.0 did reveal some small details that we wanted to adjust. Generally, we’re very happy with how both the picture and sound is translating into viewer’s homes.

Dolby Vision HDR is great at taking what’s in the color bay into the home viewing environment, but there are still so many variables in viewing set-ups that you can still end up chasing your own tail. It was great to see the behind the scenes of Netflix’s dedication to providing the best picture and sound quality through the service.

The look of the AI hotel was so warm. I wanted to live there. Can you talk about that look?
Bogdanowicz: The AI hotel look was mostly done in design and lighting. I saw the warm practical lights and rich details in the architecture and throughout the hotel and ran with it. I just aimed to keep the look filmic and inviting.

What about the look of where the wealthy people lived?
Bogdanowicz: The Meth houses are above the clouds, so we kept the look very clean and cool with a lot of true whites and elegant color separation.

Seems like there were a few different looks within the show?
Bogdanowicz: The same LUT for the film noir look is used throughout the show, but the VR looks are very different. I used Sapphire to come up with different concepts and textures for the different VR looks, from rich quality of the high-end VR to the cheap VR found underneath a noodle bar.

Allen, can you walk us through the workflow from production to post?
Palmer: With the exception of specialty shots, the show was photographed on Alexa 65 — mostly in 5K mode, but occasionally in 6.5K and 4K for certain lenses. The camera is beautiful and a large part of the show’s cinematic look, but it generates a lot of data (about 1.9TB/hour for 5K) so this was the first challenge. The camera dictates using the Codex Vault system, and Encore Vancouver was up to the task for handling this material. We wanted to get the amount of data down for post, so we generated 4096×2304 ProRes 4444XQ “mezzanine” files, which we used for almost all of the show assembly and VFX pulls.

During production and post, all of our 4K files were kept online at Efilm using their portal system. This allowed us fast, automated access to the material so we could quickly do VFX pulls, manage color, generate 16-bit EXR frames and send those off to VFX vendors. We knew that time saved there was going to give us more time on the back end to work creatively on the shots so the Portal was a very valuable tool.

How many VFX shots did you average per episode? Seems like a ton, especially with the AI characters. Who provided those and what were those turnarounds like?
Palmer: There were around 2,300 visual effects shots during this season — probably less than most people would think because we built a large Bay City street inside a former newspaper printing facility outside of Vancouver. The shot turnaround varied depending on the complexity and where we were in the schedule. We were lucky that something like episode 1’s “limo ride” sequence was started very early on because it gave us a lot of time to refine our first grand views of Bay City. Our VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and VFX producer Tony Meagher were able to get us out in front of a lot of challenges like the amount of 3D work in the last two episodes by starting that work early on since we knew we would need those shots from the script and prep phase.