FotoKem’s nextLab pushes envelope with Gone Girl’s 6K workflow

 The last piece in our Gone Girl workflow series.

By Daniel Restuccio

Back in the fall of 2013, FotoKem was prepping and packing up one of its nextLab data field systems and shipping it to a hotel in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. This particular hotel was the off-set digital asset processing hub for David Fincher’s Gone Girl, which is being released on Blu-ray/DVD on January 13 and has also garnered a considerable amount of Oscar buzz this season.

This movie represented a new chapter for the system — Gone Girl was about to become the first major feature film shot entirely on the Red Dragon at 6K and edited with Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud.

According to Mike Brodersen, FotoKem’s chief strategy officer, nextLab has been meeting 2K and 4K bandwidth requirements on dozens of feature films and TV shows, including Fincher’s House of Cards. “In terms of our system, we’ve been doing that kind of work for a while.” So the leap to 6K files on Gone Girl, double the size of 4K files, was significant but manageable.

The Workflow
Gone Girl used up to four Red Epic Dragon cameras and generated anywhere from to 3TB to 6TB of R3D files on 256GB RedMag SSD each day depending what was shooting. Those cards went directly to the nextLab ingest station where multiple cards were read simultaneously into onboard storage.

nextLab's Blue Cart

nextLab’s Blue Cart

“This is where the meticulous workflow of editorial comes in,” explains Brodersen. The protocol dictates that the media comes into the system and the cards are marked as “ingested.” A triple backup is made — all media is transferred to a RAID-6 secondary drive and two LTO-5s. A visual quality control is done and all LTOs are checksum verified. The nextLab dashboard presents all that information — i.e. these two cards have been downloaded and verified that they are safe to reuse. “Until we have that green light, those cards don’t get reused. We handle it with the care that we handle every camera negative.”

Red had a new PCIe card called “Red Rocket-X” specifically designed for transcoding the 6K Red files in realtime. The card is a GPU accelerator fine-tuned to the R3D codec. “All of these file formats are optimized for GPU transcodes; a lot of what we do is optimizing transcode speeds,” describes Brodersen.

Assistant editor Tyler Nelson manned the nextLab workstation and generated a variety of dailies overnight. They started with the Red Dragon footage shot 2:1 full frame (6144×3072). However, the movie was framed in camera as 16:9 5K (5120×2876) inside the 6K image and ultimately would be mastered as 2.40:1 5K (5120×2133) and released as a 4K version of that.

gone-girl-DF-10033_R_rgb sencond

Those original files were scaled down as PIX H.264 dailies and showed the 2.40:1 extraction surrounded by all the extra pixels dimmed of the 2:1 full frame image. They also exported from that 16×9 5K framing scaled 2K versions (2304×1152) ProRes 4:2:2 LT and dropped those into editor Kirk Baxter’s Adobe Premiere Pro timeline set to 1920×800. Setting the timeline that way allowed them to do all the repo and stabilization “offline.” Later, VFX would execute the moves on the DPX versions (full frame 6144×3072) and then swap them back into the timeline. (Read our Kirk Baxter interview, our Light Iron coverage and our conform piece.)

The nextLab system used on Gone Girl included two 12-core Mac Pro Towers with AMD 7950 GPUs and FotoKem custom expanders with RAID-6 storage, Red Rocket-X, and Kona SDI output cards. A Mac Mini also supports the nextLab database engine that allows multiple hosts running nextLab mobile to interact with the project data. The systems are interconnected via 10-GigE allowing network rendering on what they call the “nextFarm.” This system allows for multiple simultaneous operations, such as fast ingest, transcode and transfer to external storage devices. The system also creates mirrored LTO-5 tape sets and managed transfer drives.

The Adobe Connection
FotoKem had first collaborated with Fincher and assistant editor Tyler Nelson on House of Cards, which was cut on Avid. This time they were using Adobe Premiere. Brodersen told them he would make it work.

Traditionally, describes Brodersen, there’s a very specific set of things that happen the minute the file comes into the system pertaining to logging, sound sync, color management, deliverables and how metadata is handled as it travels through editorial. “Adobe has been really pushing to make Premiere Pro a tool that these big projects can use in that traditional fashion. We worked very closely with the Adobe engineers to create a system that provided all the standard editorial and dailies components.”

Mike Brodersen

Mike Brodersen

Additionally, Nelson created and evolved a very sophisticated Apple FileMaker Pro database called “The Code Book” over many projects. “It’s the hub of their workflow,” says Brodersen. “When they are doing visual effects, when they are doing conform, they create everything out of that database tool.”

That database contains all of the media management information from the dailies workflow: the Red camera file metadata, the sound sync info, the logging information, the original color information and thumbnails. FotoKem took that database and worked with Adobe’s Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) to integrate it into Premiere Pro. “We spent a lot of time with him making that connection work,” says Brodersen.

The nextLab Version 4.0
Brodersen says the nextLab system is constantly evolving because there’s always new camera formats. “New cameras mean higher frame rates and increased resolution that our development team can build into any custom situation. If a production needs something that nobody else has needed before, like large-scale traditional dailies for Premiere Pro, or they need something that makes this particular pipeline special for them, our in-house development team can upgrade nextLab to handle it.”

The current nextLab system is basically “more of everything” he says — bandwidth, power and resolution. It can accommodate high frame rates (48-60-120) and 3D stereo production.

FotoKem built nextLab to be flexible; it works in the facility or as a very adaptable field unit. The system is scalable based on the camera, amount of footage and delivery needs. “If you think of just that cart,” describes Brodersen, “that’s just a standalone thing, right? It can do everything in itself. But, if you need more horsepower, say for a show like Gone Girl, you might need multiple CPUs and GPUs. So what we have is a machine that runs a database, and everything connects to that brain, and then we can do simultaneous work on multiple machines, and it’s all talking to the same project.

“If it were an Alexa 2K ProRes production, for example, you may need less storage and no extra GPU cards, since the internal machineries of the Mac works great for that,” he continues. “There are a variety of ways to finish in higher quality codecs as well, and we work with independent filmmakers to design a workflow that makes sense for each production, since everybody’s needs are always a little bit different.”

So I asked Brodersen what  if someone walked in with the Arri Alexa 65 and said, “I want to shoot a feature with this, can nextLab support it?”

“No problem,” he said, confidently. “Arri’s new format requires similar bandwidth and horsepower as a 3D Alexa show, such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes where we were required to handle Left/Right RAW files from multiple rigs each day. The resolution and quality bar for file-based cameras is skyrocketing and there’s no turning back.”

Currently, nextLab Version 4.0 is tackling editorial on new productions such as Magic Mike XXL (Red Dragon), San Andreas (Arri Alexa XT), The Knick: Season 2 (Red Dragon/Red Epic) and Vacation (Arri Alexa XT).

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