By Daniel Restuccio
Light Iron Post CEO Michael Cioni is an outspoken and passionate advocate of pushing the edge of post technology for the mission of getting the best images possible on screen. David Fincher’s Gone Girl represents the third movie, following The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, that Cioni and his team have collaborated on with the director.
“If you are really doing something profound, you can’t solve it in one project,” shares Cioni, whose company has offices in LA and New York. With David Fincher and his team, key ideas don’t get put to the wayside after the movie finishes. “They store it, develop it and improve it, and then it’s re-deployed with more advanced technology on the next project.”
The Social Network was the beginning of the “shoot for more resolution than you need extraction technique.” The Social Network was shot in 4.5K (4480×1920), had a 2.3K DI and was released in 2K (2048×1080), so Fincher had 9% extra resolution: 200 extra pixels horizontally and vertically to do stabilization, repositioning, tracking and split screen.
More was done on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was shot at 5K (5120×2700) and mastered at 4K, so they had 20% extra resolution. Gone Girl was shot at 6K (6144×3160), mastered in 5K (5120×2133) with 17% extra resolution for creative VFX and scaled down to a 4K (4096×1706), which is 45% smaller than the 6K source.
Light Iron prides itself on being at that technical edge. They were already upgrading their internal and external pipes to accommodate ginormous file transfers between offline editorial and Light Iron servers and working with Quantel to upgrade their Pablo Rio color system to 8K.
They beta tested the new workflow by grading a Calvin Klein commercial, shot on Red Epic monochrome, and the NAB 2014 Red Dragon demo short film. “We did a 6K conform and a 4K finish, and that really helped us explore that the system worked,” recalls Cioni. They also did 4K digital intermediates on The Expendables 3 and John Wick. “Building up from these other projects, we did a 6K Gone Girl trailer then we worked our way up into the feature without relying on a proxy-file workflow.”
Cioni emphasizes, 6K is nine times 2K and 2.5 times bigger than 4K. The DPX footage is 75MB per frame so a three-second 72-frame shot is going to be over 5GB. When you get over 500 frames, we’re talking 60, 80, 100 gigs for just a few shots.
“We knew that we needed a group that was not afraid of those crazy numbers,” he says. “Quantel was the only group that said, ‘We can do 8K.’ I said, ‘That’s what we need,’ so we got that and installed the first 8K DI machine that allowed 6K to work.”
To make hitting the play button possible on multiple streams in the timeline, 1.8GBps bit rates on the Pablo Rio take advantage of robust Quantel-optimized hard drives and Nvidia graphics cards.
“If someone said, ‘If you could point out one great thing about Quantel, what would it be?’ I would say, ‘Storage.’ They’re robust 2.5-inch, 9,000 RPM drives that have the low-sync, high-response times. The system also has four Nvidia Tesla K20 graphic cards threaded together on three accessible systems. That’s what gives us 6K playback with 5K extraction with 4K scale with color correction, in realtime, in multiple rooms,” describes Cioni.
Gone Girl’s Edit, VFX, DI
Gone Girl was edited by Kirk Baxter, ACE, on Adobe Premiere Pro and post prepped by assistant editor Tyler Nelson (see our previous workflow and editing stories). Getting the XMLs and AAFs from Premiere into the Pablo Rio took some effort.
“That really wasn’t a common handshake,” explains Cioni. “So we successfully developed that pipeline as well.” Light Iron, Adobe and Quantel worked with Adobe’s Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) to make sure the XML lists sent from Premiere would ultimately seamlessly import into the Pablo Rio. These lists are “multi-dimensional,” unlike an EDL which only carries one layer of information. “This means we can use the list to see different versions and layering in a way that we’ve never had access to before.”
Says Cioni: “Tyler does the debayer and a pre-conform on everything and then delivers each shot separately on a clip-by-clip basis. This helps with visual effects and versioning and keeps control in the cutting room since so many effects were done in-house. People sometimes ask, ‘Why didn’t you work off the Red files?’ Well, there really were no Red files in this film by the time it got to DI because nearly everything had an effect on it. It was either stabilized, zoomed, composited or had visual effects applied so the Red files are gone at that point.”
Gone Girl post handed over 6K DPX 10-bit log files to Light Iron in a “pre-conformed” format. That means all the repositioning had already been “baked into” the 6K frame. When you look at the 6K plates there are moving black and green bars all around the frame bordering the 5K extraction frame making visible the repositioning, re-framing and stabilization of camera moves. The VFX are so precise and subtle that some scenes include multiple seamlessly blended split screens combining just the right performance and speed from every actor in the shot.
Everyone needs to take a second look at the Red camera, says Cioni, because of Dragon color and significantly increased dynamic range. “It’s fantastic and just a huge leap over the Epic MX sensor” and what was called RedColor 3. “They call it DragonColor with RedGamma 4.” The Dragon sensor shows a little more than 16 visible stops over Epic’s 13. Even though R3Ds are converted to 10-bit DPX, the RedLogFilm curve allows the total dynamic range of the source files to be leveraged in the visual effects and DI.
“Jeff Cronenweth (ASC) and David shoot a lot of moody scenes and superior Dragon shadow rendering is evident in Jeff’s photography,” he explains. “But Gone Girl also has a number of daytime exterior shots (unlike Social Network and Dragon Tattoo), which also were benefited by use of the new Dragon sensor.”
Colorist Ian Vertovec notes that Fincher is a 15- to 20-layer color correction director. “We’re talking where it comes down to every light bulb in the shot, every window in the shot, foreground, background, multiple people’s faces and then even down to very, very subtle adjustments in certain corners and areas.”
This is way beyond the “power window” says Cioni. “We refer to them qualifiers because they’re not always windows anymore. We’re sampling the color of that jacket, the color of that carpet, the color of that ceiling. We call them qualifiers because we’re qualifying elements of the frame, not just drawing a feathered oval.”
On Gone Girl, Light Iron colorist Vertovec does most of the first pass on his own, according to Cioni. “Then David and Jeff come in and start working and setting up some more looks. Then, every single day, Ian outputs an H264 to Pix and allows David to review more of the days’ work offsite.”
Fincher reviews the pass on a calibrated iMac makes notes in Pix on the look. “Someone could say, ‘Oh my gosh, David Fincher grades his movie on an iMac?’ Well, yes and no. You cannot color correct a movie on an iMac, but if you are actually coloring it in a real calibrated theater, the iMac or iPad is a great reference because it’s uniform. Every day you put it up on Pix, David takes his notes, you make your adjustments, next reel, and so on. You do that, you’re giving the director more time to deal with more important things and he’s not losing any creative control by not being here. Again, that’s workflow.”
Theatrical DCP’s of Gone Girl were rendered out in 4K and 2K formats. “What’s cool is Fox is being really progressive,” says Cioni enthusiastically. “They are taking a 5K Digital Source Master (DSM), that’s the uncompressed archive master, and that’s great. It’s a DSM because the actual negative, the actual Red files, have no value anymore because they’re not stabilized, composited or extracted. The DSM is your negative that you’ll go back to if someone wants to do something new to it.
“Gone Girl is the world’s first 6K DI feature and this is the world’s first 5K DSM,” says Cioni. “But we couldn’t have done it without the help of Quantel and Adobe as well as David and his team of artists who aren’t afraid to keep pushing the boundaries.”
All Gone Girl images: Merrick Morton