By Mike McCarthy
There is new movie coming out this week that is fairly unique. Telling the true story of Eric LeMarque surviving eight days lost in a blizzard, 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain is the first film shot and edited in its entirety for the new Barco Escape theatrical format. If you don’t know what Barco Escape is, you are about to find out.
This article is meant to answer just about every question you might have about the format and how we made the film, on which I was post supervisor, production engineer and finishing editor.
What is Barco Escape?
Barco Escape is a wraparound visual experience — it consists of three projection screens filling the width of the viewer’s vision with a total aspect ratio of 7.16:1. The exact field of view will vary depending on where you are sitting in the auditorium, but usually 120-180 degrees. Similar to IMAX, it is not about filling the entire screen with your main object but leaving that in front of the audience and letting the rest of the image surround them and fill their peripheral vision in a more immersive experience. Three separate 2K scope theatrical images play at once resulting in 6144×858 pixels of imagery to fill the room.
Is this the first Barco Escape movie?
Technically, four other films have screened in Barco Escape theaters, the most popular one being last year’s release of Star Trek Beyond. But none of these films used the entire canvas offered by Escape throughout the movie. They had up to 20 minutes of content on the side screens, but the rest of the film was limited to the center screen that viewers are used to. Every shot in 6 Below was framed with the surround format in mind, and every pixel of the incredibly wide canvas is filled with imagery.
How are movies created for viewing in Escape?
There are two approaches that can be used to fill the screen with content. One is to place different shots on each screen in the process of telling the story. The other is to shoot a wide enough field of view and high enough resolution to stretch a single image across the screens. For 6 Below, director Scott Waugh wanted to shoot everything at 6K, with the intention of filling all the screens with main image. “I wanted to immerse the viewer in Eric’s predicament, alone on the mountain.”
Cinematographer Michael Svitak shot with the Red Epic Dragon. He says, “After testing both spherical and anamorphic lens options, I chose to shoot Panavision Primo 70 prime lenses because of their pristine quality of the entire imaging frame.” He recorded in 6K-WS (2.37:1 aspect ratio at 6144×2592), framing with both 7:1 Barco Escape and a 2.76:1 4K extraction in mind. Red does have an 8:1 option and a 4:1 option that could work if Escape was your only deliverable. But since there are very few Escape theaters at the moment, you would literally be painting yourself into a corner. Having more vertical resolution available in the source footage opens up all sorts of workflow possibilities.
This still left a few challenges in post: to adjust the framing for the most comfortable viewing and to create alternate framing options for other deliverables that couldn’t use the extreme 7:1 aspect ratio. Other projects have usually treated the three screens separately throughout the conform process, but we treated the entire canvas as a single unit until the very last step, breaking out three 2K streams for the DCP encode.
What extra challenges did Barco Escape delivery pose for 6 Below’s post workflow?
Vashi Nedomansky edited the original 6K R3D files in Adobe Premiere Pro, without making proxies, on some maxed-out Dell workstations. We did the initial edit with curved ultra-wide monitors and 4K TVs. “Once Mike McCarthy optimized the Dell systems, I was free to edit the source 6K Red RAW files and not worry about transcodes or proxies,” he explains. “With such a quick turnaround everyday, and so much footage coming in, it was critical that I could jump on the footage, cut my scenes, see if they were playing well and report back to the director that same day if we needed additional shots. This would not have been possible time-wise if we were transcoding and waiting for footage to cut. I kept pushing the hardware and software, but it never broke or let me down. My first cut was 2 hours and 49 minutes long, and we played it back on one Premiere Pro timeline in realtime. It was crazy!”
All of the visual effects were done at the full shooting resolution of 6144×2592, as was the color grade. Once Vashi had the basic cut in place, there was no real online conform, just some cleanup work to do before sending it to color as an 8TB stack of 6K frames. At that point, we started examining it from the three-screen perspective with three TVs to preview it in realtime, courtesy of the Mosaic functionality built into Nvidia’s Quadro GPU cards. Shots were realigned to avoid having important imagery in the seams, and some areas were stretched to compensate for the angle of the side screens from the audiences perspective.
Once we had the final color grade completed (via Mike Sowa at Technicolor using Autodesk Lustre), we spent a day in an Escape theater analyzing the effect of reflections between the screens and its effect on the contrast. We made a lot of adjustments to keep the luminance of the side screens from washing out the darks on the center screen, which you can’t simulate on TVs in the edit bay. “It was great to be able to make the final adjustments to the film in realtime in that environment. We could see the results immediately on all three screens and how they impacted the room,” says Waugh.
Once we added the 7.1 mix, we were ready to export assets for our delivery in many different formats and aspect ratios. Making the three streams for Escape playback was a simple as using the crop tool in Adobe Media Encoder to trim the sides in 2K increments.
How can you see movies in the Barco Escape format?
Barco maintains a list of theaters that have Escape screens installed, which can be found at ready2escape.com. But for readers in the LA area, the only opportunity to see a film in Barco Escape in the foreseeable future is to attend one of the Thursday night screenings of 6Below at the Regal LA Live Stadium or the Cinemark XD at Howard Hughes Center. There are other locations available to see the film in standard theatrical format, but as a new technology, Barco Escape is only available in a limited number of locations. Hopefully, we will see more Escape films and locations to watch them in the future.
Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.