Tag Archives: Bling Digital

Building a workflow for The Great Wall

Bling Digital, which is part of the SIM Group, was called on to help establish the workflow on Legendary/Universal’s The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon as a European mercenary imprisoned within the wall. While being held he sees exactly why the Chinese built this massive barrier in the first place — and it’s otherworldly. This VFX-heavy mystery/fantasy was directed by Yimou Zhang.

We reached out to Bling’s director of workflow services, Jesse Korosi, to talk us through the process on the film, including working with data from the Arri 65, which at that point hadn’t yet been used on a full-length feature film. Bling Digital is a post technology and services provider that specializes in on-set data management, digital dailies, editorial system rentals and data archiving

Jesse Korosi

When did you first get involved on The Great Wall and in what capacity?
Bling received our first call from the unit production manager Kwame Parker about providing on-set data management, dailies, VFX and stereo pulls, Avid rentals and a customized process for the digital workflow for The Great Wall in December of 2014.

At this time the information was pretty vague, but outlined some of the bigger challenges, like the film being shot in multiple locations within China, and that the Arri 65 camera may be used, which had not yet been used on a full-length feature. From this point on I worked with our internal team to figure out exactly how we would tackle such a challenge. This also required a lot of communication with the software developers to ensure that they would be ready to provide updated builds that could support this new camera.

After talks with the DP Stuart Dryburgh, the studio and a few other members of production, a big part of my job and anyone on my workflow team is to get involved as early as possible. Therefore our role doesn’t necessarily start on day one of principal photography. We want to get in and start testing and communicating with the rest of the crew well ahead of time so that by the first day, the process runs like a well-oiled machine and the client never has to be concerned with “week-one kinks.”

Why did they opt for the Arri 65 camera and what were some of the challenges you encountered?
Many people who we work with love Arri. The cameras are known for recording beautiful images. For anyone who may not be a huge Arri fan, they might dislike the lower resolution in some of the cameras, but it is very uncommon that someone doesn’t like the final look of the recorded files. Enter the Arri 65, a new camera that can record 6.5K files (6560×3100) and every hour recorded is a whopping 2.8TB per hour.

When dealing with this kind of data consumption, you really need to re-evaluate your pipeline. The cards are not able to be downloaded by traditional card readers — you need to use vaults. Let’s say someone records three hours of footage in a day — that equals 8.7TB of data. If you’re sending that info to another facility even using a 500Mb/s Internet line, that would take 38 hours to send! LTO-ing this kind of media is also dreadfully slow. For The Great Wall we ended up setting up a dedicated LTO area that had eight decks running at any given time.

Aside from data consumption, we faced the challenge of having no dailies software that could even read the files. We worked with Colorfront to get a new build-out that could work, and luckily, after having been through this same ordeal recording Arri Open Gate on Warcraft, we knew how to make this happen and set the client at ease.

Were you on set? Near set? Remote?
Our lab was located in the production office, which also housed editorial. Considering all of the traveling this job entailed, from Beijing and Qingdao to Gansu, we were mostly working remotely. We wanted to be as close to production as possible, but still within a controlled environment.

The dailies set-up was right beside editor Craig Wood’s suite, making for a close-knit workflow with editorial, which was great. Craig would often pull our dailies team into his suite to view how the edit was coming along, which really helped when assessing how the dailies color was working and referencing scenes in the cut when timing pickup shots.

How did you work with the director and DP?
At the start of the show we established some looks with the DP Stuart Dryburgh, ASC. The idea was that we would handle all of the dailies color in the lab. The DIT/DMT would note as much valuable information on set about the conditions that day and we would use our best judgment to fulfill the intended look. During pre-production we used a theatre at the China Film Group studio to screen and review all the test materials and dial in this look.

With our team involved from the very beginning of these color talks, we were able to ensure that decisions made on color and data flow were going to track through each department, all the way to the end of the job. It’s very common for decisions to be made color wise at the start of a job that get lost in the shuffle once production has wrapped. Plus, sometimes there isn’t anyone available who recognizes why certain decisions were made up front when you‘re in the post stage.

Can you talk us through the workflow? 
In terms of workflow, the Arri 65 was recording media onto Codex cards, which were backed up onset with a VaultS. After this media was backed up, the Codex card would be forwarded onto the lab. Within the lab we had a VaultXL that would then be used to back this card up to the internal drive. Unfortunately, you can’t go directly from the card to your working drive, you need to do two separate passes on the card, a “Process” and a “Transfer.”

The Transfer moves the media off the card and onto an internal drive on the Vault. The Process then converts all the native camera files into .ARI files. Once this media is processed and on the internal drive, we were able to move it onto our SAN. From there we were able to run this footage through OSD and make LTO back-ups. We also made additional back-ups to G-Tech GSpeed Studio drives that would be sent back to LA. However, for security purposes as well as efficiency, we encrypted and shipped the bare drives, rather than the entire chassis. This meant that when the drives were received in LA, we were able to mount them into our dock and work directly off of them, i.e no need to wait on any copies.

Another thing that required a lot of back and forth with the DI facility was ensuring that our color pipeline was following the same path they would take once they hit final color. We ended up having input LUTs for any camera that recorded a non-LogC color space. In regards to my involvement, during production in China I had a few members of my team on the ground and I was overseeing things remotely. Once things came back to LA and we were working out of Legendary, I became much more hands-on.

What kind of challenges did providing offline editorial services in China bring, and how did that transition back to LA?
We sent a tech to China to handle the set-up of the offline editorial suites and also had local contacts to assist during the run of the project. Our dailies technicians also helped with certain questions or concerns that came up.

Shipping gear for the Avids is one thing, however shipping consoles (desks) for the editors would have been far too heavy. Therefore this was probably one of the bigger challenges — ensuring the editors were working with the same caliber of workspace they were used to in Los Angeles.

The transition of editorial from China to LA required Dave French, director of post engineering, and his team to mirror the China set-up in LA and have both up and running at the same time to streamline the process. Essentially, the editors needed to stop cutting in China and have the ability to jump on a plane and resume cutting in LA immediately.

Once back in LA, you continued to support VFX, stereo and editorial, correct?
Within the Legendary office we played a major role in building out the technology and workflow behind what was referred to as the Post Hub. This Post Hub was made up of a few different systems all KVM’d into one desk that acted as the control center for VFX and stereo reviews, VFX and stereo pulls and final stereo tweaks. All of this work was controlled by Rachel McIntire, our dailies, VFX and stereo management tech. She was a jack-of-all-trades who played a huge role in making the post workflow so successful.

For the VFX reviews, Rachel and I worked closely with ILM to develop a workflow to ensure that all of the original on set/dailies color metadata would carry into the offline edit from the VFX vendors. It was imperative that during this editing session we could add or remove the color, make adjustments and match exactly what they saw on set, in dailies and in the offline edit. Automating this process through values from the VFX Editors EDL was key.

Looking back on the work provided, what would you have done differently knowing what you know now?
I think the area I would focus on next time around would be upgrading the jobs database. With any job we manage at Bling, we always ensure we keep a log of every file recorded and any metadata that we track. At the time, this was a little weak. Since then, I have been working on overhauling this database and allowing creative to access all camera metadata, script metadata, location data, lens data, etc. in one centralized location. We have just used this on our first job in a client-facing capacity and I think it would have done wonders for our VFX and stereo crews on The Great Wall. It is all too often that people are digging around for information already captured by someone else. I want to make sure there is a central repository for that data.

SIM Digital, Bling and Chainsaw under one roof

Earlier this month, SIM Group opened the doors to its newly completed West Coast headquarters, which houses SIM Digital, Bling Digital and Chainsaw. It’s located on the historic Eastman Kodak campus in Hollywood.

“We’ve got everything a production needs under one roof,” says SIM Group chief strategy officer James Martin. “You can prep and test cameras and lenses on the first floor, and the rest of the building can handle every aspect of post, from dailies and editorial offices all the way through final color and deliverables.”

This new space represents a big expansion of SIM’s camera rental business in Los Angeles. SIM Digital offers an extensive inventory of digital camera systems and related gear, internal space for camera testing and preparation, and multiple loading docks for streamlined fulfillment. All prep bays have fiber connectivity to the second and third floor where workflow specialist Bling Digital and post services provider Chainsaw live.

Resources include dailies processing, quality control, editorial finishing, color grading, visual effects, sound mixing and deliverables, as well as a new theatre that includes a 4K Christie projector. The first shows to prep in the new space include American Horror Story and Just Add Magic.

The new complex’s networking and storage infrastructure includes nearly one million feet of fiber and copper cabling and can accommodate productions of all sizes, including working in 4K, HDR and beyond. “We’ve built an open pipe that can handle the challenges of today and prepares us for the future. When new technology becomes available, we’ll be able to plug it right in. As the industry moves beyond 4K, we’ll be ready,” says SIM Group president of post and Chainsaw founder Bill DeRonde.

We recently followed up with DeRonde to find out more.

Can you talk about the thought process behind co-locating your three brands, and how you will keep them connected but separate as well?
Chainsaw, Bling and Sim Digital are independent companies. By combining the workforces into one location we are able to offer our clients control over their entire image chain and build a dynamic workflow amongst our groups.

SIM Digital’s camera prep bays are connected to both Bling’s dailies’ workstations and Chainsaw’s final color bays. This allows cinematographers to conduct tests, set looks and be immediately able to see the results in our facility. With the advent of new technologies, like HDR, it is more important than ever to understand how images flow from the camera all the way through final delivery.

Our concept-to-completion offering allows our three distinct teams the opportunity to collaborate yet maintain their professional identities and gives clients one point of contact all the way through their production. Although more and more shows are gravitating towards our complete cameras-through-post service offering, SIM Group will continue to offer the flexibility of a la carte services to satisfy client needs and respect and nurture those relationships.

SIM Group now has a presence across the US, as well as Canada. How do you walk that line between growing just enough but not too much? 
The SIM group teams work very hard to maintain extremely high levels of client services. As we work together and continue to grow, we will make every effort to maintain both our personal levels in client relationships and our boutique feel as vendors. Our “college campus” feel across all our locations promotes collaboration. Our staff across all cities and services love to feel connected, and it’s this enthusiasm and dedication that has allowed us to maintain the identity of a high-end boutique shop but with the ability to service shows no matter where they want to shoot or post.

Our plan is to continue our measured and organic growth.The industry is more nomadic than ever, and we’ve expanded our service line and geographic reach due mainly to our clients’ requests to provide our expertise across major production and post production centers throughout North America.

Main Image: The DI Theater.

Pixel Underground lastest company acquired by SIM Group

LA’s SIM Group has acquired Toronto-based post house Pixel Underground and its associated companies FINI Films and stationEX. Pixel Underground was founded by Marc Bachli and Marcus Valentin in 2009. It specializes in color grading, visual effects and online finishing, and serves a clientele that includes Canadian, US and European producers. FINI Films and StationEX, respectively, provide physical and file-based media fulfillment and distribution services.

Marc Bachli, partner/executive producer at Pixel Underground, says the move would help them shift further into scripted television and feature film post production. He notes that the company is currently building a DI-style color grading theater with true 4K monitoring and a pipeline to accommodate features.

L-R: Chris Parker, Marcus Valentin, Marc Bachli, Rob Sim.

L-R: Chris Parker, Marcus Valentin, Marc Bachli, Rob Sim.

Currently Pixel Underground provides of post services for television including for such unscripted shows as Mayday (National Geo), Motives & Murders: Cracking the Case (Discovery), Nowhere to Hide (Investigation Discovery US), Food Truck Face Off (Food Network) and American Pickers (History).

SIM has been in growth mode recently, expanding its service offerings and geographic reach, following its initial post acquisition of Bling Digital in 2009. Earlier this year, it entered the post market in Hollywood through its merger with Chainsaw, which services such shows as American Idol and the Academy Awards.

Last year, it acquired Canada-based PS Production Services, a supplier of grip and lighting equipment. The company has also grown its presence in Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, Atlanta, Beijing and other markets with a service offering that spans camera rentals, grip and lighting equipment, on-set workflow management, editorial systems and post production. Its operating units include SIM Digital, Bling Digital, PS Production Services, Chainsaw and now Pixel Underground.

“Our goal is to offer an array of services for the content creator to ensure that their project is what they envisioned. This includes control of the technical process from camera to data management, offline finishing and delivery,” says SIM Group president/CEO Rob Sim.

SIM Group CTO Chris Parker explains why Pixel Underground was a good choice for a post partner in Toronto. “Marc and Marcus are progressive thinkers who were the first to bring modern, file-based post production to Toronto. They bring a lot to the table in terms of knowledge, experience and culture.”

SIM Group and Chainsaw merge to expand post offerings

The SIM Group, a supplier of production equipment, is merging with and indie post house Chainsaw. Both are headquartered in Hollywood. The merger is expected to close next month. Chainsaw will operate under its current name as a unit of The SIM Group.

The SIM Group, which also has offices in Canada and China, has been in growth mode for the past several years, especially through its post division Bling Digital, which provides post-production services to a number of scripted television series.

Chainsaw, which specializes in unscripted and live event programming such as The Academy Awards and American Idol, will help expand SIM’s post resources and extend its reach.

“Chainsaw’s robust services and diverse client base are very complementary to the services and clientele of SIM,” says James Martin, chief strategy officer, The SIM Group. “Uniting these two companies enhances our ability to offer true, end-to-end service packages to film and television producers.”

“As the newest member of The SIM Group, we see many opportunities to further our growth and better serve our clients,” says Chainsaw founder Bill DeRonde. “We are very excited to embark on this new chapter that will continue to allow us to offer the best possible product to our clients.  We gain access to more resources and talent, as well as additional markets for our services.”

Founded in 1996 by DeRonde, with co-owner Mike Polito joining him in 2000, both with multiple Emmy Awards for editing under their belts, Chainsaw provides creative editorial, editorial finishing, color grading, visual effects and other services through fully-integrated, digital facilities in Hollywood. It also features a DI theater for feature film finishing and a large satellite facility with editorial systems and space available on a rental basis. Other credits for Chainsaw include So You Think You Can Dance, The Kennedy Center Honors, Teen Wolf, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Blackish, America’s Got Talent and The 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert.

The SIM Group, founded by Rob Sim in 1982, comprises three operating units: SIM Digital, Bling Digital and PS Production Services that, respectively, provide camera and production equipment, post-production technology and services, and lighting and grip gear. With offices in Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, Atlanta, Halifax and Beijing, it services such shows as Fargo, Suits, Pacific Rim, Hell on Wheels and The Vampire Diaries.

SIM Group CTO Chris Parker says that the company is eager to introduce Chainsaw clients to new, leading-edge services. “This merger bolsters our post-production offering, enabling us to keep pace with our growing demand,” he noted. “At the same time, we are very excited about the opportunity to introduce Chainsaw clients to a broader and more complete range of services.” Parker adds that this expansion is a direct response to demands from studios and other producers for comprehensive post-production offerings.

Rob Sim says that he expects the integration of the two companies to proceed smoothly, noting that they represent similar cultures and histories. “We share the same values in terms of servicing our customers,” Sim observed. “We look forward to working together toward our common goal of delivering excellence every day.”

Photo Caption Main Image (L-R): Bill DeRonde, Mike Polito, James Martin and Chris Parker.

Meet The VP of Creative Services/Colorist: Chris Jacobson

NAME: Chris Jacobson

COMPANY: SIM Digital (@SIMDigital1)/Bling Digital (http://www.blingdigital.com)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
SIM Digital/Bling Digital supplies production and post technology and services within North America. We have offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Vancouver, and Halifax. SIM Digital supplies camera systems, lighting and related gear to film and television productions. Bling Digital is a specialist in post workflows. Bling designs and builds workflows encompassing such things as on-set review, dailies processing (on-set, near-set and off-site), editorial, final color grading and finishing. For many television productions, we supply complete, fully integrated production and post packages that extend from the camera through final delivery.

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