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Netflix’s ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ gets crisper look via UHD

NYC’s Technicolor Postworks created a dedicated post workflow for the upgrade.

Having compiled seven Emmy Award nominations in its debut season, Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returned in mid-April with 13 new episodes in a form that is, quite literally, bigger and better.

The sitcom, from co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, features the ever-cheerful and ever-hopeful Kimmy Schmidt, whose spirit refuses to be broken, even after being held captive during her formative years. This season the series has boosted its delivery format from standard HD to the crisper, clearer, more detailed look of Ultra High Definition (UHD).

L-R: Pat Kelleher and Roger Doran

As with the show’s first season, post finishing was done at Technicolor PostWorks New York. Online editor Pat Kelleher and colorist Roger Doran once again served as the finishing team, working under the direction of series producer Dara Schnapper, post supervisor Valerie Landesberg and director of photography John Inwood. Almost everything else, however, was different.

The first season had been shot by Inwood with Arri Alexa, capturing in 1080p, and finished in ProRes 4444. The new episodes were shot with Red Dragon, capturing in 5K, and needed to be finished in UHD. That meant that the hardware and workflow used by Kelleher and Doran had to be retooled to efficiently manage UHD files four times larger than ProRes.

“It was an eye opener,” recalls Kelleher of the change. “Obviously, the amount of drive space needed for storage is huge. Everyone from our data manager through to the people who did the digital deliveries had to contend with the higher volume of data. The actual hands-on work is not that different from an HD show, but you need the horses to do it.”

Before post work began, engineers from Technicolor PostWorks’ in-house research unit, The Test Lab, analyzed the workflow requirements of UHD and began making changes. They built an entirely new hardware Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtsystem for Kelleher to use, running Autodesk’s Flame Premium. It consisted of an HP Z820 workstation with Nvidia Quadro K6000 graphics, 64GB of RAM and dual Intel Xeon Processor E5-2687Ws (20M Cache, 3.10 GHz, 8.00 GT/s Intel QPI). Kelleher described its performance in handling UHD media as “flawless.”

Doran’s color grading suite got a similar overhaul. For him, engineers built a Linux-based workstation to run Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, V11, and set up a dual monitoring system. That included a Panasonic 300 series display to view media in 1080p and a Samsung 9500 series curved LED to view UHD. Doran could then review color decisions in both formats (while maintaining a UHD signal throughout) and spot details or noise issues in UHD that might not be apparent at lower resolution.

While the extra firepower enabled Kelleher and Doran to work with UHD as efficiently as HD, they faced new challenges. “We do a lot of visual effects for this show,” notes Kelleher. “And now that we’re working in UHD, everything has to be much more precise. My mattes have to be tight because you can see so much more.”

Doran’s work in the color suite similarly required greater finesse. “You have to be very, very aware,” he says. “Cosmetically, it’s different. The lighting is different. You have to pay close attention to how the stars look.”

Doran is quick to add that, while grading UHD might require closer scrutiny, it’s justified by the results. “I like the increased range and greater detail,” he says. “I enjoy the extra control. Once you move up, you never want to go back.”

Both Doran and Kelleher credited the Technicolor PostWorks engineering team of Eric Horwitz, Corey Stewart and Randy Main for their ability to “move up” with a minimum of strain. “The engineers were amazing,” Kelleher insists. “They got the workflow to where all I had to think about was editing and compositing. The transition was so smooth, you almost forgot you were working in UHD, except for the image quality. That was amazing.”


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