Tag Archives: Fotokem

Little’s dailies-to-ACES finishing workflow via FotoKem

FotoKem’s Atlanta and Burbank facilities both worked on the post production — from digital dailies through finishing with a full ACES finish — for Universal Pictures’ and Legendary Entertainment’s film, Little.

From producer Will Packer (Girls Trip, Night School, the Ride Along franchise) and director/co-writer Tina Gordon (Peeples, Drumline), Little tells the story of a tech mogul (Girls Trip’s Regina Hall) who is transformed into a 13-year-old version of herself (Marsai Martin) and must rely on her long-suffering assistant (Insecure’s Issa Rae) just as the future of her company is on the line.

Martin, who stars in the TV series Black-ish, had the idea for the film when she was 10 and acts as an executive producer on the film.

Principal photography for Little took place last summer in the Atlanta area. FotoKem’s Atlanta location provided digital dailies, with looks developed by FotoKem colorist Alastor Arnold alongside cinematographer Greg Gardiner (Girls Trip, Night School), who shot with Sony F55 cameras.

Cinematographer Greg Gardiner on set.

“Greg likes a super-clean look, which we based on Sony color science with a warm and cool variant and a standard hero LUT,” says Arnold. “He creates the style of every scene with his lighting and photography. We wanted to maximize his out-of-the-camera look and pass it through to the grading process.”

Responding to the sharp growth of production in Georgia, FotoKem entered the Atlanta market five years ago to offer on-the-ground support for creatives. “FotoKem Atlanta is an extension of our Burbank team with colorists and operations staff to provide the upfront workflow required for file-based dailies,” says senior VP Tom Vice of FotoKem’s creative services division.

When editor David Moritz and the editorial team moved to Los Angeles, FotoKem sent EDLs to its nextLAB dailies platform, the facility’s proprietary digital file management system, where shots for VFX vendors were transcoded as ACES EXR files with full color metadata. Non-VFX shots were also automatically pulled from nextLAB for conform. The online was completed in Blackmagic Resolve.

The DI and the film conform happened concurrently, with Arnold and Gardiner working together daily. “We had a full ACES pipeline, with high dynamic range and high bit rate, which both Greg and I liked,” Arnold says. “The film has a punchy, crisp chromatic look, but it’s not too contemporary in style or hyper-pushed. It’s clean and naturalistic with an extra chroma punch.”

Gordon was also a key part of the collaboration, playing an active role in the DI, working closely with Gardiner to craft the images. “She really got into the color aspect of the workflow,” notes Arnold. “Of course, she had a vision for the movie and fully embraced the way that color impacts the story during the DI process.”

Arnold’s first pass was for the theatrical grade and the second for the HDR10 grade. “What I like about ACES is the simplicity of transforming to different color spaces and working environments. And the HDR grade was a quicker process,” he says. “HDR is increasingly part of our deliverables, and we’re seeing a lot more ACES workflows lately, including work on trailers.”

FotoKem’s deliverables included a DCP, DCDM and DSM for the theatrical release; separations and .j2k files for HDR10 archiving; and ProRes QuickTime files for QC.

Keep Me Posted adds senior colorist Aidan Stanford

Burbank’s Keep Me Posted, a FotoKem company specializing in creative and technical episodic post services, has brought Aidan Stanford as senior colorist. He will work on episodic and feature projects.

With over 25 years of experience, Stanford’s work history ranges from photochemical color timing to digital color grading and includes DI, broadcast, commercials and shorts. His varied background includes color timing 65mm film for Lawrence of Arabia (IMAX 2002 restoration/release); the DI, HDR and all video deliverables for the Oscar-winning Get Out; and multiple seasons of Emmy Award-winning television series. His credits include the features Happy Death Day, Insidious: The Last Key and Benji and his episodic credits include Modern Family, Drunk History, You’re the Worst and Fresh Off the Boat.

At Keep Me Posted, Stanford will be working on Nucoda and Resolve.

“Aidan brings a deep knowledge of film, an artistic eye and a keen technical ability to help our creative customers bring their vision to reality,” says Mike Brodersen, FotoKem’s chief strategy officer. “His comprehensive skill set in combination with his expertise in color have made him a trusted collaborator with many filmmakers and showrunners.”

Mike Sowa joins Fotokem as senior DI colorist

FotoKem in Burbank has added post vet Mike Sowa as senior digital intermediate colorist. Sowa brings over 25 years of experience to his new role, and an impressive resume that includes stints at Modern VideoFilm, Universal High Def Center and jobs at other facilities in Hollywood, including LaserPacific and Technicolor.

His past work includes Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book, Oblivion, Home of the Brave and The Other Side of the Wind. Sowa is an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC).  “I am thrilled to be on board at FotoKem, reuniting with talented people that I have worked with in the past and with new collaborators,” says Sowa.

Sowa becomes part of a color roster that includes Alastor Arnold, David Cole, Mark Griffith, George Koran, Kostas Theodosiou, and Walter Volpatto. Contributions from the team include Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Lemon, The Nun, The Spy Who Dumped Me, Twin Peaks: The Return and The Predator, among many others.

He will be using Lustre and Resolve.

Video: Fotokem DI colorist Walter Volpatto on The Last Jedi and color

 

Last month Blackmagic held its first Expo, and one of the keynote speakers was Fotokem colorist Walter Volpatto. He was born in Italy and grew up on a farm, quite a long way from his current life in Los Angeles.

Volpatto originally got into this industry as a broadcast engineer, but his path continued, and when computers became more a part of this world, he started learning about photography and how computers interact with images.

“I was in the right place at the right moment,” he says. “I was lucky enough to be working with color timers who helped train me and my eye to the color, the image, the feeling and the world they were trying to create. So I was technical first and artistic second and that creates a unique blend.”

And the power of color? Volpatto says, “It’s kind of like when in the 1800s impressionists took over the world of painting; it’s the same now with the colorists. They can create a look that was impossible in-camera, and colorists can now give life to what the camera captured and every shade in between. I’m more on the naturalistic side, but it’s difficult because you have to be able to create what the client wants, but do it in a way that doesn’t step on their photography.”

We were lucky enough to get some quality time with Volpatto — we asked him about his recent high-profile color work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, how he got started as a colorist and more…

 

Fotokem posts Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Burbank-based post house FotoKem provided creative and technical services for the Disney/Lucasfilm movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The facility built advanced solutions that supported the creative team from production to dailies to color grade. Services included a customized workflow for dailies, editorial and VFX support, conform and a color pipeline that incorporated all camera formats (film and file-based).

The long-established post house worked directly with director Rian Johnson; DP Steve Yedlin, ASC; producer Ram Bergman; Lucasfilm head of post Pippa Anderson; and Lucasfilm director of post Mike Blanchard.

FotoKem was brought on prior to the beginning of principal photography and designed an intricate workflow tailored to accommodate the goals of production. A remote post facility was assembled near-set in London where film technician Simone Appleby operated two real-time Scanity film scanners, digitizing up to 15,000 feet a day of 35mm footage at full-aperture 4K resolution. Supported by a highly secure network, FotoKem NextLab systems ingested the digitized film and file-based camera footage, providing “scan once instant-access” to everything, and creating a singular workflow for every unit’s footage. By the end of production over one petabyte of data was managed by NextLab. This allowed the filmmakers, visual effects teams, editors and studio access to securely and easily share large volumes of assets for any part of the workflow.

“I worked with FotoKem previously and knew their capabilities. This project clearly required a high level of support to handle global locations with multiple units and production partners,” says Bergman. “We had a lot of requirements at this scale to create a consistent workflow for all the teams using the footage, from production viewing dailies to the specific editorial deliverables, visual effects plates, marketing and finishing, with no delays or security concerns.”

Before shooting began, Yedlin worked with FotoKem’s film and digital lab to create specialized scanner profiles and custom Look Up Tables (LUTs). FotoKem implemented the algorithms devised by Yedlin into their NextLab software to obtain a seamless match between digital footage and film scans. Yedlin also received full-resolution stills, which served as a communication funnel for color and quality control checks. This color workflow was devised in collaboration with FotoKem color scientist Joseph Slomka, and executed by NextLab software developer Eric Cameron and dailies colorist Jon Rocke, who were on site throughout the entire production.

“As cinematographers, we work hard to create looks, and FotoKem made it possible for me to take control of each step in the process and know exactly what was happening,” says Yedlin. The color science support I received made true image control a realized concept.”

Calibrated 4K monitoring via the Sony X300 and the high availability SAN on site, managed by NextLAB, enabled a real time workflow for dailies. Visual effects and editorial teams, via high density NAS, were allowed instant access to full fidelity footage during and after production for all VFX pulls and conform pulls. The NAS acted as a back-up for all source content, and was live throughout production. Through the system’s interface, they could procure footage, pull shots as needed, and maintain exact color and metadata integration between any step.

For the color grade, FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto used Blackmagic Resolve to fine-tune raw images, as well as those from ILM, with Johnson and Yedlin using the color and imaging pipeline established from day one. FotoKem also set up remote grading suites at Skywalker Sound and Disney so the teams could work during the sound mix, and later while grading for HDR and other specialty theatrical deliverables. They used a Barco 4K projector for final finishing.

“The film emulation LUT that Steve (Yedlin) created carried nuances he wanted in the final image and he was mindful of this while shooting, lighting both the film and digital scenes so that minimal manipulation was required in the color grade,” Volpatto explains. “Steve’s mastery of lighting for both formats, as well as his extensive understanding of color science, helped to make the blended footage look more cohesive.”

Volpatto also oversaw the HDR pass and IMAX versions. Ultimately, multiple deliverables were created by FotoKem including standard DCP, HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, 3D (in standard, stereo Dolby and 2D Dolby HDR) and home video formats. FotoKem worked with IMAX to align the color science pipeline with their Xenon and laser DCPs and 15-perf 70mm prints as well.

“It’s not every day that we would ship scanners to remote locations and integrate a real-time post environment that would rival many permanent installations,” concludes Mike Brodersen, FotoKem’s chief strategy officer.

Color plays big role in director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project

Director Sean Baker is drawing wide praise for his realistic portrait of life on the fringe in America in his new film The Florida Project. Baker applies a light touch to the story of a precocious six-year-old girl living in the shadow of Disney World, giving it the feel of a slice-of-life documentary. That quality is carried through in the film’s natural look. Where Baker shot his previous film, Tangerine, entirely with an iPhone, The Florida Project was recorded almost wholly on anamorphic 35mm film by cinematographer Alexis Zabe.

Sam Daley

Post finishing for the film was completed at Technicolor PostWorks New York, which called on a traditional digital intermediate workflow to accommodate Baker’s vision. The work began with scanning the 35mm negative to 2K digital files for dailies and editorial. It ended months later with rescanning at 4K and 6K resolution, editorial conforming and color grading in the facility’s 4K DI theater. Senior colorist Sam Daley applied the final grade via Blackmagic Resolve v.12.5.

Shooting on film was a perfect choice, according to Daley, as it allowed Baker and Zabe to capture the stark contrasts of life in Central Florida. “I lived in Florida for six years, so I’m familiar with the intensity of light and how it affects color,” says Daley. “Pastels are prominent in the Florida color palette because of the way the sun bleaches paint.”

He adds that Zabe used Kodak Vision3 50D and 250D stock for daylight scenes shot in the hot Florida sun, noting, “The slower stock provided a rich color canvas, so much so, that at times we de-emphasized the greenery so it didn’t feel hyper real.”

The film’s principal location is a rundown motel, ironically named the Magic Castle. It does not share the sun-bleached look of other businesses and housing complexes in the area as it has been freshly painted a garish shade of purple.

Baker asked Daley to highlight such contrasts in the grade, but to do so subtly. “There are many colorful locations in the movie,” Daley says. “The tourist traps you see along the highway in Kissimmee are brightly colored. Blue skies and beautiful sunsets appear throughout the film. But it was imperative not to allow the bright colors in the background to distract from the characters in the foreground. The very first instruction that I got from Sean was to make it look real, then dial it up a notch.”

Mixing Film and Digital for Night Shots
To make use of available light, nighttime scenes were not shot on film, but rather were captured digitally on an Arri Alexa. Working in concert with color scientists from Technicolor PostWorks New York and Technicolor Hollywood, Daley helmed a novel workflow to make the digital material blend with scenes that were film-original. He first “pre-graded” the digital shots and then sent them to Technicolor Hollywood where they were recorded out to film. After processing at FotoKem, the film outs were returned to Technicolor Hollywood and scanned to 4K digital files. Those files were rushed back to New York via Technicolor’s Production Network where Daley then dropped them into his timeline for final color grading. The result of the complex process was to give the digitally acquired material a natural film color and grain structure.

“It would have been simpler to fly the digitally captured scenes into my timeline and put on a film LUT and grain FX,” explains Daley, “but Sean wanted everything to have a film element. So, we had to rethink the workflow and come up with a different way to make digital material integrate with beautifully shot film. The process involved several steps, but it allowed us to meet Sean’s desire for a complete film DI.”

Calling on iPhone for One Scene
A scene near the end of the film was, for narrative reasons, captured with an iPhone. Daley explains that, although intended to stand out from the rest of the film, the sequence couldn’t appear so different that it shocked the audience. “The switch from 4K scanned film material to iPhone footage happens via a hard cut,” he explains. “But it needed to feel like it was part of the same movie. That was a challenge because the characteristics of Kodak motion picture stock are quite different from an iPhone.”

The iPhone material was put through the same process as the Alexa footage; it was pre-graded, recorded out to film and scanned back to digital. “The grain helps tie it to the rest of the movie,” reports Daley. “And the grain that you see is real; it’s from the negative that the scene was recorded out to. There are no artificial looks and nothing gimmicky about any of the looks in this film.”

The apparent lack of artifice is, in fact, one of the film’s great strengths. Daley notes that even a rainbow that appears in a key moment was captured naturally. “It’s a beautiful movie,” says Daley. “It’s wonderfully directed, photographed and edited. I was very fortunate to be able to add my touch to the imagery that Sean and Alexis captured so beautifully.”

DP David Tattersall on shooting Netflix’s Death Note

Based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, a man who obtains a supernatural notebook that gives him the power to exterminate any living person by writing his or her name in the notebook. Willem Dafoe plays Ryuk, a demonic god of death and the creator of the Death Note. The stylized Netflix feature film was directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, You’re Next) and shot by cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III) with VariCam 35s in 4K RAW with Codex VRAW recorders.

Tattersall had previously worked with Wingard on the horror television series, Outcast. Per Tattersall, he wasn’t aware of the manga series of books but during pre-production, he was able to go through a visual treasure trove of manga material that the art department compiled.

Instead of creating a “cartoony” look, Tattersall and Wingard were more influenced by classic horror films, as well as well-crafted movies by David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick. “Adam is a maestro of the horror genre, and he is very familiar with constructing scenes around scary moments and keeping tension,” explains Tattersall. “It wasn’t necessarily whole movies that influenced us — it was more about taking odd sequences that we thought might be relevant to what we were doing. We had a very cool extended foot chase that we referred to The French Connection and Se7en, both of which have a mix of handheld, extreme wides and long lens shots. Also, because of Adam’s love of Kubrick movies, we had compositions with composure and symmetry that are reminiscent of The Shining, or crazy wide-angle stuff from A Clockwork Orange. It sounds like a mish-mash, but we did have rules.”

Dialogue scenes were covered in a realistic non-flashy way and for Tattersall, one of his biggest challenges was dealing with the demon character, Ryuk, both physically and photographically. The team started with a huge puppet character with puppeteers operating it, but it wasn’t a practical approach since many of the scenes were shot in small spaces such as Light’s bedroom.

“Eventually, the practical issue led to us using a mime artist in full costume with the intention of doing face replacement later,” explains Tattersall. “From our testing, the approach of ‘less is more’ became a thing — less light, more shadow and mystery, less visible, more effective. It worked well for this character who is mostly seen hiding in the shadows. It’s similar to the first Jaws movie. The shark is strangely more scary and ominous when you only get a few glimpses in the frame here and there — a suggestion. And that was our approach for the first 75% of the film. You might get a brief lean out of the shadows and a quick lean back in. Often, we would just shoot him out of focus. We’d keep the focus in the foreground for the Light character and Ryuk would be an out-of-focus blob in the background. It’s not until the very end — the final murder sequence — that you get to see him in full head-to-toe clarity.”

Tattersall shot the film with two VariCam 35s as his A and B cameras and had a VariCam LT for backup. He shot in 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) capturing VRAW files to Codex VRAW recorders. For lensing, he shot with Zeiss Master primes with a 2:39:1 extraction. “This set has become a favorite of mine for the past few years and I’ve grown to love them,” says Tattersall. “They are a bit big and heavy, but they open to a T1.3 and they’re so velvety smooth. With this show having so much night work, that extra speed was very useful.”

In terms of RAW capture, Tattersall tried to keep it simple, using Fotokem’s nextLAB for on-set workflow. “It was almost like using a one light printing process,” he explains. “We had three basic looks — a fairly cool dingy look, one that sometimes falls back on the saturation or leans in the cold direction. I have a set of rules, but I occasionally break them. We tried as much as possible to shoot only in the shade — bringing in butterfly nets or shooting on the shady side of buildings during the day. It was Adam’s wish to keep this heavy, moody atmosphere.”

Tattersall used a few tools to capture unique visuals. To capture low angle shots, he used a P+S Skater Scope that lets you shoot low to the ground. “You can also incorporate floating Dutch angles with its motorized internal prism, so this was something we did throughout,” he says. “The horizon line would lean over to one side or the other.” He also used a remote rollover rig, which allowed the camera to roll 180-degrees when on a crane, giving Tattersall a dizzying visual.

“We also shot with a Phantom Flex to shoot 500fps,” continues Tattersall. “We would have low Dutch angles, an 8mm fish eye look and a Lensbaby to degrade the focus even more. The image could get quite wonky on occasion, which is counterpoint to the more classic coverage of the calmer dialogue moments.”

Although he did a lot of night work, Tattersall did not use the native 5,000 ISO. “I have warmed to a new range of LED lights — the Cineo Maverick, Matchbox and Matchstix. They’re all color balanced and they’re all multi-varied Daylight or Tungsten so it’s quick and easy to change the color temperature without the use of gels. We also made use of Arri Skypanels. Outside, we used tried and tested old school HMIs or 9-light or 12-light MaxiBrutes. There’s nothing quite like them in terms of powerful source lights.”

Death Note was finished at Technicolor by colorist Skip Kimball on Blackmagic Resolve. “The grade was mostly about smoothing out the bumps and tweaking the contrast” explains Tattersall. “Since it’s a dark feature, there was an emphasis on a heavy mood — keeping the blacks, with good contrast and saturated colors. But in the end, the photographic stylization came from the camera placement and lens choices working together with the action choreography.

Evoking the beauty and power of Dunkirk with 65mm

FotoKem worked to keep Christopher Nolan’s 65mm source natively photochemical and to provide the truest-to-film digital cinema version possible

By Adrian Pennington

Tipped for Oscar glory, Christopher Nolan’s intense World War II masterpiece, Dunkirk, has pushed the boundaries further than any film before it. Having shot sequences of his previous films (including Interstellar) on IMAX, this time the director made the entire picture on 65mm negative. Approximately 75% of the film was captured on 65mm/15-perf IMAX (1.43:1) and the rest on 65mm/5-perf (2.2:1) on Panavision cameras.

Christopher Nolan on set.

Nolan’s vision and passion for the true film experience was carried out by Burbank-based FotoKem in what became the facility’s biggest and most complex large format project to date. In addition to the array of services that went into creating two 65mm master negatives and 70mm release prints in both 15p and 5p formats, FotoKem also provided the movie’s DCP deliverables based on in-house color science designed to match the film master. With the unique capability to project 70mm film (on a Century JJ projector) side by side with the digital projection of 65mm scans, FotoKem meticulously replicated the organic film look shot by Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, NSC, FSF, and envisioned by Nolan.

In describing the large format film process, Andrew Oran, FotoKem’s VP of large format services, explains, “Hoyte was in contact with FotoKem’s Dan Muscarella (the movie’s color timer) throughout production, providing feedback on the 70mm contact and 35mm reduction dailies being screened on location. The pipeline was devised so that the IMAX (65mm/15p) footage was timed on a customized 65mm Colormaster by FotoKem color timer Kristen Zimmermann, under Muscarella’s supervision. Her timing lights were provided to IMAX Post, who used those for producing 35mm reduction prints. Those prints were screened in Los Angeles by IMAX, Muscarella and editorial, who in turn provided feedback to production on location. Prints and files travelled securely back and forth between FotoKem and IMAX throughout each day by in-house delivery personnel and via FotoKem’s proprietary globalDATA e-delivery platform.”

A similar route was taken for the Panavision (65mm/5p) footage — also under Muscarella’s keen eye — prior to FotoKem producing 70mm/5p contact daily prints. A set of both prints (35mm and 70mm) were transported for screening in a trailer on location 50,000 miles away in England, France (including shooting on Dunkirk beach itself) and The Netherlands. Traveling with editorial during principal photography was a 70mm projector on which editor Lee Smith, ACE, and Nolan could view dailies in 70mm/5 perf. A 35mm Arri LocPro was also used to watch reduction prints on location.

Oran adds, “Zimmermann also applied color timing lights to the 65mm/5p negatives for contact printing to 70mm at FotoKem. Ultimately, prints from every reel of film negative in both formats were screened by Dan at FotoKem before shipping to production. This way, Dan ensured that the color was as Nolan and Hoytema envisioned. Later, the goal for the DCP was to give the audience the same feel as if they were watching the film version.”

HD deliverables for editorial and studio viewing were created on a customized Millennium telecine. Warner Bros. and Nolan required the quality be high at this step of the process — which can be challenging for 65mm formats. To do this, FotoKem made improvements to the 65mm Millennium telecine machine’s optical and light path, and fed the scans through a custom keycode and metadata workflow in the company’s nextLAB media management platform. Scans for the film’s digital cinema mastering were done at 8K on FotoKem’s Imagica 65mm scanners.

 

Then, to produce the DCPs, FotoKem’s principal color scientist, Joseph Slomka, says, “We created color modeling tools using the negative, interpositive and print process to match the digital image to the film as precisely as technically possible. We sat down with film prints and verified that the modeling data matched a printed original negative in our DI suite with side by side projection.”

Walter Volpatto

This is where FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto says he determined “how much” and “how close” to match the colors. “We did this by using a special machine — called a Harrahscope Minimax Comparator Projector, developed by Mark Harrah and on loan from the Walt Disney Studios — to project still IMAX frames on the screen,” Volpatto elaborates. “We did this for 400 images from the movie and looked at single frames of digital (projected from a Barco 4K DLP) versus film from Harrahscope, and compared, using the data created by the modeling tools.”

Volpatto worked mainly with RGB offsets in Resolve after each single frame verification to maintain a similarity to traditional color timing. “We also modified the DLP white point settings of the projector for purposes of maintaining the closest match,” he says. “Then, once all the tweaks were made with the stills, we moved to motion picture film reels. Everything described in the printer lights at the film stage were translated to digital based on modeling data.”

In addition to working with Dan (Muscarella) on the film screenings to see the quality he would need to match, Volpatto says that working on Interstellar also helped inform him how to approach this process. “It’s about getting the look that Nolan wants — I just had to replicate it with tremendous accuracy on Dunkirk.”

Joseph Slomka

Aside from the standard DCP, two further digital masters were created for distribution including IMAX scans and digital IMAX distribution, and a Dolby Digital Cinema HDR Master from same source material.

“For the Dolby pass, we had to create another set of color science tools — that still represented Nolan’s vision — to exactly replicate the look of film to HDR,” says Slomka. “Because we had all the computer modeling tools used earlier in the process to identify how the film behaved, we were able to build on that for the HDR version.”

Adds Volpatto, “The whole pipeline was designed to preserve the original viewing experience of print film – everything had to integrate purely and unnoticeably. Having this film and color science knowledge here at FotoKem, it’s hard to see that anybody else could achieve what we did at this level.”

Margarita Mix’s Pat Stoltz gives us the low-down on VR audio

By Randi Altman

Margarita Mix, one of Los Angeles’ long-standing audio and video post facilities, has taken on virtual reality with the addition of 360-degree sound rooms at their facilities in Santa Monica and Hollywood. This Fotokem company now offers sound design, mix and final print masters for VR video and remixing current spots for a full-surround environment.

Workflows for VR are new and developing every day — there is no real standard. So creatives are figuring it out as they go, but they can also learn from those who were early to the party, like Margarita Mix. They recently worked on a full-length VR concert film with the band Eagles of Death Metal and director/producer Art Haynie of Big Monkey Films. The band’s 2015 tour came to an abrupt end after playing the Bataclan concert hall during last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The film is expected to be available online and via apps shortly.

Eagles of Death Metal film.

We reached out to Margarita Mix’s senior technical engineer, Pat Stoltz, to talk about his experience and see how the studio is tackling this growing segment of the industry.

Why was now the right time to open VR-dedicated suites?
VR/AR is an exciting emerging market and online streaming is a perfect delivery format, but VR pre-production, production and post is in its infancy. We are bringing sound design, editorial and mixing expertise to the next level based on our long history of industry-recognized work, and elevating audio for VR from a gaming platform to one suitable for the cinematic and advertising realms where VR content production is exploding.

What is the biggest difference between traditional audio post and audio post for VR?
Traditional cinematic audio has always played a very important part in support of the visuals. Sound effects, Foley, background ambiance, dialog and music clarity to set the mood have aided in pulling the viewer into the story. With VR and AR you are not just pulled into the story, you are in the story! Having the ability to accurately recreate the audio of the filmed environment through higher order ambisonics, or object-based mixing, is crucial. Audio does not only play an important part in support of the visuals, but is now a director’s tool to help draw the viewer’s gaze to what he or she wants the audience to experience. Audio for VR is a critical component of storytelling that needs to be considered early in the production process.

What is the question you asked the most from clients in terms of sound for VR?
Surprisingly none! VR/AR is so new that directors and producers are just figuring things out as they go. On a traditional production set, you have audio mixers and boom operators capturing audio on set. On a VR/AR set, there is no hiding. No boom operators or audio mixers can be visible capturing high-quality audio of the performance.

Some productions have relied on the onboard camera microphones. Unfortunately, in most cases, this turns out to be completely unusable. When the client gets all the way to the audio post, there is a realization that hidden wireless mics on all the actors would have yielded a better result. In VR especially, we recommend starting the sound consultation in pre-production, so that we can offer advice and guide decisions for the best quality product.

What question should clients ask before embarking on VR?
They should ask what they want the viewer to get out of the experience. In VR, no two people are going to walk away with the same viewing experience. We recommend staying focused on the major points that they would like the viewer to walk away with. They should then expand that to answer: What do I have to do in VR to drive that point home, not only mentally, but drawing their gaze for visual support? Based on the genre of the project, considerations should be made to “physically” pull the audience in the direction to tell the story best. It could be through visual stepping stones, narration or audio pre-cues, etc.

What tools are you using on VR projects?
Because this is a nascent field, new tools are becoming available by the day, and we assess and use the best option for achieving the highest quality. To properly address this question, we ask: Where is your project going to be viewed? If the content is going to be distributed via a general Web streaming site, then it will need to be delivered in that audio file format.

There are numerous companies writing plug-ins that are quite good to deliver these formats. If you will be delivering to a Dolby VR (object-based preparatory format) supported site, such as Jaunt, then you will need to generate the proper audio file for that platform. Facebook (higher order ambisonics) requires even a different format. We are currently working in all these formats, as well as working closely with leaders in VR sound to create and test new workflows and guide developments in this new frontier.

What’s the one thing you think everyone should know about working and viewing VR?
As we go through life, we each have our own experiences or what we choose to experience. Our frame of reference directs our focus on things that are most interesting to us. Putting on VR goggles, the individual becomes the director. The wonderful thing about VR is now you can take that individual anywhere they want to go… both in this world and out of it. Directors and producers should think about how much can be packed into a story to draw people into the endless ways they perceive their world.

Hands of Stone DP and colorist weigh in on film’s look and feel

By Randi Altman

“No mas! No mas!” Those famous words were uttered in desperation by legendary fighter Roberto Durán, putting an end to his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. But before that, Durán had impressively defeated the charismatic Sugar Ray, capturing the WBC welterweight title. Durán’s story — along with that of his trainer Ray Arcel — was recently told in The Weinstein Company’s feature Hands of Stone.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film’s DP was Miguel Ioan Littin Menz. He worked very closely with director Jakubowicz and FotoKem colorist Kostas Theodosiou to develop several different looks for the film, including for the different decades in which the story takes place, boxing versus training scenes in different locations (New York, Panama, Las Vegas) and flashback scenes.

Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramírez star in HANDS OF STONEThe film stars Édgar Ramírez as Duran, Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray and Robert DeNiro as Ray Arcel.

We were lucky enough to get some time from both Littin Menz and Theodosiou, albeit separately, for questions. First we caught up with Theodosiou.
Enjoy.

How early did you get involved with the film?
Theodosiou: Prior to my involvement in the project, FotoKem’s nextLAB was on location and involved in dailies acquisition and management. However, I started working with the filmmakers at the editorial stage, after the shoot was finished.

What kind of overall look/looks did the director and DP have in mind for the film, and how did they share that vision with you?
Theodosiou: Both the director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the director of photography Miguel Ioan Litten Menz were very hands-on. They supervised each session to make sure we created looks that best suited all the different time periods, as well as the variety of locations used in the production. The story involved multiple locations, including Panama, New York and Las Vegas.

Nearly every scene was shot on location to maintain authenticity, and it was important that we were true to the look and feel of each location. Jonathan and Miguel explained in detail what they wanted to achieve visually, so we created a unique look for each location.

kostas

Kostas Theodosiou

In addition, the story took us through many different time periods that spanned Roberto Duran’s life — from childhood through his entire career. Each time period also required a different treatment to establish its place in time. Every look we created had a purpose and is in the film for a reason. As a result, there are many different looks in this movie, but they all worked together to help tell the story.

You called on Resolve for this film. Can you talk about the tool and how it helps you in your work?
Theodosiou: Resolve is a great platform and allowed me to mix footage that was shot using a variety of different cameras, lenses and aspect ratios. The tools in Resolve helped me blend the footage seamlessly to enhance the filmmakers’ vision, and the results surpassed their expectations.

You mentioned that both the director and DP were in the room with you?
Theodosiou: Yes, Miguel and Jonathan were supervising the color correction from beginning to end. We all had great chemistry and worked together as a team. This was Jonathan’s passion project and he was very invested in the film, so he was deeply involved in the finishing process. And Miguel flew in from Chile to make sure he was here with us.

In the final stages of making the film, additional scenes were added and both filmmakers returned to FotoKem to work with me to make sure the new extended scenes fit in with the mood they were trying to portray. It was a very hands-on experience.

Now let’s hear from DP Miguel Ioan Litten Menz:

What were your first meetings like with Kostas?
Littin Menz: I was very pleased to hear that the color correction was to be done at FotoKem in Los Angeles. We chose Kostas because of his background — he’s worked for Paul Thomas Anderson; Robert Elswit, ASC; Christopher Nolan; and Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC. Since the first meeting, the connection and conversation about aesthetic was immediately understood. Our ideas and feelings about how to adjust the palette of colors for the final look of the film were in sync. He did marvelous work.

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Jonathan Jakubowicz and Miguel Ioan Littin Menz.

What was the general overall look the director had in mind for the film and how did he communicate that to you?
Littin Menz: In general, Jonathan talked about creating different looks between Panama and New York, and at the same time creating a look where you can feel an epic and intimate story at the same time. We want the audience to feel the wild, powerful and sensual colors around Roberto Durán’s life in Panama, and more plain, elegant and sober colors around Ray Arcel’s life in New York. In our research, we looked at thousands of photographs from sports magazines from that period, and also many documentaries.

And for my personal research, I again read Norman Mailer’s book “The Fight” and Jack London’s “The Mexican.”

How would you describe the different looks and feel of the film — decade by decade, location by location?
Littin Menz: I worked very closely with Tomás Voth, the production designer, who did amazing work. We described two very different worlds — Duran’s life in Panama and Ray Arcel’s in New York — so as a general concept we tried to create eclectic and powerful palates of colors for Duran’s life, to mimic his real personality.

For Ray Arcel, we used colors that were more serene and elegant, like he was throughout his entire life. Sometimes I used warm colors to evoke nostalgic times for Ray Arcel, and sometimes cool colors appeared in the sad times for both Duran and Arcel. Decade by decade, from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, we created different looks for timeline reasons but also as part of the intimate space for each character.

What cameras did you use, and why did you opt for three different ones? How did that affect the look and the grade?
Littin Menz: We relied on two Alexa XTs, one Alexa M and three Blackmagic cameras for VFX purposes. One of the Alexas, the B camera, was always prepared for the Steadicam. The C camera and the Alexa M were used for the fights. Also, we used Anamorphic Hawk V Lite Lenses. Kostas was thorough in making sure everything from the different shoots matched.

Can you talk about the shoot? Was there a DIT? If so, what role did they play? And what kind of on-set monitors were you using?
Littin Menz: The DIT was there mostly for making the back-ups and dailies. It was a lot of material every day. We also created LUTs for some scenes. The monitors were Asus VS197D-P 18.5-inch for video assist and a Flanders Scientific for the DIT station.

Was there anything unique or challenging about it that you are particularly proud of?
Littin Menz: On the technical side, it was very challenging to reproduce the big spaces and fights, in places like the Madison Square Garden in New York through three decades, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal and the Superdome in New Orleans, but I think we did it successfully.

Some of my favorite scenes were those of Durán when he was a kid in “El Chorrillo,” the poor neighborhood where he lived. We never forgot that the principal idea for the film was to tell the story through the clear and transparent eyes of that child — the story of a child who came from one of poorest neighborhoods of Latin America and became a world champion. I’m very proud to have been a part of this project.