Createasphere held its annual Entertainment Technology Expo last week at the Burbank Marriott, chock-filled with lively panel discussions, presentations and exhibitions of the latest technologies that support all phases of production in the entertainment industry. Part of this year’s Expo included the Post Production Master Class, an afternoon of industry leaders speaking on issues that are affecting post production today. I was honored to be chosen to moderate the first panel of the day: From Set to Editorial: A Keynote Conversation, that included six esteemed professionals — Dan Lebental, A.C.E., Tyler Nelson, Assistant Editor House of Cards, Brandon Bussinger, CTO Sixteen 19, John Daro, Sr. Colorist Fokem, Cory McCrum, VP Production Revelation Entertainment, and Rick Ash, Re-Recording Mixer Post Haste Digital. The conversation began with an exploration of whether or not technology is changing the creative process, and then covered how productions today are evolving and adapting with technology to create more efficient and nimble workflows in order to have more control of the images in their pipeline.
“It seems like over the last decade, every time I start a film I have to relearn the process, because it’s changing so fast,” says Dan Lebental, A.C.E. “How this impacts us creatively, is that certain things have gotten easier, certain days have gotten longer, and certain expectations have gotten greater. But, by and large, the mountain can move much quicker. In terms of the creative work, the editing, there’s only so much technology is going to help speed it up — it still amounts to sitting down and using knowledge and ability to come up with cuts.”
Tyler Nelson shared some of the questions he asks when designing workflows on the David Fincher projects he’s worked on. “One of the biggest things I ask myself when I approach a project is ‘what is the new technology I am going to have to work with, and how is it going to evolve over the course of the project?’ It seems like every project I work on we’ve started with a new form of technology that becomes more commonplace as we finish the movie, and we’re developing the workflows as we go. One of the questions I’m always asking myself — since I’m the first one to touch the project and the last one to touch it before it goes to the DI — is how is my life going to be affected over the course of the next couple months?”
Brandon Bussinger ran through an example of a near-set environment that Sixteen 19 created recently for the feature, The Campaign. Brandon explains “they had a bunch of comedians on the movie that were really good at just being funny, so despite the fact that they had a script, they were just going to run the camera all day, and they were going to shoot 3K raw. So we went down to New Orleans, and built a lab into a house from the 1890’s, and we had to deal with power in the house that supported gear from the 2000’s. Editorial was upstairs, shared storage was in the bathroom, we were set up in the living room and kitchen and processed upwards of 10 hours a day of ARRI raw 3K files to 5 different deliverables in different departments for different cities in the country. We pushed files to editorial, dropped dailies onto their Unity and by the time the editors came in at 9AM the next morning, everything was archived to LTO and those tapes were moved off site. We had a fireproof safe in the garage to store the other half, and moved that safe every so often to ensure everything was secure because we were in an area that was flooded by Katrina. The goal was that when the editor arrived in the morning, they didn’t see any of that, they just saw the crew in the living room. One of the great things about being near-set, is that questions are answered right away, you’re not putting three layers of people in between production and the stuff they need to work on.”
One of the advancements occurring with color technology is the creation of a standardized color space called ACES (Academy Color Encoding System). Fotokem’s Sr. Colorist, John Daro, breaks down why this is really important and what you need to know. “Essentially it’s taking any camera, it doesn’t matter what camera it is, and putting it into a common color space. For example, if you’re shooting with the ARRI, you’re going to go into a Log C color space. If you open it up, you’ll see that it’s really flat, so you have to put a look up table (LUT) on it, well that’s going to put it into another color space such as Rec 709 or P3. What ACES is trying to do, is unify all of that, so no matter what camera it comes from, you’re going to go to this one common color space that is so big and wide, it will contain every other color space that will come from any particular camera manufacturer today or in the future. Currently, you acquire your information and then you do an input device transform (IDT), which is the process of applying a LUT to your files or another function that is applied to your color imagery that gets you into the ACES space. Once you’re in that ACES space, you can make whatever you need to make, say for example, you need AVID media in Rec 709. Down the road, when it comes to working on the DI, I’m going to go back to the original ACES file, because 709 broadcast color space is a little limiting, and I want to work from something much broader. Right now we tend to work in P3 which is the current color space for digital projection technology. So from P3, I’m going to make a master, but I’m always working on a layer where the ACES file is underneath. So when I’m done, I’m going to archive the ACES file, I’m also going to make a P3 version, and then I’ll use a color conversion to convert the P3 to an XYZ, which goes out to the theaters. If someone opens up the ACES file 10 years from now, and there is P4 or whatever color space flavor of the month is, because it’s a standard, it’s exactly where we left off in 2012. And that’s the whole idea of working in a standardized color space.”
Cory McCrum, VP of Production at Revelation Entertainment, worked closely on the ICAS (Image Control Assessment Series) project, which proved to her the need to move towards a common color space and production workflow. “I’m a firm believer in standardization,” says McCrum. “When we started ICAS, which was the 2nd iteration of the camera assessment series that we did in 2009, we originally thought it was about the cameras, but the more we got into it, the more we realized it wasn’t about the cameras, because we’ve evolved over the last 3 years and none of the cameras that we used back in 2009 were actually being utilized now. What it really became about, was starting a conversation about a standardized workflow, which was vital. There was a lot of concerns at first from the post facilities and from camera manufacturers, like it was a threat, and it was a really interesting process. The post vendors were concerned that their “secret sauces,” which they felt gave them their personal leg up they had over somebody else, was going to disappear. What I discovered, was that it wasn’t going to be gone. They could actually still have their color scientists work within a container of ACES and have their secret sauce. For me, it puts the color space into a pipeline so that, when I’m the producer on a movie and I’m having four VFX companies around the world working on a movie, instead of worry about sending them off a LUT and getting it back and my director’s says, ‘but it doesn’t look like what we’re working in, it doesn’t match anything,’ it simplifies things. ACES simplifies communication between the various vendors.”
Rick Ash, who has been working in sound for a long time, brings it back to the creative process and reminds us that as much as technology is changing, it’s all about collaboration. “I’m a big proponent of the technologies that are going on, but what I try to do, is ask myself, how can I use the technology today to help a director tell a story in a way that is pertinent, easy to deal with, and is actually making the crew much smaller,” says, Ash. “The job I do in storytelling with sound is the same job I’ve been doing for 30 years, so when I have to start with a new technology and figure out how to incorporate it, it’s an extra burden on me. The reason I do enjoy that burden is because it’s made the field a smaller field. You don’t need a massive team of people when now a small group of people can now work together. It reminds me of how it was back in the 70’s, when we used to just rent a house as a rock band and decide to make a record. That’s what filmmaking’s become now, we’re just like this group of rock and roll people who are able to go in and figure this all out. How do we make the film process become more transparent, how do we bring the people together more closely and how do we share information — for me that’s what makes it so exciting.”
Panelist comments were edited for length and clarity.
Photos Courtesy of: Jessica Jewell