VON THOMAS ON-SET WORKFLOW FOR “MANIAC”

| 07/13/2012 | 8 Comments
Von Thomas on set of "Maniac"

Von Thomas and his DIT cart

The Post Lab welcomes guest blogger, Von Thomas, to share his DIT workflow on the recently completed and remake of the early 80’s classic film, Maniac.

My name is Von Thomas, and I work as a DIT (Digital Image Technician) for motion picture and television. My work varies from job to job, but most often encompasses trouble shooting camera issues as they arise, supporting the DP with knowledgable info on exposure and color settings (through the use of scopes, and experience), safe backup of digital footage, creating one light, DP-approved color correction for dailies, syncing audio, and the creation of dailies for iPad or cloud delivery. With the exception of syncing sound, I’ve been doing this job for over 13 years. Prior, I worked in the still industry for advertising and fashion photographers, as a Digital Tech. One key bonus I have in my line of work, is that I studied and worked as a commercial still photographer for over 30 years, a plus when conferring about exposure with a DP.

As most of you are learning, there is a slight difference between shooting film and shooting digital. With film, you have a bit of room for error, both in your exposure and your color settings. For that reason, film was friendlier, and forgiving. Digital on the other hand, does not provide the same room (latitude) for error (sort of like shooting reversal film). With digital, you have to be closer to your target exposure, and have your color — at least for those shooting compressed video — must be dialed in as well. I bring all of this experience to bare when working on new projects such as the movie, Maniac. The producers of this film had certain requirements: to keep all data safe, assist the camera department with configuring the RED Epic camera for various shooting modes, make both exposure and color adjustments on-set, and create dailies for Avid and for private viewing on the internet. This workflow is becoming very common in the industry.

On first meeting the producers, I learned we were shooting on RED Epic. I love this camera, it has a lot of range, shoots a 5K RAW file, and the workflow is very easy. One of my main tasks is to advise on storage for movies. I look at factors that include how many days of shooting, and estimate how much will be shot per day, then come up with a system that can work on set, as well as in post production. I’ve be using a firm in southern California called, Maxx Digital. They have a host of storage solutions from small single drive units (FireWire Flash Grenade), to 16 bay 48TB units (Evo 6G 16 Bay Rackmount), plus LTO, and more. I like this company because they are dedicated professionals, and their products work. For Maniac, they wanted 3 complete copies, and with close to 25TB’s of data, so I suggested the Maxx Ezo VR, and two Edit Vaults (as shuttle drives for daily trips to the editor). The Evo VR when in a RAID 5 config, will safely hold 9TB’s of data each. I suggest that whatever you estimate, double it! It’s better to be safe with more. With this RAID, you have a eSata connection, which is much faster than FireWire. The Edit Vaults are 1TB drives, that come with it’s own protective outer briefcase, which is added security when handing off drives.

Once cameras roll, the next step was to ingest the content to 4 places: the RAID on my cart, and the other 3 RAID’s for production. I use R3D Data Manager for a verified backup for all RAW footage. Because a verified backup is a slower process than dragging and dropping, I make sure media cards coming from camera do not get past 20 to 30% on a 128GB card. If I keep this routine, downloads will be between 10 and 15 minutes per card, a very manageable scenario especially as you get closer to wrap.

Next, I use RED’s proprietary software, REDCine-X Pro. With RCX, I review the data, perform one light color correction, sync audio, and transcode the RAW data to Avid files. I’ll also produce ProRes files, that I will later convert to H.264 for web and iPad delivery. Avid Media Composer is used next to QC the work, making sure all the footage is accounted for, plus check to see if all audio files are mated with the visual files. Once this is done, I save an Avid bin and copy that to the Edit Vault shuttle drive along with the MXF files for delivery to the assistant editor. I mentioned above that I also create ProRes files, I do this because RCX is not the best for creating H.264 files that are both high quality and small files. For this, I use Apple’s Compressor, but with the added speed of a Matrox Compress HD card. This allows me to work fast in order to produce H.264 files for web delivery.

After the H.264 files are complete, I uploaded the quick times to WireDrive. WireDrive is a online viewing service with a secure, password protected interface where clients can view, make notes, make selections, and deletes files as necessary. Once uploaded, everyone on your approved client list will automatically receive an email that new content has been posted for their review. This is where I wrap for the day.

Von Thomas is a bi-coastal (LA – NY) Photographer, Cinematographer, RED TECH, digital capture expert, and educator. He currently works as a DIT and Dailies Colorists on feature films, TV episodics, webisodes, music videos, and commercials. His list of clients reads like a who’s who in both the still and motion photography business. Contact: von@digitaltechnyc.com

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8 Comments on "VON THOMAS ON-SET WORKFLOW FOR “MANIAC”"

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  1. Joe Huggins says:

    Von, great blog. I’m curious on your eSata copy times for the large Epic files. I think an hour of Epic can run 500-600GB. My last tests on eSata copies, I got 350GB/hr. That would mean it would take 2 hours almost to copy an hour of Raw to drive, right? I thought many companies were using SAS drives to make that about 4xs as fast.

    What times and speeds are you getting for an hour of Epic data? Thanks, Joe

    • Von Thomas says:

      Joe,

      I get about a minute a GB, I have to admit I have not timed an hours worth of footage, but keeping the data recorded to a 128GB card under 30%, I can download that card in about 15-20 minutes using R3D DM. I discourage the prolonged shooting to a card, it’s too risky, and NOT a good workflow. Remember if you are shooting multiple setups to a card, and there was a problem, you won’t know it until way later. If your production has to reshoot because of a problem not caught in time, it will cost production time, and money.

  2. Von Thomas says:

    Hi Joe. Yes even I use SAS, on my rig, but for client delivery drives, where cost is always a factor, the extra cost for a RAID card, is usually a bit to much for them. Besides, due to the nature of some jobs,and in the case of Maniac, drives went in two directions, post house here in Los Angeles, and to post in France. The common denominator was to use eSata, $150.00 for eSata card vs $1100 for SAS card.

    Von

  3. Ben Hopkins says:

    Nice workflow Von.

    Did you make LTO for the client on set for this job? Also, what were your average hours each day on set to accomplish all these tasks?

    Thanks

    • Von Thomas says:

      Ben,

      No LTO for this show, just triple backups to RAID’s. My average day was about 13.5 hours. There would be a cut off point for what went up as dailies. Usually, I have all but the last 2-3 rolls completed color corrected, sunk audio, transcoded to Avid and ProRes for dailies, and finally uploaded to Wiredrive, that way the files are available that evening to view at wrap. The remaining rolls, will be in next days uploads and dailies. This is a good procedure to follow, because, I’m not sitting on the clock (producers like that, they get same day service, they like that too), and I leave shortly after wrap.

  4. Lucy Edwards says:

    Great Blog Von!!!!

  5. Aaron says:

    Hey Von, thanks for sharing. Just curious as to how often you get a sound breakoff? I usually do my transcodes for each card right after I do a one light, but sound doesn’t hand off their files until the end of the day and the asst editor does the syncing.

    • Von Thomas says:

      On my productions, I meet with the mixer, post and producers before we begin shooting. I establish a routine from the very beginning, if you don’t do that, you might just get audio at wrap. I do a camera roll change and a sound break at the same time.

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