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Sony 4K RAW – Why Compression Is Bad and DiTs are good

Back in December a Line Producer I know gave me a call and asked if I was available to work on a short film with some provocative (read slightly kinky!) content. I chatted with DoP Anthony Dias and he was short of a Lighting Assistant / Gaffer. When I heard the kit list I became excited – here was an opportunity to get really creative in an excellent location (even if the ceiling was way lower than ideal) with some serious toys and so I offered my services. Anothony’s brief was to ‘update film noir’. Now that’s a fairly tall order but I like the vibe.

Master Angle Lighting Setup

Rifa Lights as Keys and our low ceiling problem

We were shooting S-Log 3 in 4K RAW on the Sony F55 using Cooke prime lenses and typically using filters and NDs so the lenses were wide open. But the really cool thing about the shoot was the workflow, Mission Digital were testing out some new kit and ideas and the production really benefited from this. The thing about S-Log is that it is fantastic for post production but means that the output image to a director looks overexposed, lacking in contrast and is generally very unflattering. From the DoP, camera assistants and lighting perspective it can also present difficulties when predicting exactly what the picture will look like further down the line after editing with a LUT applied and colour correction or more extreme grading. LUT’s or REC709 can be used in camera viewfinder to give a more flattering image to work with but the SDI output from the camera is clean and shows the true S-Log image. Step in Colour Front software and three talented DiTs with some sharp eyes; 1. Live Grading 2. Playback (Video Assist) 3. Digital Dallies (syncing and outputting colour corrected files).

DiT_PlaybackStations

DiT Playback and Grading Stations

The live grades can be exported in a variety of formats with the grades applied or the grade values can be exported as a CDL or Colour Decision List for use once the production has been cut. In real terms it means that the Director, DoP, Lighting Technicians, MakeUp Artists, can see a close approximation or even final graded result live as the pictures are being shot. Lighting for 4K but also lighting for the grade. The live grading DiT can communicate constantly with the DoP regarding exposure levels and lighting continuity. It makes collaborating that much more efficient and brings (one would hope) better results. This is surely a clear example of Digital Fluidity – digital technology bringing about a more fluid and creatively liberating production mode. Why would anyone want to compress these images if they didn’t have to?! RAW images being lit and exposed for the way in which it will be graded and finished. It’s a win win scenario. If you were to introduce compression then you would be losing valuable information and the pictures would not be acquired in the way they were intended to be, and taken into the edit with less control over the look. Again the best thing about this ‘live’ workflow is that you can light and work with the end result in mind but still make no actual solid commitment to these looks that are used when you shoot. If the director or DoP later changes their mind about the extremity of a look lets say contrast, level of black then he or she can do so. This bridge between production and post is critical to the modern 4K workflow as it allows DoPs and the camera department to light and expose the image with an approximation of the end result right in front of them as they shoot. The most effective post workflow will now always begin on set, this workflow will surely save time and by extension money when the production side is wrapped. The maximum control over the images can be gained this way and the DoP is able to work with many more pairs of critical eyes and ears than shooting on film or indeed shooting without the possibility of live grading. Whilst standard on a large scale production the value of a dedicated playback engineer (video assist) cannot be underestimated on a small independent production of this size. It is so much easier for the DoP and camera assistant to be able to request playback than having to operate manually from the camera. It is straightforward to simply ask for it when required be it to check performance, sharpness, shadows, or whatever. The software outputs a burn in CC in the corner of the directors monitor to denote when viewing a colour corrected or graded image. And it’s not just the camera, lighting and directing departments that benefit from this workflow. The value of the colour corrected image extends beyond these departments to hair and makeup and the art department, and into post with the editors and graders. Editors get to work with prettier pictures and graders get to begin their finishing process with a great starting point, with all the information provided by RAW files and S-log curves on top of all the information they need to begin a grade with much of the early work already complete. In short, everyone is able to take something away from this progressive new school way of thinking. The F55 has a few quirks and irritations from a 1st AC’s and operators point of view but with this production we were all in no doubt that under the photographic direction of Anthony the lighting, critical eye of the DiTs, and top notch work from camera assistant Alfie and the great location made for some fantastic pictures. Really looking forward to seeing the fruits of our hard work after it’s final grade.

LightingFlags

Always mixing soft and hard light on ‘The Session’

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