Saturday
Oct302010

Feature DI Case Study: THE SPACE BETWEEN

THE SPACE BETWEEN


In this blog, we will be alternating the topics covered between technical demos and case studies of films and projects we completed recently that highlight an interesting approach to shooting and posting digital.

This week, it’s the film THE SPACE BETWEEN.  This moving drama about a stewardess and middle eastern boy who end up trapped together in the middle of nowhere on 9/11, was directed by Travis Fine and shot by Mark Shap.  It stars Melissa Leo.  This was just before the MX sensor was released, so its original Red M, and shot on the Red Primes.  The film had a good critical reception and premiered at the 2010 Tribecca Film Festival.

The film has a uniquely naturalistic look, especially for being digitally shot, and it suits the somber, subtle tone of the film very well.  Skins look normal, light looks like its coming from windows and some of the harsher, overly crisp attributes of digital are missing.  I thought is would be a good piece to show as an example of how photochemical and ungraded, Red can look.  Not appropriate for every film, but certainly for this one.

 

WORKFLOW

THE SPACE BETWEEN was conformed and graded in SCRATCH, in 2K in our DI Theatre.  As with most digitally acquired projects, we graded in P3 color space, in linear.  The film was then mastered to 2K DCP, HDCAMSR and a full set of video deliverables.  We also prepped the film for filmout, but this was before the film had a distributor in place, so the film decided to have an all digital festival run first, holding off on filmout for the moment.  This is a workflow I recommend for pre-distributor films.  That way, you have a full set of masters for digital, film, and video deliverables, without having to go through the expense of a filmout until its needed down the line.

Images shot on Red can seem overly sharp and somewhat plastic sometimes.  I think this a good example of the opposite.  It’s the result of a production team that understands how to expose the Red, what kind of light to hit is with, and good decisions made in the DI.  In a world of overly-graded, orange-teal obsession, its nice to see images that don’t need to be super-manipulated.  DI can be a great way to create a look that otherwise couldn’t be made, or as in this case, just a gentle nudge.

Friday
Oct222010

More ARRI Alexa Footage

A quick note, thanks to Mitch Gross and Abel Cine Tech, there is more ARRI Alexa sample footage online at Cinematography.net.  

They shot with a basic set up with a Zeiss 14.5-45 zoom, and tried to hit up every flavor of ProRes, as well as Rec709 gamma vs. LogC.  Inside at 3200 as well as outside using 5600 and ND9.  Finally, they shot a brick wall to see if they could discover aliasing issues.

http://www.cinematography.net/edited-pages/alexa-tests.html 

Thanks for making this available, and also a special thanks to Geoff Boyle of Cinematography.net and the CML list for being such a great resource.

Andrew

Wednesday
Oct062010

ARRI Alexa Event - Test footage

As promised, we'd like to bring you some of the ARRI Alexa test footage images that we captured and worked with in the DI theater.

Overall, we were extremely impressed with the Alexa.  The images came together so quickly and easily, with beautiful results.  For a DI color facility like us, we specialize in making the final movie look the best it can.  Here the Alexa image makes it a lot easier to get there, which is a more enjoyable experience for us.  Instead of worrying about how to prevent skin-tones from looking plastic, we can focus in on the emotional resonance of our grading choices.

We used the Alexa's DTE "direct to edit" functionality, which records to Quicktime ProRes format right on board to SxS cards.  We opted for the higher quality capture, which is ProRes 4444, a 12-bit RGB codec, and recorded in LogC colorspace (more on that later).

To kick it off, here is one of our favorite daylight shots, out by the ocean in Santa Monica.  This is without any reflectors or bounce boards.  We did use ND filters in front of the lens, in order to cut the light down for the sensor, which is rated ISO 800.  Click on the image to get the full resolution JPEG, or on the links beneath for the uncompressed 16-bit TIFF files.

TIFF

Now, here is the image in LogC color space.  This was captured straight from the Quicktime ProRes 4444. Again, click on the image for the full-res JPEG or below for the TIFF.

TIFF

Most involved in the post business are already familiar with "Log" (logarithmic) as a method for digitally storing image data.  For those unsure, a brief explanation:  Log refers to the brightness curve applied when transferring the image data to the digital bits of data.  Using a Log curve is better able to mathmatically represent the image data in the highlights and shadows where the human eye generally ignores those details.  The mid-tones are unaffected, because they still have plenty of data representing them as well.  But when we look at it with the human eye, it looks flat and grey-- no contrast.  Generally we're used to seeing "Linear" images, which have a gamma curve applied to the image data to better represent how we see with our eyes.  The mid-tones are over-represented, and the shadows and highlights are crushed. 

"LogC" as ARRI calls it, is really a designation that they came up with to describe the logarithmic curve that they're applying to their image data before capturing or compressing it into the image data stream.  In order to look at the image properly, it will need a color grade or "look up table" transformation to adapt it to linear space.

The bottom line is that Log data gives you more flexibility in the color grading process.  You have tons of data in the shadows and highlights so that if your image is underexposed or overexposed, you can adjust the grade to still make the final image look great without gathering too much grain or banding.

Here's a Histogram of the LogC image.  As you can see, most of the data is bunched up in the middle, with tons of space on either end to represent highlights and shadows.  Again, this doesn't mean the mid-tones get short changed, they still have all the data bits they'll ever need.

As you can see, we're pretty much not clipping anything.  We didn't have to choose between exposing for the shadows or exposing for the sky.  

Here is a few seconds of the actual Quicktime ProRes 4444 footage, so you can play with it yourself.  Right-click HERE to download the .MOV file.  It's big (258 MB).

Now on to another daylight challenge.  In this image, Rain's face was completely in shadow against the bright sunny sky.  Here's the LogC (click for TIFF).

TIFF

And here is the grade.

TIFF

Here is another shade shot, this one with a lot of detailed trees & leaves to try and push the compression scheme. 

LogC:

TIFF

Grade:

TIFF

Now here is a shot from our night footage.  We didn't plan anything, we simply took the camera outside our front door and used only available street light. This was rated at ISO 1600, and we didn't have Rain standing under any street lamp or direct light source.  There is a green cast on her that is coming from a small decorative light on our building.  Here we see what the grain looks like, but definitly still end up with a very usable image.  As far as our night tests, we discovered the Alexa was literally more sensitive to light than the human eye.

LogC:

TIFF

Histogram:

Primary Grade:

TIFF

And for those interested, here is a few seconds of the full ProRes 4444 LogC video file.  Right-click HERE to download the .mov  (134 MB).

Last, here is the entire graded video, web compressed to H264.  Visit Vimeo to download the full 1920x1080 MP4 file.

 

ARRI Alexa Test by Local Hero from Local Hero Post on Vimeo.

Because the Alexa has such a high dynamic range (HDR), when we're in LogC space we capture both the details in the shadows as well as details in the clouds and sky.  Often the challenge in the DI process is to try and keep as much of that information as possible when moving to a more "human eye" grade in HD or cinema color space.  To grade favoring detail in the midtones is to loose detail in the highlights and shadows.

This is a good problem to have.  With all the grading tools available to us there are often tricks we can use to keep the detail in a blown-out window in a dark interior shot.  Also something we'll be exploring is motion tone-mapping, which is a technique that still pictures have been using for a long time (Do a quick search for HDR and tone mapping to see the results of that).

Next week, look for a discussion of your workflow options with the ARRI Alexa.  Shooting in LogC presents special challenges for dailies and editorial.  Then in November we'll see a roll-out of the ARRIRAW format, which gives even more flexibility (and challenges) in post.

Andrew Wahlquist

Thursday
Sep302010

ARRI Alexa Event Recap

Tuesday night we hosted the guys from ARRI to show off their Alexa digital cinema camera to our friends and clients.  Here's a recap of the evening, in two parts.  Next week we'll talk about some of the technical details about working with the Alexa.  

First off, a special thanks to Assimilate, Inc and Lucas Wilson for getting this event going for us.  Second, we're indebted to ARRI, including Stephan Ukas Bradley and Michael Bravin who came early Tuesday afternoon to hang out with us, let us take the Alexa out for a spin, and make sure that the images plug right into our pipeline.

We wanted to show the speed that you can work with the Alexa and their DTE "Direct to Edit" technology, so we asked Stephan to show up around 2:30 PM to help us shoot some test footage that would be shown at the 7 PM event.  Within 15 minutes we were up and walking around our building with the Alexa, shooting directly to Quicktime ProRes 4444 in LogC to the on-board SxS solid state media.  We ran one shot, pulled the SxS out and brought the data over to our color system PC.

Leandro Marini (Leo), lead colorist and founder of Local Hero, graded the shot within seconds while we watched the image in our DI theater, jaws agape.  Our test subject (and DI producer) Rain was standing in the shade, with the blasting 100 degree sunlight just behind her.  Not only could we see every detail in the blacks of Rain's hair, but not one piece of the background or sky was blown out to pure white.  The Alexa has a unique approach to exposure, so they're able to achieve some incredible HDR results.  They claim 13.5 stops of dynamic range, however some tests like an excellent one by Art Adams have shown as much as 15 stops.  

Leandro Marini shoots test shots of Rain Valdez using the ARRI Alexa

Without getting too technical, LogC is ARRI's description of the way that the image is encoded across the ProRes bit space.  They use a film-like log curve in order to save as much detail in the blacks and highlights as it can, rather than using a standard HD Rec 709 gamma curve.  When you look at the image without color correction, everything looks flat, grey and desaturated.  But once you get into the image you find you have tons of latitude to take the image wherever you'd like.  More about that later.

Confident in our workflow, we took the camera down to Ocean Park (we're in Santa Monica), and rolled a few more test shots.  We shot Rain without any reflectors, lights, or bounce boards.  The only thing we used was a couple ND filters to knock down the light input for the camera's 800 ISO rating.  Most digital cameras couldn't even handle the contrast of the sunlight on her face, let alone keep the details and exposure in the sky and ocean.  Sometimes Rain's face would totally be in shadow, yet would still look great back in the theater.

Soon the wine and cheese was out in force (we had a wonderful spread by Ximena and Jillian's excellent catering service).  As people started rolling in, we had our test footage, as well as ARRI's other Alexa demos running in both the DI theater and our broadcast color room.  We pushed and pulled the images around, and a couple people braved the chair themselves to see what was there.  It was a treat to have the ARRI guys answering everyone's questions directly.

Stephan Ukas Bradley of ARRI answers questions

As if shooting a couple hours before the event wasn't complicated enough, we had to go one step further.  When the sun was fully down, we grabbed the Alexa once again and stepped out to the street.  Olympic Blvd was busy with cars, and the front of our building has no significant lighting.  To show off Alexa's astounding sensitivity, we rolled off a couple more shots.  One used only a street light, the other had nothing but a tiny bit of building light casting a greenish tone onto Rain.  Both of these shots were also incredibly workable once we put them in Scratch.  It was good to see both extremes at once-- bright direct sunlight and darkness using only available sources on the street.  The Alexa can literally see brighter images than the naked eye.

Local Hero's broadcast color suite

Later in the evening we sat down for a more formal introduction to the Alexa, with Stephan leading us through the overview.  Then Leo turned down the lights and brought up the footage we shot.  Everyone could instantly see how fast you can get a pleasing image from the 12-bit LogC ProRes 444, and then the directions that you can take the color from there-- with no hint of banding or compression up on the big screen.  The night shots were incredibly clean, even the one we rated at ISO 1600 with virtually no light on Rain's face.

Local Hero's DI Theater

Assimilate Scratch will be one of the systems leading the charge into the ARRIRAW format, as soon as it is released in November.  With ARRIRAW you get uncompressed 3K sensor data, with none of your ISO or color decisions baked in to the image.  The ProRes 444 is an incredibly user friendly way to go with extreme latitude and flexibility with your image.  But for even more critical situations, the ARRIRAW will offer a level of quality and flexibility even further beyond that.  Local Hero will be ready to go as soon as ARRI releases the software update.

Thanks again to everyone for coming out.  Next week look for a more detailed tech discussion, with some links to our Alexa footage, LogC images, before & after's and more.

Andrew Wahlquist

Thursday
Sep232010

ARRI Alexa Camera in Person, September 28th

So it's almost October, about time to start seeing posts appear on the Local Hero blog again. 

If you're a filmmaker, DP, producer or post person, you'll want to come out to an awesome event we're throwing here at Local Hero Post.  ARRI will be here showing off their new Alexa digital cinema camera, and we'll be showing the footage in our DI theater and putting the image through its paces.

Why the Alexa?  800 ISO, 13.5 stops of latitude, Quicktime ProRes 422/444 recording on board the camera to SxS cards, and option for ArriRaw uncompressed recording of the full 3K sensor data.  With very little lighting infrastructure, you can get a remarkable image with a natural look and flexibility.

Why Local Hero?  We can take care of your post workflow from start to finish, be it Uncompressed, ProRes or Raw.  

September 28, 2010 - 7:00 PM

1201 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

Stephan Ukas-Bradley from ARRI will be here to talk camera, and Leandro Marini of Local Hero will talk post.

Hors d'oeuvres and drinks are on us.  RSVP to Ximena at localheropost.com

http://www.arridigital.com/alexa

 

P.S.  I'm Andrew Wahlquist, new with Local Hero as a chief technologist-- you'll see more of me on this blog in the future!

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