Editing Act of Valor

Posted by Mike McCarthy on April 14th, 2012 filed in Workflow Ideas

When we first started out, we had no idea how much footage we would be shooting for the movie, because the 5D lends itself to a different type of shooting style than traditional filmmaking, and we had a lot of cameras available on set.  So preparing for a worst case scenario, we setup our Avid system with a huge 16TB external array.  Since we were using DNxHD36 files for the offline, our nearly 200 hours of source material ended up being less that 3TB of Avid media.  So once we were finished with principal shooting, I replaced that oversized solution with a basic internal array of four 2TB drives, which met our needs for the rest of the project.

Since there was no way to automate the syncing process between the different cameras and separately recorded audio, that became a labor intensive process for our assistant editors, spearheaded by Siobhan Prior.  While Scott Waugh was out directing the shoots, this work was done on the main Avid system.  Once he finished shooting and was editing full time, it became clear that we would need more than one system.  Instead of using a Unity to share the project with an assistant editing station, we just duplicated the media to a second array, and manually synced the project bins on a daily basis.  This worked reasonably well, and we have continued to use that process on the Avid based commercials we have made since then.  Hard drives are cheap, shared storage solutions are not, (especially Avid ones) so we just make duplicate copies of everything.

As scenes were finished, the post team would get lists of the Canon source files, and start queuing up the necessary Twixtor conversions in After Effects CS4.  Travis Schoen and Lance Holte helped me setup hundreds of these AE renders, and run them every night, on each workstation once our operators had gone home for the evening.  These conversions were rendered to 24p Cineform HD .AVI files.  We were originally required to convert entire source files in order for the online process to linkup to the new files automatically.  But once a file was converted, it would automatically work in any revised edit we got from the Avid.

When CS5 was released, it handled native 5D .MOV files much better, and more accurately, than going through Quicktime, the way CS4 did.  This resulted in files being decoded into the “correct” color space, which looked different than it had in CS4.  We had already “burned in” the old CS4 color space into all of the Twixtor conversions that we had made up to that point, so we decided to systematically replace all of those encodes when we had time.  The good new was that CS5 and the new version of Twixtor processed twice as fast.  The bad news was that there was no Cineform export plug-in for After Effects CS5 at that point, so all of the conversion compositions had to be imported into Adobe Media Encoder in order to render them to that codec properly.

The edit was reasonably “locked” at this point, so we developed a faster and more efficient way to process the clips that needed to be Twixtored.  Linking directly to the 30p Canon .MOVs in Premiere Pro gave us reasonable playback, now that we had CS5 with the CUDA accelerated Mercury engine.  Once we had a segment exactly the way we wanted it, we would copy the clips on the timeline, and paste them into After Effects.  This would create a comp with all of the clips we needed, and only the segments we were using, which was much faster to render, and saved space as well.  The disadvantage was it flattened that part of the edit into a single file with no handles.  This would have been a major problem at the earlier stages of the prrocess, but by the time we were doing the CS4 to CS5 color space replacement, the individual scenes were pretty solid.

At that point it was decided that we wanted to rescan the segments of film for the online at 2K.  We were able to use Avid’s film toolset to determine what to scan, but the resulting DPXs had to be cut into the online by hand, because there was no way to automate that in Premiere.  Miles Michaud spent a couple of long days manually building those sequences in Premiere, and that is one workflow issue that even since then, I still have not been able to develop an efficient solution to.

We would then scale the Canon footage to 2K to match the film scans.  Only having a 40Mb compressed HD image to start with meant that we had to be very careful how we processed it.  After doing many tests, we settled on using Cinnafilm’s Dark Energy to do the upres-scaling, as the directors liked the resulting look the best.  Travis Schoen managed to find a way to script this aspect of the process, since every time we made a change we had to rescale the modified clips.  This would eventually lead to us using that application (Cinnafilm Dark Energy) to de-noise and re-grain the non-film sections of the movie as well.

This process resulted in a full pass of the entire movie in 2K DPX files.  The work was all done with a software 235 preview matte, but we processed the entire 16×9 image for future flexibility.  We delivered the whole movie to our colorist as 2048×1152 DPX files.

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9 Responses to “Editing Act of Valor”

  1. "Act of Valor" Workflow and Post Production | Hurlbut Visuals Says:

    [...] Based on our shooting style and the options made available by using the 5D, we shot nearly 200 hours of footage. Since there was no way to automate the syncing process between the different cameras and separately recorded audio, that became a labor intensive process for our assistant editors in Avid. Instead of using a Unity, we just duplicated the source media across our editing systems. As sequences came together, would get source lists to start Twixtoring the Canon source files in AE and link them into Premiere sequences using EDLs. We added the 2K film scans and scaled the rest of the footage to 2K to match. Here are more details about Editing Act of Valor. [...]

  2. vschroeder Says:

    Great article – such insight for me!
    I am really surprised, how much work there is from getting the data on the CF card, to you start doing visuals.

    Actually, I can’t even figure out exactly what the workflow is! And what else is confusing me is the Twixtor part. Was that to make slowmotion?

    Must take so much time, and I apparently skip so many steps when I film!

  3. Mike McCarthy Says:

    Twixtor was required because the Canon5D only shot at 30p back then, but we had to edit at 23.976 to inter-cut it with film. That was the source of most of the complications.

  4. vschroeder Says:

    Thank you for your reply! Keep up the good work.

  5. shahzayb Says:

    Did you guys use the compressed footage from the 5D?

    Working on Premier Pro CS5.5, was it good, I saw your film a couple days back and it was amazing. I thought you guys were joking about ‘SHOT ON 5D’. How did you manage to use H264 footage so awesome and up on the 60 foot screen ? Please do reply. Thanks

  6. Mike McCarthy Says:

    Yes we used the compressed H.264 files from the 5D. CS5.5 was good, it can finally handle large projects stabily. Removing noise and adding grain helped for the “big screen.”

  7. shahzayb Says:

    Hey, Mike. So what type of post equipment were you using ? would you like to tell us ?

  8. Mike McCarthy Says:

    We were using HP Z800 workstations with Dreamcolor LCD monitors. We have ProAvio disk arrays, as well as a Fiber SAN from Rorke Data. We monitor on Panasonic Plasma displays, connected to AJA Kona cards. Is that the info you were looking for?

  9. LnCStyle Says:

    First of all, awesome work on AOV.

    You mentioned upres-scaling the 5D h264 footage to 2k with Dark Energy… I am on Mac based platform running FCPX. I am searching high and low for Mac based software options that do the same. Might you have any recommendations? Thanks!

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