The biggest challenge we faced in the DI finishing process for Act of Valor, was preparing for three different aspect ratios for our deliverable, without sacrificing resolution. All of our footage was shot 1.78 (16×9) and we were required to deliver 2.39, 178, and 1.33 versions of the film. The normal way to do this is to letterbox and reposition for finishing in 2.39, and then use that master to make the final 1.78 and 1.33 copies by cropping out the excess on the sides. The problem is that you lose a nearly half of your image resolution in that process, which we couldn’t afford to do with the 5D source material, if we wanted a crisp looking 16×9 version for Blu-Ray and other 1080p distribution.
Our solution was to do our entire post process on the full 16×9 image, with software letterboxing applied for monitoring. This allowed us to maintain the full scope of our image throughout the post process, but required some creative project management. All reframing had to be deferred until after we split out the versions for different aspect ratios. That meant that all titles had to be applied after that point as well, so they wouldn’t get repositioned out of sight in 2.39. And any changes we made to the movie after we split into different versions would need to be made to each version, and carefully tracked.
Using Premiere Pro CS5.5 to do the final online of the movie provided us with an unusual solution. We kept the full aspect ratio footage in a source sequence, which is where we would usually add changes and VFX shots. As we further processed the footage, new versions would stack up in this sequence. (Original shot, Twixtor render, colored-corrected export, etc.) We would export from this sequence to send footage to color correction, or our texture and density passes.
Using a separate master sequence, with that source sequence as the main source clip on the timeline, I sliced up that instance based on timing from an imported offline EDL. (PageDown, CRTL+K, repeat) Next I duplicated that sequence of clips across three layers, one for each aspect ratio. I then went through one layer at a time, and used the motion effect to zoom in or shift any shot that needed adjustment for that aspect ratio. This was usually vertical shift for 2.39, zoom for 1.78, and horizontal shift for 1.33, but varied greatly for different shots. For the 239 version, I brought in an Avid export as a guide-track, with a garbage matte to split the screen, so I could easily match the reframing Scott had done in the Avid. For the other two aspect ratios, the focus was on cropping out anything that didn’t belong in the shot, and I reframed based on what I knew Scott’s intent was for the shots. We also added the subtitles and other overlays on higher layers on this master sequence. All preview outputs for review, and the final DPXs, were exported from this sequence.
When it came time to prepare slightly altered cuts for certain markets, we were able to do that by further using the existing “master” sequences as source in new timelines. It was easy to trim out sections, and usually the new clips were added to an “additional source” sequence, which was then cut into the new timeline with a separate layer for each aspect ratio. So as long as the correct aspect ratio layers were selected in BOTH the “master” sequence and the new altered timeline, it all synced up perfectly.
This allowed every change in the movie to be easily propagated across all versions automatically, which both saved time and prevented mistakes. I was able to do simple dust busting fixes in Photoshop, even at the last minute, and as long as my changes were made in the source sequence, it would be corrected in every aspect ratio, of every version of the cut.
With this framework in place, we exported the source sequences to be processed in Cinnafilm’s Dark Energy software. We used their tools to de-noise the H.264 based footage from the 5D, and add back in a level of synthetic film grain, to better match with the footage that had been shot on film. Shane and Scott worked with our texture artist Monte Contractor to dial in the look they wanted, especially for the darker scenes, (where you find the most noise) which was then applied in varying degrees to the rest of the movie. Once that process was completed, the exported DPXs were just added as a new layer to the source sequence, and were ready to use in any version we needed. The same was true for when we had a separate film density pass done near the end of our finishing process.
Once all of our preparations were done, I just selected all the correct layers for a given aspect ratio across all the sequences, and queued up all of the DPX exports for that version of the movie in Adobe Media Encoder. Once they were going, I would select the layers for a different aspect ratio, and get that queued. We exported DPXs directly to external USB3 drives, to save time and space, with so many versions to deliver, at 1.5TB each. I then used those DPXs as source for Cineform compressed AVI files, created by batching Cineform’s DPX2CF.exe tool. This allowed us to keep a compressed version of our exports on site, and gave us the ability to verify that there were no render errors, since the outgoing DPXs were the source for our compressed AVIs. I was able to do all of the final exports in a single weekend to three 3TB external drives, and schedule the read-back conversions to happen when other drives were being written to by Media Encoder, since the individual USB3 drives were technically the bottleneck. Once Laser Pacific had all of our master DPXs, they created the DCP, did the HDCam-SR laybacks, and printed it out to film.