DI Finishing for Act of Valor

Posted by Mike McCarthy on May 4th, 2012 filed in Workflow Ideas

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.

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5 Responses to “DI Finishing for Act of Valor”

  1. paladin Says:

    Amazing story there, Mike. I’ll look forward to your new work

  2. Shivam Aher Says:

    The most best detailed articles on the work experience of using 5D on a feature film I have read till now. Mike, I have one request, I appreciate the fact that you took time to share your experience of using 5D and what solutions you opted on problems caused by it in Post of Act of Valor , but can you please take some more time out and make a proper suggested workflow for DSLR Film-making, specially when making a feature film using 5D mk-III? I know most of the factors of it our scattered around in the ‘-for-act-of-valor’ article series of yours but, it would be more helpful if you could make a suggested workflow plan for people using only 5D on a big project such as a commercial release feature film.
    Pardon me if its already out there and I missed to notice it.
    Awaiting your reply!


  3. Mike McCarthy Says:

    The workflow is much different today, since many things have changed. Shooting 24p solves 75% of the issues we had. The software is better too. Do you want to edit in Premiere or Avid? Finish in Premiere, Resolve, or something else?

  4. Shivam Aher Says:

    Thanks for replying!

    So what would you suggest regarding converting the footage in what formats for editing and what should be the final export format settings, also what things we should keep in mind in the following few Scenarios?

    1: Shooting a 90min feature film in 5D Mark III h.264 .MOV 24fps 1080p, editing in Premiere, VFX in AE and also finish in Premiere.

    2: Shooting a 90min feature film in 5D Mark III h.264 .MOV 24fps 1080p, editing in FCP, VFX in AE and finish in Resolve.

    3: Shooting a 90min feature film in 5D Mark III h.264 .MOV 24fps 1080p, editing in Avid, VFX in AE and finish in Premiere.

    4: Shooting a 90min feature film in 5D Mark III h.264 .MOV 24fps 1080p, editing in Avid, VFX in AE and finish in Resolve.

    Also what would you suggest regarding the copying and backing up of footage being recorded on field during the shoot? Cycle the same memory cards after copying and backing up or use multiple large storage space cards, give new ones once the old are full, keep the old ones safely and label them correctly as back ups after copying data to system for labelling and sorting of each shot?

  5. Mike McCarthy Says:

    Shoot and edit in 23.976 regards of what applications you end up using. In Premiere the default DSLR sequence settings are usually sufficient. In FCP, export an EDL to Resolve, not a video file. FCP imports certain DSLR footage in the wrong color space. Avid gives you the best options for interfacing with a profession sound house, if that is an issue. An EDL from there is Premiere works very well, that is what we do.
    For backing up media during shooting, make sure you go to two separate disks (as opposed to a single RAID) before formating the memory cards. But once that is done, there is no reason not to re-use the memory cards instead of archiving them. Never ship the separate data drives together.

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