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Digital Vision: Changing On Set Color Workflow

Digital Vision would like to change the way you work.  With a twenty-two year history in the production industry, they are not the newest kid on the block. Companies ranging from Technicolor to CBS to the National Library of Congress have relied on their products to assist with their color correction needs.   Their reach continues well beyond the US with clients in 44 countries world-wide and headquarters in Stockholm, Los Angeles, London and Hong Kong.

What many people are not aware of are the advancements Digital Vision is making in the data management realm.  In addition to data conforming systems, the company has also introduced the Nucoda line that assist with the digital intermediate process in both 2k and 4k.

411 Publishing recently had the chance to speak with Digital Vision president Simon Cuff about his company’s role in data management and color correction for the upcoming Walden Media release: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

411:  Would you explain some of the different ways Digital Vision assisted in the aspects of production on “Dawn Treader?”

Cuff:  This was Walden’s first in the Narnia franchise that was to be shot digitally.  There was a lot of opportunity for more accuracy in terms of the look from the start of the shoot right through to the pro-production process.  So, we started doing some tests based around the ASC CDL (a workflow system for the color decision list).  This allowed us to see if we could have looks set when they were doing test shoots, and then doing what they are calling “on-set color correction” and “dailies color correction.”  This ensured that the dailies files given to producers and editorial reflected the actual look of the movie, so everyone can be really comfortable with what the movie’s going to look like, from the first time they are seeing the images.

We brought in three or four other products that produce CDLs, and we ensured that when they rendered through our pipeline they could match the look with a 3D calibration cube and the ASC CDL value would be visually identical to any other venders.  They could be confident that they were looking at the right thing.  With the dailies, we actually did some extra work to allow them to get meta data from any on-set recorder box in XML (extensible markup language), and actually tie that into the MXF (material exchange format) and put that into the MXF header.  The editorial rushes that were created had all the meta data from on-set allowing no chance of anything getting lost.

In addition to the system for on-set dailies color, they had another set for SUV effects so that the VFX is being farmed out to a number of different production companies in the UK and their own production office.  They can then see the digitals of what is coming back, and they can view them separately from the DI.  And they’ve got one system for doing the full final DI and they basically are going to be doing color on that throughout the VFX process, so that they can be setting and refining the look.

411: Would a benefit be that you can get the exact look the director and cinematographer want without having to do a lot of extra work on the post production end?

Cuff:  Exactly.  One can actually give little tweak passes for the different deliverables.  We have maintained the CDL through the pipeline, so when it goes into the Avid, it’s in the Avid bin, and when you export the lists from the Avid back to the Nicoda for say, DI conform, we then can link off the meta data to the original files from the onsite capture box, the DXL files, and also set up the CDL values, so again you are back with the same look, but it’s not burnt in; it’s soft, the color has access to the actual meta data that created those looks.  The director of photography knows what we’ve decided on-set, but you can also compare it with the genuine shots and you can tweak it as much as you need to.

411: A movie like “Dawn Treader” combines a lot of effects with real people and green screen. Does that make it challenging to separate your human element with the VFX?

Cuff:  Well, there are a few things: good high-end cameras have a lot less noise than film.  With the previs you can actually use the tool with green and blue screens to do the basic comps to work out the text work in the CGI background.  This also enables you to publish either the rotoscope maps for the characters or the keys from the compositing systems and bring them into the grade.  You’re actually going to be setting up almost every single element with its own alpha channel so they can quite easily grade every single character separately, which is something you can’t do if you’re not tied into the VFX department.  So now, not only will you be able to have each shot coming back with the final comp, you’ll be having up to 30 different maps with every different character in the picture.

411:  I’m sure a lot of data being transferred was related to color, however, were you very integrated in all other elements of the workflow?

Cuff:  We tried as much as we can.  Whether is s the DI conform, or VFX, or dailies, or just the QC (quality control) station, the producers and directors are always in front of our system using it to look up the material they captured and how much they can push it.  We are very keen to make sure you don’t have any meta data loses as you go through the different phases of production.  Color balance is kind of the reason people come to us originally, but they start looking at all the other things we can offer, and it’s quite often about how we can really optimize their workflow and get them the vehicles that they need to keep from tying up the main system.

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