‘EXIT’ is the first feature film by director Marek Polgar. The film has been shot over three years on the RED ONE camera. Cail Young at Inspiration Studios, who carried out post production, talks about his workflow and taking advantage of RED’s colour science.
|Throughout the project Cail Young at Inspiration Studios in Melbourne provided cameras and digital workflow support. As well as the complete RED ONE package with lenses and support, Inspiration provided the clapper/loader with data management kit for varying environments including guerrilla city shooting, rushes and offline file generation - from very early RED footage in 2008 through subsequent versions. They also prepared the media for VFX, and the online and pre-grade conversion of the entire film to DPX.
Camera and Kit
“The camera was an original RED ONE, at first with Super Speeds for lenses, and later changing to RED Pro Primes and a wide Zeiss Ultra Prime. To create the look the director and DP were after, optical diffusion and graduated NDs were used throughout. The data kit was basically a MacBook Pro and a couple of hard drives, but for the more mobile days we would shoot to the RED drives and backup after wrap on a Mac Pro at our office. As the shoot wore on, we evolved our data kit to include eSATA hard drive bays and portable power systems as well as pocket-size CF card backup devices for the days we spent on foot in the city.”
The locations varied from city rooftops to house interiors to high rise office blocks. A small amount of handheld and Steadicam footage is included in the film but they mostly captured tripod and dolly shots. This was DP Sasha Whitehouse’s first experience shooting with the RED ONE. Prior to this he’d been shooting with the Panasonic HVX with a 35mm lens adapter, which he hadn’t found was an ideal set-up, and he got to like the RED’s shooting features from the beginning. The RED footage was supplemented later with additional material shot in public places around Melbourne, using a Canon 7D for better access.
Almost all scenes were shot in daylight, with a single camera and a lighting kit to give enough control for the look the director wanted. Fluorescent lights were mainly used, Kino and HMI 2.5s. At first, the RED image quality under tungsten lights was hard to control but this improved with later firmware updates. Accurate on-set monitoring of the actual looks of the image, for which they used broadcast monitors, took getting used to. The ‘false colour’ monitoring mode, which uses colour-coding to represent exposure levels across the image, has been useful to Sasha.
The Inspiration team started out using Redrushes for rushes, as there was no alternative at that stage. Cail said, “While we did use Clipfinder for shot review, we weren't using it for offline files. Eventually we invested in a Red Rocket accelerator card and used RocketCINE for rushes.” Marek and Sasha hadn’t tried to comprehensively assess and compare the footage from start to end of production until they were ready for the final assembly and edit, but the changes that RED image quality had undergone were very evident. Initially, for example, RED had not addressed skin tones specifically but these also improved with firmware updates and, since the shoot, particularly with the new chip.
In a STORM
Cail said, “I tried all my usual tools for this and none of them could handle the combination of three year old media, the need to apply the gamma curve and reliable export of such a large QuickTime file.” Later, he tried using STORM from The Foundry. STORM enabled Cail to import the media, select the VFX shots and put them onto a timeline. He then built a look with RedColor2 and RedGamma2 set in the RED effect, leaving the colour temperature and exposure alone. He could select all the shots on the timeline and apply the look, then export the timeline as a single QuickTime file as required, to deliver to the VFX team.
Also, because it interprets the RAW footage recorded by the camera, the new technique can be applied to any footage shot on RED, old or new. “The main advantage was that we were able to deliver footage to the grade that already had great skin tones and excellent retention of the RED's wide dynamic range, without forcing the colourist to 'fix' skin tones across the board as would have been the case even just a couple of months before the shoot ended. The project wrapped before the MX sensor was delivered to us, but it does make a huge difference to shadow noise.”
Patrick McCabe had entered the project in 2010 and worked at various times during last 12 months of production. About 90 per cent of the footage he worked with was from the RED, which he intercut with the footage from around the city and some time lapse shots that had been recorded on the 7D, plus some stills by an outside photographer shot on a different camera. The time lapse footage was assembled in After Effects. Patrick separated these different media types, and the VFX shots, to different layers on the FCP time line, which helped the team at Inspiration conform the media correctly.
“Patrick sent a folder of bins, which STORM accepted straight away, and within ten seconds it was exporting the sequence that we had been struggling with,” Cail said. “We also put the whole film through STORM to prepare the pre-grade master. It was really useful to work on a stable product with a timeline that let me scrub around the whole film.”
|Through the Filmmaker’s Eye
For Director Marek Polgar of Surface Tension Films, making ‘EXIT’ has meant learning new ways to control the looks and deliver the message of a film. “In moving from 16mm and lower end digital shoots to the RED, the biggest advantage for me was the large flat screen broadcast monitors. Being able to see the frame and performance accurately was a major shift directorially. As the RED shoots raw and displays a representation of the image through the monitor, it ‘s not an ideal indicator of the final image but this wasn’t such a concern for me. I was trusting Sasha’s ability to compose the light in the image and we also planned to give it a fairly abstract, final colour grade – pallid skin tones, washed out greys and blues, tobacco yellows - quite a surreal world that wouldn’t feel like the city we shot in.”
“The main challenge of the 7D footage, as opposed to the RED, was the lack of information in the image. You can’t grade or manipulate 7D footage to anywhere near the extent you can RED, but what it lacked in visual capacity, it made up for in mobility, allowing us to shoot in several places we couldn’t reach with a full film crew. Furthermore, we used it specifically to evoke the city as a separate character in the film, not within scenes. In this way, the low-fi feel of the footage, including artefacts, worked for the narrative.”
“The creative grade, done on LUSTRE, had four predominant looks that we wanted to develop, but we were concerned about holding the looks together as one piece. The city that the main character moves through is a maze, and we wanted to visually give a sense of her moving through different worlds, although we shot in the one city. Our colourist very successfully unified the disparate looks we wanted to achieve. There was abundant information in the frame, which allowed us to push the grade in the direction we wanted to go.”
While it may have been easier to have stuck with their original RED software to maintain a more consistent quality throughout production, Marek pointed out the value of having competent, flexible editorial and post production support like Patrick and Inspiration Studios. “We came to RED after a number of digital projects where we had no one handling the backend. Managing the production and post workflow had been much harder, and coordinating the varying skills and knowledge among the crew when you’re not an expert is something I wouldn’t do again. We ultimately achieved our creative goals because Inspiration could handle the technical components to get us through.”
|Words: Adriene Hurst Images: Courtesy of Surface Tension Films and Inspiration Studios|