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The work of the DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) is integral to developing the look of movie, episodic or unscripted content before it reaches post, and calls for both technical expertise and creativity. Linking the technical demands with the creative goals while the director and cameras are still on-set helps to ensure the team can achieve the desired aesthetic early in the process.

DITs gain special importance for virtual productions, where work traditionally reserved for post is pulled forward into the production process. Local 600 DIT Sam Petrov has made a speciality of this type of workflow for a wide range of scripted and unscripted projects. Sam makes a point of keeping up with how the DIT role is evolving within the wider on-set environment, and how dynamic the systems involved have become. He customises his gear for each project, and has begun working with AJA ColorBox for set-up and look management with live grading.

Extreme Multi-cam

Sam recently finished an unscripted dating series for one of the streaming platforms, setting the initial look for the season and ensuring it worked across the various components of the show. A fairly extreme multi-cam production, the show used over 30 digital cinema cameras, plus a similar number of robotic cameras. Several of the cameras were recording up to 70TB of 4K footage per day to AJA Ki Pro Ultra 12G ProRes and DNx recorder/players and meanwhile, the AJA ColorBox, which works with HDR/SDR algorithms and LUT colour transforms, supported live grading on-set in 1080 SDR.

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“ColorBox gives us the confidence that the look of all the different camera angles match up in terms of colour. It’s robust, cost-efficient and fills a real niche,” Sam said. “Our profession has needed a device like this for some time. Just having the ability to generate a signal up to 4K and test a system is invaluable.”

Matching Looks

Working with a team, he helped establish the look for a range of repeated motif elements and scenes used for the studio portion of the show, such as a lounge where the dates are held and the hallway for transition shots. Together, they applied defined looks across the different cameras, each with its own unique characteristics and colour science. Sam spent time matching the different cameras in the context of the available hardware on-set.

However, given the scale and genre of the show, he didn’t work from his usual DIT cart but instead worked inside an entire technical room, which included equipment like the Ki Pro Ultra 12Gs. Equipment operators ensured that no signal errors occurred and that recordings were happening at the right time, among other tasks.

Not surprisingly, the workflow and interactions on-set diverged from traditional film or other episodic projects. With so many cameras, devices, colour gear and other equipment to manage, Sam would arrive at the tech room early and collaborate with the lighting director, technical supervisor and other team members to examine all the technical aspects of the project. He was one of several key people involved in executing the creative and technical look for the cameras, the show and different motifs.

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A Holistic View

“In post, having a holistic understanding of processes, workflow and ultimate vision becomes important. As I moved from post production to on-set roles in my career, I found myself working upstream. When monitoring the screen for a project like this, I recognise the things I need to watch out for from a colour standpoint, and can correct our course earlier in the process. A device like ColorBox is helpful in this respect,” said Sam.

“It’s really fun to be able to get the dynamic feedback that ColorBox supports in this environment. I'm able to live grade without having to worry about running into limitations. While I’m currently monitoring and colouring most projects in 1080, having the ability to also work in 4K as it becomes more prevalent is a huge advantage.”

Live Grade

For live grading, Sam set up his hardware, including the ColorBox, in the tech room. The team supplied a line with a dedicated router that allowed him to choose the sources coming into his system. This made it easier to work with the show director and lighting director to examine all the various set-ups and cameras.

Once they had established a base look that they were happy with, the team could quickly switch between cameras to compare, with the live grading aspect in mind, how it would look from another angle in that same space, or the same angle but in a different room. This flexibility was essential with filming taking place across a dozen identical rooms, all with analogous camera configurations. Sam had to ensure everything correlated from one space to the next.

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One Device, Multiple Tasks

Furthermore, using ColorBox means he can pull out a single standalone device and get to work. He said, “I navigate to the web UI, crank out a colour test pattern and then change different frame rates to whatever we need for the technical standard. I know we’re getting exactly what’s needed from the hardware before we even get to the creative side of colour.”

He also finds the ability to stack multiple ColorBoxes useful, generating different signals with different test patterns, resolutions or frame rates. Sam and his team can carry out very precise tasks on the fly, when they need to shift focus to more time-sensitive work. “Having a tool like ColorBox is a great asset,” he said. “It gives me peace of mind and makes it easier to deal calmly with situations that present complex challenges.” www.aja.com