Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Theatrical Successes

I've been missing from much of my usual online forum and twitter activities over the last 10 days, I've been flat out with the 48 Hour Film Project, my annual step in the creative side of the business. Lots of new things to report this year. First non-tech thing is CineForm staff members Jake, Tim, Craig and myself, formed two teams rather than just one this year. While this was saddened me at first, the results do not show anything negative from our divided efforts, both resulting films received more awards than the sum of our previous 5 year history with this competition. My team film draw the genre Detective/Cop to make "The Case of the Wild Hare" in a comic Film Noir style, winning an audience award a two jury prizes. Tim and Jake's team draw genre Film de Femme, shot a thriller, and got a jury prize and runner up for best of San Diego (out of 47 submitted films.)

Check both films out on Vimeo in HD, or just watch embedded.

The Case of the Wild Hare from David Newman on Vimeo.

Touch from Jake Segraves on Vimeo.

Now for the technical: one film used an SI-2K (running beta 2.0 software -- nice), a Kenyon gyro stabler (interesting), and range of 30+ year-old C-mount primes and zooms (classic), the other used an HV30 with a lens adapter with Canon still lenses. Can you tell which is which? Shooting technology is clearly only a small factor in making an enjoyable film, as both films won against very polished projects shooting from 5Ds to Red Ones. While the shooting technology could hardly me more different, the post workflows where very alike. Editing was done is Premiere Pro CS3 (Windows) on i7s or dual quad Core2 Intel systems (OSes range form XP64 to Win7.) CS4 wasn't used only for HDSDI monitoring reasons, as we haven't got that working yet. CS4 would have helped as we always used the beta features of our own tools, and one of the new features only worked in CS4 (we didn't realize until mid-post.) Both films where shoot for 2.35:1 presentation, as 16:9 has become so TV like these days. The new feature that neither team got to use was an addition to First Light, enabling 2.35:1 crop and centering as Active Metadata -- would have saved some time in post for positioning and rendering. First Light was used extensively on both projects, all grading was done as a real-time operation in First Light, particularly aided with the new auto sync. feature which keeps First Light connected with the NLE's timeline. No color correction was needed within Premiere itself.

More on First Light. One thing that helped us was a range of 3D LUTs (look files) that we have been preparing for sometime. These LUTs are now available for download to use with your Neo HD/4K and Prospect under Windows (Mac versions soon.) In such compressed schedule, you get very little time to work on your look, I think I put about 30-40 minutes into color correcting Wild Hare, about twice the time I had for color work for last year's project, but it is not much so prepared LUTs helped greatly. The Active Metadata LUT system, works on the final output for the image, with all the linear light processing for white balance, color matrixing (saturation) and channel gains, lift, and gamma being applied to the input of the LUT. This makes it pretty easy to mix and match a range of sources to produce on common look (stylized or not.) As I was working with two co-directors, one of whom had never working in film before (only stage work), I prepared different look profiles as switchable color databases, so the entire timeline could have is look/style switched dynamically. This helped showcase possible finishing styles without impacting the editing session, which went into 47th hour.

Here is an example of a before and after First Light processing.



After our two teams had submitted, the remainder of the week was spent preparing the other 45 films of presentation in CineForm format out to the Christie 2K projector to the local UltraStar theater. As CineForm is San Diego 48 Hour sponsor we requested that 1080p CineForm AVI/MOV be the default HD submission format (we gave all teams a 30-day Neo HD license,) fortunately more than half of films where submitting this way, making our life easier. It is was the remaining SD submissions, with its many pixel aspect ratios, letter-boxing, pillar-boxing, cropping, and pulldown variations, that was a time consuming headache (upres'ing it to look decent.)

For theatrical presentation we were prepared to use a Wafian F-1 as a playback server, which has worked flawlessly in previous years, and is not so rarely used for this purpose (as works really well -- F-1(s) where use to present HD at Comicon.) Unfortunately an hour before the first theatrical presentation the drive sled that goes into the Wafian crashed. This piece of bad luck put as in a panic, as it was going to take more than the remaining hour to prep a new drive with the 23 films that were screening that evening. Fortunately Tim had been experimenting with scheduled playback using, CineForm AVIs, a Blackmagic card and the open source Media Player Classic, and his system than all the films on it. Basically a cheap PC with a $300 HDSDI card hooked to a theater projector, become an awesome 10-bit 1080p presentation system. This was not flawless, it stopped about 7 films into the second screening group (resulting in 45 seconds of black as Tim run up into the projection booth to give MPC a kick.) While a Wafian would never have done that, the cheapness of this presentation solution made us pursue the same setup the next night and for the best of San Diego screening. There is still work to tweak this solution, but something like this is needed, as it is crazy that San Diego is still the only city to project in HD for this international festival, this being San Diego's third HD year.

Extending our experience from the local festival,we want every festival to stop presenting DVDs or Beta (still so common,) when most sources are film or now HD or originated. The solution has got to be cheap and simple, to allow for last minute playlist changes for pre-rolls, differing frame rates (24p, 30p and 60i,) audio level adjustments and skipping bars and tone, etc, i.e. BluRay will not do. We had one beautifully master film this year, that had the wrong black levels, put it through First Light, fixed it in seconds without any rendering. Duane Trammel, San Diego 48 Hour producer, used the playlist flexibility, to inter-cut interviews with several of the filmmakers in this short problem -- it was a pretty cool touch. More of this style of flexible is what is needed, and we are hoping to help.