Why You Need a 3D Time Machine

•April 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Yes I’m going to blog about Post technology and workflows, but I’m also going to talk about trends and give opinions.

My wife and I decided not to see Hot Tub Time Machine the other night, opting instead for Clash of the Titans.  The interesting thing is, we both agreed we would rather see Hot Tub Time Machine before we left for the theater…

So why did we see Clash of the Titans?

To answer that let’s…  Step back in time.

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The first movie my wife and I saw together in the theater was The Wedding Crashers.  (One we supplied Avids and storage on while I was managing Orbit Digital West.)

Now, being in “the biz” and having an aversion to crowds, I had confined my movie going for some years to the Hollywood Archlight theater, which was snooty as hell, but policed things like arriving late, talking during the movie and using the theater as your personal business office with multiple phone lines and FAX machines.

But I was in courtship mode and trying to prove to my wife-to-be that I was a man of the people.

(I am not a man of the people. )

I LOVE crowds when they enhance and experience, like at a Red Sox game.

Huge fan BTW.  If you’re a Yankee fan, I probably won’t work on your movie, though Michael Apted (Director of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is an Angel Fan and that was mildly acceptable.  We streamed the playoffs into the theater we built in Oz and watched the Angels pummel the Sox during last year’s playoffs.  Only consolation is that we got Lackey, who did much of the destroying.

Rick Shaine, the editor on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — by far one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with — is a Sox fan.  I do not see his overall wonderfulness and the fact he chose the right team as coincidental.  Most good people are Sox fans.

But I digress.

I detest crowds when they merely get in my way.   Then it’s not a crowd.  At best its a line.

Movie going for me is best done without the crowds.  I know everyone doesn’t feel that way, but I do.  Yes, an event movie can bring people together… but no.  Get out of my way and stop munching on that popcorn so loud!  And I KNOW that wasn’t just your cell phone playing Tequila!

When in Australia working on Narnia, I happened into a snooty theater on the Gold Coast to watch Inglorious Bastards during a giant Australian Rugby League playoff game.

The place was barren.  I had a first-class airline seat and private wait staff at my disposal in a theater of total solitude.

I loved it!  Why?  Because it was the closest thing to being at home…  If I were much, much richer.

Another benefit of these hoity toity theaters is that they care about things like displaying the picture with proper luminance…  So I watched in bliss in a vacuum devoid of pesky people.  And I didn’t have to scream, “Where my lumens at!?  Bring me my foot candles!”

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Back in the time machine…

Let’s contrast that Nirvana to The Wedding Crashers, which my wife and I saw on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

That’s where things almost got violent…

Twenty minutes after the lights dimmed, I was watching commercials.  Not fun little featurettes about not talking or advertising concessions…

Like car commercials.  Like soda pop commercials.

I don’t mind watching commercials when it’s fair trade for say, an NCAA tournament.  But when I pay to have commercials hurled at me, I begin to do crazy things like make lists of companies I must boycott FOREVER AND EVER111!!11!!!!!!!

When the movie finally started, it went down hill.  Between people arriving fashionably late and having to strain to see images on the dim screen, families of eight decided it was perfectly fine to talk as if they were huddled around a blanket with their boom box at the park.

It struck me before the end of the first scene that I would much rather be…  At home.  Now there’s the key idea…  Compared to the non-hoity theater going experience, most non-Heathens prefer to be at home.  There, I said it.  Now Heathens, and there are many of them, love to coexist in the anarchy that is the mall multiplex.  But regular, law-abiding, tax paying,  nose breathing Americans would rather see your rank-and-file movie at home.

See that’s the thing.  Around 1999, I remember marveling at a 42″ HD television that cost $20,000.  Today, I can get a far superior set for $1,500.  My Bose surround sound package cost around a grand.   Home theaters today may not match the presentation of your local multiplex, but for movies like (here’s where it comes full circle…)

…It’s good enough!  And the popcorn doesn’t cost $9.00!  And you know what else — I don’t even have late fees!  Hell, I don’t even have to leave my nest.  I can stream a good movie from my PS3 using Netflix.

You know what Blockbuster…  You got me on that $61 late fee for Lethal Weapon 4.  I didn’t like it, but I accepted it.  Just like I accept your demise.  Gleefully.  Movies over Netflix are best served cold.  Come to think of it, I think I’ll stream Lethal Weapon 4 tonight.

When people decide they want to go through the trouble of fighting the crowds, of paying the money to go to a theater, the experience has to stand out…  And in a good way.  This is why the average box office receipts for Imax and 3D theaters is significantly higher.

Clash of the Titans was in 3D.

My wife and I knew that we could not duplicate the experience at home without costumes.

As is becoming the norm, we opted for the 3D movie experience.

I had problems with the use of the 3D in Clash of the Titans from a technical perspective…  For one, the only scenes that were truly stereoscopic and not 2D converted to 3D were the action sequences.  (And some of the aerial second unit.)  These looked great, particularly the scorpion, Medusa and Kraken scenes!   But the theater we saw it in (Alamo Draft House Lakeline here in Austin) did not have nearly the proper luminance…  With 3D glasses on, you’re only seeing half of the luminance in each eye, so you’re halving the overall brightness put out by the projector…

Stated otherwise, a 3D projector has to project twice as bright as 2D.

Bulbs on HD projectors are expensive, around $5,000, and they only last around 200 hours in 2D, let alone 3D…

This means that in 3D, you only get 50 showings of your average two hour flick before you have to take that financial lump.  (More than compensated for by increase in box office in 3D theaters, but still.)

The answer for Alamo Draft House seemed to be projecting darker to get more life out of the bulb (or to squeeze what’s left out of a bulb that’s going dim.)  The image was probably somewhere about 10 ft. lamberts when it should have been 16.  (In all fairness, I saw Alice in Wonderland two days earlier at the Alamo Draft House on South Lamar and the presentation was spot on.  That happened to be the same exact theater that hosted the 3D Stereoscopic panel discussion at South by Southwest.)

But Alamo Theater 5 in Lakeline…  Dark.  Inexcusably dark.  Russel crow on Johnny Walker dark.

Add to this that 2D to 3D merely layers flat 2D images rather than providing genuine depth from foreground to background, and the overall experience of wearing the glasses and straining the eyes made it hard to justify watching Clash of the Titans in 3D versus 2D (though we liked the movie overall and loved the action in 3D.)  I’m not saying Clash of the Titans should not have been a 3D movie — I’m saying they should have shot in 3D.

(In later posts, I’ll talk specifically about the different 3D processes and how to achieve true stereoscopic depth in an image, rather than merely layering flat 2D images…)

Another truth:  Because there is an increasingly differentiated experience watching a 3D movie, people will increasingly wait for the DVD release of your rank-and-file 2D movies.

Studio executives run off of fear like a 69 Impala runs off of gasoline.

No executive wants to have to defend why their movie didn’t make $100 million bazillion dollars because it wasn’t released in 3D.  As audiences become aware of the difference between layered 2D images and true 3D, then studios and directors will insist on the genuine article.

In 18 months, you won’t want to be the studio executive on trial defending why you made a comedy that tested incredibly well, but no one saw it in the theater.  So look for movies to be shot and released in 3D that you wouldn’t expect…  Dramas, comedies, westerns…  Because in the end, audiences have voted with their feet and their wallets…  They don’t want to go out if the experience isn’t distinct and superior to what’s at home.

So if you’re keen on making the majority of your box office on DVD, cable and the plane, then step on into a hot tub time machine and go back to the year 2009…  Because today if you want me to get off my couch and come see your movie, you better give me a snooty tooty theater, a 3D spectacle or an Imax screen.

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Post Production Film Revolution

•April 7, 2010 • 2 Comments

So I started this Blog.

I have been a Post professional since 1994. As a former founding partner of Orbit Digital, I had the opportunity to provide a myriad of services for hundreds of feature films. My most recent major job was the latest Narnia film, where I spent five months of location in Australia helping to manage the largest all file-based Post workflow in history.  (Most of the credit lies with the good folks over at Walden Media.)

I am CTO of the Mobile Services division of a SIXTEEN19, which has a DI facility and creative editorial in New York. We are managing complex Post workflows for several major films, including the latest Chronicles of Narnia:  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

So what’s new about Post (besides 3D) which is ubiquitous now because of the box office receipts of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland? (I’ll talk plenty about 3D technology and workflows in this blog.)

Everything! And I mean that…

It’s a very exciting time in Post!  More changes will happen in the next five years than the past fifteen… And when I started in Post, I had a Quadra with 28MB of RAM…

The Post model has been more or less the same for 100 years. Yes, I stand by that. Tools have changed (including computers,) but the process itself has been a series of walled gardens where you made lists to match back later to original elements.

You shot something on set.  You then sent it to the lab to process images and have dailies made.  Cuts and lists were made in editorial.   VFX work, finishing and mixing largely happened in their own worlds isolated from one another…

Each of these worlds was its own kingdom largely mystified from the others…  Separate professionals, processes, cultures, communication methods, companies, vendors, etc.

So what’s new?

The walls are coming down.

Value in Post today comes from communication and collaboration between kingdoms and demystification of the processes such that they are unified.

Yes, one unified Production to Post process… Believe it.  It is happening now.

How?  DAM! Begs layup jokes… “I went to a DAM conference last month and listened to a bunch of DAM people talk about their DAM workflows.”

DAM stands for Digital Asset Management and it is the next wave, the central idea, of the future of filmmaking.

Seriously… DAM platforms will emerge in the next 18 months that battle for supremacy and make the filmmaking process more powerful, flexible, cheaper and better.

DAM is tearing down the walls between departments and unifying the Production to Post process into a single, networked environment.

How exactly?

Well, let’s just state an obvious truth:

Despite Kodak’s ad campaign to appeal to nostalgia to keep filmmakers on film, it’s all going digital, baby.  1s and 0s are your new celluloid. Metadata is your new silver halide crystal.

Sorry Kodak!  I love film, I really do, but the writing is on the wall.

In a couple years, decks will go away, film will go away and we’ll all be dealing in files. On the latest Narnia, we are all file based! The movie looks wonderful! It also served as a model for the future of feature film Post and collaboration, thanks to the fantastic executive and technical team at Walden Media and Fox.

So how can Digital Asset Management (DAM) help with collaboration between departments? That will be a large part of this blog, but for now I’m going to start with a few central ideas.

1) A company like Sony has invested hundreds of millions in technology related to video and decks.  As decks go away, is it going to merely throw all that R&D out? Of course not! Sony just announced its “Media Backbone” DAM, which will integrate core technologies into a platform that helps organize, transcode and share files across networks and storage.

2) Avid Technology, maker of the leading Digital Editing Systems recently bought Blue Order. They are spending boatloads shifting their core model away from Digital Editing Systems to DAM…

Increasingly, DAM platforms will consolidate all data (as files) and metadata (data about your files) into one place.  Tools will develop around these platforms to allow professionals to build their movie around these files, while collaborating and project managing the process.

DAM is the trunk of the tree. Digital Editing Systems, networks, storage, transcoding solutions, 3D workflows, HD techologies, displays, LUTs, Digital Intermediate boxes — all just branches.

Let me give a real world example of what DAM can do for your film today and I’ll continue to elaborate here over the days, weeks and years…

Let’s take a hypothetical movie we’re going to make for $200 million dollars called GUMBO: KILLER CRAWDADS!

(Contrast this example to the 100-year-old process of walled gardens.)

Two years prior to principle photography, a Previz department works with the Director to build a complex animated version of the entire movie in Maya. Crawdads eat New Orleans with temp VO and rough effects.

A living storyboard, the animation shows the angles and camera setups that will guide production.

Here’s where a DAM comes into play:  You ingest the animated shots (lets say as .mov files) into a DAM and associate them with the lines in the script they accompany…

Easy enough.

Now it’s Day 1 of Production. On set, the Director pulls up a .mov file from the DAM, via a computer on the same intranet.

If the production is really slick, they can show that .mov through the viewfinder of the camera and help position actors in the Previz world. Avatar did this and was able to actually scale the whole Previz world AND the actors on set with software, all viewable through the viewfinder. Neat.

The Director sets up his shot to replace that Previz angle. The live action shot is shot, then ingested into the DAM and associated with the Previz shot, line of the script and perhaps the Art Department and Costume conceptual drawings that share metadata tags.

The Editor could search the DAM for each angle associated with each Previz angle and a rough cut could be accomplished by merely choosing angles from a Group Clip and replacing the original Previz shots with live action takes.  I have far too much respect for Editors to say it’s that simple, but the point is that using a centralized repository for all data opens the door to fluid collaborations such as this.

You can ingest virtually any media into the DAM, associate it with other media and view representative frames or images.

This live action shot will have tons of metadata entered about it, from timecode and time of day to descriptions of which actors are in the scene and any script notes, descriptions, or a slew of other data.

Even lens data from the camera can be entered into metadata fields, which can be used later by VFX for tracking… (Zoom, pan, tilt, focus, etc.)  By partially automating the tracking process, hours can be shaved off of the tracking of each shot.

Files and metadata can be made available instantly across departments with various professionals adding and appending metadata as needed.  Unlike the model of walled gardens, this opens the door to real-time collaboration and sharing of images, sounds, effects, metadata and ideas.

Now that all that information is logged in a centralized DAM, anyone on the same network can search, retrieve, transcode, share and append files.

(I believe that tools will develop around DAM platforms to allow professionals to work with files in specific ways relative to their job in the same way iPhone/iPad applications have emerged.)

A dailies professional a hundred yards from set can pull up an uncompressed shot that was just shot, apply color correction and pass that color correction as an XML file back to set where the Director can view it.

Upon approval, the dailies guy can then burn that look into dailies and transcode them as .mxf or ProRes media ready to be cut by editorial. The same dailies professional can then transcode h.264 files that he can pass through a secure Internet connection to executives half a world away.

Later, VFX can be passed files and metadata from the same DAM.

VFX professionals can use their own tools to build shots, track the data about those shots and pass them back into the DAM, along with any .dpx or .mov versions of the shot that can be placed into the current cut.

Meanwhile, half a world away, a Digital Intermediate artist can pull cuts, files and metadata directly from the DAM and have his DI box (Baselight, Nucoda, Luster, DaVinci, Clipster, Scratch, etc.) apply the current color settings and effects for each shot.

By sharing and modifying media and metadata from a centralized DAM, creative decisions and technical details (such as LUTs) can translate throughout the filmmaking process all the way from set to release — and even beyond as metadata transitions into a studio distribution system that can serve content on demand in various formats.

Traditionally, important creative decisions (such as the look decided upon by the Director of Photography) are lost along the way as media passes from one walled garden to the next.  By using a DAM effectively as your backbone, you can shave weeks off of a schedule while maintaining inspiration and quality control.

Depending on the job, it is increasingly possible for a DI artist to have 80% or more of the final color work completed by the time he or she starts working.

So DAM is changing Post!

This blog will now focus on the hard part… How do you take five million technologies and a DAM and integrate them into a Post workflow that saves you time and money while making you more collaborative and creative?

Stay tuned! That’s what we do at SIXTEEN19.

To leave you with one last concept: If you know what you’re doing, then today you can have Post services on location anywhere in the world that rival the best labs and facilities in New York or Los Angeles. Choosing the right tools and people to manage this process is key, but it is possible today and it’s only going to get better, faster and cheaper!

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