Setting up a scan once workflow

TIGERTIGER POST is a new post house in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was set up in October 2008 by Sunita Petrus and Al Isaac. Their target market is DI for television commercials and movies. Having spent a considerable time working in traditional post, they wanted to fully embrace the latest digital technology for their new DI business. As a result, they asked me to help them set up what we now call a ‘scan once’ workflow. Here’s an explanation of how it works and an overview of the many benefits it provides. How it works All film gets scanned by a Lasergraphics scanner straight after the shoot. The data goes directly into a BrightDrive media recording system which serves as the data infrastructure for the whole workflow. The film is scanned as a 10bit log file so all the black and highlight information is preserved. The dailies grade is done early morning in the da Vinci Resolve suite. All the material is colour corrected very quickly before playing out directly to Digital Betacam tape or exported as a QuickTime file. Scanned raw files are neither copied nor modified. The client is able to take the tape or data away to begin cutting the offline. A few days later the client returns with an EDL, an offline movie on tape or a QuickTime file together with any temp stills they may have made in Photoshop as a guide for the colourist. These elements are loaded onto the BrightDrive system via the Resolve interface. The EDL is used to conform the original 2K DPX files, and the offline movie is used to check that the 2K conform is correct. The Photoshop stills can be wiped in as a grading reference. The commercial can then be graded in context, ie, in edit order, which is a great advantage as everybody knows what shot cuts with what. Second passes, alternate grades and reframes can be labelled and automatically stored in their own folders when rendered. When finished, the DPX files are rendered with source timecode to the BrightDrive infrastructure or played to tape ready for online. Advantages of the Scan Once Workflow Compared with a traditional television commercial workflow, the ‘scan once’ approach provides a number of key benefits for operators and clients. Probably most importantly, it means that the negative is only handled once, so the chances of getting dust and dirt on the film, or damaging the negative, are significantly reduced. Also, film is not shuttled up and down as it is for conventional dailies and final grades. The colourist has all the advantages of using Resolve for the dailies grade, which makes it easier to get things closer to the director’s vision. At TIGERTIGER Post, the Resolve room is a ‘hero’ suite so the clients feel they are getting the best service. The final grade is a much smoother experience. It is very easy to experiment with different looks over the entire commercial, and matching is easier. Resolve has unlimited layers so we have much more creative control than we would with traditional systems. VFX guys get access to the scans straight away from the BrightDrive so they can start on complex shots or big wire removal jobs without having to wait for the final grade material as they would in conventional workflows. Scanning six 13-minute reels in one go rather than selecting 40 individual shots and scanning those as individual clips is better all round. The scanner runs the film out in one go with no stopping and starting and it means less equipment wear and tear as it avoids constantly having to transfer to SD/HD VTR machines. Everyone knows how expensive head damage can be. Testing the Workflow During workflow set-up, I worked with TIGERTIGER’s colourists Kevin Jude and Fanna Junaidi, exploring different ways to fine tune the ‘scan once’ workflow by simulating a ‘real’ job. We scanned 35mm negative film from a recent television commercial at 2K resolution at a frame rate of 8 frames per second. The first 12-minute lab roll was transferred into a 12-minute digital DPX image sequence residing on BrightDrive. It was split into clips, each one representing a new scene or lighting set-up. Grading started on the first lab roll as soon as it was scanned into the system. With me taking the role of the “client”, I ordered cappuccinos, played with Facebook, chose some music and bossed the colourists into creating lots of funky looks. I wanted them to feel at home with the new workflow and to feel comfortable grading DPX frames rather than having the negative on the telecine machine next to them. A 1-light grade is never what it implies. More and more is now being demanded from a 1-light. It is the first time everybody sees the images. Directors arrive with stills from the shoot, style frames and graded tests. They want that first impression to be a very good one, and the nearer they can get to their vision for the offline cut – the better. We used secondary grading and windows to create a look and style for the commercial whilst still matching all the rolls of film. When we were happy with the grade, we played out to SD Digital Betacam with source timecode. This meant that lab roll #1 scanned with a hole punch timecode of 01:00:00:00, went to tape with the hole punch at 01:00:00:00. The tape was ingested into Final Cut Pro for the test edit. I made sure that the same shots from the 60-second commercial were used in the 30-second, and the 15-second, also that speed ramps and dissolves were used. After the edit, the three EDLs and a QuickTime movie of each commercial from Final Cut Pro were transferred via TIGERTIGER’s Gigabit network to Resolve. We then conformed the DPX scans from BrightDrive into three separate timelines for the 60-second, 30-second and 15-second versions. I was keen to see if all our dissolves and speed ramps had come across from Final Cut Pro. Happy with that, it was time for a Tiger beer, after all – it was 7pm! The pictures were now conformed but we wanted to use our colour corrections from the dailies grade. Colour Trace uses the metadata colour information from the dailies grade that we had worked so hard on and applies it to the same shots that appear in the final commercials. All the windows and reframes we had done on the dailies grade now fell into place. We now had the choice to keep the original grades and modify them or start again from the raw scan. A great advantage of Resolve is the ability to have a number of timelines linked together. This means the hero pack shot in the 60-second commercial will automatically get graded in the 30-second and the 15-second. We then started on the final grade where we balanced the shots back to back and utilised the grading tools. I was again playing the client, getting the colourists to use all the creative tools. I find when training, it is best to simulate a real job with somebody playing the client. You can play with test film all day long but there is nothing like actually doing a ‘real’ job. The final grade was looking great. A VFX guy called to say that they had finished a big VFX shot and three shots had been wire removed. I told them to place the shots in the test folder on the BrightDrive. I added them to my media pool, which prompted me to add the new shots to my existing timelines. I could then grade the finished material. When finished, the three commercials plus handles and extra shots were rendered to BrightDrive. The TIGERTIGER VFX guys accessed BrightDrive to grab the colour corrected DPX files for the finishing work. We also used Resolve to play the timelines straight to HD tape in real time, and as a backup test, we moved the rendered colour corrected files from BrightDrive to a portable drive. This is useful if an external VFX post house wants to work with DPX files and not a videotape. Summing Up The ‘scan once’ workflow is a very different way of working. It gives the colourist much more freedom to be creative. The TIGERTIGER colourists were initially a little concerned about not working with ‘live’ film on a telecine but could soon see the benefits. Reaction from the directors who stopped by for a demo of the new workflow was tremendous – very encouraging for a new start-up company. At the time off going to press Kevin tells me they have now finished 12 commercials using the ‘scan once’ workflow and the clients are loving the new approach – it definitely puts the fun back into grading. Note: Warren Eagles is a freelance colourist with over 20 years experience grading movies, dramas and commercials. He has worked for a range of clients on many high profile projects, including commercials for Qantas, Mitsubishi and Nokia. TIGERTIGER POST began operations October 2008. It is the first DI post-production facility in Malaysia. Owned by individuals from the film industry and managed and operated by personnel who have been in the post-production industry for many years, its set-up was driven by a need to offer high-end quality creative services and to offer clients an alternative to the traditional post-production work modal. TIGERTIGER POST is geared to service the commercials, television and feature film markets. ASIAIMAGE

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