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Special Ks: High(er) Resolution Production and Post

By Christine Bunish

high resolution

With HD formats now firmly entrenched in production and post, many in the industry have begun to migrate to even higher resolutions, using 2K, 3K, 4K and 5K cameras, especially for effects-intensive projects, and following a 2K or 4K pipeline for postproduction.

The concept of higher-resolution image capture may not be so new, however. “35mm has been the standard for a hundred years, and it’s considered 4K acquisition,” says DIT Dino Georgopoulos of Kosmos Innertainment Group, Inc. in Venice, California. “We just haven’t had digital 4K from acquisition to delivery to make content future-proof. All the manufacturers get it now and are starting to release 4K cameras, monitors, projectors and displays. It will be a 4K world – from acquisition to post to distribution – in three to five years.”

ARRI ALEXA Lets Geissbuhler Exceed Expectations

“As a DP, it’s very important that the camera you choose is something you can stand behind, that it performs dependably and won’t let down everybody who’s working on a film,” says New York City-based Luke Geissbuhler (www.lukegeissbuhler.com). A long-time Arriflex SR user, he moved to the ARRI D-21 for the Muppets movie Letters for Santa.

  high resolution production
  Luke Geissbuhler shooting an indie feature outside
Anchorage, Alaska near Chugiak State Park with ARRI ALEXA.

“Then they came out with ALEXA. It’s not as much an answer to the RED One as a natural development of the D-21,” he says. “The ALEXA is such a pleasure to use: Its menus are supremely intuitive, it delivers a gorgeous image, it’s physically and ergonomically well thought out, and it’s an integrated camera so everyone’s accessories work on it.”

Geissbuhler was among the first to reserve an ALEXA, which ARRI bills as a compact, lightweight digital camera with ultra-fast workflows and image quality akin to 35mm film. It boasts a 3.5K sensor pixel count; its actual image area is 3K which, when fully debayered, delivers a 2K image.

Within three days of its arrival, Geissbuhler took ALEXA to sub-zero Alaska for a month to shoot a Frankenstein-themed independent feature.

“Alaska was a great test, and ALEXA came through with flying colors,” he reports. “We used it mostly handheld or with a very lightweight tripod. It jumped from set up to set up very quickly.” He paired the camera with a lightweight matte box, a small monitor that sat on top of the camera, and two compact zooms. “The camera’s integrated rods are fantastic: ALEXA sits well on your shoulder and so low that the operator can finally look to the right and see over the camera!”

At press time, Geissbuhler was completing a documentary short on ALEXA, which looks at the future through the eyes of children around the world. The project took him to Mexico, Germany, South Africa, India and China; he just wrapped segments in Denver.

“We did a lot of running around with the kids, so the camera’s compact size and our small crew were ideal,” he says. “ALEXA eliminates all the things that usually corrupt the image: motion artifacts, distorted highlights, noise in the shadows, color shifting, et cetera. It’s so satisfying when the camera seems to get out of the way and just lets the beauty reveal itself.”

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[Above Top]
Luke Geissbuhler (with 1st AC Scott Daharb in blue shirt) carrying ARRI ALEXA through a housing development in Mumbai, India, where he shot segments for a documentary on the future seen through the eyes of children around the world.

[Above]
Luke Geissbuhler took ARRI ALEXA into the Chiemsee in Rosenheim,
Germany for a documentary shoot.
 

Before investing in ALEXA Geissbuhler looked at the roster of jobs he typically shoots, which had required him to rent a dozen different cameras annually. “It’s a pretty eclectic mix: highly polished, gritty, handheld, studio shoots, movies, commercials, industrials, documentaries. ALEXA fit so many of them that I quickly became convinced that it made sense to own one. And when I’m on smaller jobs, it just allows me to exceed expectations.”

Geissbuhler is always present for his color corrections, which have been a pleasure so far, he reports. He has yet to shoot with ALEXA in the ARRIRAW mode opting for the more compact ProRes 4444 in LogC format that virtually all post houses today can easily handle for a smooth and speedy finish.

Tanimoto Taps RED Onefor Film Look

Director Craig Tanimoto with Santa Monica’s Bully Pictures (www.bullypictures.com) describes himself as “traditionally a film guy” who has spent the last few years primarily shooting with RED Digital Cinema’s now-famous 4K RED One camera.

“I’m known for doing a lot of live action and special effects, so RED works to my advantage,” he says. “It does a really good job in getting a film look with shallow depth of field. And 4K has more information so you can blow up shots, move them around and really manipulate color. In the old days, if a window was blown out, that was it. Now you capture everything raw so you can pull out and find the details in the window. RED offers a lot of freedom that way.”

Tanimoto, a former agency creative who wrote Think Different for Apple Computer, enjoys the ability to achieve “a film look with the technology of today” and notes that “master cinematographers are now moving to 2K and 4K when just a few years ago people shied away from it.”

He didn’t experience much of a learning curve with RED One, he says. “Apart from working with a DIT now, nothing has changed that much for me.” He relies on a DIT more to assure smooth image capture than to set a look for a TV commercial since “as a special effects guy, I do a lot of manipulation in post,” he explains.

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  Bully Pictures’ director Craig Tanimoto has
shot many commercials with RED One.

Tanimoto gave “a very cinematic look” to the Panda Express “Enchanted Island” spot shot on RED One in which one of two pandas sailing on a pirate ship raises his telescope and spies a mermaid. After doing an extensive greenscreen previs of the commercial to sell the agency on the look, he got an expansive cinematic feel and depth of field from the RED One.

“There’s a sensuous ebb and flow of the pandas standing on the boat, the wind rippling their shirts and the horizon line in the distance,” he says. “The only danger I see in shooting 2K or 4K is that [higher resolutions] can make things look too good, too slick and perfect. You have to make sure the look you get matches the message you’re trying to communicate.”

Georgopoulos Joins First RED EPIC-M Heavy Hitters

DIT Dino Georgopoulos of Kosmos Innertainment Group, Inc. in Venice, California (http://red31.com) owns the third RED EPIC-M camera released. A producer by trade, he helped create the Digital Entertainment Network streaming media site, was head of production for the launch of Al Gore’s Current TV, became a digital cinema projectionist, then reserved one of the first RED One cameras and “fell into the job” of renting out the camera with himself as DIT. He’s done commercials with director David Fincher and features with director Terrence Malick “and everything in between.”

With a form factor about half that of RED One, EPIC-M currently shoots “three flavors of 5K: the basic 5K 2:1, 5K full-frame for 16:9 TV and 5K 2.40:1 for wide-screen features,” he explains. “With the push to get EPIC out to big-budget, tent-pole features, RED has done a lot to legitimize the format for everyone else.” Among the motion pictures shooting on EPIC are Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, the Spider-Man reboot and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

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DIT Dino Georgopoulos of Kosmos Innertainment Group owns one of the first RED EPIC-M cameras.  

Georgopoulos experienced a “five-minute learning curve” from RED One to EPIC-M. “RED has taken everything it learned with RED One and elevated it a level, making it easier to operate the camera with a touchscreen GUI so the DPs can change all their settings, format the drives and check metering without me,” he says.

Even though the new GUI means that he doesn’t “have to jump up all the time” to attend to the camera’s operation, Georgopoulos still watches “the image at the cart to make sure the exposure is perfect every second and nothing in the image will come back to bite us in the final.” In his role as DIT he also consults on bluescreen or greenscreen effects, keeps data safe and delivers iPod dailies for the director.

His EPIC-M has been working non-stop since its delivery on productions such as a Kenny Chesney music video; Reebok commercials featuring Swiz Beatz and Alicia Keys; H&M spots; Bravo cable promos and content for the Annenberg Space for Photography’s “Beauty CULTure” exhibit, which will be projected in 4K.

Just as it’s been an easy transition to EPIC-M production, it’s been an equally easy transition to EPIC-M postproduction, which follows the same pipeline as RED One, according to Georgopoulos. “I use the new version of REDCINE-X to handle files,” he says. “I copy them and bring them into REDCINE-X for a slight grade, then push out QuickTime ProRes 422 or 4444 files or Avid DNxHD files” for editing and finishing.

Sony Raises the Bar with F65 CineAlta 4K Camera


F65 CineAlta Digital Motion Picture CameraBuilding upon Sony’s popular CineAlta platform, the F65 CineAlta Digital Motion Picture Camera, officially unveiled at NAB, represents next-generation acquisition technology. It raises the bar in the quest for the look of 65mm film and delivers on its promise to derive true 4K resolution and beyond at the point of image capture.

A unique 8K image sensor, with approximately 20 megapixels, offers higher image fidelity than other cameras, according to Sony. With 16-bit RAW output, the F65 establishes a gateway to an end-to-end 4K mastering workflow.

The Sony imager is the first to provide a dedicated green photosite for each pixel in the 4K output image: This is twice the amount of green resolution compared with traditional 4K Bayer pattern sensors, providing a significant improvement in image resolution that’s idea for VFX processing.

“Sony is committed to driving every aspect of a 4K workflow – starting with acquisition,” says Alec Shapiro, senior vice president, Professional Solutions of America, Sony Electronics. “This camera is the pinnacle of 30-plus years of research, experience and engineering breakthroughs and is the latest example of Sony’s ongoing pursuit of the highest-quality content creation and production.”

The F65 has been designed for multiple production applications, including 3D rigs and Steadicam and will offer a compact and lightweight detachable camera T-head for these configurations. An optional mechanical rotary shutter will be available for eliminating motion artifacts that are inherent with other CMOS sensor technology.

Phantom Delivers Slo-Mo Hyde Seeks

Will Hyde, executive creative director and one of the partners at Superfad (www.superfad.com), loves to shoot slow motion – just look at his reel. Over the years, he and Superfad, which has offices in Culver City, California, New York City and Seattle, have achieved a certain expertise in the high-speed cinematography world thanks to the amount of production and R&D they’ve done. In the course of that, Superfad itself has migrated from a design and effects-based company to become more of a live-action production company.

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[Above Top]
Superfad’s Will Hyde captured the magic the holiday season holds for children with the Phantom Flex high-speed camera for a Publix supermarkets campaign.

[Above]
Superfad partner and
executive creative director Will Hyde finds a lot of advantages in shooting slow motion with the Phantom Flex high-speed camera.
 

After shooting for several years with Vision Research’s Phantom HD high-speed camera, Hyde recently acquired the Phantom Flex, which shoots 5-2,570 fps and boasts 2560x1600 resolution, roughly the equivalent of 3K. The camera accepts a wide array of industry-standard lenses and supports a raw digital workflow, a video workflow or a combination of both.

“The big advantage of Flex is its light sensitivity,” says Hyde, which he cites as closer to ISO 1,200 compared to the Phantom HD’s approximately 250. “One of the biggest production hurdles of high-speed cameras is the amount of light they need: You have to use old-school, tungsten lights, and they generate an incredible amount of heat,” which is undesirable for tabletop shoots.

“To shoot paint drops at 2,000 fps without a lot of motion blur we had to place four 20Ks within three feet of each other pointing down at the paint drops,” he recalls. “It was so hot you couldn’t go in there! The light sensitivity of Flex allows us to use fewer lights and get the same exposure on the set.” Hyde is experimenting with increasing the capabilities of LED lighting, aiming to pack the most powerful LEDs together in a fixture that achieves the level of a 10K tungsten.

A two-minute Point of Purchase retail project for Sony direct, “Eye Candy” employed Phantom slow-motion footage to showcase the detail of its Bravia line of HD televisions. “Sony didn’t want clichÈd slo-mo shots, so we took a more stylized and fantasy-based approach to the concept, adding narrative and context,” says Hyde with stunning shots of billowing fabric, swirls, splashes and scattering pixie dust.

Publix supermarkets’ “Magical Moments” campaign for the 2010 holiday season incorporated Phantom slow-motion imagery to alter time as kids’ showed delight in opening a present, watching the first snowflakes, turning a snow globe and spying the Christmas tree. “You see them in realtime first then we slow down to 1,000 fps to see that tiny slice of time stretched out,” he explains. “It’s the intimacy of the moment that’s really interesting and makes you happy.”

When Superfad got into high-speed cinematography, it also invested in a postproduction pipeline, buying a “more sophisticated, expandable” Isilon server system to process extensive amounts of 4K data.

“With the exception of some installations we’ve done that need high-resolution display, we haven’t been asked to finish anything in 4K,” notes Hyde. “Everything is shot 4K for more detail and easier compositing, but we ultimately finish in 2K or 1080 HD.”

Glodell Gives Kudos to SI-2K’s Flexibility

Independent filmmaker Evan Glodell (www.coatwolf.com) has scored a hit with his first feature: Bellflower, a love story with apocalyptic stakes, premiered at Sundance in January, played at SXSW and is set for distribution this summer via Oscilloscope Laboratories. Glodell wrote, directed and starred in the movie. He also engineered many of its cameras, including the Coatwolf Model II Ultra Large Format, consisting of Silicon Imaging’s SI-2K camera with custom Coatwolf Optical System.

A long-time SI-2K fan, Glodell “heard about the camera before it was released” and “started to bug the company to let me play with one.” He became a beta tester and owner of a pre-production camera head. He obtained a full camera body for the Bellflower shoot which lasted about 90 days in and around Ventura, California. Joel Hodge was the DP. (For more on the SI-2K see November/December 2010 issue.)

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  Evan Glodell on the set of Bellflower with his SI-2K camera
with custom Caotwolf Optical System.

Photo: Joel Hodge, courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories

About two-thirds of Bellflower was shot on Coatwolf’s custom camera set ups and the rest on the SI-2K with standard 16mm lenses, Glodell reports. The Silicon DVR recording software, with all of the camera controls, resided on a laptop where Glodell could open the SI-2K’s integrated IRIDAS Speedgrade On-set color grading tool that enabled him to select a desired look, save it and record with that look. “Each section of the movie has a drastically different style because we could color correct every day on set to get the mood to match the scene we were shooting; that was very important for me,” he says.

Hodge did a lot of VFX shots featuring pyro and action-filled stunts – Bellflower’s stars tote a custom flamethrower and ride in the Medusa, an apocalyptic-equipped car. “We could take a frame of the first shot and bring it back while we were framing the next, which was an incredibly useful feature,” Glodell explains.

The SI-2K’s tiny head allowed the filmmakers to get shots inside Medusa. “We wanted as wide a shot as possible so we duct-taped the head to the back inside window to get the shot,” he recalls. “You couldn’t have rigged a regular-sized camera and gotten those cool shots.”

Postproduction posed no problem, according to Glodell. The cameras recorded in CineForm RAW; he did quick edits on the fly on his laptop’s Final Cut Pro software and a full Final Cut edit later – CineForm RAW is native to the software. “Although the native files had our looks embedded, we could have taken them off if we changed our minds,” he says. “But we had an idea how the movie should look, and in the final color correction pass once the cut was locked, we changed almost nothing. We’ve gotten a lot of attention about the way the movie looks.”

Glodell says the flexibility of the SI-2K was something he started to take for granted. “Being able to zoom in on a shot in post was great, and the optical system gave us resolution to spare – the imagery was awesome. The trend is definitely moving to higher-resolution production.”

Cinelicious Takes Mile-High Postproduction View

In the postproduction arena, higher resolution color grading and finishing are gaining ground.

LA-based creative post studio Cinelicious (www.cinelicious.tv) is housed in an open, 1960’s-design space that offers HD, 2K and 4K color grading for spots, music videos and features as well as VFX, beauty work and finishing.

“Feature film clients are definitely thinking about or doing a 4K finish,” says principal and executive producer Paul Korver. “Texas Instruments will soon deliver its 4K DLP chip for 4K projection, and the big theater chains are investing. By the end of the year you’ll see flagship theaters showing 4K.”

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Cinelicious principal and executive producer Paul Korver with the company’s new DFT SCANITY 4K film scanner, the only one in the U.S. owned by an independent facility.  

It used to be just “the blockbusters” that took advantage of “futureproofing their DI for the time when you could see the film in 4K,” he points out. But Cinelicious’s new DFT SCANITY 4K film scanner – just the second in the U.S. and the only one owned by an independent company – has increased speed and quality over rival devices “so the cost of a 4K DI becomes a more accessible price point” for $10- to $60-million features.

While Korver says there’s “no foreseeable 4K broadcast market,” he muses that “home always follows theater” in terms of consumers wanting home viewing to parallel the best of the theater experience. Cinelicious is seeing more commercials, especially those with VFX, shot in higher resolutions – Fage Greek yogurt spots with Phantom footage, a L’Oreal spot with mixed film and Phantom content – those destined for broadcast are still seeking HD finishes.

With the maze of acquisition formats growing daily, it seems, Cinelicious is getting raves from producers for its prototype digital dailies worksheet that “analyzes processing times for every popular digital camera and all the formats they shoot,” says Korver. “You check boxes for type of camera, frame rate, sync sound or MOS, color correction or LUT implied, add your deliverables for production and editorial and the run time of the footage, and the worksheet calculates the cost of digital dailies.

“There’s a wide difference between processing times in postproduction depending on the camera and codec you’re shooting,” he explains. “Film dailies are a known quantity, but that’s not true for digital acquisition – there’s no simple, known workflow across the board for all digital cameras. We think the worksheet makes people’s lives much easier. Our goal is to make sure that everything works, that you can conform the footage with the right metadata encoded in the dailies.”

Korver’s advice for those entering the higher-resolution world is to work with a savvy post house that “takes the mile-high view” of postproduction. “Don’t assume that digital is like film, that post paths are all the same. You need a post company that sees the path from raw material through dailies to final editorial and can guarantee the conform. You don’t want a company that’s just trying to get your project out the door.”

JVC Unveils 4K Camera Prototype


high res productionJVC (www.pro.jvc.com) displayed a prototype 4K camcorder at NAB 2011 featuring its new large-scale integration (LSI) chip for high-speed video processing. The new LSI enables processing, encoding and recording of 4K and multiple 2K images. JVC plans to utilize this processor in next- generation cameras that include both 4K and 2K-3D models. The small handheld camcorder shown at NAB was capable of producing video at 3840x2160 pixels.

“While still a prototype, the camera could record and play back full 4K resolution,” says JVC assistant vice president of marketing communications Dave Walton. “It records to solid-state memory cards that output full 4K and allow users to begin editorial immediately.”

With advanced image codecs and other technologies assembled in a single chip, the new LSI’s camera signal processing enables realtime RGB debayering of 8.3 megapixel video at 60 fps. The LSI requires 40 percent less power and, compared to previous LSIs, cuts systems costs in half.

Walton says JVC is planning a series of forums with cinematographers and other production professionals to collect their feedback on “what to build into a sellable product. We want to let the community know we’re serious about developing products utilizing this technology. The prototype camera was a huge hit at NAB with production people. 4K is the future revolution in technology.”