Technicolor-PostWorks' Baselight workflow helps limit rendering
April 28, 2015

Technicolor-PostWorks' Baselight workflow helps limit rendering

NEW YORK — Technicolor-PostWorks NY has long employed FilmLight’s Baselight for high-performance grading, both for television dramas and documentaries. In recent months, the studio has found that FilmLight’s Baselight Editions for Avid — an integrated plug-in for Media Composer and Symphony — has been able to enhance the grading capabilities within its existing editing software, as well as open up the possibility of a fluid and flexible exchange of grades between editors and colorists, without the need to render each time. 

Baselight Editions is available for Avid, Final Cut Pro, and Nuke, and provide two main functions. First, they give the editor or visual effects artist access to the full Baselight toolkit, including mattes, windows, automatic object tracking and keyframe animation. So a sophisticated grade can be created in the editor or effects software, if required, or adjusted at any stage of the process. Second, they read and implement, in realtime, any grading information that is included in the metadata attached to the raw content. A color grade does not need to be rendered before being handed over to the editor.

When swapping content between editorial, effects and grading, the same raw video is used. The grade, like the EDL, is metadata within a compact file format that can be moved between devices in seconds. Whether the grade is created in the host software or imported from a Baselight suite, any updates to the look just result in an addition to the metadata. No changes are baked in, and color decisions can be updated in moments.

At Technicolor-PostWorks NY, both the Avid edit suites and the Baselight grading rooms are connected to the same shared storage, allowing access to native camera footage simultaneously. When an offline edit is copied to the SAN, it can be accessed by an Avid Symphony for final conform and titling, or it can be accessed by a Baselight. All the grading information from the Baselight grading system is passed to the edit suites as metadata in the Avid AAF files. The same project can be running in two rooms concurrently, with the updates in one room appearing in the other as AAF files are exchanged.

For Mike Nuget, senior finishing editor and colorist, the fact that the AAF files open in Baselight or Avid in seconds means that it is simple to move sequences around. “There is no render to go out of Avid into Baselight or back.”

Director of technology Matt Schneider adds that the studio carefully monitors the use and efficiency of its SAN. “In the past, when working between different platforms like Avid and Baselight, the colorist would receive a flattened file from editorial, as opposed to the entire project and all of its individual layers. When the colorist’s work was complete they would create a new file for final titling.

“The greatest vulnerability of the flattened file workflow comes with editorial changes,” continues Schneider. “If you have to make a single self-contained file to hand off to color, managing changes to the cut becomes more cumbersome. The render-free workflow makes navigating these changes a lot simpler.”

Colorist Anthony Raffaele adds that it’s reassuring to know that when he drops in the AAF of his final color, that it will appear on the Avid exactly as it should. “It means everyone is confident, whether viewing in Baselight or the Avid, that they are looking at the latest cut with the latest grade.”

The efficiencies in this process helped the studio when working on A Path Appears, a new documentary by Maro Chermayeff that focuses on the issues of gender inequality. It features opinions and advocacy by well-known female stars, including Mia Farrow and Eva Longoria, while investigative journalist Nicholas Kristof looks at critical social issues, including sex trafficking, gender-based violence and child slavery.

The feature aired on PBS in January 2015. It was shot in a wide range of locations and was finished at Technicolor-PostWorks NY. 

“Because it’s a documentary highlighting some very complex and serious social issues, realism was the name of the game,” says Jeff Dupre, co-executive producer with Chermayeff. “We didn’t want to create any sort of stylized look. We wanted the footage to speak for itself.”

The show was shot largely on Sony F800 and Canon C300 cameras. 

“The F800 is brilliant in bright, sunny landscape exteriors, but not as great for darker and tricky interior locations,” says Dupre. “The C300 works better for those types of shots. Its portability also makes it much easier to travel to remote locations, and we ended up using the C300 for most formal interview set-ups, too.”

Dupre said they had become fans of the C-Log setting – the Canon Log Gamma curve. This is a high dynamic range, low contrast recording, delivering the maximum amount of detail into post – as much as 12 stops, even in low light recording. The results are excellent, but of course it does rely on a skilled colorist using the best tools to get the most out of the pictures. Mike Nuget was the man responsible, using one of the facility’s Baselight grading suites. 

“The challenge with this project was to take the vastly different locations and looks, and make them as uniform as possible,” recalls Dupre.  “Most of the segments in the US were filmed during the winter in places like Chicago and Boston, where it was overcast nearly all the time. Many of the interiors were very low-light situations with a lot of fluorescent lighting, which is always tough. To make those locations look great, we had to lean a lot on our colorist, Mike Nuget.”

The workflow on A Path Appears was to complete the editorial then deliver the complete package to grading and finishing. Nuget then had the whole program with titles, and could concentrate on a consistent grade, which underlined the message.

“For most of our projects up to now, we have used color correction software included in an edit package,” says Dupre. “Using Baselight gave us a clear difference in quality and Mike was able to give us a fantastic color correct. 

The experience of grading on Baselight at Technicolor-PostWorks NY gave the producers a new understanding of the way color could be used as an element of the production, and how the Baselight sessions could be included in a well-designed and efficient workflow.

“We are really excited about using Baselight moving forward,” says Dupre, who decided to use the workflow for his new series. “We’ve already sent several of our interviews to Mike to work his Baselight magic on them, so we can send out beautifully colored segments to investors and networks.”