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April 2014
Issue: January 1, 2009

LOWRY DIGITAL'S IMAGE WORK FOR 'BENJAMIN BUTTON'

Images from the production of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - captured on the Thomson Viper, Sony F-23, and also on film - were sent to Lowry Digital to use their proprietary image processing techniques to fine tune the visuals. Lowry Digital, a subsidiary of Reliance Big Entertainment, is known for its restoration work, including more than 400 titles for Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and other major clients. But Lowry's image processing tools have become applicable in other areas of post production, particularly original productions on new and mixed media.

Most of the images from Benjamin Button underwent an initial color correction pass at MPI on the Warner Bros. lot, and were delivered to Lowry Digital on FireWire drives. These files were loaded onto servers, to which digital imaging specialist and project director Patrick Cooper applied automated processing that eliminated noise, flicker and radio frequency interference.

"We then enhanced the images to achieve a consistent amount of sharpness and noise throughout the film," says Cooper. "Anytime you're shooting in a variety of situations - day exterior and night interior, for example - there will be some differences, and we smooth those out by engaging a variety of settings and parameters we've developed. Afterwards, the files are sent back to MPI, where final color correction is done."

Visual effects shots are processed to remove noise and flicker, and brought to consistent sharpness levels. Those sequences are returned to the visual effects pipeline, where keying and compositing is easier with a noise-free image. Later, the effects-enhanced images have appropriate levels of noise added back in. Cooper says that the re-introduction of noise and adjustment of sharpness levels requires judging the images by eye, and was done to standards determined by preliminary testing and discussions with David Fincher and post supervisor Peter Mavromates.

"David and Peter came to us on Zodiac with some underexposure issues," says Lowry Digital's Alan Silvers. "When they saw that we could help unify the look across the board and bring out fine detail that traditional noise reduction would just crush away, we became part of their standard workflow."

Silvers emphasizes Lowry's unique technology and expertise. "We can reduce noise without softening the picture, and we can find, enhance and compute in additional detail," he explains. "We do that by evaluating the best of each frame, and averaging that resolution across all frames. We developed this image processing technology for restoration but we're finding that the world is catching up to our tools. We are now using them to optimize images at every stage of production and for all outputs. For example, when you reduce noise, enhance fine detail and stabilize the picture, you allow compression engines to allocate more resources to the images themselves. The result is superior quality images on film, or for digital cinema, Blu-ray or Web-placed video."