The success of Arri’s Alexa film-style camera, at least in terms of big-budget film production, has been well documented. Introduced a little more than a year ago, it is currently being used on more than two dozen film productions, including Life of Pi, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 21 Jump Street
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Part of what has made the Alexa so attractive to filmmakers is its ability to record imagery in the form of uncompressed 12-bit raw Bayer sensor data in a format known as ARRIRAW and considered by some filmmakers to be superior to other, compressed, digital camera formats.
Among film productions employing the Alexa camera and ARRIRAW format, a variety are using Codex recorders and transfer stations or digital labs to manage their workflows. Codex recorders were the first to be certified by Arri to record ARRIRAW from the Alexa. Codex technology also offers a number of capabilities in terms of processing raw files, managing metadata and preparing deliverables unavailable with other solutions.
Codex’s Onboard Recorder does more than just record digital imagery. For example, it allows half-resolution debayered output at the camera for use as a gate check. The recorder also records complex (and programmable) metadata along with shots and permits users to make use of that data to re-time shots before they are debayered.
“You can adjust the exposure index and the white balance,” explains Codex US product specialist Bobby Maruvada. “You can turn tungsten into daylight or daylight into tungsten. It gives you more latitude in highlights or shadows.”
In most ARRIRAW workflows, Codex recorders are combined with a Codex Transfer Station for Mac OSX or a Digital Lab, which are used to store raw files, make back-up media and prepare deliverables. They accomplish all this by means of the Codex Virtual File System, proprietary software that has the unique ability to generate deliverables (with attendant metadata fully intact) in multiple formats, instantly and on demand.
“Any discussion of ARRIRAW workflows has to begin with our Virtual File System. It’s the heart of everything that we do,” says Maruvada. “Once raw files are in our eco-system, there is virtually no limit to what we can do.”
The Virtual File System accepts ARRIRAW files (as well as files in most other camera formats) and generates deliverables in almost any format, including Avid DNxHD, Apple ProRes, DPX and QuickTime. In also has the ability to apply primary color grading values to deliverables in standardized ASC CDL format.
“CDL is a very big component of what we are doing with ARRIRAW,” Maruvada notes. “We are able to create a look on set, store it as metadata, bring it into the Virtual File System and then choose to use it or not use it as necessary.”
“ARI (ARRIRAW) files are stored in their raw form, but you can apply the look created on the set to files that go to editorial,” Maruvada adds. “The VFX department, meanwhile, can get the files both ways ‑uncorrected DPX files to work with and corrected DPX files for reference. The Virtual File System allows you to create deliverables tailored to the needs of many different departments simultaneously.”
The Codex/ARRIRAW workflow provides a way to capture camera data in its optimal form while streamlining the transition to post production. Still, because the process is new and unfamiliar to many production professionals, Maruvada advises productions to test their workflow before shooting begins.
“It’s straightforward, but you still need to test,” he observes. “Make sure that the MXF files are going to work with your Avid, and that your post house has the right tools read the ARI files later on. Talk to everyone who is going to be involved.”
Maruvada notes that he isn’t surprised by the way filmmakers have adopted the Codex/ARRIRAW workflow as it offers advantages that appeal to both creative professionals, such as directors and cinematographers, and to producers whose job it is to mind the bottom line. “The Alexa is all about the quality of the image,” Maruvada says. “We recognized this early on and stepped up to the plate with a solution that offers the highest possible resolution in an almost infinitely flexible and efficient workflow. That’s why it’s been embraced by high-end filmmakers.”
IMAGE: Cinematographer Chris Menges is pictured working Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Photos are by Francois Duhamel.