On-Set Post
Issue: April 1, 2012

On-Set Post

Post production today is no longer a discrete process practiced off-set after production has wrapped. Instead, post often begins on-set with a workflow designed to enhance creativity while production is still underway and speed and facilitate many post processes that run parallel to production.

“Post as a whole is moving toward production; it’s driven not only by the new cameras but by new lightweight on-set systems that allow all the parties involved to easily share information from one step to the next,” says Dave McClure, VP of product development at Hollywood’s MTI Film.

Deluxe Entertainment Television, which includes Hollywood-based Encore (www.encorepost.com) and Burbank-based Level 3 Post (www.level3post.com) has provided its on-set Mobilabs service to a number of television pilots and series, including Detroit 187, the first season of Terra Nova, the current season of Hawaii Five-O and ABC’s The River.

The modular Mobilabs is always customized for each show, and The River has unique camera requirements. “They want a documentary-style feel captured from many prosumer cameras, including Canon Vixias, Sony EX3s and GoPros operated by cast members,” says Greg Ciaccio, VP of location-based services for Deluxe Entertainment Television. “A lot of these cameras have no timecode, but Mobilabs doesn’t need it: We can create timecode as part of the new master file.”

The highest-quality camera used on the show is Arri Alexa; it’s deployed for many VFX plates, he notes. “But we see more footage from the EX3s, Vixias and GoPros — all of the POV footage is from prosumer cameras.”
The River requires automatic transcoding of all incoming material, regardless of codec, to Avid DNxHD 175x and matching DNxHD 36, “so anything done in the offline will translate perfectly to the online,” he reports. “Everything is tracked in our database for a 1:1 relationship between offline and online files.”

On the back end of Mobilabs is a transcoding engine that’s set once to the requirements of the show so it can automatically transcode in the background all of the necessary deliverables: In the case of The River, they consist of DNxHD 36 for editorial, DNxHD 175x for online, plus DVD and H.264 files for ABC’s Mediafly desktop dailies for ABC network executives. Mobilabs is installed in the show’s production offices at Diamond Head Studios in Hawaii.
FilmLight’s Baselight, which is also part of the system for The River, is used for primary color grading along with a 50-inch Panasonic plasma monitor. “We have a data transfer person plus a colorist and assistant,” says Ciaccio. “The DP and other creatives really like the immediacy of having the material right there. They can come in and direct color, and VFX can look at images and output files for their needs.” Encore’s VFX supervisor Stephan Fleet oversees some 100 effects per episode from the invisible to the supernatural.

Mobilabs not only offers more creative opportunities on set, it’s also a “huge time saver,” according to Ciaccio. “The DNx36 main file is sent back to LA for editorial via a 100MB line that can transmit it quicker than realtime. The PA copies the DNx36 to a drive that’s kept here and burns a DVD from the DVD iso. It’s all ready the next morning.” For data management all media is backed up to spinning disks and LTO5s in the field.

If The River wants to integrate new cameras into its repertoire that will be an easy fit for Mobilabs. “New cameras are being introduced every couple of months it seems,” Ciaccio says. “If someone wants to shoot with an F65 or Arriraw files, we can handle it. The beauty of the system is that it’s configurable.

“With Mobilabs we ask clients, ‘What do you need? What cameras are you shooting with? What color correction do you want to do?’ Then we configure the system. It’s all really up to them.”

Light Iron (www.lightiron.com) is an LA-based post house that empowers those on-set with its Lily Pad and Outpost systems. Lily Pad serves as the creative suite and initial QC pass, and Outpost receives the content, creative choices and related metadata afterward for processing and triplication. Lily Pad and Outpost are expected to be used on nearly 100 projects in 2012, according to CEO Michael Cioni. Recent feature projects, such as The Muppets, Gone and Underworld 4, as well as TV’s Criminal Minds and Justified, have all relied on Light Iron’s mobile services.

“Our philosophy is focused more on the administrative approach to on-set post instead of the technical approach,” he says. “The most complex component in the process is the execution, not the technology: the complex architecture of a truly efficient workflow. An effective workflow shouldn’t end with the DIT or with deliveries to editorial. What about VFX? What about color? Then there’s mastering to factor in. We consider all the components to ensure a project is delivered efficiently and successfully, and Lily Pad and Outpost are designed to do just that.

Says Cioni, “Lily Pad sets the looks on-set while the horsepower of Outpost does the heavy lifting. Between the two systems, they can do much more than a traditional dailies post house with far fewer resources. In addition, we incorporate customized iPad apps that add powerful collaboration and reviewing tools.”

The Lily Pad cart rolls on set to handle same-day dailies for the director and DP, set color correction to pass downstream to Outpost and serve as a syncing machine. “The Lily Pad operator is a more creative part of the camera crew, a role commonly filled by a DIT or DMT,” Cioni notes. “Lily Pad is often all our client’s set needs: a modern, optimized DIT or DMT cart. Its primary task is creatively driven and is not intended to make back-ups and copies.”

Outpost is where copies happen, including original files and transcodes for Avid, Apple Final Cut or Adobe Premiere editorial. It syncs and applies the Lily Pad color metadata, builds imbedded metadata for future use by VFX and conform, makes dailies for iPads and the Web, and enables options for high-level security such as encrypted drives. Outpost carts are rented through facilities in LA and are becoming available worldwide.

When shows like Criminal Minds and Justified switched to shooting files last season, the production teams were provided “the opportunity to take advantage of totally new infrastructures,” says Cioni. Both shows use Lily Pad to manage or set initial looks with their DPs, then push those looks to Outpost where they are exported to editorial and visual effects.

“So far, most of the implementation of Lily Pad and Outpost has been in the feature world,” Cioni says. “We often see feature films fully adopt new trends before TV, but every year we see more adoption by TV of end-to-end progressive workflows.”

He believes network and cable shows are starting to recognize the “end-to-end benefit” of using Lily Pad and Outpost, including cost and time savings, and enhanced creative control.

“What we’re talking about is the expansion of new infrastructures, which motivates the refining of ideas, which leads to common trends and, ultimately, new standards,” says Cioni. “On-set post production and file-based optimization is our core business. Dozens of simultaneous projects done this way have earned us thousands of on-set post days every year. And with that much experience the tools never stop improving.”

MTI Film (www.mtifilm.com) initially developed its Control Dailies product as an efficiency accelerator for post facilities, enabling them to process more dailies. An on-set/near-set version called Remote Control Dailies followed, making its debut at NAB 2011. The pilot for the reboot of Dallas became the first project to deploy the system; the new Dallas series continues to use it.

Remote Control Dailies features “the same software package as Control Dailies, but we’ve optimized a number of things so they can run concurrently on a single workstation,” says Dave McClure.

Remote Control Dailies decodes camera files, syncs audio and logs metadata, applies color correction and encodes deliverables. “Each day, after the set up, you ingest media, log, sync  and color — the deliverables are made automatically in the background,” McClure explains.

He provided Remote Control Dailies and a staff for the pilot of Dallas, setting up the system in production offices on location in the Texas oil town. Once the show was picked up, a Dallas-area staff was hired for metadata entry and syncing; they work adjacent to the Dallas soundstage where the show is shot.

“Our engineering staff has worked out a way for them to do color correction remotely,” says McClure. “Our facility in LA connects to the system every night after everything’s logged, then dailies colorist Troy Davis does the color correction from a color bay at MTI Film. All the deliverables are encoded back in Dallas as he applies his color decisions.”

This Remote Color Correction means that Davis can collaborate with final colorist Steve Porter at MTI Film. With this process, “Steve was able to direct the look of the show from the beginning,” McClure explains.
He notes that Remote Control Dailies worked “very much out of the box” for the Dallas pilot. “We only did two minor customizations: they rented a large plasma monitor we incorporated, and we installed a realtime encoder at both ends to send video in realtime over the Internet back and forth between Dallas and our post facility here in LA.”

The system is camera agnostic; Arri Alexa was the primary camera for the pilot and the series. “We support all the digital cameras — Alexa ProRes and Red being the big ones in TV today,” says McClure. “We also support Arriraw and cameras like Canon’s 5D and 7D, Sony’s EX3 and F65, Panasonic’s P2 and Vision Research’s Phantom. Everything goes onto one timeline — there’s no difference in the process. We can mix all the cameras on a project with no headaches and do the encoding in the background on a take-by-take basis.”

Since its implementation on Dallas, Remote Control Dailies has been used on a number of projects nationwide, McClure reports
A Red DIT by trade, Jeroen Hendricks maintains his own HD Mobile Labs units in California and North Carolina (http://hdmobilelabs.com). He was credited as camera data supervisor on the last two films he worked on, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus 3D, which is due out in June, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 3D.

“I’m on set, so that nothing changes for the DP,” says Hendricks. “He can just do what he’s always done and not have to deal with the data settings. I take care of the rest.”

For Prometheus 3D Hendricks spent 80 percent of the shoot on set at Pinewood Studios in England and the last month on location in Iceland. “The first thing I do is make sure everything is recorded in the right format and goes into my workflow correctly,” he explains. He accomplishes that in conjunction with the first assistant camera.

“When they reloaded mags from Red Epic the used mags came to my station — for Prometheus that was myself and Mary Lobb. We downloaded footage into the on-set system and the original footage shipped to an off-set system where it was backed up and sent to the post production offices.

“On-set we continued setting the framing and color the DP wanted on the footage and, with the stereographer, we built the 3D files and set the convergence on that footage. We emailed these text RMD files to the off-set station to add to their footage so they’d have the framing, color and convergence intended for a shot.”

Fluent Image provided the off-set system for editorial and dailies. Hendricks got feedback from the editors regarding which cards to erase and re-use and which to make changes on — resetting convergence or rematching color, for example — so he could implement the revisions and run the files again.

Hendricks believes that on-set post should be a function of the camera department and not a branch of a post facility. “There should be communication between the set and post production, but it needs to come from the camera side,” he emphasizes. “We’re still creating the image, up until framing and color. We’re an extension of the DP and a crossover to editorial.”

Prometheus 3D used a custom-designed 1 Beyond system for its on-set storage. “We built 16TB RAIDs with a powerful computer and internal card readers for fast ingest,” says Hendricks. “With RedCine-X Pro we don’t keep the whole movie on-set — only about four days worth. Then we clear the system out and put new data in. Of course, 3D doubles your storage needs.”

He created a “super-fast data wrangler system from the cards to the RAIDs” to accommodate the use on Prometheus 3D of some Red Epic 128GB and 256GB cards for aerial, water and emotion-packed scenes.
Technology changes so quickly that “I couldn’t have used anything I used on Pirates on Prometheus,” he says. “The system I had on Pirates is sitting in my garage doing nothing!”

Hendricks sees the role of DIT in flux, evolving from that of a video engineer with the accent on hardware to more of a data wrangler with the emphasis on software. Hendricks puts together his own crew and coordinates with the software engineers at the off-set system to ensure a seamless link from camera to post.

But his role is not all technical. On set Hendricks gets to see “everything come together — the color and look with the DP, the convergence with the stereographer. It’s all very creative,” he reports.