HD Production: 24 Days in the Valley, Part IV
by- October 29th, 2004
24 Days In The Valley: The Life And Times Of An HD Production In South Texas
In Part I -III of this series, I introduced readers to the production of Harvest of Redemption, a High-Definition narrative feature I shot in the Texas Valley. In Part IV, I will cover the technical aspects of the post-production processand working with HD video.
The last part of making a film is the process known as post-production, where my role as the Director of Photography is no longer needed as the film makes a transition into the editing suite. It is a labor-intensive process completely different than the physical process of capturing the images on tape, with its own set of problems and solutions. Working with HD can be costly during this phase of the filmmaking process so several steps were used to keep costs down to a minimum.
One way to keep post production costs low is to do the bulk of the project in an off-line edit, which means that "down converting" of the HD image is necessary if digital storage limits are an issue. HD video is a huge memory hog, so the tapes were down converted in Austin, TX at Martini Shot, the same shop I mentioned earlier in this series where we rented the VariCam.
The Panasonic AJ-HD130 DC video deck was used to send the uncompressed video stream through a DA-MAX which converted the stream to component analog, which in turn was then recorded onto a Sony DVCAM video deck. This effectively reduces the size and bit rate of the HD image and puts it into a more manageable and less memory hungry format for the off-line edit. I was able to view the rough footage while it was being converted and was impressed with the cinematic look the VariCam produced.
Re-watching the raw footage from an objective stance after principal photography has wrapped can be both nerve racking and rewarding. This is the first step in identifying any potential problems that were missed during filming such as continuity or image dropouts due to extreme tape conditions or camera malfunction. Thankfully, everything looked great and the down convert was completed without any major issues. I asked Javier Chapa, the film's Director to explain the next steps in the post-production process.
After I received the DVCAM tapes (from Martini Shot), I took them over to Leomark studios where the editor (Erik Lunkmark) and I begin to view the material and document which material would be captured and which would not. Erik captured from the DVCAM tapes and begin his offline rough cut. After a rough cut Erik and I begin working together to mold and tweak any changes for a final cut before an online.
Once the off-line is complete, and EDL or Edit Decision List is created. An EDL is essentially a cut-by-cut clone that was done in the off-line. Each cut is recreated, and the corresponding HD tape is required to be imported in order to re-create the edit, now using the HD video signal.
After we had a good final cut Erik did an EDL and captured from the original HD tapes via FireWire with the Panasonic 1200A HD deck. Now with the original source material captured in HD we can begin the color correction process, CGI, compositing, titling and sub-titling. Furthermore, we can send the sound files to be edited by the sound editor. It is important to do a sound edit after you do an online because there can be some syncing issues if you edit sound from an offline then transfer into an online timeline. Once your sound designer has completed his work: ADR, foley, sound edit and score, now you are ready to do a sound mix assuming all picture work is locked (i.e. color correction, CGI and compositing, titling and sub-titling.)
Now the product is ready to be encoded as an MPEG 2 file through a compressor in Final Cut Pro. Once this process is finished we will import the quicktime file into DVD studio pro and begin to build our interactive menu for the movie Harvest of Redemption.
I also asked Javier for his thoughts on working with High-Definition with a Mac based editing house, and what he thought some of the benefits were of doing so.
Working with HD content is great. It's affordable, conforms well with Final Cut Pro, and what you see is what you get. The colors are very vibrant and match closely to that of a 35mm print. You can avoid any processing of film which is costly and tedious. You just take your original HD tape and capture it via FireWire, and there's your content. I will shoot many projects on HD. With the right software filters and plug-ins it is very hard to distinguish between a source that originated on HD versus a source that originated on 35mm. HD is the medium of the future. Many independent and studio producers are starting to realize that it is becoming the only option.
We decided to use Apple and Final Cut Pro because Erik and I felt more comfortable with the program and the way the program handles HD footage. Since I also edit on a Mac and Final Cut Pro, it was easier for me to take project files from Erik's work in order to make editing decisions.
One of the great things about the VariCam is also one of it's most important selling points and part of the camera's namesake, variable frame rates. This allowed us to "over-crank" the camera which gives a user the ability to capture slow-motion images. During production, we decided to shoot several pivotal scenes in slow-motion to test how the camera performed. In order to have flexibility in the edit we would shoot the slow-motion scenes both in real time and over cranked in case the effect turned out to be undesirable, or, say... cheesy. I asked Javier how the slo-mo process turned out.
The beautiful thing about shooting with the Panasonic HD camera is that it shoots variable frame rate. 0-60 fps. With this particular project the Director of Photography (Mike Washlesky) and I made a decision to shoot several scenes in slow motion. Mike has lots of experience with this camera, therefore it made the slow motion process that much easier.
When you shoot slow motion with the Panasonic your really shooting in 60i. What you have to do is take the original HD tape that was shot in slo mo and run it through a frame converter. Blayne Gorum at Martini Shot in Austin did all of my down conversions as well as my slo mo convertions. From there, working with the slo mo footage is like working with any other footage. There are no complications in the time-line and the results are stunning. The Panasonic produces some amazing footage, both 24p and slow motion.
The production of Harvest of Repemption was some of the most difficult working conditions myself and the crew have ever had to endure, but I wouldn't have changed it for the world. I was very lucky to get to work with such a talented and dedicated crew, in a town that was so hospitable and welcoming.
If it weren't for these reasons the month would have been pure hell, and I wouldn't be able to look back on the hard work with some positive nostalgia. I look forward to viewing the finished product, and I hope this series of articles was entertaining and informative. Be sure to keep an eye out for Harvest when it hits your town.
With five years in the entertainment industry, and three years writing for The Mac Observer, works passionately on various genres of film, including documentaries, narrative features, and shorts. He has two feature films under his belt as Director of Photography and Camera Operator, and his current role at TMO is to cover digital media and the film industry.
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