Digital Filmmaking Post – Ep. 1

I have been thinking about this for a while now – doing some research – and working with various folks in the industry and academia…

A fundamental shift happened during the DV revolution – the loss of the online. I have read several editors bemoan the fact that younger editors don’t understand the online process, but who could blame the young editors when it was not needed like it was before? First in the non-linear editing world was film > transferred to video (often Beta SP) > digitized at a low resolution > edited > conformed back to film > color timed > released. OR, there was video > digitized at a low resolution > edited > conformed (re-digitized) to a higher resolution > color corrected > released. The offline then online process was well understood and necessary for most projects.

DV (mini and DVCam) changed that process a lot. Working in DV allowed editors to work at its highest resolution so the offline edit was essentially the online edit too. Apple tried to help with an offline version of the DV codec, but by the time it was out, hard drives had gotten cheap enough that offline DV did not make sense except  for multi-camera live events or other long-form multi-camera projects.

Nearly 10 years went by with DV and HDV as wholly online edits (technically HDV went through a short offline/online life, but not much) editors from the all digital era did not learn the discipline of the offline/online edit and use of film started its decline. Today’s all digital post is broken down into two fundamental processes: 1) DSLR or similar where the acquisition codec is immediately transcoded to an editing/online codec 2) RAW or film acquisition where the footage is immediately transcoded to a lesser quality format/codec for editing (the offline footage). These two processes essentially converge during the conform and into digital color grading, which is where issues of young or all-digital editors get prickly.

Early transcoded DSLR footage is conformed by removing all unnecessary footage from the edit. This is rarely done by editors even thought it’s what they’re told to do. In a RAW process the offline edit is conformed by replacing its low resolution footage with the original RAW versions – not much of a choice right now. The RAW versions for the online are often used in the form of DPX files, which means that every frame of the film is represented as a single image file that is readable by most editing, graphics, and color correction software applications.

Shots in the edit that require visual effects are sent to artists as an online-quality video clip or a DPX sequence. Finished visual effects shots are rendered in the same format. Again, this process seems to be an issue for editors in charge of the post pipeline.

The footage is then color graded and combined with the final audio mix. In a DSLR workflow this usually remains as video clips in the same quality as the original transcode after shooting. In a RAW pipeline this process stays as a DPX sequence. On the DSLR front this only really happens when the editor understands how to move an edit to a color grading platform via EDL or XML.

Software varies at this point, but the trend is going towards the color grading software as the hub of the conform/vfx/grading process. Other options are the editor as online tool, which was common in video since the late 1990s, and specialty products, such as Hiero from the Foundry.

Enough for now… Some possible options for this mess will come soon.

Here are some links for now:

Girl with the Dragon Tatoo

The Social Network

VFX Supervisor as Post Supervisor

Hugo

And the rise of the Assistant Editor

The Social Network (Adobe – BTW, the Premiere stuff is BS…)

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