DIT FRANCESCO GIARDIELLO
The camera-to-post digital workflow for Life, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s $80m sci-fi horror, directed by Daniel Espinosa, was supervised by DIT Francesco Giardiello.
Working in collaboration with the movie’s cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey BSC ASC – plus DI colourist Peter Doyle (who did not do the final color grading due to scheduling) and colour scientist Phil Oatley from Technicolor, and Luke Moorcock, John Bush and James Corless at Pinewood Post – Giardiello harnessed Codex Vault S to create a full ACES-compliant pipeline for rushes emanating from a wide range of digital cinematography and consumer cameras used on the shoot – including two ARRI ALEXA 65 large format cameras, two ALEXA Minis, Codex Action Cam, Flare 4K SDI, Sony A7s-II, GoPro4 Session HD and Apple iPhone 6S – creating a fast and reliable pipeline.
The production of Life was based at Shepperton Studios, UK, where the action took place on multiple ISS replica sets on H and R Stages. Giardiello, who also worked as the DIT on first unit, with Sean Leonard the DIT on second unit, set-up a Codex Vault S workflow system on H Stage, as the primary collection point for all footage. He was supported in ingest, metadata management and transfer routines by data wrangler Kristin Davis. Pinewood Post (based at Shepperton), used Vault XL to perform the cloning, QC and LTO-tape back-up tasks, before separately making the editorial and VFX deliverables.
“I have used Codex every single day of my working life since 2010, and can genuinely say that you can trust it, it works,” says Giardiello, whose DIT credits using Codex include Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur, Christ The Lord, Ben-Hur, Pan, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Thor: The Dark World, Romeo & Juliet and Game Of Thrones.
“For creative and technical reasons – including the tight shooting environments of the ISS sets – Seamus used a variety of cameras on Life. As 80% of the movie was shot using the ARRI ALEXA 65 and ALEXA Minis, at their highest ARRIRAW resolutions, Seamus needed the smaller cameras to work at their best-possible resolutions. This would also ensure the VFX teams were able to do their wire-removal and set-extension tasks at the best possible image quality,” says Giardiello.
“Thanks to the development strategy of Codex, Vault can now read and ingest many common file types. For any cameras that do not output these common file types – and those with their own proprietary formats – we found new ways to transcode the footage into the highest-quality, Vault-readable formats, before ingesting them all into the Codex workflow.”
Codex has worked closely with ARRI for many years, and Codex Vault automatically provided an optimised ingest workflow for the ALEXA 65, 6560x3100, 12-bit ARRIRAW and ARRI ALEXA Mini 3424x2202 ARRIRAW files. Codex has also optimised the workflow for Codex Action Cam HD enabling the speedy ingest of 1920x1080, 12-bit Codex DPX files into the Vault.
The Prime 65 lenses, fitted to the ALEXA 65s, and Panavision Primos, used on the ALEXA Minis, both feature Lens Data Systems (ARRI’s LDS for the ARRI Prime 65s and external encoders for the PV Primos), allowing frame-accurate metadata about focus, iris and zoom settings to be recorded within the uncompressed ARRIRAW image stream. During production, this metadata passed along with the pictures, through the Codex workflow – from the in-camera Codex SXR Capture Drives (used with the ALEXA 65s) and CF2 cards (used with the ALEXA Minis, and cloned into Codex XR Capture Drives for a better data management efficiency) to the near-set Codex Vault S, before processing on Vault XL at Pinewood Post.
Francesco and John Mathieson BSC on King Arthur setting up the look on-set
For the other cameras used during production, Giardiello employed a number of third-party solutions, running on a separate workstation, to process and transcode the images into ACES-compliant, Vault-readable formats, before ingesting them into the Vault. Production data wrangler Kristin Davis used the Vault’s file-card system to manually input metadata and perform file-naming routines to make the footage compatible with that coming from ALEXA 65, ALEXA Mini and Codex Action Cam cameras.
The Flare 4K SDI, 3280x1842 files were converted from DNGs to Open EXRs using a custom script written in DCRaw. The Sony A7s-II’s, 7952x5304, ARW and 4K UHD MPEG4 files, plus the GoPro4 Session HD, 1920x1080, H264 MOV files, were converted to ProRes 4444 using FilmLight’s Daylight by Pinewood Post.
For the iPhone sequences, Giardiello employed a custom-developed version of Filmic Pro to enable ACES-compliant recording of material at a higher bit-rate, generating low-compressed, 2048x1080, MPEG4 files. These were then converted to ProRes 4444 using Daylight, with time-code embedded.
“I HAVE USED CODEX EVERY SINGLE DAY OF MY WORKING LIFE SINCE 2010, AND CAN GENUINELY SAY THAT YOU CAN TRUST IT, IT WORKS”
“Of course, these days there is a pressure to get the live action and VFX shots turned around fast, not just for post production, but also for promotional trailers,” says Giardiello. “So these new ways of transcoding material, combined with the wider range of ingest formats now available in Codex Vault, were a great advantage during production.”
Also helping to expedite production, Vault S was used to playback takes on-set, not just for McGarvey and Espinosa’s review, but also to QC the footage for focus, and unwanted image flares, as well as possible dead pixels and dust on the camera sensors. In the case of the ALEXA 65, the ability to playback processed 4K material from the Codex Vault S, for review on a 4K monitor, enabled scrutiny at 1-1 pixel size.
Along with supervising the workflow, Giardiello also worked as the production’s dailies colourist. “Whilst Codex are known for the safe transition of images and metadata from production into post, it was equally important to have a secure colour pipeline,” he remarks.
He deployed Codex Live (which has reliable and simple controls to adjust a range of colour parameters, backed up by a strong colour science engine) to fine-tune the looks of the ALEXA 65, ALEXA Mini and Codex Action Cam cameras in full ACES colour space. These on-set grades were exported as ASC-CDLs, and then imported and embedded as metadata within each ARRIRAW file through the Vault S on-set.
The non-ARRI cameras, capable of streaming a video feed from the camera body, had their signals converted on-set to an ACES-complaint colour space/gamma using custom input transforms created by Peter Doyle and the colour science team at Technicolor.
Once converted to Apple ProRes 4444, those contents, along with the ones that could not be viewed in real-time on set (i.e. GoPro), were ingested into the on-set Codex Vault S, where Davis applied the CDL along with other metadata. After that, an ALE file was generated, which became a sidecar file for the master clips that were unable to store metadata inside their file headers. Those ALEs were then used by Pinewood Post to acquire essential metadata and CDL values.
“This process didn’t only streamline the post-production for the unusual formats we were managing, but it also made those contents virtually identical to the ARRIRAW files,” says Giardiello. “Once footage had been converted downstream to OpenEXR for the DI and VFX, there was no difference in colour space, resolution, filename or metadata structure between each camera format. The crucial thing was that, thanks to Codex’s workflow control and integration, the looks that Seamus created on-set were exactly as what appeared in the VFX and editorial deliverables, and in the DI grading suite.”
Whilst only circle takes were stored on the near-set Vault S, all the footage was delivered to Pinewood Post: “As Pinewood Post is located so close to where we were shooting, we did not need to make clone copies on-set. It took very little time to transfer the assets,” he notes.
To even-out the workload, Davis performed a rushes split, whereby rushes were transferred from the set to Pinewood Post twice a day – once in the early afternoon, and then again when production wrapped every day.
With the Life experience now under his belt, Giardiello is currently working on Jurassic World II, directed by JA Bayona, and shot by Oscar Faura, scheduled for release in 2018, with Codex Vault once again as the foundation stone of the workflow.
“When I am working on a big project, Codex Vault is always my #1 system,” Giardiello concludes. “As per normal its performance on Life was amazing, and when I needed any technical support, that was equally good. All of this gives you and your team a lot of confidence in a high-pressure environment.”
A look at creative cinematography of Seamus McGarvey BSC ASC on Life is available here.
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