After a paradigm shift that shook the entire film industry altered the landscape from film to digital, the dust has finally settled and new best practices in terms of equipment and processes have emerged. The technology that we are using, and that’s available to us, is evolving every day, making it challenging to keep up with all of the available options and how everything works together. However, with careful planning and the right guidance, customized workflows drastically aid efficiency, communication and the creative process.
Before the digital transformation, the process of shooting on a can of film, taping it up with exposed tape and sending it to the lab to be processed didn’t differ a whole lot from job to job. The tools that were being used were often very similar, with the changes for the most part being creative. This has changed significantly with today’s film making process, to the point where the types and combinations of hardware/software being used can dictate which crew positions will be needed. Do you have a Director of Photography that likes to create his/her looks live? If so, you’re going to need a DIT. Are you shooting in ARRI RAW and also still want to color live? You’re going to need to get that DIT a Loader.
In 2006, RED announced their plans to begin engineering a new 4K file based camera. This at the time was still a brand new concept. However today, walk the floor of NAB and every turn you take, you will see a plethora of companies previously having nothing to do with camera engineering, and flooding the market with new professional file based cameras. Each of these will be offering proprietary formats, resolutions, color spaces, and codecs. The same can be said for smaller form factor consumer grade cameras that are finding their way on to set as action cameras, helmet cameras, witness cameras, etc.
"We need to make sure that any camera files recorded are going to be compatible with the needs of every department and the overall workflow"
Why is this a big deal? We need to make sure that any camera files recorded are going to be compatible with the needs of every department and the overall workflow. Certain cameras may also require specific software, drivers, hardware acceleration, etc. Therefore the more heads up you can provide post-production on cameras being considered for shooting, the better. Even a day or two’s notice can give post enough time to flag a setting to turn on in-camera that could save hours of “fixing it in post”.
Many of these cameras also require, or at least promote their own color formats. Something as simple as applying color depending on your camera type/post production software, has become a complex decision with the amount of available options. LUTs, CDLs, EMD’s, BLG’s, RDX, RMD’s, Arri Looks, are some of the many color options you have available to you throughout production/post. You will need to choose one or two at most to stick to throughout your entire job. However, each have their limitations; only working with certain cameras and software, with some being more automated then others.
With no real standards in place, at the top of every job, the questions I recommend leading with are; who is the DP and how does he/she like to work? What positions are we budgeted to have on set? Once you know this, you can continue conversations with VFX and final grading to ensure these looks are going to automate into their software; if it doesn’t automate and requires manually applying shot to shot, people are not going to use it.
These two examples of camera and color pipeline evolution, are just a fraction of the advancements that have taken place in film making.
With technology advancing every day it is certainly a full time job keeping up with the options available to you and how they all work together. More and more DP’s, Producers and others are starting to invest time in-between jobs testing and researching. Developing relationships with camera facilities and post facilities to stay up on new technology is more important than ever. However even with this time invested, having someone on your team that has an in depth understanding of the entire process is very helpful. Many Post Production companies are starting to staff “Workflow Supervisors”, or “Workflow Producers”. These are people that would be assigned to your job, that are going to look out for the entire workflow from camera to finishing on a technical level.
The shear depth of software/hardware options now available and lack of standardization, can easily be perceived negatively. However, with careful planning and consideration for how your decisions will affect other departments, you will find that all of these options provide customization not previously possible. Workflow does not need to be a cookie cutter process, but rather tailor made to solve the unique challenges of your job.