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Fincher Reframes in Post! The 4K Release of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

12.28.11 @ 11:33AM Tags : , , , , ,

With all the hype surrounding 4K acquisition, I was surprised to hear that David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would be the first large-scale end-to-end 4K digital cinema release. Previous films captured at 4K were posted and distributed at 2K… which kind of defeats the purpose. In my quest to find a 4K theater to see GWTDT, I got a response from Sony’s Digital Cinema Twitter account, yet because I’ve been catching holiday films with my family (including young ones) I haven’t yet had a chance to see the film yet (it seems I’m not the only one in this situation). Regardless, I wanted to share a very interesting article about the film’s 4K workflow by Light Iron’s Michael Cioni, which includes this interesting nugget on Fincher’s approach to reframing in post (his framing chart is pictured):

On The Social Network, David utilized a technique that allowed him ample choices for reframing and stabilization by capturing 4K and 5K images with a 10% look-around pad that was pre-framed in camera. In the case of GDT, because EPIC was used, the look-around image could be increased to roughly a 20% pad… With EPIC, I believe David’s technique of a 20% look-around is something filmmakers should consider on all projects. The ability to take advantage of ample look-around space becomes a key component in reframing and stabilization (which are techniques being adapted by more filmmakers and more departments) but this reframing also allows for a much better transition to varying aspect ratios in different deliveries.

Before anyone calls me a RED fanboy, note that this technique is not specific to RED cameras, but to 4K cameras — the Sony F65 being another example, along with ARRI’s next ALEXA (probably), JVC’s erstwhile 4K camcorder, and that mysterious 4K Canon DSLR. For everyone who claims that reframing in post is bad, here’s one of the preeminent directors of our day designing his shoot around the technique. Also interesting: Fincher and co.’s choice to crop to 4K instead of downscaling, the latter of which has been lauded as a way to get “true” 4K images. A 4K RED image, after debayering, yields around 3.2K of measurable resolution, whereas a 5K image should equal a true 4K after debayering and downscaling. Perhaps because of TGWTDT’s use of the RED ONE MX for 2/3 of the shoot, Fincher chose to crop his 5K files to 4K rather than downscaling. It will be interesting to see what folks shooting 100% on EPIC will do going forward.

Another useful tidbit from Michael’s post: this Mac app from Blackmagic Design, which Light Iron uses for measuring disk speed.

As for the SCARLET, which is not really a 5K camera, you theoretically have less flexibility than with the EPIC for reframing while maintaining maximum resolution. But on a recent short, I found myself realizing that, because the SCARLET’s native aspect ratio is 1.9:1, when framing for cinemascope (2.4:1) as we did, you do gain a decent amount of “look around” area in the vertical dimensions. Conversely, if shooting for 16:9 release, there is a tiny bit of cropping you’ll need to do to avoid pillarboxing (better to just shoot in “4K HD” mode, AKA Quad HD, which yields an image 3840 pixels wide — exactly twice that of 1080P). I’ve said on the record many times that I think the importance of resolution is overstated compared to color rendition, dynamic range, compression, and other factors. But I think one of the first things you realize when working with a 4K image (not just from RED) is that you do gain a consequential amount of flexibility.

Check out Michael’s full article for plenty more insights about a high-end Hollywood 4K workflow.

Link: 4K + Digital Intermediate – Michael Cioni


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Description image 52 COMMENTS

  • Too much on this website about camera. Even funnier that those thread are the most viewed.

    • CraftyClown on 12.28.11 @ 11:54AM

      This is an interesting thread about the workflow of a major Hollywood director. If that doesn’t appeal to you then perhaps this isn’t the website for you?

      Great post Koo

    • Some people are interested in cameras, you do realize that, right?

    • Actually sounds more like the process of lazy filmmaking to me; doesn’t matter if it’s Hollywood or not.

  • that’s right. Dem Thread.

  • Conversely…. “too many misspelled comments that add nothing to the discussion?”

  • Can’t I say dem? I am a black person after all.

  • Great post, I was excited to hear bout the 4K release as well! Been busy with the Holidays as well, thanks for the link to the Sony 4K theaters, definitely going to make sure I catch it on one.

  • Hollywood is the new film school. Long live (no)film school.

  • I saw GWTDT twice. It was a fantastic film through and through. GO SEE IT!

  • The image and movie were great, but when I saw it 4k in San Francisco, the trailer for Ghostrider(shot on Red) was definitely sharper. This may have to do with the underexposed desaturated look Fincher was going for. Nonetheless, it was a great movie

  • Lovin your articles on Red stuff man, only thing i would say is, stop being so paranoid about people calling you a fanboy. You’ll be known by your website, and your website is balanced; no need to justify every time you mention Red

    • Thanks Brennan. The RED is such a polarizing camera, it’s kind of fascinating… But I hear you.

    • Here, here. You add credence to the claim by mentioning it every time you post about Red. No need to apologise. Let’s move on. Great site by the way.

      • Very good point; when a fourth of the indie filmmakers out here are using 4k regularly, then spotlighting all the 4k-centric bells and whistles big budget productions do will have more significance than the simple wow factor, but until then it’s really just interesting mental notes for a later time, while I look for stuff I can put into practice right now on my own projects

  • Yeah I like the camera discussions and info. Thanks Koo.

  • Just stay on the leading edge. People pitting one camera against another will likely spend the rest of their lives doing so without creating anything. You know that you will NEVER please everyone.

    I am anxious to see TGWTDT. Is there a 4K theatre in San Francisco?

  • Well obviously there is . . . I will just look it up myself. . .

  • For those that saw it, did the film appear too dark to you? I couldn’t tell if it was the film or the threatre I was in, but some scenes looked criminally underexposed/lacking detail. Ryan, it seems like you may have encountered a similar issue? Or, like you said, this may have been what Fincher was going for…

    • I believe that’s what the look was supposed to be. I make my own films dark and almost underexposed so to me it was love at first sight. I can understand why some would disagree though.

      • It wasn’t necessarily bad, just noticeable. If it’s a planned look, more power to Fincher, as it fits the story. I did see it at one of the crappier theatres around here which I’m sure doesn’t have digital 4k, so that may very well have been a factor.

        • Perhaps. I saw it on 4K projection and while it was certainly dark in many scenes, no detail was ever lost. When you saw it, did it feel like you couldn’t see parts of the image that you were supposed to? Or was it just an overall “this feels too dark” experience?

  • For those complaining (or considering complaining) about RED, or about the amount of camera posts on this website, you should take the time to read the post Koo linked to, as there are some amazing insights that are much more about camera or company – they are about the future of our industry as we know it.

    Some tidbits that were truly eye-opening:

    “Much of what one can get in good skin tones does, in fact, start with the camera. Greater bit depth and more resolution is certainly going to help, but it also comes down to the exact range in which the skin is initially exposed. This critical range, perhaps just at or over key, enables an image with massive bit depth to undergo significant and more precise separation. This pushing and pulling of the image at the perfect exposure in the exact area of skin allows a DI artist to really find a way to reveal what is in the skin. Ian says to me ‘magazines have convinced a lot of people that good skin tone is about concealing of detail…sometimes to the point of a blatant blur. But beauty in faces shouldn’t be concealing, rather revealing.’ Ian goes on, ‘When I work on a film, I challenge concealment (in a sense) by attempting to reveal everything in detail.’ Ian doesn’t mean he wants to show off wrinkles or scars, but the more you see of someones true face, the more their face can be read thus the more realistic or perhaps better they look.”


    “But I believe a serious impact like 4K gives us the opportunity to measure ourselves and therefore find motivation in how we change instead of asking should we change. 4K should change how we use makeup. 4K should change how we dress a set. 4K should change how we perform, direct, shoot, edit, affect and manipulate because we are no longer able to hide behind the imperfections of an exhibition format long overdue for extinction. If there is a criticism that “digital shows all” then I am totally for it.”

  • I saw the movie at a sneak preview on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the Arclight cinema (with 4K projection) and it was unbelievable. The resolution and detail is unmatched anywhere, even with film projection. The problem with film is that it degrades with every showing and it’s dependent on the projectionist not screwing anything up.

    The last movie I saw before The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo was In Time, at a Regal theater in Gainesville, FL. The quality was so horrendous that I almost demanded my money back. Of course, the film had been shown hundreds of times by then, but it doesn’t excuse the visual diarrhea that was up on that screen.

    Again, 4K was eye-popping. I hadn’t felt like that in a movie theater since I was a little kid. And best of all is that in two months when an audience goes to see the film it will look as good as it did when I saw it a day before its release.

    • After writing this, I went to Sony’s 4K Digital Cinema locator, and went to see GWTDT at the nearest (supposedly) 4K theater.

      They were showing it on the small screen on film. Looked and sounded below average. Oh well — I tried.

      There’s a definite need not only to be able to find out which theaters have 4K projection, but also whether they’ll be showing films digitally or not. It’d be great to bring back the concept of the THX logo next to showtimes — except to the picture side, so that discerning theatergoers can actually know what they’re getting in advance, instead of walking into the theater and going, “oh, shit” (as I did).

      • This is actually the practice at some Regal and AMC chains (in Atlanta at least), as they’ll specify digital showtimes separately from standard, much as they separate “IMAX experience” showtimes.

      • Absolutely! That should be standard practice, since it’s definitely something that sets the film apart. The Arclight cinemas are great because everything is digital and I think 4K. But for other theaters that still use film projections, I could see them labeling their 4K or digital shows but maybe charging more for them too. It would be unfortunate unless they were using it to afford upgrading all of their projectors.

        Is there any company coming out with a “cheap” 4K projector? I remember RED showing off a server but I forget if they had a projector too. Maybe those would be good enough for smaller cinemas, like the small screen you saw GDT on and I saw In Time on.

  • One thing I find interesting is that the use of the padding is attributed to the director, not the cinematographer. Could any established DP’s comment on how they feel about using the padding and re-framing in post? In still photography I believe the ability to crop images is what makes it so much easier to achieve “perfect” framing, and in GDT I noticed that almost every shot had perfect “Rule of Thirds” framing unless it was broken for a specific reason.

  • One thing to consider is that this technique is HUGE for the low budget crowd. Think of this scenario – a super low budget film has 1 week to shoot on one camera and it just happens to be in the budget to find a 4K camera. By adding a pad to the shooting problems of inexperience or even perhaps shaky sticks (i’ve seen some really bad tripods on low budget sets) are mitigated. Thanks to AE 5.5 you could easily rescue a shot that you cannot afford to do extra takes on. Its like buying insurance – forget the art for a second and just think – “i didn’t waste any extra money”. Nice thought, especially to a producer and investor

  • SydneyBlue120d on 12.29.11 @ 4:31PM

    Sony 4K image quality is excellent but it has been carefully planned, installed and operators have made they’re homeworks. You may also want to try Cinema’s running 4K DLP, Barco, Christie and NEC for a more predictable result.

  • In the olde days, the director trusted his DP, who trusted his camera operator and his crew. There were no monitors which everybody must look at to give their approval.

  • IMHO, cropping in post to achieve better framing is just another tool in the film makers set. Nobody is perfect and the constraints on set or on location (when covering live events) may be less than ideal to realise perfect framing every time. Since I do a lot of events/unscripted work, it’s always better to have the shot than to miss it because you had to move the camera for a perfect frame.

    I shoot at 1080p and edit at 720p, giving me roughly 20-30% to play with in the edit, either for reframing or stabilisation (thanks to Adobe’s Warp). I guess those who are on RED will scoff at 720p, but this is the resolution-by-choice for most of my web-only projects (and it looks acceptable when viewed on a FullHD screen). So, until 4k is a real factor in the living room, I believe a shoot-to-crop approach will be a popular tool. Although I agree that it’s better to do things right in-camera (for one, it saves time in post), it’s nice to know that you’ve got good coverage.

  • If the Red One/MX resolves just over 3K, as you point out, Koo, and if 2/3 of the film was shot on a Red One/MX (not to mention the fact that it was then cropped) – and if the Epic’s 4K of actual (debayered) resolution was also cropped (by 20%) – doesn’t that mean that this ISN’T the first film shot and distributed at 4K?

    Well lit 35mm film datacined at 4K and distributed at 4K has higher resolution and dynamic range than TGWTDT (theoretically at least!), but I suppose that’s not what was meant by “captured [shot?] at 4K”. The Sony Head of Marketing featured in the video on Light Iron’s website says that the advantage of end-to-end 4K for the cinema audience is that it looks… like film (“natural”, he adds).

    That said, I reckon you’d need a v-a-s-t screen or else would have to be sitting uncomfortably close to a large screen to see any advantage over 2K projection. The advantage of shooting 4K is presumably the pixel redundancy that allows for cropping, zooming and effects work.

    The “look-around pad” seems similar to the “safe area” used on film ever since the industry abandoned the 4:3 aspect ratio (in the 1960s?). In practice, it’s not that great because on a professional set there tend to be things in the safe area by necessity (microphones, lamps, edges of sets…) that you wouldn’t want to see on the screen.

    • I think they only cropped that much on the EPIC. And the One is almost 4.5k. So, less than 4k of “real” resolution but not substantially less.

      In the front half of any theater good eyes should be able to tell the difference between 2k and 4k.

  • Not sure if this has been mentioned,

    With the fast paced speed of projects these days, I very much like the ‘look-around’ technique. The frame lines on the monitoring device allow the camera operator to frame “perfectly” on the day, and the extra space around the frame allows for options later, when everyone is removed from the moment. Of course, I believe that it could be a great tragedy if the DoP did not have control or input on the choice of any possible reframes, but that would depend on the project, and severity of the DoP’s framing choices.

    35mm film has had this extra-space-around-the-frame technique for ages. This just expands on it.

  • I saw GDT at the Varsity in Toronto and it looked awful. I don’t know…it really looked like it was shot with a video camera to me…not digital cinema. Could have been the facility, or it could be that I’m just not used to that kind of resolution, but I can say that in my opinion it did not look good.

  • good deal bro; case in point: i check your website at least 3 times daily

  • Hello, FragrantWitch! I hope the UK SpaceNK locations will carry it, for all of you asrocs the pond. I’ve never seen Dark City must add that to my list! I confess, I found Metropolis a bit draggy in parts but visually, it’s so important and influential.