November 14, 2013

'Ender's Game' Post Production Workflow Is at Least as Epic as the Movie

File-based acquisition affords filmmakers endless flexibility all the way through post production. Given the many possible workflows, it becomes important to tightly manage everything for efficiency, quality-control, and sanity. Or, as post company Light Iron puts it below, "Not All Post is Created Equal" -- especially when the task is to maintain a consistent color pipeline across 900 VFX shots and the remaining non-VFX material, not to mention managing 75 TB of camera RAW data. Now, the company offers a fascinating (and exhaustive) look at the DI job it performed on the sci-fi epic, Ender's Game -- one which demanded exactly such a process. Check out the 20-minute case study video below.

We've covered Light Iron before across a variety of topics, probably because Light Iron (usually by way of CEO Michael Cioni) often has interesting and enlightening things to say about future-bound post production processes. Topics have included some of its hardware and software offerings, the life expectancy of the DIT as we know it, other revolutionary file-based tools, and the company's oft-mentioned end-to-end 4K management of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for Fincher & co.

The trend continues with this recently released 20-minute long breakdown of the post workflow and DI for Ender's Game:

I haven't seen Ender's Game (though I did read the book, some years ago), but epic it most certainly does look -- the process described above can be said to properly match it in scale.

Once again I think LI's approach to post -- and production, and the integration between them -- is something indie filmmakers can certainly draw from. Working under greater budgetary restrictions does not make any sort of file-based workflow impossible. Much like anything else in the low- (or no-) budget realm, it simply requires a bit of creative problem solving. One of the reasons I love seeing in-depth, 'hard-core post' videos like the one above is because it allows for the reverse-engineering of high-budget processes to be remodeled for use on smaller-scale shoots. In other words, stealing (and steal we will).

'Epic scales' aside, we're at a point in the evolution and affordability of tech, tools, and software where no facet of file-based filmmaking is unattainable. Everything Michael Cioni hits on above is within the realm of possibility for nearly any shoot of any scale. (Even LTO backup is something you could implement if you really wanted to).

For instance, you don't need LI's Outpost or Lily-Pad packages to take advantage of dailies review over WiFi/iPad -- Live Play is available for $10 per iPad on the App Store, powered by the free Light Iron Server Mac OS X app. You don't need a $100M budget to pull camera and audio cards simultaneously for parallel offloading. The free program Davinci Resolve Lite can handle any manner of VFX deliverables you may need to produce, DPX at 4K (or UHD, at least) or otherwise. And then, of course, there's the highly affordable array of high-quality cameras becoming more and more available, as many of you are well aware. The list goes on, and will continue to get longer. I'm trying to be inspirational -- is it working?

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35 Comments

Well, it is interesting, and they are certainly very pleased with themselves. Is the film any good?

November 14, 2013 at 11:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ash Mills

lol. Right? I was waiting for him to use the phrase "We are the fu***ng best!" Great video though.

November 14, 2013 at 12:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Film is so-so. I found myself nodding off a couple times. Loved the ending though. Not quite your typical Hollywood kind.

The special effects were very impressive. But good effects do not a good film make.

November 14, 2013 at 4:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Nick

You won't get a good film if only one aspect of a film is good, that's true of every part not just vfx. Doing a good job on effects does not somehow take away from the quality of its story telling...the real reason for big expensive films being uninteresting is because they're expensive and producers get scared and meddle instead of letting good story tellers tell good stories...they would rather do things that have already been done.

Gravity is without a doubt the most vfx driven movie of the year, yet it's also an amazing film and has great story telling...and it would be impossible without the vfx.

November 14, 2013 at 5:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabe

No,
no real character development, just a rushed story with kids who couldn't act worth a shit.

December 10, 2013 at 7:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Z

Take notice, they shot in 5k but as soon as the post starts they drop it to 2.5 and later to 2k. There's no 4K workflow in VFX driven features, that's why I don't believe 4K delivery is happening anytime soon.

November 14, 2013 at 12:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Marcus

^This.

Every triple A VFX tentpole I know is 2.5k max through post. Even the DI. 4k is a long way aways from the blockbuster realm. I don't even want to know what their data footprint was with all the transcodes, .exr, cineon, etc everywhere. Crazy awesome stuff here though.

November 14, 2013 at 1:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Charles

That's what I've been thinking as well. 4K vs 2K means four times as much processing power and time on renders and such, and I remember 2K being referenced by artists as the working and rendering resolution for VFX shots on several other movies.
4K is a difficult beast to tame right now from many standpoints.

November 14, 2013 at 1:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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That's because a complex 4K VFX render requires too much computational power. If you had shot an independent live action film in 4K, you would downsize it into the 2K proxies, edit it in 2K, then recall the original 4K file and color grade it. And that's basically it. The Ender's Game Red footage was shot in 300 Gb/hr, which is about one third of the losslessly compressed 4K data rate.
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As Dave pointed out, these big budget films are the workflow testing ground for the digital films to be shot in the future, no matter the budget. The DIT, the colorist, the DP and the director agree on the look; do some test shooting and grading, establish how the footage is handled sequentially to the on-site and the off-site editing and then finally fire up their cameras in anger.
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As to the 4K delivery, it just needs someone beside the YouTube to stream the footage. The infrastructure in the US is almost ready - the streaming services (from YouTube to Netflix to Amazon to Hulu to Sony to Red, etc) can do it even without the HEVC but will save 50% of the bandwidth/server time with it; the broadband speeds provided by cable companies can satisfy the 10-20 Mbps demand of the 4K (Charter today upped the minimums today to 30 Mbps, Time Warner upped the maximums to 100 Mbps last week) right now as well; the 4K TV's are out for as little as $700. 4K cameras from Canon, Sony and Red have been out for over a year, with more models to come. If you were buying a new set today, why would you not buy one that is 4K "ready"?

November 14, 2013 at 1:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I wouldn't buy mostly because I don't like to pay more for something I won't use. You missed the point, the 4k footage is down to 2.5k for VFX not as a proxie, it will be the final delivery res from VFX which means you can scale it back to 4K. Having a 4k workflow in VFX is something ridiculously expensive and it wasn't attempted yet mostly because studios already operate in low margins struggling to deliver 2K. And as it was mentioned these movies look amazing in 2k why triplicate the budget and bankrupting a couple of vfx houses just so you can have 4K delivery for once? This is far more complicated than just having 4k TVs or 4k netflix streaming.

November 14, 2013 at 3:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Marcus

** you can't scale it back to 4k **

November 14, 2013 at 3:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Marcus

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/nanotech-entertainment-4k-studios-aquires-...
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In any case, VFX laden productions may offer a mix of resolutions for the time being but 4K-to-home for live action films is going to be taking place within a year. It's up to an individual whether or not he wants to be an early adopter or wait until the prices come down to the middle class level. The 4K TV prices are predicted to drop at a ~ 40% rate annually. The United States has over 13 million millionaires. Those interested in the higher quality picture aren't likely to be deterred by the $3,000-$5,000 purchases of the top brand names.

November 14, 2013 at 10:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

4k just doesn't make financial sense right now for almost everyone. The budgets that can accommodate a 4k DI can't afford 4k vfx. And movies (e.g. indies etc.) that don't need VFX can't accommodate 4k DI in their budget. I'm all for 4k, but just about every budget for a film hits somewhere where costs are prohibitively high. For The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo LI had to redo their entire building's infrastructure. Major post houses like Colorworks, Company 3, etc are gonna charge you for server space and I don't want to fathom what the 9 month editorial/vfx in 4k server costs would be.

Give it maybe 5-7 years and it'll be more prevalent. H.265 is a delivery format, not an acquisition format. The industry is a little backwards right now. That's why there's 4k TVs with no 4k content. The front end is just rolling out but the backend needs lots of help. Storage prices are going to have to come down before we get 4k.

November 14, 2013 at 5:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Charles

This...

Yeah. Imagine broadcast TV and you get the picture... Even fullHD can become a problem with data storage. Now go to 4K and you'll see some tuxedos on the command saying a big NO for the next years. And for VFX, the answer is right above.

November 14, 2013 at 9:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Alex Mand

I can confirm that. No change on the horizon either. No-one seems energised to change at present. ENDER's and PacRim both looked terrific on the big screen. Why would we? (ENDER's only an ok film, and LightIron are 5 star at marketing. The GRAVITY pipe was far worse!).
Also, let me repeat - 4k is the 720p of super high resolution: a stopgap at best.
8K is where broadcast will go, and we'll all be there soon.

November 14, 2013 at 1:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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marklondon

It appears your estimation is right---evidenced by the makers of latest Transformers immediately switching to the Red Dragon 6K as soon as they saw footage from it. I am looking forward to the first full movie made by Peter Jackson using the Red Dragon 6K.... and those made using whatever higher K comes after that. 16K is feasible with currently used materials in sensors.

I am wondering if graphene will allow for even high than 16K.

November 14, 2013 at 9:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Interestingly enough, I've seen 4k and 8k footage at NAB an the difference is negligible. Resolution beyond 4k can only be appreciated on a massive screen. Unless you have an IMAX in your home you won't see a significant difference.

November 18, 2013 at 8:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mark

Yeah, you shouldn't really be able to see a significant different between 4k and 8k in most situations and viewing distances just like you don't see a huge different between 2k and 4k (most of the time)...it's like the pixel race with still cameras all over again...a doubling of pixels sounds great...you got from 5MP to 10...but it's not different enough for most people to switch. Surface area is something that you notice more exponentially, so you need to see 2k compared to 8k to really feel the difference. Few people notice the difference between 16 and super 16, or between 2 or 3 or 4 perf 35mm (super-35 is an optical step, so more people see that difference if there isn't a DI, but everyone uses a DI now, so no one really notices the difference---like the bad Craig Bond film---whatever it was called, the 2nd one...they went back and forth between anamorphic and super 35 (2.39:1) and no one really notices..but everyone notices the difference between super-16 and 35mm. The same holds true with 2k vs 4k (or I imagine between 4k and 8k, which I haven't seen myself yet.)

November 18, 2013 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Daniel Mimura

Totally inspiring to see people making great work......thanks ..... ok then back to rotoscoping shots my greensceen 550D feature.....hopefully the post production won't run into its 4th year....

November 14, 2013 at 12:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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GroundhogDay

By the way, the film is at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. Looking at the published financials - $110M to shoot + (let's estimate) $40M to market globally for a nice round number of $150M. It has taken $27M in its opening weekend but then slumped sharply to $7.5M in its second for a huge 75% drop and a $46M 10 day total. Since it's been released in foreign markets simultaneously, its box office of $9M there is very discouraging as well. Even if it grosses close to $60M globally, Lionsgate will only get ~ $30M of that back. And that's a hefty $120M loss.

November 14, 2013 at 2:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

:0!!!

November 14, 2013 at 3:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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CSG

It costs about the same to market one of these globally as it does to make. But there's a lot of small cash around, including exclusivity, DVDs, cable, ppv, etc. Enders game is certainly not doing well enough at the us box office, but your figures aren't the whole story. It will take a year or two to know how much they lost, if they didn't have some clever way built in to make a profit. Of course, according to the accountants, nothing ever makes money.
-Olaf

November 14, 2013 at 7:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Olaf

I think the marketing costs were held down on the "Enders Game" because it didn't test very well with the preview audiences. Usually, a big budget VFX films open in the summer or during winter holidays. This one opened in early November (yes, so did Thor 2 but it was rated higher and will likely last through the Thanksgiving). Obviously, there will be other sources of revenues but also other expenses. Interest payments alone should exceed $20M, considering that it took two years to go from production to the release and will take even longer to realize the auxiliary revenues.

November 14, 2013 at 11:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Ender's Game not being in 3D was a strange decision by its makers. They can't see how big 3D is right now??

November 15, 2013 at 3:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

My point is that it not being done in 3D could alone make it test bad.

November 15, 2013 at 3:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

For me, not being in 3D is a huge plus.

The lackluster performance also might have something to do with the author's prejudiced opinions poisoning the interest in this movie. My own facebook wall was flooded with posts about how people are refusing to spend a dime on this movie because they don't want to support the author or his work in any way.

November 16, 2013 at 10:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Good. The movie looks like pure VFX driven horse shit anyways.

November 18, 2013 at 8:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Peter

Movie makers like Peter Jackson and the makers of Transformers don't seem to be paying attention to anti-4K comments on the internet.

I've notated this. ;-)

November 14, 2013 at 9:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Peter Jackson and other filmmakers film in 4k but their post production is in 2k, I know because I worked on some of his movies, if you missed, the conversation is about post and not acquisition.

November 14, 2013 at 11:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Marcus

November 14, 2013 at 11:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I don't see your point Marcus. You didn't address what I said. These movie makers are not going to stop making movies in higher K's. You did know the ones I mentioned moved on to 6K? They are not paying attention to people like you. Can you see that? I think you don't want to.

November 15, 2013 at 3:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

For what it's worth, The Man With The Iron Fists was conformed and delivered at 4k. VFX were 2k, but didn't make up a substantial portion of the whole. So there are 4k features out there, even on sub-$100 million budgets.

November 15, 2013 at 1:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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By the way, as we proffer thesis and antithesis here, Cioni himself made a introductory video on the 4K acquisition and editing. In the link titled "revolutionary file based tools" in Dave's text above, Cioni unveils his current favorites. For those who haven't seen the clip (it's been featured on NFS a few weeks ago), some of the "new tools" are Canon C 500 shooting 4K Pro Res into a AJA Ki Pro Quad off a FreeFly Movi stabilizer. The AJA hard drive is then offloaded into a portable Light Iron editor in a "faster than real time" speed via T-bolt or USB 3.0. Voila. Done and dusted,

November 15, 2013 at 2:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Case Study was interesting to watch. I keep reading some people saying digital is cumbersome to handle. It looks like it quicker to handle than film. And ways to streamline handling it are certain to come.

November 15, 2013 at 5:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

For half the video I thought I was watching a scientology ad.

August 29, 2014 at 12:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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