April 27, 2014

As Digital Cinema Shooting Reaches 4K, 6K, & Beyond, How Will Post Production Keep Up?

Michael Cioni, CEO of post firm Light Iron, has been quite proactive in sharing the ins and outs of his company's workflows, techniques, and philosophies. Previously, Cioni has highlighted the hurdles of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's 4K post production process, and gone in-depth about maintaining the color pipeline of Ender's Game amidst extensive visual effects work. Now, in a video journal released in time for NAB 2014, Cioni breaks down Light Iron's upgraded 4K, 6K and even 8K-ready post infrastructure -- while also explaining the importance of choosing tools today that will serve the future's needs.

The tools and techniques it takes to finish a film after editing make up the heart of the modern post house  -- its "bread and butter," so to speak. It's not hard to imagine such a company being a little hesitant to give away any "under the hood" secrets, much less explain what everything is and how it all works together. As such it's pleasant if not surprising to see Cioni's openness here, who went as far as saying the following in a forum post from a ways back:

Actually, I have no problem revealing our cards. Ever since I started working in Hollywood, I found that sharing information is more effective in building relationships than in boasting about "secret sauces" that are reserved for clients only. While many people (especially post companies) lure people in with so-called "proprietary tools," I find that sharing the knowledge with everyone and everyone yields far more positive results.

This philosophy apparently extends to LI's core system -- the stuff that puts the "iron" in the company's name. Now, into the guts we go:

It's almost needless to say, but I'll say it anyway: that's a pretty darn impressive setup they got there. Those throughput figures pretty much speak for themselves, and it's amazing that much horsepower can fit into so compact a space. What's truly fascinating to me is just how IT-based the future of post -- and filmmaking in general -- really is. In a file-based world, that makes a lot of sense, but it's still nice to see that current hardware and software can handle the demands of tomorrow's formats.

Of course, these systems exist a bit beyond the scope of a home-brew indie post production setup. Regardless, I think it's helpful for any filmmaker to know the specifics of what drives a real-time 6K DI system such as this. You might not be pushing petaFLOPS or laying Fibre Channel, and you may never even need to. Whatever tools you have access to now, efficient and future-ready practices can still trickle down to a home-brew post setup -- as can issues like bottlenecks, conversely. Such considerations are just as important when time and budgets are limited, even if you're working in 2K.

Especially given the benefits of advancing GPU technology (as opposed to proprietary solutions), "tomorrow" is looking to be a bright place for filmmaking technology. Furthermore Light Iron's continued transparency here is appreciable, as it sheds all the more light on the inner workings of a pretty exciting future.

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42 Comments

Ironic that they edited that video in iMovie.

April 27, 2014 at 7:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Matt G

its just vimeo instruction video.not a feature movie why you need 4K-6K version of that

April 28, 2014 at 8:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kemalettin

Hahahaha!

April 28, 2014 at 9:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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8K ready, A company that see what is happening.

April 27, 2014 at 8:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

so basically that new Mac Pro i just bought is as much of a trashcan as it looks-- guess ill stick to standard def... any idea what they spent on this "master plan"??

April 27, 2014 at 9:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Don't worry, if need arises, plug in a faster CPU (16 cores will probably come), and hope that Apple will offer upgrade GPUs.

April 28, 2014 at 7:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thyl Engelhardt

Technology is not moving very quickly these days....you might as well just get locked down with the latest and greatest available right now. It's not like this stuff will get faster or cheaper anytime soon.

April 27, 2014 at 10:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jason

That is an interesting observation, and I fully agree. It seems as if CPU development somehow stalled. There are more cores now, for sure, but software cannot allways use them all. And even the GPU development seems to have slowed down lately. Maybe, specific ASICs will be developped for specific codecs. The Red rocket points into that direction, even though it was now obsoleted by recent GPU usage improvements.

April 28, 2014 at 7:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thyl Engelhardt

Not hardly. The GPU is only doing the debayering for now.

April 28, 2014 at 9:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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jorge

I think eventually the CPU and GPU will integrate into 1 unit that does everything

April 28, 2014 at 11:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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john jeffries

It won't, are people seriously unaware of how much post work and CGI is done at 2K these days? Nobody notices.

April 27, 2014 at 11:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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trackofalljades

For CGI intensive work it will most likely be scaled to 2K, but higher K's are still useful for pulling mattes on green screen (Think fine hair). 6K was also designed for a 4K finish since it has to be debayered. It yields finer detail and less noise once scaled. Working with 4K files for other than CGI work has become easy with current hardware. RED files are compressed RAW and at 4K are actually smaller file sizes than say Arri RAW files at 2K, and even smaller than 5D RAW files using the Magic Lantern hack. ProRES 444 at 4K is also larger.

April 28, 2014 at 12:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chris

The vast majority of keying is done at 2k. Usually down scaled from 2.8k ArriRAW. Most facilities will keep the original 2.8k files also online for difficult keys, where the GS was lit poorly etc. then the extra res comes in handy.

Nobody likes to key on Red footage. It's highres, but the compression is very noticeable, when you're trying to pull very fine detail like hair. The wavelet compression also interferes with certain keyers like IBK in Nuke, that include edge detection in their processing. Same for Prores or DNxHD.

But what is far more important than resolution is the lack of compression, hence ArriRAW or Sony RAW, and a noise free sensor. Switching to 16 bit files would be far more helpful than more resolution.

April 28, 2014 at 2:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Key me

April 28, 2014 at 5:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Phil

It's still compressed, but at least the bit depth is up

April 28, 2014 at 6:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yep

Dragon also supports lower compression .

April 28, 2014 at 5:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Phil

I've keyed tons of Red footage, never had any problems. Why would wavelet compression cause a problem for keying? It's not like DCT compression which gets blocky.

April 28, 2014 at 5:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gabe

Depends on how picky your VFX is. At some of the bigger shops they'll demand that your key preserves everything down to the peach fuzz. That's a lot harder to do if your footage is compressed and it just gets worse if the plate was not shot correctly (badly light GS etc). Which it usually wasn't.

The best footage I've keyed on was uncompressed 16bit RAW from the F65.

April 28, 2014 at 6:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yep

@Yep

I'm well aware of that...but there's nothing about how wavelet compression acts on footage that prevents that. At worst, it softens details and interferes with noise structure, but that only becomes an issue at really high compression ratios.

April 30, 2014 at 12:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gabe

Btw, I've typically found Alexa footage to be a bit noisier than the Red footage, though of course some of that is up to the DP's choices. Haven't been too impressed with the F55 on overall color, though it seems pretty clean.

April 28, 2014 at 5:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gabe

I'm sorry, what did you say? ;-)

April 28, 2014 at 3:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

You completely missed the point of the video. It's about creating step three while everyone else is on step one. You can get more return on your investment by building smarter, not bigger.

April 28, 2014 at 5:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rob

Michael Cioni knows his stuff.

April 27, 2014 at 11:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Richard

+1 that was great!

April 28, 2014 at 12:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ryan

He knows a ton of acronyms too.

April 28, 2014 at 3:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brick

I'm happy to say that Light Iron is my preferred DI facility.

April 28, 2014 at 12:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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John Orland

Cioni is a clever guy who knows "tutorial" videos like this one are easily spread around the Internet. His business plan is to convince DIT's that they'll never be able to keep up with technology as easily as a company like LI. Their setup and workflow is simple (albeit converting 6K raw to 10-bit uncompressed is nonsense to me), but the software and hardware they are using cost more money than what the average independant DIT can afford. This is probably to convince the DITs to rent LI tools instead of building and renting their own DIT carts. I think it is a good move... but on the other hand it's also true that you can do 90% of your work on a 15'' macbook pro retina with some extra hardware when you need it.

April 28, 2014 at 6:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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William

+1. As a DIT who built his system from the ground up, computer, NAS, cart and all i agree totally.

April 28, 2014 at 8:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jorge Cayon

Yup!

April 28, 2014 at 9:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yeah, this is great for new DITs who haven't made the investment in a kit yet. But for those of us who have been at it a while, it's new competition from a large and well-funded company.

I never had a problem keeping up with technology, so I really don't see the point in renting someone else's gear.

April 28, 2014 at 9:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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jorge

Ding! Ding!

April 28, 2014 at 3:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yep

William-
Apologies if the video information wasn't clear, but this case study was not geared towards DITs in any way. The DIT portion of the job doesn't have to deal with the challenges of 4K+ finishing precision, monitoring, or editing. And that's a good thing considering the challenges of 4K+ finishing schedules and budgets (good idea to do a video on that someday...)
As for the DIT elements, I agree, 15" MacBook Pros are awesome and can do a lot of the job. What I am suggesting is that every car manufacturer that builds a compact car also builds a 4-door and a SUV so they can serve their customers if and when the needs arise. Likewise, DITs and post houses should consider scaling as a way to ensure they're never selling short / being sold short.
michael

April 29, 2014 at 4:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Really? You think converting RAW to uncompressing 10bit is nonsense? Then you don't understand what happens in post. It's important to have uniformity with color through all aspects of post. RAW is great if you plan to have minimal digital manipulation, which is rare with a lot of productions.

The DIT as it stands now is a shoehorned position where someone else in post as to deal with these mess.

It'll have to evolve into a hybrid production/post position where they are accountable through the post to finish.

This is why post houses are going in set.

May 3, 2014 at 5:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Smiley

The AMD FirePro W9100 can drive 6 (Six) 4K displays. And have no problem managing red dragon footage. As the link below shows you.

6K dragon graded on resolve / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et-msw606TU

Seriously, we can edit anything on the comfort of our homes in a form factor of a commune computer. And that is the indication that time have changed drastically in just one decade.

If this guys want to keep with the standards of tomorrow, why don't the prepare themselves to edit footage from the Forza camera 18K? We will see guys... We will see.

April 28, 2014 at 8:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Edgar

You're right.

18K, 100+ megapixel, 60 fps. http://news.doddleme.com/equipment/forget-4k-and-8k-how-about-18k/

Where's the folks that said K's that high weren't possible?

April 28, 2014 at 10:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

So basically - win the lottery. Then win it again. Simples x

April 28, 2014 at 9:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Speaking of 4K:

Panasonic ramping up GH4 production to meet demand: http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2014/04/25/panasonic-increasing-gh4-production-to-meet-demand

April 30, 2014 at 5:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

Damn my brain just exploded. I don't even want to know how much this cost, I know I can not afford it.

May 1, 2014 at 5:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gary

Most of these comments, with all due respect, are missing the point I think. This operation is a post production facility geared towards final delivery of eight and nine figure Hollywood movies (I'm sure they do other work too of course). It's not a rental house, it has nothing to do with on-set looks or other DIT work, and while it may be possible to use Resolve to grade 6K .r3d files with $16,000 worth of GPU horsepower, it's not possible for four people to all be working with that sequence simultaneously in that setup, and in real-time to boot. The video is not an advertisement, it's advice. My interpretation of that advice is this: stay ahead of the curve as much as you can. To borrow the language of science, the environmental change that caused the extinction of film and it's replacement by digital technology is not static but dynamic, and there is still strong selection pressure at work on the ascendant technologies. Post production has, somewhat ironically, usually been at the leading edge of implementing new technologies and new workflows and as it becomes more feasible to move very large chunks of data through any post pipeline, we should be prepared to accommodate that ability. The only thing constant is change......

May 2, 2014 at 10:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Patrick

Why include the Quantel spokesperson? Seems like a joint marketing promotional reel at some point.
And why the all the flickering computer screen shots?

There will always be as many workflows to production and post as there are ways to dream up solutions.
Post is very "Data Centric" (A Cioni term) now and this was all about one companies solution to a 6K collaborative workflow without the bandwidth limitations of "desktop computing hardware".

Whats FotoKem, Technicolor, Deluxe, MTI and others up to? We don't know because they just do not market and educate the community like Michael and LI Digital. All the major studio VP's of Technology and Post Production know. But how many of us produce content for the major studios as original projects or for their distribution?

Steve

May 2, 2014 at 4:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Why not have the Quantel rep in the video. It's a Quantel based workflow.

Do you need some VP of Technology to explain to you post workflows? These are published all over the place. In fact, most of these workflows are pretty much the same, it's just the details that are different, and it's not hard to research. Stop expecting to be spoonfed everything.

May 4, 2014 at 3:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Masaan

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June 26, 2014 at 3:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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