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Thursday, 02 December 2010 20:25

Finding Remedies for Docs

Written by  Debra Kaufman
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Whether you’re shooting lions attacking prey on the savannah or simply putting together footage from a dozen different sources, capturing documentary footage can be an arduous job. And documentarians know that post is where they can deal with all their production issues to create the best results. P3 Update spoke to three post houses about how they add their “secret sauce” to aid documentary films.

PostCol_Eric  When Prime Focus DI Colorist Eric Alvarado started  work on Spike Lee’s latest documentary, the four-hour "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise", which aired on HBO, he faced a tight deadline coupled with an ongoing news story. “Spike wanted to push the delivery time to get the most current news possible for Act Four, which was all about the BP spill,” says Alvarado. “Over the course of three weeks, we worked around the clock getting new tapes almost daily, which we’d have to turn around almost immediately.” The documentary included material from seven different formats, including HDCAM SR, DVCPRO HD, HDV, 35mm, 16mm, Super 8 and DSLR, but Alvarado didn’t have to sweat mixing and matching formats beyond making the footage flow. “Spike really didn’t care about matching,” Alvarado recalls. “He was going for making each image the best it could be.”

For the documentary Lion Warriors, AlphaDogs handled the film’s DI, audio and titles, and Director/Producer Kire Godal and Producer/Composer Erik Godal wanted an authentic feel. “It was about nothing fake sound-wise,” says VP of Audio Marcus Pardo, a sound re-recording mixer who praises the material recorded by Mike Moller. Running Avid Pro Tools 8.1 with Waves Diamond plug-ins and the CEDAR DNS One, Pardo kept the ambient noise of flies, cicadas and wind while he was able to notch out any hiss. DI Artist Brian Hutchings used Apple Final Cut Color with the Tangent Devices panels while matching footage from RED and Sony XDCAM cameras as well as toning down some of the bloodier scenes. “We tried to find a balance between storytelling and not being distracting to viewers,” Hutchings says. The doc’s dramatic opening title sequence was created by AlphaDogs’ Senior Animator and Designer Russell Frazier.

LIGHTIRON Digital brought micro-budgeted documentary Lucky into the file-based realm for post. “It’s one of those movies that has to be technologically rebuilt to a higher fidelity than the source it was captured at,” explains CEO/DI Supervisor Michael Cioni. The project encountered some problems that included motion estimation, frame rate, noise, analog noise and resolution, which in the past would have required hardware solutions –– but as the company’s name suggests, software-based tools prevailed. One of these tools is Optical Flow, the high-fidelity frame-rate-conversion software that converted one third of the movie’s footage to 24p from interlaced 29.97.

Colorist Mark Osborne performed the final DI on a Quantel Pablo system. “The Quantel Pablo lends itself to indie films,” says Cioni. “It can read multiple flavors of codecs, so it can load in all different kinds of files and it reads them in their native format.” While file-based post can conjure up images of high-end projects, Cioni says it’s completely within the realm of the micro-budget documentary: “You don’t waste time [and] money in transcoding. So we help the indie filmmaker save money … and there’s no fidelity loss.”

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