The new film from the Academy Award-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours is the harrowing true story of Aron Ralston, who becomes trapped while canyoneering alone near Moab, UT, and must resort to desperate measures to survive.
According to Russell Lasson, Colorist/Digital Cinema Specialist at Color Mill, their two Cache-A Pro-Caches were key components of the digital workflow they created for the film. This workflow was specifically designed to handle and safeguard the various digital camera sources while providing quick local turnaround, ensuring compatibility and fulfilling bonding requirements.
Lasson chose Cache-A’s Pro-Cache archive appliance for the tape archival. Cache-A’s Pro-Cache writes data on low-cost, secure, portable and IT industry-standard LTO tape cartridges using the standard tar format for interchangeability and future proofing. The archive life of LTO cartridges is more than 30 years.
Digital Archiving to LTO
“Digital archiving to LTO was a must for 127 Hours, and the Pro-Cache was the perfect solution,” said Lasson. “It was an essential part of our workflow and also met the dual needs of the studio and the bonding company. The Pro-Cache made it easy to get to LTO to ensure the security of the digital source masters and all of the postproduction work. At the same time, the bonding company felt safer and more at ease with digital because we archived on LTO, the same tape-based platform that banks use.”
“We also liked the Pro-Cache because it directly connected to our network and includes a built-in, searchable database with full archiving, not just backup, which makes it very easy to find material quickly,” said David Cummins, Director of Operations at Color Mill. “It’s also an excellent data management tool.”
With the film being shot entirely on location in Utah for two months, Color Mill was faced with the challenge of processing and protecting huge amounts of data while satisfying complex production requirements that could only be met with a complete local solution. To satisfy these needs, Color Mill built a customized digital lab close to the production.
“We were digital workflow engineers,” said Lasson. “To make this successful, we built a full mobile lab for processing and archiving all of the content, and we had to do it as inexpensively as possible. This was not a huge budget film, and what they were trying to pull off had an indie feel to it. With that in mind, we had to be very conscious on pricing, while making sure we had the right equipment for our workflow.”
In the field, once shooting was finished for the day, Color Mill used 1 Beyond Wrangler Dude stations to play back video to verify each recording. Then, each of the two camera crews’ solid state drives (SSD) was copied onto two hot swappable shuttle drives. The two shuttle drives were then sent to Color Mill’s lab, while the original SSD camera drives stayed with production, protecting the media by having it in two separate locations.
To extend this on-set workflow to the Color Mill lab, 1 Beyond offload copy stations for each camera crew were set up in the facility. Once the shuttle drives reached Color Mill, one went to the Pro-Cache for backup and the other went to the 1 Beyond station for creating two hard drive backups on external RAID 5 enclosures. Finally, Color Mill took whichever shuttle drive was finished first, which was usually from the Pro-Cache, and started compressing and making files for editorial, dailies and a DVD for production to view. As a final measure, once the shuttle drives were cleared, copies of the media archive were ultimately stored in three separate, physical locations, and Color Mill alerted the field team that the on-location SSDs could be cleared for the next day’s shoot.
“We essentially had 24 hours to backup and archive the shuttle drives that we received and clear the SSDs for the next day,” said Lasson. “For RED, that’s pretty manageable, but considering the amount of data that we had and figuring out ways to turn it around in 12 to 14 hours was a challenge. Sometimes we got the shuttle drives at 9:00 at night and they needed to be cleared and ready to go again by 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning. Each camera unit had its own Pro-Cache, and we used both simultaneously, when necessary without going through our network to get this done. We did direct connect for the entire film, which simplified things and avoided any network issues.”
On the days when both crews were shooting, Color Mill had up to 1.5 Terabytes (TBs) of data to process. On average, they archived 600 to 800 Gigabytes of data daily.
LTO Meets Insurance Bonding Requirements
Color Mill also used the Pro-Cache to create archive tapes to meet the requirements of the bonding company, Fox Searchlight, which mandated that LTO to be used.
“We had to go to LTO; there was no question about it,” said Lasson. “LTO makes the content secure and accessible to them, and there really aren’t any other options. They need to have compatibility without having to rely on a company's proprietary software and whether or not they’re going to be around in 20 or 30 years when they might need to access the tape. The tape would be fine, but if you can’t find the software to restore it, then you’re in trouble. That's where LTO’s compatibility with tar is absolutely necessary.”
Looking back at the process, Lasson believes that mobile labs are the wave of the future in filmmaking as digital workflow becomes standard and the quickest, most cost-effective turnarounds are demanded.
“Labs are going to be mobile and much smaller, depending on the type of shoot,” he said. “Sending footage to L.A. for processing is not necessary anymore. And as cameras get more and more advanced, it’s going to become less and less essential that big facilities are needed to do a lot of that work. That’s where, for us, Cache-A’s Pro-Cache fits right in. It gives us all of the benefits of LTO.”
Cummins agreed, noting that digital cinema production is rendering the term “post” obsolete. Many traditional “post” functions can now be done concurrently with production, he explained, and the Cache-A Pro-Cache fits perfectly in that situation.
“The small form factor of the Cache-A appliance, combined with its affordability and value, offers a great advantage over expensive, heavy HD video tape machines,” he said. “It is a relatively inexpensive and simple process to archive RAW 4K, Cineform or ProRes files to an LTO-5 drive. You can’t say that about using an HD SR deck. In any case, the mass adoption of miniaturization in the consumer electronics market is now spilling into professional film and television production, and Cache-A technology plays very well in this space.”
About Color Mill
Color Mill specializes in digital cinema and television production, digital color grading and mastering. The facility is focused on all phases of Red and RAW-based production workflow. From on-set digital dailies and color grading to media deliverables, including digital cinema packages and file-to-film transfer print masters, Color Mill delivers convenient one-stop solutions throughout the entire production chain. www.colormill.net
About Cache-A Corporation
One of the first companies to introduce an LTO-5 product, Cache-A is a leading supplier of network-attached archive appliances for the digital film, broadcast and professional video industries. Cache-A’s archive appliances provide both source masters for digital acquisition and project archives, using low cost and easy to deploy configurations based on industry standard LTO tape. www.Cache-A.com