Green Screen Cinema Filmmaking for the 21st century

Free Film School: HD Workflow

Monday, May 26 2008 @ 05:21 AM UTC
Contributed by: Jimbo
Views: 3,574
Free Film School

It's finally time to get your hands on a camera. Here's Bryan Singer with his. Since this is Free Film School we're not going to have access to the Panavision Genesis HD camera that Bryan prefers, but neither will we waste your time with the silent movie nonsense that USC starts you out with. We're going to look at an affordable HD workflow that will allow you to easily publish to the web. I hope you're fine with distributing your work online. Consider that 240 million people watched Evolution of Dance while less than 40 million people paid to see "Superman Returns".

While you've probably heard me say there's no money in online video, YouTube is the best way to get immediate feedback on your work. At this stage in your career you need as much audience exposure as possible. Using an HD workflow and distributing your results online will give you both useful skills and a chance to see how your work resonates with bored teenagers the world over.

We'll first look at how workflows evolved over time so that we can come up with the most optimal HD workflow.

The initial workflow for talking pictures was:
    Capture image and sound elements separately
    Make a positive print of the image (keep the negative in a vault somewhere)
    Give the positive image and the sound elements to the editor
    Editor takes all morning syncing the positive image elements with the sound elements
    Editor finally gets to edit the image and sound elements
    Some unlucky person (not the editor) looks at the edited positive and tries to conform the master negative to the positive
I cannot even begin to describe what a hassle it was to carry around an enormous reel of mag film separate from the picture element and then run them both through a sync block (a big metal device that had an audio head on it) just to view the footage the director shot that day. With the advent of special effects, filmmakers started to do nutty things like run the undeveloped negative over to the FX department and have them layer on effects by re-exposing that day's footage. After enough footage was lost on that workflow the optical printer came into vogue. The optical printer used two or more interpos prints (i.e. "positive" prints that came from camera negative) and as a result FX started to appear in the film workflow after the "capture image" step:
    Capture image and sound elements separately
    Make a positive print
    Transfer image elements to FX (compositing occurs)
    Transfer image and sound elements to edit department
    Editor syncs image elements with sound elements
    Editor then edits image and sound elements
    Someone with a lot of patience conforms the negative to match the edited positive print
You'll notice that filmmakers didn't bend over backward to accomodate this new "effects" business. They just added a step into the process. Finally some genius (I think it was George Lucas) realized that everything would be easier if the assets were all digitized and thus the modern workflow was born:
    Capture image and sound elements separately
    Transfer image elements to a central location as HD RGB 4:4:4, a digital master
    Transfer sound elements to a central location (synchronized with the image via timecode)
    Copies of assets go to FX
    Copies of assets go to editing, editor creates down-converts for "offline" editing
    Editor edits down-converted assets, produce an edit decision list
    A slightly happier person conforms the negative to match the edit decision list
You'll notice that this workflow is not all that optimized, either. Sound and video assets are still separate. Assets go all over the place (which means you need an asset management system that all departments have access to). Compositing can happen anywhere. There is still a conform step. I think it's fair to say that there are still many artifacts from the talking picture days that have yet to be worked out of the modern production workflow. Hopefully this situation will improve by the time you've graduated from Free Film School. To help get you there we will follow a simplified HD workflow:
    Capture image and sound together in either HDV, MP4 or RAW format
    Copy HDV/MP4/RAW assets to your edit environment
    Composite video layers, composite audio layers, edit (all in the same environment)
    Render final movie from edit environment
This will cut out the concept of a high quality master that lives outside of your editing environment (which, trust me, will someday seem archaic). Losing the high quality master will make your assets easier to manage and will open your production up to a whole world of affordable camera gear. This low-end gear will still be able to create content with a data rate of 25 Mbit/s, which is more than adequate for web and DVD distribution.

In my next post I will go over the tools that are employed in this affordable HD workflow.