As workflows from editing to VFX gradually shift online, two aspects of the finishing process remain outliers. Audio mixing and colour grading will be the last parts of post to shift entirelyto the cloud if at all because of the highly exacting nature of the work.
The movement to cloud is not a fad, says BrandonHeaslipof dailies and mastering softwaredeveloperColorfront. A lot of steps need to be worked out and production still needs to understand more, but it is happening.
As it stands today,grading tools like DaVinci Resolve can share projects, media, camera metadata and rawdebayerdata, project and colour space preferencespretty much any part of a gradebetween editors and colourists,makingremote grading a possibility.
The links between colourists and their teams could be as simple as exporting a project, with supporting Colour Decision Lists, and using the softwares media management tools to share and distribute files to an attached cloud service ready for download and remote work.
It could be more collaborativeviaa VPN, hosting multiple users within a project by utilisingthe grading toolssoftware to map and manage project databases to users. At the timeline level, features like colour trace(in Resolve)allow colourists to copy grades from timelines to keep them up to date, and lightbox will review changes and advise on ungraded clips to keep the project moving along.
Theres a reason that post-facilities remain an important aspect of production. With QC and approvals, they have the required playback and screening setups to show a project as intended and the in-house staff to ensure calibration and colour accuracy.
It isnt difficult to hand off a grade to a colourist on the other side of the Atlantic, and then receive a completed project of beautifully graded images as long as the correct preferences for colour space and colour management are followed at both ends and reference monitors are consistent. Small inconsistencies or changes can have knock on effects, says Craig Heffernan, Blackmagic Designs EMEAtechnicalsalesdirector.
Again, the catch is that critical review quality output is not yet possible fromthecloud.
Whilst network services, cloud storage and online collaborative tools allow teams and clients to work remotely, there is the need to have correctly calibrated and accurate monitoring to truly recreate a grade as the colourist has designed it or to avoid issues in error checking or sign off - especially with HDR formats.
That said, it could depend on the final destination for the content. If the production is bound for an online service like YouTube or Vimeo, for a corporate or commercial client, then it could be appropriate to review on that exact platform; as the intended audience would see it.
Final colour pass on a great many kinds of content is absolutely possible from a work-from-home situationby using a variety of different working/viewing platforms, saysFergus McCall,head ofcolour, The Mill NY.
These range frompoint-to-point locked bandwidth real-time streaming with adjusted monitoring at both ends, to using third party (but secure) cloud-based solutions with clients making judgements looking at the content on a browser on their phone.
Iwouldntrecommend the latter, says McCall,but Ive also graded sessions where creatives who are sitting in the room with me looking at a $40K professionally calibrated display have elected to make their final decisions looking at a QuickTime on their phone.
What it is categorically not possible to do, he insists, is tomake final decisions on a long form featureproject that first and foremost is being colour corrected for theatrical release.
The same also applies to HDR, WideColorGamut and some extended resolution deliverables. For these, a phone or tablet isnt going to cut it.
The monitoring gap is closing. Heffernanpoints to development of affordable butveryhigh-quality OLED TVs with HDR format support up to Dolby Vision standard. These can be a suitable alternative to professional reference monitors with full DCI P3 colour accuracy, depending on the intended release platforms, he says.
Remote collaborationReplicating face to face interaction between client (DoP) andcoloristespecially during the fine tuning of a grade requires synchronous sub-frame accurate streams.
Collaboration toolslikeSohonetsClearViewFlex,EvercastorStreamboxChromacan be used to invite colleagues to a live stream session. You could perform a live edit or review and approval in real-time with over the shoulder instruction like back up two frames, cut this, tweak that, as near as you would in a suite.
Again, the catch is that critical review quality output is not yet possible fromthecloud.
Sohonetsays it is working to increase thecolourdepth (10-bit), chroma (4:2:2) and colour space (Rec 2020 and HDR) to provide an acceptable critical review alternative that can bedelivered over high capacity home internet speeds.Streamboxhas developed a virtual encoder Spectraclaimedcapable ofcolour-accurate remote review and collaborationsessions over the cloudwith virtual Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premier machines. Future iterations of Spectra are in the works to support the same capability for virtual versions of DaVinciResolve, AutodeskFlameandFilmLightsBaselight.
Blackmagic has integrated Resolve Studio 16 with Frame.io to enable feedback and approvals. Heffernan explains that by signing into a Frame.io account, Resolve can render and export directly from the deliver page to Frame.io where others can review shots or full sequences, checking edits, grades, or sound design, and adding comments or suggestions back to the creative team.
Frame.io markers are then automatically updated in Resolve allowing clients to directly advise on changes down to the frame, and rapidly speeding up approvals and decisions between teams andclients,Heffernansays.
Non-verbal cuesLight Iron, the U.S. finishing facility which services a number of feature film and commercialscinematographers, managed to set up its senior colourists from home over the last few months with systems good enoughto finish a 4K series with HDR and SDR deliverablesand a feature film.
Its colourists set up physicalBaseLightand Resolve panels at home and accessing the high-res media residing on premises at Light Irons East and WestCoast facilities.
The biggest hurdle was not so much technical but notbeing able topick up onthe kind of non-verbal cues you get while sitting in a room with someone. They couldnt read body language,gauge reactions or look directly at the client to see if they were understanding one another properly.
Personally, I like having all my team around me, reports Steven Bodner,supervisingcolourist, Light Iron NYC. I find it a lot easier to collaborate and get things done with my regular team in adjacent rooms. Right now, everything is a lot slower simply because every interaction requires a videoconference of phone call. I find it hard to see how anything I am doing now from home will be permanent.
Cloud grading proof of conceptAn experimental production of a short film produced in the cloud at a recent Hollywood Professional Association (HPA) event was able to show how raw master files could be linked to Nuke, Avid or Resolve for colour correction in the cloud almost as soon as the take had been filmed.
For the demo, acloud-based integration betweenColorfrontand Frame.io made it possible to stream camera originalstoAmazons AWS cloud andprovideACES compliant colour and sound synchedfilesfordailies and editorial.
The proof of concept also demonstrated that, whenall the mediais stored in the cloud postproduction workflows, could be allocated to the best creative located anywhere.
Wehad colourists in Dublin, London and Hollywood and all could have worked on remote colour correction for us, explains Joachim Zell,VP,technology at LA facility EFILM.
They chose to work with Encore in Hollywood. Itscoloristin LA graded the rushes live and usingClearViewFlex to interact with theDoPmiles away in Palm Springs.
There were some [facilities] who said they couldnt do it in time, [so] we found another vendor and were able to redirect the data virtually anywhere in the world and still meet our deadline, Zell says.
Security remains essential.Zell pointed out that for a million-dollar blockbuster production,they wouldnt be so blas about giving access [to the media] that easily to people theyve never before.
JackWenzingera solutions architect for AWSworking on the project, stressed,Because global access is phenomenal you need great security to go with it.
Learning curveIftheres a shred of silver lining possible to take from the last three months its thatthe industrymanaged to shift remarkably successfully to remote workflows. The Mill, forinstance, set up five colour suites in five different locations in NYC to deliver quality work.
Its been a steep learning curve, a challenge for us and our vendors and not without its teething problems but its a situation that has clearly made us rethink the traditional working practices of colour correction, says McCall. Ultimately,having access to a trusted theatre or colour room (and trusted colourist) will still be the most failsafe means of unified creative collaboration and locked down colour science.
Remote Audio MixingThe same functionality with remote user access, network sharing and collaboration offered for edit and grade on the picture side, can be used for sound design and mixing. A sound designer will need to create, compose and build sound elements to replace those not captured on set, or to enhance a scene with elements not available when shooting e.g. foley, music or ADR.
Its typical that audio post may not even be handled by the same facility as picture elements, so connectivity and management of media and assets between the two is critical, says Heffernan. These audio files are likely to come from other external teams or companies as well, such as a score uploaded from a composer. Having the ability to quickly download and incorporate new audio media into working projects means the process keeps moving, and can be dynamic.
MattSkilton,senior dubbing mixerat Envy has been working from his home studio for four years. He will typically perform the entire premix there usingProToolsand speakers professionally installed by HHB.
With directors and editors busy on multiple projects they dont tend to have time for the premix so commuting into London to spend several days alone in a mixing theatre didnt make much sense for me on a personal level, he says. I know how to get a programme to broadcast quality sound frombeing premixed at home knowing that on the final mix day I can still tweak it.
It is the final mix which has proved most challenging during coronavirus and the one area which will continue to be problematic in any remote scenario.
The one thing we cant replicate is the final mix day where I have a room full of people including director, editor and executive and we thrash out what everyones opinions are. At this point we are talking about subtleties in finessing music cues and its something that can really only be done live.
Sending notes with files to the multiple decision makers at this stage is painful for everyone,Skiltonsays.
Envy CTO DanielSassonhas simulated the experience as best as possible by adapting Zoom to give key creatives a shared voice over session but sound quality depends on individual home set-ups.
Remote premixing for standard stereo TV work or even 5.1 mixes is not only possible but increasingly the norm. As you move up through scales of surround sound mixing and into specialist areas such as delivery for Dolby Atmos or 3D soundspaces for cinematic quality audio, the less likely you are to be working remotely.
For Dolby Atmos there is no replicating that big theatrefeel,Skiltonsays. Drama, for example, is more layered with music stems, composition, sound design and could be mixed in so many different ways.
For these projects adedicated facility with multiplespeakermonitoring and mixing desks set up for precise, positional mixing is necessary, according to Heffernan.
The biggest issue remains final mix collaboration. Theres nothing quite like being face to face when everyone is hearing the same thing at the same time, saysSkilton. Its impossible to do via phone or skype. Headphones might help but that introduces its own critical elements which may also distort the experience.
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