'Snow Guardians': Collaborative Production, Innovative Post
New Jersey-based cinematographer, visual artist and editor Jim Geduldick (@FilmBot) previously worked as a professional snowboarder, so his work on the feature documentary Snow Guardians combines two of his strongest passions. Geduldkick, who served as editor, postproduction supervisor and one of many videographers on the film, is eager to see it come out because he's proud of the work everyone involved put into the project and because it covers its topic from an unusual perspective.
Jim Geduldick shooting RED
Produced and directed by the successful documentary photograher Carson Garner (@F9photo), Snow Guardians focuses on the rescuers and ski patrollers who help keep winter sports enthusiasts out of danger — and come to the rescue when things go wrong. "You see documentaries about avalanches and how they can kill you, or stories about people being rescued," Geduldick says, "but they don't talk about the people who do the rescuing, and that's what Snow Guardians is all about: the actual people behind the rescues and the people educating about avalanches and safety on mountain."
Geduldick segued into a filmmaking career by capturing cool snowboarding and skateboarding maneuvers. He developed on his own, teaching himself editing, visual effects and graphic design and bringing those skills to a variety of projects, including music videos and commercials. His arsenal of tools included Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects.
Snow Guardians came about in an unusual way: Videographer Tyler Ginter (@tylerginter) started tweeting about the idea for the project, and soon an entire crew came together via Twitter. "A lot of us met through Twitter, and we all were interested in making a film about this subject," Geduldick recalls. "We had people of all levels, from novices to ski patrollers, people who live on the snow. We wanted to get people involved and get a crazy amount of gear and see what we could do. That's where the whole www.collaborativefilm.org site came from. We didn't have much of a budget. A lot of us decided to just fly ourselves out to Montana and go it alone. People shot. We pulled focus for one another. Everybody pitched in."
John Bregel and Kahlid Mohtaseb shooting DSLR
Many productions these days use a mixture of camera technologies, but Snow Guardians might set some kind of record. The team went to the mountain locations with a whole slew of cameras. Geduldick says, "We had two [MX] REDs, which are great because you can shoot at 4K at up to 120fps and you have a RAW codec that gives you a lot of room to push the look around during color grading. We shot most of the interviews with Panasonic AG-AF100s. We did a lot of work with multiple Canon EOS 5D, 7D and 1D Mk IVs, which are so small and light and give that shallow depth of field. We used those for some interview work, too, and we did a little bit of 60fps shooting with the 7D for slow motion. We brought 18 of the really tiny GoPro cameras, which were great for mounting to a helmet, a ski patroller's chest, a rescue dog or a snowmobile."
With all those cameras, Geduldick, as editor and post supervisor, naturally had to work with quite a mixture of codecs, including .r3d, H.264 and AVC-Intra. He has used quite few NLEs over the years, and while he loved the effects and graphics packages from Adobe, he hadn't done much in Premiere Pro because he didn't feel it had the total toolset he needed.
Jim Geduldick with RED MX on a snowboard dolly at the mountain peak
That all changed when he saw Premiere Pro in Adobe CS5 Production Premium software. One of the first things that caught his attention was its native workflow of so many different codecs. "When I first saw the tech preview, I wondered how they could play back streams of RED, AVC-Intra, H.264," he recalls. "I asked if they translated the footage into a lighter-weight codec first, and they explained that this was material taken right off the cards. There was no transcoding. In fact, they could play it right from the card that came out of the camera. Adobe Premiere Pro is the fastest of all the nonlinear editors currently to get that kind of raw support for codecs. For post, that's a big thing, not having to transcode anything.
"The Mercury Playback Engine is a huge thing, too," he adds, noting that his Mac Pro is outfitted with an Nvidia Quadro 4000 card. The Mercury Playback Engine working in combination with the Nvidia card "really cuts down on render time. I can drop multiple color-correction effects or other effects into a shot or sequence and play it back in real time, or very close to real time — not having to wait around for it to render is a huge time-saver. Since I'm also using After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator for titling and visual effects, I was very happy to have Dynamic Link, which lets me move seamlessly from one application to another."
John Bregel with DSLR rig
Geduldick used Premiere Pro from the start of shooting. Footage would come in on a variety of drives and cards, and he would work on Apple Mac Pros and MacBook Pros and carefully input all data onto a variety of RAID configurations. "I set up a structure by camera, date, and person shooting and labeled each card," he says of his rigorous methodology designed to keep track of every bit of material shot. "I set up a script to batch everything into folders. I could drop footage into a Premiere Pro timeline to take a look at something and verify what we had. With so much material coming in certain days, it would have been very difficult if I had to transcode it all!"
The shooting could be grueling. Snow is one of the toughest conditions for a digital sensor, of course, because of the incredible contrast. The shooting teams generally used ND filters to help with some of the reflections from the snow, and they brought a variety of tungsten and custom LED lighting to provide a small amount of fill. "We couldn't bring big HMIs or anything like that," Geduldick says, "but with the modest lighting packages we had, talented people shooting and some very good sensors in these cameras, we were able to get amazing material to work with."
Timing was always of the essence, he adds. "The light changes very quickly, and you have to be flexible when shooting something like this. When magic hour comes, it comes, and then it goes away really quickly, so if you want to shoot something in that light, you have to be set up and ready to go when it happens."
Many of the effects Geduldick is working on for Snow Guardians involve still photographs captured concurrent with the video shoot. He will be using stills and pieces of stills for some After Effects work; he'll also be using After Effects to build time-lapse sequences from the stills. For the time-lapse work, he made extensive use of Lightroom to catalog, edit and select shots, and Photoshop to color correct, augment and sometimes break elements of photos into layers. "I love that I can create layers in Photoshop and then just link to them in After Effects!" he enthuses. "It's part of Dynamic Link in Production Premium, and it works really well with all the products within the suite."
To learn more about Adobe Mercury Playback Engine technolgy, click here.
For more information about Adobe Premiere Pro's tapeless/file-based workflows, click here.