Lowry Digital Helps Bring 'Benjamin Button' to Life
Lowry Digital collaborated with Director David Fincher on the Paramount Pictures feature film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Lowry's proprietary image processing techniques were utilized to fine-tune the movie's images; balance the look of film, digital capture and visual effects work; reduce noise; and bring out subtle details in the visuals.
"As the creative community continues to accept new media methods for their creative options, early adopters of electronic capture understand its advantages but sometimes encounter limitations and compromises inherent in this developing technology," says Lowry Digital's Alan Silvers. "That creates a compelling need for Lowry Digital's proprietary image processing, which is custom-designed to compute away artifacts, manage grain and noise levels, expand dynamic range, and find and reveal greater picture detail—typical challenges that arise from electronic capture."
Benjamin Button was captured on a Thomson Grass Valley Viper and Sony F23 HD camera, as well as 35mm film. The images were delivered to Lowry Digital after an initial color-correction pass at MPI. Patrick Cooper, Lowry's supervising imaging specialist, employed automated processing that eliminated any noise, flicker or artifacts.
"We enhanced the pictures to achieve the desired amount of sharpness and noise throughout the film," says Cooper. "Anytime you're shooting in a variety of situations, there will be differences in detail and noise or grain levels, and we smooth those out by engaging a variety of settings and parameters we've developed. Afterwards, the files were sent back to MPI, where final color correction was performed."
Benjamin Button post supervisor Peter Mavromates adds, "Even if David had shot all of Benjamin Button on film, he would have wanted to do the Lowry processing because it unifies the visual palette, making it more consistent. This film covers eight decades and jumps to different places on the planet, so the goal was not to unify everything; it was more about unifying certain sections of the story."
Visual effects shots were also processed at Lowry Digital to remove noise and flicker and adjust for consistent sharpness levels. Those sequences were then returned to the visual effects pipeline, where keying and compositing is easier with a noise-free image. Later, the composited effects have the desired noise added back in.
Cooper notes that the re-introduction of noise and the adjustment of sharpness levels require judging the images by eye, which was done to standards determined by preliminary testing and discussions with Fincher and Mavromates.
Lowry originally collaborated with Fincher on the 2007 feature film Zodiac. "When he saw that we could help unify the look of mixed media capture, and bring out fine detail that traditional noise reduction would just crush away, we became part of their standard workflow," adds Silvers.
- The Curious Case Study of Benjamin Button, Videography magazine, December 2008
- Crime Scenes and Compression Schemes: The File-Based Workflow for David Fincher's Zodiac, Videography magazine, March 2007