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The 6K Workflow for ‘6 Below’: Mountain Production, Creative Cloud Post and Escape Projection

Always on the lookout for new technologies, Scott Waugh was interested in developing the first full-length feature to take advantage of Barco's three-screen, 7:1 aspect ratio projection format.

From IMAX to stereo 3D, theaters have invested in various technologies to entice viewers and increase ticket sales. With a tip of the hat to the past, Barco has developed Escape, an ultra-wide, three-screen digital projection system that’s similar in concept to Cinerama theater projection from the 1950s, though with today’s 6K-capable digital cinema cameras, the modern incarnation of immersive cinema comes with stunning clarity. There are currently 40 theaters worldwide equipped for Barco Escape, and Barco has deals with 20th Century Fox, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and other production companies to release films in the Escape format.

Enter Scott Waugh, director (Act of Valor, Need for Speed) and co-founder of L.A. production company Bandito Brothers (@BanditoBrothers). Always on the lookout for new technologies, Waugh was interested in developing the first full-length feature to take advantage of this three-screen, 7:1 aspect ratio projection format for the entire length of the film, but he didn’t want to change how he intended to shoot to accommodate Escape projection because the film would also be distributed to conventional theaters. This effectively meant that two films needed to come out of the postproduction process: one formatted for the Barco Escape format and one for standard 4K theaters.

Josh Hartnett as Eric LeMarque in 6 Below, a Momentum Pictures release
Photo courtesy Momentum Pictures

6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain became the right vehicle. The film, a drama based on real events, tells the survival story of Eric LeMarque (played by Josh Harnett), an ex-pro hockey player turned snowboarder with an addiction problem who finds himself lost in the ice and snow of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains for a week. The film is based on a book by Eric LeMarque and Davin Seay. To best tell this story, Waugh and company trekked into the mountains above Sundance, Utah, for the production.

Editor Vashi Nedomansky (That Which I Love Destroys Me, Sharknado 2, An American Carol) joined the team to handle the post workflow and co-edit the film with Waugh. Another veteran of Bandito Brothers who relies on Adobe Premiere Pro, Nedomansky (@vashikoo) helped set up Adobe-based editorial workflows for Deadpool and Gone Girl. Coincidentally, Nedomansky was a pro hockey player himself before shifting to a career in film and video. In fact, he played against the real Eric LeMarque on the circuit.

Pushing the Boundaries
The Barco Escape format projects three 2K DCPs to cover the total 6K width. To accommodate this video format, director of photography Michael Svitak (@svitak) and his team shot with 6K RED Dragon cameras outfitted with Panavision Primo 70 lenses. The resulting R3D files were edited natively in 6K in Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

My first question to Nedomansky was this: Why stay native? Nedomansky says, “We had always been pushing the boundaries at Bandito Brothers. What can we get away with? It’s always a question of time, storage, money and working with a small team. We had a small, four-person post team for 6 Below located near Sundance, so there was interest in not losing time to transcoding. After some testing, we settled on decked out Dell workstations because they could tackle the 6K RED raw files natively.”

The Barco Escape theaters are configured with three screens for a 7:1 aspect ratio. 6 Below is the first full-length feature to use that screen real estate for the entire film.
Photo courtesy Vashi Nedomansky

Two Dell Precision 7910 towers (20-core, 128 GB RAM) with Nvidia Quadro M6000 GPUs were set up for editing, along with a third, less beefy HP quad-core computer for the assistant editor and visual effects. All three were connected to shared storage over a 10 GigE network. Mike McCarthy, postproduction supervisor for 6 Below, set up the system. To keep things stable, the team ran Windows 7 and stayed on the same Adobe Creative Cloud version throughout the project.

Nedomansky continues, “We kept waiting for the 6K to not play, but it never stopped in the six weeks we were up there. My first assembly was almost three hours long—all in a single timeline—and I was able to play it straight through without any skips or stuttering.”

Using the full size of the 6K RED camera image allowed 6 Below to be formatted for both the Barco Escape screens and standard 4K movie theaters.
(This image and the others from editor Vashi Nedomansky come from “6 Below: Film Editing in 6K.”)

There were other challenges along the way. “Almost all of the film was done as single-camera and Josh has to carry [the narrative] with his performance as the sole person on screen for much of the film,” Nedomansky explains. “He has to go through a range of emotions, and you can’t just turn that on and off between takes, so there were lots of long, 10-minute takes to convey his deterioration within the hostile environmental conditions. The story is about a man lost in the wild, without much dialogue. The challenge is figuring out how to cut down these long takes without taking away from his performance. One solution was to go against the grain, using jump cuts to shorten long takes. But I wanted to look for the emotional changes or a physical act to motivate a jump cut in a way that would make it more organic. In one case, I took a 10-minute take down to 45 seconds.”

6 Below was posted in the native 6K format.
Photo courtesy Vashi Nedomansky

When you have a film where weather is a character, you hope that the weather will cooperate. Nedomansky says, “One of our biggest concerns going in was the weather. Production started in March, a time when there isn’t a lot of snow in Utah. Fortunately for us, a day before we were supposed to start shooting, they had the biggest ‘blizzard’ of the winter and it lasted four days. This saved us a lot of VFX time because we didn’t have to create atmospherics like snow in front of the lens. It was there naturally.”

Nedomansky cut on location for six weeks in the mountains outside of Park City, Utah.
Photo courtesy Vashi Nedomansky

Using the Creative Cloud Tools to Their Fullest
6 Below features a great number of visual effects shots. Nedomansky says, “The film has 1,500 shots, with 205 of them as VFX shots. John Carr, the assistant editor and visual effects artist on the film, did all of the work in After Effects and at 6K resolution, which is unusual for films. Some of the shots included day for night, where John had to add star plates for the sky. This meant rotoscoping behind Josh and the trees to add the plates. He also had to paint out crew footprints in the snow, along with the occasional dolly track or crew member in a shot. There were also some split-screens done at 6K right in Premiere Pro.”

The post schedule involved six weeks on set in Utah and then 14 weeks of editorial back in Los Angeles, for a 20-week total. After that, sound post and grading took place at Technicolor.

Nedomansky is fond of using the “pancake” timeline method, which is made possible by Premiere Pro’s ability to stack multiple timeline windows within the interface. Clips can be dragged between the two open sequences to make edits or reorder clips.
Photo courtesy Vashi Nedomansky

The process of formatting the film for both Barco Escape and regular theaters almost constituted posting two films. The RED camera image is 6144 x 2592 pixels, Barco Escape is 6144 x 864 and a 4K extraction is 4096 x 2160. Nedomansky explains, “The Barco frame is thin and wide. It could use the full width, but not the height, of the full 6K RED image. So I had to do a lot of ‘animation’ to reposition the frame within the Barco format. For the 4K version, the framing would be adjusted accordingly. The film has about 1,500 shots, but we didn’t use different takes for the two versions. I was able to do this all through reframing.”

Josh Hartnett as former professional hockey player Eric LeMarque
Photo courtesy Momentum Pictures

In wrapping up our conversation, Nedomansky said, “I played hockey against Eric and this added an extra layer of responsibility. He’s very much still alive today. Like any film of this type, it’s ‘based on’ the true story, but liberties are taken. I wanted to make sure that Eric would respect the result. Scott and I have done films that were heavy on action, but this film shows another directorial style—more personal and emotional, with beautiful visuals. That’s also a departure for me and it’s very important for editors to have that option.”

6 Below screened in theaters on Oct. 12.  

Download the November 2017 issue of Digital Video magazine