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Conforming and Compositing ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

After having learned so much from our experimental workflow on The Social Network, we refined our pipeline for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, upgrading from a 2K post workflow to a 4.5K and 5K pipeline, resulting in a 4K digital master. Managing media four times the size used on The Social Network proved to be quite challenging.

The file handling was done through Datalab, a company that [editor] Angus [Wall] owns. A custom piece of software called Wrangler automates the handling of the RED files. It takes care of copying, verifying and archiving the .r3d files to LTO and transcoding the media for the editors, as well as for review on the secured PIX system. The larger RED files were scaled down to 1920 x 1080 ProRes LT with a center-cut extraction for the editors, as well as 720p H.264 for PIX. The ‘look” was established on set, so none of the RED color metadata was changed during this process.

Managing data was one of our biggest challenges, especially because we were working with half a dozen different VFX vendors. Kirk [Baxter] and Angus cut the film using Apple Final Cut Pro again, but when it came time to conform the film and create the digital master, we used Adobe After Effects CS5.5 and Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 software. We also brought data extracted from [Andersson Technologies] SynthEyes, a third-party 3D tracking program, into After Effects to create a cost-effective, desktop-based stabilization and tracking system.

With sequences that were in need of stabilization, we worked out a system where we would perfect the stabilization curve in editorial and pass along that parsed data to our VFX vendors as a package that they were able to accept and integrate into their pipelines. Essentially, we used After Effects to manicure the SynthEyes data and fill in any missing information.

When the cut was locked, I used an EDL and my own database to conform the .r3d files back into reels of conformed DPX image sequences. This part was done in After Effects, which also allowed me to reposition some shots. Most of the repositioning was generally a north-south adjustment to move a shot up or down for better head room.

Not only did After Effects prove to be a great conform tool, it also offers horsepower for VFX compositing. It allowed us to do many of our visual effects in-house, such as subtle split-screens to adjust the timing of a performance or to retain continuity throughout a scene if more than one take was used—for example, if a glass of water is half-full in one shot and three-quarters full in another. As another example, I saw one shot that had a monitor reflection within the shot. It was easy to quickly paint that out in After Effects.

Keep in mind that we were working with huge files (37.9 MB per single DPX frame converted from the RED ONE MX footage and 54.4 MB per DPX frame from the RED EPIC). We had a 4352 x 2176 image sequence with the RED ONE footage and we are extracting a 3600 x 1500 center. With our EPIC footage, we had a 5120 x 2560 image sequence and we were extracting 4122 x 1718. We matched those two center extractions in my After Effects timeline and scaled it down so we were outputting one single resolution. Plus, each of these cameras uses a different color science to process the data from the sensor. The RED files were set to the REDcolor2/REDlogFilm color space and gamma settings. Then I rendered out extracted DPX image sequences of the edited reels to be sent to Light Iron Digital, who did the DI again on this film.

Moving that amount of data around can be grueling, unless you have a few important technologies. We used a 48 TB Hitachi G-SPEED eS PRO RAID that turned out to be ultrafast and reliable. Combined with the 64-bit processing capabilities of Adobe”s video software, we were able to get real-time playback through the drives to make accurate decisions on the spot across the whole team. The setup was also really portable. At one point, I packed up my Mac Pro, two monitors, and the four G-SPEED eS PRO drives, which were about the size of two shoeboxes, and took everything to our online facility for a few last-minute renders and shot changes. It was just as if I had my entire office there with me.