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Light Iron ‘Friends’ Quantel Pablo on ‘The Social Network’

Quantel’s Pablo 4K was used to perform final color grading and editorial finishing for David Fincher’s The Social Network, the first film originating on the RED ONE Mysterium-X sensor. Light Iron Digital helped design and customize a 4K to 2K workflow for the project spanning digital intermediate through digital distribution with Pablo as its focal point. The Social Network was released on Oct. 1 by Columbia Pictures.

The production of The Social Network entailed a seamless workflow that incorporated the strengths of both 4K and 2K and was both tapeless and nearly “filmless.” (The only use of film was at the very end when 35mm prints were made for theaters not equipped with digital projectors.)

Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth shot the film in 4K with RED ONE digital cinema cameras. The original camera files were processed by first assistant editor Tyler Nelson using RED Rocket acceleration cards in near real time to Apple ProRes for creative editorial (conducted by Rock Paper Scissors’ Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter). Files were conformed from 4K to 2K DPX then delivered to Light Iron colorist Ian Vertovec for final grading and editorial finishing.

“We experimented with the elimination of a traditional laboratory infrastructure on this digital intermediate,” says Light Iron CEO Michael Cioni. Final post work was accomplished in a “temporary” DI theater set up by Light Iron on a soundstage at Red Studios Hollywood. The theater included a Pablo 4K, made mobile from Light Iron’s Los Angeles facility, along with a Sony T420 4K digital projector and a 40-foot wide screen. The unusual set up allowed Vertovec and Fincher to grade the film in an environment whose size was roughly comparable to a large public movie theater.

Setting up a DI theater on a soundstage was made possible by the small size of the Pablo 4K, its low power requirements, and its physically small, yet efficient disk array. All iterations of the film, including multiple versions of the 1,000 visual effects shots, were stored locally on the Pablo in a 4-foot tall mobile cart.

Pablo, Cioni notes, is remarkably efficiently when it comes to conforming, input and output—both files and tape. “Give us an afternoon and we can turn almost any projection space into a DI theater,” he says. “This powerful 4K DI configuration fits onto a single cart that I can push myself.”

The temporary DI theater not only provided an ideal environment for viewing and grading media, it also provided maximum efficiency. Cioni points out that because Pablo has the ability to read R3D files natively, some projects can avoid the transcoding process altogether. The system also has the ability to read creative editorial AAF files natively. “That means complex decisions made by the editors are better preserved and not lost as what happens with systems that can only read an EDL,” he observes.

That kind of seamless technical integration, along with Pablo’s creative toolset, makes it ideally suited to file-based productions such as The Social Network, according to Cioni. “Pablo interfaces with emerging technologies better than any other system,” he concludes. “It is crucial to everything we do—in fact, it’s our cornerstone.”