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SCRATCH Automates 2D and 3D VFX Dailies For ‘Thor’

ASSIMILATE, a provider of powerful post-production tools for digital workflows, revealed details of how its SCRATCH end-to-end digital cinema and broadcast imaging tools were used to streamline and automate the 2D and 3D stereo VFX dailies review processes during the post production of Marvel Entertainment/Paramount Pictures’ blockbuster motion picture Thor.

SCRATCH was selected for Thor because of its capabilities over other systems, including easy integration with database management software, and the real-time playback of media in different resolutions and formats in the same timeline.

The deployment of SCRATCH for Thor was overseen by Danielle Costa, production manager for VFX, whose previous credits as digital production manager and VFX coordinator include 2012, Speed Racer, Spider Man 3, Alexander, The Matrix Revolutions, The Matrix Reloaded and Scooby-Doo. For Thor, her role involved developing a workflow and pipeline between the production team and many different outside contributors, including VFX vendors BUF, Digital Domain, Whiskytree, Evil Eye Pictures, Fuel Visual Effects, Luma Pictures; the DI house EFilm; and Stereo D, which handled the 2D-to-3D conversion.

SCRATCH was integrated with a FileMakerPro database to assemble each day’s playlists of all the media connected with a particular shot. This enabled the VFX team, lead by supervisor Wesley Sewell, to constantly ingest and review shots-in-progress every day. Sewell then prepared daily afternoon shot reviews for key production staff, including director Kenneth Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos BSC, as well as studio executives from Marvel and Paramount.

Overnight, the various VFX vendors typically sent Costa’s team between 3,000 and 5,000 files ­ mostly image sequences. An individual playlist for one shot could reference upward of 1,000 different media clips in whatever format might be associated with that shot, such as EXR, DPX, QT and JPEG. Toward the end of post-production, between 200 and 300 shots per day, along with all the associated files, were reviewed in SCRATCH, amounting to many thousands of image clips.

Moreover, Thor was shot anamorphically, so SCRATCH was automated to playback VFX shots in the correct aspect ratio, selectively applying LUTs to DPX frames while ignoring clips such as linear QT and JPEG files. SCRATCH also automatically applied the correct frame-offsets, so that scanned VFX plates and on-going comps would line up accurately.

Thor was post-converted from 2D to 3D by LA-based facility Stereo D, and SCRATCH was the production’s sole way of reviewing stereo internally at Marvel. Playlist stacks for left and right eyes were created automatically, which could then be played back in dual mode for stereo review.

Lastly, SCRATCH was also used to ingest, playback and prepare RED R3D footage, shot using RED MX cameras, for a teaser of the upcoming Marvel feature The Avengers that will appear after the credits of Thor.

“What’s really appealing about SCRATCH is that you get a product out-of-the-box that is super-simple to integrate with an existing database,” says Costa. “And the best thing about SCRATCH is that it can play back, in real-time, any media that you throw at it — all on the same timeline — such as RED RAW footage, DPX, EXR files, QTs and JPEGs. I’m looking forward to the arrival of SCRATCH Lab, which will enable us to work with ARRI RAW files as well.”

Costa adds, “SCRATCH solved our greatest challenge on Thor: bringing different media together and being able to show them in the best possible quality. When you’re doing this as a VFX production department, you don’t have the same I/O and engineering resources as many independent facilities do. The coding that SCRATCH required for ingest and automation was very straightforward, and did away with the need to spend time designing and developing the playback/review resource that other software packages require.”

According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, “Thor” had taken in nearly $352 million at the box office worldwide as of May 16, 2011.

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