My Rode Rockumentary entry, part 2
This part will focus on post production, usual step for any kind of video work you would like to present to your audience.
The very first bit of the whole chain is to have all your clips matched in terms of luminance. In the IRE scale the blackest point has to be set to 0, while the whitest to 100.
This way you know that anything below 0 will be totally black and anything above 100 will be pure white; both 0 and 100 are the threshold to get any detail in your picture. You have to do this work for all the cuts in your final editing, plus balancing out the RGB channels. It’s quite a tedious work, but once it’s done, you’ll know that the whole piece will be like one.
The next step would be to fix any issues, like under or over exposed areas of your footage… hopefully you will not have to deal with it, but chances are that it might happen if you are shooting solo or on a very small production. Especially doing exteriors, it’s difficult to control the action and the tech part as well. Never mind if you are shooting manual as well, we film-makers mostly do.
First, how are you supposed to know what is black and what is white in a given scene. Well, the best case scenario would be if these two elements are in the scene, and you can trust the Luma Range to tell you . If they are not, it would be rather an easy job if you shot a color chart before every take. If this is the case, bear in mind you have to keep it perpendicular in front of the talent. This will help to avoid time waste during the post production process. Setting the black and the whites to their appropriate levels, does help leveling out the brightness and contrast of each scene, so you will have no visible gaps when playing the footage. The GH2 has quite a baked-in codec, but try to think when shooting raw how flat (although loaded of details) the footage gets. On a limited and heavily compressed codec like AVCHD there is little you can do to recover the highlights, so when exposing always try to protect them.
Depending on the lens you are using, you might find yourself better suited with some than others. For instance, when I was shooting with the Zeiss in Contax/Yashica mount, I found I had to protect a lot the highlights in order not to get blown out areas. That must be related to the way Zeiss lenses handle micro-contrasts, and their renowned 3D look. I found myself more at ease with the Lomos, having that vintage, creamy look, the highlights were a bit safer. Apart from the lens choice, do remember that the GH2 hack has amazing recovery capabilities in the underexposed areas, whereas the stock firmware would get macro blocks artifacts (due to limited bitrate). The only drawback is noise, in that department I always getting a beat when shooting on the GH2, ugly, pestering, mosquito noise. Not a lot you can complain for 600 Euros, but we consumers have to protest sometimes.
Although I am proficient in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, my workflow this time was all carried out in the Adobe’s environment, specifically Premiere and After Effects. After editing in Premiere, I used After effects for grading. There are many ways to do this, it depends if you are 101% sure of your editing or not. If you are, you can import the whole sequence in AE, it will display all the clips and from there it’s all post work. If you are not 101% sure of your editing, and you think that you had enough for the time being, but you might come back to it later one… then you can send each individual clip to AE and play them on Premiere’s timeline. Another way would be to export each clip individually in a loss-less format, import it into AE, work it and export it back. The back burner is that you will use some hard drive space, but it will be quicker to work on such rendered files and have AE follow.
When rendering out you have again many choices in terms of formats, DPX, Avi, Quicktime and others. I recommend to use an uncompressed file with a 10bit 4:4:4 RGB color space. Although the GH2 has a poorer 8-bit codec (most DSLR have that anyway), footage seems to grade better when exported to a higher specs format… and I am not the only one to say that.
I have described into details the color correction process in this post, so I won’t go over it again. Let me just add that if you have a talent in the shot, you have to check out the skin tone line. In order to do that, bring up the Reference Monitor in Premiere or Color Finesse in After Effects and check that you have a straight line like in the pic below. You can fiddle with the HSL values, but if you are not that used to it, just go buy yourself a copy of Reg Giant’s Cosmo plug-in, and it will sort you out in no time. Below is a screen grab of the skin tone line from Premiere’s VectorScope.
In this awarded footage I have used Shian Storm’s ColorGHear plug in and in particular the Technicolor 2-strips preset. Blacks were lifted a bit due to the preset, that gave it that “unique look ” ,as Bruce Logan, ASC, best described my work. Plus I have managed to saturate the colors and bump up the reds accordingly to make the cable stand out even more.
Sky replacement is a pretty standard part of the post work chain in most productions, and that’s for two main reasons:
1. the sky is not always as you wanted it, meaning that it can be flat, or the clouds not exactly where you wanted them to be
2. cameras are not as good as our eyes, so either you expose for the sky or you expose for the talent.
I did used the technique in the shot below, this time not because the sky was not the way I wish it was, but because I wanted a time lapse on the clouds. Doing this kind of work on a footage out of a 8-bit codec it’s pretty much a nightmare, do trust me. If you plan on doing heavy VFX work, please get a Blackmagic Cinema Camera… the 12-bit color space will help enormously.
I have done some other wizardry, by replacing some background parts. In the shot below I did like the way the city looked (oh, very French indeed) but on the background, long across the main road, there was a huge mountain “in the way”. It did not suit me, as I felt it was too distracting…. so I replaced it with a clear bright sky. You might wonder how managed the wiggling cable in front of it. Rotoscoping, that dead boring technique you have to use when no other option is available. I were not alone shooting this, likely I would have just considered the possibility of sticking a green back behind it… but I was on my own, so no options here.
Rotoscoping is anyway still used in the mainstream movies. For instance, last day a saw some behind the scenes work from the latest James Bonds’ movie, Skyfall. He was jumping off from a bridge on a train, while being supported by wires. That is going to be all $200/hour top notch rotowork for the post guys sitting in some high end studio.
In the shot below I replaced the landmarks around the swimming pool, again I did not like them at all. This case required to track motion in order to stick a 2D (or a 3D) image on the shot. After Effects has got tracking features included, they are not the best in the world but , hey, they work. There are some dedicated software, like Bojou and Mocha, which do a better work at it, although you have then to export the tracking data and paste them onto the AE timeline. I know how to get around this, but let me tell you this is no easy task to accomplish if you do it once in a blue moon.
Possibly the heaviest tracking work I did on this video was on the final shot. As myself and 1ft AC forgot to mask the windows behind the baby (!), the see-through stuff was getting in the way once in my editing suite. I opted for the so called “power windows”, a.k.a. masks, to tame down the contrast and add some extra light. It’s like we had some very powerful HMI lighting while shooting, but there weren’t any. I did some extra motion-smoothing by using the After Effects built-in Warp Stabilizer, as I mostly shot this part handheld.
On the opening shot, there is some Google Maps stuff going on. I recorder this in Fraps, if you wish to enable proper video renders in Google Maps you have to upgrade to the Pro version. That’s 400 Euros, it was a bit too much for a one-time call, so Fraps gave my a HD quality video grab. Then I added some virtual clouds to mask out some crap from the Google Maps rendering quirks, and give an overall more credible appearance.
In the shot below I had to do some matte painting work. The view from the top of the hills was just right, and it would have been totally unnecessary to do VFX on it, but a huge cloud popped over the sun at the time I was shooting it. I waited as much as I could, but it simply would not go away…. there was little wind blowing. It had a dramatic feeling, and I was not going for it. So, once in post, I had to track (oh no, again!) the nodal pan and stick a high resolution mountain pic on it. The color correction and the masking work I had to do was really massive though, although I was happy with the final result.
Some times you do not like the natural light in a shot or how you lit it indoors. Or you want some additional light, but it just was not there… that needs re-lighting. Again, it’s a long work. I did it on the shot below, the grass felt too dark compared to the other shots, so I had to throw a light over it and mask out the black mic stand parts. For the artificial lighting I just used a 3D environmental light in After Effects, all you have do is make the 2D layer three dimensional and then open up the layer menu, play with it until it feels proper.
One last word has to go for sound…. never ever cheap out on that. It’s so important that if you screw it, you lose your audience in a eyeblink. In this particular case, it was even more important as the client would have been Rode. So I did a proper mastering, luckily I do have some studio engineering skills from my past as a musician. Panned, equalized, compressed and leveled the sound as required. Also beefed up the tune, as it was just crappy sounding and not in your face, like all radio mixes are these days.
I used dedicated hardware for this, as usual separate gear is a lot better that having your PC doing all that massive work.