Magazine article American Cinematographer

True Blood Workflow Becomes File-Based

Magazine article American Cinematographer

True Blood Workflow Becomes File-Based

Article excerpt

When the producers of HBO's True Blood told Technicolor Hollywood they were interested in transitioning to an al!-data-based online/mastering workflow, the Technicolor team suggested that the hit series could become, in the words of co-producer Bruce Dunn, "a major test case" for an all-file-based workflow for an episodic TV series originating on film. HBO decided to take Technicolor up on the offer for the current season, the show's third. The challenge, as Technicolor colorist Scott Klein puts it, was "how to convert a workflow and stay creative."

Well into production when they spoke with AC, those involved say the conversion went off smoothly and has enabled greater creativity. They suggest that True Blood's overall production methodology seamlessly weaves a traditional film-acquisition approach with the latest all-data post techniques. Dunn enthuses that True Blood can now "spread out many fingers from one hand" in the form of easily accessible data once its imagery enters Technicolor's SAN, allowing all post units to simultaneously work off the same core files safely. "It gives us incredible flexibility to multitask," says Dunn. "We can do dirt-fixing while we're doing assembly, color correction and visual effects. By going to a tapeless, nonlinear post workflow, there are huge benefits for picture conforms. Now we can often make picture changes after we lock the edit."

Using its data-based infrastructure in partnership with its film lab, Technicolor handles True Blood's negative processing, dailies, assembly, color correction, titling, audio mixing, layback and final mastering, By entering the file-based universe, the team is now able to have pieces of as many as nine episodes in various stages of production at Technicolor simultaneously. Currently, only the dailies process and the delivery of a final master continue to involve tape or other physical media.

Cinematographers Matthew Jensen, Romeo Tirane and Steven St. John typically shoot True Blood on Kodak Vision3 25OD 5207 and Vision3 500T 5219. (Most of the show is shot in 3-perf Super 35mm.) The post pipeline's engine revs up when the film comes from stages on the Warner Bros, lot or from locations in Louisiana; Technicolor develops the film and telecines it on a Spirit 2K system to HDCam-SR at 4:2:2. Dailies colorist Peter Ritter distributes two passes of that material: a basic color pass for dailies viewing and editorial, and a flat pass, which is digitized to Technicolor's SAN for final assembly and final color.

As each episode is cut together, a pull list of shots is created, and those shots are digitized from the flat pass and assembled by online editor Ray Miller in an Avid HD Symphony (v. 4.05). From that point on, everything lives on Technicolor's SAN. After an episode is conformed, colored and approved, an air master is created from 1080p/23.98 fps files and delivered to HBO at 1080i/59.94 on HDCam-SR tape.

Of course, the transition to the file-based approach did pose some challenges. For instance, a new approach to dubbing tapes and DVDs for executives to view had to be implemented, but Dunn notes that Technicolor resolved the issue of exporting files to lower-resolution physical media by incorporating the DVC Clipster system into its pipeline. The production also had to institute new asset-management procedures and personnel to ensure strict control. Miller refers to project manager Ashley Barrett, who heads True Blood's projectmanagement effort, as "a data traffic cop who ensures each version is right before we start dubs. She makes sure everyone understands the [file-naming] nomenclature and the protocols for knowing who is working on what."

On Miller's end, the show is assembled entirely in the Avid world, making the transfer of assets more straightforward. From the editorial department at the production's headquarters at The Lot in Hollywood, "we don't have to go through any translation process," says Miller. …

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