PERFECTLY BLACK & WHITE HOW HDR IS SHAPING EVERY STEP OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS
GOODBYE GREEN SCREEN? LED walls versus chroma key INDUSTRY INSIDER Leading rental houses debate the future of production
Adriano Goldman on how The Crown achieves its signature look, even as each season evolves
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WELCOME T he phrase ‘new year, new me’ is often banded about at this time of year by idealists who vow to break bad habits. I am one of those idealists. At the beginning of 2020, I wanted to learn how to Argentine tango and now, 12 months later, I still have beat deafness – obviously, I blame the pandemic and not my lack of willpower. Nonetheless, this year I have some resolutions I hope will stick. Definition will continue to divulge the future of video production and, as that future becomes more and more virtual, it will have a regular spot for post-production artists and technologies. To kick this off, we discover how HDR is influencing every step of the creative process, from on-set to in-studio, on p15, and explore the pros and cons of LED volume on p22. We will also have more industry insights. Last month, we spoke with Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission, about the UK’s ongoing production boom. Now, we speak with the country’s leading rental houses to see how the land is shifting for them. After the turbulent year they’ve had, it’s good to discover that the biggest problem they now face is equipment shortages being too busy! More of this in p10. Additionally, Definition is getting a much-needed redesign to reflect this content evolution. I won’t disclose what it looks like or when it’s happening, but I can assure you it’s good and it’s soon. With these resolutions now out there, it’s worth noting that Definition’s core – its production stories, tech analyses, gear reviews and independence – will remain unchanged. We like that about ourselves. Anyway, here’s to a bright new year.
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Chelsea Fearnley CONTENTS PRODUCT ION 04 THE CROWN Adriano Goldman discusses the TV show’s visual evolution and why season four is so dear to him. GEAR 10 RENTAL ROUND TABLE Leading rental companies band together to debate the future of video production.
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Film professionals reveal how HDR is shaping every step of the creative process.
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PRODUCTION | THE CROWN
CROWN THE A RETROSPECTIVE
WORDS CHELSEA FEARNLEY / P I CTURES NETFL I X
It’s not just the cast that changes. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman divulges the visuals from every season of The Crown
I am mesmerised by The Crown . There’s a strange pleasure and shock factor in seeing the royals portrayed as human beings. And this is before you even consider the visual sumptuousness of it all, which leaves you with a vague feeling that the world is enriched just because they live in it. But as the show has gone on, I’ve found myself oddly confronted. It’s now reached a period that’s much closer to home, and there’s a veracity to that, which is difficult to derive pleasure from. Adriano Goldman, the show’s cinematographer, explains that Seasons 1 and 2 only feel more like fiction because most viewers didn’t live through it. But, in fact, The Crown has never divulged the fairytale fantasies of this famous family. Goldman realised this as he read the script for the first time. “Peter Morgan’s intention wasn’t to depict the royals as living in a fairytale, but rather a nightmare,” he says. As a result, Goldman set up the visuals to be realistic, never naturalistic, and classic, never period, with style rules concerning lighting and framing to keep the look
consistent. “I always light from the outside in and rely very much on practicals, because interiors should feel real. Similarly, I believe that the exterior light should come from outside.” He adds that scenes shouldn’t be shot from too low or too high, and that close-ups should be caught on 50mm and 65mm lenses. OUT OF THE PALACE However, there are a few changes to keep things fresh. The biggest change – which is something Goldman and the entire crew have little control over – is the locations. “Even from Beryl, which was the fourth episode of Season 2, when Margaret leaves the palace, essentially leaving the royal side of the story, to meet Tony Armstrong at his London Studio – that signalled to me the show’s evolution, and there was nothing I or anyone else could do to change that.” According to Goldman, it was no coincidence Beryl performed so well at the awards. “I think it’s very likely the way in which we mixed the two sides of the story,” he explains.
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THE CROWN | PRODUCTION
ABOVE Left to her own devices in the palace, Princess Di found unique ways of entertaining herself
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THE CROWN | PRODUCTION
ABOVE Beryl (episode 4, Season 2) was the start of something new for The Crown thematically, but also visually
In Season 4, this is a lot more obtrusive, with viewers transported not to the homes of privileged photographers, but to the homes of the less fortunate. Goldman notes that this is likely why the way in which I, as a viewer, think the show has changed. He elaborates: “It’s because not only are we stepping into a world, away from the palace, we’re stepping into a world that we don’t want to see.” This applies particularly to episode 5, entitled Fagan, which is about an impoverished man, victim to Margaret Thatcher’s benefit and public services cuts. His council house is falling apart around him, and the council are seemingly unable to do anything about it. Goldman says: “This location is unlike any other we’ve seen on The Crown .” Nonetheless, lighting and framing rules remained the same. “I lit from the outside in, so it still feels elegant, precise and very much like The Crown . It’s just the location and characters that feel different, because they’re more removed from the royal side of the story and are much more familiar to the audience,” he explains. Though for Fagan, he admits, the lighting was slightly toned down. Instead of using light sources outside the window, he relied on natural light as this helped him “separate the two stories”. But this also made sense in the interest of practicality. Goldman notes: “The location was smaller than the palace locations and several building blocks high.” Another change that’s enhanced by the new locations is the behaviour of the camera in certain scenes. In Fairytale for example, which is episode 3 of Season 4, a young and carefree Diana Spencer spends an evening in a nightclub with her friends. “While she’s there, the camera dances with her, which it has never done before,” says Goldman. “The team are always trying to shake things up a little bit, never resting or settling into the idea that we know how to shoot it, because the show evolves with every season.”
It was never our intention to depict the royals as living in a fairytale
GEAR TO MATCH THE ERA As part of The Crown’s evolution, namely its cast switcheroo, Goldman changes his glass. For Seasons 1 and 2, set in the fifties and sixties, he used Cooke Panchros, rehoused by TLS UK. Plus, he made use of Tiffen’s Glimmerglass filters to add glow in the highlights and haze to the atmosphere. “This helped make the visuals less naturalistic, and a tiny bit more romantic,” he says. For Seasons 3 and 4, set in the seventies and eighties, Goldman transitioned to Zeiss Super Speeds. He explains: “These are still vintage, but more modern and sharper than the Panchros.” There is going to be one more cast change before the series draws to a conclusion and, therefore, one more lens change. But what that will be has yet to be decided by Goldman and the team. “If I want to change, I need to present my reasoning, because it ultimately influences the look of the cast, set design, costume and makeup. I have to research, try out different lenses and do camera tests, before bringing it to the crew to see if it works. It’s a long process,” he says. For Seasons 1, 2 and 3, the lenses were attached to a Sony F55 camera, rated at ISO 800. “If you went to ISO 1250, it got a little too noisy,” adds Goldman. For Season 4, the camera body has been changed to the Venice, which Goldman rated at ISO 500 for day shots and ISO 1000 for night shots. While he doesn’t describe himself as a ‘technical DOP’, he says: “The ISO 500 base preferred a little underexposure,
whereas the ISO 1000 base preferred to be overexposed by a stop and a half to kill any noise.” And while Goldman explains that he fell in love with the Venice, in general, he doesn’t get too nostalgic about cameras, always ready to embrace something new or go back in time and try something vintage. From the beginning, the visual vision for The Crown has always been to deliver something that looks less like TV and more like film. This meant taking an elegant and minimalist approach, avoiding unnecessary cuts and camera movements. “It should feel and be watched like a single-camera show, an author sort of filmmaking style, where it’s just me, my camera and my cast, as this helps deliver a different quality of product, and distinguishes it from other period dramas,” says Goldman. He has an A and B camera on set, but when you consider how they are put to use, the B camera doesn’t act in the traditional way. “It’s not a tool for the editors to help increase the pace, it has a purpose. It either opens or closes a sequence – or captures a profile moment. “For example, if it’s a scene with lots of dialogue, maybe the A camera can shoot over the shoulder, while the B camera captures the profile. If you save the profile shot until the end of the scene, it looks more like a dedicated shot than a B camera shot,” explains Goldman. This way, each shot looks like a dedicated shot. “I think the editors of The Crown celebrate the fact they have another angle, but they resist using them unless it’s appropriate,” he adds.
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PRODUCTION | THE CROWN
AMBITIOUS VFX You may not think of The Crown as a big VFX production, and you’d be right not to. It uses a lot of VFX, but it’s mostly invisible. That is, until Season 4, which saw the creation of a majestic, photo-real CG stag. “Even the production team didn’t believe it was digital,” says Standish Millennas, senior VFX producer at Framestore. The stag was the result of the production team’s evolving confidence in what VFX can convey. “For Aberfan, in Season 3, the team were initially nervous about having a CG landslide, because they didn’t want to risk taking the viewer away from the story,” she says. Nonetheless, the episode was a triumph, and any nerves the crew had surrounding VFX were squashed quickly. In total, Framestore contributed 230 frames to Season 4, with many attributed to the ‘invisible’ effects, such as for crowds and set extensions or replacements. Ollie Bersey, deputy head of 2D at Framestore, says that although creating a visual of New York was his favourite, it was definitely the toughest. “We turned Manchester into New York, and I did a lot of 2D work, stripping down the buildings and replacing them with photography. I also added in CG assets, such as lamp posts and traffic lights, and repainted the car extensions,” he explains. Blink and it’s easy to miss this sequence, yet, as Bersey says: “This is just the level of detail the producers of The Crown like to put into the show.” This also applies to crowd work, which increased for the fourth season. “It’s likely because Diana attracted more people,” says Millennas. In one sequence, the team turned a shot of 14 people against a green screen into a crowd of 5000, using various techniques to offset them in time and colour correct their outfits to look different. “It became a bit like Where’s Wally ?, albeit there were multiple Wallys,” Bersey jokes.
ABOVE Lady Di attracted more crowds than the rest of the royals, a painstaking task for the VFX crews who had to turn shots of 14 people into 5000
FAIRYTALES ARE THE SAME IN EVERY LANGUAGE Goldman reveals that out of all of them, he feels most proud of Season 4. Why is that? “For reasons that cannot be put into words,” he says simply. But after talking with him for some length of time, I understand why. The year 2020 was an unforgettable time for the whole world, and many productions have had their release schedules delayed due to Covid-19. “Despite this,” Goldman says, “and the struggle of working remotely to finish the post-production on the series, The Crown made it on to Netflix on 17 November as planned.” Incidentally, this is the same date Season 3 launched on the streaming service last year. He also describes the “lovely coincidence” of being able to shoot episodes 1 through to 5 consecutively – usually, episode 1 isn’t shot in the first block. Goldman elucidates: “We like to go for one of the middle episodes first, just to warm up a bit. But this still meant that I was there from day one to set up the season.” Going into the specifics of these latest episodes, Goldman reveals that Fairytale is his favourite as it best represents his tastes. The episode is about Prince Charles’ proposal to Lady Diana Spencer and their wedding, but it’s more ‘princess locked away in a tower’ than bride-to-be, with Charles away on tour and his love for Camilla Parker Bowles revealed to Spencer. Goldman says: “If the episode was in a language you couldn’t understand, you’d still be able to
understand the story just through watching the visuals. There’s a princely proposal, the princess prepping, the suffering, a wedding rehearsal and then finally, the wedding. It’s like a fairytale, albeit a very sad one.” In that episode, there is a scene that Goldman describes as “one of the most beautiful on The Crown ever”. Fireworks light up the inside of Buckingham Palace, casting different colours on the interiors and on the Queen’s face, as she passes by the window. It’s a dramatic light display, which aptly sums up the tensions between royal family members and can be attributed to a great partnership between Goldman’s cinematography and Ben Turner’s direction for VFX. Nonetheless, Goldman firmly believes that he and I wouldn’t be chatting, season after season, if it weren’t for Peter Morgan’s delicious content. “Cinematography can’t save a bad script,” he says. “Visuals are there to support the story; the reverse never works. When I work on The Crown , my challenge is to be as good as the material, to exceed myself and deliver something that is as high-end as what I’m reading. I don’t think the cinematography truly can be appreciated unless you also appreciate what you’re watching.” These concluding remarks are certainly difficult to argue with, because I wholeheartedly appreciated both. ALL SEASONS OF THE CROWN ARE CURRENTLY STREAMING ON NETFLIX WORLDWIDE
It should feel like a single-camera show, where its just me, my camera and my cast
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GEAR | RENTAL ROUND TABLE
WHAT’S NEW? By discussing a range of trending topics with leading rental houses, we uncover the future of video production and dispose of the outdated assumption that rental companies are anything less than crucial production providers
WORDS CHELSEA FEARNLEY
I t’d be remiss of me if I didn’t touch on the effects Covid-19 had on businesses in 2020. Have there been any positives? ANDREW PRIOR: Well, there are a lot of negatives. Over the summer, most of us were put on furlough as day-to-day business trade stopped. Now, we’re seeing a knock- on effect as the productions scheduled for last year roll into 2021. There’s going to be lots of crossover and, therefore, very little equipment available. We’re definitely going to struggle, but I think every rental facility that’s had productions pushed is the same. Being busy is not the worst problem to have and we’re working on a solution. We wouldn’t just take lenses from a show that’s running – that would be a cardinal sin. One positive is that, after several months of watching everything on Netflix and Amazon, streaming services are now doubling down. In the UK alone, Netflix is anticipating a doubling of its budget by £1 billion, with 50 new shows projected in 2021. So, there’s not going to be a shortage of work.
showcase it. So, the pandemic meant that we had a lot of what our customers needed ready to go as soon as they got in touch. SPENCER WEEKES: Like most businesses going into 2020, we didn’t begin the year with an understanding that a pandemic was about to disrupt not just our business, but the entire industry. In the weeks that followed the initial lockdown, we had the rarest of things – time – time to examine our business, to consider the technical changes that were occurring in the industry and, most importantly, to devise tools and technologies that could help productions resume shooting. So, while being shut down was extremely challenging for our business financially, we managed to pull through and support a number of major productions to continue filming in the UK and Europe. The move to remote working has changed our focus entirely and we are sure the solutions we’ve been able to provide can impact the industry positively moving forward. MELANIE GEORGIEVA: As soon as the first lockdown was announced, almost all filming came to a halt and it was a worrying time for everyone. We found that a lot of major dramas and feature films that had planned to begin filming in spring were pushed back indefinitely and there was a lot of uncertainty as to when these productions would be able to resume.
I also think there’s more respect in the industry now. The severity of the pandemic has made people realise that making movies isn’t about life or death, because there’s a situation separate to it that is literally life or death. If you don’t respect guidelines or follow certain rules, it’s dangerous. We bumped our hours and restricted the number of crews per test room. We also have an on-site medic available at all times, who takes the temperature of everyone who comes in. It’s quite a strict protocol but nobody complains. In our industry, people aren’t used to hearing ‘no’. If they want something, they usually throw a load of money at it, but this virus has commanded a lot more respect from people. JEFF BROWN: I’d say the only positive was the way that the industry pulled together quickly and efficiently to set procedures and start again as safely as possible. It shows the adaptability and resourcefulness of the sector. Other than that, I think it has been a tough year for all, particularly for the freelance community. It has certainly shown the vulnerability of the industry, too.
RUPERT WATSON: We have seen and been involved in a lot of innovation. We’ve been talking about remote editing technology for a while and have a demo environment set up in Soho to
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RENTAL ROUND TABLE | GEAR
events from otherwise empty venues throughout the last year, which have proved extremely popular with audiences around the world. The majority of these productions have opted for a high-end cinematic look, using cameras like the Sony Venice and Arri Alexa Mini paired with cinema lenses over traditional broadcast equipment. Many productions have been able to continue working by doing so ‘remotely’. How have you been able to provide this for customers? AP: We saw an uptake in video transmitters, because there’s now at least one extra person on set that’s responsible for communication, which means they’re responsible for transmitting images to anyone who needs to see them. But these are generally quite specialist and a lot of DITs either own their own system or they source them from a dedicated rental house, like CineArk. With this need for extra comms personnel, we’re on the set less. Previously, anybody involved in the production could meander on to the set, grab a coffee and take a look – it got quite lazy actually, and I have to say that there would be a lot of people there who didn’t need to be. It’s been a huge loss for me personally, though. I’ve always been heavily involved in the productions of various films and TV shows, especially on ones where we’ve customised kit for the DOPs. For instance, we supplied custom anamorphics to Greig Fraser, who began filming Batman at the beginning of this year. Usually, I’d be on the set with him, asking him questions about what he sees, what he likes and dislikes and if anything needs tweaking. Now, that communication has to happen through the AC or via phone or video, which is much more difficult. I remember when I gave Bradford Young the DNA lenses that we had made for Solo: A Star Wars Story . I could tell straight away, just from being in his presence, that he loved them. And so, you lose that instinct when you’re not present on set.
Throughout this time, our core management team, who worked closely with Take 2’s safety consultants, conducted a comprehensive Covid-19 risk assessment and put together a robust set of safety protocols, enabling us to come back strongly and resume operations with confidence. As members of ASPEC, we collaborated with other facilities to share information and put together consistent return-to-work guidelines, which created a real sense of camaraderie among those involved. Once the guidance documents for safe filming were released, we started to see short-form content return, followed by long-form dramas and features. It was really positive to see productions quickly adopt these new methods of working, and we have worked more closely than ever with customers to offer support and accommodate any requests that help them resume filming safely. The challenges we have all faced have brought people together and, when it was announced that productions could resume filming, it was a real testament to the hard work everyone had put in. With a lot of talent setting up from home this year, have you seen an increase in the demand for streaming equipment? JB: Streaming isn’t really in our remit. Video playback companies seem to have taken up the slack there. RW: Our streaming equipment has been sold many times over. But we did have great success with our voiceover kit, which allowed voiceover artists to set up and record from home. SW: Very early on, we saw that streaming and remote production services would be key to our industry’s return to work and, because of our background in providing video transmitters, we knew that our expertise and support would become paramount as the requirement for streaming and social distancing grew. As well as devising streaming solutions under our Arklink brand, we also built up a whole new sector within major motion pictures with our Commslink, enabling real-time, conversational communication across a wide range of locations. These two technologies were paramount in helping several large studio blockbusters, as well as numerous TV productions, commercials and documentaries, get back to shooting. MG: Not for Take 2 Films, however our sister company, Procam Projects, has facilitated many large, livestreamed music
ROUND TABLE PROFILES ANDREW PRIOR ARRI RENTAL Prior is head of camera and technology at Arri Rental. As part of the wider Arri ecosystem, Arri Rental is built on a bedrock of knowledge that dates back more than a century. It is known for providing first-class camera, lighting and grip equipment. JEFF BROWN BROWNIAN MOTION Brown is head honcho at Brownian Motion, a company that has embraced the crossover between cameras and post- production, with its large supply of VR solutions, DIT and data lab services and multicam rigs. RUPERT WATSON & SEBASTIAN KHANLO JIGSAW24 Watson is the director of M&E sales and Khanlo is a technical pre-sales consultant. Jigsaw24 is a unique company, specialising in providing workflows that smooth the transition from on-set work to post. SPENCER WEEKES CINEARK Weekes is head of operations at CineArk, which was founded due to the stresses of having a lack of storage options. The company is a specialist in DIT, Data Wrangler, video and wireless equipment. MELANIE GEORGIEVA TAKE 2 FILMS Georgieva is one of two business development directors at Take 2 Films. As well as its camera division, Take 2 facilitates grip, crane and remote head rental. Since 1999, the company has serviced many films, TV dramas and commercials.
JB: We saw an increase in the use of IP cameras, particularly in the Z Cam E2s
We didn’t begin the year with an understanding that a pandemic would disrupt the industry
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GEAR | RENTAL ROUND TABLE
Now, more than ever, we’re seeing production and post-production worlds merge. What does this mean for your business? AP: We’re definitely investigating LED volume, because our cameras and lenses are physically connected to the system; they provide crucial data back to the Unreal Engine, so it knows what the camera is looking at and how it can accommodate the background that it is projecting. The Mandalorian kicked off a whole new conversation in this area, but it’s still in its infancy, because you really have to design your whole production around volume. You can’t just throw a volume in for certain scenes, because it doesn’t work like a traditional green screen. There are a lot of limitations. If you’re using water or dust, or it’s an action scene and you’ve got squibs and stunt wires, it’s almost impossible to have an LED screen as it’s inevitably going to get damaged. What’s interesting for us, though, is that the light coming off the screens isn’t very good. Yes, the reflections are real, so if you have an actor in a silver helmet, it looks like they’re in the environment, because that’s what they’re reflecting and you’re not getting green spill. But if you were projecting a face, the skin tone can sometimes look jaundiced, because the white balance isn’t correct. You can dial that in, but it’s just a screen projecting an image; it’s not designed to be a light source. At Arri, colour science is a huge part of what we do and where we came from, and that information goes into our lights, as well as into our sensors and lenses. So, when you compare an LED screen to an Arri Skypanel, it’s really like looking at night and day. Furthermore, you need lights to help augment the world itself, since LED screens don’t cast shadows. You could replace a panel with a source to create a shadow, but it has to be perfect and it’s very difficult to trick the human eye. RW: As experts in NDI [video over IP technology from Newtek] and remote access, we have been very lucky to have been asked to be involved in a great many ‘firsts’ since February. My favourite was assisting Springwatch in keeping the show on the road using Gallery Sienna’s NDI solutions. With our assistance and the BBC’s determination, we managed to produce both Springwatch and Autumnwatch
remotely, in a way no one would have thought possible before the pandemic.
we have. These cameras have the ability to be connected and controlled remotely, making them a good choice for talent to set up on their own, with control being left to remote operators. RW: Over the last four or five years, we’ve been talking to our customers about moving hot kit out from their expensive Soho machine rooms to our data centres and accessing it all remotely. So, when the pandemic hit, we had all the answers our customers needed. Thank goodness we had done all the research in advance and could help instantly. SW: It’s clear to us that the pandemic has moved the needle. Technologies that were coming of age have now been accelerated, so widespread use of video streaming and workflows that interconnect different locations are going to continue to be a large part of modern filmmaking, and we are continuing to devise and refine the technologies that enable this. At the same time, we believe that investing in the latest and most robust on-set technologies via our core services of DIT, video assist and transmission shall remain a huge part of our business and one of the ways in which our background as on-set technicians helps us to meet the demands of the industry and anticipate trends of the future. We see all sorts of benefits to the remote workflow, with things such as remote recce now becoming the norm. This is helping to cut down flights. The fact that people are so used to the concept of video conferencing now means they expect to be able to see real-time pictures from anywhere. MG: With many producers working from home, the main difference has been communication methods. Where we would normally have face-to-face meetings with clients, we quickly had to revert to carrying these out on Zoom to ensure regular communication throughout the production process. We have worked closely with all of our clients to accommodate extended prep and de-rig schedules and supply any additional equipment they require to maintain safety on set. Almost all of the productions we have supplied equipment for have requested extra monitoring solutions, and we have been supplying more VAXIS systems for additional wireless feeds.
SW: Certainly, the technological processes behind production and post are starting to unify. We recently deployed a transmission service normally reserved for set to facilitate the 4K HDR remote colour grading of The Life Ahead . The colour artist was based in Italy and the DOP was based in the UK. Can you predict any camera, lens and lighting trends for 2021? Are large format and LED still king? AP: Arri is releasing a Super 35 4K camera. That’s not a scoop – it has already been announced. I predict it’ll be a big hit for TV drama, especially for all the Netflix and Amazon projects as it’s got that 4K requirement. I suspect anamorphic lenses are likely to make a resurgence when that camera comes out too, because there are a lot of anamorphics that fit the Super 35 sensor that don’t fit the LF. Saying that, large format is definitely here to stay. It’s that halfway-house format that gives cinematographers a new look; it changes their field of view, their magnification, their frame and it does actually create a new image, especially when you go anamorphic LF, which has never really been a thing until recently. It’s like giving a painter a new colour; it’s a new artistic tool for cinematographers to play around with. As for LED, that’s the norm now and I don’t think there’s going to be any big changes in lighting anytime soon. JB: Large format cameras and lenses have been very popular with the top-end feature films. We are also seeing that trend trickle down to short form now that availability is less restricted and there are more full-frame lens options in the market. If next year ends up being as busy as it looks likely to be, I expect a shortage of premium equipment on the market. It is going to be interesting to see if the past year, which has been a write-off for many, forges an investment to fill that need. SEBASTIAN KHANLO: Large format is definitely still king, and I think we’re going to see it migrate more and more from just the high-end productions. Another development we’re seeing is around portability and resolution, with more small cameras, like the Red Komodo, offering resolution above 4K. There’s also the introduction of more capable mirrorless cameras, with features such as 5.9K/8K resolution, internal or external Raw recording and support for time code, like
Virtual production is the buzzword. LED volume stages will be the major trend
12 DEF I N I T ION | JANUARY 202 1
RENTAL ROUND TABLE | GEAR
JB: We spent Covid-induced downtime on R&D and developing new tools. Then, when we returned late in summer, we were able to roll out the use of our custom-designed Stitchbox, which brings live-stitched preview, playback and instant dallies to VFX arrays [see our September 2020 issue for more details]. It’s something we had ready at the start of spring, so it was good to finally get it out. We also worked on a multicamera software for the E2, resulting in a wireless control app for the 40-camera bullet time rig we made. RW: We are very proud of Springwatch . A lot of the very cool stuff we are doing is still under NDA – and we can talk about it when it goes live – but it’s fair to say that we have been working on some high-profile sports productions, prestigious SVOD drama content, as well as assisting companies in developing workflows that can withstand colleagues being geographically dispersed and reliant on sometimes poor internet connections. Designing workflows is at the heart of what we do at Jigsaw24. We have extensive investments in our demo environment, all of which we can access remotely, so we have been testing and designing new workflows for customers on an insanely intensive basis for the duration of the whole lockdown. SW: We provide a whole host of services, from equipment supply and storage to engineering, with a dedicated team of in-house staff supporting a wide range of highly-skilled technicians in the field, while also operating as a service company to a wide range of freelancers. In terms of products, we are particularly proud of our Eagle transmitter, which has become an industry standard for robust wireless video, alongside our ArkLink and CommsLink remote production technologies. MG: Alongside equipment hire, we also offer technical crew to support productions, including crane technicians and phantom operators. We provide engineering solutions on an ad hoc basis to ensure the crew in testing have everything exactly how they need it to be. In an interview with Adrian Wootton, Britain’s film commissioner, he told us that the UK’s production boom is continuing despite Covid-19 setbacks. What are your thoughts? AP: I think that if you’re someone with a giant warehouse somewhere, you’re currently sitting on a gold mine. Studio space is so high in demand right now and it’s not going to stop.
However, I don’t think the production boom is a recent thing: the UK has always had a solid production base. I remember going to Pinewood Studios as a kid and seeing the history of how the Star Wars films were made. I realised that there’s a craftsmanship to it that just doesn’t exist anywhere else. Obviously, there’s millions of people in America who do the same thing, but it’s not at the same level as it is here because the community is smaller. Everyone knows everyone and there’s a camaraderie to that, which I think makes for a stronger team and a better picture. So, why wouldn’t studios want to plough money into a place that has amazing talent? Of course, this means there’s more pressure for us to expand, but we’ve had this pressure since the Alexa 65 launched, where our influence grew dramatically, and we had more exposure to the biggest blockbusters. JB: There has been a huge delay in production shooting and now there’s a huge list of shows waiting to film to clear this backlog. Is it full steam ahead? No, not quite. Will we get there? Yes, but not for a few more months. I think the vaccine roll- out is key to this, with many productions opting to wait until the spring to avoid costly shutdowns. RW: I am not sure I am that bullish. There is much to be grateful for at Jigsaw24, but we are seeing customers working really hard to re-engineer their businesses, what they offer and how they offer it. I’ll be glad when this is all behind us. SW: We’re very excited about the prospects that 2021 and beyond bring. We’ve seen a massive surge in studio films, high-end TV and independent films shooting this winter. With the massive expansion in the UK’s facilities and infrastructure, coupled with external investment, we remain convinced that the UK will continue to be a world- beater over the coming years. As a growing and ambitious company, we’re extremely excited about the contribution we can make within this space. MG: We’re anticipating that 2021 is certainly going to be a busy year for film and television. Demand for fresh content is at an all-time high, as many people have spent a lot of 2020 indoors in front of the TV, so the appetite is definitely there. Many productions pushed their filming schedules from 2020 into next year, so there is likely to be a surge once things begin to return to normal. We are well prepared for the demand and have some exciting plans for expansion in the pipeline.
the Panasonic S1H, which is also the first mirrorless camera to be Netflix approved. SW: Virtual production is the biggest buzzword. LED volume stages will be the major trend. MG: Our large format cameras have been extremely popular in 2020, and we’re often seeing these paired with either modern, large format lenses or vintage lenses, like the Canon K35s. We expect the demand for large format to continue into the next year. With the popularity of new digital cameras, we have also seen a growing resurgence in requests for 16mm and 35mm film cameras for music videos, commercials and feature films, with some opting for a mixed media approach, hiring both digital and film cameras for the same production. Do you customise or develop products and production workflows in-house? AP: We do our best to customise as much as we possibly can, and that could be anything from a plate or a cage, to a lens or a handle. We actually made Robert Richardson a special curved handle because he likes to hold the camera from the back, where the battery is, but obviously it’s impossible to do that for everyone. If an NFT student came in and asked us to make them a lens, we would probably have to refuse, but we would definitely help them find the best solution for their look. We’re starting to build a collection of special lenses that we haven’t uncovered – because we’re prototyping glass all the time for our DNA programme – and have, in some instances, lent out to filmmakers. One filmmaker was Adam Scarth, who shot Netflix’s Top Boy . He came in with a look book for the show and was referencing the greats. He wasn’t looking for the fastest lens. No, Scarth wanted to light to T2.8/ T4, which is reminiscent of Roger Deakins, Ben Davis and Robert Richardson – masters who were able to create depth in their composition and lighting. This isn’t something you can teach; it’s something you’ve got to want to learn, and Scarth wanted to. So, I went into our stock cupboard and pulled him out a couple of prototype lenses from the DNA programme. We already had the show, so I didn’t need to win him over – yet, it was his enthusiasm that won me over.
JANUARY 202 1 | DEF I N I T ION 13
HDR | GEAR
With HDR being hailed by many as the biggest development in the world of production, we talk to the experts and creatives at every stage of its use to find out where we stand – and what the future holds
WORDS LEE RENWI CK / P I CTURES VAR I OUS
We’re able to do that now because the contrast ratio of displays has expanded ridiculously. We’re now talking about contrast ratios of 1,000,000:1.” Few other people in production have such an involvement in HDR. Across productions like Series 2 of His Dark Materials , Soriano manages the colour pipeline from prep and shoot to VFX, grade and DI. “The role has a big technical implementation, but also a big artistic element. The main role in the artistic side is to maintain the artistic intent in all the different viewing environments,” he says. As an evolving technology, there’s some room for discussion on specifically how an image must be displayed to be considered HDR. For many, though, the gold standard is Dolby Vision, which necessitates a contrast ratio of 200,000:1 and a display brightness of 1000 nits. While brightness can vary, the constant here is the contrast ratio. Brightness could be impossibly high, but if the darkest parts of the image are almost as bright as the brightest parts, that ratio is shot. Soriano tells us more. “There are two ways of measuring dynamic range in terms of colours science: scene referred and display referred. The former is the input of light into a camera, measured in stops. The latter is what happens after, when this is transferred into a display-referred area, where dynamic range is measured in contrast ratio.
IMAGE DIT, Luke Williams, believes the Sony Venice was an excellent choice for His Dark Materials Series 2’s HDR workflow, thanks to its sensor and range
H DR has been an increasingly hot topic for a few years, but now it seems to be reaching a real fever pitch. Perhaps this is down to more recent advancements, or perhaps the slow yet inevitable takeover has finally crept up. While it’s clear that HDR is a new and exciting opportunity, exactly what that opportunity consists of is a slightly cloudier issue for those not directly involved in the process. The high dynamic range element itself is easy to conceptualise, but in fact, it’s a much more complex topic than that, particularly in practice. It’s a technology that’s shaping every step of film production and, of course, the final viewer experience. Each and every element of HDR has enough depth to fill countless white papers – and they’re certainly out there – so let’s consider the crucial elements.
What is HDR beyond the basic concept? And how does it shape the production and post-production workflow, as well as the manufacturers providing the tools used? EXPERT SUPERVISION “First, what we need to understand is that HDR is all about display technology,” explains Pablo García Soriano, managing director and colour supervisor at Cromorama. “Even very early films stocks were able to capture a dynamic range of around 13 stops, but what we couldn’t achieve was a viewing environment in which we could display all of that latitude.
I’d also say most of the beauty of HDR is in those better blacks, too, and it all links to our evolutionary perception
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GEAR | HDR
ABOVE This graphic illustrates Mission Digital’s colour pipeline for on-set SDR and HDR monitoring using Dolby Vision. The various transforms (IDT, RRT, ODT and LMT) are all part of the ACES workflow, which works to maintain a linear colour space through non-linear devices
would be at the display’s max – 1000 nits or higher. In SDR, those values might be 95 nits and 100 nits, so only a 5% difference. Thinking like that, you can easily see the separation that exists in HDR,” he says. “So, who’s going to benefit most from HDR monitoring on set?” he continues. “The camera department will benefit, though HDR can be a little less forgiving than SDR, as much as it gives. Clipping, for example, will appear at the peak luminance of the monitor, which isn’t pleasant – and once that data is lost it’s hard to rebuild in post. More so than the camera, I’d say HDR benefits the art and makeup departments most. To see that
and chromaticity,” Soriano says. “With HDR, we also need to consider the third dimensionality of light, which is how colourful it can be.” Much like the specifics of contrast ratio, what gamut and what percentage of it that needs to be covered vary. Dolby Vision requires a monitor that can cover almost the full Rec. 2020 colour space. Though this aspect of HDR has some catching up to do – and that’s if it ever gets there. “The HDR television mastering is usually created for a 1000 nit display, but the Rec. 2020 colour space isn’t always used, simply because most consumer displays don’t even come close to that
“When we’re talking about displays, viewing environment is extremely critical. The brightness of a Dolby Vision HDR projection in the cinema is only around 130 nits, but that’s because you’re in a very dark environment. If a cinema screen were 1000 nits, it would be unbearable. In colour science, there’s a branch that covers ‘perceptual engines’. These algorithms try to preserve creative intent, adapting the picture to different viewing environments. Providers like Dolby and Colorfront are working hard here.” There’s another perceptual element at play in HDR, too, and it’s down to all of us. It seems an obvious point, but all viewing technology can only be related to the human eye. “There’s a concept known as 18% grey, often called mid grey. It’s what humans perceive to be the middle point between black and white, though it only reflects 18% of the light that hits it, not 50%,” Soriano explains. “We see most of our information between 0% and 18% if we consider it in a measure of a camera’s stops, with each stop doubling the amount of light over the previous one. At base ISO, a camera behaves the same way as our brain, using around half the tonal data for that 0-18% range. “The overall contrast ratio is just as much about those darkest parts as it is the brightest parts, and that’s where monitors are becoming much better. I’d also say most of the beauty of HDR is in those better blacks, too, and it all links to our evolutionary perception.” Dynamic range is just one part of HDR displays, though. Another is colour space. “Light is two things: it’s intensity
standard. With Rec. 2020, the top corner of that colour space triangle (at the luminance it should be) would essentially be a green laser. I consider no display will ever get there.” “The vast majority of natural reflective colours are contained within the DCI-P3 gamut, you don’t need Rec. 2020 for those. Within the extra range of 2020, you’re talking only about a high-vis vest perhaps, or the fluorescent wings of a butterfly, or a lightsaber,” Soriano explains. Certainly, there’s joy to be had from a wider gamut and the dynamic range, both for a viewer and those in all departments. “Viewed in HDR, a piece of paper may be 250 nits, while something that reflects 100% of the light
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HDR | GEAR
ABOVE In His Dark Materials Series 2, the effect of hard sun beating through windows creates Cittàgazze’s atmosphere, but this light makes retaining detail in SDR a challenge. In HDR, desired looks like this can be maintained alongside all the detail that would otherwise be lost
“Working alongside David Higgs on His Dark Materials Series 2, we took full advantage of HDR. In the world of Cittàgazze, which has a bright, contrasty, Mediterranean feel, we were having to leave windows blown out in SDR, but in HDR we could maintain that feel and the additional detail. Yellows and browns, which were muted in Rec. 709, really came out more in the wider Rec. 2020 gamut, too.” Williams continues: “In my mind, viewers have never had it so good. HDR formats like Dolby Vision are bringing dynamic deliverables that use HDR metadata to adjust to different viewing environments. What’s really great about this is, if you update your TV in the future, you’ll actually see the same movie become visually better. I’d say it’s a much greater jump than when we went from SD to HD.”
“We used the Sony Venice for the recent His Dark Materials Series 2 shoot, and the camera’s modern sensor, with 15 stops of dynamic range across 16-bit linear Raw files, makes that HDR exposure far easier. Another great factor is that it supports colour-managed workflows like ACES right out of the box.” The Academy Colour Encoding System seeks to standardise the handling of colour through every stage of production. It’s a purely scene-referred workflow and assists in keeping the final product as close to the real, into-camera light sources as possible. “HDR has given us a new set of brushes to paint our canvas with – which ones are used is up to the artist,” says Williams. “We can make images hyperreal or bring them closer than ever to what we’d see with the naked eye. It’s the flexibility that’s exciting.
wide separation in objects like clothing is significant and certain dark skin tones are actually outside the boundaries of the Rec. 709 gamut. Now you can finally see those textures and tonalities.” He adds: “I’ve heard many directors say, after seeing an HDR pass, that they would have made a certain shot longer, because there’s so much more there than they thought. I’d say, eventually you’ll actually be able to read or visualise HDR moments within a script.” ON SET “A big part of that huge on-set change is with the role of the DIT,” Soriano points out. DITs just like Luke Williams, who works at Mission Digital. He explains: “It’s my job to make sure the digital negative is protected for HDR and SDR. This requires me and the cinematographer to monitor both outputs, as what would be clipped in SDR is present in HDR. It really is more important than ever to get the exposure right. HDR has given us a new set of brushes to paint our canvas with, and the viewer has never had it so good
LEFT Luke Williams’ Mission Digital DIT rig offers everything needed for on-set HDR monitoring during productions like His Dark Materials Series 2
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