Monday, July 23, 2007

IRON MAN Editing with Dan Lebental

By Harry B. Miller III, A.C.E.

IRON MAN is a Marvel comic character who is moving to the movie screen - well, aren't they all?

Edited by Dan Lebental, A.C.E., for Marvel Entertainment, IRON MAN incorporates the latest in film editing technology. I sat with Dan and his two first assistants, Dawn King and Sandra Granovsky, to learn about how they've set up the show, and how the technology is working.

Walking into their offices on Olympic Blvd. in L.A. one is impressed with the complexity of IRON MAN's post production. The show has six Avid Adrenaline Media Composers, plus a seventh software-only that Dan keeps on the side. He uses it mostly for sound work. They are editing in the new Avid HD codec, DNxHD 36, in order to edit in high definition for the picture quality, while keeping the media file size manageable. Still, they have 16 terabytes of storage on-line (8 of it is mirrored storage).

In addition to the editors, the post crew includes two visual effects editors. IRON MAN is budgeted for 500 visual effects, but like all visual effect plans, that number is likely to expand. (Have you ever worked with a director who wants to cut effect shots to stay in budget? (HAH!).

They will soon be adding two additional Avids when a second editor with assistant joins the crew.

The computer systems are all quad core G5 Macintoshs, running Media Composer 2.7 software. Although there had been reported performance issues using Macs and Unity, no problems have arisen thus far on IRON MAN, and the production is nearly wrapped.

They also have a Final Cut Pro system, which will be used to record play-outs of the film. More on this later.

Initially the director, Jon Favreau (ZATHURA, SWINGERS), wanted to shoot with the Genesis camera, after having shot a pilot in HD. But after doing tests, the strobing of aerial footage was unacceptable so the decision was made to shoot 35mm film. The exception is 65mm greenscreen footage used to shoot inside the IRON MAN's suit, as it was the best way to avoid lens distortion they got from 35mm.

Dailies were played out of an Avid at the set, with a 2k projector. After trying the software only Avid, they found the Adrenaline hardware was needed to get full HD.

Production sound is recorded on a Diva 5, and delivered on a DVD Ram to post. Each mic has a channel, and the recordist provides a mixed track. All tracks are sunk in the HD telecine at Fotokem. The media is transferred to drives and delivered to editorial. When importing, the assistants have as many as 8 channels of audio with each take. This gets extremely complicated with the editor cutting with grouped clips and multiple channels of audio. The assistants turn off the channels that aren't the primary audio channels. But all channels are available for the editor if needed.

Every scene number of the script has been printed on a 4x5 card and posted on a large board on one wall in script order. As the film was shot, the assitants take screen grabs of the shot scenes, print that with its scene number, and replace that card on the board. That way Dan can see what has been shot and what is missing. Photoshop was used to print the cards.

Most of the visual effect sequences have been boarded and 'pre-vised'. As plates have been shot, Dan makes his choices and the VFX editors incorporate live action with the pre-vis. The majority of the VFX are being done at ILM.

Dan's has a terrific set of picture screens to work with. His two computer monitors are 24 inch Dell's. These displays look excellent, and give a lot of working real estate. He has a 32 inch HD client monitor, and a large screen plasma monitor for the director. One problem has been the large plasma monitor can sometimes start playing slightly out of sync, while the editor monitors are in sync. And the only solution so far is to re-start the system.

Several issues are still being worked out. The assistants have yet to figure out the best way to do a digital cut. A tape-less workflow is nice in theory, but at some point you have to send the show out for others to work on. While they can play out to an NTSC recorder (a ‘free run’), this version of the Media Composer will not do a digital cut to an NTSC deck. And they don’t have an HD deck on hand. A ‘free run’ is another way of saying “variable speed” output: not something you want to use as an accurate reference. Avid tech support wasn’t very clear whether this odd inconsistency is a fix they are working on.

Another issue is you cannot input material at a lesser resolution. Any non-HD must be sent to the lab for transfer. Or, it can be digitized into a NTSC project, exported to Quick Time, and imported into the HD project.

Also an issue is how to output picture for sound. The current thinking is to record out to the Final Cut Pro system. They are working with Skywalker sound to come up with the best way of outputting sound. Avid has a new “export to pro-tools” selection they will try. They have had problems outputting to OMF, but are planning on transcoding the media in each sequence to WAV, and OMF those.

As assistant Dawn King points out "Its a learning process for all of us. I have to relearn the job very project."

Ever project has a new gink, doesn't it?

Initial takes of VFX will be reviewed with Quick Time files. For final approval they will be output to film. The final Quick Times will be cut into the Avid sequences, an aux ink number will be added, then high-res files will go to E-Film and conformed into the digital cut.

E-Film will be scanning and assembling the final film in 2k for a DI. They will take an Avid film cut list to make the scans and assembly. The negative won't be reassembled into cut rolls, as had been a past practice.

As color timing a DI is more complicated and takes longer than conventional film printing, DP's aren't always available to finish a show. It is more being left to the director to work on the color timing while the editor supervises the sound mix. For IRON MAN, E-Film is moving a portable color timing suite to Skywalker Ranch to complete the color timing while the sound mix is in process.

More will be posted as IRON MAN moves through post production.


Anonymous Cary said...

Thanks for writing this.

10:59 AM  

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