Indie Film Live

Monday, October 31, 2005

Atomic - vfx finds it's way to cineform

Sharlto Copley and I started a film project called “SPOON” a year ago. Once the screenplay was complete the film funding process went surprisingly smoothly and 1 year later we are in pre production on “SPOON”.

Sharlto and I have always tried to do innovative things and to make our work look better than the budget would conventionally allow. The idea of making a commercial style popular film on an indie budget is the holy grail of every endeavour we have embarked on in the past 12 years hence the name of our production company “inspired minority”. We have never been more excited than we are right now as we believe the media industry is finally at that turning point so many have been waiting for. The barrier to entry to big screen content has shrunk enough for those with talent and good ideas to blossom. It is our belief that an entire new strain of content is about to emerge that will blur the lines between commercial and indie films – were calling it “commercial independent”. In that spirit we just couldn’t resist the temptation to use low end prosumer gear to produce a truly high end product. So much so that we took a document we found on the web detailing the aspects of a film to avoid when trying to make a low budget indie film (I say “low budget” indie film because Star Wars was essentially funded by one man.) and commitied to include almost every one. Many of these obstacles can be solved with CGI and we have strategically been preparing ourselves for that eventuality for the past 7 years through our company Atomic Visual Effects.

Things like rain, which should be avoided, can be generated in part and pull in Post. Production design, and environment manipulation also. The list is long but the truth is without proper high resolution, high detail, deep pictures visual effects become tricky. We are still not certain how far we will be able to push the effects on our process but we will let you know as we progress what we have achieved. This is where cineform come in.

We needed 10bit High detail pictures which we could grade, key and composite with, but we refused to use film or established high end HD cameras because we wanted the money we had for the film on other aspects of the production. After much research and a long wait the new generation of cameras sporting HDV rolled out. There is always a sense of insecurity about these sorts of decisions. You never know what is around the corner or what unforeseen pitfalls there are but on spec the JVC GYHD100 seemed to fit the bill. The reasons, included the true 24p record, removable lenses, and most of all the uncompressed component output. Not only was it an HD image it was uncompressed and up to 60 frames a second thereby including another film makers power tool – SLO-MO!

The idea was to capture these uncompressed pictures to disk and Cineform threw a huge twist in the tail which made it all viable. They could compress the images to a fraction of their size, retain 10bit image depth and allow for post grading and effects. They’ve shown this with “dust to glory” but where we wanted to go was another ballgame. We wanted to do hectic VFX on the footage and this would certainly put the codec to the test. In the beginning we planned to shoot uncompressed for all the effects but as we got more involved it gradually became clear that Cineform was in another league from any codec we had seen. We could do things to the footage we never thought possible and right now we are tesing the Keying using cineform instead of uncompressed. So far we are very impressed. Now I know most VFX experts will be shaking their head like I was but what I have seen has been enough for me to give it a solid look and we will let you know as things evolve.

So then we got going with a cineform Prospect HD solution on an AMD dual core dual opteron 252 proc pc, an HD100e camcorder (the first in the country) and an AJA HD10A converter. Within minutes we were up and running with Data, 60p, being recorded directly to disk with cineform. Real slo-mo and at 1280x720. The data rate around 15-17 MB/s (60 frames). Of course David Newman had already forgotten what we still had to learn. Thankfully he, David Taylor and Jeff got right behind the project from the word go and they have been indispensable assets to the process. Not only did they invent the product that make our process possible, they have been re-inventing it to make it do even more. And that’s about where this blog comes up. We are at the stage now where we are testing everything and preparing frantically for our Feb Shoot.

Aside from the implementation of the codec in our workflow, the ingest suite had to be ruggedized for a film set. UPS, cabling, cooling, mobility and operation are all major issues. We thought we were in that one on our own but then Jeff and Cineform announced their intention to release their version of an ingest solution for on set possibly in time for the shoot. So we immediately found a synergy in that development similar to the one we already had with the codec development. Cineform would develop all this cool stuff that would be their contribution - and we would get to use it to make our dream film – that was our part. What a great deal! Oh but there was a catch – we had to tell them what we wanted first. Since we started this project the any bad luck we have had has landed us in an even better position. “Leap and the net will appear” is written on our production board. I think it’s working!

So at this stage we are very, very excited about what has been happening and we are very honored to be working with such intelligent and dedicated people. We hope to demonstrate our appreciation for all these efforts in the quality of film we can make as a result of all these initiatives and to share our experience with those who wish to do similar things.

Simon Hansen
Atomic Visual Effects


  • simon and all the team...

    i'm really impressed with your commitment to this blog, and you're commitment to low budget/high quality. that's the way forward!

    i'm producing/directing a feature doc (very low budget) using the 100U. i'm not the cameraman and not very technical but it seems to be working ok - except in low light of course.

    to be honest i'd rather have done the whole thing with the dvx (i directed a feature rom com last year on it which is coming out in may on dvd....can't complain about that!). but for various reasons with this latest project we ended up going the untested route and went HDV.

    so...we have fooishly (or brazenly) shot about 40hrs of footage (to tape...hard disc recorder not available yet). we're taking a break from shooting to review footage and "realign the script".

    however, we are having a tough time working out how to capture 720p/24fps into FCP. i know you're using premiere, and i'd switch platforms but we can't afford that at this point. do you have any thoughts/ideas as to how to do this?

    we downloaded a software called 'lumiere' and another called 'HDVxDV' with which were able to capture short clips (max about 12mins!) from tape as mT2 files. we then had to export these to QT but this is where things fell apart: we can't export as 720p/24fps format.

    anyway, i'm going to keep hacking away at this in my unprofessional way. will get there eventually. if you've any pointers i'd love to hear them.


    marlowe fawcett

    By Blogger marlowe diego, at 10:21 AM  

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