—It used to be so easy. You gave
your BetaSP tape to the editor who perhaps
involved some VFX folks and the next thing
you knew, deliverable content followed.
Unfortunately, far too many productions
have failed to realize that new technologies
require different workflows. Here are some
tips for start to finish HD production, tips
which could be just as useful for that new
frontier of 4K production.
Know The Workflow From Acquisition To
Delivery: At least one individual within the
chain needs to know the full production path
and this needs to be communicated through
the varying crafts who are making the shoot
happen. We’ll start looking at the big picture
and then deal with the components.
Some Questions to Ask: What is the deliverable
and what resources are at the disposal
of the team to achieve that deliverable?
Web, broadcast or big screen? Or multiple
destinations? Turnaround time? Availability
What NLE, VFX and/or finishing packages
will be utilized? Is there are preferred
NLE or a preferred acquisition codec?
What are the camera requirements relative
to the look which is ultimately desired?
Conventional CCD/CMOS for a more shallow
DOF (depth of field) and ENG look?
Large sensor cameras for a shallow DOF or
more cinematic look? What codec? Recording
straight 709, log or Raw?
Who is in charge of the big picture in
both getting all of the components together
as well as clearly communicating
requirements to all?
Acquisition: Let’s start with the heart of it
all—the camera. Suffice it to say, there are
no shortage of camera choices today. And no
shortage of acquisition codecs, bit depths,
or gammas either. The process actually starts
with communication, as illustrated by fellow
TV Technology correspondent Oliver
Peters, who was recently working with a
certain cable channel. Their requirement for
footage submitted to them by outside producers
is strictly XDCAM; shoot a gorgeous
scene with your ARRI Alexa in ProRes and
it is immediately rejected. In this case, the
particular cable channel is upfront with providers
and the requirements are clear. It may
not necessarily be so with other producers.
For a DP or camera operator accepting
an assignment, then, as obvious as it may
sound nonetheless, clarify what the client
wants. If your camera can’t provide it, be
prepared either to lose the gig or rent what
the client wants.
But not every client has a workflow as
established as this unnamed network. There
may very well be circumstances in which
the DP needs to know his/her camera’s capabilities
and be prepared to market those
characteristics aggressively in order
to get the job. It may require the DP
having sufficient NLE knowledge to
advise an editor how to work with,
let’s say, AVC-Intra when the editor
was more familiar with MPEG-2. And
that camera owner/operator needs
to know which codecs their camera
shoots and the current state of NLE
support for that codec, or what to do
if the editor doesn’t happen to have
the latest version of an NLE package.
In this scenario, then, the salient
wisdom is both clear expectations
by the producer as well as clear understanding
of the camera’s ability. It is two
way communication between DP/operator
Acquisition Continued: It’s Not Just The Codec:
The final desired look at delivery and delivery
destination will influence acquisition.
This means having a full understanding of
straight Rec 709, Log or Raw workflows.
The producer says, “I want absolute cinematic
subtleties, wide dynamic range, am
prepared to devote resources to heavy grading
and my storage budget is more than the
cost of your first house.” The answer is Raw.
But it doesn’t usually work like that. More
commonly, the DP has to figure out what to
shoot based upon what the producer is able
to communicate about the desired goal.
Log workflows can pose some of the
greatest challenges on set and once again,
that word “communication” rears its head.
Even with years of log workflows, directors
in particular still do not grasp looking at
the low-contrast washed out log image. Viewing
LUTs are critical for both Log and Raw
acquisition. That moves us to the next level
The LUT: I Want To Get What I See: “I can’t
tell anything from this image,” the director
says. The first question the DP or operator
needs to ask, then, is “do you want to see
merely an image returned to a Rec 709 color
space or do you want to see an image to
approximate the final delivery look?”
If it is merely a desire to view the action
in a Rec 709 space, DP and director both
need to decide upon the choices of camera
LUTs (look up tables) if that camera indeed
has a choice or simply to accept whatever
viewing LUT the camera outputs.
In many episodic productions I’ve experienced,
for example, the colorist has created
a LUT which reflects the desired look
of the finished piece. Hence, the LUT is created
by the colorist and either loaded into
the camera, (if the camera accepts external
LUTs), loaded into the monitor, or loaded
into an external hardware box between
camera output and director monitor. An example
of such a device that simplifies the
whole process is the AJA LUT-Box, just introduced
at the 2014 NAB Show.
There is a third option. Some monitors
also have LUT emulation or user downloadable
More elaborate productions which have
the luxury of an on-set DIT have the best opportunity
to view footage exactly as desired.
Pity the Poor Editor: Put yourself in an editor’s
shoes for a moment, even if you’re not
the editor. There is the potential for receiving
footage shot in a variety of codecs and formats
and some not very well shot. The producer
has expectations and the DP may say,
“Well, I sent you everything on P2 cards. What
do you mean you don’t have a P2 reader?”
Again the obvious needs to be
stated—know what the requirements
for the job might be.
But it also flows back to the DP/
camera operator. Yes, as we said,
gone are the days of just handing
off a tape. The DP clearly needs to
know the path of the footage and
how the editor wants it. And from
the editor’s point of view, the deliverable
is the goal.
Final Thoughts: The best tip for
smooth HD production is standardization
across the workflow. Producers
need to be specific about
requirements from acquisition
If there is no standardization on
the part of the producer, each individual
component needs to be
thought through and each level of
production needs to be in communication
with the other. Codec/NLE
compatibility needs to be determined
between DP and editor. Viewing
LUTs on set needs to flow from
editor to set. Frame size and aspect ratio of
final delivery needs to be communicated to
the DP for proper framing of shots.
And most important, there needs to be
at least one person in charge who not only
is conversant with the entire workflow but
who communicates that to every individual
in the production chain.
Ned Soltz is an independent video
shooter, editor and producer, as well as
consultant and general technology guru.
In addition to current production and consulting
projects, he is a contributing editor
for Digital Video magazine.