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Monitoring A DVD Release


Taylor Warren is the owner of Sunrise Pictures, and an Editor/ Sound Designer.

I know this may be setting a tough precedent for facilities who do not yet own a Blackmagic UltraScope, but we at Sunrise Pictures have accomplished the unthinkable, and it would be wrong to keep it secret. We have been able to finish the reworking of the film Being Michael Madsen for video before deadline and had it pass quality control – on the first try. The UltraScope waveform monitoring product was the technology that let us do this.

Being Michael Madsen tells the story of a Hollywood star who exacts revenge on an abrasive paparazzi photographer by hiring a documentary film crew to follow him 24/7 – in essence turning the tables on him. Starring veteran actor Michael Madsen as himself, the film features guest appearances by Virginia Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Harry Dean Stanton, Lacey Chabert, and Paige Davis.

I have been in the film industry for 19 years, handling a wide range of post jobs on feature films, documentaries, and corporate work. For the better part of the last 15 years I have run Sunrise Pictures, a Telly Award-winning post house in Connecticut.

At Sunrise, we were part of the original team that finished the first version of the film. Since then, the film has attracted distribution deals in the US and Germany, and several theatrical showings are being planned.

The film’s success meant we had to go back and rework the movie for DVD as well as for potential broadcast in both the US and Europe. We had to prepare a master that would meet quality control standards, and, as with any independent film, we had to do this as affordably and efficiently as possible.

The film was shot in 1080/24P HD video using Sony’s F900 CineAlta camera, and posted at our studio in Middletown, Connecticut. We then took the original footage and graded the entire movie using the UltraScope as our main testing and measurement device.

Prior to the UltraScope, I was like many editors and did my grading and measurement with my eyes and the assistance of internal NLE scopes. I wanted an external scope, but traditional waveform/vectorscopes were just too expensive and cumbersome for my workflow. Plus, they are usually fan cooled and loud – a negative in an environment where I am often making color and sound choices simultaneously.

Without a quality scope, it was just assumed that it would take several passes to get through quality control. There was simply no better way to get both qualitative and quantitative views of material to ensure broadcast-legal quality.

But the UltraScope has been a real revelation. The system is a combination PCI Express card and software designed to work on a PC. Using the UltraScope gives me six waveform monitor displays showing RGB and YUV parade, luminance, digitally synthesized composite, luminance and composite, vector-scope, histogram, eight channel audio metering, and 2D audio.

With the UltraScope, I was able to look at footage via an HD SDI loop through signal on my broadcast monitor. We always had the UltraScope up and running during grading and editing and I was able to get the film broadcast-ready on the first try. Being able to see how the RGB/vector and waveforms all measured up on a single 24-inch LCD monitor is just amazing.

Being Michael Madsen includes a great deal of interview style footage shot against black backgrounds in different locations. These shots are intercut throughout the film, and Director Michael Mongillo requested that the blacks be identical from shot to shot.

Using the UltraScope, I could now see that blacks were all the same and were within spec – something that is impossible to do by eye even with the best of today’s Grade 1 LCDs. And to be honest, UltraScope improved my ability to grade. Watching the changes I was making on multiple waveform displays simultaneously taught me a great deal about the color correction process and new ways to use the color tools at my disposal.

From this work, we now have an international master that was completed two weeks before our deadline. And more importantly, my clients and myself now expect to pass quality control on the first pass every time.