April 13, 2016
SIM Group Teams Up for “Warcraft”
PS Production Services, Sim Digital and Bling Digital collaborate to deliver a production-through-post solution for Legendary Pictures’ fantasy hit.
In a project spanning more than two years, SIM Group companies provided integrated production and post production services for Warcraft¸ Legendary Pictures’ spectacular adaptation of the popular video game series. SIM Digital supplied camera systems, PS Production Services provided lighting and grip equipment on what was one of their biggest shows to date, and Bling Digital delivered editing systems, dailies processing, workflow support and additional post services, as the three companies joined in a coordinated effort to help speed the movie through production and post.
Directed by Duncan Jones, Warcraft tells the story of an epic battle between orcs and humans defending the peaceful realm of Azeroth. Employing ground-breaking performance capture technology and featuring more than 2000 visual effects shots, the movie, in 2D and 3D, is a thrilling adventure and a visual tour de force, serving up a dazzling blend of live action and computer-generated imagery.
After PS Production Services secured the grip and lighting package, SIM Digital supplied Cinematographer Simon Duggan with camera packages that included Arri Alexa XT Plus cameras, Leica Summilux-C lenses and Codex raw recorders. That configuration allowed Duggan to capture in high resolution ARRIRAW 3.2k Open Gate.
The camera configuration was also well suited to complex performance capture. “The components are designed to capture and array metadata,” explains SIM Digital Vancouver General Manager Ken Anderson. “Together, they provide maximum information about a shot…the lens that was used, the focal length, the focus pull…so that the relationship of the characters to the camera is known at all times. That data was essential to the integration of live action and CG.”
SIM Digital’s camera systems were complimented by a complete lighting and grip package from PS Production Services. Including a huge assortment of lighting, electrical, generators, cranes and a variety of specialty gear, it was the largest package that PS has ever supplied to a Vancouver production.
Bling Digital’s role included supporting a DIT cart, transfer system and video village on the set and operating a near-set facility for dailies processing. Data management was extremely complicated due to the intricacies of the performance capture and the large number of cameras that were employed on the set. (In addition to the ARRI Alexas, a myriad of smaller cameras were used to capture reference media and each actor also wore a helmet camera to capture facial movement in order to speed facial animation in post-production.) The production also deployed a Simulcam, an augmented reality camera system used to composite live action and CG on the fly. The ARRI Alexa cameras alone generated more than 8TB of data per shoot day.
“Camera data was coming in from Arri Alexa XTs, RED cameras, helmet cameras, reference cameras and the Simulcam,” recalls Bling Digital Director of Workflow Jesse Korosi. “Each camera format needed to be grouped together for editorial while allowing any one of those individual sources to reconnect back to the ARRI RAW. To make such a feat possible, we had multiple tape columns and multiple TC tracks. We also had to develop a system for automating digital camera reports, script notes, lens metadata and sound notes and make all that available to the editors and other parties downstream.” Korosi adds that the ARRI Alexa XTs were recording Open Gate, something that had not previously been used on a feature and it was not then supported by software.
Bling Digital’s support team was on-set for the full three and a half months of production. “The project was unique in the extent that it used motion capture and that had a big impact on our workflow,” says Bling Digital Vancouver General Manager Mike Ogawa. “The amount of visual data and metadata that had to be carried through to editorial and VFX was far greater than a standard production. It was a challenge.”
Bling Digital also maintained an editing system that was used on set, and a near-set editing facility, used by Editor Paul Hirsch and his team. Production in Vancouver wrapped on a Friday leaving Bling engineers until the following Monday to have the editing systems and media back up and running at Legendary Pictures’ offices in Los Angeles.
In addition, Bling Digital set up a 2D and 3D editorial and color grading theatre at Legendary that was dubbed the “Post Hub.” It was used to coordinate the distribution of media between editorial, visual effects vendors and post production service providers. The Post Hub featured Avid, Baselight, Resolve and Hiero systems each connected virtually to a single control desk, two monitors and a keyboard. Bling Digital VFX and Stereo Management Technician Rachel McIntire employed those tools to prepare visual effects and stereo pulls, conduct reviews, conform the 2D version of the movie and manage an ongoing 3D conform.
“We had a great crew,” says McIntire. “We were connected to every department and we all worked hard and communicated well. It went incredibly smoothly.”
Critical to all this work was a color management workflow that preserved decisions made by Duggan and DIT Simon Jori on the set and passed them along to editors, visual effects suppliers and post production service providers. “We chose a CDL and output LUT workflow,” observes Korosi. “That ensured that every department that needed access to this color information could have it automated into their workflow.”
During dailies processing in the near-set lab, both the LUT and CDLs from the set were applied to camera media. The looks were baked into DNxHD files delivered to editorial, with CDL values included in the Avid bins. CDL files were also included with shots sent to visual effects vendors. “When VFX vendors finished their work, they rendered both a LogC DPX sequence for review in the Post HUB and a DNXHD115 QT file with the original color baked in to drop into the offline edit,” Korosi notes. “Along with this QT file for editorial, an ALE was also sent. This ALE contained the original CDL values, as well as the new VFX shot name in the Tape column. When editors brought those QuickTime files into an Avid, they used the ALE. They were able to maintain the CDL values and ensure they had the new VFX tape name to automate our eventual conform to VFX’s new DPX masters. As the CDL data was also in this ALE—which normally wouldn’t have been passed back to editorial—we were able to use it for VFX review on the LogC DPX frames. Therefore were able to turn on or off the original look from the set.” A similar process was used for stereo reviews.
Having an ALE from ILM that included the new VFX shot name in the Tape column allowed the 2D conform to be automated. “When the conform was complete, final DPX files along and an EDL that included CDL values were sent to the color facility,” Korosi said. “The colorist was then able to use the color metadata for reference.”
“It was an exciting project and we were fortunate to be a part of it from beginning to end,” concludes Korosi. “Having a single team managing the workflow across the entire production was a big advantage. We were able to design a post-production workflow based on our first-hand experience of what had happened on the front end. Any time a question arose in post about color, framing, metadata, or any other decision made during production, we were able to immediately provide an answer. It worked well for everyone involved.”