Need For Speed

In my role at Bandito Brothers, I have been working for the last year on the film Need for Speed, which releases in theaters this Friday.  This has been a very different project from our last one, Act of Valor.  Having the backing of a major studio like DreamWorks makes for a totally different production process.  After bootstrapping nearly ever aspect of Act of Valor for four years, Need for Speed has been a much shorter project start to finish.

Similar to Act of Valor, we relied primarily on Canon cameras for much of the shooting.  Instead of the now-ancient, first HDSLR, the 5D, we were shooting in 4K.  The EOS Cinema series cameras released over the last couple years were developed in part based on feedback we gave Canon during our partnership on Act of Valor.  While the C300 didn’t see much action on our sets, the C500 has been a critical part of our shooting plan.  Shooting 4K material with that camera also required us to get familiar with the Codex and Gemini external recorders.  These external recorders limited some of the situations where we used that camera, but not as much as would be expected.  We were able to operate in some remarkably tight places with a C500 connected to a Gemini recorder in a camelback sized backpack.  For those signature uniquely Bandito shots that can’t be gotten without a DSLR form factor, we had a few EOS 1D-Cs, Canon’s 4K DSLR.  We also frequently used Arri Alexa cameras, as well as numerous GoPro crash cams.  In traditional Bandito style, we had somewhere between twenty and forty cameras on set at any given time, occasionally using ten or more on a particular shot.  This was challenging to sort out afterwards on Act of Valor, but the C500’s support of proper time code greatly aided in that process this time around.

There were a number of key differences from our experience on Act of Valor, where I had done nearly all of the data management myself.  DreamWorks wanted online dailies, which had been a non-issue on Act of Valor.  It was challenging to adapt Bandito’s normal workflow to those requirements, with a few extra obstacles as well.  We use far more cameras at once than most other productions, which usually take longer to sort through, and much of the shooting was being done in locations without broadband internet access.  So getting dailies posted online in a timely fashion was not easy, especially in the beginning.  Luckily, we had significant support in that process, compared to when I did the media management for Act of Valor by myself.  Knowing that our existing internal media management solutions were not up to this new task, we ended up hiring Fotokem to do the media management and near set encoding work.  While I did nearly all of the data management for Act of Valor with two laptops and a couple USB2 drives, Need for Speed’s 4K production required three mobile server racks full of gear to support the amount of data throughput and processing we used.  But Fotokem also archived 200TB of footage for the project, as opposed to the 2TB we shot on Act of Valor.  Fotokem’s Freddy Goeske did an amazing job of adapting their software and workflow to meet the unique needs of the way that we do things at Bandito.  Fotokem backed up the recorded image sequences onto LTO-5 tapes, synced the takes and audio, and then encoded and uploaded H.264 dailies, and created DNxHD editorial files, and 4K Cineform RAW files.

The workflow for the Alexas wasn’t new to us, and the 1D-C’s 4K Quicktime files could easily be transcoded to any format we needed.  The C500’s .RMF frame sequences on the other hand were quite challenging to deal with.  The format specifications hadn’t even been finalized when we were preparing to shoot a year ago, so application support was extremely limited.  Throughout the project, DaVinci Resolve was the only application that natively supported the RAW files, but we only used that for limited exceptions.  Most of the processing was done by Fotokem, using their own NextLAB software, to convert each sequence to a 4K Cineform RAW Quicktime file.  Cineform’s format allowed the data to be left in its RAW bayer form, while compressing it further as the sequences were made into video files, which are much easier to manage.  Our 200TB of individually recorded frames were compressed into a much more manageable 40TB.  While still cumbersome, that allowed us to store all of our footage on a single 16 spindle fibre array, shared throughout the facility.

Fotokem also provided DNxHD MXF copies for our Avid editors, which perfectly matched the Cineform files.  This allowed us to treat the Cineform files as masters, and removed the need to ever refer to the source frame sequences again.  The DNxHD files were stored on our Facilis Terrablock, and shared between our Nitris and Decklink based Avid systems.  We moved the editorial department to Atlanta and then back to LA, as production switched between locations.  This allowed the director Scott Waugh to be involved with editorial, even during much of the production phase, while they were shooting across the country.

Once the edit was finished, we were able to bring EDLs into Premiere Pro that automatically linked to the 4K Cineform files, ready to send to DI.  Once our conform was done, we did a de-noise pass in Cinnafilm’s Dark Energy application, color corrected in Resolve, and returned to Dark Energy for a grain pass.  After that we passed the files off to the lab for final adjustments before DCP encoding.  We also passed off a copy of the finished frames to StereoD, for the creation of the 3D version of the movie.  I have discussed my experiences with 3D on this site in the past, and was not a big proponent for 2D-to-3D conversion.  But the after seeing the results on this project, clearly the process has improved, and I was quite impressed with the final outcome.

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