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December / 2007

Levis Commercial
Wears Arri D20 and DI Process

by Chris Bolton, Clairmont Camera

Many shots on the commercial required some fairly complex Steadicam movements, executed by local camera operator Steve Moore.
Many shots on the commercial required some fairly complex Steadicam movements, executed by local camera operator Steve Moore.
Early discussions and production planning for a new Levis commercial spot highlighted shooting style as a primary concern for the project. The spot was seen to require a rich colour palette to bring out the commercial's lead actor and the hero product in the commercial.

After some deliberation and consultation, the production team, including Director Dana Barnaby, DOP Warren Hansen and Producer Shawn McLaughlin, decided that a digital work flow might just get the look they were after.

When Barnaby was working on other projects, he had discussed with Colorist Gary Shaw of Technicolor Creative Services, options that would help make the Levis project stand out from the rest - within a tight budget.

Shaw suggested shooting with a digital camera, such as the Arri D20, and processing the final edited cut using Technicolor's new Lustre Digital Intermediate (DI) colour grading suite, newly installed at the Vancouver branch.

As Hansen explained, "Barnaby and I had been curious about the Arriflex D20 and were ecstatic when it was mentioned as an option for us. I have been shooting Hi-Def for years but was never completely satisfied with the choice of lenses and abundance of depth of field that most High Definition cameras provided. This camera we thought might fit the look that we desired for our project."

As Barnaby continued, "After researching the D20, we decided to give Clairmont Camera a call as we were impressed by the specifications that the camera offered. Our producer Shawn was also very interested in the potential cost savings (in terms of no film purchases or processing costs) which made room in the budget for a DI process."

One possible concern for them was how the camera worked in terms of capturing the image and how it operated, as many shots required some fairly complex Steadicam movements by local camera operator Steve Moore. After a short time the basic operations of the camera seemed just like a film camera, they found.

"The size and weight of the D20 was comparable to any 35mm sound camera, making it easy to use in a variety of mounts including Steadicam, car rigs and hand held setups. Getting into our day was a little slow with the introduction of the new technology," Barnaby explains. "The D20 does draw more power than a standard 35mm camera, which caused several early delays before we swapped out the standard Steadicam batteries, but once these issues were addressed, the set up time was normalized and no further delays occurred."

The Arriflex D20 all decked out with Arri accessories and an on board Astro LCD
The Arriflex D20 all decked out with Arri accessories and an on board Astro LCD
As the 1st AC Chris Hahn noted, the camera seemed to operate just like an Arri 435, other than keeping the mirror shutter running for extended periods of time, which took some getting used to. This of course is perfect for lining up the next shot with no power since the camera uses an optical viewfinder. Hahn did this to keep the monitors lit with a live image (once the shutter stops running, the live picture stops, as the mirror shutter is parked in front of the sensor).

Other options like shooting format, contrast characteristics, colour space, and frame rates became creative decisions which had to be organized and orchestrated with post to insure the camera would deliver the picture they wanted from production through to post production.

Since Barnaby and Hansen were interested in shooting like a film camera as much as possible the LOG F curve was chosen to benefit the final DI process back at Technicolor's colour grade suite.

"Log mode enabled us to shoot our day in the same manner and speed as a film camera, resulting in 29 set-ups in just over ten hours," stated Barnaby. "One limitation of the camera was being tethered to the SRW1 record deck, only in the sense of two designed scenes where we traveled a large distance in the shot. Both of these scenarios were quite easily remedied by keeping the SRW-1 on a battery powered cart and having a cable wrangler from the deck to camera."

Hansen felt a bit unsure about shooting with such a low camera ASA. Clairmont had it rated at 160ASA in LOG F, but like most film stocks and HD cameras, the ASA rating could be open to argument. After some testing Hansen felt that the camera could be comfortably rated at 180ASA while still being able to push and pull the footage due to the LOG F gamma curve. This curve helped maintain details in the blacks and whites far more than that of a traditional HD camera curve. Due to the type of gamma curve the LOG F produces, combined with the extended range of the camera the crew had to get used to a flat contrast image on the set monitors. Since this project Barnaby and Hansen have continued to use newer versions of the D20 on two additional long format commercials. Hansen is now able to safely rate the camera as high as 320ASA due to new upgrades to the camera.

"I am completely stunned with the latitude and how far this camera system sees into the highlights. I have found that I changed my lighting technique very little when using the D20. The system is very comparable to shooting on Kodak 5217 which is my de-facto film stock. The D20 is easy to light and shoot with and I absolutely love the fact it has an optical viewfinder," noted Hansen. "I am also amazed at how well the camera handles skin tone, it looks natural and beautiful. I was also surprised at how well the sensor reads green tones. I don't have to throw as much light into green to get color separation, the latitude is amazing!"

The script called for some off speed work including speed ramps. Though the D20 is capable of shooting frame rates from 1 to 30fps in 4:4:4 and 1 to 60fps in 4:2:2 sample rates, the recording hardware was not available to accomplish these demands for this project.

"The D20 is limited in its variable speed options. The lack of available frame rates was a slight hindrance to my style of directing as I often like to combine off speed shots with standard speed," explained Barnaby. "Due to this limitation, I had to assume we could do some frame doubling in post, but as a safety we varied a few shots to work at 24fps. We did end up frame doubling 24fps in post to 48fps, I was quite happy with the end result."

The final consideration before principal photography was to begin was the choice of what format mode and colour space to record the material in. Currently the only practical recording format for 1080P HD is the SRW-1 field recorder. In 1080P 4:2:2 YCbCr, which requires less hard drive space for post-production, this meant less expensive for posts costs. A down side is that only half the bandwidth of blue and red is recorded, both important elements for a Digital Intermediate finish.

The other options were 4:4:4 RGB SQ (440mb/sec) and 4:4:4 RGB HQ (880mb/sec) with twice the bandwidth of SQ, cutting in half the record time on tape and doubling the required storage space in post (less compression makes for a more costly format).

Since most post facilities are currently not setup to ingest the HQ format, many productions opt for the SQ format which has a visually lossless compression algorithm.

Producer McLaughlin explained the basics of how they posted the D20 material: "We were not entirely certain what editing facilities and how much drive space would be made available to our production on our shoestring budget. So we decided to shoot 1080P 4:4:4 SQ then down-convert the footage to DVCAM for offline editorial. We compiled a standard EDL output with a QuickTime file for our guide from Avid Express. The material was then onlined in 1080P 4:4:4 on the Autodesk Smoke system at Technicolor. The footage was then imported into the Lustre colour grade DI system for colour management in 4:4:4. Here a de-log LUT and custom Colour Grading took place conducted by Gary Shaw."

DOP Warren Hansen (middle) with Chris Hahn 1st AC, at left and Director Dana Barnaby (right). Photo by Nathan Garfinkle.
DOP Warren Hansen (middle) with Chris Hahn 1st AC, at left and Director Dana Barnaby (right). Photo by Nathan Garfinkle.
A huge benefit of running a DI process is to maintain a consistency from scene to scene as lighting and colour can vary. Additionally, if the colour of a product or prop, in this case an orange taxi cab, is not to the directors liking it can be altered to "yellow" to suit the projects needs. The major reason the D20 is suitable for this type of process is due to its LOG curve and extended range capturing methods. This gives the colourist a large tonal range and colour fidelity to shape the image to what ever the DP intended. Finally the DP can have a lot of fun creating a unique overall look with help from the colourist. The final product is a well crafted and visually stimulating image which the commercial agency uses to help catch the eye of the consumer.

McLaughlin concluded, "Once the DI is completed the file is then rendered and output to HDCAM SR tape where the 24-bit audio mix is then married to the video in 1080/23.98psf 4:4:4 HDCAM SR to produce the final master to be delivered to the client."

The creative visual steps between pre-production through to post production are slowly blurring together. Most pictorial decisions of how a image looks can now be pre-shaped in pre- production using Look Up Tables (LUT's), tweaked during production using a colour painting system, or simply by shooting un-processed or RAW and colour grading at the end of a production. For the Levis Commercial team, the option to Grade the picture at the end of the shoot, knowing that all the detail would be captured by the camera, and using a camera with fast setup was a perfect fit for this project.

Footage from the commercial can currently only be found online as a web version at MySpace or YouTube (search for Dana Barnaby). The on-air campaign is scheduled for next year.

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"I love shooting with this camera. I love watching my clients walk up to a monitor and say 'Wow!' That is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. My clients are very happy with the results we have achieved and I often hear them saying 'I can't believe this is Hi-Def!' The new
sensor, the larger chip size and using film lenses have all contributed to a brilliant new camera system. I can use my standard (35mm format) film lenses and end up with an end product with results very similar and impressive as film."
Warren Hansen

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Production Crew and Tech Specs

Technical Details:
Project: Levis Commercial Spot
Camera: Arriflex D20 v.2 by Clairmont Camera
Lighting and Grip: William F. White
Post Work Flow:
Offline: Avid Express by Finale
Online: Autodesk Smoke by Technicolor
Digital Intermediate: Autodesk Lustre / Color Science by Technicolor
Recording Format: HDCAM SR 1080P 4:4:4 RGB SQ (Recorded on a Sony SRW-1)
Capture mode: LOG F rated at 180ASA, Extended Range, REC709 Colour Space

Director of Photography: Warren Hansen
Steadicam Operator: Steve Moore
Colourist: Gary Shaw
1st AC: Chris Hahn
Director: Dana Barnaby
Producer: Shawn McLaughlin
Editor: Jason Pielak, Finale Post
Sound Designer: Brad Hillman: Western Post

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