The American Society of Cinematographers

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Hirschfeld, ASC
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Inland Empire
Milagro Post
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MIlagro Post Goes with the Flow

In the commercial world, color correcting in the nonlinear, random-access, digital-intermediate (DI) environment has taken a bit longer to catch on than it has in mainstream feature productions, particularly outside of New York and Los Angeles. However, Milagro Post, based in Southfield, Michigan, recently had a chance to tout its DI workflow in a series of spots celebrating the redesigned Chevrolet Silverado, named by Motor Trend magazine as the 2007 Truck of the Year.

Now in its fourth year of operation, Milagro Post was founded by President Michael Suggs and Vice-President/Sales Director Chad Cooper, in partnership with Ron Rose Productions. Suggs and colorist Rick Unger recently spoke with AC about the spots for Chevy and the particulars of Milagro’s workflow.

Over the past year, Milagro has installed a Quantel Pablo on iQ 2K color-correction suite and a Thomson Spirit 2K film scanner, which, combined with Grass Valley’s Bones platform, form the foundation of the company’s film-style DI workflow. “The Grass Valley Spirit 2K Datacine has allowed us to streamline our workflow and complete projects much faster by scanning and storing the film negative as 2K digital data files,” says Suggs. “The data conform from the Spirit allows our colorists to grade an entire project at 2K resolution in the proper sequence with heads and tails, all cut to audio. That was not possible before.”

As the facility upgraded its hardware and software, Unger was welcomed into the fold, and he notes that “within two months of getting [the DI grading suite] up and running, we took on a number of spots for clients such as Chevrolet, Bush’s Beans, HDTV, Dodge and Ford.”

The Campbell Ewald ad agency — with producers Mark Hall and Eric Dreschel, art director Chris Gorski, and writer Jim Feltz — handle regional advertising for Chevrolet throughout the United States. In coordinating multiple shoots for the Silverado series — which at press time totaled 17 ads, all of which passed through Milagro’s pipeline — the agency enlisted multiple production companies and eight directors. Shot mostly on 35mm, the spots wended their way through Milagro’s workflow as the cinematographers, directors and producers regularly conferred with the post house. “Sometimes they’ll come out here to supervise and confab on ideas and looks,” explains Unger, “but it’s often done over their networks. We’ll send e-mails back and forth and post the spots as we work on them.”

After surveying the available hardware and software, the Milagro crew decided to build their workflow around the Spirit, Bones and Pablo. Suggs notes, “I’ve sat on Quantel products since the early Nineties, so I was familiar with their legacy equipment and their Henry and Editbox platforms. With Milagro, I saw an opportunity to change things up, but it didn’t take me much time at all to decide to stick with Quantel. That choice was based largely on Quantel’s eQ, which fit well into our business model.”

Pablo’s 2K capability notwithstanding, a few eyebrows shot up outside of the company when Milagro installed a Spirit 2K film scanner; some wondered whether a 2K workflow was necessary for a company that focused on TV spots. But now, a year after integrating the scanner, Suggs dismisses the doubters. “Even if you end up going back to a standard-definition version, the thing to focus on is our workflow. Plus, the Spirit scans, along with the color-grading capabilities of Pablo, noticeably improve the overall product and the final look of our work.” Unger says he appreciates the Spirit’s 24-fps scanning capability, which facilitates a heavy workload. “This year alone we probably did a million and a half feet of film,” he observes. “I can see us eventually entering a 4K world, and we’ve put ourselves in position to take that step. With the Spirit, all we have to do is make a simple software change to make it a 4K scanner.” With a laugh, Suggs adds, “It’s not cheap, but it’s simple!”

Grass Valley’s Bones platform boasts an open application programming interface utilizing Linux-based software and featuring a host of what Grass Valley calls “application modules.” These optional applications include the appropriately titled Bones Repair (for image restoration), Bones Stabilizer (for image stabilization), and Bones Scaler (for spatial processing and format conversion), as well as Bones Transfer (for data and video transfer) and Bones Mover (for data management and archiving).

Bones can be connected to a storage area network (SAN) and supports most industry-standard file types. In this capacity, as a transfer engine employed to control the Spirit and move the scanned images from the scanner to the SAN, the Bones platform has proven its value for Milagro.

Suggs provides an overview of the process used on the Silverado spots: “Dailies were shipped to our Avid editors, who logged and digitized all the footage and began creating stories based on scripts and storyboards given to us at the beginning of the project. As the cuts made it through the approval process, an EDL was generated by the Avid and punched into the Bones computer, which runs the Spirit. We did a list conversion from 29.97 to 24 fps, told the Bones what film roll was up on the Spirit, set a basic color grade on it, and then let the Bones take over, fetching the correct scenes for us with a predetermined number of handles and scanning them at 24 fps at 2K.

“As the film was scanned to our SAN,” he continues, “ the same EDL was brought into our iQ, where we did a network conform of those film scans. With the data pipe we have between our SAN and our iQ, the iQ is able to pull scenes across the network almost in real time — it’s about 22 fps at 2K resolution. Rick was then able to take that conformed piece and have everything in context, with all of the scenes where they were supposed to be in sequence.” Unger adds, “Working with random-access, nonlinear color-correction allows me to jump all around the timeline and put up totally different grades for shots. By originating in 2K, we can provide whatever deliverables the client is looking for, even if he wants 2K files to go back to a film release — which we’re currently doing for one of the Chevy spots.”

Having all of the scanned footage available for random access on the network’s SAN (which offers about 64 terabytes of storage space) saves Unger a great deal of time. Additionally, Milagro’s approach better suits the film itself, which only needs to make one pass through the Spirit before being stored away. “Although you might not spend less time in your session,” says Suggs, “you will absolutely come out with more versions and more options to choose from. Having the film scanning as a separate step in the workflow makes better use of everyone’s time, and the clients love that. Rick is able to make them look like heroes to their bosses.”


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