The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents January 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Revolutionary Road
Benjamin Button
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Jack Green, ASC
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ASC Close-Up
Lifeless eyes are often a problem with CG characters, and Mavromates notes that the visual-effects team took pains to avoid this drawback. “They learned how to make the eyeballs moist and how to make CG moisture accumulate on the lower eyelids,” he marvels. “With that, they suddenly looked photo-real and not synthetic.”

Daisy’s head treatment was more traditional. Over the course of the film, she becomes an accomplished ballerina, and because Blanchett is not a ballerina, her face was tracked and composited onto a dance double’s. For the character’s younger years, Blanchett was made to look more youthful through digital manipulation. For Daisy’s golden years, a combination of makeup and digital retouching was used.

Finishing Touches

Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging handled Benjamin Button’s 2K digital intermediate, with colorist and ASC associate member Jan Yarborough manning the controls of a FilmLight Baselight 8. Because the Viper records a raw image that has a bit of a green cast, what you see is not exactly what you will get until the LUT is applied downstream. “Initially, we kind of struggled with the LUTs to get the look we wanted,” recalls Miranda. “I took my concerns to Peter, and we made up a new LUT that gave us a lot more color range. It was like a whole world had opened up.”

“As raw images, they’re not showing you a colorimetry that is conducive to having visual-effects work or anything else done,” notes Yarborough. “Therefore, we had to apply the LUT to the files through the Filmlight, and we also supplied all the visual-effects vendors with that LUT. In some cases, we made color corrections specific to David’s direction, then rendered that and gave that rendered color file to the visual-effects vendor.”

After applying the LUT to the images, the types of color corrections applied were standard fare. “Claudio was extremely good at painting a picture with light, and he and David worked hard on set to get the look they wanted,” says Yarborough. “Quite a number of the images I received could almost be called ‘pre-painted’ as far as light and exposure goes.”

At the time of these interviews, Fincher and the post team were focused on approvals for background-plate composites, and the filmout process, which was also to be handled by MPI, was not a concern. Mavromates notes, “These companies have done a really good job with the DI in the last 18 months, so the nervousness about the process has mostly evaporated. I still worry about it, though, because I’m the one who has to manage the cost of the filmout, and if people don’t like the filmout, it’s a five-figure expense!”

In post, about 80 percent of Benjamin Button was put through grain-reduction and sharpening processes at Lowry Digital, whose artists had done similar work on Zodiac (Post Focus, AC May ’01). “Even if David had shot all of Benjamin Button on film, he would have wanted to do the Lowry processing because it unifies something that is slightly distracting to him — it makes the visual palette more consistent,” notes Mavromates. “This movie covers eight decades and jumps to different places on the planet, so the goal was not to unify everything; it was more about unifying certain sections of the story.”

“Regardless of whether you capture on film or a digital format, there are variances in noise and detail from frame to frame,” says Alan Silvers, Lowry’s director of business development. “If you can find the best detail of each frame and average it across all the frames, then you can bring out fine detail that isn’t apparent to you in playback. It’s remarkable how much information is in the capture; you just have to know how to dig it out. We manage picture detail independent of grain or noise and provide the filmmaker with broad control over how much grain or noise remains on the final images.”

Lowry would get a FireWire drive from MPI that held 10-bit log 1920x1080 anamorphic DPX files that had been color-corrected, but not with the final grade. “The first step is to run the frames through our noise-reduction process so they are flicker-free, noise-free and artifact-free,” says Patrick Cooper, Lowry’s lead project director on Benjamin Button. “The next step is detail enhancement and the noise — or grain — addition. I enhance the images and put a nice, even amount of noise on the picture, and then the files are loaded back onto the FireWire drive and shipped back to MPI.” (The 2K scans of the 35mm material went through Lowry’s processing. At press time, the Sony F23 footage and select scenes shot with the Viper were not scheduled for processing.)

Visual-effects plates needed a few extra steps. “The only thing different with the pre-composite effects shots is that I didn’t add any noise back into the image,” says Cooper. “That way, there was a sharpness target the compositors could match, and the noise-free imagery made it easier for them to do things like pull mattes. Once we go the shot back with the effects completed, we’d put an amount of noise on it equal to the noise in the surrounding shots.”

Sharpening shots of the title character was treated more delicately. “If it’s a close-up or a shot of somebody with a lot of makeup, we want to be careful about how much we sharpen it,” notes Cooper. “I vary the enhancement on a shot-by-shot basis.” Sometimes, enhancement wasn’t applied at all. Mavromates notes, “There’s a love scene with Daisy and Benjamin when they’re in a warmly lit bed covered by mosquito netting, and we all agreed the look had a beautiful softness. That softness accented what’s going on in the scene, so we didn’t want to mess with it.”




High-Definition Video and 35mm (3-perf and 4-perf)

Thomson GrassValley Viper; Sony CineAlta F23; Arr 435

Zeiss lenses

Kodak Vision2 50D 5201, Vision3 500T 5219

Digital Intermediate

Printed on Kodak Vision 2383

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