The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents October 2006 Return to Table of Contents
The Departed
The Departed DI
Page 2
Cin. Style
Production Slate
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

Although The Departed was the first feature digital intermediate (DI) for Michael Ballhaus, ASC, the veteran cinematographer was already very well versed in high-end digital color correction. “I’m used to this process from doing film-to-tape transfers for home-video releases,” he notes. “With a DI, you just have more control. On this film we didn’t spend so much time on specific scenes. Sometimes we’d make an actor a little brighter or a little darker. I’m not the kind of guy who shoots a movie and fixes it in post. I like to do as much as possible on the day, in camera.” 

During production, the filmmakers screened HD dailies at 1920x1080 on a 2K projector set up at Marcy Stage in New York. “I was a little worried [about discrepancies] in the beginning, so I watched the first few days of dailies on film,” recalls Ballhaus. “I was very happy with the HD dailies. It works well if you have a good projector and an excellent dailies colorist, as we did with Sam Daley at Technicolor in New York.” The HD dailies became an important point of reference for Ballhaus as The Departed moved into its DI. 

Visual-effects supervisor Rob Legato and visual-effects producer Ron Ames oversaw the DI process, in collaboration with colorist Stephen Nakamura and DI producer Devin Sterling, at Technicolor Digital Intermediates (TDI). Legato had worked on Martin Scorsese’s previous film, The Aviator, and led the R&D effort to further streamline the post process. His prior experience with Scorsese led him toward the creation of a custom look-up table (LUT) to get the HD dailies into the same color space as the 2K version; his goal was to give the filmmakers a clear reference by allowing them to easily compare the DI with the original HD dailies on the same screen. 

The post schedule of The Departed was accelerated when the film’s release date was moved up a bit, after initial test screenings drew high marks from audiences. The test-screening outputs were created by taking an EDL from editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s Lightworks standard-definition editing system and assembling an HD version via Apple’s Final Cut Pro. “It was wonderful being able to screen from those HD tapes, because it looked pretty flawless, with no dirt, scratches or splices,” says Schoonmaker. “I think it ups your test scores by 20 percent!” The reduction in post time necessitated the creation of a special workflow that allowed the entire color-correction suite in Burbank to be mirrored in New York City, where the filmmakers were also supervising the sound mix. 

In preparation for the New York sessions, Nakamura took initial timing notes from Scorsese, Ballhaus and Schoonmaker and pre-graded the film with Legato and Ames in Burbank. “I timed The Aviator, so I know Marty’s palette and what he likes for skin tone. We also added a lot of contrast to achieve more of the gritty feel that was in the original cinematography. My mandate was to make it look good. What I initially presented was something that could have been a finish.” Nakamura worked on a daVinci 2K Plus; the original negative was scanned at 2K resolution on a Spirit 4K. The DVS Clipster system was used to ingest and store the scans for the daVinci. 

Recalling a scene he pregraded, Nakamura describes a sequence set in the Boston police headquarters, with Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg standing in front of a large window. (This scene, like others set in the police department, was shot onstage, with a TransLite providing the view outside the window.) “Rob Legato and I looked at that particular shot because Marty wanted to make it flow a little better and give it a bit more realism,” he says. “I pulled a luminance key and brightened the background and defocused the window. Then I brightened each actor at different levels. Those were things that helped the shot look more realistic.” 

Schoonmaker notes the impact of Nakamura’s work on the tone of The Departed: “The whole look of the film changed because of that grittier, more contrasty approach. It was a definite decision to proceed down the road of more contrast, because both Marty and Michael felt the evolving nature of the film called for it. They also decided to give the scenes in the police station a cooler look. The bar scenes and some of the nighttime scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson remained warmer, with less desaturation.” 

Once the initial pregrade was complete, TDI created a version of The Departed that could be transported to Technicolor in New York. The movie was output uncorrected to eight HDCam SR tapes at 23.98 in full 10-bit 4:4:4 color, along with all of the timing created by Nakamura as CDL (color decision list) and VSR (visual scene representation) files that could be reloaded on the daVinci in New York. Joshua Pines, vice president of imaging R&D at TDI, was responsible for ensuring calibration and specification continuity between the two facilities. The New York room screened from HDCam SR on an NEC iS8-2K projector, whereas Burbank used a Christie CP2000i 2K projector screening from the 2K files. 

When the HDCam SR tapes arrived in New York, the DVS Clipster was again used to ingest and store the footage. “We opted to go with SR because it’s a predictable setup,” says TDI’s Sterling. “SR is a real-time ingest into the Clipster, so it was the best option given the short time we had.” 

In order to facilitate an instant reference to the HD dailies, TDI converted them into the same 10-bit Cineon color space as the 2K scans. “On The Aviator, our DI was twice as expensive because a lot of time was spent going back to the HD version and trying to match things up,” recalls Legato. “We had to reconfigure the whole room to screen in the 709 HD color matrix, or we’d watch it on a different medium altogether, like a CRT monitor.” 

The color-space conversion was made possible with a proprietary 10-bit-log custom LUT created by Pines. “It’s a bit of rocket science combined with a lot of programming, math and color science,” he says. A Grass Valley Luther Box was used to process the HD dailies into the 2K scans’ color space. 

“Having the ability to refer back to the dailies provides another layer of comfort to the filmmakers,” says Nakamura. “There’s the psychological factor of seeing the same look in the edit room for a year. Now it becomes more of a conversation: this is how the dailies were and this is what’s possible.” 

As a result of the new workflow, The Departed’s grade was completed in two five-hour sessions over two days. “They had booked us for six days,” says Nakamura. “I was pretty confident it was going to be smooth, but how smooth was a surprise.” Ballhaus agrees, “Normally I sit with the timer for four weeks. Because our initial HD dailies were so good, there was very little extra work to do.” 

Legato was also pleased with the sessions’ outcome. “Marty and Thelma are so keen on performances, and anything that distracts your eye can detract from that. For example, if an extra is too bright in the foreground, we can make the main characters really pop out. Marty also wanted to play Nicholson more silhouetted in some shots. Michael was quite appreciative that shots could be enhanced like that. He’s such a film purist, but when he saw the instant possibilities, he was pretty amazed. We had a ball doing it.” 

Nakamura continued his work back in Burbank, applying all of the corrections he’d made in New York to the evolving edit of the film. Sterling notes, “We would receive new EDLs in Burbank and continue to scan and conform to the new versions. For the New York sessions, we worked off of a slightly older version of the cut, but at that point, there were only minor changes to come.”

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