The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents October 2016 Return to Table of Contents
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Questioning Reality

Film noir meets science-fiction in Meridian, a metaphysical short directed and co-written by Curtis Clark, ASC and shot in HDR 60fps 4K by Markus Forderer, BVK.

Los Angeles, 1947. People have been disappearing — three, to be exact, and all on the same stretch of road along the Malibu coast. A witness saw the last guy literally vanish during a freak lightning storm, and LAPD detective Mack Foster [Kevin Kilner] has a feeling there’s more at play than mob hits or cliff jumpers. The hard-boiled cop sends his street-wise protégé, Jake Sullivan (Reid Scott), to check it out, and this time we get a glimpse of the particulars. A lightning storm, a mysterious woman (Elyse Levesque) in Sullivan’s rear-view mirror, then he’s gone too. Foster himself steps in to investigate, venturing through an ominous opening in a rock formation not far from Sullivan’s abandoned car, and soon finds himself in a place where the rules of conventional time and space do not apply.

      Meridian is a noir, short-form, suspense-driven and enigmatic science-fiction project directed and co-written by ASC Technology Committee chairman Curtis Clark and shot by Markus Förderer, BVK. The endeavor was spawned at a meeting as Clark was discussing developments in high dynamic range with Chris Fetner — now an ASC associate — and other Netflix executives. Clark recalls, “They proposed that I make a short film for them” — a project specifically designed to illustrate how the convergence of 4K, HDR, wide color gamut, and other high-end image acquisition advancements might enhance the viewer experience for the Web-based streaming service.

      “Later, we were asked to work at 60 fps,” Clark says. “And we also decided it should be an ACES-compliant workflow. Those were the kinds of key issues that needed to be taken into account. The idea was that I would write the story with my writing partner [James Harmon Brown], and see how those [attributes] could provide expanded creative freedom to the filmmaker.”

      The majority of Meridian was shot on Sony’s CineAlta F65, recording in the Sony Raw format at 3:1 compression to 256GB SRMemory cards. For one sequence, however, the production used Red’s Weapon 6K system, recording in Redcode Raw format at 6:1 compression to 512GB Red Mini-Mags. On set, footage was ingested using Pomfort Silverstack, and an LMT and RRT/1,000-nit ODT combination were created within the ACES system and applied with Fujifilm’s IS-Mini LUT box and IS-Manager software. The production primarily employed Leica Summilux-C lenses — mainly 21mm, 29mm, 35mm and 40mm — but for one key sequence they switched to 24mm and 32mm Cooke Speed Panchro lenses. The filmmakers shot the entire movie at 60 fps and monitored on-set with a Sony BVM-X300 high-dynamic-range monitor. The project was framed for a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

      Clark had previously shot and directed a couple of short films in partnership with Sony to assess the 4K F65 digital-cinema camera system. This time, however, Clark — in partnership with Netflix — recruited Förderer, who was fresh off his Independence Day: Resurgence shoot (AC July ’16). The production then brought on Bill Taylor, ASC to handle about a dozen visual-effects shots — mostly composites of live-action background elements and greenscreen foreground actors. Adding clouds sweetened with lightning animation to clear skies was accomplished by Nuke artist Nathan Strong.

      “I thought it was really interesting when I heard it was a period film set in the 1940s and that Curtis had a vision of shooting it with the highest-quality imaging systems,” Förderer says. “That sounds contradictory for a period film, but it was an opportunity to create something new, and to see how you could make something look period without using all the clichés.”

      Integral to Meridian’s period nature was the project’s LUT — or, in ACES vernacular, a look-modification transform (LMT) — which was developed in partnership with FotoKem “for the purpose of providing a Kodachrome-print emulation to the images,” Clark explains. The LMT concept evolved out of Clark’s decision to open the movie with genuine vintage Kodachrome imagery from 1947 Hollywood, which he located in the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As FotoKem principal color scientist and close collaborator Joseph Slomka opines, Clark’s team had thus discovered a look that achieved “a combination of historical accuracy and artistic need.”

      “Curtis had the real Kodachrome footage scanned at FotoKem at 4K, [and it was] used as a reference to create the look-up table,” Förderer elaborates. “The LUT mimics the characteristics of Kodachrome, but it is modified to use full dynamic range to allow us to get really bright highlights and deep blacks. So in that sense, it is a hybrid of what Kodachrome really looked like, but in an HDR space. We can use the deepest blacks that HDR can give us and still lend them a film-like look. And that means that going into the digital intermediate we will have the creative control to go really deep for certain shots and moments.”

      Also participating in the development of the LMT was FotoKem colorist John Daro, who explains that once the LMT — built with SGO Mistika — was finalized, it was converted to a series of transforms that were available to on-set production as well as to the dailies and visual-effects processes. The final result was left fully open for edits and changes during the DI within the ACES universe. Daro would go on to perform the final color grade at FotoKem, also with Mistika. At press time, the grade had not yet begun.

      “We will be monitoring 4K, but my final renders will be 6K to preserve all of the original pixels for the Weapon,” says Daro. “The master, which the numerous deliverables will all be struck from, will be a 16-bit EXR sequence using ACES primaries.”

      Slomka adds, “As for delivery, we are doing both a 1,000-nit, 60 fps, 4K Sony BVM-X300 grade as well as a Dolby Vision Pulsar grade. I expect there to be other deliverables as well, such as a 24-fps traditional DCP.” A standard-dynamic-range deliverable is also planned.

      Working at such a high resolution and frame rate meant that rendering visual-effects shots would take longer than usual. And since Meridian is an ACES show and Taylor was personally performing some of the composites — which included combining multiple elements to produce ominous skies and storm fronts — an initial task was deciding which file format to employ for his work in Adobe After Effects, his preferred platform.

      “ACES is not formally fully supported by After Effects yet, so there are a variety of approaches in this area,” Taylor explains. He recalls that Ash Beck — After Effects expert and an informal advisor — “suggested that I utilize 16-bit OpenEXR for this show. The OpenEXR color space is bigger than that available from either camera we were using, so that protected us by making sure there would be no compromise in quality. Ultimately, the composites were executed in 32-bit floating-point EXR. Color scientist Joseph Slomka and digital-intermediate producer Jason Pelham, both of FotoKem, were also most helpful in working out the details.”


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