Technicolor-PostWorks New York goes render-free between Baselight and Avid

A Path Appears documentary relied heavily on a particular grade that ironically made the footage speak for itself.

A Path Appears documentary relied heavily on a particular grade that ironically made the footage speak for itself.

Technicolor-PostWorks NY use their Baselight systems increasingly to create looks for television dramas and documentaries at the facility.

In recent months they found that Baselight Editions for Avid — a plugin for Media Composer and Symphony — has not only enhanced the grading capabilities within its existing editing software, but has also opened up the possibility of a flexible exchange of grades between editors and colourists, without the need to render each time. 

Baselight Editions

Baselight Editions is a set of plugins including Baselight for Avid, Baselight for Final Cut Pro, and Baselight for NUKE.

They provide two functions. Firstly, they give the editor or visual effects artist access to the full Baselight toolkit, including mattes, windows, automatic object tracking and keyframe animation. So a sophisticated grade can be created in the editor or effects software, if required, or adjusted at any stage of the process.

Secondly, they read and implement, in real time, any grading information that is included in the metadata attached to the raw content. So a colour grade does not need to be rendered before being handed over to the editor, for example: the grade will be recreated in the editor from the metadata. 

When swapping content between editorial, effects and grading, the same raw video is used. The grade, like the EDL, is metadata within a compact file format that can be moved between devices in seconds. Whether the grade is created in the host software or imported from a Baselight suite, any updates to the look just result in an addition to the metadata. No changes are baked in, and colour decisions can be updated in moments.

The render-free workflow

At Technicolor-PostWorks NY, both the Avid edit suites and the Baselight grading rooms are connected to the same shared storage, so systems can read the native camera footage simultaneously.

When an offline edit is copied to the SAN, it can be accessed by an Avid Symphony for final conform and titling, or it can be accessed by a Baselight. All the grading information from the Baselight grading system is passed to the edit suites as metadata in the Avid AAF files. The same project can be running in two rooms concurrently, with the updates in one room appearing in the other as AAF files are exchanged.

For Mike Nuget, senior finishing editor and colourist, the fact that the AAF files open in Baselight or Avid in seconds means that it is simple to move sequences around. “There is no render to go out of Avid into Baselight or back. We are talking about making an AAF, which takes maybe 30 seconds.

“Because I am both the conforming editor and the colourist on some of my projects, not being limited to the capabilities of a typical review and title session when we go back to Avid is very beneficial – because of the Baselight plugin we still have the ability to touch colour,” he enthused. “Even when the final grade is completed in the Baselight with the Blackboard panel, Baselight for Avid gives us the freedom to adjust colour right up until the client’s final sign-off.”  

As well as streamlining the process for the finishing artists at Technicolor PostWorks NY and their clients, there are also strong technical reasons for working this way. Director of technology Matt Schneider pointed out that... “...one of our greatest areas of focus is how our SAN is utilised; we must always monitor usage wisely, and any strategy that minimises rendering is going to be embraced.

“In the past when working between different platforms like Avid and Baselight, the colourist would receive a flattened file from editorial, as opposed to the entire project and all of its individual layers.  When the colourist’s work was complete they would create a new file for final titling.

“The greatest vulnerability of the flattened file workflow comes with editorial changes,” continued Schneider. “If you have to make a single self-contained file to hand off to colour, managing changes to the cut becomes more cumbersome. The render-free workflow makes navigating these changes a lot simpler.”

Colourist Anthony Raffaele, added: “I’m also reassured to know that when I drop in the AAF of my final colour that it will appear on the Avid exactly as it should. It means everyone is confident, whether viewing in Baselight or the Avid, that they are looking at the latest cut with the latest grade.”

From the documentary 'A Path Appears'.

From the documentary 'A Path Appears'.

‘A Path Appears’

This fast and cost-effective workflow is demonstrated in Technicolor-PostWorks NY’s recent work on A Path Appears.

“Because it’s a documentary highlighting some very complex and serious social issues, realism was the name of the game,” said Jeff Dupre, co-executive producer. “We didn’t want to create any sort of stylised look. We wanted the footage to speak for itself.”

The show was shot largely on Sony F800 and Canon C300 cameras. 

More recently, producers have sought to gain an edge with audiences by giving their documentaries and other shows a distinctive look. The Baselight grade is now seen as an essential part of the post workflow. It allows documentary makers to use the best cameras around, like the F800 and C300, confident that the output will look compelling. For an issue-driven documentary, naturally the workflow on A Path Appears was to complete the editorial then deliver the complete package to grading and finishing. 

“For most of our projects up to now, we have used colour correction software included in an edit package,” said Dupre. “Using Baselight gave us a clear difference in quality and Mike was able to give us a fantastic colour correct.

Posted on June 2, 2015 and filed under Documentary, Grading.