Saturday, 28 May, 2011

Struggling with digital movie-making

For the past few months I've been working on setting up and executing a simple and efficient workflow for the post of a delightful little movie called 'Stanley ka Dabba'. This movie was shot entirely on a Canon 7D DSLR camera. I've posted many a post of still cameras that shoot videos right here... 

The Canon 7D DSLR camera shoots beautiful and natural stills. And the same sensor shoots HD video. These are saved on CF cards. As Quicktime movies encoded H.264 with PCM audio.

But there are two major problems. One is, the Canon 7D shoots 23.976 fps, not true 24 fps that film in theaters runs at. And the other is that the files have no timecode (TC in short) or reel/source associated with them. HD movie files out of a Canon are called MVI_xxxx where xxxx is a number serially added by the camera.

So what happens is that after one finishes the edit, and needs to send it for further post, like colour correction, VFX etc, there is no EDL based route to sending the edit data onward.

For 'Stanley ka Dabba', I had devised a workflow where I converted the files from 23.98 to 24fps without any frame loss or motion conversion. I then striped all the files with timecode with one following the next, sort of like they were captured off tape. And I assigned a reel name or source for all the files as per the folder they resided in. 

Deepa Bhatia, the editor and co-producer of 'Stanley ka Dabba' edited on an Avid Media Composer, I made ALE files for her assistants to import into a bin and then batch imported the original (striped with TC) files from the Canon. That way Avid also 'gets' the TC from the Canon files.

After Deepa's edit, the colour correction happened at Reliance MediaWorks. On the Baselight at Reliance, the Avid EDLs that Deepa made out, perfectly conformed the original Canon files and they were on their way to colour grading within minutes. There was no struggle whatsoever.

So what's with the title of this post? 'Struggling with digital movie-making'. Here's what...

On the same day as 'Stanley ka Dabba' was released, there was another movie released, a horror movie about text messages. This too was shot (partly or entirely) on a Canon DSLR. But they chose to do their post in a different way. They directly imported the Canon files into Avid Media Composer to edit them. No 24fps, no TC.

Long story short, that movie had to be re-assembled manually shot by shot, eye-matched on an Autodesk Smoke system. The post facility concerned, simply couldn't fathom a correct method for reproducing the original edit.

Similarly, there are other post houses which have yet another interesting workflow for Canon files. They advocate (or so I am told by clients who've been there) first transferring all the Canon 7D files to HDCam tape (eeks 3:1:1 colour sampling) or HDCamSR tape. 

In a period of nearly extinct and horrendously expensive HDCamSR tapes (after the Japan tsunami-earthquake), this isn't a rather bright suggestion.

I'm getting a bit snarky and sarcastic about all this because, as an editor it bothers me no end that people with no desire to find out new solutions, have such a say in the way post-production is (man)handled.

There are also other struggles and horror stories - with Alexa files, bad colour space conversions, loss of timecode, Red R3D file conversions that take days to get done, Weisscam files that just don't open and many such 'Adventures of a digital rebel'.

In my opinion 'Stanley ka Dabba showed that if one has a story with a heart, a positive attitude, and the ability to take a calculated risk in doing something for the first time, then there is a medium that's waiting to help you tell your story. There are challenges for sure, and shooting Canon is not exactly simple.

So just go to a theatre near you where 'Stanley' is showing, and take a look for yourself. Cinematographers and even DOPs (are they different?) will of course find issues with latitude, resolution, gamma, etc etc. 

But you know what. With some 'careful' lighting it is entirely possible to make even 35mm film look flat. And some 'adventurous' DI colour correction can easily make film look synthetic and 'inorganic' too.

About operations on the Canon 7D, not being able to pull focus or aperture, no optical viewfinder (for video), and other whines from movie film cinematographers. I got an interesting insight at a fashion show a few weeks ago at the Leela. 

At the head of the ramp during the show, there were photographers taking stills on their DSLRs. How do they focus, without a tape measure, with the artist walking toward them with no 'mark' to stop on, no rehearsal 'for movement'. And stills photographers have to take a frozen moment, so going out of focus is also out of the question. 
And with the light at fashion shows they are often shooting at wide apertures, so depth of field is shallow.

Bottom line. Digital 'movie-making' is on it way to replacing the term 'film-making'. These are early days, of course. Those who forge ahead are the positive ones with guts. The rest will whine and sigh and hang on to film with a naive hope that digital is a fad that will go away and one day we will all go back to film. 

As far as post production is concerned - editing, colour correction, sound editing and mixing - most of this is digital for a decade or more. Doing post on digital is no more complex than post for film - managing logs, key codes, cut lists, pull lists, making cement joints, Hamman joints, winding and rewinding film on a winder - I'm glad we got rid of all that.


Movieola, Steenbeck, Hamman splicer... digital is vastly simpler than working on these

Red One, Red MX, Epic, Alexa, Canon 5D/7D, AVCHD, XDCamEx, HDCamSR, Viper, D-21, Genesis, ArriRAW, Canon MPEG2 422, AVC-Intra, P2, XDCamHD, Varicam, DVCProHD, KiPro, Gemini, Hyperdeck, Nanoflash, GoPro... the list goes on...

There are a large number of resources and personal experiences for each of these. Forums, blogs, web zines are oozing with information. And simple common sense, along with some basic knowledge of how computers work and store data, also helps. For my part, I've worked hard to be ready for each and every one of these new digital formats. 

Store, Copy, Convert, Edit, colour grade, finish, backup, archive, re-purpose into new formats... the whole nine yards. 
So digital doesn't have to be struggle, unless you try hard, do the wrong things, or go to the wrong places.


  1. Heyi... Gr8 post man...
    I m reserching on Canon DSLRs for movie making purposes and was confused abt final resulsts and eiting problems but ur post hv make me little clear.... Thnks....

    Just want to knw tht if Canon 7D or 5D is used... wht other accessories will u suggest to use with it for a movie making.

    like ur blog. Also visit mine.

  2. I'd like to thank you for such a breif article on digital film making . It sheds light from scrtach to finish considering the formats and the process .
    fantastic stuff !

  3. The new Technicolor S-log curve preset for the Canon DSLRs claim to store the best possible latitude available from these cameras.

    When making features that involve heavy color correction, as most low budget films require, I don't recommend anything less than 32-bit uncompressed files for grading. The beauty of uncompressed images sequences is that they are very easy on the system via editing or vfx...then only downside being large file sizes, but hard disks are cheaper than HDCAM or CF/SDHC cards, aren't they?

    Great blog, I have been following intermittently.

  4. I so agree with you... :) being a part of the other movie which was manually conformed... There was a TEST EDL sent to the post production facility to conform and guide us through the right workflow to maintain the timecode and frame rate. But the answer we got was "THE EDL MATCHED".. I wonder did they actually check it.. But lessons learnt the hard way :)..

  5. Sareesh,

    I too would love to work uncompressed all the time. I agree, no compression is always better that any form of compression. With disks getting cheaper, we are getting there.

    Re: 32-bit uncompressed, I haven't come across this format. We normally speak of 8-bit or 10-bit uncompressed. Even sometimes 12-bit or 16-bit. In general, 16-bit linear uncompressed is agreed to be the highest form of digital. Spirit telecines scan film as 16-bit linear. But that is encoded as 10-bit log to make it easy on CPUs and disks.

    8-bit uncompressed with an alpha channel is considered to be 32-bit in graphics terms. So 10-bit uncompressed without alpha would be 30 bit for RGB.

    I haven't worked with the Technicolor S-log for DSLRs yet.

  6. could you enlighten us on how you converted the 23.... to 24fps. without the frame loss and motion conversion.

  7. I had to convert 23.976 to 24 which is a 0.1% increase. It is done quite easily by CinemaTools. But it will not work with long-GOP files.

    Elsewhere on my blog I've described this.

    Warning: changing the speed of a mov file is altering the header. If not done correctly, it can permanently damage the file. Means, reshoot.
    Even if done right, you need to consider how to handle sound sync.


  8. Hi Sir

    What about NEX-FS100 camcorder ? Have you evaluated. Looks much cheap option.

  9. No, I haven't evaluated the FS-100 only because I haven't had the chance to see or use one. But reviews I've read are very good.

  10. nice article sir, was waiting for this after hearing u at ESG, Goa. Would like to know how did u put in the TC, Have u tried the redgiants "Grinder", how is it?.
    But for independent films those made in below 20L budget what is a suitable color correction & grading solution? what is the compromise in these solutions ?
    Jayesh A , Goa

  11. Hi. I came across this post very late. But hasn't CANON released a updated plugin that derives Timecode from Time of the Day. Doesn't that changes the situation?

  12. Jayesh,
    I tried out Magic Bullet Grinder. It works too. But Compressor is free with FCP 7.

    The Canon plug-in does stripe the converted movie with the original movie's time of day. But that does not affect the original movie. So if you work with the converted movie as your source, then there's no problem. But if for some reason you need to link back to the original camera .mov files, then the EDL specified TC may not link to the 'zero TC' original movies.


  13. Hi Neil,

    Great article. Cheers from Los Angeles. Good luck with Stanley ka Dabba!

  14. Thanks for the comment ofmyloverthesea.

    The movie 'Stanley ka Dabba' got made and even released. It did pretty well at the box office, and is now playing at some Film festivals.

    The DVD is also available on Amazon

  15. While searching for sample rate conversion (48.048KHZ to 48.000KHZ i landed up reading your article, an interesting one. I am a indie film make and I hope you can throw some light on couple of questions with your post prod. experience.

    For Qube projection, I have conformed a 23.976fPS footage to true 24FPS footage in cinema tools which converted the audio sample rate from 48000hz to 48048hz. Now, 24FPS video and 48048hz audio are in sync.

    1. How do I convert the audio file from 48048hz to 48000hz, without altering the length and pitch, as required by qube projection?

    2. Could you please advise any software that would help me convert the multiple mono tracks from 48048 to 48000 or vice versa?

    Appreciate your reply.

  16. Hi,
    I am on a really low budget do you recommend using a canon eos 600D as it has the same DIGIC 4 as in the canon 7D


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