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  • Creating Real Value - First notes on working with cinemaDNG

    Filmmaking is always a learning experience. No matter how much you know you always find yourself in situations that require new skills, new knowledge, and a great deal of creativity to get what you want. This is what I love about filmmaking. Creativity derived from the unknown. Real Value was fueled as much by my desire to make a really great documentary, as it was by my desire to learn how far I could push the current technology at my disposal.

    It was always my intention that once the film was completed I would share as much about the process as possible. What I learned, and the mistakes I made, so that others could benefit from my experience. I plan to elaborate more on the topics below in the future (when I have the time), so for now consider this an overview, or perhaps a rough draft, of some of the points I’ll expand on later.


    Working with cinemaDNG

    Real Value was filmed entirely using cinemaDNG on the Ikonoskop A-cam DII (minus the opening timelapse). It was the first time I had worked with cinemaDNG for a feature length project and it was actually quite a bit easier to manage than I had expected. The workflow I used for Real Value was exactly the same as the workflow I use for shorter projects - I just had more data. I’m not going to get into my workflow here, but if you’re interested in it I have quite a few tutorials on my YouTube channel that explain what I do.

    The great thing about working with proxies when using cinemaDNG is that once you’ve copied the extra data over, made your backups, and created your proxies all that cinemaDNG footage sort of disappears behind the scenes. So, while, I ended up with about 6TB of cinemaDNG footage, my proxies were only about 16GB.

    That 16GB of footage was what I used to edit the film. I didn’t have to worry about the other 6TB of footage again until it came time to do my final color correction, and even then I didn’t really have to touch the footage, it just had to be connected to the computer.

    Now, I was pretty nervous the first time I went back to DaVinci Resolve from Adobe Premiere Pro to do my final color correction. Would everything connect? Thankfully, it did. Quite effortlessly. Now, I would mention that I paid tremendous attention to my timecode during filming and made certain that I did not have duplicate timecode on any of my footage. This is essential. Make sure you understand timecode if you’re going to try and use cinemaDNG on a feature film with proxies.

    I would also mention here that if you’re going to make a feature film with cinemaDNG you really need to use proxies. I see lots of alternative workflows for cinemaDNG, but realistically, I can’t imagine editing Real Value if I had to load 6TB of data into Premiere Pro… it’s just not feasible to have that much data in a project file. Learn how to work with proxies.

    Data Management

    As I mentioned, I shot about 6TB of data for Real Value. I think this is actually a fairly conservative amount for a documentary. There was a lot of pre-production that went into this film knowing that I needed to keep the amount of data as low as possible. Still, working with, and backing up 6TB of data required a bit of planning.

    The obvious solution would be to use a RAID array. But, I became worried that keeping all of my data on one storage device might not be the best idea. Sure, the hard drives might be redundant, but what about the controller card? What if someone spills their drink on the disk array? What if two or three drives fail at once? How would I rebuild in the event of a catastrophic failure when files are split across multiple drives?

    In the end, I decided against using a RAID array for backup and went for a fairly simple, and very cost effective solution. Cost being important, since I didn’t really have a budget for the film. Essentially, I just backed up all of my footage onto multiple, individual hard drives.

    Specifically, I used 2.5” laptop drives. I just bought a lot of bare hard drives, with no enclosure and would transfer multiple copies of the files over after every shoot. I then put these drives in multiple locations to ensure that I had myself as covered as possible in the event of an unforeseen disaster. Luckily, I never had to use the back-ups, but they were there, in multiples, if I had needed them.

    The benefit to multiple separate drives in my mind is that you don’t have multiple failure points in the same system. Each drive is independent of all the other drives. Even if somehow I lost a drive it would not affect the other drives. That’s not always the case with a RAID. Not to say that editing off a RAID, or having a RAID is a bad thing - it’s not. But, I think keeping things simple, separate, and in multiple locations is a smart strategy as well.


    Vintage Lenses

    I really like working with vintage lenses; however, I did discover that with a feature length project their individual quirks can sometimes be too much of a good thing.

    With Real Value, my intention was to create slight visual variations of the image by utilizing different lenses for different parts of the film. Controlled variation of the optics would create different ‘textures’ in the image. I wanted to avoid the stale, corporate look, of new lenses where everything looks exactly the same, and in my opinion, is generally too sharp.

    One of the main reasons I was interesting in varying the lenses as an effect was because in my experience the image you get out of the Ikonoskop A-Cam dII is highly-dependent on the glass you put in front of it. The image quality of some cameras seems to be limited by the sensor, with the Ikonoskop it is really only limited by the lens. So, I approached using different lenses as using different brushes. Some were sharper, some were softer, some vignette - with vintage lenses it’s all about controlled variation.

    The difficulty came when it came time to grade the film. Each lens has its own unique characteristics, and responds differently under different lighting conditions. While this was my original intent, restricting the variation to an acceptable level in post-production was incredibly time consuming. I essentially had to grade the film shot, by shot, adjusting for each lenses specific quarks. I couldn’t just create a look, apply it universally to the film, and get a good result.

    Because of this I would probably recommend not using too many different vintage lenses on the same project, and keeping to vintage lenses that you know really well. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to build custom profiles for each of your vintage lenses that account for differences in color cast, contrast, etc.

    While variation is the idea with a vintage lens, you still want to know the end result. One of the great things about cinemaDNG though, is that you have a lot of latitude to adjust the look of a lens in post and correct for many of the variations. So, while you might end up with a color cast it’s easy to fix and adjusting the image in post with the flexibility of cinemaDNG opens up a lot of vintage lenses for use since the imperfections are not compressed into the footage.

    The flexibility of cinemaDNG really saved me a number of times when it came to working with these vintage lenses. I would almost argue that cinemaDNG is an essential component to working with a vintage lens. It gives you the ability to correct for a wide range of imperfections, while still maintaining the correct amount of organic variation.

    - Jesse Borkowski

    Real Value is an independent documentary by award-winning filmmaker Jesse Borkowski that explores real, profitable businesses that choose to focus not just on the bottom line, but on the health of their surrounding communities.