Last weekend I attended the Digital Days; The Future is Now seminar, at the Electronic Arts Campus in Burnaby, British Columbia. It was enlightening, eye opening and wonderful. When I signed up I wasn’t sure if all the talks were going to be about something I was involved in; meaning did this have anything to do with costumes? As I sat through each talk, I realized that even when it was completely focused on other departments there are still so many little bits that directly relate to many aspects of our department.
The second talk of the day was, Crafting the Future: The Color, Look and VFX Work Flow of Elysium. I was amazed to learn what could be done with the image once it had been captured on camera. They were able to show the raw captured images, talk about the LUT (look up table) and how they are able to adjust the images with lightening, darkening, manipulating and color enhancing.
I started before the advent of HD and we shot only film. We used to ask questions about which film stocks we were shooting with and what kind of color correction they were going to use. With this information we had an idea of what we could get away with; each film stock has it’s own texture or graininess that is more or less forgiving to fine details and may reveal fake looking breakdown, and color correction may add or enhance certain hues that could change the color of the costumes.
We would squint our eyes after breaking down a costume piece to show us a guesstimate of what the camera could see. Squinting would soften the edges, like a grainy film stock, and we could see if what we had done was a good enough job.
With what I saw this weekend at Digital Days… it is time to open our eyes, really wide, and get some glasses! We are going to have to learn a few things and get into the details with this new digital wave.
Case in point; part of my job is to pay close attention to the monitors and look at each shot. Sometimes I have to wonder if the image that I am seeing on the monitor is going to be anything like the finished product. Occasionally the shots are so dark you can’t see anything. When that happens I ask the DP (Director of Photography) or the DIT (digital imagining technician) if the monitor is showing what the finished image will look like. The answer is usually a little shrug and a “Close.”
Now after seeing some of the digital imagining from Elysium this weekend I will be much more aware of what image possibilities can be achieved in post production, even if the shot is really dark. In one of the shots they showed from Elysium, Jodie Foster is sitting in a grey suit in a black chair against a dark interior background. The original RAW digital image that was shot on-set was so dark that you could see small lights on the computers in the background but Jodie Foster was in almost complete darkness. The RAW image was so dark that I’ll bet the hair, makeup and wardrobe departments were tempted to walk away from the monitors saying, “Oh it is fine. Can’t see a thing.”
When the shot was received by the DI (digital imaging) team, they were able to lighten and define Jodie Foster and other elements in the shot to an amazing level. All the details were brought back.
“The DP wanted to work with the small lights in the background. He didn’t want to blast out or lose all the little details and he was aware of what could be done to correct the shot, to make it the best it could be after it was move on to the DI team.”
The digital advancements that are now available to the Director of Photography have become so amazing that they are able to look past what is in the foreground of the shot (a risky proposition considering our actors are usually in the foreground!) and work with the details in the background to help bring out a fuller picture of the world they are creating.
The level of trust we had in our camera teams when working in film… the faith that when the film negative was process the images would magically appear perfectly exposed… has now come full circle. Digital shooting can no longer be defined as, ‘what you see is what you get’… it is so very much more than that!
At home on our TV’s, unless you have a new 3D TV, we are watching Standard Definition (480p/540p), High Definition (720p), or Full High Definition (1080i/p).
Twenty years ago the bigger TV’s didn’t necessarily offer a better picture, just bigger. So when working on set we were able to do breakdown, blood and close matching of color for our stunt doubles. Today, TV’s are not only getting larger but the image quality is becoming better and better as well. When we’re on-set, we need to be looking at the realm of television more like what we work towards in the feature world, with that level of attention to detail.
Little differences are now becoming very noticeable.
The push now is to shoot television in 4k: ultra high definition (2160p). This is used currently for the feature film format to give a comparable resolution and image quality to film when viewing on the bigger screens. This year’s 2014 television pilot season, studios are starting to shoot in 4K… they are looking to the future with the idea of streaming TV at the same clarity as the big screen features.
Not everybody currently has a TV that can read this but in the near future the cable companies and the TV’s will all be there and all the work we are doing on-set will be most definitely be under a much bigger, much less forgiving microscope!
What does this mean for us costumers?
We need to be aware of the differences that are now visible to the naked eye. Something like a little thread is now much bigger and more obvious than before. If you are shooting 3D, looking at the monitors will help you see what is standing out. But if they are putting Digital 3D in after during post-production, then something that was so minute could become the elephant in the room.
So what can we do to future proof our work? Use all the tools at hand and use them in a way that makes sense for today. Look at the monitors as a framework of what the camera sees rather than an actual representation of the final image… and then break away from the monitors and use your eyes to really look at what might show up after the post-production wizards have had their do!
Squinting and saying ‘I think that will do’ is no longer acceptable. We have to make sure that the each shot looks good, really good! Believe it or not, our eyes are the only tool we have at our disposal that can see at the resolution comparable to our current technology.
As the speaker, Claùde Parè, said during the first Digital Days talk last weekend “There is now only one level of quality… seamless… (our work) has to look perfect to the human eye.”