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The Digital Camera Team


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#1 Tyler Leisher

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Posted 27 October 2009 - 08:07 PM

So I'm reading books on film camera crews and the various team members and what they do, but with the rise of digital production I'm curious if those positions have changed.

For example, the 2nd/Loader, do they still have a purpose or are they more data managers now?

I've heard talk about a position called DIT, but haven't heard much about it.

If someone could be so kind as to break down what the crew members for the camera department do on a digital film, I'd appreciate it.
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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 03:51 AM

I think with data-based workflows, productions are still figuring this one out right now so there is no standardized system yet. The main questions are, who takes responsibility for data management, and how much color correction needs to take place on set?

Productions used to a film workflow will try to keep the data management in camera dept by adding the position of a digital loader. The digital loader, like a film loader, is an entry level position with high responsibility. The loader is responsible for making backups of the digital negative to a RAID, organizing the footage into day/roll# folders, visually verifying footage, filing the camera report, and sending mags back to set for reuse. Also dealing with paperwork. No color correction is done on set.

On the other hand, productions that are used to a video style workflow may add data management duties to those of a DIT (digital imaging technician). Traditionally, the DIT is responsible for critical monitoring of the video image and painting the image on the fly by adjusting in-camera settings like gamma, gain, pedestal, knee, saturation, etc. with a device called a paintbox. They are also sometimes responsible for audio. The DIT has a lot of responsibility and it is not an entry level job. With a camera like the Red, there are no paint functions in-camera - instead, you capture all the information and color correct it later, like film. So a "Red DIT" is very different from a traditional DIT, a fact which not all producers understand yet. This is where people start getting confused.

Personally, I think a hybrid position will emerge. The traditional DIT's job is to preserve the DP's intent before the hand-off the post, and I think that job is still very relevant. It is still the DP's job to understand each camera's strengths and weaknesses, as it was for them to know the strengths and weaknesses of each film stock. But with so many different camera systems, and with the constant updates and developments, many DPs will need to rely on a technician who can point them in the right direction so that they can focus on their craft - lighting, lenses, filters, framing, movement.

For example, I just worked a 4 day Red job as a DIT/2nd AC. While the job went very smoothly and the DP and clients were happy with the footage, we had a lot of issues in the beginning working out exactly what my job was and how tasks were going to be divided up on set. Some background: I have worked with this producer at least 20 times in the past year and a half as a 1st AC. We generally shoot 2/3" video, either organic or greenscreen, with Digiprimes or Pro35 and Superspeeds. My job was pretty straight forward - move the camera, change lenses, keep things in focus, work with the DIT to keep the camera happy. At times I would be asked to data manage the P2 workflow.

Now he calls me to work as a DIT on the Red. They already have a 1st AC. So I know he understands what a DIT does. But it's clear to me he doesn't know the Red is not a video camera like a Varicam. I explain what I would normally do as a Red tech - data manage. My tools would be my laptop, a UPS, drives. He says "oookaay" in that weird tone that generally means "this conversation is not over."

I get a call a few days later from the DP asking me what do I know about the Red camera. We talk about what we know about the camera, issues with the latest build, what frame rates we can shoot at what resolution, aspect ratio and bit rate, different ways of dealing with blue channel noise, etc. It's clear to me he hasn't shot a lot with the Red so I will likely be making some suggestions on shooting format, monitoring, maybe exposure, with an eye toward post. It's probably clear to him that I'm not a traditional DIT so he'll have to lower his expectations a bit about how much he can rely on my eye.

We get down to brass tacks, and basically he wants to me to keep an eye on the image and keep him honest using a waveform (because his other Red Tech uses one). I tell him I don't usually use a waveform with the Red because it's only reading a preview and not the Raw - I recommended that he use the in-camera metering tools instead. He says he can't work with those things, they don't make sense to him. He likes a waveform and a light meter. Ok then, no problem. I figure that will just give us a little safety margin because the Rec709 preview has a smaller gamut than the Raw. And he wants me to make sure playback on my computer screen matches "what we shot", which his other Tech couldn't do - so now I need to bring out my Cinema Display, calibrator, and maybe rent a Blackmagic HD Link box, bummer.

A week goes by.

I get a call from the producer implying that I basically tricked him (or something) - someone told him there is no engineering capability in the Red camera. I tell him that's essentially correct - the engineering is done in post. It would be part of my job to ensure that part gets done correctly to the DP's satisfaction. He says, but what are you going to be doing on set? It sounds like you're not going to be doing much - can you 2nd AC as well? Okay, no problem. Oh, and the editor will be on set the whole time managing data and we're shooting in 2K (WTF!? FML)...

Well, needless to say, we worked it out so the data management duties stayed in camera dept until the hand-off to the editor. And I spoke to the DP immediately after about how lousy Red 2K was, and we quickly ended up shooting 99% 4K and 3K. He had no idea Red 2K was very soft, he thought he would be getting something like a 2K scan of 35mm...

Having the editor on set turned out to be a great thing, as we were able to refine our workflow on a daily basis. I would make backups on my data cart to my RAID and a shuttle drive. He would take the shuttle drive, make additional backups to his RAID and client drive, and begin rendering out Camera RGB/Rec709 "flat pass" Prores proxies on his MacPro tower. I believe by day three he had a picture lock on the day one scenes. Meanwhile, I would be color correcting in Redcine and exporting tiffs, .rcc look files, and .rcn project files to a separate folder.

The DP would come by at lunch or wrap and take a look at the stills and make comments, darker, lighter, more or less CMY/RGB, etc. Both the DP and editor were clear that this was only to communicate intent to post, since we didn't know who would be coloring the footage. His footage looked fantastic out of the box so all I had to do was time the shots neutral for skin tones, re-saturate the Camera RGB footage, and lower the blacks - he skipped most of the technical camera meetings in prep and pretty much just lit it like film, to eye.

The waveform monitor actually turned out to be quite helpful - we found in prep that when the camera was in Raw View, the waveform matched the in-camera spot meter very accurately, so that became our principal exposure tool. We previewed color in Rec709. On set, I assisted the DP by letting him know when we would have issues matching color temperatures under fluorescent lights, when we were getting flicker and moire, how far we could safely underexpose, when we were clipping or hitting the noise floor in Raw, changing and checking the project settings (since we were bouncing from 4K 24-30fps RC28-RC36, 3K 40-60fps RC28-36, 2K 100-120fps RC28). All this so he would be able to make informed decisions on how far to go in creating the look on set with his lighting, and when to play it safe and tweak the look in post. (And I slated, filled out camera reports, moved monitors and camera gear, schlepped lenses).

Anyway, I do think this will become less necessary over time as DPs come to know the camera better. But in the meantime, I think this is how we'll be working with the Red. I'm sure the Phantom workflow will be totally different, but that's another post!
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#3 Tyler Leisher

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 11:17 AM

Hm, the role of the DIT sounds really interesting. Something that's definitely up my alley.

I do have one question though, traditionally the 2nd / Loader role was the way in, the foot in the door, etc. Is that the same way with the DIT? From the sound of it, the DIT is more like above or on par with the 1st AC in terms of set heirarchy.

Should I start to learn more about the job and try to get in as a DIT/Data Manager or try to find some set to 2nd on (or both)?
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#4 Edgar Dubrovskiy

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 02:52 PM

I would say the camera trainee is more of a "way in" role.
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 04:45 PM

I do have one question though, traditionally the 2nd / Loader role was the way in, the foot in the door, etc. Is that the same way with the DIT?

A traditional DIT is very much a video-specific job that requires a lot of training. I would start by going to various video rental houses and seeing if you can get a job there to learn. Find out who the top DITs are in your area, and see if they will take you on as a trainee. Work as an AC on video jobs and learn as much as you can from the DIT and DP. It'll take awhile. Note, the traditional DIT role is disappearing quickly. As more digital productions switch over to Raw capture style workflow, fewer jobs will require a DIT. I know of at least one top DIT that is looking at getting into Red Teching as the work is drying up.

If you want to be a Red-specific DIT (let's call it a Red Tech), then I think you need to get yourself on as many Red jobs in the camera dept as possible. Go to rental houses and learn the camera, make yourself known to them. Go over to Reduser.net to read and ask questions. Learn the Red apps. Shoot with it. Learn the workflow. Start working on low to no-budget jobs to build up your experience level, where you can afford to learn from your mistakes. Start building you kit. Go to the rental houses again, get your name and contact info out there.
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#6 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 29 October 2009 - 10:40 AM

I've been a DIT on a few RED projects. A few music videos, a corporate video, and a feature.

On the feature, I backed up the footage to two drives on-set, checked for technical errors and things like filter reflections, etc. I also made TIFFs of every set up. I didn't do any one-lights or creation of LUTs. We had some camera problems, so I fixed whatever I could fix and arranged for backup bodies when we had to send our camera in. Thankfully the DP knew a lot about the RED.

On a music video and the corporate video I did the same thing (except for creating TIFFs), though I did a one-light in RedCine, since we were going to be grading from ProRes files.
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