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How Low Can You Go


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#1 Eric Lin

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 08:35 AM

Hello. I'm currently timing a feature on Resolve, shot on Red MX, and would love some real world advice about how low some the IRE levels of highlights can be at before they are lost on the myriad of monitors out in the real world.

In our film we have four or five night scenes in an apartment with the lights off. I primarily lit through the windows but the director is very sensitive to "film lighting" for night scenes and his impulse is to push all the highlights down in the color correct. The level he likes it at is around 10 - 12 IRE for the highlights off of the skintone in the room. Even the shadow details are readable on the plasma we are correcting on. I'm worried about how low we can go before we lose detail when it's not seen on a color corrected plasma in a dark room (i.e., pretty much most of the monitors outside of a color correcting suite).

I hate the idea of timing for the lowest common denominator and normally try to get the best look in the color correction in the best possible environment, but for this situation, I'd love any input from your experiences in how low IRE shots hold up across various viewing situations. What's have you found is "safe"? We're going to do some tests outputting the clips to various formats this week but may not have time to test it that broadly.

Would love to hear your input. Thanks!

Best,
Eric Lin
DP
NYC
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 12:47 PM

It also depends on the conditions your audience is viewing the final piece in. You can go darker for viewing in a darkened cinema than you can in someone's bright lounge.
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#3 M Joel W

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 09:09 PM

In my experience, 18% gray is somewhere around 40 IRE (in theory it should be brighter), and caucasian skin tones exposed at key end up around 50 or 60 IRE. For night exteriors I'll expose one and a half to two stops under at most, which usually puts caucasian skin around 25-30 IRE if I remember correctly… That's what I've gone for as a cut off point when looking to get the absolute "darkest" look.

For TV, you want to keep your skin at normal levels, so like nearly 50 IRE I would say. Watch Lost, for instance, and see how bright they light night scenes. For night I would say 30IRE is the darkest you should go on any face you want it to read; obviously so long as you have a portion of the face exposed at that level and/or nice eye lights you can go darker for the rest... I'm an autodidact so this could be crazy, but it's what I go by. The darkest shots in the feature I'm grading now have their brightest skin tones between 35-40 IRE and they look so dark I'm worried the network might object. Could be totally wrong, but want to chime in since I'm curious what the pros think...
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#4 Eric Lin

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 09:32 AM

Thanks for the responses! Yes, the viewing situation is another one I'm concerned with considering we're in a dark room and can bring time at low levels that in the real world (someone's living room or office) may not read.

MJW, I'd be curious about that as well, how low you can go and pass QC for broadcast or distributors for scenes like this. This director was fighting me on set in terms of just the lighting of the scene, wanting it really dark and it was already all rim lighting with no fill and the rim lighting was already more than two stops below my exposure stop. I don't remember what the IRE was reading on set but in the grade, he's wanting to push it down further.
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#5 Stephen Williams

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 12:08 PM

Thanks for the responses! Yes, the viewing situation is another one I'm concerned with considering we're in a dark room and can bring time at low levels that in the real world (someone's living room or office) may not read.

MJW, I'd be curious about that as well, how low you can go and pass QC for broadcast or distributors for scenes like this. This director was fighting me on set in terms of just the lighting of the scene, wanting it really dark and it was already all rim lighting with no fill and the rim lighting was already more than two stops below my exposure stop. I don't remember what the IRE was reading on set but in the grade, he's wanting to push it down further.


To pass QC at the BBC I usually had a tiny area outside normal viewing area at 100%, then they could not turn anything up, always worked like a charm!
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#6 John Holland

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 12:56 PM

Hey Stephen i always thought i was only one that did . Love it.
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#7 Stephen Williams

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 01:55 PM

Hey Stephen i always thought i was only one that did . Love it.


I was just re-engineering what they wanted to see on their scopes with how I wanted the picture to look! It took about 2 minutes to figure out, same trick 20 years on with inexperianced DIT's today!
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#8 Bruce Greene

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 02:25 PM

Hello. I'm currently timing a feature on Resolve, shot on Red MX, and would love some real world advice about how low some the IRE levels of highlights can be at before they are lost on the myriad of monitors out in the real world.

In our film we have four or five night scenes in an apartment with the lights off. I primarily lit through the windows but the director is very sensitive to "film lighting" for night scenes and his impulse is to push all the highlights down in the color correct. The level he likes it at is around 10 - 12 IRE for the highlights off of the skintone in the room. Even the shadow details are readable on the plasma we are correcting on. I'm worried about how low we can go before we lose detail when it's not seen on a color corrected plasma in a dark room (i.e., pretty much most of the monitors outside of a color correcting suite).

I hate the idea of timing for the lowest common denominator and normally try to get the best look in the color correction in the best possible environment, but for this situation, I'd love any input from your experiences in how low IRE shots hold up across various viewing situations. What's have you found is "safe"? We're going to do some tests outputting the clips to various formats this week but may not have time to test it that broadly.

Would love to hear your input. Thanks!

Best,
Eric Lin

When grading you may want to have a "surround" light source so that your eyes don't get fooled by the darkness. Some grading software allows one to reduce the size of the image and make a neutral colored surround on your screen. I find this very helpful to avoid grading progressively darker as my eyes get used to the darkness.
DP
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#9 Eric Lin

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Posted 23 November 2011 - 11:26 AM

Great tip! I'm going to have to try that sometime soon.
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#10 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 24 November 2011 - 03:51 PM

To pass QC at the BBC I usually had a tiny area outside normal viewing area at 100%, then they could not turn anything up, always worked like a charm!


Yes, a bit of 100% keeps the black clamping under control as well.
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#11 Phil Connolly

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Posted 29 November 2011 - 07:03 AM

To pass QC at the BBC I usually had a tiny area outside normal viewing area at 100%, then they could not turn anything up, always worked like a charm!


I'm a former QC person and it would be easy to life the levels on broadcast, you'd just need to run it through a legaliser to keep your cheeky 100% under control.

That said in four years of QC, I don't think I ever rejected footage for being too dark, as long as it looked good and was in context with the programme.

Underexposed was another thing, I sent back lots of clearly underexposed and noisy footage that had been pushed in post.

The main reason's shows failed QC was normally:

- Audio Problems
- Text out of safe/typo's on titles
- Epilepsy Triggers
- Non professional shooting formats used - eg too much DV/HDV
- In complete clock details - eg typo's on contract details
- Illigal Luma/Gamma
- Too much noise - eg fake film grain effects etc..

Generally the actual cinematography/grading decisions don't tend to result in QC fails. Its more about how the tape is lined up. Audio is usually a bigger area of problems then picture.

Epilepsy is a major issue in Uk and many channels have a zero tolerance policy with flashing images and it can be very difficult to make a film conform.
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#12 M Joel W

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Posted 29 November 2011 - 07:14 PM

For what it's worth, we've never had QC complain about images being too dark or grainy even when they've been really dark and grainy. So it's probably more of a subjective judgement there. 10 IRE sounds a bit extreme to me, though. If you watch Rob Zombie's Halloween it gets pretty dark and maybe it approaches that, but apparently that was a producer overruling the DP and director and it's incredibly hard to follow what's going on, which doesn't matter much since the movie is awful. 10 IRE might read, but not on all screens.

I'm sorry if this seems really obvious but one technique to try is darkening and desaturating red and warm tones in general in your image almost completely and adding a subtle blue tint (very subtle, unless it's motivated by moonlight or mercury vapor in which case you can make it more pronounced)... I don't know how to use Resolve, but the luma curve and saturation curve in the secondaries in Color are very good for this (except that the luma curve breaks up the image in a bad way, bad algorithm I guess). The eyes see red as near black in the dark so you can darken something very little and make it look much darker subjectively. This might be grading 101, but I skipped that class...
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#13 Stephen Williams

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 04:01 AM

I'm a former QC person and it would be easy to life the levels on broadcast, you'd just need to run it through a legaliser to keep your cheeky 100% under control.


I was doing this in the 80's on 1" tame, long before Betacam, DV & legalisers were common.
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Wooden Camera

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Metropolis Post

Rig Wheels Passport

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

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