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LaserPacific Puts Finishing Touches on DUMA


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#1 Tim Tyler

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Posted 28 September 2005 - 12:56 PM

The finishing touches were completed on DUMA
during digital intermediate (DI) timing sessions with director Carroll Ballard
(THE BLACK STALLION, FLY AWAY HOME) at LaserPacific in Hollywood. DUMA is an
adventure story that revolves around the relationship between a boy and an
orphaned cheetah rescued in the wilds of Africa. Warner Bros. is releasing the
film this fall.

"It's a wonderful story with a lot of heart and beautiful cinematography,"
says LaserPacific Senior Colorist Mike Sowa. "We turned day into night and
created sunrises and sunsets in the jungle. There are also visual effects
shots, including a close encounter with crocodiles and a breathtaking
wildebeest stampede. It's in this setting that the tools of the digital
intermediate really give the creative team extra ammunition."

Based on the book How It Was With Dooms, by Carol Cawthra Hopcraft and Xan
Hopcraft, the film's screenplay was written by Karen Janszen and Mark St
Germain, from a story by Carol Flint and Karen Janszen. In it, a father and
son are driving in the outback of Kenya when they find the orphaned cheetah.
They take it home and raise it on their farm. After the father dies, the boy
and his mother must move to the city. The boy, who is now in his early teens,
decides to bring the grown up cheetah back to its natural habitat. In a
fortuitous bit of casting, the young actor who plays the son also has a pet
cheetah, enabling the filmmakers to shoot intimate scenes with the boy and the
cheetah that would have been impossible with any of the six trained cheetahs
that appear in other shots.

"It's not a high-budget film, and a lot of the drama happens outside at night
in the wild," says Ballard. "We filmed it in South Africa at locations I had
scouted for another picture about 20 years ago. The landscape had not changed
all that much. DUMA's cinematographer, Werner Maritz, has a great eye and
powerful visual sensibilities. Our decision to shoot day for night was
motivated by our decision not to carry a lot of lights into the wilderness,
but the much of the story happens in the night. The digital intermediate was
Werner's idea. We shot tests and experimented with darkening the sky. After I
saw the tests, I was absolutely amazed by the flexibility we had and how good
it looked."

"We had storyboards that gave everyone an idea of what we wanted in every
planned shot," Ballard continues. "But there is a certain amount of
serendipity in every movie. When you are working with animals and children,
it's all chance." The digital intermediate helped assure that these chances
did not derail the story.

After the film was cut by editor Tom Christopher, the digital intermediate
process began at LaserPacific, and the conformed negative was scanned at 4K
resolution, optimized for digital intermediate workflow at 2K. Sowa explains
that 4K scans ensure that nuances in contrast and colors recorded on the
original negative are retained through the conversion process.
Ballard supervised the color grading sessions at the Digital Timing Theater at
LaserPacific, where images are displayed through a Christie 2K digital
projector on a 33-foot-wide and 13-foot-high screen. The Digital Timing
Theater was designed to allow filmmakers to see their imagery in a cinematic
environment, on a large screen.

"I watched the entire movie with Carroll to get a sense of where he wanted to
go," Sowa says. "Then we'd watch one scene at a time and I'd get his feedback.
The night sky looked very blue. Carroll asked me to bring the blue tones down
and make the sky look silvery. We also made late afternoon shots leading into
nightfall darker and a bit warmer to give them the feeling of golden hour, and
we timed scenes where night fades into dawn. Everybody perceives that look
differently. Carroll wanted the shadows very cool. As twilight progressed
towards sunrise, we used Power Windows to make the shadows warmer and a little
brighter with a slight pink magenta tone on the horizon. These tools allow
filmmakers like Carroll creative latitude that is sometimes taken away from
them during the pressures of production."

In addition to fine-tuning the dawn, dusk and night skies and timing the film
for shot-to-shot consistency, Ballard and Sowa seamlessly integrated visual
effects images into the movie. For instance, elements of shots taken on a
crocodile farm were composited with live-action footage of the boy and his pet
cheetah.

In some shots, Ballard chose to recompose images in the DI suite. For
instance, in one scene he decided to lower the framing enough to reveal more
of the top of a mountain. Sowa listened, recomposed the shot, and
simultaneously projected it on the big screen to show Ballard the results.
Then, Sowa took Ballard's comments, and made it a little higher or lower.

Sowa selected segments of different DI shots every day to record out onto 35
mm color intermediate film to evaluate the process as it related to film
recording. Ballard and Sowa began each day by screening the print, and
discussing any adjustments the director wanted in the DI files. Ballard says
that this method gave him a truer picture of how the DI files translated to
print film. He says the film images have denser black tones and slightly
richer colors.

Leon Silverman, President of LaserPacific and Vice President of Entertainment
Imaging for Kodak, said that the pipeline at LaserPacific has been designed to
offer filmmakers flexibility to look at their work in a state of the art
environment, and create film that is representative of the files that they saw
in the timing theater. "For us, to be able to work with a filmmaker of Carroll
Ballard's stature, whose iconographic images have touched us all, was an
honor," he says. "We were excited to be able to introduce him to the power of
the new digital tools and are very proud of the results of his vision."

"It was a fabulous experience," Ballard concludes. "It blew my mind how much
control you have. It helped a lot that Mike and I have similar views of how
things should look. It's going to take a bludgeon to get a film camera out of
my hands, but I believe shooting film and going through the DI process is the
best of both worlds."
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