Every new movie or television production goes through the process of deciding about what technology to employ. Long ago it was a simple as “KEM, Moviola, or Steenbeck.” Now of course it is a lot more complicated. And every show is breaking new ground in some fashion.
Case in point: Transformers 2 (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). It is still possible to edit major feature film releases with Meridien systems, but using the latest hardware and software from Avid provides several new benefits.
One of the important new abilities was to allow the director, Michael Bay, to have a full working Media Composer on his laptop. Editorial provides him with an up to date portable drive with all media and a current project which allows him to comment on scenes, and to clip favorite takes for the editors to work with.
Paul Rubell is one of five editors on the project. He was brought on during post, after he had finished Public Enemies for Michael Mann – editing on Meridien systems. Paul was re-editing several scenes but had difficulty getting the very busy director to view and comment on them. Finally, the director was given these new cuts on his laptop, and Paul was soon given the notes he needed to proceed.
The editorial set up for Transformers 2 is as follows: there are eight Avid Media Composers, each with 3.x software, each with Nitris DX hardware. Nitris was choosen to allow each system to output eight channels, instead of two with the Mojo. All systems, including the director’s, are Apple computers running OS X. Not every system, however, has the same MC software version.
According to first assistant editor Calvin Wimmer, the different versions of the 3.x software can’t do certain important things. His system, 3.0.6, can do a consolidation for sound editorial… but can’t do an EDL. So co-first assistant Todd Zongker has a later version which can do EDL’s… but not consolidations.
Each system has two large Cinema displays, outputs through an analog Mackie mixer.
The editors pull sub-clips from the larger movie to work on. Once the work is completed, that section is re-integrated in the movie. The editors are working on all parts of the movie as needed. One potential problem is by the time a sub-clip is ready to go back into the movie, someone has made a change in that section (update a VFX, make a picture change for the director). It takes communication to keep from blowing away each others work.
Paul Rubell had gotten used to working with audio in three channels: a center mono channel for dialogue and effects, and a stereo pair for music and backgrounds. He set the first four channels of his timeline to be center mono, and the next 4 to be stereo left and right. This is how he edited Public Enemies. It allowed for a better representation of a mixed movie. On Transformers, the director needed to work with only two channels for his laptop, so the editors all worked in two output channels.
As the film is mixed, the mixed stems come from the stage at Sony and are dropped into the working master sequence. The same is true of VFX in progress. Each iteration of a VFX is layered on top of the last in the timeline.
Dailies were telecined at Company 3 to HD, then encoded into Avid’s DNxHD 36. Initially the post crew wondered if they should work at the higher quality compression, 115. But the need to accommodate a laptop meant they would work with the smaller file size.
Audio is encoded at 48k, 24 bit, and is sunk during telecine. Only one channel is transferred to the dailies, but the full production audio from Diva is loaded into the system if needed. Very little MC color correction of the original dailies is done. Dailies are moved to the cutting room via hard drive, giving them a tapeless workflow.
One oddity is although they are working in MFX media, the assistants are converting the audio to OMF media for the sound department. Calvin reported AAF exports having caused the Avid to crash, so OMF was chosen.
MFX media has created a fair amount of confusion in the industry. Some sound departments say they can’t work with it. Picture departments aren’t especially aware of the advantages (if any) of MXF, and an AAF transfer.
The system has 16 terrabytes of storage, holding about 1.25 million feet of film. The director carries a Micronet raid array as a portable hard drive for media.
As the picture has gotten closer to its final form, the assistants have been ordering scans of the picture for the final DI. Three types of film are being used, 4 perf 35mm, 8 perf 35 mm, and 15 perf 65mm, and each are scanned at a different resolution.
Although the framing of the movie is 2.40, Cinemascope wide screen, the 65mm film is being integrated to give a full frame Imax experience. Some scenes wil show entirely in Imax. Some scenes have a mix. After going to a theater to screen a mixture of 2.40 and Imax, it was decided that mixing the two didn’t hurt the visual experience.
Calvin Wimmer’s previous Avid show with editor Roger Barton was Speedracer, which he called the ‘worst case scenario. The software was super crashy.’ Transformers has had only a small degree of problems. Paul Rubell reports there is slowness in opening some windows (dissolve tool) in his MC, but the software has been very reliable, crashing only one time he could remember.
The biggest change for Paul was moving from 14:1 compression to HD. “The first hour is amazing” to watch, but “then it feels normal.”
Editors Roger Barton and Joel Negron use a few of Avid’s effects, but the director is very keen that they not change the images he shot. They’ve composited temp greenscreens, split screens, and animates. None of the editors were aware of the new Avid software, Avid FX.
One frustration expressed by the crew is that the audio levels in their tracks didn’t translate properly to the sound editorial department. Key frames went across, but audio gain changes in clips could clip or distort. It was also frustrating for Calvin that colored clips, a great way of keeping a timeline organized, would not translate to sound.
A more common complaint in editorial departments is why Media Composer and Pro Tools, owned by the same company, and the defacto standard in feature film post, don’t work together better.
To work on the extensive VFX, a highspeed T3 line was installed in the cutting room. It runs at 44.7 Mb/s, or what Calvin calls “the foo foo lingo for ‘really fast internet’”. It allows direct, instant, and secure communication between ILM and the cutting room. A two way conference is set up. Each side can see the other. And ILM can show the latest shots in part of the screen for evaluation.
Another interesting technology in the workflow is iChat. Editorial is using it for all types of purposes: sending updated cuts, getting sound effects from sound editorial, or music from music editorial, or to update the director’s laptop.
But the most impressive piece of technology in the whole post facility was for Cal Wimmer: a work bench with a motorized height adjustment. At the flip of a switch, he can work sitting down or standing up with the bench height adjusted to his liking.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Editors: Roger Barton, Joel Negron, Paul Rubell., A.C.E., Glen Scantlebury, Tom Muldoon
Co-First Assistants Calvin Wimmer, Todd Zongker
Apprentice Editor Kevin Stermer
Post Assistant Tommy Aagaard