Assimilate's SCRATCH Digital Process Solution was the stereoscopic 3-D workflow of choice for New Line's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, in theaters July 11.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, features the same high quality of vfx Walden Media brings to all its feature films, such as THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA franchise, THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and CHARLOTTE'S WEB. JOURNEY is directed by Eric Brevig and stars Brendan Fraser.
The film tells the story of a science professor whose radical theories have completely tarnished his reputation. While backpacking across Iceland with his nephew, the two explorers find a cave that leads them deep into the bowels of the planet. Thinking the scientist's missing brother, also a scientist, may have discovered this same cave, the two go on a quest to find out what has happened to him. The journey leads them to a fantastic and dangerous lost world in the center of the Earth, where a bizarre landscape is filled with terrifying creatures.
"JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH offers a depth of imagery that brings the viewers into the film, as if they're looking through a picture window and can feel themselves ready to step into the action," said Jonas Thaler, VP Post Production at AFG/Walden Media.
When planning for the post production of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, Thaler turned to veteran post-production supervisor, Steven Kaminsky (SUPERMAN RETURNS, GRACIE, DREAMCATCHER, THE MASK), who managed the post production, editorial and 3-D mastering.
"My immediate task was to figure out and plan our 3-D mastering process, which included putting together an in-house 3-D DI team of specialists, procuring hardware, selecting software, planning for reusability, and developing the overall business model for mastering of the film. I had experience with SCRATCH from SUPERMAN RETURNS so we looked at their 3-D capabilities. We found that SCRATCH had the sophisticated and versatile 3-D features we needed. On SUPERMAN we really pushed every feature and workflow angle and SCRATCH stood the test. I had confidence that a SCRATCH-based solution could be structured for 3-D that would fit the filmmaker's objectives and allow us to post a 3-D film mostly in-house, with maximum control and flexibility. SCRATCH also offers a compelling price/performance value that fit our budget plan," explained Kaminsky.
Kaminsky added, "We of course knew there would be unique challenges to face, but Jonas and I gamed up a general plan with Editor Dirk Westervelt and 3-D Specialist and VFX Editor Ed Marsh, and the studio gave us their support to build something no one had ever done before. Jonas has a deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts needed to make high-impact films so his confidence in our idea for a process and technical methodology was central to executing the project."
Thaler said, "When researching a 3-D digital workflow, we examined several scenarios that were compelling but none proved to have the flexibility, 3-D features, and price point that we needed to put this together on a project basis. SCRATCH was the only system that met our criteria for 3-D, plus it included an extensive feature set for the DI process. Our biggest concern for SCRATCH was the size of this project. There was a huge amount of footage and content from several sources, and we had roughly 800 visual effects, which means multiply by two for the number of files. This was an ambitious project for a cost-effective software tool that we set up ourselves, but SCRATCH performed amazingly well."
Kaminsky then assembled an experienced and talented DI mastering crew, including Conform Supervisor and Team Lead, Gary Jackemuk (SUPERMAN RETURNS, X-MEN, LAST STAND), who also filled the role of the daily go-to man for operating the digital pipeline; DI Colorist Jeff Olm (ZODIAC, OCEANS TWELVE, ESPN's THE BRONX IS BURNING, SHARK TALE, SEABISCUIT, and the DreamWorks Animation 2008 stereoscopic 3-D debut of MONSTERS VS. ALIENS); I/O Supervisor Michael Fellows (SUPERMAN RETURNS); and VFX Artist Judith Bell, who took on a number of special projects and hundreds of in-house shots done directly by the 3-D DI team.
"But the biggest challenge was planning and implementing a fluid 3-D workflow that didn't exist before, including all the necessary tools and staffing in one dedicated project facility," Kaminsky said. "Jonas had already four-walled the beautiful studio theater at Widget Post in Hollywood as a screening room so we decided to build out a DI project studio there. We set up servers, workstations, 3-D projection and everything that we needed in one room. It was a beautiful purpose-built project studio where the 3-D DI team worked every day, and the filmmakers, vfx team and studio staff convened daily for working sessions. This concept was borne out of two goals: to expedite a 3-D film through all the post-production phases while achieving extremely high-quality results; and to stay within budget by eliminating, whenever possible, the extra steps and time factors involved in posting a film across multiple facilities. Without SCRATCH as the core workflow platform it would never have been possible to execute this logistical plan within our budget."
Kaminsky continued, "It was also Gary Jackemuk's mission to work out the nuts and bolts of the practical dataflow through all of the systems that we had put together. He has deep experience with developing these kinds of complex data and process systems and is a great coder in a number of languages. Gary built custom software to manipulate the raw frames, move files and folders around the systems in an efficient way, and create new connections between platforms and software systems so that it all worked. At the end of the day, Gary was the glue and the brains behind the technical execution. We put SCRATCH at the center of a unique architecture and process and Gary figured out how to make it all work together so that the 3-D DI team and all the departments fit into a functional process together."
Director Eric Brevig brought a wealth of visual effects knowledge to the film, having worked as the vfx supervisor for a long list of films, including THE VILLAGE (2004), PEARL HARBOR (2001), MEN IN BLACK (1997), TOTAL RECALL (1990), and an early 3-D film, CAPTAIN EO (1986).
For hardware at the 3-D DI suite, the system included a dozen Hewlett-Packard 8400 quad-processor workstations with Nvidia GeForce FX5600 graphics cards, 14 Samsung monitors, and three Facilis 24D terablock servers. Four SCRATCH stations were set up, one each for Conform, Color Grading, QC and VFX Reviews. KeyCode Media, led by Tim Canella, provided and integrated the hardware with great support from Grady Sellards of Asia Media Products, the local rep for Facilis.
Kaminsky said, "The real-time feature set of SCRATCH really pays off. The team was quickly able to assemble the film, provide a live working build for reviewing and finishing vfx, and create the color language from the very beginning. The team spent 10 months on post-production, which when using SCRATCH was able to be done in stereoscopic 3-D from the onset. Or, we could have done it with standard methods, but not get the same quality result and interactive process as we did with SCRATCH. We would have missed out on the dynamic and focused experience we had by deploying SCRATCH in our purpose-built suite."
Kaminsky added, "It was extraordinary for the DI team and the VFX department to work with the director and studio in real-time 3-D, in front of the filmmakers. The real-time post process proved to be amazingly productive for everyone involved, from conforming, to color grading, dropping in the VFX, and client review sessions. Each day was a working session -- perfecting the film and seeing the results."
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH was shot on the Cameron/Pace Fusion 3D Camera. The files were first played out on the HDCAM SR on dual tapes. It was then loaded onto tape decks, converted to DPX files, and then imported by SCRATCH. Avid was used to edit the offline cut and create the EDLs. The visual effects were already delivered in DPX and were easily dropped into SCRATCH. Two projectors were used for the 3D viewing, using a timeline of the cut in real time.
"Viewing in 3-D was really crucial to the project. With the enormous amount of files for this type of production, you want to avoid 2-D and the on-going iterations of viewing at another facility, and then doing the work over again," Kaminsky said. "The real-time 3-D pipeline and working process enabled a dynamic, fluid workflow for all of us together under the same roof."
Gary Jackemuk, who worked with Kaminsky on SUPERMAN RETURNS, supervised the conform and finishing group for JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. "We were in unchartered territory, at the bleeding edge in building the 3-D pipeline," Jackemuk said. "We knew SCRATCH could manage a lot of color data, and this project was going to put SCRATCH through its paces. We were learning as we moved forward, and the ASSIMILATE team was a big help along the way. I also developed some custom software to conform the left and right eye data simultaneously, then pushed it into XML files for SCRATCH to ingest."
Jackemuk added, "We had Mike Fellows as our I/O supervisor, one of the best there is, and he managed all the data using the SCRATCH data management tool. He would do a batch capture of the HD SR tapes using the Symmetry Bluefish card, one eye at a time off the Avid EDL, and then I could conform for the next phases. We had a huge number of visual effects from a variety of VFX houses and Mike had to carefully QC every shot twice for each eye. Mike kept all that data, all the versions throughout the entire project, running smoothly. We built some custom FileMaker Pro database tools so that color notes, shot QC status and VFX DPX delivery inventory were all managed in one system. This helped us keep the process organized and enabled the vfx team to have a live view of the DI status of their shots updated in real time as we worked."
Jackemuk also talked about some of the issues they faced in the color grading portion of the pipeline. "3-D color grading in real time is a tough challenge right now. SCRATCH was ahead of the other platforms but still had some process and feature points to be improved. As an experienced team we were able to work through the issues, and Assimilate pitched in with technical support and new code," he said. "We were breaking new ground and we all had lessons to learn. Bottom line though, we we're totally satisfied -- very much so -- with the end result and how it appears on the big screen."
"We did all the rendering in SCRATCH in two passes -- left eye and right eye. The final conformed, graded and QC'd files were exported to DPX sequences and delivered to RealD, Dolby and Technicolor for the final encoding, conversion, packaging and creation of the release masters," Jackemuk added.
Jeff Olm did all the color grading and post stereo adjustments for JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. He also worked with the director, DP and VFX Supervisor to set the convergence for the focal point that aligns the left and right eyes for every shot. Convergence is the perception of how far off the screen the image appears to the audience or the illusion of depth.
"I worked the right eye for the primary adjustment. The SCRATCH guys made a special hot key for me that would immediately copy over the left eye to the right eye in real-time stereo. This was a huge time saver," Olm said.
Olm added, "Another major times savings: we then imported the files into RealD's 3D theater and then did a trim pass in just a few hours. This was a major time savings for the production. For the grading sessions, we used a 30-foot screen with two NEC digital projectors with circular polarizers, one polarizer for the right eye and one for the left. Digital projection is key for stereo, and in this case, so that all images would stay in alignment. This way you can view the imagery in 3-D with 3-D glasses to see the full stereo affect. We could see the results in real-time 3-D and make adjustments, which no other film lab or post house could do at this time."
"It's truly an extraordinary experience to work on a film with this much data, VFX, and various idiosyncrasies, and in 3-D, and to do so effectively on the desktop. The reviews were in HD were 1920x1080 and we could master in real time. We managed the entire post mastering process within a data pipeline that we built internally with SCRATCH as the software foundation," Kaminsky said.
Kaminsky continued, " It was especially gratifying to take what we learned with SCRATCH on SUPERMAN RETURNS and build it to the next level -- a big jump ahead for 3-D and in-house DI mastering."