Below is an excerpt from an insightful article that can be found in the October issue of ICG Magazine by Chris Wolski


Writing on the Wall

The RED M-X, coupled with Fincher’s notoriously precise planning, helped provide for what DP Jeff Cronenweth describes as a “trouble-free” 68-day shoot, with the show wrapping a few days early. The DI process that then followed was even more efficient, breaking new ground for digital post workflow.

When LIGHTIRON Digital colorist Ian Vertovec received the edited version of The Social Network as uncompressed 2K .dpx files, he had a product that was fully conformed and stabilized by editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, allowing Vertovec to move right to the demanding work of color correcting, reframing and sharpening. However, Fincher was in Europe preparing for his next project (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) for much of the digital intermediate process, which threatened to imperil Sony’s October 1 release date.

“Holding up the DI was not an option,” the colorist insists.

The workaround was unique and would not have been possible even a year or two ago, given the advances in digital technology. Vertovec matched the screens of his and Fincher’s Apple laptops, allowing them both to view the same images at the same resolution and quality no matter where they were located. This allowed the DI process to keep moving with Fincher accessing the film from the secure PIX website, where he could make annotations that Vertovec, half a world away, used to correct the images on his Pablo workstation. He then uploaded the corrected scenes on the PIX website for Fincher’s review.

Working so closely with the director gave Vertovec the insight to make what he calls “informed decisions” about changes. For example, if he received several of the same notes about the skin tones in similar scenes, he would apply those changes to others prior to Fincher seeing them. By the time Fincher returned from Europe for the final stages of the DI, the film was still on schedule. And unlike the earlier part of the process, which was conducted through the Internet on small computer monitors, the final product was graded in the most ideal of situations, a 40-foot screen at RED Studios (formerly Ren-Mar) in Hollywood. This unprecedented DI setup allowed Vertovec, Fincher and Cronenweth to view the film via a Sony 4K projector under the same conditions it would later be projected in theaters. On a recent visit, Vertovec could be seen 7 feet off the soundstage floor, changing, shaping and transforming the images on the screen as the director and DP gave notes.

As with Fincher and Cronenweth, Vertovec says his primary goals were to create a finished product that would capture Sorkin’s dense script. “There are a lot of visual effects and they’re all happening on the screen, but you don’t notice them,” he remarks, noting that there are about five to 10 tracking color correction windows in every shot.

Some of these visual effects are impressively seamless – stitched together images with an effects-produced camera move, or a pair of twins played by the same actor, for example. Others are much more subtle: those dark woods that Cronenweth carefully lit to have texture were given a bluish feel, to look even more Harvardesque.

Vertovec explains that when he made a change, his Pablo system saved a reference frame for quick access. This allowed him to manipulate any image, tearing it instantly back down to its original RAW form and just as quickly re-applying all of the changes. (The Pablo system would render in the background while Vertovec moved on to the next shot, saving significant time and money.)

When they started Facebook, Zuckerberg and his Harvard pals never imagined their online network could one day transform global connectivity. After all, Web portals like MySpace and Friendster were there first, with negligible impact and success. Similarly, the radically nimble digital workflow pioneered on The Social Network may well one day transform the film and television industry. Certainly all the creative players polled for this article think so. Vertovec estimates that within the next three to five years, virtually all productions will employ a similar digital workflow because, as he concludes, “The irony is that it isn’t really about the technology. It’s about simplifying the process to make it easier for filmmakers to tell their stories.”

Cronenweth – who cut his feature filmmaking teeth on celluloid – has a more cautiously pragmatic view about the rapid march toward digital. “I think both film and HD are great,” he concludes. “They’re both tools that are separated by what kind of story we want to tell. I do have an application preference, however, and you don’t cut paper with a hammer and don’t hammer nails with scissors.”

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