DI Software Wrangles Thousands of Assets for Stereo Playback

Photo: Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios. Left to right: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in THOR, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Out of mighty Asgard comes word that Assimilate Scratch was used to automate the VFX dailies review processes on Paramount’s hit superhero opus, Thor. VFX production manager Danielle Costa integrated Scratch with a FileMaker Pro database to assemble daily playlists that specified all of the media that was connected with any particular shot.

It sounds straightforward, but nothing’s really simple when it happens on this scale. Costa was working to keep on top of assets from a panoply of VFX facilities – a supergroup including BUF, Digital Domain, Whiskytree, Evil Eye Pictures, Fuel Visual Effects, and Luma Pictures worked on Thor – as well as to coordinate the workflow with DI facility Efilm and 3D-conversion house Stereo D.

On a typical morning, Costa would face anywhere from 3000 to 5000 individual files (mostly image sequences) that arrived overnight. By the end of post-production, between 200 and 300 shots per day were being reviewed, and the playlist for a single shot could point to nearly 1000 media clips in different formats.

Scratch automated key functions like playing shots in the correct aspect ratio (the film was shot in anamorphic Panavision), selectively applying LUTs to the appropriate assets, and applying the correct frame offsets to accurately align scanned VFX plates and comps.

VFX supervisor Wesley Sewell and his team were constantly ingesting and reviewing shots-in-progress, then preparing afternoon shot reviews that took place with director Kenneth Branagh, cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, BSC, and other key members of the production team, including Marvel and Paramount execs. At Marvel, Scratch was the in-house stereo playback system, with left-eye and right-eye playlist stacks created automatically for playback in dual mode.

But Assimilate assures us that Scratch isn’t just for beefy 3D fantasy warriors. It was used for post-production on the recent Camera D’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival for best debut feature, Las acacias, an Argentinian road movie shot with the Red One and graded at Alta Definicià³n. Take Shelter, the Cannes Critic’s Week Grand Prize winner, was shot on Super 35, scanned at 2K, and graded in Austin, Texas, at Stuck On On. Cannes Jury Prize winner Polisse, shot with the Sony EX3, and Best Actor winner The Artist, shot on 35mm and scanned at 2K, were both posted with Scratch at Duboicolor in Boulogne, France.

The new version of Scratch will list for $17,995 when it ships later this quarter; the stripped-down Scratch Lab will be $4995.