Controlling Color Space, Sharpening Up the Effects Work, and Keeping an Eye Out for Artifacts

With a budget reported to be near a quarter of a billion dollars and a super-sized proportion of VFX shots in the mix, Superman Returns was the first major effects picture to be shot using the Genesis camera system from Panavision. Does that make a difference to a VFX studio? We decided to ask around.
Mark Stetson, visual effects supervisor, Superman Returns:
“[With the Genesis] we have a color space that’s broader than anything before. We’re in 4:4:4, so we have broader bit depth and the low light response is still very, very good. The contrast ratio is great – not quite as good as film, but the colors are very rich and there’s low noise.”

“We also had to use film cameras for some of the high-speed shots. Since this was the first film to use the Genesis camera, we had a series of prototypes and first-generation software. Early in production, we had 24 frames per second, period. Later, we got a camera that would shoot from one to 30 fps, which the second unit and visual effects loves. But anything beyond 30 fps we had to shoot on film.”

To handle new color space and data-transfer issues, Stetson hired Scott Anderson, who set up the standards for image transfer. “Scott created Digital Sandbox, which acted as the I/O hub for this movie. It became the digital conform center and quality control center for shots coming in from vendors and for color-space issues for Technicolor Digital Intermediates.”

Jon Thum, visual effects supervisor, Framestore CFC:
“Generally, it was a good experience. Everything was that much sharper and there was low noise, which meant, initially, I was worried that our CG had nothing to hide behind.”

“Normally when we composite we blur the CG and add film grain so it sits in the plates nicely. With this camera we can’t blur anything because the plates are so sharp, and we can’t add grain because there’s no noise in the camera. We had to make our stuff look sharper, but it wasn’t a problem.

“The only issue we had was that we had to turn up the antialiasing settings on rendering. Normally, there are little artifacts, but this time we couldn’t blur them out, so we had to be extra careful. The green screens were a bit harder because the edges are so sharp and clean. Everyone had to be that much more careful pulling keys – and when it was difficult, it was really difficult because you couldn’t hide anything.”

“We got everything in HD format, Panalog 10-bit log format, which is specifically designed for the camera. It’s a different log space to what we normally work with, but the concept is similar. No big changes there.”

“We got a digital projector and turned the Avid room into a projection room. We’d project the images onto a wall and sit there doing dailies. Seeing everything in final delivery state is a great luxury.”

“We had some minor issues to iron out. The camera had some dead pixels and slight mechanical problems. Mark would probably say that the biggest problem was the data transfer. You’d think that it would be easier because it’s digital, but it isn’t. It’s easier to carry a film canister than send data down the telephone line. Generally, we had FireWire drives going back and forth to LA.

Jonathan Rothbart, The Orphanage:
“For some studios there was a lot of process involved because of the new Panalog plates, but for us, it was pretty easy because we’ve worked in so many formats that we’ve developed a wide open format. We converted the Panalog into our elin, extended linear, space, and then pushed it back into Panalog.

“The interesting thing was that typically CG has more detail than film and more often than not we have to soften it for film. But with the Genesis, the detail level was so extreme, everything we did digitally was held up to scrutiny. Makeup was, too. There was so much detail that normally gets softened on film – shaving shadows, rough areas on the face – that they had to alter what they shot. For example, there were a lot of eye fixes because you could see Routh’s contacts. The digital Superman had to match how they altered Routh digitally.”