The Olson Brothers Finish 2K "Fatal Flaw" With New Premiere Pro .R3D Plug-in
That’s business as usual for the Olsons, who offer what Obin calls “a package deal – we wrap around the whole project from the very beginning to the very end.” Obin is a director, editor and DP, while Amariah specializes in VFX and compositing. Father Larry handles business affairs, and sister Japhia has joined the crew as a Flash developer. “For a lot of people, gigs are just a job, but for my brother and sister and me, it’s a piece of art,” Obin Olson told F&V. “I look at Ridley and Tony Scott as people we really respect and look up to in terms of where they come from and what they’re doing.”
VFX were done in Eyeon Digital Fusion and Newtek LightWave 3D. The project utilized a 2K workflow, although some sequences were rendered out of Red Cine in 4K, which allowed overscan for motion-stabilization in the 2K image. We talked to Obin Olson about the project, the Red camera, and the bleeding-edge Adobe workflow. For more information about “Fatal Flaw,” visit the film’s Web site: www.fatalflawmovie.com, or show up when it plays at the Landmark Theatres in West Los Angeles next week. (More screening info info here: www.livingwaterfilms.com.) And for more on DV3 Productions, go here: www.dv3productions.com.
From left: Japhia, Larry, Amariah, and Obin Olson
F&V: How did you get involved with “Fatal Flaw” – and how did you end up using the Adobe/Red workflow?Obin Olson: We have Red number 0610. We got it early this year, and Fatal Flaw was the first project out of the gate. We waited eight months to get our camera, and the goal was to do a cinematic short that would get us out there in the field to find out what this camera is made of. It was a great learning experience. It never let us down. I was afraid of being let down with exposure, but the footage speaks for itself. It’s basic. The camera is shutter speed, frame rate, aperture, roll, stop. You focus not so much on the techie stuff but on how you’re shooting, lighting, and directing – and knowing that you’re getting 4K, raw, 12-bit frames.
During post we were using CineForm 4K. I’ve been vocal on the Red message boards about a lot of stuff and I said to the Red guys, “You know, we could switch this whole project over right now if you gave us an alpha or a beta plug-in. You’ve seen the footage. You like the way it looks. Let’s get this thing done – and be the first project to finish.” We’re actually doing our color timing in Premiere right now because we don’t have time on our deadline to get outside of Premiere. But the Red workflow in Premiere is 32-bit, so the RGB curves and filters built natively into Premiere that are greater than 8-bit look fantastic – as they should.
You had never seen that kind of quality in Premiere.
Never! We’re just using multiple curves, two or three on top of each other – one curve is controlling overall brightness and contrast, the next curve set will control the colors, and maybe a third one will control the shape of the curve. That’s how we’re filter-stacking it to get what we need, because it is a limited toolset. A lot of the other tools are still 8-bit so they don’t really work, but we’re pretty happy. We’re adding some grain on top of it and a little bit of sharpening, and as we speak there are 2K files rendering out of the machine that look fantastic.
Do you use any plug-ins for specific functions?
Nope. We try to stay away from plug-ins as much as possible. Everything we create is handmade. We would rather take the time and spend a day creating some kind of crazy effect rather than drop in a plug-in. We have some cool color-times for the flashback scenes, but other than that it’s straightforward dramatic lighting and focus on the story.
What’s your relationship with Living Water Films?
That’s the producer of the project. Joseph Simpkins came to us over a year ago and said, “I really like the quality of what you’re doing, and I’d like you to do this short for me.” We were hired on as directors – directing, finishing, cutting. Between my brother and I, we shoot, cut, finish, color, do the audio – we don’t do the score – foley, finish, color-time, edit, do VFX and titles, everything. Just the two of us. He saw what we were doing in the commercial world, and we agreed to come on the project. We had a lot of rewrites and made the story more modern – it was kind of a heavy religious story, but it’s a good-versus-bad story now. I think any audience will definitely enjoy it. We spent a lot of time rewriting it before pre-production started it.
How much of what you’re shooting these days is with the Red?
Pretty much everything unless it’s a low-budget video shoot, when we go out with the HVX. It’s all about the finished product, so if there’s any way at all to go out with the best I’m never going to go out with less. It’s a family business, and my dad is a producer, business affairs and client-hand-holder, and he’s always on my case. “There’s too much crew out here! There’s not enough money in this!” It’s hard to balance sometimes.
On “Fatal Flaw” we still don’t have some great opening credit shots, and I’m determined to get in a helicopter and get the shots we need. It’s a battle because there’s no helicopter available, or the one that is is $600 an hour. But creative vision and follow-through is really important. That’s what stands out when you see top-end work. Compromising is not an option – and I think Jim Jannard is the same type of person. It’s so great to be in company like that.
Was the Adobe workflow straightforward, and did it work as you expected it to?
Well, it’s an alpha build! But yeah. It’s a 700 KB .DRM file. You load it in a folder and, bingo, you can open Red files. It’s miraculous. You can hit a button and it’s SD so your slow machine can edit it. Hit the button again and it’s HD so your quad-core can edit it. It’s amazing. It’s a very intuitive and, I think, breakout new idea in workflow. Being able to have the same online files, no matter what, and globally change the resolution that’s pulled out? It’s brilliant. It’s so simple. Who wants to work on something that’s not your master? It’s a shift in workflow thinking – just having this ability to go online/offline with your same raw master files.
I’m sure they’ll come up with an ingenious way of having your digital intermediate too. That’s a problem right now. We have an importer, great. We can cut. But we need that Red .R3D “export” button. And we need Red .R3D support from every other software vendor. We need Digital Fusion, Speedgrade, After Effects. If it was a supported format like QuickTime, that would be the ultimate. But you still need a digital intermediate codec. I’m using Cineform right now.
There’s an 8-bit limitation to Premiere’s export. That’s not Red’s fault, but it’s definitely an issue. You can open Premiere projects in After Effects, which helps with that, but it’s still a pain in the ass. You should have a 16-bit export out of Premiere. And there are some weird bugs and bizarre interface things that happen when you’re using 2K. But all of that will be ironed out, I’m sure, with the next release. And we’re not using $50,000 software. It’s, what, $1699 for the whole [Adobe CS3 Production Premium] suite? That it even opens is amazing!
What’s your deliverable format for this?
A DCP file. A 2k, 2048×858 8-bit TIFF. It looks good because it’s worked on in 32-bit. It’s totally acceptable even in heavily pushed gradients. Our deadline is September 8 because we’re flying it out to L.A. to show it at Landmark in 2K on a Christie digital projector to try to qualify for a short film Academy Award. Keep your fingers crossed; maybe that will happen. I don’t expect a win, but a nomination would be nice. We’re going to be encoding surround, which we haven’t done before. Our composer, Jason Graves at jasongravesmusic.com, is doing all the compositions. He was down over the weekend, figuring out our vision and creative direction.
The look is really great ‘ it looks like it was aggressively color-corrected.
Well, we’re extremely particular about it. We live and die by RGB curves, unless we’re doing specialized VFX work. On big dramatic shots with a lot of sky, we’re actually going in and keying out the sky, then using the key matte on the same piece of footage. Because there’s so much range on the Red you have to key it out to go work with the upper bits and create this magical looking, deep blue sky that does not exist in the ungraded footage. It’s very new for us, this ability to go up there in the blue bits that look flat and dull and gray and rescue something you can’t see with the eye. It’s blowing our minds.
When you talk about the latitude of the Red camera, what are you comparing it to: HD or 35mm?
HD. I’ve never shot a single frame of 35mm. I’ve grown up in the digital age, from a time when that meant fairly crappy video, but I never shot any film, which is funny. And now I’m shooting footage as cinematic as it comes with the Red camera, but I’ve never touched 35.
The new workflows for Red and the Silicon Imaging cameras come more naturally in some ways to people who come from a video background instead of from a film background.
It’s so liberating. Every time we look at something that we’ve graded, it’s like somebody took a still photograph. We have the creative freedom to do the kind of things we’ve always done to high-res stills, but it’s a motion picture and it’s 4K. It’s unbelievable. We’re so excited. Artists have paintbrushes. They cost $5 and it’s not a big deal. But my brother and I both feel like we’ve been limited in our vision up until getting the Red camera because of the tools – because the people in Japan making decisions about how much edge enhancement, how much latitude to record, where to put compression artifacts down in the dark, where you’re not going to see them until you start compositing.
How long has DV3 Productions been around?
DV3 was founded in 2000 in Wilmington, NC. Amariah was a compositor and animator and I was basically an editor and director. The idea was that, being in Wilmington, it would be easier to get our chops and get paid and move up than it would be in a big competitive market. Our goal has always been to do the kind of work that’s done by people like The Mill in New York for clients like Mercedes Benz. Growing those chops and getting paid at the same time – instead of going to film school – has been a fantastic hands-on experience.
In 2000, we didn’t know anything about compositing, grading, depth of field, directing, editing or finishing. And we have grown the business to national clients. We did an animated commercial for Nickelodeon that aired nationally. We won a Pencil award at The One Show for some really cutting-edge interactive work we did for the agency McKinney and Silver. We were nominated for a Daytime Emmy award for mobijokes.tv, nine short films we did last year for the mobile platform that were distributed by cell carriers in Europe, Canada and the States.
You’re not afraid of new platforms.
Matter of fact, we embrace them ‘ to the point where we’re doing some crazy stuff. Four years ago we brought my sister, Japhia, into the mix and she’s doing interactive Flash development. She’s created a 3D engine, like a game engine, inside Flash. We’re enhancing that and working on functionality to import, within a couple of minutes, three-dimensional objects into Flash and render them out to a Web site. We’re always on the bleeding edge. I built one of the first 35mm [lens] adapters out of duct tape and a couple of pieces of plywood screwed together and put it on a DVX-100 and shot a commercial with it. Sometimes it’s really painful – getting “Fatal Flaw” done in Adobe, on deadline, is not an easy task!
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