More than Just Blue
Creative COW: How did you come to work on "Avatar"?
Mark Smirnoff: There was some sales effort, but also we had a long relationship with Lightstorm and James Cameron's group for quite some time, going all the way back to "Ghost of the Abyss" -- we did the 3D work and the post on that. It was exciting to hear about Avatar over the years, and we knew that it was something we wanted to be part of.
We've always been kind of cutting edge, and helping develop for the post end of 3D. Jim has been working hot and heavy on the production side of 3D. So, it was a good marriage that brought us together.
COW: Thinking about it first is an infrastructure question rather than a workflow question: how did you start to put together the network?
Mark says: First off, we had to determine that the line structure was there, between the Fox lot and our facilities, so that we could make the distance with the bandwidth that we needed. Once that was all worked out, and all the points in the route to our remote locations were set up, we started building a mirrored database system. Basically, we could be in any location, working with real-time files that are stored on the SAN here in our Glendale facility. All of those pieces and parts and proprietary mirroring data movement software had to be written, between the devices and the SAN we were working with. It took a little while, and took a lot of planning, but it all came together.
COW: What can you tell us about the pipe?
Mark replies: We used a dedicated dark fibre, secure line, that shot files to one of our facilities down by LAX, and from LAX onto the Fox lot.
The files were mostly HD, 1920x1080 DPX -- 1920x1080 was the native format from the camera, basically 1:78 HD. There were also high res files: 2K, a quasi-3K file, and 4K files, all in DPX format. The high-res files were coming mostly out of WETA [in New Zealand], piped over to us for DI.
We started early on to develop these processes, about 10 months ago, while we were working on road shows for Avatar Day, Comic-Con -- all those things. We did assembles of the early shots, early temp shots, and started our base grade and fed that to the studio for their approval.
Once it came down to crunch time in the last few months, we set up on the Fox lot. We set up a system for Jim to make 3D visual effects approvals, to determine whether the shots needed to go back and get updates, and also whether they worked in stereo. We would conform and put the final shots into the final timelines, then go through another pass with color with Jim, and then stereo optimization with him, and then he would make his final decisions at that point.
Director James Cameron on the Set of Avatar. Photo Credit: Mark Fellman. ™ and ©2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights Reserved.
COW: When you say crunch time, what's the time frame? We know he likes to work close to the end.
Mark: Yeah, it was getting late. The whole thing stemmed from the fact that Jim had so much to do, with very little time -- meaning leading up to the last two to three months. You know, he had to be in many places at once because he is very hands-on in all areas; editorial, color, audio, whatever it is.
So the environment had to be set up where he could do almost everything in one place, without having to travel 45 minutes across the town. He didn't have the luxury of that time. The Fox location was designed so that he could jump from room to room down on the lot, get things done, and then hop back in other rooms and so forth.