Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D may be one of the craziest films you'll ever see. A lot of people describe it as X Games meets Jackass, but instead of just doing silly, stupid stunts, these are athletes. They're as acrobatic as a circus could be. It just happens to be a circus where sometimes things go wrong.
Color Mill, which specializes in color grading, 3D mastering and Digital Cinema Package creation, had already cut its teeth on many feature films as well as commercials, TV series and IMAX projects. One of our more high profile jobs was designing the digital workflow for the film 127 Hours. We also backed up all their data, provided dailies, set up all their editors on Avid Media Composer, made sure all the metadata was handled properly, and interfaced with Technicolor U.K.
Nitro Circus is a series that began airing on MTV in 2009. When its producers, Godfrey Entertainment, decided to make a stereoscopic 3D film, a lot of people in the industry told them that they needed at least $20 million to shoot a 3D feature, and that no one outside Los Angeles could pull off the post. We wanted to prove them wrong.
We had already made a conscious decision to explore 3D, and we're big fans of research and development. We used RED ONEs we owned, got a side-by-side rig, and we quickly learned some of the basic rules in 3D. We also experimented with editing and finishing workflows. Our advance preparation gave us a lot of confidence that when somebody approached us with a 3D job, we'd be ready.
To our credit, we didn't oversell ourselves to Godfrey. We said, "You know, Quantel Pablo's 3D capabilities are awesome. It's designed to do everything very, very quickly. We might not be able to do it as fast, but with The Foundry's NUKE and the Ocula plug-in, along with ASSIMILATE SCRATCH, we feel like we can do the same kinds of things.
They were really intrigued, and after a test shoot, they were completely convinced. We created an 11-minute segment to show to potential distributors, who told us it was the best 3D they'd seen. We knew that we could make the movie happen, even with the $10 million budget they settled on.
A 3D film doesn't have to be 3D from beginning to end. We decided that the interviews and stunt set-ups would work fine in 2D. Having the audience watch them in 2D also let their eyes relax so that, when we got to the stunts in 3D, we could push further than we might have otherwise. The money we saved by shooting part of the film in 2D was also put into making the experience of the 3D stunts even better.
After telling RED about the project, Godfrey Entertainment was able to get six of the first EPIC cameras that weren't going to Peter Jackson and James Cameron. The higher resolution of the EPICs offered us more flexibility to scale and reposition the shots, and their ability to shoot 96 frames per second gave us more control over the timing of the shots, including gorgeous slo-mo. We also needed something that was a lot smaller than the RED ONEs just in order to be manageable in the field.
The higher resolution of the EPICs offered more flexibility to scale and reposition the shots, and their ability to shoot 96 frames per second gave more control over the timing of the shots, including gorgeous slo-mo. Click images for larger views.
There were certainly a lot of technical things to figure out. These were essentially beta rigs when we got them, but looking back, there's not another camera we would have chosen. The majority of the film was shot at 96 frames a second, which gave us a chance to make awesome moments from these stunts last as long as possible, and really let people explore the image -- but here's what it meant in post. With two cameras in a rig, shooting at 96 frames per second, that's eight times the footage created by a single camera shooting 24 fps. So for every minute you roll, you wind up with eight minutes of footage.
On a single day, we generated four and half terabytes of footage. Moving that type of data is very, very difficult, especially when you're talking about a film with a $10 million budget.
Our 3D workflow started with taking the EPIC R3D files through SCRATCH, to double-check sync and adjust basic color parameters. We rendered them out to DPX, and then used NUKE and Ocula for complete alignment between right and left eye, as well as color matching between the eyes. This was on our HP Z800 workstation and two Mac Pros. In the end, we returned to SCRATCH on the HP Z800 for final conform, color grading and 3D adjustments and convergence.
From the beginning, we had been an all-Mac shop, starting with Mac editorial on Final Cut Pro. We've got a lot invested into it, and it has worked really well for us. As we got more and more into color correction, we purchased SCRATCH three years ago. It was then Windows-only, but we went ahead anyway, because there just was not anything anywhere close to comparable power on a Mac. Even when SCRATCH became available on Mac, we didn't see any workflow advantages, and it was simply not as fast or powerful. We ran NUKE on both Windows and Mac for Nitro Circus 3D, but when it came down to the finishing work and taking advantage of the power on the best graphics cards out there, Windows was the right choice for us.
It's made a huge difference for us to have the top-of-the-line NVIDIA Quadro 6000 (which the Mac does not support), especially when grading 4K or 3D material in real-time. We also connected the HP Z800 with a 48 TB Maxx Digital RAID and 48 GB of RAM as well, which is more RAM than the Mac Pro supports. For a project like Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D, this combination has really freed us creatively to try new things.
Maybe the best feature of the Z800 is how HP has taken extreme measures to make it rock-solid stable. The Z800 has been completely reliable for us. HP has really tuned this system to make sure that all the components are optimized to work at peak performance. They even have their own application that monitors program and system efficiency to help us get the most power out of the system. Being stable is something we value tremendously, and HP has provided that for us.
THE CROSS-PLATFORM FUTURE
We believe that cross-platform facilities are the future. We've been a Mac shop for a long time and FCP 7 was a great step. But anyone transitioning from FCP into whatever is next should consider a Windows platform to replace a Mac. A 64-bit Windows 7 along with HP Z800 has been a really great combination for us, much more powerful than what the top-of-the-line Mac can offer us. There's a possibility that in three or four years, we'll be all Windows and, when we expand, we would definitely buy HP workstations again.
Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D was released on August 8, and we couldn't be prouder of our work on it. When Godfrey Entertainment came to us, we felt that we could step up and execute a full 3D workflow, and we did. We proved that a 3D feature doesn't have to cost $20 million, and that there are post houses outside of Los Angeles -- like Color Mill -- that have the knowledge, expertise and tools to finish a 3D feature.
Russell Lasson of Color Mill serves dual roles as colorist and digital cinema mastering specialist, providing his expertise and talent for multiple feature film projects.