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Heroes of RAW Workflow

CreativeCOW presents Heroes of RAW Workflow -- Assimilate Scratch Feature

Santa Monica California USA All rights reserved.

The first time I saw the 4K, 16-bit TIFFs coming out of a Dalsa Origin camera back in 2003, I thought, "This is where filmmaking is headed. It's going to be high res, it's going to be file based, and it's going to be RAW."

We founded Local Hero six years ago to deal with the RAW files coming out of the Dalsa, but desktop systems were just too slow to work with files that size. We had started working on our own proprietary system when we discovered ASSIMILATE SCRATCH. It was everything we were trying to build: a GPU-accelerated desktop system that could work with high dynamic range (HDR) RAW files in real time.

This is a big part of why we committed to SCRATCH so early in its development: it's by far the most flexible tool for file-based DI for digital cinema, whether from the ARRI Alexa, RED MX, or the new RED EPIC, where SCRATCH is the first system to support its files natively.

ASSIMILATE SCRATCH Dailies. Versioning. Conform. Finish. Same power and price for Mac and Windows: $17,995

SCRATCH isn't the cheapest tool on the market, but it's certainly cost effective enough that, even as a boutique, we can afford to have more than one. We have seven SCRATCH systems, probably for the price of one Pablo or one Baselight 8, yet with features comparable to them, and in some areas even better.

It's not that we do four times the work. It's that we can juggle changes in the workflow faster without sacrificing quality.

For example, we just completed work on a feature called ATM, directed by David Brooks, with Bengt Jonsson as the DP. It was shot using the RED with the MX sensor, and I think that the end result is one of the bestlooking RED features out there, on par with anything else that audiences have seen so far this year.

But here's where the workflow challenge kicked in: ATM started out with very few VFX, and then partly into editorial, the director said, "You know what, this entire reel takes place outside. We need to see their breath." So we actually composited 300 digital breath shots as part of the color correct.

We duplicated the original SCRATCH project, so while we were color correcting in one bay, we were using the second bay to drop in and composite the breath shots.

Over the course of one night, we used SCRATCH to consolidate the two projects into our DI theater. The colorist then added a "breath" layer on top of all of the shots. In a final pass, we used SCRATCH to correct the color, adjust opacity and position, or delete the breath shots altogether as needed -- compositing and color correcting in one session.

Without multiple identical SCRATCH bays, we wouldn't have been able to do that as quickly as we did. The fact that we could afford many of them for the price of one comparable heavy iron system just makes us a lot more flexible.

Don't get me wrong. SCRATCH is a very powerful color corrector. We've used SCRATCH to color correct over 50 features of all sizes, and all of our clients are very happy, but SCRATCH thinks more like a Smoke or Flame than like just a color corrector.

The fact is that modern color correction, especially for features, is actually more like compositing. Clients don't know what to ask for anymore. They just ask for everything. They'll be in the DI suite and say, "Hey, can we replace that sky?" In a traditional color correction session you would say, "No." With SCRATCH, we don't hesitate. We just do it.

That's what I mean when I say that the nature of modern DI color correction is moving toward compositing. And because SCRATCH is more of a compositor, it feels more future-proof to us.

Working with RED RAW files is one of the places where we take advantage of SCRATCH's hybrid nature.

We'll be grading and the client will say, "Oh man, I wish there was more detail in that sky," or "I wish there was more detail out of that blown-out window." Because we're working with native RAW instead of transcoded DPX or TIFF files, we can go into the DeBayer settings, roll the ISO down and say, "Look, there's plenty of detail!"

But now that we've rolled down the ISO to compensate for the blown-out areas, everything else is too dark. We could start with a curve to compensate, but SCRATCH has a unique workflow that works much better. We can roll down the ISO to pull out detail, then save that as a version.

Then we'll key the highlights from the same RED file, and we'll pull in the lower-ISO highlights to the higher- ISO midtones, like a pseudo tone map. All of these operations are a simple process using SCRATCH.

Digital cameras keep getting better, and they're moving further into high dynamic range imaging. What you're doing at that point is more like data collection than shooting pictures.

You see that with RED EPIC already. You're shooting with so much latitude that the idea of "film stock" is gone. It's more like a "film scanner," and somebody else is going to decide how it looks.

When you think about the implications of a range of 18 stops, your imagination takes over, and it's hard to see a scenario that the EPIC can't handle. It means a lot to us that SCRATCH was the first to support EPIC files natively, which has consistently been the case as each new camera format rolls out.

The end result of EPIC, Alexa and other RAW cameras is that I see creative shifting so far into what we used to think of as post, that we need to come up with a better name than "post production."

Whatever we call it, SCRATCH is going to be in the middle of it at Local Hero.



Re: Heroes of RAW Workflow
by Rafael Amador
Great article for an incredible achievement.
My market is very far from needing an "Scratch" today, but who knows.
You are the guys who make things possible.
Congratulations and keep working that way.

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