Skylab post-house recently developed an innovative new workflow to tightly
integrate creative grading with both editorial and VFX for Neill Blomkamp’s new
movie, Chappie. Working with visual effects studio, Image Engine, the
team created a feature-finishing architecture which took advantage of FilmLight’s
BLG file format, Baselight and Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) technology.
During Skylab’s work with Blomkamp on previous effects-heavy movie
Elysium, the team began discussing ways to innovate even more on
Chappie. They then designed an ACES colour workflow to weave VFX,
dailies, editorial and colour grading together, giving everyone greater creative
control across the production, along with more secure data management.
Chappie is set in the near future where crime is controlled by an
oppressive mechanised police force. The title character – realised entirely in VFX,
based on a motion capture performance by Sharlto Copley – is stolen and loaded
with experimental software which allows it to think and feel for itself. But it’s not
just the central character that relies on VFX: armies of robots, new cityscapes and
some impressive battles also needed to be created in post, so the majority of the
movie is comprised of VFX shots.
Principal photography took place in South Africa, with a Baselight grading system on
set to create proxies for editorial and to prepare the full resolution content for
transport. Skylab, working as a digital version of the traditional lab, managed the
entirety of the media, as well as colour metadata, on behalf of the studio.
Background plates were delivered to Image Engine and other VFX houses as
OpenEXR files, using Aces to ensure consistency between viewing environments and
BLG files to manage technical grade information in a non-destructive way. Skylab
was then able to leverage Image Engine’s own Baselight grading system to
harmonise colour throughout the VFX process. The same result can also be achieved
using any of the BLG-enabled products from FilmLight, including Baselight Editions,
FLIP and Daylight.
Using Baselight’s colour grading and finishing tools, creative director and colourist
Andrea Chlebak developed the look before and during the shoot. “Crafting the final
look from the start of VFX–in a movie where practically every frame has some
effects in it–was really valuable,’ she says. “They were able to preview the full
gamut of a shot on Baselight, and see where we were going to take it in grading on
Skylab’s technical director Chris Davies also developed a range of custom LUTs to
be applied automatically to particular scenes and VFX layers to ensure each element
would work well together in the final grade. “When a project involves as much VFX
as Chappie, it is far better for editorial, effects and grading to take
place in parallel to avoid the pressures that mount up at the end of a typical DI,’
says Davies. Skylab’s Aces workflow blends the portability of BLG metadata files
into their own multiverse conform architecture.
This workflow has profound implications for boosting productivity. “In the past,
visual effects companies and DI laboratories all had their own internal colour
pipelines,’ Davies adds. “Now we are finally at the point where we can link
technologies together and produce an overall workflow that allows everybody to
work with one unified system. FilmLight’s BLG-supported systems, combined with
ACES, are invaluable in helping us achieve that.’