On-Set Lab The latest fad with Indian filmmaking

On-Set Lab The latest fad with Indian filmmaking

Despite being advantageous in this new age of filmmaking, cinematographers are anguished over the dying art of making films on celluloid. The advent of digital filmmaking has taken Bollywood by storm, with over 99% of films being shot in digital formats. So it's obvious that a systematical way of managing data is extremely imperative for a film's production. While shooting with 35mm film cameras, film stock was usually handled by camera assistants, but a digital production pipeline calls for a different set of technicians. A bunch of techies who are wedged in the midst of being part of the core production team and the post-production team simultaneously, these specialists are a part of the recently included 'On-Set Lab' team. Siddharth Meer from The Bridge, a company that handles the On-Set lab processes, is one such techie specimen who was called in to take over the On-Set lab processes for films like Lunchbox, Star (Dibakar Banerjee's segment of Bombay Talkies), White Lies, Hasi Toh Phasi and an independent film called Bastard Child. Talking about the advantages of On-Set lab, he says, "Earlier when movies were shot on film, exposed footage cans would be sent across to processing and telecine labs. As of now with all these digital productions, that entire process happens on location itself. Backing up, archiving and setting the look happens on the spot the moment the memory cards are extracted off the camera. With this, the director of photography (DOP) can actually look at the calibration monitor and set the desired look for the film as well." Bollywood Hungama's Philip Bode gets Siddharth to talk about a need for a proper storage solution, the RAID 5 issue, designing workflows and why a vanity van is crucial for an On-Set Lab.

"If one were to shoot about 50-60 minutes of data using the Sony f65's RAW format, it would take about 1 TB of space"
Initially, producers had the misguided notion that buying into a digital pipeline would be cost-effective rather than shooting on celluloid. Although the reality of the situation is that shooting in digital is not really cheap, because the storage of the data and its management were unaccounted for, but is now being considered since filmmakers are shooting in 4K resolution and also digital RAW formats. The storage rates are much higher than shooting on ProRes format on ARRI Alexa camera. If one were to shoot about 50-60 minutes of data using the Sony f65's RAW format, it would take about 1 terabyte (TB) of space to store the footage data.

"With everything going digital, I realized that there is a need of a proper solution"
The functionalities of an onset lab include storing a large amount of data from the solid state drive (SSD) cards in the camera, ensuring there are no losses or a drop with the print, conducting a print check to ensure everything is copied. In addition, along with the DOP, colour corrected offlines are also made as per his decision, archiving the data onto a linear tape open (LTO) drive, which is basically a long term magnetic storage device that stores everything as data and not video rapidly. With everything going digital, I realized that there is a need of a proper solution to manage all the massive data when I worked on Dibakar Banerjee's Shanghai. While this process of systematically storing data exists in Hollywood, it was not present in the Indian film industry. The data management was basically managed by a camera attendant who dumped everything onto a hard drive and hand it over to a producer. The producer would end up providing the data to an editor, who wouldn't know how to edit the RAW format footage since it's too heavy to edit with. The raw formats need to be converted to a proxy format for editing, which needs to be stored onto an LTO tape as hard drive failure rate kept on increasing due to its massive file size.

"Only the files that are used in the final edit go onto the VFX or DI phase"
With international productions, a digital imaging technician (DIT) is usually hired to ensure the overall systematic solutions of an onset lab are accomplished. Although, the cost of equipment and the onset lab process would make producers shell out anywhere between $1000 – 2000 a day. With the sky-rocketed camera rental rates present in the country, there would be no way producers could afford to shell $1000 – 2000 a day. With the notion of making it cost effective, I looked for an answer and found a company based in Los Angeles called Storage DNA. They made a solution called DNA evolution, which allows one to archive all the footage onto an LTO tape – it then lets you conform from it once the edit is locked. So only the files that are used in the final edit go onto the visual effects (VFX) or digital intermediate (DI) phase. Ironically the costs of hard drives are decreasing and the storage rates are increasing, so the costs of storage on hard drives increase as well.

"The storage becomes 1/10th as compared to using RAID technology"
The last project that we pitched for, the storage costs were around Rs. 20 Lakh on a 'RAID 5' hard drive. The RAID 5 storage technology is an array of multiple hard drives in an enclosure, which is usually used incase a drive fails. If a drive fails, it can rebuild it since it has parity information of the other drives. All the Raw format data that either comes from any of the Sony F65, Red Epic and ARRI Alexa digital goes on to a RAID drive. The RAID systems are much faster to read and write, and is well protected although, it is an expensive option. We have figured out a solution that directly overcomes the RAID 5 issue, we basically take the data produced from the onset lab onto an SSD drive and transfer it to an LTO tape so we do dual LTO backups. With this, the storage becomes 1/10th as compared to using RAID technology. This becomes much easier for the production team to manage the data and carry it on to the post-production phase. So instead of providing the post-production team with a 100 drives, they would only need 1 which has all of the consolidated media which comes from out lab.

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"We design a workflow according to the requirements of a project"
We come in during the camera tests segment in the pre-production phase, along with the director of photography and production to decide on the camera and the format that works best. We design a workflow according to the requirements of a project. There are projects that we were involved with in the past where, the post-production was outsourced to another country. In this, a unique workflow would be designed ensuring that all data in India is secured to transfer it to international studios. Only the data that needs to go across would be transferred which would entail keeping production safe from added expenditure.

"I'm certain that there is no way around managing such data"
The irony of the challenge with this is, producers don't understand the importance of securing the raw data material. A proper place needs to be provided such as a vanity van, but in some cases where it is not possible to procure a vanity van, a secure location needs to be dedicated for it onset. With a massive horde of digital productions underway, I'm certain that there is no way around managing such data, for LTO archiving is something that filmmakers and producers need to consider, since it is faster and easy for the entire production of the film.

Article written by staff at Bollywood Hungama. Read more

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