Laugh At My Pain

Neil Smith
Managing Director,

Painless Post Production at Hollywood-DI

From Post Magazine

Sense of humor can be subjective, but “Laugh At My Pain” certainly doesn’t sound like a joke. At least not to those who are unfamiliar with the wickedly funny Kevin Hart.

The well known comedian stars in this feature film, which is a mixture of fact and fiction, combining his current work with biographical elements, plus a 15 minute spoof added just for fun. “Laugh At My Pain” packs the funny man’s hour long stand up routine filmed at the Staples Center in LA, a documentary on the earlier years of his life in Philadelphia, an interview with Larry King and a  “Reservoir Dogs” bank heist spoof, written and directed by Tim Story, into a 90 minute feature that will be released into theaters in the fall of 2011.

Think that sounds like an awful lot of content to digest in an hour and a half? How about color grading and finishing the final cut? The job was completed by Hollywood-DI on Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve. The real kicker was that, having just upgraded to the beta version of Resolve 8, “Laugh At My Pain” offered Hollywood-DI the perfect opportunity to put version 8 through its paces.

Hollywood-DI, a leading digital post house based in West Hollywood, California, has long been a Blackmagic Design based post facility. With numerous Apple Mac Pro based editing and coloring systems using DeckLink capture and playback cards and HDLink monitoring solutions, plus a Studio Videohub at the core of their HD SDI infrastructure, they are no stranger to Blackmagic Design’s quality hardware.  A year ago, Hollywood-DI’s managing director, Neil Smith, decided to make a strategic decision to move some of his coloring systems over to the then recently released version 7 of DaVinci Resolve Software.

Hollywood-DI runs DaVinci Resolve on a Mac Pro connected to a PCIe expansion outfitted with three NVIDIA GTX285 graphic cards and a RED Rocket card. According to Neil, this set up “works like a dream, even with many color nodes in use.” It also provides a very cost effective and powerful set of color correction tools for 2D features, and even allows Hollywood-DI to do stereo 3D work.

Neil explained, “We go out dual stream HD SDI from our Mac Pro through the DeckLink HD Extreme 3D card into a dual link HD SDI Panasonic plasma for calibrated color grading of side by side images. From there, the HD SDI signal is sent to a HDLink Pro 3D DisplayPort box and out through HDMI into a LG 3D TV for stereo muxing.”

After experiencing the functionality of Resolve 7 and hearing Blackmagic’s announcements at NAB 2011, Hollywood-DI signed on as one of the beta testers for DaVinci Resolve 8. “Normally, I would not allow beta version software to be used in a production system, but after much testing and reassurance from our DaVinci colorist, I decided that the version 8 beta software was stable enough to grade a feature film,” said Neil.

Hollywood-DI’s talented DaVinci colorist, Bjorn Myrholt, started his career as a colorist back in 1998, grading television shows on a DaVinci system for the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation. Though he has watched the previous hardware based versions of DaVinci evolve over time, he never imagined he’d be grading on a Mac with Resolve. However, once Hollywood-DI installed DaVinci Resolve 7 on his Mac Pro, he took to it with enthusiasm.

“I never once doubted the functionality of the Resolve system, but working on the Kevin Hart feature posed quite a few challenges,” said Bjorn. The first of these challenges was conforming footage shot by various operators on a number of different cameras into a coherent timeline before color correction could begin. Bjorn explained, “’Laugh At My Pain’ consisted of several separate segments shot on a variety of RED, Sony EX3 and Canon 7D cameras. Conforming projects shot on multiple cameras is normally a painstaking challenge, but with Resolve's ability to change how footage is brought in according to the camera used, it made the process a lot easier. And when all else fails, features like creating a TC offset to the clips when bringing them in and force conform individual clips are extremely helpful.”

The footage for the “Reservoir Dogs” bank heist sketch was shot on the RED One camera and a Canon 7D HDSLR.  Director, Tim Story, who also directed “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” and “Barbershop”, wanted to ensure that the segment had a film feel to it and could stand on its own as a self contained 15 minute short.

Ritchie G. Piert Sr., producer and unit production manager on the bank heist segment, needed a post house that could handle RED and Canon HDSLR footage, and would get their project conformed, color corrected and out of the door as quickly and cost effectively as possible. Ritchie explained why Hollywood-DI had what he was looking for: "I really liked their DaVinci color grading suite and the workflow Hollywood-DI was using.  We cut the segment on Final Cut Pro and knew we would have to make editorial changes once the star of the feature, Kevin Hart, had a chance to see the color corrected version. Hollywood-DI was able to take the FCP project files and quickly conform the RED and Canon footage in their DaVinci system. And even with all the changes we threw at them, Hollywood-DI never skipped a beat. The quality of the coloring work was outstanding and the ability of the DaVinci system to match the RED and Canon shots was truly amazing."

Director of photography Ken Glassing was brought into the project because of his extensive experience with shooting digital cinema cameras for episodic TV, including “CSI: Miami”, as well as 90 minute features. Ken worked closely with director Tim Story to capture the crazy humor in Kevin Hart's bank heist skit. "Kevin does a lot of improvised acting with his fellow comedians, so I wanted to film with minimum interruptions and also give Tim the cinematic look we were both looking for,” said Ken.

He continued, “This was not the first time I had worked with Hollywood-DI on a feature film, yet I still find myself impressed with how skilled they were in bringing out the best in my footage. Balancing and blending RED .r3d files with Canon H.264 footage is always tricky, but I wanted to be able to shoot both cameras in different set ups to keep the action flowing. Working with Bjorn on his DaVinci Resolve system was a creative pleasure. It was fast and responsive and did everything I'd expect from a professional color correction system. Both Tim and I were very satisfied with the final look of the segment."

It wasn’t as easy as Bjorn made it look. While the DP, Ken, did an excellent job in getting the most out of both cameras, there were still some issues making sure the footage would match seamlessly in the edit. But Resolve's powerful grading tools made it possible to match the footage and make the difference between the 2K RED footage and the compressed H.264 from the Canon 7D virtually undetectable.

Bjorn explained, “I could lift the gamma on the Canon footage without adding too much noise, and thus created a surprisingly clean grade. The HLS tool was also extremely helpful in allowing me to remove color artifacts that the Canon cameras picked up. This feature has become one of my favorite tools when working on specific details in the footage that cannot be addressed with primary grading or power windows.”

Throughout the course of the entire color correction process, Bjorn never ran into a single major problem with the Resolve 8 beta software. It performed so well, in fact, that neither Ritchie nor Ken had any idea that their movie was being graded on beta software.

“Blackmagic Design has always engineered and produced solid hardware at a great price,” says Neil. “Having graded several features on Resolve 7 and now one on Resolve 8, I can genuinely say that their Mac based color correction software is feature rich and ready for any professional project.”