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Copper Post

Niki Petta
Colorist/Motion Graphics Artist

Phoenix's Copper Post in Control

From Creative COW Magazine

For the better part of four years, I've been working as a Colorist/Motion Graphics Artist with Copper Post, a full service post facility headquartered in Phoenix that opened in 2002. As the company has grown, we have required bigger and better tools to get the job done, improve workflow and increase efficiency.

Copper Post recently added DaVinci Resolve for Mac by Blackmagic Design, including the nice, hefty control panel -- finally some tangibility! Since I'm a musician, you can imagine my excitement at being able to do my job much more intuitively than squinting at a monitor and trying to fine-tune with a pen.

It's almost like being in a spotlight with all the monitors around me, and the control panel softly lit up. With clients behind me, I can almost hear the cheering. I can't help but feel like I'm back up on stage playing music again.

My enthusiastic experience working with Resolve seems to connect the concept of spinning records with two things: 1) The speed and intuitive nature of the software/hardware and 2) the intuitiveness I'm able to translate from my hands to the screen. I can just feel where the color needs to go.

This is how I felt color grading "Queens of Country," the first independent feature film colored using Resolve for Mac. The film tells the story of Jolene, the prettiest girl in a small Arizona town, who is living in a fantasy era long gone. After an evening of country line dancing, she finds a lost iPod filled with songs that speak to her sensitive heart, convincing her that the owner must be her soul mate, and thrusting her into a heartwarming and hilarious adventure.

The film was shot using 2 RED MX cameras and a combination of RED Primes and some long Nikon lenses. Principal photography took place in May/June, 2010; offline editing was completed that December; and the film is scheduled to be complete by Summer, 2011. In addition to color grading, Copper Post was responsible for the film's post-production, including dailies through visual effects. Rob Beadle, owner and senior editor of Copper Post, served as post production supervisor and offline editor of the project.

Directors Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke, the Arizona-based filmmakers behind the hit documentary, "Blood into Wine," worked with Director of Photography Dan Stoloff to establish a timeless and classic "look" for the film that was created through a blend of wardrobe, set design and color optimization.

Using the RED camera, Dan was able to dial in the look they were hoping to achieve during principal photography. Our main goal with color grading was to optimize the look established for the film. We pushed colors to increase their richness, and looked for ways to create a "hyper-real" reality to visually express main character Jolene's view of the world.

Software Performance

Compared to previous software solutions we had used, the increased speed and shorter render times in Resolve translate into a more client-friendly experience. It's been pretty incredible seeing how our clients interact with the system, knowing that they will be able to try multiple things to establish a particular look or color effect without falling behind in the timeline. It certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience, and allows me to provide better service.

Several scenes with lots of energy took place in a country bar, and they all had wide variations in color and lighting. The Resolve's tracking capabilities, combined with Power Windows, was really impressive, especially when working to bring up detail and highlights in faces. I was able to isolate difficult areas, such as dark-set eyes, bringing up the brightness with a track that was flawless. (The VFX guys were actually jealous!)

Jolene wore western-themed dance costumes, that were embellished with fringe, sequins, beading and rhinestones, reminiscent of the glamorous country stars of the 1960s. We used the shape recognition tool to call out these special features in several of the scenes. As an example, the precision and accuracy of the tool enabled us to bring out the details in intricately detailed fringe on her blue vest by opening up the mid-range hues, directing the audience's eye, capturing the movement of the fringe as she moved through the bar.

Hardware Interface

Working with a mouse and/or pen and tablet to color grade hasn't always been ideal, especially since I'm left-handed. Selecting curves and trying to work specifics with a pen and tablet seemed to limit my ability to control and fine-tune the software, especially in a high-pressure, quick deadline setting. I can honestly say that my efficiency has grown since transitioning to the control panel. Now, I'm able to use both hands to control the grading process, making fine tuning and navigation incredibly fluid.

Our DaVinci Resolve is based on a 12-core Mac Pro with 48 GB of RAM, and connected to our 24 TB XSAN. Internally it hosts an ATI Radeon HD 5770 to run the GUI, a Blackmagic Design Decklink Extreme to output to both our 42" Cine-tal Cinemage and a 50" Panasonic VT20 for clients.

We are able to add extra PCIe slots to our computer thanks to the Cubix GPU-Xpander, which holds a RED Rocket card and 3 NVIDIA Quadro 4000 cards. With this amount of horsepower in one computer, we are able to color correct raw .r3d RED footage with several Power Windows in realtime at 2K.

Output to Film

When it came time to prepare digital files for output to film, we partnered with FotoKem's Los Angeles facility. Given the number of night/bar scenes, we selected Kodak stock to provide a more dramatic feel. We used FotoKem's in-house LUTs to convert the digital footage, allowing our graphics and color team to work with linear files simultaneously. This streamlined our internal process and eliminated the need for us to work with a conversion algorithm.

With coloring for "Queens of Country" now complete, and a satisfying flow of commercial and corporate projects underway at Copper, it's exciting to think what I'll be working on next. It's a great time to be in post! I'm looking forward to what's next and, until then, I'll have my hands full delivering the projects that are my next big "performance."