For Chen Kaige’s ‘Sacrifice’, Quality Can’t Be Sacrificed
‘Sacrifice’, well-known Chinese director Chen Kaige’s blockbuster movie, was one of the most successful movies of the New Year in China. One of the most surprising aspects of ‘Sacrifice’s’ success was that unlike most major feature films that struggle to finish by dates that are set months earlier, ‘Sacrifice’ actually premiered two weeks ahead of its announced premiere.
Chen Kaige’s decision to move the premiere 14 days ahead of schedule put great pressure on postproduction. Even now, the post crew from Hainan International, which contracted for color grading for this film, still remember the state of shock when they were informed of this change. The original schedule was tight enough and after the change, they were left with less than 2 months to grade the feature. And while part of the time to complete postproduction was sacrificed, director Chen Kaige did not want the artistic quality of his blockbuster sacrificed.
To maximize the efficiency and quality of the color correction process, Hainan turned to Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve and the DaVinci Resolve for Linux License.
Hainan installed a 16-GPU DaVinci Resolve system capable of grading native 4K and even higher resolution in real time, though the footage initially needed to handle for ‘Sacrifice’ was 2K DPX files, which were shot with ARRI CAM and ARRI R435 camera.
When importing clips into Resolve, Hainan’s colorists found that the original footage looked gray and low-contrast and required a large amount of color enhancement work. The footage provided required a great deal of initial color enhancement, and this required a complete timeline to be used by the colorists. In the past, building a master timeline was a long and difficult process, which would take up valuable time that Hainan did not have with the new deadline.
Hainan was able to use DaVinci Resolve to easily build the master timeline or session with high accuracy according to the EDL provided by the film’s Final Cut Pro editor, taking much less time than other conforming tools.
Following preliminary conforming, Hainan then ran into conflicts between some source clips, a problem that sometimes occurs in projects with too many clips. Using DaVinci Resolve’s conflict resolution feature, which indicates where the conflicts lie and shows the clips with the same timecode, Hainan’s colorists were able to easily fix the problems. After conforming, the colorist loaded the offline clip edited based on director Chen Kaige and cinematographer Yang Shu’s directives for comparison between the conformed timeline and the version approved by the director in a side-by-side mode. Once an error was found, a fix was as easy as simply dragging the clip.
When the conforming had been confirmed errorless, Hainan colorists moved to their primary task of color grading the film. Though it was the first time that Hainan had used DaVinci Resolve, it didn’t take much time to get used to Resolve’s powerful features, such as the node-based grading, which was intuitive and allowed him to take advantage of serial and parallel nodes flexibly to present the image look that director asked for.
Other Resolve features that were instrumental in meeting the new deadline included the DaVinci Resolve’s version feature and the Resolve’s real-time 3D object tracking capabilities. Through the version feature, Hainan was able to make numerous versions of specific shots in one project for director Chen Kaige to choose from, so no time was wasted on revisions because the director could always find a style he preferred. Plus, some of the versions even inspired the director to come up with more exciting ideas.
The DaVinci Resolve control surface also improved productivity and accuracy. When grading a shot, the colorists did not have to spend time going through menus to find specific functionalities. Instead, he was able to perform any operation by directly hitting a button on the control surface, without even the need to look down. The ability to simultaneously adjust blacks, midtones and highlights or color phases also prevented time being wasted on back and forth adjustments.
Finally, with the help of DaVinci Resolve, Hainan delivered the finished DPX files for printing copies of Sacrifice on time and to one of the most successful box office takes ever, exceeding RMB 51 million after only two days.