DaVinci Resolve Connects Across Oceans to Bring Out the Hero Within Us All
“The tsunami left nothing of his village. No family, no friends, no house. Like it was all just a dream. Like a morning fog.”
When the earthquake and tsunami struck Fukushima, Japan, on March 11, 2011, many watched helplessly as thousands of Japanese struggled to find safety, shelter, and, most importantly, loved ones. In times of such peril, it is human nature to want to stop life in its tracks and make things right again. We want to unleash our inner hero and come to the rescue.
This was especially true for famed Russian director Aleksei German Jr., who was so moved by the catastrophe that he wrote the short film 'From Tokyo', which portrays the event from the perspective of a foreigner. Backed by the Pernod Ricard Chivas Regal brand, the film brilliantly conveys just how deep the human connection runs, and the lengths ordinary people will go to help a stranger in times of need.
Shot on two ARRI Alexa cameras, the majority of the film takes place on an airplane returning to Russia from Tokyo. The plane holds our heroes, a group of Russian entrepreneurs turned rescue workers, who have brought back one of seven strangers saved in the disaster. The film focuses on the survivor’s journey through loss and despair.
To capture the deep and often dark emotions of the events, German Jr. turned to Russia based production house Metrafilms to create a surreal, dreamlike state that would bring the audience into the moment. To achieve a visual quality that could match the emotions of the film and evoke the same feelings in viewers, the post team employed Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve color grading system.
Metrafilms Resolves Color Fidelity From 5,000 Miles Away
Founded in 1993, the independent and highly successful Metrafilms follows the principles of “handmade production,” investing in talent rather than expensive hardware for their productions. With an impressive client list that includes Samsung, Wimm-Bill-Dann, one of Europe’s biggest dairy products companies, and MegaFon, Russia’s second largest mobile phone operator, Metrafilms is known for its creativity and ability to hire only the best. The company’s vast connections eventually teamed the production house up with Jake Blackstone, an LA based colorist and the founder of MOD Color. More than a talent, Blackstone is a technologist. Together, they would carve a new path for post and color grading, changing the way editors can connect and collaborate to bring a film to life.
Artem Vasiliev, general producer of Metrafilms, and his team had worked with Blackstone in the past, but living on two continents made working together difficult. Color grading is a visual process that typically requires creative and client review sessions to be done in the same location. “I have worked with Jake on several projects, and his color grading skills are exceptional. He is exactly the type of talent we want to use on our projects. However, we have the challenge of distance that impacts the bottom line cost,” said Vladimir Krug, edit director of Metrapost, a subdivision of Metrafilms.
In demand, Metrafilms was seeing a significant increase in projects requiring extensive professional color correction and began investigating ways to make those opportunities possible without breaking the bank. During a conversation, Blackstone mentioned DaVinci Resolve’s remote color grading capabilities. Although he had not done remote color grading with the Resolve product before, it seemed promising, and Metrafilms took a leap of faith. Capitalizing on the advanced support for remote color grading offered in Resolve, Metrafilms spawned a new creative division within the organization called Metrapost. “With support for remote color grading, the new Metrapost studio infrastructure would allow us to follow the company’s philosophy and hire the best talent for each project regardless of their location and keep within our budget. Our first project was the very successful 'From Tokyo',” says Vasiliev.
Blackstone flew to Moscow and installed Resolve at the new Metrapost studio to ensure the system was set up and functioning properly and to train the team on how to use it. Most importantly, he needed to calibrate the Metrapost crew’s monitor to be identical to his, so they would see his color graded material correctly. “Metrapost is a virtual post production house. We have a so called central technical terminal, where we edit and color correct. Equipped with microphones, control panels, and powerful monitors, it’s where the magic of remote color grading occurs,” says Krug.
While building the infrastructure took some effort, the cross continent collaboration is simple. When Blackstone color grades on Resolve in Los Angeles, Krug’s system in Moscow receives the updates in real time. Krug opens the project with every detail mapping exactly back to the Resolve system in Los Angeles.
“When working remotely, the biggest problem with grading is color fidelity. When you look at the monitor, you need to be sure that what you’re looking at is exactly what the finished product will look like,” comments Blackstone. “With mirrored systems and a solid remote support option from Resolve, it’s not an issue; I’m confident that the creative team in Moscow is looking at the exact same media I am in Los Angeles.”
“As the edit director, one of my responsibilities is to relink footage. My first step is to assemble everything correctly in Resolve, and then consolidate the material, leaving only what’s necessary for color grading. This particular file is what Jake is working with,” says Krug.
With this setup, Krug prepares footage in Moscow and sends media to Blackstone, which then color grades the edited piece. For Blackstone, there is no need to send files at all or even maintain proper data paths; it all happens in Resolve in real time. When Krug’s done color grading, he easily accesses the media through Resolve and converts it to the appropriate format. The pair communicates via Skype and is careful to stay in constant contact, recognizing that the little details can be easily lost when working remotely.
Part of Krug’s job is to monitor the proper functionality of Resolve and ensure his system duplicates Blackstone’s commands. During the sessions, Blackstone says each operation he runs in Resolve out loud, and Krug makes sure his system repeats every single move. If Blackstone says an operation aloud and Krug doesn’t see it instantly, it’s his job to quickly fix it.
“There were moments we would actually forget we weren’t in the same room,” Blackstone adds. “I work with the master system, so Vladimir’s system sees every move I make in the project file and exactly how I made it. It’s extremely simple and makes everything simple to do. When I push a button, their system receives that command, instantly.”
“DaVinci Resolve’s remote color grading option has opened up endless business opportunities for Metrafilms and, specifically, has made the subdivision Metrapost a viable business,” comments Vasiliev. “We now have access to talent, like Jake, without the borders and high costs. Having this setup is equivalent to Jake’s presence in the Moscow office, and we’re already expanding because of it.”
New Trends Set the Stage for Russian Films
With the convergence of big business and cinema currently trending in Russia, big brands are switching from quick product advertising to more elaborate campaigns and short films to build their brand without direct product placement. One brand that jumped on the bandwagon was Wrigley, which had recruited Metrafilms before its work on From Tokyo to produce Experiment Five, a series of five minute mysteries, all with similar plots, for the company’s new chewing gum brand FIVE.
When German Jr. met with Chivas by chance, they discovered their mutual desire to create something that would speak to the importance of art. Just as the characters in the film reactively chose what is right over what is profitable, Chivas and German Jr. joined forces to address the need to provide an honest look at important topics, and how this need outweighs the value of product placement.
“It was important for us to tell a compelling story about the people, who are able to commit deeds that our parents would call honorable,” German Jr. said in an interview with Film.ru. “This movie is about those who didn’t switch the channel when the news about the catastrophe had broken out, but instead bought a ticket to Japan. This movie proves that compassion is not just an empty phrase, and a good deed is always a good deed.”
The move into the new genre of film concepts earned German Jr. an entry into the prestigious Venice International Film Festival, founded in 1932. From Tokyo was recognized in the influential Horizons category, a special section of the festival that highlights new and innovative trends in cinema.
Translating an Emotion, Transcontinentally
“We all carry our past inside ourselves. Sometimes it is much more important than the present,” German Jr. said in an interview with the East European Film Bulletin. “It is quite difficult to describe. It was important for me [to] transmit a certain feeling, also in regards to my own person and what happened to me a long time ago.”
With a very specific and formidable task at hand, German Jr. also had a very specific way of accomplishing it through intricate lighting and a complicated color grading process. The particular lighting used in the plane scene and color grading solutions reflects the movie’s message as well as provide a multisensory depiction of the director’s concept. Metrafilms was responsible for making German Jr.’s vision a reality in postproduction.
“The difficulty was that the main character was always lit in different lighting,” said Vasiliev. “But we found the solution with the help of Resolve, the only system that provided the solution to the complicated color request.”
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the postproduction team: “The movie was shot with two Alexa cameras, one with the film matrix setting on and one with it off, so the footage didn’t match at all. It was difficult, but luckily Resolve allowed us to make the fixes with its wonderful Look Up Table (LUT) support. It’s basically a translation table, so I applied the reverse matrix and was able to fix the issue,” says Blackstone.
Blackstone and Krug agree Resolve’s tracker is one of the most popular of the software features. Says Blackstone, “The favorite tool of anyone who uses Resolve is the tracker; it’s the best of any system. You can track everything so easily, it almost requires no human interaction; simply push ‘track’ and you’re done. Blackmagic’s Resolve has all the wonderful features a million dollar system has, but those companies do away with the great features to make their systems more affordable. Blackmagic doesn’t do that.”
“Frankly, there’s no other system that can do what Resolve does, without costs to the tune of $200,000 on both ends. It opens avenues that have been nearly impossible until now,” Blackstone says. “And you forget all of the costs that go into getting foreign talent to a specific location, let alone paying them for their services. Now I’m reaching over 5,000 miles and operating the system virtually. Resolve is changing the whole business of international color grading. That’s what makes it so special. That’s why I’m using the software.”
What resulted from sessions of cross continental collaboration among Metrafilms, Jake Blackstone, and German Jr. is a film that takes its audience through the emotional battle of heroism. It reminds us that some things are just too devastating to ignore, and that the innate need to bring peace to these situations still lives in all of us. A union that seemed almost destined from the start, Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve connected talent across oceans to help create a film that would strengthen the connection between strangers living worlds apart.
Thanks to the remote support and extensive color grading capabilities of Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, Metrapost is the fastest growing business unit within Metrafilms. With the distance barrier removed, Metrapost is able to take on more projects like From Tokyo and use the color grading talent they need from just about any location in the world.