Encore Hollywood debuts DI Theater with “Day Watch”

Encore Hollywood provided Digital Intermediate services for DAY WATCH (Dnevnoy Dozor), a Russian film from Director Timur Bekmambetov that scored the biggest opening week box office in that country history when it premiered there. The project was the first to pass through Encore new DI pipeline and was by all measures colossal in scale. The 142-minute film involved more than 7 terabytes of 2K data and some 500 visual effects shots supplied by VFX vendors located across Europe.

DAY WATCH is the second film in a fantasy-action trilogy about forces of light and dark that battle in medieval and contemporary Russia. The first film in the series, NIGHT WATCH, also directed by Bekmambetov, set all-time box office records for a Russian film?Äîrecords that are now being broken by the sequel. Fox Searchlight Pictures bought international distribution rights to the trilogy and released NIGHT WATCH in the U.S. in February with DAY WATCH to follow in 2007.

Encore Hollywood handled color grading and final compositing for DAY WATCH, and provided similar services for NIGHT WATCH. However while post work for the earlier film was performed with HD media, the work for DAY WATCH was conducted in high resolution data with color grading completed in the studio new DI Theater.

It was a heady undertaking, according to Encore Hollywood Managing Director Barbara Marshall, as constuction of the theater was completed just two weeks before work on DAY WATCH began.’Given the size and scope of the project, and the fact that our client was overseas, it was a challenge as our first venture into DI,’ said Marshall. ‘But we were very pleased by how well our team and our room performed.’

The workflow for DAY WATCH was unusual and placed intense demands on Encore DI staff. The majority of the film was shot on 35mm film and those elements were scanned to 2K data in Russia and shipped to Encore on hard drives. Additional elements were recorded on HDCAM and 16mm film. The 16mm elements were shipped directly to the U.S. and scanned by Encore.

In order to make the delivery date for the film premiere in Russia, color grading had to begin before the film was fully edited. Encore Dan Aguilar, who conformed the film in the studio Discreet Fire bay, regularly received updated cuts from the film Russian editor, Dmitri Kiselyov, which he had to incorporate into the film master and then pass on to the DI Theater. Color grading spanned two shifts with Colorist Arnold Ramm working days, followed by Laura Jans at night.

‘While I was assembling reel two with the assistant editor, Arnold was next door grading reel one,’ recalled Aguilar. ‘As soon as Arnold was done, he’sd render out the finished color and I’sd send him the next reel.’

To make data management easier, all of the 2K data for the film was stored on a central server directly accessible to both the Fire and the DI Theater. The studio infrastructure was designed to handle high-speed data flows seamlessly. As a result, editorial changes made by Aguilar were available to Ramm or Jans in the DI Theater in the time it took to walk between rooms.

Still with clients located half a world away and intricate effects elements arriving from multiple foreign suppliers, the logistics of managing the project were intimidating. ‘Coordinating this whole exercise was a huge undertaking,’ noted Encore DI Producer Clif Gordon. ‘We had to make sure that things hit at the right time, that the proper elements were delivered for film recording, and that our artists made it to screenings of the film. It was a team effort.’

Ramm, who took the lead in color grading, said it required trial and error to arrive at the right look for DAY WATCH. ‘We went through four distinct iterations,’ he said. ‘I initially set a look with the DP, but the director wanted a different approach and the Russian executive producers had yet another idea in mind. The producers ultimately connected me with a veteran film timer, Matvey Schatz?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üa Russian ?¬¨¬©migr?¬¨¬©?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üand together we came up with a look that satisfied everyone. We called it our ?‚àö√ë‚àö‚â§Russian’s look.’

That look, said Ramm, differs from the cool, blue look typical of many contemporary American action films. ‘It a little more crisp and slightly on the warm side of neutral,’ he said. ‘It has the quality of parchment.’

Jans noted that the look conforms to the expectations of Russian moviegoers and to the technology of Russian movie houses. ‘Russian projectors generally have weaker lights than we do here,’ she said. ‘Too much contrast can be a problem.’

In addition to setting the color, Ramm had to reframe the film. The film was shot with the intention of displaying it in a 1:8:5 aspect ratio, but the producers later decided to go with anamorphic framing at a ratio of 2:3:5. ‘We had to reframe every shot,’ Ramm said. ‘We looked at it through a matte and did a lot of vertical panning.’

Ramm said that Encore DI Theater offers the best coloring environment of any facility he has seen. He added that his Russian clients were thrilled with the ability to correct color in real time and to use video-style tools to make subtle adjustments.

‘Our Da Vinci 2K color corrector has six windows and two defocus boards and that allows us to do just about anything,’ observed Ramm. ‘We could defocus highlights and see the results immediately on the projection screen. We could decide if we liked it on the spot and move along.’

Jans was equally enthusiastic about working in the DI Theater. ‘It was awesome, amazing,’ she said. ‘It a non-linear process, so I can call up any scene I want in a second. It such a smooth process.’

Encore Hollywood DI pipeline, along with other DI facilities in the Ascent Media Feature Services Group which also includes Company 3, differs from those at other facilities in that it encompasses the entire post production process. Along with the DI Theater and the Fire suite, the studio employs MTI Control Dailies product to prepare digital dailies and also has an award-winning department for visual effects work.

Having mounted a virtual round-the-clock effort to deliver DAY WATCH on time, Marshall feels that Encore DI team is now battle tested. ‘Moving into the next project, we know we have a strong staff with a lot of experience in managing large scale projects,’ she said.

Encore Hollywood is located at 6344 Fountain Avenue, Hollywood, California 90028. For more information, call (323) 466-7663 or visit www.encorehollywood.com.

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