The Video Journalist Blackmagic Camera Rig and Workflow Guide (Part Three): Getting the Right Look in Post Production

By Rainer von Rottenburg

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[Editor’s note – Rainer isn’t a native English speaker so I’ve taken the liberty of changing a few words here and there. If there is any deficiency in the quality of language or its presentation, the responsibility is solely mine.]

In Part One we look at rigging the Blackmagic Cinema Camera MFT on a tight budget for a one-person video journalist. In Part Two we looked at fitting it with cheap lenses and making it work on live action shoots and events. In this final part, we look at data handling and post production workflows in CinemaDNG.

Data Handling

Now that I have all these wonderful shoots with my cool lenses I have to store them somewhere. I always have two SSDs with me. When I shoot with one the other gets copied to a backup.

When I shoot 2.5K at 25p my 120GB SSD can hold a little more than 15 minutes of footage. So I always carry my Macbook Pro with me and a Lacie Rugged 1 TB that can run on my Mac’s battery. On longer productions I have a 4 TB Lacie mobile Thunderbolt RAID. This is something you really have to take very seriously in your data calculations. It will take some time to move the data. If you want to play it safe you must make double backups.

To attach the SSD to my Mac I have a D-Lock SATA to Thunderbolt adapter. Do not save money here and buy USB 2.0 models – they take ages. Since you are not copying MOVs but DNG sequences the copying process is much slower. If time is of the essence, you need to use the fastest port you have. And double check every process. Once the drive is overwritten with new files it’s next to impossible to recover files with standard tools if at all. This was the only advantage in the good old days of tape, you always had a backup. Otherwise I don’t miss them one second!

Post Production Workflow

Before I started as a VJ (video journalist) with my own Media 100 editing suite in 2000, I was working as a freelance editor, editing mostly documentaries for German Public Television. I worked with U-Matic, Betacam and Digital Betacam. On the side I was working with my Amiga 2000 and 4000 on 3D and VFX stuff at home, designing VJ visuals (this time I mean the Party-VJ) for techno parties. I released some rather famous VHS Tapes “3Lux1, 2 and 3“ and “Escape to Trancyberia“ with Stud!o K7. We sold about 25,000 copies worldwide, which is quite an amount for such a special interest subject.

When the first Avid and Premiere offline suits were opening in Berlin, I was one of the very few editors operating them. Around 2005 I changed to Final Cut and stayed with it ever since.

Now Final Cut Pro X has evolved to an editor’s dream. Finally someone understood how I worked. There are probably a million editing techniques, and I don’t want to say mine is the best, it just works for me. When I start editing a 2-minute piece I start by looking through the footage very thoroughly and putting all the nice shots in the timeline. So my first version is like 15 minutes. Thereby I see what is usable. I recall the ideas I had when shooting. The rest is very intuitive. The magnetic timeline from FCP-X is just perfect here. I can try out ideas in no time, change blocks around, and screen the footage much quicker than in any system I know. I would say it’s the most creative-friendly system. Once you have really understood the point, you will never go back. I would estimate that I click 30-40% less for the same results, than in FCP 7. That leaves me a lot more time for creative decisions.

Here’s what the Magnetic Timeline looks like in FCPX:

Before I go into my Blackmagic Cinema Camera workflow, I want to point out that my way of working with the CinemaDNG sequences is definitely not the best, but the best take enormous amounts of time. I don’t have that, because my budgets are small and my customers don’t appreciate the “coolest” grading. They want some special effects and nice title animations. So I have to compromise.

When working with 2.5K BMCC CinemaDNG footage the first thing you would have to think about is your drive space and speed. You will definitely have no fun with your internal drives, so I recommend an external RAID. If your computer is older, you need to check your graphics card or GPU. FCPX, Premiere and Resolve all love the newer GPUs and reward you by functioning properly. My configuration is a 2009 Mac Pro Octacore with 14 GB RAM, a Sonnet 3 TB RAID connected to the Mac Pro via a Sonnet dual serial ATA board and an Nvidia GFX 680 board. This is the low end where 2.5K just about works.

Back home from my shoot, I copy the BMCC footage from my rugged Lacie drive to my RAID and make a second backup to a Seagate 4 TB just for safety. RAIDs can always crash, no matter what the reseller will tell you. If you always make safety copies, they won’t let you down. The moment you are lazy they will fail, that’s Murphy’s law (look it up!). I’m very serious with that, because it happened to me. There is nothing worse than explaining to your customer that all the data is lost. It’s like telling you Pa that you broke his car!

Copying takes a long time, so don’t forget to factor that in your calculations.

I fire up Resolve which comes free with the BMCC. There’ a very short tutorial in the BMCC manual for a basic workflow, some good articles here on Wolfcrow and a lot of videos on Youtube. Now is the moment I can look at my footage in full beauty. Then begins my first selection. Just like working with film, I will only “develop“ the best shots. I create a timeline, tracks arranged subject-wise, and I make a very rough edit of raw material. I do this to save rendering time. All the footage will be converted from DNG sequence to ProRes HQ later.

So this is now my first 15 minute version I was talking about earlier. When converting the material I don’t apply any LUT or picture profiles, I leave RAW as FLAT. I will fix this later in FCPX. I render the files straight to the Original Media Folder of my FCPX event (this saves me time in the import in FCPX later).

Here’s what my Finder View looks like in an FCPX Project:

When the files are rendered, I batch rename them by subject; e.g. “Interview Pope”. Since I am not going back, I don’t need the original BMCC names anymore. But I might make a search in FCPX later to look for Pope. In FCPX I first create some collections and intelligent collections (e.g. “Interviews”). I open the Original Files folder in the finder and drag the files by content groups into the Collections. So all my footage is already nicely structured in Collections. Then I come back to creating my first 30-minute version (which goes very fast now). I make a copy of this sequence, so whenever I am looking for a specific shoot it will be in this first sequence, where all usable shots are located.

A peek at the FCPX Collections panel:

Then I start the real editing. My next versions will be 8 minutes, then 5 minutes, then down to 3 minutes, and so on. I always make copies of the sequences in-between, just in case I want to come back to an idea I had earlier. In the 3-minute version I start experimenting with looks and plugins, especially when footage is critically dark or light and out of focus. I do this also because a lot of the time I have footage from different cameras like the BMCC, GH3, photos, animations etc., in the same project. I have to check whether I can make them match.

After my story is working, this is the point where I also start the visual effects, plugins and the titles. I do that as late as possible, to avoid unnecessary rendering. Remember I am saving time where I can. The rendering feature of FCPX could be better. When I have a clip with some plugins and I just shorten the clip, the whole clip gets rendered again. That’s a little old school, lets hope Apple will work on it.

Here’s the Weleda Nail Polish project I completed with the BMCC MFT (and some Panasonic GH3 footage as well):

Now you can probably understand why a workflow wherein going back to Resolve doesn’t work for me. By the time I am at 2 minute edit there’s a lot of plugins and visual effects involved already. Also, when I have to decide between two very good shots, I need to grade both to see, which one I will finally use. So I need one platform, where I can do everything. For me that’s FCPX.

But how do I grade the BMCC footage, because obviously the standard FCPX color correction can’t do the job? I use FilmConvert Pro 2. This plugin has three very big advantages. First, it has a preset picture profile for the BMCC. Second, it has a very nice three way color correction built in on the viewer, and this is very handy for color correction. The FCPX version is a little complicated, because you have to go to a separate window and back (which is a big hassle when you do that a lot). Third, it can alter other parameters like color temperature, grain, film color, gamma, etc., and you can even choose between different film types. Since I never went to film school, I don’t know whether this matches actual film, but try experimenting with these. It will often solve your problems when the footage has too strong contrasts or strange colors.

The FilmConvert Pro 2 FCPX Interface:

For Film Noir freaks there’s even some really good black and white film types to choose from. I only use FCP-X color correction tools when I have to apply masks or color masks. I hope they will upgrade it with a tracker soon. If you miss that and have $99 left over, SliceX from Coremelt does a great job here. I refuse to buy it, because I have a feeling this feature will come soon in FCPX, since Apple had a very good solution in Color already (so they have the technology).

One great advantage of the 2.5K footage is you can reframe it when your Master has to be only HD 1080. When you stabilize footage in the post, you always loose a little quality by the scaling that occurs. The more shaky the footage, the more scaling will be involved. With 2.5K you have enough headroom. You can even afford to make little zooms into the picture without losing sharpness. There, I have my “Zoom lenses” back, yeah! Sometimes a very small (and almost unrecognizable) movement makes the picture seem very high-end.

How does it all come together? Here’s the wrap-up CeBIT Global Conferences 2014 shoot: BMCC, GH3 and 3D Animation:

Once I am in my creative process I want to do everything in one tool. Grading, special effects, dissolves and titles. I want to be able to change every parameter to the last moment, because sometimes the customer is sitting next to me for final approval and I do the finishing touches together with him and give him the Master on a USB stick to take home. Therefore, an everything-in-one-box solution is the best for me.

Thank for paying attention to my workflow. I hope I have given you some insight into the Video Journalist or one-man film production workflow using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Working all alone as a VJ doesn’t mean you have to compromise on picture quality or your finished product. I showed you some editing tricks if you don’t have the time to get accustomed to Resolve. Of course you will not be able to compete with a team of specialists but you will get rather good results to satisfy your customer or your own needs.

I would be happy about any feedback and will answer all questions. Visit me on: http://www.remake.tv and .

 

One reply on “The Video Journalist Blackmagic Camera Rig and Workflow Guide (Part Three): Getting the Right Look in Post Production”

  1. awesome! indeed very informative and provides some insights, thanks for having this material!

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