Don Burgess Aligns with Light Iron and Panavision for Allied

Don Burgess, ASC trusts Light Iron. His last seven films can attest, so Burgess chose Light Iron to support him again with digital dailies and post finishing services on Allied. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, the World War II-set film sees an intelligence officer's romance with a French Resistance fighter tested when high command thinks a double agent might be in play.

The Paramount Studios production shot overseas in London on an accelerated schedule. Burgess naturally turned to his go-to services of Light Iron and Panavision, but this was his first movie since Panavision had acquired Light Iron, a merger that has created a digital symbiosis between the two companies.

“Film was film,” says Burgess, “so you had a different, separate relationship between the lab and the camera company. Now, with digital cameras, it's a much closer relationship because there is far more integration in the way the camera sees color and how the postproduction house handles the data. Panavision being tied into Light Iron and the digital intermediate works hand in hand to make the camera perform to the best of its abilities and for the postproduction house to make that data look the best it can. That's a joint marriage that I think is very important, and I like seeing this relationship, this synergy, between Panavision and Light Iron.”

Through the Panavision London office, a Light Iron Outpost cart for mobile media management was deployed. Paul Geffre, Light Iron workflow producer, notes, “We set up the Allied workflow like the other shows we’ve done in foreign countries. Outpost takes our post house and puts it somewhere else. In this case, we placed the Outpost cart in the production office at the Gillette factory stages in London. Deploying through Panavision London offered security to the production, because if anything happened, we actually had a brick-and-mortar operation for support.”

Also through Panavision London, Burgess selected Panavised RED Weapon 6K cameras that feature the Dragon 19.4-megapixel CMOS sensor fitted with spherical Leica Summicron-C and Summilux-C lenses to capture a true 6K, 2.40:1 image. Such a capture yields a lot of data, but that didn't faze the Light Iron technicians.

“We didn't have any issues that slowed us down in 6K versus 4K data,” Burgess recalls. “I think the processing has improved so much that they were able to handle the size of those files.”

“The nice thing about working with RED cameras,” Geffre adds, “is that they have a compressed RAW format (REDCODE). The resolution is high and the fidelity of the picture is amazing, but it has an efficient data footprint. Even at shooting 6K with two cameras, we were only around 2TB a day. While a lot, that is still manageable.”

On set, DIT Peter Marsden worked directly with Burgess to maintain looks through the small-form-factored Lily Pad creative suite, also from Light Iron. Marsden downloaded the material to “shoebox” shuttle drives that he traded back and forth between the Outpost system being operated by Victoria Bate, who offloaded the material and processed the editorial and web media. The web media served as the same-day dailies, which Burgess could view via an iPad Pro through Light Iron's Live Play cloud dailies/collaboration app.

Bate also made LTO archives of the material and uploaded VFX pulls to be used by Montreal-based effects company Atomic Fiction.

Shooting wrapped in early June, and by September, the movie was turned over to Light Iron for some digital intermediate work. That was somewhat earlier than normal, because colorist Corinne Bogdanowicz, who has worked on Burgess' previous seven films, had a prior engagement coming up rather quickly—maternity leave. Burgess spent about two and a half days with Bogdanowicz to go through the whole film and set base looks for every scene.

“I had designed six different looks for the film with test material I shot in preproduction,” Burgess recalls. “We used CDLs to create those looks, which allowed us to maintain those looks through the shooting process. Because I was able to go into the DI bay and pick out five shots in each different look—six looks, so 30 shots—Corinne and I were able to knock those out in no time, being that we had a CDL attached. It got us into the ballpark of what I was looking for.”

A month later, once editorial was completed, Light Iron restored everything from the LTO archives, did a full 6K debayer and then scaled that down for a 4K finish. All the visual effects were done in 3K and delivered as 16-bit OpenEXR.

Burgess went back into the DI suite, this time with colorist Ian Vertovec. “Corinne and I had the paradigm set up from beginning to end to address what the picture was going to look like,” says the cinematographer. “I came back when the movie had incorporated all the visual effects work, and Ian and I fine-tuned it, really tweaked it shot by shot to get it right. That's the first time I've ever had two colorists on the same movie.”

"I was really excited to collaborate with Corinne," Vertovec says. "It's not common for colorists to share a project like this, but the advance work that Corinne did made it easy for me to understand what Don was looking for in the final color grade."

Allied technically marks Burgess' second 4K finish, but it is the first to be released. (His first, Same Kind of Different as Me, also was a Light Iron 4K finish, and will be released in 2017.) “We finished Same Kind of Different a year and a half ago, and it has since become a much faster process in 4K,” he says. “The technology keeps changing, and I think the coordination of having Panavision and Light Iron under one roof simplifies the whole process of communicating what we're going to need, getting all the equipment in the right place, and how all that comes together.”