How To Be A DIT Part 13 – Working Professionals
In this instalment of How To Be A DIT you’ll find a combination of technical insight on topics like colour management and working with Look Up Tables (LUTS) and detailed insights into the working life of a real DIT. If you’ve not yet checked out How To Be A DIT Part 12 – it was pretty epic – or 5 Books To Help You Learn How To Be A DIT then you should also check out those posts when you have the time too.
The three lucky winners of the Focal Press book give-away have now been selected, so if you’ve not heard from me, I’m afraid you’ve not won…
These two 30 minute lectures by Daniele Siragusano from Filmlight, the makers of the Baselight grading system, explain some of the current challenges of accurate colour management throughout the colour pipeline, from the sensor to the screen. The first talk covers the history of traditional grading workflows to provide the context for the Truelight and ACES colour management, which he goes into detail on in the second part. Both are well worth the time to digest.
Understanding LUTS and Colour Management
For a more fast-paced and entertaining overview of the basics of colour management, senior editor Alex Mejia shares the essential elements in under 8 minutes. Although it’s largely aimed at computer game animation artists, the principles remain the same.
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between a 1D and 3D LUT is, then this freebie from Mixing Light will explain it to you in under 5 minutes. For a more detailed explanation (including lots of math) check out this post from the folks at Light Illusion, including a helpful breakdown of the differences between calibration LUTS, technical LUTS and creative look LUTS.
1D Luts are excellent for setting contrast, the white point of a display, or overall color balance adjustments but they do little to convey the complexities needed for creating a good looking image when grading. That’s why 3D Luts are so important to the colorist (and lots of other folks interested in color) and why most of the time when a colorist is talking about a LUT – they’re usually talking about a 3D LUT.
When working with LUTS it’s important to make sure you’re using the right LUT for the right reasons. A calibration LUT helps to fix inaccuracies in your display, where as a technical LUT helps you do things like transform from one colour space to another. Creative Look LUTS may have been created by the DoP and on-set colorist whilst filming or might be emulating a specific film stock.
There is nothing to stop you using any kind of LUT in any kind of way, but if you don’t know why you’re doing it, and what the LUT is doing, you’ll get some unpredictable results.
Here are some useful links to camera specific LUTs – often for transforming from LOG to Rec. 709
Australian Colorist Juan Melera’s free Film Print Emulation LUTs are very popular and in this previous post you can both download and understand how to work with them. You can also grab a bunch of free creative look LUTs from Ground Control Color, who also sell LUT packages too.
Another couple of posts that are well worth a thorough read are Jason from Cinetic Studio’s extensive walk through the world of free and paid for LUTs available online. Oliver Peter’s from Digital Films also has a handy round up of some of the options you have when picking a LUT package for a film aesthetic from a major player like Colour Grading Central, Film Convert, Speedlooks from Look Labs and Koji Color. It’s a great article to get a good sense of the overall LUT market.
For even more posts on LUTS check out these previous posts – Getting Started with LUTS | Using the Technicolor Cinestyle LUT in DaVinci Resolve Lite
DIT Gear and Workflows
If I ever get to work on a really (really) well paid gig that involves a lot of on-set time, I’m definitely asking the producer to get me one of these bad boys. The Radar One from Radar Mobile Studios is a steal at only $1695 a day and comes packed to the gills with the following, plus a pretty sweet looking fridge.
- 30 Terabyte SAN, in RAID 50.
- 100 Processor Renderfarm
- DDR Infiniband Network (1.6 GB/s Sustained)
- LDAP secured login and file-access privilages
- T1 Satellite Internet Connection, encrypted
- Cell Repeater for CDMA and GSM
- Tri-Boot: Linux, Windows and Mac OSX
- Quadro FX5900 powered Graphic Workstations
- 6 Eizo cg245w Color Grading Monitors
- 57”, 32” and 27” HD TV (Active 3D) for Playback
- 2 Wacom Cintiq monitors/ HID
- 5 Avid MC Control, Color and Transport Surfaces
- USB 2.0, Firewire 400/800 and Thunderbolt I/O
- Multiple HD-SDI, SD-SDI, BNC and HDMI 1.4 I/O
- HP Wireless Fax, Copier, Scanner
- Wifi Hotspot to 1 mile, encypted
- Secure, logged, keycard entry throughout
- 4 Video cameras monitor vehicle and surroundings
For only $795 a day you can work from the back of a pimped out Land Rover too. Nice.
If you can’t afford a bus however, you can learn how to mount your FSI CM240 monitor to the top of your Pelican case, in this post from Presynkt post in Australia. Not only is the mounting totally robust, it also doesn’t damage the casing which means the contents stay water-tight dry.
DIT Von Thomas shares a detailed breakdown of his feature film workflow for the movie Maniac, in this guest post over on Post Perspective.com, which has some nice technical details in it.
Once cameras roll, the next step was to ingest the content to 4 places: the RAID on my cart, and the other 3 RAID’s for production. I use R3D Data Manager for a verified backup for all RAW footage. Because a verified backup is a slower process than dragging and dropping, I make sure media cards coming from camera do not get past 20 to 30% on a 128GB card. If I keep this routine, downloads will be between 10 and 15 minutes per card, a very manageable scenario especially as you get closer to wrap.
Next, I use RED’s proprietary software, REDCine-X Pro. With RCX, I review the data, perform one light color correction, sync audio, and transcode the RAW data to Avid files. I’ll also produce ProRes files, that I will later convert to H.264 for web and iPad delivery.
You can hear a little bit more from Von in this 3 minute behind the scenes video from Blue.
In depth Interview with DIT Duck Grossberg
Professional DIT Duck Grossberg was kind enough to answer some of my questions over email, on the details of his life as a Digital Imaging Technician and onset Dailies Colorist. For even more from Duck, check out these previous posts on the blog. You can see a full list of Duck’s credit’s here on IMDB or on his LinkedIn page. You can also hear from Duck yourself, in an excellent audio interview by Josh Petok from the Coloristos.
1. What’s your background and how did you ‘break’ into the business?
I have a bit of a Gyspy background, I grew up in San Diego and play in bands until my early twenties. I traveled a lot and was really into computers and video games. I went to college on and of from age 17 – 31 finally graduated with a hybrid Computer Science/Business Management degree. I did some extra work and PA work when I moved to LA and eventually landed an internship at a Post House doing root work on the flint for The Might Morphing Power Rangers. I was working nights as a Tech support rep for an ISP and interning during the day. While at the internship I heard one of the engineers complaining that he had a huge workload, I had a chat with the Chief Engineer and got myself a job working as an engineer at the house. From there I was in the right place at the right time as Digital Video was being born.
2. How did you get started as a DIT?
Most of my skills came through various data management and color suite engineering duties I had at various post houses being an engineer. When the Red Camera first launched I was working at the Post Group where we partnered with AMPAS for their apples to apples workflow demonstration – it was a series of shootouts using the top of the line Digital Camera and Arri Film cameras. I was tasked with being on set and managing the data for the Post Group, and that was the first time I heard the word DIT. Joe di Gennaro was the imaging technician of the Genesis and he absolutely blew my mind and introduced me to colour science. I was fascinated. A few years later I was working as an on-set engineer on the film Real Steel and the colorist left the show. I was thrown in the hot seat by the producers and told “You’re the colorist now kid, don’t F*ck up”, that’s when I got my real break.
3. What are the qualities and capabilities of a great DIT? (I think there’s a big misunderstanding about kids with laptops being DIT’s offloading media, as opposed to the professional DIT as someone who fully understands what’s happening every step of the way from the sensor to the screen.)
The question really hits the nail the on the head. A great DIT needs to have a terrific understanding on the entire chain from prep to finishing. I was very fortunate to spend many years in the finishing world before ever being on set, I had experienced every down stream “fix it in post” problem imaginable. I’ve also made every mistake you can possibly imagine on-set once. Just once. On top of the fundamental knowledge of the filming process a great DIT needs to constantly learn, when I am on a set I look at everything, I ask tons of questions, I am constantly seeing equipment and processes I have never seen before. You can’t be afraid to admit you don’t how something works or how to accomplish a certain task. True professionals and people who are passionate about what they do, want to help you and share their knowledge. A great DIT also raises his/her hand when a mistake is made and let’s everyone know what went wrong immediately, especially if that person is responsible for the mistake. It’s hard and scary but I’ve found that admission of guilt and learning from a mistake goes a long way with most professionals. I’ve gotten where I am today by learning from experience and having peers who trust me.
4. How much of the job is technical and how much is creative?
I’d say its probably a 70/30 relationship with the 70 representing technical knowledge and the 30 representing the art. The 30 percent is heavily weighted though and is the hardest part to learn. My eye for color came from many years of sitting in color suites with amazing colorists as their engineering support and seeing the nuances of colour first hand and being able to ask a gazillion questions. I’m also very fortunate that a few of my closest and dearest friends are amazing colorists and bend over backwards to help me out.
5. What does an average day look like for you on the set of a feature film? How does a DIT interact with other crew?
I’ve begun to for better or for worse transition to being a dailies colorist working near location, so for the most part I live a very isolated life. When I am working an IATSE 600 proper DIT on set each show has a different culture but a common day in most scenarios would be –
Show up to set at least 15-20 minutes early, get some food and a cup of coffee. Get your gear off the camera truck and staged at call. Find your landing spot for the first setup, a lot of time the entire signal chain runs through the DIT cart, so the second the cameras have power, you want to start making sure that everyone has the correct feed and it’s all looking good. I usually then rendezvous with sound and sync up so I can jam the cameras. I then load the cameras with the first load, and prep the next few, format the cards or Mags, label them etc., and have them ready to go. Next I get the boss man (DoP) coffee/tea/Big Show Water (Perrier) whatever they like and make sure it’s always within reach of my tent. I stay in constant communication with the 1st and 2nd AC through out the day. The 2nd is always close to the Script Supervisor and the 1st AD, so any thing that I need to communicate like “Tail Sticks”, “minutes left on the mag”, “possible problems with signal” etc. get told to the 2nd immediately. I constantly watch the monitors and am able to whisper to the 1st when needed things like “you’re about an inch shallow”, “You nailed it!” or what not. I basically am the second set of eyes for the DoP and 1st and protect them at all costs, first and foremost.
6. What tools do you use to get the job done and how to you pick them?
I read like there is no tomorrow, everything from consumer reviews to technical papers on gear. I play with everything I can get my hands on. I have a very good relationship with a few camera houses and key vendors, so it’s not too difficult to spend time with new gear. I’m the hugest fan of: PostBox Systems, Codex, Colorfront, Flanders Scientific and Arri. I do believe that once you setup your pipeline and it works, you don’t change it unless it is absolutely necessary. I have had some very heated debates with Video Operators and Post Supervisors whom have asked to make big changes in the middle of a production to suite their personal needs. I am against it. I think the right move is what is best for the production and for the most part it means don’t change something that works.
7. How do you keep up to speed with the latest camera releases, firmware updates, software releases, technological advances etc.
Podcasts, trade shows, rental houses, vendors, mixer etc., I spend as much time as I can manage getting out there and touching gear as much as possible. I also read a lot of manuals while traveling. When I’m about to get on a plane, I fill my iPad with tons of PDF’s and read operation manuals for everything I can think of.
8. How do you map out the workflow? What things need to be considered? How do you think through where all the snags might appear and solve them ahead of time?
Collaboration. Collaboration. Collaboration. Did I mention, collaboration? There is no pipeline hero, no one person who has all the answers and all the smarts. Many DITs will claim they are just that, it’s absolute bull shit. Every step of the way there are stakeholders, people who play an important role in the process. That ranges from the Data Manager to the Editor to the VFX houses to the final finishing house and everyone in between. Each step in the chain needs to be compatible. I try to impart as much of my practical knowledge to each step of the chain. Sometimes I put a lot into a workflow, other times, I do what I’m told.
9. What makes a DIT job challenging?
Everything, it’s organised chaos. Many times you’re building the boat as it is launching. You are responsible for an amazing amount of technology in a smallish footprint that was never designed to be rolled all over the place in a cart. I’ve been in the desert, the mountains, snow storms, rain storms, blistering muggy southern Summer heat etc., Keeping everything cool dry and functioning while also using the gear is quite a challenge sometimes.
10. What makes a DIT job creatively exciting?
I am so fortunate to work directly with the DoP or as I refer to them “Masters of light and imagery” Watching an environment being painted and set up to capture the moment first hand is awe-inspiring. I never went to film school or had a heavy photography background so being right there collaborating with a DoP on the look of a scene being a part of helping convey a feeling is Awesome. And I have the bonus of being able to ask questions and have a lot of the thought process explained to me in real time.
11. What’s the the biggest problem you’ve faced as a DIT and how did you solve it?
I don’t know. Every problem at the moment is the biggest problem, when you’re on a shoot and it’s costing thousands or tens of thousands dollars a minute to operate, a single monitor losing picture becomes the biggest problem in the world. I bring the same intensity to “we don’t have image on C-Cam” as to, “the A-Cam is on fire.”
12. What would you advice be to anyone wanting to become a DIT? How can they get started, where can they learn? What software should they get to grips with? What technical knowledge must they understand?
Get out there and work. Volunteer your time on a student film, contact any film department at any university and you’ll find people who are willing to feed you to work. Get the experience, go to every workshop you can, read every book you can get your hands on. Things change fast and so many people are full of shit, never believe something just because someone tells you it’s so. Verify it from multiple sources. Go to a camera house and hang out until they either get a restraining order or give in and let you play.
13. What reading material/training material have you found useful and would recommend?
Nothing stands out as a must read…basically everything you can get your hands on. Jonny you had a great post that listed some DIT books, they all looked great. Patrick Inhofer has a great weekly newsletter called Tao Colorist that comes out every Sunday and he always puts a great list of colour related books at the end of the newsletter. I think between Elwyn/Inhofer theres several months worth of great reads.
14. What do you think is next big thing for the DIT world/digital cinema?
I think the next big step is taking over a lot of the traditional post processes and incorporating them into the production. The colour and management of data is the tip of the iceberg. I see in the near future the DIT or whatever the role is called that evolves from DIT as the complete dailies package. Coloring, transcoding, delivering etc.