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The Embassy & Alter Ego Battle the Snowmen with FilmLight BLGs

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The Embassy has a talent for photo-realistic, hard surface visual effects work. Their experience ranges from creating the digital suits in all three ‘Iron Man’ films to building massive drop ship hangers for ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy. They also produce the VFX for numerous commercials while collaborating with Alter Ego post production facility – 3,400km away in Toronto – who handles the colour grade for many of these projects.

However for this year’s Nissan spot ‘Return of the Snowman’, made for the 2017 Super Bowl coverage, The Embassy decided to participate in the creative process for grading to improve the efficiency and precision of their VFX work and present a consistent preview to their clients.

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Alter Ego runs Baselight as their main grading system. Despite the distance between the two sites and the tight timescale of the production, the system’s render-free BLG [Baselight grade] workflow worked well for this situation. To start, the raw footage from the live action shoot was delivered to both facilities. Working in Toronto, Alter Ego’s colourist Wade Odlum set the initial look with the director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and the agency.

 “Although we decided to go with a realistic, desaturated wintery feel, slightly on the cool side, we still had to maintain the car colours and the talent’s skin tone throughout,” Wade said. The individual grade for each look could then be handed over to The Embassy over in Vancouver by transferring small BLG files containing the colour metadata.

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VFX supervisor David Casey loaded the raw footage into NUKE and, using the Baselight for NUKE plugin, added the updated version of the grades from Toronto. This way, David and Wade saw exactly the same grade, regardless of how many times it was updated, by exchanging compact metadata files instead of rendering out the video first or transferring the files.

“As the project progressed, I would update the BLG, tweaking grades or matte shapes depending on the effects we had completed,” said David. “For example, I would tweak colour suppression that was no longer required, or tweak mattes once the CG characters were placed in the scene.

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“When the VFX were complete, I passed the footage back to Alter Ego, now with the VFX and the updated BLG files. Wade then could reload the shots into Baselight and do a final pass to add the final polish.”

Wade said, “The greatest advantage was that, every time a work in progress was made for the clients to see, everyone was looking at the spot with the colour correction we had set. Once the time came for the final grade, we were simply passed the ungraded VFX shots and put them back into our timeline. All of our original colour correction applied perfectly, and with the supplied mattes we were able to finish the spot.”

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The FilmLight BLG workflow allows complete grading information to be passed from device to device, not just to Baselight workstations but, through the use of the Baselight Editions plugins, to editing and VFX packages such as Avid and NUKE. Artists like David Casey can operate in their familiar working environment but see the precise grade set by the colourist, and can adjust that grade as they need to during the lifecycle of the project.

“When Baselight Editions for NUKE launched, I was impressed by the potential," David said. "Using BLGs and Baselight for NUKE eliminates the delays  rendering and file transfers, so the job gets done in a more predictable timescale. Also, because each artist can focus on their part of the project, the final result is creatively more refined and exciting.”   www.filmlight.ltd.uk

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