Recreating Opticals Effects for a Sigur Rós Concert Film

Posted by Marc-Andre Ferguson, 16 October 2011 8:00 pm

In Québec, there's a school that breeds Smoke artists.

It's called the CEGEP de Jonquière, it has a program called Arts et Technologie des Médias (ATM), and boasts one of the largest Autodesk Creative Finishing labs you can find. As part of their postproduction program, students can opt to learn Smoke, as well as a other useful tools in the post pipeline. After graduation, student employment rate is currently at 86%.

In the course of my career, I've had the pleasure of working with several ATM alumni, in production, in post and here at the Montreal Autodesk office, a favourite among students for their internship. 

Guillaume Pelletier is one of those talented ATM graduates that really "got" Smoke while he was in Jonquière. After perusing around twenty vfx and motion graphics packages, he discovered an affinity with Smoke, which quickly became his favourite. 

"When you use Smoke, you can beat the need for plug-ins by being creative, since there are several ways to get out of a rut", explains Guillaume. He cited an example where he had to fake particle effects by animating a ribbon on a path around a keyed actor and using masks and lighting to  achieve the same result. Today, he spends most of his time in Action, with the Master Keyer a close second favourite.

A year and a half ago, Guillaume joined the ranks of Post-Moderne as Smoke artist. Alexandre Domingue, the company's founder, hired Guillaume based on his teachers' recommendations. The Montreal boutique offers a variety of services on top of their four editing rooms, including camera rentals (RED, Sony and Canon cameras), DCP creation and finishing in Da Vinci Resolve and Smoke. Incidentally, Post-Moderne was one of the first beta sites for Smoke on Mac, back in 2009.

SIGUR RÓS - INNI from Sigur Rós on Vimeo.

Festival of lights.

This year, an interesting proposition came to the company: finishing Sigur Rós's "Inni" the Icelandic ambient-rock band's second concert film. Directed by Vincent Morisset (Arcade Fire's “Miroir Noir”) and edited by Nick Fenton and Stéphane Lafleur, the film sports a host of optical effects by Karl Lemieux, known for the visuals he created for Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Originally shot in HD with Sony EX-3's, the edited footage was transferred to 16mm film, then projected in a dark room, where the optical effects were added. Morisset and Lemieux distorted and transformed the image by running their hands in front of the projector's lens, or using an oblong glass bowl, flashing lights, a fish tank with milk to simulate cloud effects, and other hand made tricks. They did this several times, all the while filming the projection with an HDV camera.

When the director and editors sent eight hours of this footage to Post-Moderne, Guillaume Pelletier set about to put all of this together for finishing and colour timing, piecing together the film by using the original edited master as a guide.

Of course, there were corrections to be made, especially when cutting from one distorted footage pass to another made a much too jarring effect, hence the need to recreate some of the optical effects in post. Add to that the serious retiming issues that came from a 25P to 24 fps back to 25P transfer, not using the old 24@25 filming method, and you get an interesting puzzle to solve. Oh, and it had to look good and be totally sync with the concert audio. 

Enter Smoke. 

Guillaume's workflow was to start by retiming the entire footage, to make sure that audio was sync through and through. The multiple transfers added several pulldown patterns to the footage, and each shot was analyzed and retimed using Smoke's Timewarp function, which faithfully preserved the blending patterns. 

Then, he cut each shot together, carefully selecting which effect pass would go where, then deciding which effect would have to be recreated, in order to trim some of the cuts. Going back to the original XDCAM EX edit, he inserted shots in the online, which he then had to mask, blur, blend and otherwise trash to recreate the look.

There were three noise patterns in the film; one from the original shoot, which wasn't very apparent, the second from the 16mm pass, and the blocky noise pattern of HDV from the last shoot. "I used some of the black frames in the film to analyze the different noise patterns",explains Guillaume. "The image and fine noise I had to blur a bit, since the 16mm projection had been filmed, and then I added the sampled HDV noise, all in Action, so I could tweak every setting individually."

Different recipes were used for different shots, since there was footage inserted from archive films, the clean HD master, as well as some shots from the HDV optical effect shoot. All in all, over a hundred inserts had to be tweaked, distorted, retimed, even cleaned up - scratch removal was performed in the Paint module.

Sigur Rós: Festival (Live) from Sigur Rós on Vimeo.

Infinite degrees of black & white.

Finally, the film was colour corrected, painstakingly adjusting the saturation that hovered around 6% through the entire timeline. Some of the filtering work was done to After Effects, using a Tiffen Cross Process filter. "We were arguing over decimals of saturation, like 6.3% or 6.5%. Spending so much time with black and white images, we were stunned by colours as soon as we opened the suite's door. It was surreal." 

Although Guillaume didn't know Sigur Rós before spending almost four months on the project, he admits he fell in love with the band's live sound. "Inni" is currently touring in festivals around the world and will be released on DVD and BluRay November 7th.

To find out more about Post-Moderne, visit their website.

Smoke for Mac


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