Codex technology occupied a key position in a groundbreaking 3D workflow used in the production of “Life of Pi,” the new, epic adventure film from 20th Century Fox and Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee. Codex recorders were used on the set to capture dual streams of data from pairs of Arri Alexa cameras used to shoot the movie. Additionally, Codex digital laboratory systems were employed near-set to manage and back up the enormous amount of data generated by the stereo production.
The production of “Life of Pi” spanned four years and more than half the globe. Shooting locations included Montreal, Canada; Pondicherry and Munar, India; and a giant, custom-built water tank in Taiwan, where open water scenes were staged. All of the live action was shot natively in 3D.
(A detailed story about the cutting-edge CGI created for the film, see the December issue of CGW.)
3D specialist Cameron Pace Group supported Lee through the creative process by supplying expertise, equipment, and an on set workflow for screening dailies. A number of different camera systems were considered for use with the rigs with cinematographer Claudio Miranda ultimately selecting the then-new Arri Alexa camera for its sensitivity to details such as light reflecting off water.
Cameron Pace Group Co-Chairman and CEO Vince Pace noted that Codex recorders were the obvious choice to capture data from the Alexa cameras. “‘Life of Pi’ was not an easy film,” he observes. “You had a production crew traveling to India. There was a setup at a defunct airport in Taiwan. As a result, we made a choice to throw the best technology at it in order to support the creative portion throughout the filmmaking process…and that’s where Codex shined.”
Codex recorders provided a way to record data without compression and with 100 percent reliability. Additionally, they greatly simplified the process of recording 3D through their unique ability to record dual streams from paired cameras in perfect synchronicity. “Codex treats dual streams as if they are one negative,” Pace explains. “That really benefits you when you want to playback scenes in 3D. It is far superior to using two recorders as that would require external equipment to play them in sync.”
“Codex provided critical links in a chain that allowed us to present results to the director,” Pace adds. “It is a powerful tool that was transparent to production.”
During the production, individual Codex recorders were used with each of three camera pairs. When the recorders were full, they were taken to a near-set laboratory and off-loaded to Codex Digital Labs. The Digital Labs were employed to make LTO back up media and to load media onto a DVS Clipster system that was used to prepare 3D dailies media for review, editorial, visual effects and post production purposes.
The off-loading process was overseen by CPG’s Derek Schweickart, the production’s 3D workflow supervisor. Schweickart notes that Codex’s system for managing 3D data also simplified his task. “Codex’s ability to record clips that are the same length is really important,” he says. “It made it very easy to manage the left eye and right eye. When I off-loaded the data to the Digital Lab and then onto the Clipster, there was very little data management to do. I simply dropped in the left eye and right eye timelines. That allowed us to focus on other tasks such as color correction and matching the footage to script notes. That was a huge advantage.”
“Codex also allowed scene and take information entered on set to be used in the file naming for post,” Schweickart adds. “That meant that the footage didn’t need to be logged in a traditional manner. Clips were the same length and properly named when delivered to the lab. That saved us time with syncing and naming.”
Pace points out that the Codex technology was part of a network of cutting edge technologies extending from the camera systems through post-production, all of which had to be carefully calibrated and maintained by a team of talented professionals. He credited 20th Century Fox Vice President of Post Production Steve Barnett with assembling an exceptional team.
“If you look at this from a business perspective and see how daunting it was, you would have thought that something had to give…but nothing gave,” Pace says. “When you take on a project like this, you don’t think about ‘vendors,’ rather you assemble a team of professionals who are all going after a creative result.”