Newbury, UK – Following its stunning success at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Documentary Prize, ‘Restrepo’ is now making a big impact among the critics and at the box office. There’s even talk of an Oscar nomination.
The film, by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photographer Tim Hetherington, recently opened in the UK following a successful run in the USA. The film follows a platoon of American Airborne soldiers during a year’s deployment in Afghanistan. Described as “An often electrifying verité trip into combat and the hearts of men” by Variety, all of Restrepo’s post-production picture finishing was done at Goldcrest Post Productions, New York. Using two Quantel Pablo systems connected by GenePool, the film was online edited by finishing artist Peter Heady, and then color graded by award-winning colorist John Dowdell. Here’s Dowdell’s report.
“I used every facet of Pablo on this movie. The directors Tim and Sebastian were in attendance all the way through post, so I really appreciated the Pablo’s interactivity. Tim and Sebastian shot most of the footage on two Sony HDV cameras running at 29.97 and interviews were recorded on DVCPRO 23.98 material. The first job was to conform the DVCPRO material at 29.97 into a multi-resolution, multi-layer timeline ingested from Final Cut Pro via automatic duck. Although the footage was amazing in content, the HDV lacked saturation and had that typical flat video look. It was also over-exposed, with the brightness going up and down a lot. All in all, it presented something of a challenge to give it a rich theatrical look while maintaining a feeling of live immediacy.
“Fortunately just two weeks before I started the project, Quantel had released a new cut of software which included control of the S curve. What makes this filter magical is its characteristic curve - toe, straight line and shoulder. If you try to lift video with traditional tools such as gamma, gain and lift, it’s very linear so no matter what you do, it still looks like video. The S curve puts all the shadows into the nice toe, the straight line smooths out the mids and the top end rolls off just like film. So the S curve gave this low end HD video-shot material this incredible depth – a film-like quality.
Once I’d got the material into the form I wanted, I then went to work on the grade using pretty much all Pablo’s extensive toolset. We did the grade on the big screen in our theatre, so Tim and Sebastian could really get a feel for how the end result would look.
“Keyframing enabled me to even out the exposure rides quickly and easily, and I used windows galore in any shape to isolate areas for correction. Tim and Sebastian were thrilled with this, watching me dodging, marking and burning. Then I would be cascading layer after layer, correcting then another layer to brighten up a certain head. What’s particularly great about Pablo’s cascading is that you can then go back and ‘poke’ things under a cascade layer – it’s a fantastic time-saver and no other system can do it.
“I also did some sharpening with a plug-in – it’s great because it improves the image without giving bad edges, so I managed to fix a lot of soft shots that then cut right in. The whole look is slightly desaturated – nice and gutsy, and we achieved great color continuity despite the material being shot over fifteen months.
“When we put it back out to film, we did a cine-compress back to 24 fps. The problem of course was the 29.97 stuff, so we utilized the ARRI Relativity grain, noise and motion estimation tools, which did a phenomenal job. We turned all the frames into a 23.98 timeline using vector analysis – creating new frames. Putting it back out to film adds a little extra magic, and most people looking at it in a theatre think they are looking at film not video shot material. When it was shown at Sundance, they ran it from 29.97 video. Nick Quested, the Executive Producer, said “these images are jumping off the screen!”
“I took two customers to the screening and they both commented on how beautiful a particular night shot of the front looking across to the mountains was. In fact it was a day shot, and jittery at that. I stabilised it in Pablo with the tracker, then drew a shape of the mountains and used a feathered window on the light coming in through the tops of the mountains – it looked just like moonlight topping them. It took six windows and I drew them all in Pablo!
“The film is the closest you could get to experiencing war without actually being there, living with the soldiers as they swing between boredom and fear. I’m proud to have been part of making it, and without the Pablo it would not have been near as powerful.”