The pace of technological evolution can be dizzying. And in the business of motion picture technology, a sure command of the tools can mean the difference between success and failure. That’s why companies like X2X and FotoKem are constantly working behind the scenes to smooth the way to creative freedom. The trend in professional motion picture cameras has been toward greater resolution, which produces more data. The next step looks to be High Dynamic Range (HDR) images, which can deliver great contrast and more realistic visuals. How can this capability be integrated without breaking the budget?

Daybreak, a Netflix series that premiered in October 2019, is a good illustration. The show is a post-apocalyptic black comedy shot by Jaron Presant, ASC and Duane Manwiller on the ALEXA LF camera in Open Gate mode. Looking to future viability for the show, the producers decided to capture in 4K with the potential for HDR. It was one of the first of two HDE productions to be supported by FotoKem, with a big assist from X2X, the company that resulted from the union of San Francisco-based PIX, makers of the industry standard for dailies review, and CODEX, the London-based industry-standard workflow innovator.

FotoKem’s head of software engineering Freddy Goeske explains the challenge on Daybreak: “The filmmakers wanted to shoot about four hours a day on the LF, which in Open Gate results in about 1.8 terabytes of data per hour. That’s pretty big. At the same time, they needed to keep the budget more in line with an ARRI SXT show, a classic RAW scenario.”

Enter X2X and their innovative HDE encoding, a technique optimized for Bayer pattern images that provides bit-exact data reduction of uncompressed ARRIRAW files. HDE was used on Spider-Man: Far From Home and other features, but Daybreak marks one of the first uses of the technology for television.

“X2X spent a lot of effort building HDE,” says Goeske. “We were able to integrate it seamlessly into our nextLAB system, and build that into our dailies software platform so that the data could be ingested from the CODEX camera mag. We had one person doing color and all the dailies work, so it was important that this person be able to go about their day and not even think about it. The High Density Encoding had to happen on the fly, without reducing the speed of the process. And the net effect was the reduction of the data footprint by about 45%.”

The crew shot for 87 days, gathering footage for ten episodes, averaging more than four hours of footage per day. At the end, there was 267 terabytes of data. That sounds like a lot until you realize that without HDE, that number would nearly double. And the process didn’t slow things down appreciably, implemented on the latest Apple hardware – Goeske estimates that transcode performance was impacted only 2 to 5%.

The roughly 45% reduction in data has beneficial effects all down the line, in storage and archiving as well. The number of LTO tape drives and tapes needed was also cut in half. All the content was uploaded daily for Netflix’ Cloud Storage with bandwidth costs and timeframes reduced drastically. HDE brings savings at every step, for the client as well as for FotoKem, an operation that holds massive amounts of data.

“X2X, and previously CODEX, have been very responsive to our needs,” says Tom Vice, Senior Vice President FotoKem Creative Services. “They’ve been very quick to integrate tools with us, and to show us their latest innovations. On Daybreak, Freddy basically made a call, and our in-house software engineering team integrated it within days. We’re looking forward to the ability to stay in HDE space throughout the pipeline. The benefits to visual effects, for example, have been tremendous. We’re able to support filmmakers who want to shoot high resolution cameras, but don’t have an unlimited budget. HDE has given our clients greater flexibility both on set and in post-production saving significant time and money.”

The HDE encoding technology was also used in support of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, a Netflix film shot by Marshall Adams, ASC on the ALEXA 65 camera system. El Camino and Daybreak were finished at FotoKem and Keep Me Posted and are both currently streaming on Netflix.

Watch El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie trailer...

Director: Michael Patrick Jann, Brad Peyton, Sherwin Shilati, Kate Herron, Mark Tonderai
DP: Jaron Presant, ASC and Duane Manwille
Camera Rental: ARRI Rental
Camera: ALEXA LF
Resolution: 4K Open Gate

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