ZEISS eXtended Data with CP.3 XD lenses – Perfect tool for visual effects
Digital technologies have transformed traditional filmmaking and refashioned the market. New and innovative technologies in both production and post-production have paved the way for a more versatile, cost effective and advanced workflow. The ZEISS Compact Prime CP.3 family is the latest contribution from ZEISS to support creative and progressive filmmaking with an affordable, future-proof and premium quality lens set. The CP.3 XD lenses extends the feature set with metadata-capable technology.
Visual effects specialist, producer and director Scott E. Anderson had a chance to test the ZEISS CP.3 XD lenses for the first time. In the interview below, Scott talks about his work and this new development in filmmaking.
ZEISS: Hello Scott, and thank you for taking the time to speak to us. We are very pleased that you agreed to work on Case 10-86 with us to test the new Compact Prime CP.3 lenses.
Scott: You’re welcome. I had a great time working on this project and am happy to talk.
ZEISS: Scott, could you tell us a bit about your background: How long have you been working in visual effects? Which projects have you worked on?
Scott: I have been doing visual effects for quite a while. I am coming up to being in this industry for 30 years. Some of the projects I worked on were The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2 (1991). I was nominated for an Academy Award® for Hollow Man (2000) and Starship Troopers (1997). I also won the award for Babe (1995).
While I still work as a visual effects supervisor on larger productions, I now mostly concentrate on my own post-production company, Digital Sandbox. Together with Scott Disharoon and Matteo Saradini we focus on providing quality, cost-effective and practical solutions for independent filmmakers. This encompasses workflows, digital dailies and digital mastering. This tied in well with the CP.3 introduction and the opportunity to work with the CP.3 and XD data.
ZEISS: What is your role on and off the set?
Scott: With Digital Sandbox we are focusing on helping storytellers tell stories. It’s a simple mandate that usually involves a lot of different equipment! We especially focus on how to make use of all the advances in computer and filmmaking technologies. We want to make these new technologies available to independent filmmakers, no matter how big, or small, their budget might be.
In general, my role really varies depending on the production. I work as a visual effects supervisor on-set and in post, and at the same time, I am chasing opportunities as a director on my own projects and test pieces like this with the new ZEISS Compact Prime CP.3 Lenses. Sometimes I am just an advisor and also help executive produce feature films. At other times, Digital Sandbox is helping produce projects. As you can see my role now is much more wide reaching. Still, most people will recognize me as a visual effects supervisor.
In that role I am really involved in the whole range of both the art and science of filmmaking. We are experienced in using technologies that are newer than a lot of the industry is using. But really, I am trying to apply that to general filmmaking, making sure that the technologies do not stand out but help make the cinematic or storytelling world bigger. Sometimes it just helps filmmakers to get things done safely or on a budget.
ZEISS: How do you work with different lenses? Why do you have to film distortion and shading charts? How much does this cost the production?
Scott: I got into the picture side of this business because I was a still photographer as a kid, and right up through college. I drifted away from photography a little bit until I found my way back into the movie business. On the visual effects side we come across almost every lens and technology in the business. A director of photography (DOP), filmmaking team or director will want a certain look or a certain feel for a project, and since our goal in post or visual effects is to match that look, we study the lenses and the look as part of the process.
As visual effects artist, it is the job of the individual and the team to figure out what the characteristics of the lenses are, and how to make their synthetic work match the different elements of a composite to come together as one piece. A lot of this has to do with the understanding of the characteristics of a lens and photography. Be it how it handles out-of-focus, color rendition, any design aspect of the lens or even any artifacts. We really need to be aware of that before we start our work.
When we are looking at a lens, particularly wide angle lenses (which are pretty prevalent in the film business), we are always looking at distortion and shading qualities. These are the easiest or the broadest aspect of a lens that most can see. Still it does create headaches for us in post-production. Distortion really can affect everything from 3D tracking to how elements come together in a composite or a render. It is something we re-apply after rendering out 3D fully CGI creatures, spaceships or other kinds of synthetic objects.
The shading or vignetting characteristics of a lens are just part of that final polish of putting together a shot. We can ignore some of it but, it is just one of these little triggers that lets the audience know that the composite shot looks like it was also shot with the rest of the film, and not synthetic. So from my standpoint it is really important that we copy the character of that specific lens.
For instance, if I took a slightly wider lens like a 25mm and I need to crop in a little bit to stabilize the shot and I reframe it in a bit, even if I copy the field of view of a 35mm which is really the shot I need to match, it does not have the exact same characteristics as a native shot done with a 35mm. By pulling the distortion and the vignetting out of the 25mm, I can pan and scan and move around as I want. Then when I go back to finalize it, I can actually put in the distortion and shading from the 35mm, thus better matching the original photography. It may not be an exact match but it definitely helps us get a lot closer.
Since we think that process is important in visual effects, we are pretty much constantly measuring lenses. So when ZEISS came to me with the Compact Prime CP.3 XD lens concept it was really clear that I won’t need to see another distortion chart or grid again! I do not need to photograph them anymore. It is part of the process but it is not a creative skill. It is something that we do technically because we have to do it for the information.
Worse, it is something that can take up valuable time: camera time, camera department time, and floor space at the prep-space or on location. It also involves a lot of people. The lens manufacturers have that information, so just give it to us.
Measuring the lenses is not a huge thing, but it is something that is just not necessary when all the information is known. So it is great that ZEISS is putting it out there. Even if it only saves half a day or a day per project. That can be weeks or even months over the life of a career. And production doesn’t wants to see us on the clock, measuring lenses, because it costs time and money.
The lens manufacturers have that information, so just give it to us.
Scott E. Anderson
ZEISS: Does it help to have metadata from lenses? In what way? Tracking and/or stitching? Just for the background plates you shot or for the foreground image, too?
Scott: Getting the metadata of the lenses is just one more level of accuracy. When we are capturing lens grids we are estimating what we are seeing, we are measuring it, we are recalculating it and we are usually doing it through a number of focus distances. We check the focus. We check it near and far and many different places in between. With a zoom lens we have to do all of that at different zoom positions for a range of field of views. Most of this is interpolated, and not as precise as the XD data can provide.
For example, on-set we are not really tracking the focus information for every frame. With the metadata we both get the focus at any given point, with the lens distortion and shading characteristic information at that exact moment. So it is just more accurate, and faster to utilize. That information and accuracy helps us both with 2D and 3D tracking as well as with the resulting composite.
On this project we pulled the tile sets for our downtown Los Angeles background through our DaVinci Resolve. We removed the shading and warping there, that is, we would get the tile sets flattened and handed over with an even, flat field, color correction to our visual effects team. For that stitch process we make sure that shading is corrected so we do not see vignetting or exposure shifts at any of the blend points. We also did some reframing experiments in Resolve – for instance the converting of a 25mm into a 35mm lens – and then having the data go the other way. As shots came out of compositing we could check or make sure that the artists re-applied the appropriate shading back. I believe all of that was demonstrated well in the behind-the-scenes material. I think that it makes the process the a little less magical and perhaps better understood. People can see what it is going on and what we are doing. I think they can therefore appreciate what we are doing and what the lenses provide.
The creative aspects of filmmaking is where we want to put our time and efforts, not on the technical aspects that no one sees.
Scott E. Anderson
ZEISS: Will this technology in the CP.3 XD help save time?
Scott: On independent film productions where they really do not have the time or the resources having the eXtended Data available makes a big difference. It also makes it much more efficient for me to walk in and quickly help them out. I know that we do not need an extra half a day of measuring that they do not have.
It will also help us with fix-it-shots. A lot of time on some of the films we see, they were not planning on a shot or a new idea came up and they want to add something to a shot or a plate that was not really on the original target list. Having that lens info in the metadata is a safety net, one that helps us in ways that are not obvious to everyone on the day.
As CASE ‘10-86’ was a test project, we tried to follow a process that would match that of the ZEISS CP market. It was a smaller crew, and very limited VFX team. Here it was a great advantage having the metadata captured by our onset DIT, and fed to VFX.
In VFX the data for the foreground plates would be used in our camera tracking and in making the other elements fit into the foreground better. In looking at our shots, our hero element will drive the lens distortion, and any lens shading. As before, that affects both the digital imaging and compositing. Because we have the metadata and from that the characteristics of the lenses, we can apply that in reverse to our elements that are going in our hero composition, making it frame accurate and just easier to do. It gives us more time to work on the creative side of things. The creative aspects of filmmaking are where we want to put our time and efforts, not on the technical aspects that no one sees.
ZEISS: What are your thoughts on the quality of the CP.3 image?
Scott: The images the ZEISS CP.3 lenses create are pretty amazing. When I first talked to ZEISS we were talking about the new blacks, the sharpness improvement and what we would see – I think you simply just delivered. I have always like the ZEISS look. I shot a lot of ZEISS lenses from various eras on my still cameras. I even retrofitted some of my favorite ZEISS lenses to work on my modern digital cameras. I like the look. It has that signature look and feel.
In the Compact Prime line, it stepped way up from where the CPs started. There is nothing we did on ‘CASE 10-86’ that I was not just pleased with in the ability of the lens to capture the range of looks we were trying to get. In a couple of minutes of footage we could only do so much, but we tried to show the color, the contrast and a couple different tones. The lenses just definitely delivered. I think the actors look great. As a director I was picturing something specific in my head. I was very happy with the final result.
ZEISS Compact Prime CP.3 XD featured in CASE 10-86
ZEISS: Does the quality of the metadata meet your standards?
Scott: The metadata seemed to deliver exactly as promised. We show the lens distortion on set, even pop it on and off through our monitor. For me this was more out of curiosity since I know what I will see. But it definitely helps when having a client on set, or a creative who does not know lens characteristics like I do.
To me having the combination of the focus information and the digital grid – the de-warping information – is going to be the most critical thing. Having that line up and sync up perfectly is great for us. Seeing how it is laid out and our ability to get it from shooting into post is a tremendous workflow improvement. I am looking forward to when it gets plugged in through all the different connectors and all the different manufacturers. But I think we are off to a good start.
ZEISS: How was the overall experience directing and managing the VFX for ‘CASE 10-86’?
Scott: Creatively, it was a lot of fun. We basically went from shoot to NAB in 7 days. As far as the technical workflow for the film, there are a few more details.
We got the metadata both through a combination of our camera stream and the Ambient MasterLockitPlus. I think eventually we will be able to get everything through either of those. This is great, because we can have the metadata included into our DPX files or RAW files via either system, depending on the camera set up. It was also nice that a lot of the different grading tools were already showing the ability to de-warp and control the shading on set. This is great when you have questions to be able to quick double check.
What we are trying to do with ‘CASE 10-86’ was to create something on a level of an independent production. Not a lot of productions have a huge budget for the type of work that I am known for. For this project, we were also working on a very tight time limit. We were therefore working with a lot of composites, we wanted to match the characteristics from lens to lens and make our elements within one shot all fit together.
It was great fun. It is the kind of filmmaking I got in the business for. It is the kind of film a lot of our clients do and I think we really got to play some great new hardware – ZEISS CP.3 Lenses. I got to play with some fellow filmmakers here at ZEISS and got to put together a piece that was both creatively interesting and really demonstrated a lot of what we are hoping for to achieve with these lenses.