Hovering Lights

ML RAW Workflow.

February 3, 2015

This post has been sitting in the drafts folder for long before I shot, but since it was just recently that I was able to go through the workflow that I can really explain how things work. For my previous project (Zona SSP), we shot RAW, thanks to MagicLantern, using Canon’s 50D and 5D3. The results were terrific, but I can’t say it was easy dealing with the huge amount of files and their versions. Also, processing power was a must during color correction because each DNG file requires debayering before rendering, so, the final render took me some days.

This time, I wanted the increase in dynamic range from shooting RAW, but lighter files and less back and forth between conversions and small adjustments. While looking for decent information on this process, I came across this workflow at hackermovies.com which is quite interesting since it gets rid of the DNGs while keeping all the data. Since it was written in 2013, the steps are a bit outdated, so here’s a 2015 version of it.

First off, shoot your plates using the latest version of MagicLantern (for the 5D3, the latest version was August 27th, 2014). In ML’s menus, pick the MLV format because it allows you to record audio along with the pictures. Now you’ll have huge MLV files in the card, that you need to drop into your hard drive.

I always get rid of their own folders and keep just the files in a single folder per card. It works better with the following steps.

Now, there’s a lot of installing before we can take our files forward. You’ll need MLV Converter (v1.9.2 at this time) and the Converter requires a few things to be installed first.

1 – MLV RawViewer (1.3.3) – This is a quick playback software that doesn’t require installing and reads raw files real quick. Only works with MLV files, as the name says, and has some nice controls for Exposure and Whitebalance. MLV RawViewer already offers you conversion to DNG or proxy QuickTimes, and some other tools. At first, I was using it as my only step of the process, but there are some problems like:

a) the QuickTime files are HUGE. Very little compression, and follow whatever you have on the screen for exposure and white balance.
b) the output DNG files are regular DNGs and not Cinema DNGs (more on this right below)
c) accessing the program’s functions is a bit confusing and I kept going back to the download source to check what were the commands I needed.

2 – Adobe Cinema DNG Converter (8.7) – As said above, with this installed, MLV Converter will convert your MLV files into Cinema DNGs. These can be imported directly into DaVinci Resolve and Adobe Premiere, for a faster editing workflow if you don’t want any proxies in your way. For my workflow, the DNGs were not the final files, so they end up deleted anyway.

3 – IrfanView and its plugins – MLV Converter needs IrfanView to generate the thumbnails and help you deciding which clips should be converted and which ones should be skipped. Well, I don’t care about thumbnails because I’m not shooting randomly. If I shot a clip, there’s a chance it will be useful, so I end up converting all of them into proxies right off the bat.

After you install everything, load MLV Converter and navigate to the folder with your MLV files. Then you set the DNG folder and the proxies folder. At this point, I didn’t need the DNGs, just the proxies, for editing. So, that’s what I rendered out.

Then, using these files I went into Adobe Premiere and edited the crap out of all my takes, getting to what I think would be the “final cut”. From this I knew exactly which takes and clips I would need. Wrote them all down in a piece of paper and went back to MLV Converter. Now I didn’t want proxies, and also didn’t want to convert every single clip. I just checked the ones I needed in my edit in order to get them into post, and this time, as Cinema DNGs.

Extracting the image files from the MLV container can take a while, so let it think for a night (or class).

Ok, now you lost a huge amount of storage with all these files and conversions. From this point, I backed up the MLV files into an external hard drive, just for safety, and deleted them from my main hard drive. The same goes for all the unused proxies. If you think they’re OK to keep, it might be useful in case you need to change something in your edit. The DNGs are also massive folders, but we’re gonna get rid of them in a bit.

The next step is converting the DNGs into LOG files and encoding them using AVID’s DNxHD codec because it stores 10bit frames and has a very nice ratio between file size and image quality. This will all be done in Adobe After Effects, and requires a couple things too. Everything is still free, except for After Effects.

1 – Adobe’s CameraRaw (7.1) – Easy and quick, just install. It allows you to open RAW files, like the CDNG, Canon’s CR2, Nikon NEF and many others. It’s automatically installed when you have Photoshop in your computer, you might just need to update.

2 – Vision Color’s VisionLOG Image Profile for CameraRaw – This is the key to deleting the DNGs. When importing the sequences into After Effects, CameraRaw will pop up. Go to the camera tab and from the profiles dropdown menu, pick VisionLOG. It will squeeze almost (if not) all information from the RAW file into a regular 8bit image that can be expanded in post through grading and color correction. Do tweaks in any settings you think you might want to improve before clicking ok. You’ll need to do this step for every DNG sequence you convert.

3 – AVID’s DNxHD Codec (2.3.7) – Just download and install. Inside After Effects, create an Output Template with the settings you need (frame rate, bit depth and so forth). If you’re not sure what to do while setting the template, go back to the hackermovies.com tutorial that they explain every detail of this process.

For exporting, be sure to import your audio files for each MLV as well, and then you can follow their path for rendering out automatically using a script. I had just a couple clips (less than 20 total), so I did this all by hand. The render from DNG to DNxHD also takes a lot of time, and you might have trouble if you didn’t shoot with standard 1080p resolution (I shot at 1728x1290px), check this at hackermovies too if necessary.

At this point you’ll have bunch of flat-ugly-looking clips that will make your director/producer worried if they see them. In Nuke I used the VectorField node, combined with the 3D LUT provided by Vision-Color to bring everything back to a “standard” look and work with this for previewing instead of the LOG clips. If you don’t have any idea of what a LUT is or does, check this and be happier. I’m still having a little trouble at this step – because I’m not 100% sure of my input and output colorspaces – but I’m getting there.

If you’re not going into Nuke, I know Premiere has an effect for LUTs (Lumetri) and After Effects CC might have something internal as well. If it doesn’t, just get LUT Buddy for free at Red Giant.

Of course, you can use dozens of other LUTs instead of just bringing the LOG images back to REC.709, but that’s up to you. I’ll just say that Vision-Color has some amazing options with ImpulZ.

After you finish the conversion of the DNGs into DNxHD, you can delete them all and your hard drive will feel relieved. If you’re brave, you can also get rid of all those QuickTime proxies and replace them with the DNxHDs plus LUTs. Chances are the DNxHD files are around 40% lighter than the proxies, which also gives you some more free storage. I wish I had some pictures to make this post look better, but I don’t want to give any spoilers away more than I already did! If you try following these steps and get stuck, feel free to leave a comment or message me that I’ll be glad to help!