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Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service's Public Service Announcement Is Saved Thanks to Resolve
Founded in 1973 by Surf Life Saving Australia, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter service is the longest serving search and rescue helicopter service in the world. Each year, Westpac saves an average of more than 2,000 lives and has carried out more than 22,000 flights, ranging from medical emergencies to search and rescue missions, during its 39 years in operation.
For its annual charity ball, Westpac decided to debut a public service announcement (PSA) about its efforts and called upon well known sponsors Reinhold and Jamie-Lee Habeler from Concept Creative Communications to handle the production. The Habelers then turned to The Film Bakery's Ben Allan and Clara Chong as the cinematographer and director team on the project. Based in Sydney, Australia, The Film Bakery is a self contained production company run by husband and wife team Ben Allan and Clara Chong.
The Film Bakery was given creative free range and headed into the project with a blank slate, an ideal circumstance for any production house. It was also an ideal circumstance to test out Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve 9 color correction software.
"In Australia, the Westpac Rescue Helicopterservice is a well loved and respected charity. Any production house would be honored to work on the project, and we jumped at the chance to collaborate," said Ben. "It was the perfect project to push the creative boundaries and see if Resolve 9 could keep up."
Pushing the Boundaries
As this was its first full project using Resolve 9, The Film Bakery wanted to get as hands on as possible and push the software it to its limits. In using an 8 bit highly compressed camera, Ben expected to encounter certain grading limitations based on past experiences, but found that Resolve's YRGB colorspace and 32 bit processing handled the highly compressed material without any problems. In Resolve, all image processing is at the deepest 32 bit floating point YRGB so corrections operate at the highest bit depths in real time. Deeper bit depths combined with YRGB colorspace provide users with dramatically wider color correction range.
"We expected to lose the smooth transitions and see banding from compression. In most cases you have to push the grade then dial it down a bit when dealing with highly compressed material," explained Ben. "With Resolve, we were able to push hard, and the images actually became visually unappealing before they broke down."
Making the Grade
The PSA features a mother frantically looking for her lost son on a remote beach while flashbacks show happy times together. While The Film Bakery had a clear idea of how they wanted the present day footage to look, they decided to challenge the typical warm look and feel often found in flashbacks.
"During the grade, we wanted to be creative and take the flashbacks somewhere interesting to really differentiate them from the present day scenes," said Ben. "We wanted to go somewhere distinctive, but we didn't have a clear idea of where exactly that was."
According to Ben, Resolve's different toolsets, such as Power Windows and Custom Curves, helped him manipulate and experiment with the images, but even more helpful was how easy it was to explore different versions of a single grade.
"Because it's so quick and easy to create new versions or switch between them, Resolve 9 encourages experimentation. We could look at each grade to see what worked and what didn't," he noted. "We went through six different approaches while grading the flashbacks, introducing different color tints and Power Windows."
The Film Bakery was able to evolve the flashbacks' color over time, while still using the first version as a reference point, eliminating any "tail chasing" as Ben puts it. According to Ben, sometimes colorists look so intently at one image that they get caught up in the most recent changes, which then become the baseline. Being able to cycle through each version and recalibrate the eyes and brain to the first pass was a very useful tool, thanks to Resolve.
Turning Sunrise into Sunset
The commercial also features several stunning shots of an actual Westpac helicopter. Because the helicopter could be called away at any time for an emergency, the helicopter scenes were shot early in the morning during sunrise, while the mother and son footage was shot in the afternoon. Thus, the footage had to progress in reverse order with sunrise passing for sunset.
Ben cites Resolve's new thumbnail timeline as a simple, yet extremely useful tool to track the progression of grades and images, and The Film Bakery was able to map out exactly what worked and what didn't. By viewing the progression cohesively, as opposed to one off frames, The Film Bakery was able to achieve a cohesive sequence. Ben notes that for any filmmaker getting progression correct is far more important than getting one shot right.
In turning sunrise into sunset, Resolve's node based grading layers allowed The Film Bakery to add different nodes and build layers of Power Windows on top of the primary grade, which together produced the overall sunset grade.
In the final shot of the helicopter flying away, the source footage showed the helicopter against a completely white sky void of color. By using a combination of two blue grade nodes, one sunset node and two vignettes, to introduce shading across all the nodes, The Film Bakery was able to create five Power Windows on the primary grade and produce the desired effect.
"Due to the limited availability we had with the helicopter, we were confined to a very small window of opportunity to film. This posed a significant challenge for post production lighting conditions," said Reinhold. "With the Resolve grade, the audience can signify time of day and the emotive flash back sequences clearly."
"What amazed me the most was how far Ben was able to push the grading without jeopardizing the overall picture quality," continued Reinhold. "Ben was able to dramatically push the Resolve color grade significantly, signifying the shots were filmed at dusk. In reality these shots were filmed with the sun high in the sky."
"The way Resolve 9 handles color and color depth has really recalibrated my expectations of what color correction software can do," concluded Ben. "While Resolve's features and capabilities certainly make it a high end system, its affordability and accessibility make it a high end system that anyone can use."