Developed by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Felicity) and Damian Lindelof (Crossing Jordan) and now in its second season, Lost tells its story in a vivid, intricate, and largely non-sequential style. The events of the 40-plus days of captivity are relayed in mixed order and bolstered by a Hawaiian backdrop that is captured for its beauty and richness on 35mm film. The shows are then edited in Los Angeles and prepped for broadcast in both SD and HD formats. Because of this challenging workflow, producers must adhere to a vastly compressed editorial schedule.
On most shows you get three days for assembly, three days for the director's version, and a few days to lock an episode, says Lance Stubblefield, assistant editor on Lost. Because we film in Hawaii the footage has to be flown in, and we typically won't receive Monday's footage until Wednesday morning. This puts a real crinkle in our schedule and forces us to work three times as fast in editorial while still being as accurate as possible.
Enter Avid Technology. With a powerful and highly integrated workflow of offline, online, effects, and editing solutions, Lostsintensely creative and detailed episodes are produced at breakneck speed. Using an Avid Film Composer XL system for offline editing, the Avid Unity MediaNetwork solution with MediaManager software for shared storage and asset management, an Avid DS Nitris system for finishing in SD and HD, a SOFTIMAGE|XSI system for visual effects, and Digidesign Pro Tools systems for sound work, Lost's creative team can exchange files and enhance content while operating at full tilt.
- Lance Stubblefield, Assistant Editor, Lost
Offline Editorial and Storage
With a different director for each episode and shows shooting virtually non-stop, Lost's three editors and two assistant editors work simultaneously on multiple episodes using Avid editing and shared-storage systems provided by West Hollywood-based Digital Vortechs. At the outset, Stubblefield and assistant editor Chris Braun capture DVCAM dailies, typically using two of the production's four Film Composer XL systems at the same time. They digitize at 14:1, which, according to Stubblefield, gives them the best image in 24P while making the optimal use of storage space.
For a show like Lost, which moves multiple characters forward and backward in time, storage is a prime concern. Stubblefield explains, The story is extremely intricate, so we often need to go back to old daily footage in order to fill in missing pieces of the story. Last season we used one terabyte of storage on [Avid] Unity, but this season we've pushed it up to three terabytes, and I can tell you that the extra space comes in handy.
As for assembly, Stubblefield says that each editor uses the Film Composer system in a different way, but he finds the trim, digitize, and transitional effects indispensable and the EDL performance crucial. The Lost narrative is so dense and our time is so short that we have no room for hiccups or failures. With Film Composer, I've never had a problem generating EDLs. I take it for granted because it's so unbelievably good.
Early cuts can run as long as 15 minutes over the required 42-minute and 25-second program length, and Stubblefield finds it fascinating to watch how the senior editors, directors, and producers use the Avid systems as a tool to quickly reassemble elements and restructure scenes to make the show shorter. Anything that slows the story down gets thrown out, he says. They put a lot of TLC into their [finished] product.
- Trevor Jolly, Sound Supervisor, Lost
Sound and Effects
Once the picture for an episode is locked, the director and editors run a spotting session for elements such as sound, visual effects, and music and then send the EDLs and OMFs to the appropriate parties. In terms of sound, Lost's team of ADR, dialogue, and music editors all use Pro Tools|HD workstations, so media is easily exchanged and coordinated among members of the sound team, as well as with the picture editors.
But for Trevor Jolly, Lostssound supervisor, Pro Tools delivers its greatest benefit on the stage where the editors can work interactively and simultaneously with the mixers. The stage uses a digital board in conjunction with a Pro Tools|HD system, which is used for playback and for all the mixing plug-ins. We're under huge deadline pressures, so we don't have time to marinate our creative ideas, and we don't have time for mistakes. Pro Tools not only allows our mixers to think like editors on the stage, but also allows the editors to think like mixers in the edit room. That's something that makes the product truly shine, says Jolly.
Around the same time that sound work is done, or sometimes before it even arrives in L.A., Lost's effects partner, Honolulu-based Cause & F(x) Pictures, handles wire removal, set extensions, and modeling with the SOFTIMAGE|XSI system. With a wide range of visual effects per episode, tight product compatibility with the Avid Film Composer and Avid DS Nitris systems makes a big difference in terms of staying on schedule. Kai Bovaird, the owner and executive director of the company notes, SOFTIMAGE|XSI is one of the best commercial modeling tools on the planet. We could never turn our work around so fast without it. He adds that he has converted a number of local artists to the system and sees Softimage expertise as a key draw for landing future effects projects in Hawaii.
- Kai Bovaird, Owner and Executive Director, Cause & F(x) Pictures
editing phase on the Avid DS Nitris finishing system. During this period, formatting is a priority, as the show, which is cut in 16:9, must be delivered to ABC in both HD and SD. This means that the postproduction editorial team at Complete Post, a division of Technicolor in L.A., has to generate a 4:3 version of each episode, thereby adding an additional and potentially draining step to the online process. However, with the Avid DS Nitris system's advanced conform functionality virtually every detail is automatically converted, thereby saving time and money. Tamara Issac, post supervisor for Lost, explains: If we have 750 edits in an episode, we may need as many as 400 repositions for the 4:3 version. With Nitris we can get all of that work done in roughly five hours, which is really great.
Bruce Motyer, online editor at Complete Post, concurs. Lost relies heavily on repositions and [Avid DS] Nitris is an extremely efficient tool for this sort of work. I think it's a fabulous box, he says. The automatic conform from the offline cut done on the Film Composer system makes the finishing process that much faster. Motyer, who has been working with an Avid DS Nitris system for more than four years and has extensive experience with Avid Symphony and Avid Media Composer, appreciates the easy workflow enabled by the Avid system's common interface design and broad-scale systems compatibility.
He also speaks highly of the Avid DS Nitris system's graphics toolset, media management, and effects and transition capabilities, among other features. Of compositing features, he says: The tree workflow in the compositing layout is especially useful because its compositing nodes provide an intuitive left-to-right workflow that makes even the most complex compositing work easier to do. However, it's the Avid DS Nitris system's breadth as a complete finishing solution that he appreciates the most. Nitris is capable of so much more than a conventional linear editing bay. With capabilities like extensive color correction, a newly added shot can be easily matched against material that the client already has in the timeline. Things like boom removals and dirt fixes can also be done quickly from within the timeline, which saves time that would have otherwise been spent working in a separate system. This can make a big difference when the client is up against a tight deadline, and it's something that keeps them coming back to Nitris.
Pulling It All Together
With Avid products at virtually every stage of the editorial process, Lost has been able to set new storytelling standards for primetime television. From maximizing the visual warmth and detail captured on 35mm stock to streamlining the sound, effects, and editorial processes, the show has been able to seize viewer attention in an entirely new way.
Moreover, with a fan base that scrutinizes footage on TiVos for detail and the so-called Easter Eggs that reveal deeper layers in the narrative and hint toward future events, the show is meticulously tracked and inspected by its viewers. This level of scrutiny makes the editorial work enormously rewarding for editors like Stubblefield, and it bolsters his confidence in Avid products such as the Film Composer system.
Things run smoothly and quickly, and the systems do what we want them to do. That's the key about Avid systems, and it's what makes them so indispensable, he says.
* Photo Credit: ABC/Mario Perez