The Dark Knight
Deep, Intense, and IMAX Friendly.
In 2005, director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) gave an edgy new twist to the Batman franchise with his gritty, realistic Batman Begins. His latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, evokes a similarly gloomy and introspective tone. Starring Christian Bale as the impenetrable Batman, the film also features Heath Ledger as The Joker in a fearlessly sinister performance that redefines the role and has already sparked talk of a posthumous Academy Award.
“This is a dense and complex story. We may be taking it even deeper and darker than Batman Begins,” says editor Lee Smith, A.C.E. “People are really going to have an enjoyable but intense experience.”
Smith has frequently worked with Nolan (Batman Begins, The Prestige) and enjoys the easy repartee that has developed with the director, giving Smith vast leeway to interpret the material as he sees fit. “It’s great to work with the same director on multiple occasions. You develop a sort of shorthand that makes for a streamlined process,” he explains.
Good thing, since this film was enormously complex. Not only did the post team create a conventional film release, they simultaneously created an IMAX film, which included four action-packed sequences shot on IMAX 65mm film. “The quality of the original IMAX photography is stunning,” says Smith. “It gives the whole movie a lift in those sequences.”
It’s a dense and complex story. We may be taking it even deeper and darker than Batman Begins.
Shot by shot, the two versions of the film are virtually identical, with the IMAX sequences scaled down for the conventional 35mm print. The two different aspect ratios in the IMAX film print were initially a concern, so Smith and his staff tested an editing workflow that could accommodate both the 1.44:1 and 2.35:1 ratios. They chose an Avid digital editing setup to handle editing both films, using a single Avid timeline. Creative cuts were done at 14:1 resolution, using as many as eight Avid Media Composer systems connected to an Avid Unity MediaNetwork shared-storage solution with 2.88 terabytes of storage.
Using a variety of source footage and visual effects tracks, the editing team originally ran 16 video tracks for different elements; however, that process soon became unwieldy. So first assistant editor John Lee developed a scheme to consolidate and color code the material on the Avid timeline, using the V4 track for screening material in IMAX and the V8 track for screening material in cinemascope. “When we could simply select the two vision tracks and go back and forth between the two, it made the entire process incredibly seamless,” says Smith.
Interchangeable Editing Systems
A busy travel schedule added another layer of complexity to the 15-month editing process. The editing team started work in Los Angeles, traveled to London and Chicago, and then back to London and Los Angeles. “There was no downtime between the setups,” says Lee. “We would fly out on a Thursday and expect to be at work on Friday.”
They used the same Avid Unity MediaNetwork system in each location, sending it on to the next editing locale a day or two ahead while using media backups on FireWire drives. Interchangeable Avid Media Composer systems were set up in the different editing suites by U.S.-based Digital Vortechs and U.K.-based Salon and could be quickly and easily plugged into the Avid Unity network as required.
The easy interoperability of various Avid systems also enabled the director to work off-site to keep the creative momentum going. In London, the editors cut the film in editing suites outside the city on weekdays and worked with the director at his home on weekends. “Chris’s home was in central London, so we’d take material on a FireWire drive, cut on an Avid [Xpress Pro system] on the weekend, and bring back the changes and plug it right back into the [Avid] Unity,” says Lee.
The editing team also used an Avid Xpress Pro setup on the sound mixing stage at Warner Bros. in Los Angeles as a reference for last-minute changes. “While the film was pretty much locked [at that point], there were still a few visual effects sequences that we were still working on, so we could quickly look at those,” says Lee.
The quality of the original IMAX photography is stunning. It gives the whole movie a lift in those sequences.
The media-management capabilities of the Avid setup were critical for handling approximately 1,500 visual effects shots ? about 500 of which were repositions of the IMAX material for the 35mm print.
Because the IMAX negatives came in as a big square image, Smith had to extract a portion of those shots to include in the conventional film print.
“We had to look at them like visual effects,” says Smith. “We used the PIP [feature] as a camera operator in the Avid [system] to reposition [the IMAX shots] to fit in a conventional cinema. My visual effects editor, Tom Barrett, made a [PIP] template, which made it easy for us to dip into a shot, make an extraction, and send it to the visual effects department.”
The director had also requested that the editing team keep Batman Begins online as a reference, so the earlier film was loaded on the Avid Unity system as well. “It came in really handy,” says Lee. “We shot in Chicago and London for Batman Begins, so we could use some of the same aerial plates or plates for car chases. It was really helpful as temp material when we hadn’t shot those scenes yet. We also used some of the sound effects and a lot of the music for temp sequences. I thought we’d eventually move it off, but we kept dipping into it the whole time. So, we basically carried two feature films on the [Avid] Unity.”
Smith has been using Avid systems for years and views the systems as reliable workhorses capable of working with multiple films - and film versions - at once. “We try to keep technology as bulletproof as possible. These films are so complicated. We need the equipment to just be humming along,” he says.
That peace of mind gives the filmmaking team more time to focus on creating the best film possible. And, on The Dark Knight, they’ve created a Batman that is ready to soar.
Images © 2008 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc
Behind The Cape & Cowl
Assistant Editor John Lee discusses ‘The Dark Knight’ post workflow and integrating IMAX footage with Avid.
Create the latest film in the Batman franchise, balancing action-packed visual effects sequences with a dark and contemplative tone.
Create IMAX and conventional film releases simultaneously, using both 65mm and 35mm source material.
Use an Avid editing and shared-storage workflow that flexibly accommodates any number of editing workstations in editing suites, at homes, or on mixing stages.
Use a color-coding scheme on a single Avid timeline to help create both an IMAX and a conventional theatrical release simultaneously.
Cameras: Panavision (35mm); IMAX (65mm)
Offline resolution: 14:1
Print master: 35mm (conventional theater); 70mm (IMAX)