The OC in HD: More Beautiful Than Ever
Anyone who's tuned in to The OC knows that, in this Southern California paradise, appearances rule. The right look, the hot car, the sprawling mansion - all are de rigueur for the drama that unfurls weekly on this hit Fox series produced by Josh Schwartz, McG, and Bob Delaurentis. The show is steaming up the ratings too, averaging 10 million viewers among the 18-34 crowd in its first season - a trend that enabled the show to move into the coveted Thursday, 8 p.m. slot for season two.
The second season brought another big change to The OC - a move to high-definition delivery. As a result, the postproduction team was faced with a drama of its own: how to preserve the beautiful look of the show that was captured on Super 16mm film throughout the HD mastering and delivery process.
"Our biggest concern was picture quality," notes associate producer Ben Kunde. "We shoot on Super 16, and we were concerned that when the show aired in HD you'd be able to see imperfections because the resolution is greater."
"I really like the Avid DS Nitris system a lot better than linear. Everything seems to flow a lot easier. The online editors enjoy working on it. There's a lot less time spent making clones. It seems to be smoother, flows faster, and takes a lot fewer steps."
- Rick Hubert, Postproduction Supervisor, The OC
Enhancing the Creative Environment
The first step in addressing this challenge was to ensure that editors could see the best possible picture in the cutting room. Working with Los Angeles equipment supplier New Edit, the show upgraded its four Avid Media Composer editing systems and added updated video cards and faster processors. "That let us see a cleaner, more precise picture than with our previous systems," explains Kunde.
Moving to these Avid editing systems also enabled The OC to take advantage of the Avid Unity MediaNetwork, so that editors Norman Buckley and Matt Ramsey and assistant editors Jeff Granzow, Matt Barber, and Susan Godfrey could all have simultaneous access to shared media.
"Editors have constant access from every machine - without someone having to actively move media around," says Kunde. "It has turned out to be a huge time saver. There's no waiting around for an assistant to move media. Everyone can stay in their rooms and continue working. More importantly, there's no break in the creative flow. I think that's the biggest advantage."
"It's great that Digidesign has created new interfaces that are more portable. The Digi 002 Rack is really convenient because it's FireWire connectable."
- Scott Schirle, Music Editor, The OC
Getting a Little Work Done
Once editorial is complete, the show goes to Los Angeles-based post facility Modern VideoFilm for finishing and HD assembly on the Avid DS Nitris system. It's here, as they say in The OC , where the show "gets a little work done" - specifically, scratch and dirt removal.
"We can be a dirty show - in more ways than one," jokes Rick Hubert, postproduction supervisor on The OC . "When we started delivering in HD, we knew we'd have a lot more dirt fixes [due to HD's finer resolution], and we knew that a nonlinear online system would be faster at that than a linear bay. Since Avid DS Nitris offers both HD mastering and great creative tools, we moved that process into the nonlinear world."
Hubert adds, "Cleaning up the show in a linear bay is monotonous. It takes about six or seven hours. With the Avid DS Nitris, they just use the magic pen and those scratches are gone. It takes half the time - or less. And the repositions come out much better now that we're working in HD. We can blow up the picture a lot more on the DS Nitris than we could on a system like Inferno. It can go to about 30 percent without getting grainy. It's great for finding hairs and dirt in the picture that we may not have caught in offline, and it allows us to get rid of them right there."
He continues, "I really like the DS Nitris system a lot better than linear. Everything seems to flow a lot easier. The online editors enjoy working on it. There's a lot less time spent making clones. It seems to be smoother, flows faster, and takes a lot fewer steps."
As for the process of mastering the show for both NTSC and HD, Hubert notes that the key is preparation and communication - from shooting to delivery. "We shoot for 16:9 but protect for 4:3. Editors now plan for HD when they make their outputs. If you're always aware of your final deliverables when you make decisions in the process, it's a pretty smooth transition to HD overall."
"Editors have constant access from every machine - without someone having to actively move media around. It has turned out to be a huge time saver."
- Ben Kunde, Associate Producer, The OC
Making Beautiful Music
While ensuring that the beautiful people look stunning no matter what the delivery format, pictures are only half of the story on The OC. Music is one of the show's biggest draws and a key part of its cross-marketing strategy.
Music editor Scott Schirle explains, "The music is always cutting edge. Taking this approach allows our audience to hear new music that isn't necessarily getting radio attention." He describes how the show introduces new music and up-and-coming artists. "We did a story on the show where the characters go to a live rock show, and the band we were featuring, Rooney, was on stage performing. We've done that many times since, which is successful for the band - they get exposure. Rooney got a lot of attention and press, and record sales went way up after their appearance on the show. Whether it's a new band or a new song, premiering new music is great for marketing the show to music audiences and vice versa."
While new bands and songs bring a distinctive edge to The OC , it's the musical score that underlies much of the show - on average, 30 of the show's 44 minutes. Schirle explains, "The score ranges widely from humorous to dramatic. Each of the cues is essential to building the storylines and characters."
He notes, "The editors really do quite a bit during offline to build the sound and edits that will follow. They go through notes and previews with the network and director. By the time the show is locked, they've made a lot of decisions regarding sound and the score. If they're cutting an emotional scene and the performances don't give them as much emotion as they want, they will seek out the most emotional cues in the accompanying music to compensate. Music and sound are really important to creating each show from the very beginning."
Associate producer Kunde adds, "Matt [Ramsey] and Norman [Buckley] are very adept at creating detailed mixes on their Avids. A lot of sound design happens in the editing suite before we get to the dub stage. Then we just hand over OMF files from the Avid systems to the Warner Brothers sound team."
When Schirle begins his process, he digitizes the video and imports a QuickTime movie into a Digidesign Pro Tools|24 MIXplus system . "The music cues I receive from music composer Christopher Tyng are time stamped and labeled, so I can spot it into picture," explains Schirle. "We may go through notes from the sessions when the music was previewed to executive producer Josh Schwartz. Christopher and I then make changes to accommodate the notes, and then we upload those edits to a server for the offline editors to preview against picture and approve. The process is pretty clean."
For Schirle, the creativity is in the mix. "It's really common on The OC to have more than one piece of music playing - where the score comes in over the source piece. We use these very intricate mixes to add overall impression. We often have two pieces playing at once, for two characters, to create an overall vibe. In those cases , I'll spend time pre-dubbing that music in Pro Tools to reflect what the picture editors have created in the temporary mix created in their Avid systems. I may have several stems of different music elements, and I pre-dub them so they go out to the mixer on separate faders. He might choose to adjust them, but if he keeps them all at equal levels, the music elements will play back at the predetermined relative levels."
He adds, "I also use Pro Tools to pitch-shift elements. If the score dovetails into a song, pitch shifting can be a useful tool to make a more harmonious transition. If it's a tricky edit, I might do a reverb tail on something to smooth out transitions between pieces of music, and I use a plug-in to do that. It saves time for the mixer if that detail has already been handled for him."
Schirle notes that in addition to bringing creative flexibility to his work, the Pro Tools system also delivers mobility. "It's great that Digidesign has created new interfaces that are more portable. The Digi 002 Rack is really convenient because it's FireWire connectable. I don't need a separate expansion chassis. I do my work in a side room without disturbing the rest of the stage. They run timecode, I plug my Digidesign interface into that, and sit and watch my Pro Tools run as if it were a tape machine. I also take my Mbox to The OC mix sessions. That allows me to have an entirely separate system to work on offline. To get media back in, I can just drag a session over to the dedicated OC hard drive and see all of the work done on the Mbox right there."
It's this kind of flexibility that marks each stage of the postproduction process on The OC . Whether it's Scott Schirle plugging into the mixing process to try a different cue on the spot, Norman Buckley finding and grabbing the exact shot he needs without leaving his seat, or an online editor zapping out scratches with the stroke of a pen, The OC exemplifies the art of a streamlined postproduction process where creativity is never limited or delayed - by equipment or even a change in format.
And that is a beautiful thing.