DMN Q&A with Mark Wilenkin: Workflow, Assimilate Scratch, Judas & The Black Messiah, Music & Murder Among The Mormons

While Mark was working with Mun Yik Leong as his Senior Colorist in South East Asia, he had the good fortune of meeting Paul Cameron, ASC and the rest they say is History. Well, not quite. History has a way of repeating itself…

Mark Wilenkin is a Senior Colorist / DIT who lives in Los Angeles, California

The workflow that Mark used during Paul’s RED Masterclass at Cameraimage in 2012 was in fact the same approach he used for Judas And the Black Messiah. And again, hired to be the DIT, the dailies colorist and the archivist, the same workflow was used by Mark for the Golden Globe Nominee for Best Picture in a Musical/ Comedy, Sia’s feature film Music.

“… it’s truly his technical skills and his keen eye that are a massive benefit to any production. Mark has come up with the most effective and efficient on set workflow that I’ve ever come across for not just how the media and image are managed on set, but also how the dailies are done and the consistency in how good they look.” Jeremy Newmark, VFX Supervisor for Judas and the Black Messiah

How Mark approaches a long form project has not changed. The difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is that Assimilate’s Scratch software has more tools under the hood to assist the end user. As digital sensors have improved, so too has Assimilate Scratch.

“For what it’s worth at first I was skeptical. Having been promised the world by some DITs in the past I was concerned this was too much for one person. I was quickly proven wrong, Mark smashed it. Primary and secondary color with grain… and delivered early.” Andrew Barbier-Dearnley, Head of Dailies CO3.

For Judas and the Black Messiah Assimilate Scratch was critical to Mark’s ability to successfully perform his roles as both DIT and dailies colorist for Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt BSC.

“The ease at which Mark handled his DIT duties along with being the On Set Colorist was flawless. Not only was it hugely beneficial for Mr. Bobbitt to see in real time his dailies colored at wrap each evening, but with Mark doing both jobs, it became a big production advantage. With Sean operating A camera, he didn’t spend a lot of time in front of the DIT monitors, so his time with Mark at the middle and end of each production filming day was vital, yet short and sweet.” Austin Lapierre, Production Supervisor for Judas and the Black Messiah.

Mark points out though that it’s not just the software that makes the workflow possible, but the people involved in the project.

“If I didn’t have Scratch? Yeah, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do. But please let the readers know that it’s because of the support I received from my producers, Andrew Barbier-Dearnley at CO3, the editorial department and Jeremy Newmark (VFX Supervisor), they were the ones who facilitated my ability to deliver on my promise, that’s to say, the work that I was hired to do. Even having as great a tool that Scratch is, it would have been impossible without the effort of the camera crew and sound department to make this workflow a reality.” Mark G. Wilenkin

The Workflow
“His workflow allowed me to leave each day with not only the colored dailies, but also the 2k full height proxy, log C files and corresponding color LUTs. This allowed me to actually do temp comps, on set, that I could send immediately to editorial and know that they’d drop right in, matching the dailies color. As a post production supervisor too, I was aware of how this workflow not only helped me in VFX down the road, but also how it integrated with editorial incredibly well. All of the onset metadata travels through with his dailies, and now that we are in post, there is so much more that we can do in house here in editorial, without having to go back to CO3 with questions or requests for material. This simultaneously makes things easier for us and saves the production a ton of money.” Jeremy Newmark, VFX Supervisor for Judas and the Black Messiah.

Q. Mark may you summarize your workflow for the readers please?
M. Of course! I’m happy to share but it’s kind of boring. The thing I find exciting about creating a workflow is getting the result you’re after, which for me is to have the freedom to spend as much time as I can being creative on set and in front of Scratch. This is the same workflow I’ve used with the DOPs who work with me on commercials, episodic and feature films, but I’ll keep it specific to Judas and the Black Messiah – right?

Q. Yes please.
M. So here goes. Whilst the cameras are rolling, I receive a live feed and using Assimilate DIT Pack (or Live Looks? Not SCRATCH) I grab stills so that I can mockup ideas before I get the footage. Once I have the footage, I balance the shots based off the grades I made from the stills. I then present each graded reel to Sean twice a day. Once the grades for each shot have been approved by Sean, I then concatenate the layers that make up the grade into a 64x64x64 CUBE file, which is then baked into the DNxHD 36 MXF and an unused or custom-named metadata field previously agreed upon with editorial and the VFX supervisor. Any power window or film grain texture applied is mentioned in my daily report.

Throughout the day exposed mags are offloaded on set by the Loader, Clark Birchmeier, via a Codex Vault XL to an 8TB Codex Transfer Drive. Reports, Checksums and 2K Full Frame Proxy files are generated in the Vault XL by Clark. I would then conform the 2K Full Frame Proxy files in Scratch against the ALE specific to each reel/ shot card.

Using the Media Browser feature in Assimilate Scratch I would then add custom metadata. The metadata is then baked at the time of transcode into the DNxHD 36 MXF for editorial. This ensures that any metadata, such as the name of the corresponding CUBE, travels down the post-production pipeline.

Q. Can you elaborate more on why the metadata customization is helpful?
A. Absolutely. I mentioned that Scratch has a powerful Media Browser function within the application. If I select all the clips in a reel these shots become highlighted in the Media Browser. I can then call up the Metadata tab in the Media Browser and add further metadata columns by either creating my own or by selecting one that already exists. This gives me flexibility on how both Editorial or VFX want the metadata that is useful to them presented. It’s not just helpful, but a necessary feature for the integration of on-set DIT and dailies coloring and, further down the line, Final DI.

Having decided with post on what metadata would be needed I then used Scratch to create render/ output templates for the sound-sync-color-dailies and PIX files I would create on set. I also provided the VFX supervisor with Full frame 2K QT Log C proxies and an ALE based off my dailies reels so that all the custom metadata could be carried across along with the concatenated grades as cubes.

The remainder of the workflow is standard practice. Together with the sound, the editorial deliverables, the PIX files, the script supervisor’s notes and the DIT/ Loader reports, the corresponding CUBE file is stored onto both shuttle drives. The Codex Transfer Drive(s) and the shuttle drives are then sent to CO3 and Editorial at wrap. While I would upload the PIX and editorial media that evening, CO3 would be offloading the Codex Transfer Drive via a Codex Transfer Drive Dock to a local SAN. They would then create two identical sets of LTO-7s, one set for each shoot day, from the verified SAN copy.

Clark and I would receive an email update letting us know that we could then clear the previous day’s shot cards and put them back into rotation. The Codex Transfer Drives and Shuttle Drives would also be returned to set the following day.

See I told you it was boring!

The Gateway courtesy Lionsgate

Q. What feature do you like most about Scratch?
M. I don’t have a preference really. Let me think about it for a second. Well, I guess it’s all of it really. I love using a Wacom pen and short cut keys for coloring. It’s what I do even when I’m doing final color work with a client sitting next to me in the suite. I end up having to use power windows to zone in on an area of the frame at some point in my grade and I find it quicker to use the pen for that and trace it out on the Wacom. So yes, creatively I love the split screen, zoom, pan feature and the relatively new Color Remap Vector Grids feature for that fine-tune-tweak. Data management is a huge boon in Scratch. Navigating through the use of the Browser and being able to edit or create custom metadata so easily makes Scratch a very efficient and powerful tool both on set and in the suite. New users will find it very helpful and simple to use.

I could go on and on and tell you how great the software is as I’m sure other artists out there will agree. Everyone has their own way of using the software and that’s also its strength. Assimilate is always listening to requests from the community and that’s how new features appear in the latest release. So, as artists in the community continue to share their thoughts and desires, Scratch evolves and improves and inspires more Scratch artists. It’s a proven cycle and one that I hope continues for many years to come.

Q. How have you evolved as a Colorist since you started using Assimilate Scratch?
M. Well I started off using Scratch-cine, I think that’s what it was called, back in early 2008. Now that I have more tools available in the 2021 version of Scratch I’m able to work on all the popular media formats and some of the more exotic codecs out there. One thing that I know for certain is that Scratch has given me the chance to do more with color. To give you an example, which to some might be a step backwards, I am using a Red Epic Dragon to capture 35mm 4 perf and 16mm motion picture film on a custom-built motion picture scanner that was designed, developed and built by my great friend @jonesrobino of RGRAIN fame and fortune. I can take the Live view from the camera into DIT Pack and work on the inversions in real-time whilst adjusting the printer lights before capturing the frames in the highest resolution and at the least compression that the sensor can perform. So, I guess it does go full circle to the Scratch-cine days!

Q. What are you currently working on?
A. Most recently in mid-February, 2021 I completed the SDR trim on Murder Among The Mormons for directors Jared Hess and Tyler Measom in Resolve. Bianca Cline was the DOP for the three-part mini-series that was delivered to Netflix and at the time the mini-series reached the No.2 spot for the US with an impressive 585 million viewing minutes.

I first worked with Bianca remotely as her colorist on Con Amor a short film she had shot for the director of the break-out Lumber 84 Super Bowl commercial, Stephen Cole Webley in Santiago, Chile.

What readers might find interesting about the Murder Among The Mormons project is that it demonstrates the camera to post theme that’s synonymous with Assimilate Scratch. Bianca had a specific look that she was after for the 80’s re-enactments as well as the interviews she was going to film and asked me to build them for her so that she could load them into the camera as ‘looks’.

After the production wrapped and in spite of Covid, I was able to work closely with her in the final DI using an ACES workflow in Scratch to produce the HDR pass.

Had I not done the final DI as a passion project for Con Amor I would not have been working as Bianca’s DIT these last few years and most definitely I would not have been considered as the colorist for Murder Among The Mormons.

Mark Wilenkin is a Senior Colorist / DIT who lives in Los Angeles, California

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