Rise to the Top: The Post-Production of Blue Planet 2 | Industry trends

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blue planet 2 uses breakthroughs in marine science and cutting-edge technology to explore new aquatic worlds and reveal the latest discoveries in and around Earth’s oceans.

The follow-up to the 2001 original, it took four years to make and involved 125 expeditions and 6,000 hours of scuba diving. But the hard work didn’t stop once the cameras stopped rolling.

“Grading underwater images is one of the hardest things a colorist can do,” says blue planet 2 colorist Adam Inglis, who listed the series at Bristol’s Films at 59.

“Colour, contrast and brightness are all very variable depending on how much water you are shooting, how clear it is and how deep it is. And the deeper you go, the less colored light there is to work with: the first to go is red, then green, and finally blue.

Despite these challenges, the production team still wanted blue planet 2 be far more than just, well, blue. As such, each episode has been given its own individual palette that matches its subject matter.

The Deep, for example, features a lot of black while Reef is full of color. At the same time, the whole series had to feel both natural and vibrant.

Therefore, in addition to the already difficult task of balancing such variable material, Inglis and the grading team also had to extract as many colors as possible from the images.

“There are many ways to do this,” he says.

“You can remix color channels, adjust specific color hues, mix different shades in shots, etc. You would never really want to work to match the worst quality shot in the footage; ideally, you would match the best.

Inglis used Baselight from Filmlight for quality and was able to take his time which really helped.

“I would often classify a shot in several different ways and compare the final results to see which approach was best,” he adds.

Bring color to ocean creatures

With the sequences matched and as much color and light extracted as possible, the final task was to ensure that the resulting images could comfortably tell the blue planet story. Inglis had a few things in his favor.

“The amount of information that modern cameras can capture, even in such harsh conditions, is remarkable, but more importantly, the images themselves were simply stunning,” he said.

“The quality of the camera work and the beautiful and sometimes beautifully ugly animals themselves deserved the best treatment I could give them. While it can be difficult to work with images of such a strange world, it’s also extremely rewarding.

The online release of the series was completed by Films at 59’s Franz Ketterer and Wes Hibberd. They were responsible for embellishing the images, often shot by shot.

It was a task that was made more complicated by the filming conditions in which the footage was acquired and the range of varied sources provided. This meant that an element of improvement and restoration was needed.

A bespoke workflow has been designed for work with Ultra High Definition (UHD) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) delivery, as well as HD Standard Dynamic Range (SDR), in mind.

The series has been shaped and graded in Baselight in an ACES color pipeline, and finished in Flame Premium. Digital Vision’s Phoenix film restoration application and Adobe’s After Effects were also used.

BBC blue planet 2 (2)

blue planet 2 is a production of the Natural History Unit of BBC Studios and a co-production with BBC America, Tencent, WDR, France Télévisions and CCTV-9.

While viewers in the UK can see blue planet 2 in HD on their TVs (and potentially in higher resolution formats via BBC iPlayer at some point in the future), the series itself is destined for a number of different destinations around the world – and will be viewed from different ways.

As such, a large number of deliverables were required. Again, that responsibility fell to Films at 59.

In addition to the version broadcast by the BBC, the Bristol post house will deliver seven more in HD and two in UHD HDR. There are nine main versions for each of the six programs: 63 versions of the series in total. And then there are also different sound deliverables, both for stereo and 5.1.

Films at 59 post-producer Miles Hall, the project manager on blue planet 2states that the scope of deliverables means that delivery processes must be integrated into the entire post-production workflow from the outset, especially bearing in mind “hard” delivery deadlines.

“Delivery times are often different for each version,” he says. “So while the BBC TX version is the focus, this may be the last to be delivered, with the Worldwide and DVD versions being needed first to enable DVD localization, authoring and distribution.”

To facilitate the delivery process, the building blocks that make up each program – the bites, titles, main body of the program, sections without a presenter, calls to action, “making of” log, credits and end boards – are all treated as separate items.

Hall describes it as being a bit like a model kit.

“Each of the items goes through its individual post-processes as needed and they are only brought together on a single timeline for final review and export for each release,” he says.

“The BBC version, for example, includes the ‘making of’ journal and a call to action from the Open University, but the BBC Worldwide version has its own sting, no ‘making of’ journal and a chart different end.”

For UHD HDR releases, Films at 59 offers both a 25fps Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) series for BBC Worldwide and a 23.98fps PQ series for Blu-ray. The latter requires careful attention to metadata markup as this will impact downstream distribution and how the final version is viewed.

All releases then go through a quality control (QC) and file delivery process, each taking a number of hours.

Like the series itself, the post-production of blue planet 2is no small feat.

“Resources are stretched more as editorial changes are made along the way,” Hall adds.

“These often have to be integrated into files that have already been produced and sometimes even delivered. Having a solid set of internal procedures to manage all of these deliverables is essential if everything is to get where it needs to go and on time.

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