HPA Tech Retreat: How the Pros Handle HDR in Post Production

In a panel organized by Colorfront’s Bruno Munger and moderated by British Cinematographer magazine editor Ron Prince, a group of executives and engineers tackled the topic of HDR workflow in post production. Netflix production engineer for original content Chris Clark pointing to shows like “Marco Polo,” noting that, “Netflix is obviously really excited about HDR.” The company now sets up a pipeline that enables any production to “flip to HDR” if they want to. “We are all about future-proofing,” he said.

Sony Pictures production/post production executive Bill Baggelaar has supervised the HDR re-mastering of 25 Sony legacy movies. “We’re going back to camera original,” he explained. “If it was finished in ACES [Academy Color Encoding System], we start from the ACES renders and move forward. Basically we modify the LUTs to get the high dynamic range information back, and that includes film as well as digital.”


Standards for HDR would be nice, he added, but “ACES is one of those technologies that could help us standardize.” “ACES is a standardized container for an archive master that can be used for downstream purposes,” he said.

EFILM Deluxe imaging science VP Joachim Zell noted that, “the technical issues are mainly caused by not planning the production right.” “Pre-production meetings are very important,” he said. “It looks like many movies going to HDR were shot by not knowing it would be an HDR title later, so there was no monitoring. HDR now brings out some of the issues that we dealt with 10 years ago.”

Technicolor image scientist Josh Pines said what he’s seeing is that, for “most of the projects if not all of them, HDR has been a late decision.” He explained that Technicolor urges studio clients not to “just walk away with the final projection master.”

“If we render something out without baking it in, you have a timed IP from the old film days, with all the dynamic range and color gamut information,” he said. “If you smartly archive that, it’s easy to go back and use it as a starting point [for an HDR version].” He also noted that the visual benefit of HDR is mainly “about increased shadow detail.”

Colorfront CTO Bill Feightner said that, “first and foremost, HDR or not, you need to have an approach to mastering, an image- and color-management workflow.” “With that in place, HDR is just another deliverable,” he said.

All the panelists stressed the importance of collaboration between production and post from the very beginning. “The projects that work the best are when the cinematographers and post houses are able to talk the day before the first day of the shoot, so that there are no surprises,” said Pines. “Engaging early is always a good idea,” agreed Baggelaar.

Prince asked the panelists about HDR in the DI suite, and whether there was a difference in coloring HDR vs. SDR. “This is very new and a lot of the colorists are being thrown into the deep end without a life preserver,” said Pines. “We’re still in the process with coming up with the tools and transforms so they feel it is the same process.”

Zell said definitely “it should be the same colorist for both versions.” “Directors pick colorists who see it like they see it,” he noted. “The colorist has been involved since dailies.”

With regard to putting the right tools into suites, Zell noted that the HPA Awards has helped him find the right tools, and Feightner argued that, “we’re on very old standards and we need to work on that.” “Standardized minimum black levels and viewing environments are very important,” he said. Baggelaar hoped for more reference displays aimed at the professional market.

Titling and captioning in the HDR world will be even more of a problem than usual, said panelists. “It’s always been a problem just trying to get it in the same color,” said Pines. “Educating titling houses would really help but they’ve been resistant.” Baggelaar noted that, “most VFX are finished in HDR but colorists will be more burdened with making titles look good.”