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Dark Energy: Lightning in a Bottle for the HDSLR Revolution

For about six months, I was under a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with a company out of Albuquerque, New Mexico that has a device that is lightning in a bottle for the HDSLR revolution. Lance Maurer, CEO and the team at Cinnafilm have developed an interesting box that I feel will change the way you look at compression problems in any digital format.

When you freeze on a frame of this highly compressed h.264 Codec on the big screen, you can quickly tear the image apart. The compression noise artifacts are huge at any ISO over 320. However, I have embraced this compression as an artist because it softens the inherent sharpness that all the high end HD cameras deliver. Don’t tell me to put a Soft FX filter on the lens or a Black Pro Mist. This works well in a studio, but wait till you get into the field: your hat will be handed to you fairly quickly with mother nature, and the extremes of sun and shade, flaring, and the wonderful milky quality that is inherent in all of this filtration. I say let the camera and the right lens do it for you.

A very intricate part of the puzzle has come together with this platform. Imagine: a device that can vaporize all compression, noise, and artifacts and then use that same technology to go back and texture your media with film grain exactly how you like it! Come on, this is not possible! Well yes, it is, and it is called Dark Energy. Lance and Ernie are the co-creators of this tower of power at Cinnafilm. They did not start out in the world of HD video – they were military scientists stationed at Los Alamos, a small town in the mountains of New Mexico where the nuclear bomb and some other incredible technology has been developed. Los Alamos has the highest IQ per capita of any city in the world and this speaks very highly of the designers of this product.

Lance, Ernie, and their team of military scientists have invented an algorithm that finds compression noise and then makes it disappear. We have been working on tests with “The Last 3 Minutes” and I wanted to share them with you. Not only does Cinnafilm scrub the compression noise and artifacts, but they then use that same algorithm to deliver any type and level of grain texture that you would like back to the media.

Click the images below for high-res.











Lance and I sat down together at the HP Dream Color monitor and he asked me what film stock I use to shoot with at night. I said, “I like shooting 5219.” He punched a few buttons and moved his mouse. “How would you expose your night interiors with 5219?” I told him that I normally under-expose my night interiors 1.5 stops to 2 stops depending on the subject matter. He said, “no problem,” and pushed three more buttons. Instantly my 1.5 stops under-exposed grain was up on the screen looking incredible. I was completely and utterly blown away!

At the moment, we are employing this new technology on “Act of Valor” at Bandito Brothers in Culver City. Jacob Rosenberg, head of Bandito Post and his Team are spearheading this technology into our workflow. We are sending the files to Company 3 to ready them for color correction with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who I have to say is likely the top colorist in the world. Stefan is so excited to take this platform and stretch it, mold it and see what this baby can do. He and I sat in the bay the other day and came up with a cocktail that basically goes against everything that was taught to us originally. We are trailblazing here and realize that what works for one HD platform doesn’t necessarily work for another. We were told to de-noise and add grain to the DPX files before going into the color suite. Through all of our tests, we found that doing everything after color correction was the only way.

Stay tuned. Here is Lance’s contact information where you can get more information regarding renting the Dark Energy Tower. Another part of the puzzle is in place, now let’s go out and continue to fuel the revolution.

Contact Lance Maurer
505-242-6626
Email Lance@cinnafilm.com or Ernie@cinnafilm.com to get more detailed information.

http://www.cinnafilm.com/

Author: Shane

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30 Comments

  1. Looks amazing but it also doesn’t look like it will be affordable for the masses. What might you know about this moving to being available as a plugin for let’s say, After Effects?

    Love it when you and your team bring us these exciting developments that pertain to the HDSLR world.

    Post a Reply
    • John Wise, Thank you so much for you kind words and support. What I am trying to do is raise the awareness and hope that when many people call, they will make it affordable for everyone. This is my wish. Let’s see if Lance and Ernie will deliver.

      Post a Reply
      • Done, I wrote them through their website after your answering me and asked about the potential for reasonably priced plugins for prosumer tools that us aspiring filmmakers who are trying to go the extra mile can gain access to – with the assistance of people like you who are helping to mentor a new generation of artists.

        Post a Reply
      • That would be so awesome if higher demand could result in a more affordable price, or more affordable version. Hope it all works out!

        Post a Reply
    • How does this compare to plugins such as Magic Bullet Denoiser for removing the grain and noise out of footage. Also would running your footage through Cineform’s Neoscene be helpful in creating better looking footage?

      Post a Reply
  2. Every post is full of knowledge¡ Thanks for the info. Cant wait to use that Cinafilm Noise reduction.

    Post a Reply
  3. Dark Energy?
    what a name ….sounds so military :-)
    Lance and Ernie,have mercy toward us,this looks fantastic.
    And Mr. Shane,thanks again for great article.
    You were always the right choice of information.

    Salute

    Post a Reply
  4. For a number of years now I’ve been doing my color correction in AE. I’ve come up with my own cocktail of Color Finesse, noise reduction and sharpening filters to reduce noise and compression artifacts. I came up with this back when I was shooting Betacam to give it a more filmic look. I love what the noise reduction filter (used in moderation) does to skin. It looks like Lance and Ernie have developed what I’ve been looking for. If they make this into an affordable app for the masses it’ll spread like a wildfire. Thanks again, Shane for keeping us ahead of the curve with your industry insight.
    BTW, what’s the status with Act of Valor? I’m chomping at the bit to see this thing.

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    • Matt Short, That sounds very cool. I hope that there is a ton of interest and a plug in is made. Act of Valor will be on 3000 screens on Feb. 17th 2012.

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  5. This is the most amazing addition to the workflow and cc process I have yet seen. The elimination of the noise and the softness of the subtle grain pattern gives the images a total “film look”, and after all, the look and texture of film has always been the bnchmark that digital cinematography has been targeting. Not sure how this all applies to footage from the Red, Alexa or F65, but this ir a similar cocktail can potentially be the solution that makes DPs, myself included…dare I say it…forget about shooting film.

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  6. I’ve found that http://www.neatvideo.com/ works wonders for noisy DSLR footage. Affordable as well.

    Cinnafilm’s product will assuredly be fantastic, but for this who can’t afford this, take a look at Neat Video’s plugin until you’re able.

    Post a Reply
    • I’m with Jake on the Neat Video plugin. It’s really amazing and has saved many shots from being too “noisy”. On the other hand…it’s controls are a little in depth and the auto features don’t always work on every frame. It has to find a certain square that has uniform color to sample from. Hope this Dark Energy is the wave of the future. Being a former Marine, I’m extremely excited to see Act of Valor. Congrats Shane on all your success!

      Post a Reply
      • Peter Mozingo, Thank you so much for your support. Act of Valor will change the way people view movies. There is nothing like it out there. It is the most 3D movie shot in 2D that you have ever seen. 2/17/12.

        Post a Reply
  7. Tweaking at it’s finest. Thanks for your informative posts.

    Look forward to seeing your work with ACT OF VALOR!
    (Act of Valor will be on 3000 screens on Feb. 17th 2012)

    Cheers,
    Ron

    Post a Reply
  8. I agree with Jake. Neat video does an excellent job of removing noise and can be tweaked to achieve to best noise removal. Also the developer has some great in depth video tutorials showing you exactly how to get the most out of the plugin. Hopefully Cinnafilms product can be offered to all of us operating on shoestring budgets.

    Post a Reply
  9. I’m sure the no-NR/Cinnafilm comparison is more dramatic on a monitor than is apparent in these webshots. The big-screen filmmaker universe, small as it is, may or may not achieve the critical mass needed to bring the cost down. Meanwhile, h264-artifact demons remain a fact of life for filmmakers whose work is destined for the “rest” of the current viewing devices, and Red Giant Magic Bullet Denoiser is our absolutely indispensable secret weapon at resolutions up to HD broadcast. It is versatile, usefully tweakable, fast, and easily affordable for almost any working professional. I have no affiliation with Red Giant; just offering this as a point of information.

    Shane, the knowledge and inspiration you provide here are admirable and priceless. Thank you!

    Post a Reply
    • Rob Walker, thank you so much for your kind words and all of your support. Great info for everyone, thanks for sharing.

      Post a Reply
  10. Thanks for the terrific write-up, and positive support, Shane. It is really interesting to see the variety of responses here to our endeavor. To clarify a few items and (common) tech questions that have come us since this blog aired:
    1) We are not actually out of Los Alamos Labs exactly – though we have worked with the Labs in the past; actually I come out of aerospace, but you know, I like Shane’s variation much better I think, so let’s go with that. ;)
    2) Dark Energy is “Texture Management” and format/framerate/cadence correcting in its finest form. We harness motion data at unrivaled (and secret) speeds to be able to create magnificent solutions and improved imagery that are unparalleled in the industry right now. Today we offer DE as a standalone software. Think of Texture Management as a vital step in the post process much like Color Correction is – and you get out what you put into it. Right now it works on powerful machines by expert users to get theatrical-grade images. For the past two years Dark Energy also sold under the name “ARRI Relativity” (no longer), as it is used equally as well on film scans – that is, degrain->color->regrain.
    3) We do offer DE in plug-in form, but right now only with Quantel’s Pablo and a couple high grade transcoding systems for broadcasters. We are a ways from migrating this into a simple, affordable plugin – but this feedback helps us gauge where to migrate next.
    4) I can tell you simply that other noise reduction solutions do not compare with what we are doing. There is no other tool like this – and it started out as a 7 year research project to make digital video look like film – so this film simulation thing is well understood by us.
    5) If you want to transform your HDSLR images into theatrical grade images, we can get you there; but it takes patience to detail and method like Shane discusses in his blogs and classes, meticulous planning, and additional technology like Cinnafilm to make it happen. If you want to run your footage, let us know we will connect you with service providers in your area that have DE installed.

    Please visit us at http://www.cinnafilm.com for more information. Thank you again, all, and Shane I can’t wait to see AOV!!
    -Lance (CEO, Cinnafilm)

    Post a Reply
  11. Thanks Lance.
    I can not wait to see DE in a form of plugin for AE.

    Post a Reply
  12. Wow!!! this is amazing Shane you did it again, and for Lance @ Cinnafilm we would love this as a plugin for Premiere Pro CS5

    Post a Reply
  13. Hi Shane,

    I’ve a big fan of yours and would like to first, thank you for all of the education you’ve immersed all of us inspiring filmmakers with. I recently just picked up a new 5DmII and am stoked to put it to use. I come from a videography background, making mostly corporate videos and whatnot. My first taste of HDSLR came from this years 48hr Film Festival that I shot with the 7D and was blown away with the DSLR format. From that point, I was sold and eager to pick up a 5DmII.

    I do have one question. I recently read about a new optical filter designed specifically for the 5DmII to combat moire and aliasing.

    Here’s the link: http://nofilmschool.com/2011/08/r-i-p-aliasing-problems-dslrs-filter-eliminates/

    Not sure if you’ve had the chance to test one of these, but I’d be curious to hear what you have to say!

    Thanks again!

    -James

    Post a Reply
    • James, Thank you so much for the kind words and support. I am going to do some test with this filter very soon. I have tried these filters in the past and they soften the image way too much, but in Phillip’s test it looked pretty good. Would have to see it on a big screen. I will get back with you once we get it in.

      Post a Reply
  14. Hey Shane,

    Just found your blog via the B&H website and it is blowing my mind! Love your work! A few questions I am having a hard time answering about the HDSLR platform. For reduced noise, do you always use your listed ISO values 160, 320, 640, 800, 1250, 1600? Does an ISO of 160 have less noise than 100? Or does 480 have more noise than 640?

    Also, would I ever want to set the color space to sRGB if I am trying to shoot the image as flat as possible because I know I am going to be doing a fair amount of post-production color grading? Is Adobe RGB the best to use for those skin tones regardless?

    Lastly, I understand that the H.264 codec is very compressed in an 8 bit, 4:2:0 color space. Even though the footage is no longer considered RAW, is it still possible to readjust the white balance and ISO in editing using the H.264’s active metadata or is all that information permanently baked into the file? Do you know if you can use a program like CineForm’s First Light to adjust active metadata information on 5D/7D files?

    Thanks!

    Post a Reply
  15. I’m wondering how much does it cost to buy Dark Energy?

    Post a Reply
  16. Actually, the price has dropped a lot since its first launch several years ago. We now sell Dark Energy Texture Manager (just noise/grain tools) for around $15,000 without the PC. Figure for a loaded Z800 around $10k tops with great local RAID, and you are looking at a system around $25,000 (with Teslas).

    Post a Reply
    • Lance M., Hi Lance, that is great news. After Act of Valor’s success in the texture process, we are using it on all of our commercials as well now. Yeah Baby!!!!. When I am coming to Santa Fe to hang with you guys?

      Post a Reply
  17. Hi Shane,

    First off a big thanks and my respect to you for this blog. It is a invaluable resource for a young aspiring cinematographer like myself.

    The question I have is regarding workflow order. I read Vashi’s article on color grading where he suggest first to remove artifacts and de-noise and after that start correcting and grading but in this article you say basically the opposite.
    My own experience says to de-noise later because grading usually comes with added contrast and added contrast brings up the noise in blacks, especially when grading flat material.

    So whats your final take on it, denoise first, grade later or the other way around. Eight bits does not allow mistakes, I had to find it the hard way and I’d like to do it right for my next DSLR project.

    All the best,
    J.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Joseph. I prefer to grade first because the added contrast and grading can bring out some of the noise/artifacts which then can be pulled out easier with Dark Energy.

      Post a Reply

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