Reigning-in Raw: The Magic Lantern Guide

By Drew English

Working with RAW Video can be a challenge at times.  But it’s also super cool and rewarding when you see your end result.  Our weapon of choice is the Canon 5D Mark III hacked with Magic Lantern’s RAW Module.  It gives us cinema camera-esque picture quality and latitude in a very compact package.  The trade-off, however, is a more complicated and specific workflow.  There aren’t a ton of resources available out there on the internet yet.

So we thought we would pull from some of the great links and sites we have found as well as some personal tips for you all. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  This is just our way of doing things.  First, let’s look at a sample of a finished product.

Buying & Setting Up Your Cards First off, you’re going to need to set up Magic Lantern firmware on your 5DmkIII (and yes, that’s the only camera we’ve used it on).  Head over to their site here.  Not only can you download what you need, but they have a ton of information to get you started and a great community forum to help you out. Access the full Magic Lantern Install Guide here. The blanket disclaimer for using Magic Lantern is definitely “proceed at your own risk”.  With that in mind, here are a few tips for you to bear in mind as you navigate these new waters:

  •  Magic Lantern is firmware that you install on CF Cards that operates alongside the factory Canon Software.
  •  Use fast cards.  64GB, 1000x cards to be exact.  Accept no substitutes.  These cards can vary in price depending on the  manufacturer.  If you are looking for a good, affordable place to start, we recommend using Komputerbay cards.  We  have also had good luck with Lexar cards of the same spec.
  •  Make sure your record resolution can handle “continuous” recording.  We often shoot in Cinemascope resolution to  allow for faster write speeds to the cards.
  •  Record resolution is set in Magic Lantern PER CARD.  So, if you’ve brought along three cards, make sure they are all  set to the same resolution.  You’re going to be pissed if half your footage is 1929×818 and the other half is 1280×720.    Trust me.
  •  Do not, under any circumstances, remove the card from the camera while the power is still switched on.  It can brick  your camera and be a very costly repair.  Trust me.
  •  When dumping cards to hard drives, drag and drop the files and then manually delete them from the card.  Do  not format the card in camera.  It will erase Magic Lantern from the card.
  •  You cannot easily review your shots in-camera so take some extra time to set and light the frame the way you want it.

If you have any questions along the way, the Magic Lantern FAQ is a great place to start.  You can access it here.

The other point to bring up is the fact that this workflow requires very specific organization.    I’m going to assume you know how to do this.  Suffice it to say, have a system.  Have a folder structure.  Don’t deviate.  Have your act together.

Production Organization

This workflow can be daunting at the outset.  It takes up A TON more storage space than a conventional DSLR workflow.  There are not only RAW assets to deal with but, as you will see, DNG Sequences and Proxy files.  As such you should be prepared with plenty of storage.  We “roll deep” with pairs of two terabyte drives on shoots for various assets types.

DNG Conversions

The first step in the post process is to convert your RAW files into DNG sequences.  These are just a series of still images that will eventually become your footage. To do the conversion we use a program called “RAW Magic” which, for you Mac folk, is available for FREE in the Apple App Store.  It’s a very straight-forward, drag and drop type program.  Just drag your RAWs into the main window, designate your camera type and export location and RAW Magic will do the rest.  You can download it here.AA_RAW_Workflow_02_WEB Another popular choice is RAWanizer, which is a good option for Windows users.  You can find it here.

Creating Proxies With Resolve

We use an Offline/Online workflow where we generate smaller proxy files to work with in the cutting room and then take our edits “online” to color correct and finish against the RAW files, where we get all the detail and latitude from the footage. To do this, we are going to take your newly converted DNG sequences and move to Black Magic’s Davinci Resolve.  Resolve is an extremely powerful program, not only for color correction, but for media managing projects.  We use the “Lite” free version currently and it’s plenty powerful.

  • Within Resolve, import your DNG sequences to the “Media Pool”.  You will be able to playback and review shots here.
  • While here, click on the gear icon in the lower left corner and set your project frame rate.
  • The next step is extremely important: In that same menu, check the box that says, “Assist using reel names from the: Source Clip File Pathname”.  This step will allow you to online your edit when you come back to resolve for color correction.  DON’T MISS THIS STEP!
  • Next, move to the “Conform” tab and adjust your camera raw settings.  Make sure you’re decoding the footage by “clip” and your color space is set to “BMD Film”.
  • You can apply a Look Up Table (LUT) here if you want.  LUTs are, in their simplest form, a preset grade to get you “in the ballpark” with your images.  We use Hunter Hampton’s LUTThere are a ton more out there to experiment with so if you have some free time, start scouring those interwebs.  Here is a great tutorial on incorporating Hunter’s LUT into your workflow.
  • Finally, select all of your clips and click the Checkmark box for “Apply Settings to All Selected Clips”.  This will make everything uniform.

AA_RAW_Workflow_09.2_WEB

In the last part of this section, we are going to generate Proxy files to edit with.  Proxy files are like placeholders that let you construct your edit without making your computer want to smack you in the face for trying to edit huge RAW files that it can’t read anyway.  Rendering these proxies is pretty simple with only a few steps to follow:

  • In the “Deliver” tab set render to “Quicktime” and codec to “Quicktime Apple ProRes 422 (Proxy)”.  Set your project frame rate and resolution, and set Render Timeline as “Individual Source Clips”.
  • In the Filename section check “Use Source Filename” and in the Output section check “Force Debayer Res to Highest Quality”.
  • Finally select your destination, click “Add Job” and start that render!  When all is said and done you will have a batch of proxies that you can work with just like you would in a normal DSLR workflow.

AA_RAW_Workflow_13.2_WEB

Editing Your Offline in Premiere / Exporting Your FInished XML We use Adobe Premiere to edit so I’m not 100% sure how this will pertain to other NLE’s.  When you get your proxies imported into Premiere take note that the “Tape Name” column in your bins should be populated with a number.  This is the “Reel Name” that Resolve created.  YOU HAVE TO HAVE THIS NUMBER in order to get the footage back online in Resolve.

AA_RAW_Workflow_16_WEB

Go ahead and construct your edit as you normally would.  When you are done with your edit and are ready to take it online in Resolve, simply make sure the correct sequence is selected and export a Final Cut Pro XML file. Online and Color Correct in Resolve Back in Resolve, open up the project associated with your edit.

  •  Head over the “Conform” tab and import your XML.  
  •  In the dialog box that appears, rename the sequence to keep things organized.
  •  UNCHECK “Automatically import source clips into media pool”.  By unchecking that box you are forcing Resolve to  search for the cDNG files, which share a “Reel/Tape Name” with the proxies in your edit.  Therefore, Resolve will  build a timeline based off the XML, using the cDNG raw images at full resolution and color depth.  Time to color  grade!!

AA_RAW_Workflow_19.2_WEB

Once you are done with your grading in Resolve:

  •  Head over to the “Deliver” tab and make sure your render cue is empty.  
  •  Use the “Final Cut Pro XML Round Trip” easy set up.
  •  Select your codec (maybe ProRes 444???)
  •  Uncheck “render each clip with unique filename” to ensure Reel/Tape name retention.
  •  Then just add the job and render.  You will have an XML that will import the final, graded, high res files into you NLE  for final output.

Final Export / Import into Premier We are almost done, I promise!  Just a few more steps:

  •  Import the new XML for the color corrected sequence into your Premiere project
  •  Make any final audio or graphics adjustments.  If you have done a separate audio mix, now is the time to bring that in  as well
  •  Watch down your edit to make sure everything looks and sounds correct
  •  Export your final deliverables.

Take a deep breath.  You made it!

I will admit that this process was a lot of trial by fire for us.  We learned the hard way by having to re-render every single one of our proxies for a client gig because we didn’t create Tape Names for our proxies.

The excellent film blog, NoFilmSchool, posted this video outlining this workflow in detail.  Give it a watch.

I won’t lie.  This workflow takes a bit of getting used to and it feels like you’re working up a sweat at times.  But that’s OK.  If you stay super organized and double check yourself you will get this down in no time and your end product is going to be all the better for it.  I’ll leave you with a few more examples of just how good these results can look.  Not too shabby for all being shot on a DSLR! Here are a few more of our films that used Magic Lantern RAW exclusively. Enjoy!

 

  • Written by Drew English
  • Published February 28, 2014