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The H2 Channel's "America Unearthed" Series Travels Through Time with SPLICE and DaVinci Resolve

Have you ever wondered if what you learned in school was the whole story? So does forensic geologist Scott Wolter, which is why he seeks to uncover the truth in the documentary series "America Unearthed," airing on the History Channel's H2 network. Relying on his trusty tool set of a flashlight and microscope, Scott acts as a real life Indiana Jones, facing the challenge of digging for America's archaeological secrets in tombs and caves, uncovering surprising evidence and proving there's still a lot to be learned from our past.

Conceived and produced by Andy and Maria Awes of Minneapolis based production company Committee Films, the series is mainly shot outdoors in a "run and gun" documentary style and features numerous reenactments. Add to that a 13 episode run and very tight deadlines, and some might shy away from the challenging post production process.

But not Michael Sandness. Just like Scott, he accepted the challenge head on, relying on his own trusty tool set, which consists of Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve, Teranex 2D standards converter processor and DeckLink capture and playback card to get the job done.

High Volume, High Efficiency, High Quality
As a colorist at Minneapolis based creative, design and post production company SPLICE(r), Michael had previously worked with Committee Films on several successful documentary series for the History Channel, National Geographic and NOVA, as well as a number of commercial and advertising projects. In addition to color correction, Splice provides design, 3D graphics, online edit, sound design and audio mix for the series.

"America Unearthed" is the largest and most complex project the two companies have collaborated on to date, 10 times the scale of previous projects and all of which has to be completed under a very tight timeline.

"It's about getting high volume, high quality work done fast, and Resolve's features are perfect for the job," says Michael. "To manage volume and time, I really rely on Resolve's Lightbox, tracker and ability to use remote grades."

Resolve's Lightbox shows all clips with timecode in the timeline as a grid of thumbnails. This allows for quick evaluating, comparing and searching for necessary clips when making selections, creating groups, flagging clips or scanning for a particular scene or looking for an individual clip.

According to Michael, Lightbox allows him to see the whole show laid out as a storyboard, which helps him get a feel of what's working and what needs improvement. Because he can navigate the show so quickly in Lightbox, Michael can even single out a specific shot that might look off compared to everything else and grade it within Lightbox.

"The ability to work using remote grades saves me from recreating the wheel," he said. "If I grade a shot from the first act, and it repeats itself later, which often happens in the show, the grade is already on it. These tools allow me to work quicker, which in turn lets me be more creative and not have to worry about time.

"The tracker is so fast. It's fun to have the clients watch me do it. They blink and it's done. It also impresses them because it shows that you really are giving them everything you can," he adds. "Resolve's tracker eliminates any excuses not to be able to do something based on time, and not to use it is inexcusable."

Resolve's 3D tracker locks Power Windows to on screen objects, so time is not wasted on keyframe generation. Michael uses the tracker to highlight specific corrections when showing footage to the client.

Past, Present, Future
"Not only is the show challenging from a size and time perspective, but the footage itself is also challenging," explains Michael. "It's a 'run and gun' documentary style show, but we don't want it to look like reality television. So, it's up to me to give it a seamless and timeless feel during color correction."

According to Michael, the footage is shot very well, but the crew often has to use available natural light due to the locations. Since the show is shot over the course of several weeks, and one day may be sunny while the next is cloudy, it's up to Michael to blend the environment and create a cohesive feel with Resolve.

Alternatively, grading the show's reenactments is when Michael really gets to flex his ability as a Colorist. Using Resolve, Michael enhances the footage to showcase a specific period of time, differentiating it from the current day.

"Resolve allows me to easily create and quickly try different looks, which help us decide on which direction to go without wasting time," says Michael. "There are virtually no limits to what I can do with Resolve. No limits on how many secondary color correctors or nodes I can use, and the node based approach lets me target a specific correction to specific node, so I can get very precise."

Broadcast Deliverables
Once color correction is finished, Splice uses Teranex for creating a Standard Definition 29.97 Letterbox deliverable from the 1080p 23.98 master.

"We use Teranex a lot on the backend for standard definition deliverables or input conversions. Sometimes our clients want everything converted on the way in, so there's no mystery as to what the frame rate standard is," explains Michael. "We use it for dozens of broadcast deliverables because it can do everything from1080p 23.98 to 1080i 59.94 to standard definition. Often times, our clients have their own masters and need multitudes of deliverables, and Teranex gets the job done effortlessly."

Making History
Not only did Michael work on Season 2 this past summer, this time for 26 episodes, double the first season, but "America Unearthed" is the number one rated series of all time on H2. Splice recently won a Silver Award for "Art Direction & Design: Program Informational Graphics" at the prestigious 2013 PromaxBDA Promotion, Marketing and Design Awards for its work on the series.

"Resolve continues to grow as a tool, and the investment Blackmagic Design is making in it excites me as a Colorist," concludes Michael. "As Resolve continues to grow, what I can do for my clients continues to grow. The more I can give as a Colorist, the better it is for my skill set, clients and business."

SPLICE(r) designs and creates entertainment solutions. They partner with global brands, agencies, networks and content creators to tell visually compelling stories across all platforms. Splice collaborates on feature films, television, advertising and retail networks. All of its partners benefit from an incredible infrastructure and top level production and technical staff.

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Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, DaVinci Resolve, Teranex 2D, DeckLink

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