These manufacturers stay ahead of the digital intermediate process as they prepare to struct their stuff at NAB
By Claudia Kienzle
Scanning a film frame at 4K resolution is not new, but doing it quickly is. Until now, if you wanted to scan film images at 4K resolution, the only option was to put the film on a conventional film scanner - a very slow process. Even a top film scanner, such as the Imagica Imager XE, does 4K scans at about eight seconds per frame (not frames per second). For this reason, most jobs going to film scanners were just select scenes or frames where preserving picture information was critical to effective computer graphics imagery. What does this have to do with telecines? Well, until now, resolution-independent telecine/film scanners had maxed out at 2K resolution data scanning. And if you needed 4K, you either did without or moved to a conventional film scanner.
Getting the Most from Film
But, today's next-generation telecine/ film scanners have reached the 4K data scanning benchmark, giving people a fast, flexible alternative to conventional film scanners. And more importantly, they're promising to get the job done in four to eight frames per second (not seconds per frame).
That means that if you want to scan all the frames in a 90-minute movie at 4K (or up to 4096-by-4096) resolution, the ability to scan at four frames per second, versus eight seconds per frame, means moving the work along 32 times faster. So, it becomes practical to distill most of the picture information from an entire feature film to make a richer, more detailed electronic clone that can yield higher quality results in the digital intermediate workflow.
While they are slower, conventional film scanners are less than a quarter the price of telecine/film scanners, while offering 10- to 14-bit depth range, rock-steady pin registration and other features. But, million-dollar telecine/film scanners are promising comparable quality and steadiness, while letting you manipulate colors, contrast and other picture attributes during the transfer.
So it's essentially a debate of time versus money, and how much 4K scanning you plan to do. But, the convenience, quality and speed of having 4K scanning on the telecine will likely propel the digital intermediate process forward.
Cintel: 2K and 4K Scanning
"We are pleased to include 4K data scanning, in addition to 2K scanning, on our flagship product, the C-Reality. This is an exciting development that ensures that data output resolution equates to 35mm original camera negative and that film images can be transferred without any loss in resolution," says Peter Swinson, business development manager, for Cintel (www.cintel.com), which is headquartered in England.
"Scanning at 4K ensures film quality digital effects, archiving and restoration, and ensures that the data images are 100 percent future proof for future d-cinema standards," he adds. Today's C-Reality offers 4K (4096-by-3112 pixels) with 14-bit linear and 10-bit log capabilities.
According to Adam Welsh, Cintel's managing director, "There is potential to extend this resolution to 6K, for example for Vista-Vision, should such resolution be desired. Of course, there are issues regarding the feasibility of managing scanning at this level, and we are working on solutions to manage lossless compression and decompression."
At NAB, Cintel will show C-Reality DSX, an SD/HD telecine with the new DSX film scanner, which matches the data requirements of Fibre, HIPPI and HSDL. Cintel is also developing solutions that will allow compression of large 4K data files, without loss of data. For example, a full two-hour movie scanned at 4K resolution, with the full negative tonal range, would be able to reside on a 250GB hard disk.
Cintel is also developing an image stabilization system to achieve stability better than 0.005 percent of frame height or less than a quarter of a 4K pixel. And Cintel is testing Ultra-Pin gate, with stability exceeding most film cameras.
Welsh adds, "As an organization, we are responsive to the needs of our customers." Developments directly resulting from customer requests include multiple HD format scans; 2K data throughput at 18 fps using HSDL data paths; HIPPI data interfaces for all data resolutions; Super 8mm (for its affordable Rascal telecine); and a controlled look-up table (LUTs) engine for fixed and user-selectable tables to ease calibration for end-to-end data solutions, as well as Lin/Log conversion, and monitoring set-ups to emulate video, film projection, digital projection and graphics press.
Welsh concludes, "While HDTV and digital film acquisition has created a reduction in film transfer requirements, the need to transfer from film camera negative at high-quality has resulted in a demand for higher resolution scannersâ€¦such as the C-Reality."
Speed with Steadiness and Control
"At this time, we have no plans of doing 4K scanning, primarily because all the practical test results we've seen have not proven conclusively that the benefits of 4K - as compared to 2K - are apparent when taken back to film. Also, frames per second scanning, render times, storage expense and basic data management in 4K add up to a lot of time and expense," says Rick Harding, Vialta product manager for Sony Electronics, San Jose, Calif.
"By targeting realtime 2K as a goal for our Vialta telecine, we are positioning ourselves for the digital intermediate. 2K are manageable and can be interpolated up to 4K, if desired, when going back to film," adds Harding. "The many attributes of Vialta, such as full bandwidth capture, increased exposure time, superior colorimetery, optical pin registration, etc., all provide significant advantages in digital cinema and high-end mastering applications."
According to Larry Thorpe, VP, Content Creation Division, at Sony's Park Ridge, N.J. offices, "We gave a first priority to delivering full bandwidth, high definition RGB in realtime from our Vialta telecine [via dual link HD-SDI at 3 gigabits per second] to computer workstations. And we're working toward realtime 2K data output. This increased speed of operation will give our customers a huge workflow advantage in complex mastering,"
Also, considering that DVD, satellite and DTV broadcast, and other digital distribution outlets employ MPEG compression, Vialta's Optical Positional Stabilization (OPS) enables more efficient encoding. Harding adds, "As each frame enters the film gate, capacitive sensors, both before and after aperture, detect perf position with respect to the prior frame. Based on sensor information, the OPS micro-processor dictates compensatory movements to two absolutely flat optics, which effect both X and Y position of the film image to the CCD imager. It's all in realtime and is accurate to plus or minus one HD pixel, in both X and Y axis." No mechanical devices ever touch the film for the purposes of image alignment.
Thorpe adds that Vialta represents a "re-invention" of color correction. "When you're transferring film, you're confronted with an enormous range of densities, and to solve that we've come up with a method of doing the primary color correction in the light domain," Thorpe says. "Before we scan the film, we can program the light mix that's pouring through the film onto the sensors and we have individual control of the red, green and blue lights with a solid-state semi-conductor device that allows realtime control frame by frame. We achieve the first degree of color correction by appropriately mixing the light so that when it lands on the CCD sensors, it's already got a great deal of the color correction done to it. That gives you a huge signal to noise advantage when you are encoding that output later on."
da Vinci aims for realtime tools
"The entertainment industry is expanding and changing," says Bob Silva, president of da Vinci (www.davsys.com) in Ft. Lauderdale. "We are reaching into new areas to find additional growth. These include digital cinema, digital film and electronic image origination to film. Despite a struggling economyâ€¦ these new growth areas are alive and well. Post production facilities that expand into these new markets will be the leaders in the industry once the economy recovers."
In 2002, da Vinci plans to introduce the Colorist Toolbox, a set of dynamic style and image tools that will make realtime special effects, normally only available in a workstation environment, a reality in the telecine suite. Operating in all resolutions including data, the Colorist Toolbox will be one of the biggest enhancements to any da Vinci.
On the flagship product, the 2K-resolution independent color enhancement system, da Vinci is planning increased I/O speeds, as the technology is made available. They recently added Defocus and Defocus Plus to defocus or sharpen areas of the image in realtime in any resolution, including data. And they added Power Tiers, allowing users to add up to four optional Power Tiers onto their 2K system, for up to eight additional processing channels. Each channel can enhance the whole image or isolated areas using a combination of two Power Window shapes, with variable softness controls and a key channel.
Also new for the 2K is Gallery, a resolution independent image server that works with the 2K's internal frame store to perform realtime storage and retrieval of reference images for comparison/wipe/mix and key between live and stored images, at all resolutions. There is also Central Server, a networking solution for collaboration between multiple 2K systems.
"The biggest requirement for the future of color correction is realtime processing at the highest resolutions needed by our customers. Our goal is to provide the capabilities of workstations but perform all functions and effects live, in realtime at any resolution," says Silva. "More producers of quality, high-resolution images are discovering that they can do everything they did in a chemical-based lab, plus things like dynamic changes, precise shadow, gamma and highlight control, hue, saturation and luminance-qualified secondary grading, Power Window area isolation and defocus."
"Our Valhall control system with ACP/ Viper processing is a must-have for anyone looking for a realtime system that can process the lion's share of their work without breaking the bank," says Thorbjorn Gustafsson, managing director for Digital
Vision US Inc. (www.digitalvision.se) in North Hollywood.
Valhall is a cutting-edge control system for tape- and disk-based image processing. It can control Digital Vision's DVNR image processing workstation with premium tools for primary and secondary color grading, compression preparation, format conversion and digital image stabilization, in SD and HD formats. Digital Vision also offers the ACP-Viper Advanced Primary & Secondary Color Processor with Viper advanced keying for tape-to-tape color correction.
"The Valhall controller makes color correction easier and quicker to use," says Eric Bergez, Digital Vision's sales manager. "And some of our clients [LA's Laser Pacific and The Post Group] have proven that the ACP/Viper hardware is capable of performing any timing requirement for the majority of the industry jobs. The future release of the Valhall control system and future augmentations to the ACP/Viper processing system will allow the colorist to execute any task, including the timing of TV commercials." Digital Vision has been producing "offline" high-resolution color correction solutions for theatrical, episodic TV and commercials, since the mid-1990s.
Most of the vendors we surveyed for this story agree that film remains - for the foreseeable future - a popular capture and archive medium. But they also see strong growth potential for solutions that support the digital intermediate process, allowing for complete electronic finishing of film-originated material because, at high resolutions like 2K and 4K, the creative possibilities are enormous. They recognize that eventually movies will be digitally projected in theaters, but until then, the finished high-resolution masters will be shot back to film.
EXTRA BITS: PANDORA MEGADEF
A popular companion product to the Thomson Spirit telecine is the Pandora MegaDef, a realtime resolution independent color corrector for film resolution images. Available as a system integrated within Spirit or as a standalone system, MegaDef has been able to handle 4K data resolution for some time now. At IBC 2000, Pandora first demonstrated how its color corrector could process 4000 lines of resolution using an interface (in that instance, to a Cintel C-Reality) that provided 12-bit linear RGB rather than the customary 10-bit resolution.
"The extra bits are important for color correction because two more bits provide four times the resolution and allow the colorist to go that much further before the image starts to appear too â€˜digital,'" says Steve Brett, technical director for Pandora International Limited (www.pandora-int.com), in Northfleet, Kent, England. "We have been able to handle more than 10 bits of data in our equipment for a long time, but there are no standards to connect devices together at greater resolution,
"Also, we have been developing our own interface that will allow us to process data at up to 16-bit resolution at more than 7 gigabits per second," continues Brett. He adds that, as disk-based telecine systems become more practical, the telecine machine no longer needs to scan the film in realtime. "Basic physics means that it is much easier to scan film to a higher resolution if you can do it a little bit slower [more light through the film improves the signal to noise ratio] so telecines become in effect â€˜turbo' film scanners. But colorists need to work in realtime, balancing numerous parameters, and it is surprising how hard that can become if you have to wait every time you make some change - and that means they need faster, more powerful workstations for the job."
Thomson: Beefed Up Transfers
"Film scanning time has been one of the major bottlenecks in the new â€˜data centric' production models and this is now solved with our new Spirit 2 telecine," says Steve Russell, LA-based marketing manager for film imaging products for Thomson Multimedia (www.thomsonbroadcast.com). Thomson acquired the film imaging product line from Philips to further its goal of adding value to the digital media chain, including content creation, distribution and display.
"The Spirit 2 is designed as a blazing fast film scanner - like a Kodak Genesis scanner â€˜on steroids' - capable of delivering pure 2K RGB files at over 30 frames per second (fps) and 4K RGB files at 6 to 8 fps," adds Russell. "We're seeing growing demand for 4K scanning, and Spirit 2 addresses this demand."
The first release of the Spirit 2 - 2K/4K dual mode, high-speed, high-resolution data film scanner to be shown at IBC 2002 - is designed to work with the Specter Virtual DataCine (the first "virtual telecine" enabling creative decisions about color correction, effects and conforming to be made more cost effectively on an offline workstation using data output from the telecine).
Soon to be upgraded for 4K resolution, Specter can take input from HDTV cameras, HD telecine/film scanners and any graphics system supporting DPX, Cineon, TIFF and SGI file formats. Specter can master to all HDTV formats, and uncompressed data can be put onto the VooDoo D6 media recorder, which now has a 10-bit HDTV RGB interface in development. At NAB, Thomson will also launch Scream, its new resolution independent noise/grain reduction system, and a software-based graphical control panel - for Spirit, Specter or the affordable Shadow telecine.
With over 250 units installed worldwide, the CCD-imager-based Spirit DataCine also offers faster 2K data transfers with near realtime operation, because of a faster high-speed GSN network data interface option. (The DataCine's current HIPPI network interface limits data transfer to 4 to 5 fps.)
"Now that we've achieved 4K resolution scanning, our focus is going to be on increasing speed," says Russell. "That said, we are a manufacturer driven by the market. If enough people demand resolutions beyond 4K, we will look into the viability of developing the technology." duced in a theater is to perform the actual color correction in a similar environment."
Recognizing the need to apply electronic magic to movies throughout post production, ITK entered into a technology alliance with the UK's 5D (www.five-d.com). The first project involves integrating 5D Commander, 5D's realtime film and video playback/output system, with ITK's Millennium Machine to improve workflow and the distribution of materials between film compositing and mastering solutions. By enabling viewing on a CRT, or via a digital projector, Commander offers a cost-effective alternative to the traditional process of checking digital dailies by outputting to film.
5D also offers 5D Colossus, a turnkey system for up to 4K resolution, with storage, realtime playback and grading in one box. "When combined with Commander, which can receive, play, archive and distribute data via HSDL, HD video, SD video or any high-speed network, this system simplifies workflow and cuts costs," says Miguel Ferros, 5D's media tools manager. 5D Colossus was used to grade and master New Line Cinema's feature trilogy Lord of the Rings.
When asked if Colossus could be considered a virtual telecine, Ferros responded, "What we understand as a â€˜virtual telecine' is basically a data server that keeps the digitized material in its native un-graded, high-quality form, and which can feed a color corrector the same way as a telecine, hence the name â€˜virtual telecine.' 5D believes that a suitable computer can not only store the film data, but also process it in one integrated solution." He sees a clear trend toward keeping images in data form for as long as possible.
With Colossus, "5D is supporting moves by film post houses toward a digital intermediate process where the whole film post process is digital, not just the effects," says Marc Dando, director of 5D. "Directors and DPs are calling for the ability to grade movies digitally, before their pictures go back to film, and this is exactly the area into which 5D Colossus fits."
First Art's 2002 offerings
HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND - New for 2002 sees First Art shipping Primal HD, the telecine creativity toolbox with "Infinity Defocus." We have managed to more than triple the processing power of Primal and add extra tools and yet still keep the price very attractive. A new feature for PrimalHD is "grain management" whereby film grain can be added to the image in realtime, like all of the other Primal tools
In 2002 we are launching a new range of products called Black Box. These are specific tools that fit into the post production environment to solve a problem. Black Boxes are hardware-based devices running software. They are low cost and unique products for telecine suites, engineers, editors or graphic artists. The first product, Black Box 1, will be shipping in the first quarter of 2002 and addresses some of the problems in the convergence of new media into high-end film post production.
Our software product Anvil was expanded at the end of the year with further film tools for our Discreet and Softimage|DS users.