With the dramatic increase in demand for 24p HD production, post professionals are saying that it pays to be knowledgeable about the complexities of finishing in this medium. In the same way that 601 digital swept the post world, many believe that 24p HD is poised to become the next industry standard - especially for universal mastering and distribution.
24p HD - which is 1920-by-1080 resolution, 24 frames per second (fps) and progressive scanning - is gaining traction for several reasons. By virtue of its 24 fps frame rate, 24p HD offers a filmic look, with the cadence and motion that moviegoers have come to love.
Also, with its high resolution and 24 fps structure, 24p HD is an excellent springboard from which to generate high-quality digital masters for 24p HD, 60I HD (60 fields interlaced), 720/60p, SDTV, PAL, NTSC, DVD and even 35mm film. If a producer isn't sure what formats will be needed, posting and mastering in 24p HD ensures that most any delivery requirement can be met.
Then there are the economics of choosing 24p HD over 35mm film. In terms of money saved, 24p can eliminate expensive film stock, lab processing, telecine transfer, audio synchronization and other film-related expenses. In terms of time saved, HD tape cassettes let the cameras roll longer before reloading is necessary. And rather than waiting a day or more to screen film dailies, the results of the cinematography are available on set immediately on an HD monitor.
Considering the creative latitude afforded by today's two leading 24p HD cameras - the Sony HDW-F900 HDCAM 24p camcorder and Panasonic's AJ-HDC27V variable frame rate camera - DPs and clients can even color correct the colorimetery of their images interactively using the monitor for reference to create looks previously only possible in the telecine suite.
However, having these creative tools on set does not mean that post production is less important. With 24p HD, post is so important it cannot wait until production is completed to be addressed. Tape-to-tape color correction, image stabilization, product touch-ups and other post fixes are critical when the image quality is near film resolution. And if editors are unfamiliar with the complexities and challenges of 24p HD, clients can face considerable cost over-runs and delays. We asked top DPs and editors to share their insight into the unique problems and possibilities of working with 24p HD.
Battle Medialab: the Best of Both Worlds
"With its HD resolution and 24 fps frame rate, 24p HD offers the best of the film and video worlds," says Michael Murphy, director of communications for Battle Medialab (www.battlemedialab.com) in Ft. Lauderdale. "But, we don't push 24p HD as a replacement to film, rather as an alternative. In cases where people want the artistry and soft, blurred look of film - or if their primary market is theatrical - then 35mm film is a better choice than 24p HD. But if there are tight deadlines, heavy visual effects compositing or many different format versions to deliver, then 24p HD is a cost effective choice."
People sometimes choose between 24p HD and film based upon their desired look, but Murphy says, "What we found is that 24p HD can have either a soft filmic look or great clarity and depth, depending upon the lighting, camera settings and shooting style used in production."
At Battle Medialab, Murphy and colleague Rod Molina, the director of technology, have been aggressively targeting the high-end commercial and music video markets, where DPs traditionally shoot film, and it's paying off. DP Henry Vargas is among the film aficionados that decided to give 24p HD a chance.
Using Sony's F-900 24p HD camcorder, he shot music videos for Richie Marley and Dead Star Assembly, both of which were posted on Battle Medialab's Avid|DS|HD resolution independent, nonlinear finishing system. Dead Star Assembly was particularly interesting because the colors were processed by the Sony camera for a monochromatic look, with super crushed blacks and only the blues and reds prominent.
"Henry was able to experiment with colors the way a colorist would, and the clients were able to approve the results right there on the spot," says Molina. "But whether it pays to color correct on set depends upon hourly production costs versus telecine suite costs, and the skill level of the DP versus the colorist."
Once in the Avid|DS|HD, Murphy and Molina say it's possible to edit multiple layers of HD video and add 3D effects in near realtime. And unlike the linear HD suite, nonlinear gives producers the creative flexibility they've come to expect in their editorial. DS|HD also performs up- and downconversions and output of multiple formats and versions. Murphy adds, "It's important for us to be able to produce fixed media, DVD, Web, print and whatever else a commercial campaign requires all from a single, unified solution."
Video Post & Transfer: Meeting the Challenges of 24p
"It's best to shoot straight 24p if your product will end up on film. But, if it is going to end up on television, then you should actually shoot 23.97, which is like an NTSC version of film. This helps maintain compatibility with existing video equipment, such as DAT audio recorders," says Mark Sullivan, senior editor/HD specialist for Video Post & Transfer in Dallas (www.videopost.com).
A 17-minute short film called Emale, about a guy who spent a year in his apartment just living off the Internet, was shot in 23.97 HD using Sony's 24p HDCAM camcorder. Then VP&T provided the client (DP Bryan Harston of Dallas'Idea Ranch) with every imaginable deliverable - including 24p HD, 30i HD, and Digital Betacam masters, plus a DLT to use in shooting back to 35mm film. At VP&T, the Discreet Fire HD NLE environment is a resolution-independent system that handles, converts and outputs video in all popular formats, frame rates and clock speeds. With an Inferno on the same Onyx, Sullivan says they can handle multiple layers of HD video, perform touch-ups, color correction, add effects and image stabilization, in near realtime.
"For a 24p HD product reel for Trane air conditioners, we had to spend days cleaning up the blemishes on the product shot and auto painting out unwanted elements - like telephone poles - from every frame, because defects tend to look more prominent in HD," says Vivian Marks, VP&T's director of visual effects.
While the workstation environment is not considered ideally suited for longform, VP&T successfully posted a one-hour documentary, called George and the Rhino, for Discovery Channe. George and the Rhino was shot on Super 16mm, with additional footage on Digi Beta and Betacam SP, all of which was loaded onto Fire's Stone + Wire storage, with over two-hours of HD capacity. It was then edited and mastered to 1080/60i HD on HDCAM. "When the clients [from Panthera Productions in Dallas] saw what we could do in the NLE environment - like adding timelapse clouds to a scene - they were so impressed that they awarded us the job they had planned to take to a linear HD facility," says Marks. As soon as the new ITK Millennium telecine and da Vinci 2K are installed this spring, VP&T plans to have an open house to introduce the benefits of HD, particularly 24p HD, to local producers.
Last Night with Angel: Short Film with Big Impact
Not everyone opting for 24p HD chose it over film. Producer Geoff Garrett (firstname.lastname@example.org) saw it with Encino, CA's Crystal Lake Entertainment. Garrett and DP James Mathers used 480p DVCPRO to shoot Extreme Close-Up, a full-length theatrical feature directed by Sean Cunningham, creator of the Friday the 13th movie franchise. Following that project, another director, Mike Henry, asked Garrett to help him produce his film debut, a short called Last Night With Angel.
"Mike was impressed with 480p, but when we showed him 720p, he knew his film could have the look of 35mm while staying in a very tight budget. 720p made us look like we were in the big leagues," says Garrett. Last Night With Angel is about a "D-girl," (a Hollywood movie studio development executive), who encounters a powerful literary agent and attempts to land a movie deal with him. But the two become embroiled in a debate about Hollywood's shallow values and what they truly want in their careers and life. "The director wanted to just let the camera roll so the actors could improvise. Because we didn't have to stop to load film, or be judicious with film stock, the HD camera and its long, inexpensive tape cassettes ended up being a very creative tool," says Garrett.
While the project is still in post, the plan is to upconvert to 1080/24p, then make a film print. For now, footage was transferred to DVCAM for editing in a Media 100 NLE. In the future, Garrett says he'd like to cut the 720/60p footage directly using Pinnacle CineWave HD technology (essentially Final Cut Pro with a Pinnacle CineWave HD board for about $6,000).
Regarding audio, Garrett was initially confused about running the HD camera with 24 fps timecode while the DAT audio recorder (used for back up) kept timecode at 29.97. After calling many post houses, he found good advice: to run the HD camera's timecode at 29.97 locked to the DAT recorder. "Final Cut Pro can output an OMF file that Avid's [Digidesign] Pro Tools can read. So the audio editor can take your dialogue in and just lock it to picture without having to re-conform from an EDL," says Garrett. "That saves time and money."
Garrett says they picked Panasonic's solution for its variable frame rate selectivity for effects, like motion blur and warp speed. A timelapse sunrise was shot at 4 fps, and Angel's entrance into a club was shot at 60 fps for a surreal feel. Cinematographers can "under crank" or "over crank" the camera by choosing from a variety of frame rates - including four to 33 fps (in one frame increments), 36 fps, 40 fps and 60 fps. While motion effects can be achieved on workstations like Discreet's Flame or Inferno, by doing them in-camera, HD lets them evaluate the results immediately.
After the movie is up-resed to 1080/24p, they will do tape-to-tape color correction using a da Vinci 2K resolution-independent color corrector. While desktop NLEs hold costs down, Garrett doesn't see color correction as a place to scrimp."
Definition/Edgeworx: the Cutting Edge of 24p
"It makes more sense to work in 24p than any other format. Any other format is legacy," says Scott Lawrence Klein, partner and producer at Definition, a new digital solutions company formed by parent company Edgeworx (www.edgeworx.com) in New York. "As an acquisition format, it's gorgeous. And the 24 fps frame rate allows you to finish once and produce many high-quality deliverables very efficiently."
When Definition's partners say 24p, they don't necessarily tack the "HD" onto the end of it. They feel the 24 fps frame rate is the key to medium's superior filmic quality and universal mastering capability, more so than image resolution. "We regard 24p as film, only without the grain structure, complexity and expense. It's an intermediate format that's ideal for any project, regardless of the acquisition medium," says Alton Christensen, a Definition partner.
"But we're not saying that film is dead. Every video format since 3/4-inch has vowed to eliminate film, and yet film probably has another 100 years of life left in it," adds Christensen. While he feels that film remains an excellent acquisition and archival format, he suggests that it's possibly going to be replaced as a distribution medium because of the cost efficiencies of electronic distribution.
Definition recently completed 24p editorial on USA Films' The Kid Stays in the Picture, a feature film that premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein, The Kid Stays in the Picture traces the meteoric rise, fall and rise again of legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans.
The film featured 12 minutes of original 35mm footage shot by John Bailey, ASC, (Out of Africa) and the rest consisted of footage selected from over 1.5 million feet of archival film - some never before seen - that had been stored in vaults across the US.
"We had a wealth of great original negative and print material from so many Hollywood classics, including unbelievable behind-the-scenes footage, home movies, gag reels, newsreel footage, personal scrapbooks, even never-before-seen film elements pertaining to Evans' movies," says Klein. The film footage was all transferred to 24p HD and cut by their editor Jim Diaz at their facility (which includes a custom-configured Viewgraphics HD workstation and Pinnacle CineWave HD system), then output as 24p and 1080i HD masters, plus as a film print.
One of the reasons for forming Definition was to demystify the HD process for filmmakers. "With our years of experience in HD, digital post and graphics, we can show producers and DPs the big picture early in the production process to ensure a seamless workflow," says Christensen. "If you don't know what you're doing, mistakes can be really costly. We didn't want to be the guys who just fix things in post. We wanted to prevent problems in post by introducing new and better ways of working more efficiently. This is a medium with staying power. 24p will democratize filmmaking by bridging the gap between high profile and low-level filmmakers."
PostWorks: 24p for Editing Diverse Projects
"Many 24p projects that we do are hybrids of multiple formats that do not necessarily have HD resolution. We often take a variety of acquisition formats, edit in 24p, then output a variety of distribution formats," says Billy Baldwin, COO of PostWorks, New York (www.pwny.com).
Pinero, a documentary about Puerto Rican poet, playwright and actor Miguel Pinero, was shot 25p PAL progressive (with a Canon DV camera), primarily to facilitate foreign distribution.
While it was shot in 25p, it was edited in 24p in Avid Symphony, then output at 24p for domestic and 35mm film distribution and 25p for PAL markets. "Shooting at 25p allowed the project to serve foreign markets while offering a better conversion to film. You don't really notice the one fps difference," says Baldwin.
Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records - which explores the famed studio founded by Sam Phillips that introduced Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and others - presented lots of archival film. The footage was posted in 24p on Avid Symphony because it could convert material between SDTV, HDTV and PAL formats with no color shift or loss of image quality typical of conventional conversion. Directed by Bruce Sinofsky, the documentary is part of the PBS series American Masters.
100 Center Street, director Sydney Lumet's drama series now in its second season on A&E, is shot with multiple cameras entirely in 24p HD with Panavision lenses, edited in 24p, then delivered to the network on D-1. "24p HD was chosen for acquisition because it offered a filmic look while allowing the footage to be evaluated immediately on HD monitors on location. It's also a move to give the show a longer shelf life," says Baldwin. While 100 Center Street is onlined on an Avid|DS|HD finishing system, it's offlined in 24p on three conventional Avid's that share media on a Unity SAN. "When we first started posting the show last year, the HD footage had to be downconverted to Digi Beta for input as NTSC into Avid," says Baldwin." But now, Sony added an upgrade to the HD decks that allows direct feeds into the Avid Film Composer, eliminating the time-consuming and expensive downconversions."
"There's definitely an increased demand for 24p HD post production. I've been putting out more and more bids. Filmmakers want filmic aesthetics with the economic advantages of digital cinematography," says Baldwin. "They can always treat video for a filmic look and grain structure, but 75 percent of the film look is attributable to the frame rate and the rhythm the eye interprets."
Plus 8 Video: Getting in Sync with 24p HD
Since Sony introduced the 1080/60i HD format, Plus 8 Video (www.plus8video.com) has been a leading rental house for HD cameras. With the arrival of the1080/24p HD format, Plus 8 Video's president, Marker Karahadian, says the volume of 60i business dramatically declined.
"In terms of our inventory, I'd say we're probably 4:1 24p to 60i HD cameras. The 60i business appears to be relegated to news and sports, and in some cases broadcast specials, like the Charlotte Church concert for PBS," says Karahadian. "60i has 60 million pixels per second, as compared to 24p HD's 48 million pixels per second, which means it produces a smoother, richer picture. But filmmakers prefer the film aesthetics they get with 24p HD."
While 35mm film still has a stronghold on Hollywood, Karahadian says episodics and feature films are opting for 24p HD in greater numbers for many reasons. First, they're trying to do a show that's not financially practical to do using 35mm film. Also, broadcast networks are asking for an HD master but not wanting to pay any premium for it. 24p HD also serves as a universal master from which to pull high-quality versions for any distribution channel.
"And then there's the nasty little secret about 24p. Many filmmakers are using it because George did it," says Karahadian referring to filmmaker George Lucas who put the 24p HD format on the map for high-profile digital cinema when he pioneered its use on his latest Star Wars episodes, including Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which was shot entirely in 24p HD.
"If you don't understand this medium, and if you aren't motivated to learn the ropes, you'll regret the mistakes and the added workload that come with the learning curve," Karahadian adds. "You'll find that there are many complex new issues that require you to think."
For example, Karahadian says that if sound files are in NTSC timecode and video files are in 24p HD timecode, and the audio isn't handled properly, the audio and video can be out of sync. "If you downconvert HD, it has to be frame buffered or else the audio will arrive on the dubbed tape 1.5 to 4.5 frames ahead of the video. I've seen this go un-noticed all the way through the audio post process when, after the dialogue has been edited, sweetened, and tweaked, they realize the audio is just slightly out of sync and suddenly everything falls apart because they now have to reassemble it."
24p Digital Cinema: Color Correction on Location
Director of photography Michael Caporale is so enthusiastic about 24p that he is changing the name of his company Caporale Studios (www.caporalestudios.com) to 24 Digital Cinema and selling off all his 35mm and 16mm Arri film cameras.
"24p is the perfect acquisition medium, even if your end product is not for HD distribution. Even when you strike deals with labs or buy the ends of film reels to save money, the cost savings of HD compared to film are huge," says Caporale, whose studio is based in Cincinnati. "Where we'd spend about $1,500 on HD tape stock, we'd be spending about $104,000 in film stock and processing."
Also, he adds, film cameras and their "mags" make noise. "And you always lose time and money solving those audio problems. We'll save even further in post since the images and audio are on the same tape, eliminating the need to resync."
Recently, Caporale completed production of Tattered Angel, a suspenseful, full-length feature (produced by Cincinnatus Motion Picture Company) that centers on a man who's troubled past causes him to become the chief suspect in a kidnapping case. Tattered Angel, which will be screened in HD on the festival circuit as well as released on film, was shot using the Panasonic AJ-HDC27V variable frame rate camera. Tattered Angel is currently being conformed in 720/60p HD on a Quantel IQ system at NYC's Tape House Digital, but the final master will be upconverted to 1080/24p.
"Shooting with a film look was critical to this project since prospective investors, such as Paramount, will be evaluating the dailies," says Caporale. He likes the Panasonic HD camera because it immediately gives video a look that's indistinguishable from film but without baggage like film grain. And the variable frame rate allows him to create motion blurs and other in-camera speed effects.
"This camera's going to cause a paradigm shift by giving DPs more control over color correction and in-camera effects than ever before," says Caporale. Traditionally, if a DP wanted to have the colors of certain subjects in the shot changed or intensified, it required going to a telecine suite and having a colorist use sophisticated color correctors to change specific colors without affecting the rest of the picture. But, the camera's 12-pole color matrix allows very specific colors to be adjusted without affecting the overall colorimetery. Caporale says, "I have telecine-type capabilities - such as vectors for changing specific primary and secondary colors - allowing me to set the colors, as well as gain and pedestal levels, and immediately see the results on a monitor on the set."
In talking to DPs and editors for this story, it was apparent that there are many technical issues to be tackled and resolved with respect to 24p HD. For example, since the Panasonic camera is essentially 720/60p, not all NLE workstations could directly support it. So that camera output has to be converted to 1080/60i, which most NLEs do support. But editors expressed confidence that this and other problems were just growing pains that would eventually be resolved.