By Bob Pank
Issue: October 1, 2002

IBC Report: Digital intermediate is here to stay

On the road: HDreel from Director's Friend offers 1.1 TB of storage.
AMSTERDAM - IBC's decision to give digital film a high profile at its September exhibition and conference proved to be timely, as the scene has changed significantly over the last year. Twelve months ago, the buzz was about releases of the first all-digital movies such as Rave MacBeth and Vidoc. Now such digital releases are more commonplace. Of particular interest to the post community is the growth of what has become known as the digital intermediate (DI) business - post production for "films." A quick scan of HD NLE vendors' stand signage now shows virtually all have added 2K to their list of working formats. Digital film has truly arrived.

Discreet's effects product marketing manager, Maurice Patel, sets the scene. He is convinced that "digital intermediates are here to stay because more and more is happening in digital. In 10 years we've gone from a couple of effects shots per film to 500 or 1,000, so scanning the whole film and using all-digital post is not just logical but it also brings more flexibility and creativity."

Today, Inferno effects and Fire editing (now up to 12-bits and realtime playout using the SGI Onyx 3200) are geared up for film. Film workflow can now take advantage of the new Linux-based Discreet Burn background rendering software and digital technology opens the door to communications possibilities and a world of non-centralized post.

Quantel's iQ NLE is being used for DI work.
Quantel is another long-term supplier to the digital film market. Today, its high-end iQ NLE system extends its "resolution coexistent" working to realtime 2K film and several are in use in DI applications. Looking at film labs' use of simple color correction to create shot-to-shot matches, Quantel has introduced a new add-on. QColor is designed for use by editors and offers a basic form of color correction - similar to printing lights - and more. Having color correction within this NLE suite has interesting implications as dissolves and composited shots can still have the component individual shots separately corrected in context - and automatically re-assembled. Steve Owen, Quantel business manager/ post, comments, "QColor allows post houses and their clients to treat color as an integral part of editing or compositing." In another new move, iO for iQ offers load, unload and conforming to optimize workflow and remove bottlenecks. There was also a little public peep for iQ working at 4K.

2K OR 4K

The very existence of the 2K/4K debate was a reminder of how new the DI market really is. Most still agree that 2K does a great job for 35mm film but during the one-day d-cinema conference, Cintel's Peter Swinson clearly demonstrated the difference in picture detail between the two picture sizes. No one likes the resulting massive 48 MB (at eight bits) image files of 4K but Swinson showed how well they compress - even down to 50:1. It's clear 4K won't go away!

For those finding the theatre seats and low lighting just a little too comfortable David Bancroft of Thomson produced the ultimate wake-up prop - a Viper FilmStream camera. He also showed a wry knack for pattern recognition referring to HDreel, the increasingly ubiquitous portable rugged disk store from Director's Friend, as the "kidney transplant box." This 1.1 TB store is enough for an hour of raw HD 10-bit log RGB directly from Viper - other formats, such as HDCAM, can also be recorded.

Director's Friend parent company DVS showed its "Digital Workflow in the Digital Lab" where the HDreel data can be copied to, or directly accessed by, the HDStationPlus - storage for HD, 2K and 4K data giving access to workstations via GigEthernet and HDSDI.

DI is new technology, and 5D has found it fertile ground for innovation by being able to offer on-set interactivity. 5D Commander [on-set] can record five hours of Viper output providing instant playback and basic cut editing. Similarly, using the 5D Cyborg as the recorder, complex shots from motion control rigs can quickly be stabilized, graded and composited. Marc Dando, a director of 5D comments, "This is a revolution. Directors and producers can readily make sure that takes will work when edited together, and can rapidly check that a special effect is completely accurate."

No doubt there's much more to the celluloid verses digital debate but many see the latter continuing to make very significant progress. There was widespread agreement that the DI process has so many advantages for flexibility and ease of producing deliverables that it is clearly here to stay. European post houses now not only want the ability to work in HD but also with 2K film. IBC showed there is an increasing choice of equipment, as manufacturers are keen to support this new market area while SD, HD and film seem to be merging into one digital workflow.


For outputting to film, both Arri and Celco promised faster results. Arrilaser's High Speed package offers 2K, 1.85 aspect frames at 1.7 seconds to negative and intermediate stock, while Celco's Fury clocks 1.0 and 1.2 seconds, respectively. The chief winner here should be the customer with, hopefully, lower outputting costs.

Does it work? For the acid test, the auditorium at the exhibition center screened a variety of digitally made and projected features and spots throughout the show. The demonstrations clearly showed that the technology works. Most agree that all that's now needed to complete digital scene-to-screen chain is digital projectors at a price that fits the exhibitor's business model.