The enormous cost of purchasing and maintaining telecine equipment, combined with a stagnant economy and lower-cost systems for color correction, has forced telecine facilities to be more creative in reducing costs, finding new clients and offering more services, especially in the HD arena. But offering new services means buying new, and very expensive, equipment, so facilities must be cautious to spend money only on gear that is going to reap fiscal rewards.
MODERN DIGITAL GAINS HD OPTIONS WITH VIALTA
Seattle's Modern Digital (www.moderndigital.com) added telecine to its roster of services in the early '90s in response to clients' needs. It replaced its Cintel Rank Turbo 2 with a Sony Vialta in June 2001 - in retrospect perhaps not the most auspicious timing. But Modern Digital president Rich Fassio calls the Vialta "one of the best investments I ever made."
Modern Digital had been doing resolution-independent and 2K work for the past few years and was looking for a way "to get film into the equation," says Fassio, who is a firm believer that "no post production room is an island. We needed to fine tune the facility to work in a new way, to offer a large breadth of services in a unique fashion. With our Discreet products we had a very cost-effective way to convert our two graphics suites and online suite to HD. We felt it was time to look at an HD telecine so we could say 'here's an option for you' for both film or electronic acquisition."
Colorists (L-R) Steve Franko and Kelly Riemenschneider man two of VP&T's Spirit DataCine suites.
Today, Modern Digital boasts a Vialta with da Vinci 2K color correction system and three Power Windows plus multiple Flames and a Smoke. The Vialta has both standard definition and HD capabilities. "Its SD image quality is much cleaner than the Rank Turbo," Fassio reports, "especially if you're pulling keys. We prefer to pull keys in HD then down-res to SD."
Modern Digital's primary client base is TV commercials, a market which has been hard hit and hasn't exactly made big strides in HD post. But the company saw other potential customers for the Vialta and its ability to deliver a myriad of formats from an HD tape. "Short- and longform presentations, independent films from the Pacific Northwest, TV programming," Fassio enumerates. "Anything likely to be re-used in the next few years. With VHS vanishing and DVD starting to predominate, there's a need for anamorphic and 16:9," he adds.
Telecine house Syndicate (www.syndicate.tv) called on Bags4Show (www. bags4show.com) to create a special bag that would handle all of the studio's tape formats. After collaborating with art director Glenn Hiramatsu, they came up with a design that reflects the mood of the post house in a simple style.
Since acquiring the Vialta, Modern Digital has seen increased business from independent filmmakers. "Instead of needing lo-cons and IPs to do their final film transfers, the indie market is now approaching the digital mastering realm by going to HD for dailies or taking the final film print to HD," Fassio explains. "From one tape they can now have deliverables to meet every distribution need. And it helps them get to market faster. For filmmakers going direct to video, titles, optics, fixes and visual enhancements can be done for a fraction of the price of film."
Changing TV programming needs are also easily met with the Vialta. "We just did some promotional backgrounds for a television station in Arizona," Fassio says. "The material was shot in Super 35mm using the 1.77 aspect ratio with 4:3 extract glass. We did one transfer to HD and created a 16:9 dub, a letterbox dub and a 4:3 extract all from the one tape."
Fassio acknowledges that with color correction available in many systems today clients have "more choices" than ever before. "You can do color correction with tools in Flame, for example, but you're limited to how much of the image you captured electronically," he explains. "You can push things only so far in the graphics or online suite, then it's time to go back to the original film in the telecine suite."
VP&T: EARLY CONSULTATION
Dallas-based Video Post & Transfer (www.videopost.com) has seen agency producers doing "more creative budgeting" in this down market to "get a little more bang for the telecine buck," according to colorist Steve Franko. That means they're having early consultations with Franko and fellow colorist Kelly Riemenschneider.
"They used to just come in with the film," Franko says. "Now they're saying, 'We don't have a lot of money but we want to achieve this look - how do we do it?' We're consulting about film stock and cameras and offering tips and tricks from other projects."
VTA has three telecine suites. The Millenium/da Vinci 2K room is pictured.
"To a certain extent, clients have always brought in reference material - movies, still photos - but now they're doing more of that upfront" during preproduction consultations, adds Riemenschneider. Agency producers who used to come in for 12- to 14-hour sessions are now concentrating on getting in and out more quickly and efficiently, he says.
In this mid-term election year, VP&T's clients include political consultants responsible for two senatorial, three gubernatorial and several congressional races. They have also come to appreciate the value of early consultation. "They shoot mountains of 16mm," Franko points out. "It's important to sell a candidate as well as you'd sell a product, so we sit down and help develop the look - stock, filters, more chroma, less chroma. When it's a run-and-gun situation [getting footage], you try to lock into a look and feel as quickly as possible."
VP&T has three telecines online. Franko and Riemenschneider man a Thomson Spirit with Pogle color corrector and an ITK Millennium with da Vinci 8:8:8; their rooms are HD capable with a Sony 32-inch 16:9 HD monitor in the Millennium suite for Vistavision work. An ITK Y-Front is also online. (ITK's assets were purchased by Cintel last month, see our news section for details.)
Rainmaker offers six Cintel telecine suites. Terri Tatchell is pictured at the helm.
"The Millennium is capable of scanning 8-perf negative Vistavision, so we do a fair amount of work with the still-camera freeze," Riemenschneider reports. For the effect, which takes a 360-degree tour around a frozen subject, the telecine exports widescreen HD data to one of VP&T's Discreet Fires for image stabilization and further manipulation.
"The Fire operator stabilizes the image so the subject in the middle of the frame stays centered while the still images go 360-degrees around," Franko explains. "You can't just transfer the images because they jump all over the place."
Riemenschneider reports an increase in unsupervised sessions, which may prove more cost effective for clients traveling long distances to Dallas. Work in progress is put up on the server or emailed to the client for feedback. Unsupervised sessions are a testament to the colorist's talent and the trust the client has in him.
Having a 35mm and 16mm processing lab in-house is a big asset for VP&T. The Lab is one of two in the area; it serves the mammoth state of Texas as well as New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and states throughout the Southeast. "Time is always of the essence. The Lab processes negative at night so we can do dailies the next day," Franko reports.
It's a challenge to "keep your fingers on the pulse of new equipment while being careful not to spend money on gear that might not pay in the long run," Franko notes. "We're working the best we can with what we have with the intention of buying equipment down the road that's expandable." A possible future acquisition: a da Vinci 2K for the Millennium.
VTA FOCUSES ON NEW OPPORTUNITIES
Thirty-four-year-old VTA (www. vta.com) in Atlanta has three telecine suites. Its Millennium features Twigi, Scan'dal and Y-Front technologies. The facility also has a pair of Cintel Ursa Golds fully updated and equivalent to Diamonds and sporting ITK's Twigi, Scan'dal and Y-Front. All of the telecines boast da Vinci color correction systems (2K on Millennium and 8:8:8 on the Ursas); VTA Technologies, founded by VTA president and former colorist Ken Chambliss, built the first da Vincis in the mid-1980s.
The Ursas have Abekas still stores and the Millennium a Vecta HD/SD still store. All rooms have Aaton or Arri timecode for audio chase.
VTA planned to take delivery of two more Millenniums at IBC in September 2001 but after Chambliss returned home from the show, he told ITK to delay shipment. "Telecine had fallen through the bottom," he recalls.
But now Chambliss reports "telecine is coming back fairly strong" and he expects at least one of the new Millenniums to go online in late fall replacing one of the Ursas.
Commercials, still VTA's leading telecine market, have "been all over the place" this year, however. "There were none at the beginning of the year; the industry was still in shock about 9/11," says Chambliss. "Then we started to see an increase, and it's been up and down ever since. We had some tremendous months when there weren't enough hours in the day followed by early-summer doldrums. Late summer was fully booked as people prepared for the new TV season."
VTA is "constantly looking for any kind of market" for telecine, according to Chambliss. "If it's on film, we'll do it."
Chambliss believes that "in today's post-9/11 environment, the key is finding the right markets. Post production as we've known it in the past - even five years ago - isn't the way it is today. The leaders and managers in the business have to be creative and focus on new opportunities."
VTA has considerable expertise in transferring archival material having run all its telecine suites 24 hours a day to transfer about half of Ted Turner's MGM library of film classics. But with Turner's merger with AOL-Time Warner that work was reassigned to the Warner Bros. side of the empire in California. Consequently VTA began searching for more library and archival projects and is off to a good start working with several institutional libraries converting their film collections for easy viewing and longterm storage.
VTA is also doing a lot of tape-to-tape color correction these days. "If you shoot tape, you can go into tape-to-tape, fine-tune scenes and add filters - things you can't do in video," Chambliss explains. "People doing film cuts also fine tune in tape-to-tape color correction."
While VTA's Avid|DS HD, Quantel Henry Infinity and Discreet Smoke can all perform color correction, Chambliss notes that the "software versions of color correction aren't there yet" in terms of realtime operation and interactive interface. "The best place to do color correction is still with a da Vinci in the telecine suite," he states.
Since VTA has HD and 2K transfer capabilities with its Millennium and HD editing with its Avid|DS HD, the facility has begun to see some high definition work - although mostly for non-broadcast projects. "We've made a huge investment in HD but consumers aren't really aware of HD yet," Chambliss says. "The next year or two will tell the tale, when consumers get to see HD and sets are offered at an affordable price."
RAINMAKER: HD MASTERS
"The Vancouver market is down from a year ago, but the ratio of work [coming] to Rainmaker has increased, so we're about level with where we were last year," notes Barry Chambers, GM at Rainmaker (www.rainmaker. com), which handles primarily longform projects.
Rainmaker boasts six Cintel telecines: two Diamonds, two Ursa Golds modified with Y-Fronts and two C-Reality HD telecines. The Diamonds and Y-Fronts feature da Vinci 8:8:8 color correction systems while the C-Reality machines have da Vinci 2Ks.
The second C-Reality, an Oscar model, went online in mid-July to accommodate the series Smallville, which originates on film and now transfers to HD. "We're big on backup [equipment]," says Chambers. "We saw Oscar at NAB last year and were very impressed with it. It also made sense engineering- and colorist-wise to stay with Cintel rather than moving over to another manufacturer." Oscar offers Rainmaker additional capabilities with its Digital Wet Gate, which hides or repairs dirt and scratches.
Episodics shooting on film still require the capabilities of an HD telecine because networks now demand HD deliverables. "There's really no choice in post," Chambers says. "The networks that used to accept an upconverted SD-to-HD master no longer do. Shows have to have an HD master."
Chambers concedes that Rainmaker is seeing "a few more HD originations" including the Mysterious Ways series which airs on The PAX Network, the Carrie 3 pilot, A Very Muppet Christmas telefilm and the NBC miniseries The First to Die. "These would have been film originations a year or two ago," he notes. "But it's a wash in terms of revenues in post production."
Instead of transferring film dailies, syncing sound and circling takes, Rainmaker has devised a process "which mirrors the film world" and gives clients HD selected takes cost effectively. "We've come up with proprietary methods to achieve what the client needs without changing production," Chambers points out. Rainmaker's engineers created an editor, called Sync HD, which creates a synthetic flex list or ALE containing all metadata; it appears similar to the familiar ALE or film flex list for the client.
HD has also come into play for feature films such as MGM's A Guy Thing and the upcoming Good Boy. "Normally, they'd get an answer print and screen film in the lab," Chambers explains. "But MGM transfers negative to HD video and screens HD in the lab; they've removed the answer print step and saved money." These transfers are performed in C-Reality and screened in Rainmaker's film theater, which is also outfitted with a Sony HD projection system, HD tape machine and Dolby Digital sound.
The on-premises Rainmaker Labs, which processes and prints 35mm and 16mm film, is a further asset to Rainmaker's telecine business, especially in terms of time, which is always in short supply. The Labs offer a two-hour turnaround from delivery of the unprocessed negative to the time transfer begins while "LA [labs have] an average six-hour turnaround," Chambers reports.