In the HDTV world, 1080/24p (24p HD) is considered the ideal mastering format. Not only does it produce a filmic look that heightens the entertainment value of a program, it also serves as a "universal master" from which all deliverables can be easily created.
While digital television stations can air 1080/24p HD content from their towers, CBS and NBC have chosen to broadcast the 1080/60i HDTV format, while ABC, ESPN, and Fox have chosen 720/60p for HDTV. There are also SDTV formats like 480/60p and 480/60i to think about, not to mention NTSC and PAL.
The post facilities we spoke with all said that 24p HD is the ideal springboard for all these formats, as well as for live HD presentations, DVD releases, and even recording back to film for cinemas or archive.
SPREADING THE WORD
"What we've seen in the last six months is that 24p HD is really beginning to catch on," says Mark Littman, co-owner of Northern Lights Post (www.nlpedit.com). "It's definitely gotten a foothold on the West Coast, but recently, we're seeing increased interest in 24p HD here in New York. Once the sale of HDTV consumer equipment picks up, we expect that momentum will translate into more HD work for us."
Grace & Wild posted this DNA spot for Cadillac. The film transfer was completed in HD in a Spirit suite. Car footage was composited in HD using a Quantel eQ system.
In the meantime, Northern Lights is actively promoting the use of HD, especially 24p HD, by offering seminars and even working gratis just to show its advertising agency and production clientele what 24p HD will do for them. As part of its personalized service and attention to detail, Northern Lights provides HD consultation and technical expertise from start to finish.
Among the benefits to 24p HD, Northern Lights' senior editor/designer, Ross Shain, says, "Clients can achieve a filmic look with widescreen images that enhance the overall look of the show. For those who prefer film acquisition and delivery, 24p HD post serves as a digital intermediate that offers filmmakers increased creative latitude and flexibility, plus realtime previews and performance, for more quality control over their finished product. And for those shooting 24p HD on the set, the use of a greenscreen and Ultimatte keyer can save thousands of dollars in post that would otherwise be spent cutting mattes or finessing visual effects composites."
One exciting project that Northern Lights has begun working on is "Dreams," a collaboration between Sony and Young & Rubicam. For several years, "Dreams" has promoted the use of 24p HD among directors and DPs at top advertising agencies by putting a 24p HD (HDCAM) camcorder into their hands and giving them free reign to produce a short film that is then showcased for the creative community. They worked with one of the participating directors to realize a very compelling 24p HD "Dream" project.
Advanced Digital Services has added a variety of Snell & Wilcox gear for HD work.
HI-WIRED FOR HD
When it comes to 24p HD or 1080i HD, Hi-Wire in Minneapolis has many inherent advantages. First, the facility was built in 1999 on a HD infrastructure supporting a Thomson Spirit HD telecine with da Vinci 2K resolution independent color correction, which feed HD work to the Discreet Fire HD and Inferno editorial and compositing bays. And, within the facility, sister company BWN provides seamlessly integrated audio post, including 5.1-channel surround sound.
"But besides having all the right tools, we have really talented artists who guide our clients through the 24p HD process, and without their help and expertise, posting in 24p HD could be unnecessarily complicated," says Lisa Meyer, president of Hi-Wire (www.hi-wire.com).
While the volume of HD projects has been growing, Meyer adds that the HD medium is still in its early stages and does not yet justify the additional expenditures. "The main reason for this is that there aren't many outlets yet for 24p HD content, and so advertising agencies haven't been motivated to add HD to their toolbox," adds Hi-Wire's managing producer, Tammy Kimbler Weber.
But there are three promising new market segments that could dramatically increase profits for 24p HD post in the near future. They are: the need for a universal master for distributing television shows in a wide range of delivery formats; independent short films and feature length movies; and the growing need for DVD content, such as the "bonus" material found on DVD movies.
"When the finished product is destined for HDTV or even NTSC, 24p HD is an ideal mastering format because it gives the imagery a rich, film look with greater visual impact very cost effectively," says Kimbler Weber. Examples of Hi-Wire clients working in this vein are National Geographic Archives and Best Buy, which produces 24p HD content for display on HDTV sets in its stores as well as cinema spots.
Hi-Wire often works with independent filmmakers. One such indie film recently won a prize at (Kevin Spacey's) TriggerStreet.com Online Short Film Festival, held at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Called Suspension, the 20-minute short by filmmaker Jon Nowak was shot on 16mm film, posted in 24p HD at Hi-Wire, then recorded back to film for presentation. Suspension revolves around a suspenseful moment when a hit man demands a confession from a man he is about to kill. Meyer adds, "Independent films give us the opportunity to push the creative envelope and in doing so, we can show advertising agencies and production companies what we and the 24p HD medium are capable of achieving."
SHOOTING FILM, POSTING HD
For The Sopranos on HBO, Santa Monica's Riot has been handling all of the 24p HD post production for the last four seasons. "Not only is the show creatively demanding, it's technically demanding. HBO is very meticulous about every detail, and if there's so much as a pixel out of place, the problem must be addressed before it can move on," says Lesley Robson-Foster, Riot's visual effects supervisor. Prior to joining the Santa Monica facility, Robson-Foster worked for Riot in New York as the visual effects supervisor for Sex and the City, for the hit show's fourth and fifth seasons.
"It's a pleasure working with HBO because they take such pride in their work and everyone's pain-staking efforts are evident on screen," Robson-Foster adds. "HBO usually has a very long list of deliverables, requiring versions of their shows in virtually every format, including 1080/59.98i, 1080/23.98p, 720/60p, film and more. The 24p HD master makes an excellent springboard for creating all their desired delivery formats and even serves them well when the time comes to produce DVD collections of the series."
24P HD presents new opportunities for Crawford Post
While Robson-Foster describes HBO as extremely sophisticated in its knowledge of 24p HD production and post production, many clients that come to Riot seeking 24p HD services must be educated and guided through this new territory. "If people want to post in 24p HD, they need to understand that they may not necessarily be well-served by acquiring their images in 24p HD versus film. Film has twice the picture information and latitude of 24p HD and has proven itself to be an excellent platform for visual effects and multiformat distribution," Robson-Foster adds. "If they want to push it, pull it, or manipulate their images in any way in post production, a filmed image will hold up well, while a HD-taped image will require very heavy post to make it right."
Riot recently finished a visually appealing commercial for Altoids mints that was filmed in 35mm expressly for release only in cinemas. The post was done as a digital intermediate in 24p HD in Discreet Inferno and Fire suites. The original film was transferred on Riot's Spirit telecine with da Vinci 2K color correction, and then recorded back to film in Riot's in-house lab.
"We are seeing increasing demand for 24p HD post services," Robson-Foster says. "But many people have been led to believe that if they are not shooting in HD, they're missing out. Using film at the start will result in a better quality HDTV deliverable."
At IO Film, (www.iofilm.net) in North Hollywood the emphasis is on the proprietary hardware and software that helps this facility maintain superior quality control throughout the post process. One software process called Quikcomp manages and preserves the color processing throughout the color image pathway to produce the best quality high-resolution image in 24p HD, whether the image was originated on film or a HD medium.
"By using custom solutions, including software that our engineers developed in C++, we're able to steer clear of many problems commonly associated with HD. And if a client has a specific need or problem, we can modify our software to create a customized solution for just their project," says Kevin Mullican, CTO of IO Film, which caters largely to the independent feature film community. Last year, IO Film's custom infrastructure was used to post This Girl's Life, which was shot in 720/60p, posted in 24p HD on the facility's Avid|DS HD and output to 35mm film using an Arrilaser recorder.
Suspension (inset) was posted in HD in Hi-Wire's Inferno suite.
Also, for Lion's Gate Entertainment, which is both a production studio and a distributor, IO Film completed a 20-minute digital intermediate for the promo reel promoting the movie Godsend, starring Robert DeNiro and Greg Kinnear. IO took the Super35 original camera negative, transferred it to D-5, conformed the entire project in its Avid|DS HD bay (as well as building opticals and effects in the Piranha suite), and then shot the whole film back to 35mm anamorphic.
"For film-to-tape transfer, we maintain relationships with a few select area post houses that understand exactly what IO Film's custom pipeline requires in terms of color space, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks and other image attributes," says Mullican. "The biggest challenge to posting in HD is that the medium has such a limited dynamic range compared to film. So for those shooting 24p HD instead of film, we strongly urge the clients to employ expert lighting technicians and DPs who will pay meticulous attention to production details. If they do, an HD-originated film can look superior to one shot on film."
"When clients request services we don't have in-house, we note their interest. Then, when it makes financial sense, we buy the equipment and add the desired service to our menu," says Russell Ruggieri, VP of engineering for Advanced Digital Services (www.adv-digital.com) in Hollywood. "This was the case with HD - we had to move on it or we'd start to see some of our ancillary business drop off."
Acting as a service bureau, Advanced Digital Services offers up-, down-, and cross-conversion between popular HD formats using a Snell & Wilcox Ukon converter.
Ruggieri says, "We have added to our broadening list of services by expanding into HD editing using a Snell & Wilcox HD-1012 12-input multi-standard HD switcher; and 601 SD restoration services using the Snell & Wilcox Archangel - a realtime motion compensated image restoration system which cleans up video being upconverted to HD or compressed for DVD."
"With MPEG encoding of video for HDTV broadcast or DVD, the source material must be as clean as possible to prevent wasteful consumption of bandwidth or storage by the compression of noise or artifacts," says Ruggieri. Archangel can restore images that have deteriorated or been damaged within two or three times its running length.
"If producers want to incorporate archival material from its original film or videotape, like the old quad format," he adds, "we run it through Archangel and eliminate all the dirt, scratches, weave, flicker and other problems, so that the next step, the encoding, will go more efficiently."
EDUCATING AUTO MAKERS
Grace & Wild (www.gracewild. com) in Farmington Hills, MI, has recently acquired many HD-capable systems for their two post divisions, Postique and HDStudios. Post production and graphics platforms include two Quantel eQ editing and effects systems; four Avid|DS Nitris HD systems; three Discreet Flame HD suites, and a Discreet Inferno system. For film transfer and color correction, two Thomson Spirit HD telecines with da Vinci 2K color correctors, as well as a Thomson Shadow HD telecine are available. Also, the company owns four Sony HDW-950 HD camera systems and represents Fletcher-Chicago's HD camera equipment in Michigan.
"Grace & Wild does a lot of work for automotive and retail advertising accounts, as well as high-end corporate clients through our two divisions, Postique and HDStudios," notes Keith Neff, senior VP of technology and managing director of HDStudios. "We have been educating our clients regarding 24p HD production and are offering our resources where appropriate. Regardless of where the program materials originate, 24p video production or film, we can offer greater creativity in post and produce an overall better quality product," Neff adds.
Neff says they've provided demonstrations to their automotive clients showing them HDTV shows, such as The Super Bowl, NYPD Blue, and The Sopranos, on HD plasma monitors, and then showed them how their current NTSC spots would look upconverted in the breaks. "Automotive clients put a great deal of effort into giving their spots visual impact, and they see that HD's widescreen aspect ratio would give them a better canvas for scenic panoramas and beauty shots," says Neff. He adds that HD's high-resolution would also enable them to grab slick-looking still frames from the HD spots that could be printed in brochures or magazines.
"Two years ago, when we approached these clients about 24p HD production, they told us, "It's not on the radar,'" Neff says. "But today, there's a whole new level of interest and planning for HD production and post."