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Issue: October 1, 2004

DIGITAL DAILIES

By: By Matthew Armstrong

The concept of digital dailies means different things to different people, depending on the situation. Traditionally, "dailies" or "rushes" are unedited prints of movie film from the previous day's shoot processed overnight and shipped back for the director to screen on location.

But thanks to the Internet and other technologies, this footage can now be transmitted electronically with a variety of resolution and connectivity options. This has not only changed the way traditional dailies are acquired and sent but also production and post, saving time and money and allowing for integrated collaboration anywhere in the world. This is why the term digital dailies has come to mean something else. In addition to the dailies from a shoot, there are the various stages of rough cuts, the reviews of effects shots and final reviews before a project goes to color correction and processing.



Mixed into this equation are the needs of the people viewing the footage. For some, a lower rez proxy may be all that is necessary in order to get an idea of the content, while the director, cinematographer and visual effects artists require full resolution film frames to accurately assess their work. To this point Larry Librach, assistant VP of business development for broadcast & entertainment at JVC notes, "There isn't any one system that fits every need."

The fact that there are many systems out there and the fact that studios and post houses are racing to find the best solution is a sign of the savings potential in transferring footage digitally.

"In terms of process we're talking about saving five to 10 working days per daily transfer and review cycle," explains Jerry Ledbetter, of Sony Pictures Entertainment. "If they're shooting in Canada it's probably saving three to five days, if they're in China it's probably 10 days. That time savings translates into dollars. It means striking sets earlier, talent decisions are made earlier and it allows you to correct things in time. Anytime you can save days it's a big dollars savings."



CUSTOMIZING YOUR DAILIES SOLUTION
Sony Pictures Entertainment (www.sonypictures.com/) deals with virtually every form of production from film to television and studio or on-location shoots around the world, and each of these types of production has its own requirements. From sending low rez Windows Media 9 files for content review, full rez MPEG-2 files back to the editors or DVD files or HD resolution files for screening, Sony Pictures has implemented a system that allows it to meet a wide range of needs.

"There's a large variety of requirements around supplying digital dailies," says Ledbetter. "We literally have a couple different methods we have put together for achieving those kinds of results associated with each individual area. At the core of that is the ability to move material over the network as digital files, and that's the CineShare solution."

Incorporated a year ago, CineShare is a proprietary software system built on top of the software ActiveMedia from Insci. Insci's ActiveMedia solution is a scalable, enterprise class digital asset management solution allowing a user to play video, stop it, enter comments, view metadata and send it via the Internet along the production chain. Sony Pictures wrote a software program on top of that which allows it to tailor the workflow to suit a particular production's needs, whether it be a television program shooting at a studio in LA or a film shoot in China. Having a system that is easily adaptable to suit any variables of production has been the key element in handling all of Sony Pictures' business. Sony also makes use of Sample Digital's licensed software with its encryption key and playlist viewing system.


Warner Bros. Television uses Media.Net to send files from Canada - where Smallville shoots - to Santa Monica, where the show is edited.
"Formats are going to keep changing and improving," Ledbetter notes. "That's an important reason for decoupling the systems that supply digital dailies. Network transport as a single service and decoupling it from the actual player or the encoders is an important strategic way to approach the solution. That way we don't have to change it all at once as we move on and plug in new technologies."

"In the past you had physical delivery, which was slow, and the other option was FTP sites," explains Mike Koehler, solutions specialist for Insci. "The problem with FTP is you couldn't wrap other information, metadata and workflow around the media. One of the things Sony has done is create workflow tools using our software so the files march through the necessary chain of approvals in an electronic fashion. We wrote the software so it could be adapted to different types of workflows. This way you can solve each individual department's problems so you're thinking more in terms of custom software where you build a program to solve a specific problem. But rather than writing custom software you build a custom interface that's pointed back to the same enterprise infrastructure, so you can evolve. This is what Sony did. They solved the syndicated television department's problems first and then the international motion pictures and so on. But each solution plugs in to the same back end database and servers."

HD TAPE

While most other suppliers in the digital dailies arena have targeted electronic delivery via the Internet or private networks, JVC (www.jvc.com/) has used a traditional approach with a high-tech twist. And the idea is catching on with companies like Technicolor, Laser Pacific (who helped develop the product), Modern VideoFilm, Fotokem and Ascent Media to name a few. And the makers of films such as Cat Woman and Pirates of the Caribbean have already benefited from this technology. MGM Studios uses JVC's D-VHS system on almost every production.


Lin Kayser
"There isn't one system that fits every production," says JVC's Librach. "We've found a niche."

JVC's solution is a D-VHS tape system that allows for HD or SD playback with protection protocols. The system includes three components: the player (used by the client), the mastering deck and the encoder (used by the post house). One of the big selling points is the JVC encoder, which at $24,995 costs significantly less than other encoders to allow users to record MPEG-2 high def footage. The encoder takes the HD SDI 1.5GB from the HDCAM or D-5 or other format and encodes it in realtime to MPEG-2. Before recording onto the D-VHS tape, a window pops up on screen and the operator punches in a lock code, which is different than the password code. JVC provides the post houses with a software program that sits on one person's desktop, not on a network. When the lock code is entered into the software program it generates the password, which that person emails to the client being sent the tape.

"This way only one person at the facility generates the passwords for the clients and only that person knows the codes," explains Librach.


According to Iridas Lin Kayser, FrameCycler includes a suite of analysis tools to judge images, like this effects shot for Van Helsing.
Even if the password function is not used at the post house, the tape still has an embedded Pro-Scramble function that will not allow the tape to be played on any consumer D-VHS player.

"People like the familiarity of being able to put a tape in a machine and hit play. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work it. It sounds like a simple thing, but it's a big deal to a lot of people," notes Librach.

Along with the ability to screen HD material in a system that is familiar to anyone who can operate a traditional VCR, Librach notes the system is also used for SD footage, particularly by MGM, which pulls its SD rough cuts off the Avid so the tapes can be distributed with password protection.


Digital Rapids Copper allows users to send and receive at true wire speed, enabling faster digital dailies sessions
A BEVY OF BANDWIDTH
System integrator Video Design Research (www.videodesignresearch.com/) has been working closely with Digital Rapids (www.digital-rapids.com/ ) on solutions that allow for greater network speed and collaboration tools via the Internet. In addition to deploying these third-party systems, Video Design Research works with manufacturers in the design of products, advising them on what features the post market will want included in products.

The first solution is the recently released Copper DMA (Digital Asset Management), which is built upon licensed technology from Digital Fountain. Copper is a software product designed to move large amounts of data over the Internet. Without getting into specifics of how the product works, it essentially allows a standard 10MB connection to truly carry 10MB of data.

"Copper allows you to send and receive at true wire speed, so you can use 100 percent of your available bandwidth," says Michael Flanigan, president of Video Design Research. "Regardless of the Internet traffic or the switcher or the latency you can achieve end-to-end 10MB connection." Included in Copper DMA is a "deliver as" function.


Brick Eksten, CEO.
"On one end you can have, for instance, a dpx file and you can choose to have that delivered as any format we support, which is basically every streaming and video format out there," Brick Eksten, CEO of Digital Rapids explains. "So as the needs change depending on the customer you're delivering it to, they can easily download the receiver software so a facility can set up a transfer that automates the entire process from whatever format you have to whatever format the client needs - and it does that in realtime. You can also tell it to deliver as a DVD format and the client receives the file and burns a DVD at their end."

Additionally, Copper DMA has an advanced mode where the client receives an email and it goes back to the server and tells the server where the client is located and allows the client to receive the files. This is particularly useful in the case where a client is in a location with firewalls set up. It opens up a hole in the firewall and allows the client to receive the data.

The second major product from Digital Rapids is Stream Z HD, a turnkey HD ingest, encoding and transcoding box, which was unveiled at IBC this year. "It can take anything in over SDI and in realtime, in hardware format, take whatever the native format is and convert it to any other format and record it to disk," explains Eksten. "So you can back right up against the telecine and pick the formats you want to record and each format has a different set of functions. Then you have your choice of all the other formats you want to encode, whether its Windows Media 9, QuickTime, Real, MPEG, whatever."


Sony Pictures' Jerry Ledbetter: "Formats are going to keep changing and improving."
Digital Rapids has built solutions for Ascent Media and The Mill. NBC uses their products for dailies transfers on all of its television productions. And the company's technology was recently used to move all of the effects shots for 20th Century Fox's I, Robot, full film frames transferring between five and 50GB a night.

THE NEED FOR SPEED

In need of a really fast connection, studios like ILM have turned to Media.Net, which has a private high-speed fibre network connected to all the major studios, various post houses in the US and Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, allowing transmission of any resolution.

"For a project shooting in Canada, like the WB's Smallville, they create MPEG-2 files after the footage goes through telecine and send it directly down to editorial in Santa Monica where the Warner Bros. editors cut it and then send it back up to Canada for review and approval," says Paul Weiser, executive VP of marketing and sales of Media.Net.


Sony Pictures is using its proprietary CineShare system, which is built on top of Inscis ActiveMedia product (shown).
The company also offers live video collaboration solutions, which have been used on films such as King Arthur and Pirates of the Caribbean. "For King Arthur, the effects were done at Cinesite London," reports Weiser. "We took the output of their system and put a production monitor in director Jerry Bruckheimer's offices in Santa Monica and set up a video conferencing device on both ends so the people in Santa Monica could see the output from Cinesite in realtime. They could then talk to each other via video conferencing and make production decisions. We also have software that allows you to take a tablet and a pen and you can circle things on the tablet, like you see in a telestrator on sports broadcasts, and highlight certain effects or areas of a frame. So it's a live interactive work session as if they were in the same room, and Bruckheimer could see in realtime the changes Cinesite made.

In addition, Media.Net has an HD screening solution where they build screening rooms at the production location and the HD files can be delivered via the private network or on hard drives.

For Man on Fire, shot in Mexico City, Media.Net built a screening room in director Tony Scott's hotel room along with a server with 2TB of storage. Since the hotel was not connected to the private network, hard drives with the footage were delivered to the hotel room and loaded onto the server.

In other cases, such as a project shooting on Martha's Vineyard, Media.Net incorporated satellite transmission. Sometimes, if low rez files are all that's needed it will make use of the Internet. "Whatever the client needs, we'll do an assessment and design a complete solution around it," says Weiser.

While the company has been successful, doing about 120 projects for both film and television in the past three years, Weiser notes, that in the future, production will alter significantly to take advantage of the possibility of a nonlinear workflow.

"We're involved now in everything from production all the way through post," says Weiser. "It's all been fueled by the digital intermediate process. Before, we always referred to the process as a pipeline, where something comes in, goes through and comes out the other end. Today, everything is coming from a central digital repository and then comes out in various forms. It's like the hub and wheel concept. On one spoke it comes out for film release, on another for digital distribution, on another for DVD, on another for VHS, and each one is handled a little differently. So the future innovations will be in moving media, digital asset management and color grading, all supporting this central server as opposed to the traditional pipeline concept of workflow."

WORKFLOW

Altering the workflow to reflect the advantages of digital production as opposed to the traditional way of filmmaking could very well be the mission statement for Iridas (www.iridas.com/) based in Munich, Germany. "We're trying to get a unified digital cinematography workflow that stretches from the set to the post house to the digital intermediate process to the film-out," notes founder/president Lin Kayser.

The first product Iridas released back in 2001 was FrameCycler for review of uncompressed 2K frames out of RAM. This product has enjoyed enormous success with 15,000 seats, so artists in the post house could review any content at their workstation. The one disadvantage was that the number of 2K frames was limited by the RAM. So Iridas, in collaboration with ESC Entertainment - which was then preparing for the two Matrix sequels - released FrameCycler Digital Dailies System (DDS). This plays back direct from disk without any limitations, so an entire movie can be played back at 2K resolution. FrameCycler, Kayser notes, has been used on virtually every big visual effects movie in the past few years.

"On the Matrix sequels, they used this to check the scans directly after they left the scanner, second to check the digital dailies, including live action plates and post produced plates, and then final review before it went out to the film recorder," explains Kayser. "FrameCycler includes a whole suite of analysis tools to judge the image."

At IBC, Iridas and Baytech announced a solution for digital acquisition. "One of the biggest problems with digital cinematography is that the only reliable medium is tape," says Kayser. "The solutions before were to bring disk arrays on set, but that poses a lot of problems. One of the alternatives is Baytech's Cine- RAM recorder, a RAM disk with 4GB to 16GB of RAM and you can use it to record directly to an external storage medium such as a FireWire drive. So you load it from the CineRAM to a laptop and then with our FrameCycler Digital Cinematography Edition you can play back the 2K footage on set. That's been a big problem with digital cinematography... that you can't play it back on set, and the other solutions out there only allow for 1K playback."

In addition, the companion color grading product Speedgrade Digital Cinematography Edition allows users to see on set what the digital footage will actually look like.

"With a digital camera you always have to record in mid tones because that is where there is the most dynamic range, but that's not what the actual look of the footage will be. Also some cameras, like the Viper, record in a raw mode where the output will look green with low contrast, so you can't see anything," notes Kayser. "So with Speedgrade DCE you can do actual color grading on set on a laptop as you stream files off the CineRAM and you can see what the image will look like and manipulate the image, changing color temperature, spill. It's all non-destructive grading so you are just making changes in the metadata. When it goes to the post house, they can enable the metadata changes to see what preview color correction was used on set so they can see what the director wants."

These products, along with the Speedgrade color grading system, has Iridas pushing for a more logical digital workflow.

"Currently, we are caught between traditional filmmaking and post production, which has been digital for a long time, and the digital intermediate process that is fast replacing the chemical process," explains Kayser. "Logically the digital intermediate process should be part of the post process. You have people in post making color decisions every day but they never know what the colorist, who is still part of the intermediate process, will do to the image. In an ideal world you would bring the colorist in and have him time the frames in this nondestructive color grading system [Speedgrade] as they are being worked on. Then after the post process is complete the colorist just has to fine-tune the image before the film out."