STRENGTHS: The real advantage of the DI is that it allows DPs and directors unprecedented creative freedom to manipulate images to tell the story more effectively. We've installed a very large DI mastering theater, with an 18-foot widescreen, with a Barco DLP Cinema projector and Kinotone film projector side by side. This big-screen environment enabled directors and DPs involved with Saw 2 to feel very comfortable making their color grading decisions. Topping the box office around Halloween, Saw 2 involved over 4,000 edits, very specific color grading, as well as sound mixing.
Also, the DP and director can oversee the color grading for every deliverable, including the PAL, NTSC, DVD, HDTV, airline versions, even trailers. The DI process allows all these versions to be easily generated from a single, high-resolution digital file in the DI process, without having to retransfer any film elements.
WEAKNESSES: The DI process is not just another video post process. It requires specialized tools and techniques. The industry needs to recognize that there are very specific imaging parameters, standards, and requirements that must be met for quality control.
Another source of confusion is that the market requires varying levels of the DI process. Since not every budget can accommodate 2K or 4K resolution finishing, we added a service called "DI Lite" for HD or Super 16mm acquisition that uses an HD workflow to master and finish films. While there are certain limitations compared to our 2K DI process (with scanning on a pin-registered Imagica scanner), we can still generate a very acceptable end product. But again, there are very specific parameters that must be followed to ensure that what looks good a HD monitor in a color suite will also look good when it's blown up on a cinema screen.
OPPORTUNITIES: Knowing what he will be able to achieve later in the DI grading bay, the DP has the opportunity to shoot more efficiently on set. A subtle lighting technique that could take an hour on set to achieve could be created in a few moments in the DI world.
The DI process also allows filmmakers to compensate for catastrophic problems, such as scratches and negative damage, and we're able to repair these problems without their having to re-shoot the scenes - which saves the production money.
THREATS: The biggest threat to the DI business is budget. Because of budget constraints, it's going to be difficult to realize the migration from 2K to 4K resolution, where we're going in the future. 4K is not twice the amount of data of 2K; the increase is exponential. In a DPX 10-bit file, each 2K frame amounts to 12.5 MB of data. But 4K resolution requires about 50MB per frame. Do the math on the 144,000 frames in a typical movie, and that's the amount of storage you need just for the final version.
OUTLOOK FOR 2006: DI was once a novelty - it's now a necessity, and we will see continued acceptance of DI as a very worthwhile movie-making tool because there are many creative and money-saving advantages. What's on the horizon is the organic, evolutionary migration to 4K.
Andy Sykes is VP of Business Development at Deluxe Sound & Picture (www.bydeluxe.com) in Toronto, Canada.