Transitioning from standard definition to high definition post continues apace with more and more companies acquiring HD capabilities and those that already offer HD finishing finding the demand for high definition has moved upstream to the offline process.
WHAT CLIENTS WANT
At Serious Robots in Raleigh, NC, the migration from SD to HD post has been driven by client demand. "So many of our clients are now finishing in HD for spots and network television," says director of editorial Scott Roy. "It was easier to bite off a $100,000 deck purchase having the work lined up.
"All of our software — Avid DS Nitris, DS HD, Adrenalines and Apple Final Cut Pro — is capable of doing HD, so our primary financial investment consisted of getting a deck," a Sony SRW-5500 HDCAM SR machine, he continues. "For most productions, committing to an HD format can be a nagging concern. The 5500 has been really solid for us, and we were glad to commit all our work to a pristine-yet-rugged SR format."
Serious Robots (www.seriousrobots.com) also upgraded CPUs to boost its capacity for HD post. It already had the infrastructure in place to support HD. "We had been waiting to flip the switch," says Roy.
When the company does an HD project "the look and feel of the interface" on its complement of editing platforms is the same as editors are accustomed to in SD, Roy explains. "The biggest thing is dealing with HD frame rates, formats and deliverables. We have to be 'the answer guys' for our clients. Agency producers and creatives don't want to have to worry about technology."
Serious Robots completed in HD four one-hour episodes of the series FutureCar from CBS Eye Too Productions. The programs have aired in SD on The Discovery Channel and will be telecast this month on Discovery HD Theater. Executive producer Rob Cohen had previously tapped Serious Robots for commercial work requiring HD finishing.
"Discovery needed delivery in HDCAM so they shot with the [Sony] F900. We did all the downconverts. CBS Eye Too offlined in SD and sent us Avid project files. We conformed them on Avid DS Nitris, then prepared HDCAM deliverables," Roy explains.
On the commercial side, an innovative campaign for Sony's Bravia HDTV set, from McKinney/Raleigh, required HDCAM SR finishing. They also worked on a campaign for the Xyience line of energy foods, from Positive Image/LA, who wanted to acquire footage in HD but did not need HD deliverables for Spike TV.
"We suggested we take them through an HD workflow anyway because there were benefits in compositing, and as Spike transitions to HD they'd already have spots done," says Roy.
He reports that increasing numbers of spot clients choose to acquire in HD today recognizing "the benefits of capturing in HD and posting in HD although most still deliver SD."
Roy says future HD post expansion will continue to be client driven. He expects Serious Robots will stick to "high-end finishing with the HDCAM SR, but if we see a need to finish in the Panasonic realm we will have to invest in that equipment."
UPGRADING FOR HIGH DEF
Late last year, three Autodesk Smokes at Manhattan Transfer-Miami (www.mtmiami.com) and a pair of Flames at its Deep Blue Sea VFX division were upgraded for HD post and finishing, according to director of sales and marketing Alan Olem.
"Miami has been at the tail end of the whole HD craze, so inquiries have been few and far between," he notes. "Now we have begun to see an increase in the need for HD work in visual effects and edit. It's not abundant, but it's happening, so we felt it was time to upgrade. I think we're one of only a couple of facilities in the country to have made this type of investment right now, although I expect more will. In the southeast I don't know any other company with as many options for HD finishing as we have with our Smokes and Flames."
Manhattan Transfer Miami's client base is a diverse mix of Hispanic-market and general-market advertising agencies. "We've done four or five projects in the last two months for both of them," says Olem. "More and more clients are beginning to get comfortable with the HD realm. When the budget is there — and we're getting to the point where budgets are — they want to do HD post. In the next year or two it will be a lot more common than it is now, but we're on our way."
Olem says more production companies are shooting HD today and are "helping steer clients to finish in HD. On the technical side, our terrific staff engineers and chief engineer John Berthier have made the move to HD seamless for clients and operations too. Our Smokes and Flames keep clients in the comfort zone if they want to stay in SD or transition to HD. As clients' needs change, we'll look toward the future as we always do, but I think the upgrades will hold us for a while."
HD FROM THE START
Operating as both content creators and turnkey post providers, New York CIty's Rust (www.rustcompany.com) opened in 2006 in the heart of the financial district and has grown "exponentially" in a very short time, report partners Jamie Manalio and Anthony Cupo.
"We've both been in TV and cable for 12 to 15 years," says Manalio. "I come from the editorial side and Anthony from art direction and design. We had enough clients to build Rust and did unbelievably well very quickly. We were acquiring material in HD and wanted to keep the workflow in HD all the way through, so toward the end of last year we decided that if we wanted a way to finish every format and flavor of HD we needed a dual-boot Avid Symphony Nitris and DS Nitris with Unity ISIS shared storage."
On the fourth floor, Rust has its graphics department, which uses JVC's GY100U HDV camera to capture images for clean mattes and composites, and Final Cut Pro HD for ingesting material for designers to manipulate. Two floors up are editorial suites with the Symphony Nitris, DS Nitris, Adrenaline HD, Media Composers for offline and Digidesign Pro Tools|HD for audio.
"If everyone had to work in uncompressed HD, smaller companies like ours would find it hard to make the leap," notes Cupo. "But Avid, Final Cut and Panasonic have invested heavily in HD codecs with a little more bandwidth than DV, and these codecs allow for multiple users. So they've made the cost of getting in the game much lower than before. Having six editing suites would have been cost prohibitive for us before." Rust rents HD decks based on project demands.
"We're very lucky that by the time we got involved with the technology it had become very streamlined," Cupo adds. Manalio agrees. He recalls "enormous snakes" of cables at MTV, which had to accommodate composite and component signals and all the audio formats. Now Rust's ISIS uses CAT 6 cable, which transmits all the video and audio signals through the shop. BNC cable rated for HD carries HD and SD video, eight channels of audio and timecode.
Manalio sees the industry headed in "a couple of directions. Half the industry is creating HD content for television. The other half is next-gen media, including the Web and mobile phone/portable video players."
A big-screen HD presentation for Warner Music Group found Rust cutting a reel of the label's urban artists from an array of sources. "We had to upconvert Digital Betacam and DVD material to HD, and we had some HD sources from new music videos," recalls Manalio, who used the Symphony Nitris to edit and finish the reel. "Symphony Nitris is great for color correction; the only one better is the DS, and now we have both. We're able to work in true 4:4:4 color space, so we're even geared for DI work."
On the opposite end of the deliverable spectrum is The Great Safety Adventure from 11th Hour Productions, Brooklyn. Rust furnished voice talent and recording for the script about fire safety for kids, created the 2D Flash animation, composited at HD resolution with Adobe's After Effects and Flash, handled Avid cutting and timing, and provided sound design and mixing. The deliverable was a Flash card so safety rangers driving mobile studios from school to school for presentations could easily interact with the kids and the video. Manalio and Cupo believe the "time tested" Symphony and DS Nitris should have three- to five-year lifespans and the CAT 6 technology puts them "a little ahead of the game" in HD equipment longevity.
HD & OFFLINE
During the last six to 12 months "HD has settled into offline" at Burbank's FotoKem, reports Jon Mauldin, director of operations and technology at FotoKem Nonlinear.
The emergence of Avid's DNxHD format has enabled editors to "take advantage of the quality and aspect ratio of HD without outrageous storage requirements, so we're able to gain quality in the offline," notes Mauldin. For example, on a new scripted cable series (which we couldn't name at press time), FotoKem Nonlinear was tasked with posting three pilots for the show, but the series didn't have a budget three times larger than usual for post production. "The director really bought into Avid DNxHD because it meant high quality — you could see every detail in sets and on faces — and they didn't have to have a budget for online because the deliverable would be high quality enough for presentation," explains Mauldin.
The series, shot HDCAM, was captured in DNxHD 36 resolution [Editor's note: DNxHD 36 will be commercially available this month.] and offlined on Adrenaline HD running on a Mac. Then viewing copies were distributed. Mauldin believes this process can be easily adapted by other producers. "They can create graphics and effects in native HD frame rates and aspect ratios so even if they do an uncompressed HD online all the moves carry over seamlessly."
Mauldin also shepherded 310 To Yuma, starring Russell Crowe, through offlines in Avid DNxHD115 and DNxHD 36, respectively. It was shot on 35mm film.
"Previously, features would require dual-link telecines to transfer a set of HD and SD masters. They'd offline in SD and as the film started to get close to locking for an audience screening or preview, they'd online in HD and then screen off the HD conform," he points out. "They'd spend quite a bit of money for HD conforms and color matching."
Now, instead of creating a set of SD masters for offline, the HD transfer is taken straight into Avid for editing in the compressed DNxHD resolution. "We found with tests and projections that the offline image quality was perfectly acceptable for audience screenings," says Mauldin. "They can screen right off the hard drive from editorial." In addition, all the effects crafted in offline translate over, and editing and tweaking can continue until a few hours before screening. "There's a huge cost savings in not having to do HD conforms," Mauldin notes, "and, at its most basic, the director and producers in the edit bay get to look at beautiful images all day long. When we did a split screen test with the 14:1 film resolution they're used to seeing projected and DNxHD 36 everybody said, 'Wow!' They noticed a big difference."
FotoKem's senior VP of technology, Paul Chapman, has seen a similar embrace of HD offline on the Final Cut Pro side. FotoKem digitized dailies for the feature Black Snake Moan to the DVCPRO100 HD codec and the picture's editor cut the feature on Final Cut with Apple Cinema Displays.
"The advantage is working with very high-quality images from the get go and being able to make much better creative decisions," says Chapman. "But the process really shines when it becomes possible to do a test or preview screening off the material on the computer. You cut out the color correction phase and conform for the preview because the picture is fully conformed. For Black Snake Moan's screenings for friends and family, they dropped the sound in and played the movie off the FireWire drive out of the Mac and into the digital cinema projector." For screenings for the general public Apple QuickTime files are output to tape for previews.
FotoKem has been offering the Final Cut HD offline process to clients for the last year or so, before a similar workflow was possible with Avid. "Avid's DNxHD 115 was a bit big but when DNxHD 36 releases, it will be very comparable in file size and quality to Final Cut," Chapman notes. The process for Avid and Final Cut requires an extra step upfront: digitizing from tape after telecine. "There are some products coming out that would help," says Chapman. "They'd digitize out of the telecine or dailies system."