Film scanning and telecine manufacturers vie for a market growing in two opposite directions: DI and archival.
Got film? Well, then you've got to scan it. Or is it better to run the precious medium through a telecine? That depends on what you mean to do with your end-product, but a growing cadre of manufacturers are coming up with affordable film-to-digits alternatives to traditional telecine/color correction for a wide variety of applications. At the same time, telecine experts are finding more ways to provide their users with added benefits and usefulness.
One issue at post houses and film-scanning service providers is simply speed — how fast can they transfer your film to digits? Another is digital intermediate (DI) workflow — filmed material needs to get to color-grading suites and other manipulators of digital film so that expensive equipment (and talent) are not unproductive for long. Another question is archiving and restoration, which is also a time-and-money conundrum; that is, the cheaper the scanning experience, the more classic film you can afford to archive. Or save — the preservation of our nation's (or any nation's) film archives is a huge part of our modern culture. Martin Scorcese announced at Cannes last month the formation of the World Cinema Foundation — a group dedicated to the preservation of important Third World films — proving that there's a movement afoot.
Very basically, telecine is realtime and scanning is, by contrast, rather slow but typically pin-registered for picture stability. The scanner is busy studying each film frame and committing it to digits at 2K resolution, 4K, or maybe more.
Adam Welsh, a former head of Cintel, founded Big Pic Media (www.bigpicmedia.net) two years ago to handle marketing and, in some markets, sales for a number of DI-oriented companies, including Cintel. Welsh has been around the block and around the world of film-to-digits. "Whilst the forefront of film scanning is still being driven by the demands of high-budget, VFX-heavy feature films, there is a huge market for film preservation and archiving," Welsh says. "I see this as a major marketplace for volume scanner sales. Film scanners are now being manufactured that give the archivist the ability to digitize his archive and make the 'image of value' in the archive available for commercial use."
Welsh says that the key to scanning for preservation and archiving is ensuring that the cost and efficiency equation is right. The key elements are speed, repeatability, 2K to 4K resolution, and ease of operation. "And," he adds, "any scratch or dirt handling would be a major plus."
Most scanners today use Kodak's Digital ICE, a software program that uses infrared technology to automatically detect and eliminate scratches and dirt, Welsh says, while Cintel employs a proprietary optical solution to erase imperfections.
ONCE AND FOR ALL
Welsh says that 4K oversampled work is still the province of the big-iron studios and "for DI work the most common resolution is still 2K." However, "the most exciting and important trend in film scanning is the digitizing of film once for the entire post production," Welsh says. "In fact, this digitizing will be carried out at the dailies stage and then only files will remain until the deliverable. To do this you need a scanner that can run fast, 4K oversampled and at least 15fps, pin registered, either mechanically or electronically calibrated and repeatable with an internal optical dirt remover."
Arri's pin-registered scanner, Arriscan, combines an LED light source and a CMOS chip area sensor. Arriscan reads keycode and imports EDLs and offers an optional Infrared/Digital ICE package (by Kodak) for detecting and removing scratches, dust and blemishes.
Arri (www.arri.com) was at the recent NAB with scanner news. Pomfort, a German software maker (www.pomfort.com), forged a deal with Arri to weave their Silverstack program into the Arriscan workflow to quickly make 10-bit log uncompressed QuickTime movies of scanned material for use in Final Cut editing.
Quantel and its new Genetic Engineering plan had a number of DI guests at its NAB booth. Emulating a DI shop, Quantel scanned film from an Arriscan as MTI Film's Correct-DRS program handled dust-busting and Eyeon Software's Fusion worked on VFX. The digital media was conformed in Quantel DI systems, including color grading in Quantel's Pablo.
Arriscan offered a "Digital Dailies Base Package" option including: 1.5fps at 4K and 6K oversampled to 2K; 5fps at 2K; and 8fps at 2K, all pin registered. Arri's scanner can also deliver "double exposure" acquisition, where for each color the LEDs flash the film once for a low-density and once for a high-density pass. The scanner is priced around $580,000, but that figure varies based on configuration.
The Arriscan team also co-developed with Iridas (www.iridas.com) the new SpeedGrade DDS, a digital dailies and color correction system. It's optimized for typical digital dailies workflows where the data logging function and quick turnaround times for grading are essential. In contrast to DI grading solutions, SpeedGrade DDS works on scanned film reels directly without the need to build a timeline.
Thomas Greiser, Arri's Digital Imaging Systems product manager, says that today's telecine houses are not offering their installed telecines to provide scanning work. Rather, he says, "more traditional telecine houses are interested [in scanners] and see demand for 'real' pin-registered scanning."
Greiser adds, "scanning is just one part of the DI process but is key to having the highest quality available right at the beginning of the DI chain. 2K is still the standard but 4K or even higher resolution will eventually become the norm, including projection. It's just a matter of time until storage prices come down and the speed is fast enough to allow for an all-4K DI." 4K files are more than four times bigger than 2K files.
As far as scanning in the archival/restoration market, Greiser says, "archival and restoration need to be addressed since a lot of film history has already vanished; there is a huge worldwide market for preserving original footage. We work on various technical solutions which can accommodate scanning of all the different old film materials and formats out there."
However, he says, a scanner designed for archival work should cost more, not less — the job of preserving filmed history and culture is too delicate. "It requires very careful handling and more versatile equipment adjusting to old film stock rather than traditional 'modern' film stock. People who scan the old footage need to be better trained because of all the various different footage in storage: 35mm, 16mm, 28mm, paper film, print film and more."
Where a project is going direct to television, and HD will be all that's asked of it, speedy, traditional telecine work, attached live to a color correction suite, is still the norm — for now.
"There is a definite trend away from the traditional telecine process toward scanning," says Cintel's business development manager, Simon Clark. "This covers all aspects of film post production from commercials and music promos through longform and episodic to motion picture and special effects," he says.
"'Scanning' is effectively a dumb process. Even I can do it!" says Clark, a man who's focused much of his, and Cintel's, efforts into scanning innovations. "Film is loaded onto the scanner and usually scanned to an EDL in a log-calibrated standard. Color correction is then a nonlinear downstream process, usually in-context after editing." That means that humans do not intervene much during scanning, but high-quality scans make for a better subsequent DI experience.
Today's "data-cines" can blur the lines between pure scanning and realtime telecine functions, Clark says, by scanning film in 2K and 4K at fairly rapid rates: "say 2K in the region of 15fps." [Note: Thomson Grass Valley owns the trademark for DataCine, but others in the industry use the term to describe the function of most current scanners.]
Clark agrees that "scanners are getting faster. The fastest pin-registration scanner today operates at half realtime speed in 2K resolution. The 'next generation' of data-cines is achieving realtime 2K resolution speeds and could effectively be used for nonlinear 'telecine' work, however the lack of pin registration at these resolutions is an issue.
"The traditional 'linear' telecine workflow will be with us for some time, but with the new generation of film scanners, such as Cintel's Ditto launched last year, the investment makes more sense. Ditto provides fast, calibrated, pin-registered, 2K and 4K film transfers at a price as low as 25 percent of a 'data-cine,' and the results are of a much higher quality in terms of stability, resolution, colorimetry and repeatability."
Ditto scans 2K data at 4.5fps pin registered and 4K data at 3fps, also pin registered, and, since it is small enough to sit up on a counter, it's been called "the first desktop scanner."
Cintel's DataMill scanner can deliver 2K data at 15fps and 4K at 3.75fps. DataMill scans pin-registered film at 4K resolution at 1fps.
Cintel is an industry pioneer, introducing traditional telecines in the 1970s and still offers a line of telecines — now known as "data-cines" — such as the Millennium HD and the DSX, which scan SD, HD, 2K and 4K.
Filmlight's (www.filmlight.ltd.uk) new upgrade of its Northlight scanner — the Northlight 2 — was introduced at NAB '06 and shipped last year. It scans five times as fast as its predecessor. Filmlight engineered the Northlight from the ground up "specifically for the exceptional demands of digital film mastering," and boasts "image quality surpassing that of traditional pin-registered film scanners" used in visual effects. The system scans any and all film stocks and scans 4K 35mm at 0.8 seconds per frame and 2K 35mm at greater than 2fps.
Northlight 2 employs a 700W metal-halide diffuse illumination system (patent pending) and the "latest generation" 8K tri-linear CCD sensor.
As such, Northlight 2's performance was aimed at longform scanning in all film formats "at the highest quality" for visual effects, DI, restoration and longform television. The system sells in the $500K to $600K range.
Peter Stothart is Filmlight's commercial director and a co-founder. Increasingly, he says, there's more interest in scanning because "when you scan files at hi res, you get more out of them in post, and it's easier to work with them because they're pin-registered." He says both telecine and scanning have their place but "scanning dominates when the quality of stability is the issue" such as in heavy VFX work in DI.
As for the archival and restoration market, Stothart says, Filmlight had not seen much demand until as recently as 18 months ago. "It's kind of embryonic, but it's out there and it's increasing fast; there's a wake-up call and scanners have to be able to handle that. Scanning is absolutely right for restoration because you have damage, stability issues, you have the necessity to use software techniques to restore aging dyes and the quality that you start with is paramount."
But low-budget archivists may find they have some investing to do when it comes to scanning. "Scanning can't get cheaper in the way that software techniques can," Stothart says. "You still have a lot of glass, a lot of sensor technology and a lot of electronics. You have five different disciplines that come together in a kind of precision microscope. You have physics in the CCD sensor technology; precision mechanics in the way you move and handle the film — and stop it, pin registered, with pixel-accuracy; you have electronic signal-processing; you've got optics in the design of the lens; and finally you've got servo control — the equivalent of tape-handling. It's a very complicated device, but very simple to operate. But there's no economy of scale."
Aiming for high quality in scanner design, he says, keeps costs high. "Take Northlight 2," says Stothart, "it's at least 500 percent faster than Northlight 1 and that's not going to let up." As speed increases, scanning large amounts of archival film may become more reasonable.
The most critical issues for the people that make Northlight 2 are resolution, noise and color fidelity. Northlight 2 oversamples at a whopping 8K. "The reason is, we're seeing an increasing number of DI projects at 4K resolution and scanning one-to-one — 4K to 4K — doesn't give you the headroom that oversampling does," says Stothart. From that oversampling the Northlight produces a 4K or a 2K output. The reason is to protect for the future projection of a digital master. "You sure as hell see the result!" Stothart says of digital projection. "It's quite an astounding difference when the whole process is digital and you no longer project film."
Thomson Grass Valley's Spirit DataCine burst on the scene in the '90s and has sold an improbable 260 units to a worldwide market that, as some insiders believed, did not need a new (and expensive) telecine. They got that wrong. Today Grass Valley's DataCine has been joined by the Spirit 2K and the Spirit 4K as well as support systems such as Bones for DI.
The company describes the Spirit 4K as a "high-performance film scanner." The 4K features high-speed Gigabyte Systems Network (GSN) data output and can upgrade to a DataCine system that includes SD and HD video interfaces as well as 2K or 4K data. So this is a box that acts as both telecine and scanner according to its maker.
The 4K supports Super 35mm, Academy 35mm 3-perf, 4-perf and 8-perf (VistaVision), as well as 16mm and Super 16mm. The unit offers native 2K scanning in realtime and promises "true 4K scanning" at up to 7.5fps with 16-bit internal processing — even at 4K. The light source is Xenon illumination from a diffuse source to minimize dust and scratch visibility; its imaging subsystem was developed by Kodak.
Grass Valley (www.thomsongrassvalley. com) executives like SVP Jeff Rosica and director of marketing for post production Nick Smith agree that film should be scanned once and for all — not once for dailies and again later for DI. Such inefficiency ties up expensive equipment rooms (and Spirit DataCines are not cheap) and are also wasteful of initial color grading decisions that are typically forgotten during the subsequent re-transfer of selects.
Grass's new DI workflow, called Bones Dailies, manages a 30fps (faster than realtime) DataCine scan directly into the post house's SAN, where images can undergo nonlinear color correction, a time savings that also promises more creative freedom. The DataCine is then free for other duties. Multiple shots can receive the same color grade much faster than realtime thanks to batch processing.
Various DI processes, including image ingest, audio ingest, synchronization, grading, dust busting and scratch removal can be done simultaneously, thereby saving more time and spurring creative results.
Color decisions (CDL) made in Bones Dailies form the basis of the final color grade. The company says that a "logarithmic scan" of the film preserves its full dynamic range and that gives more creative control to the colorist. The colorist's CDL lives on as metadata instructions and is always available.
"With the advent of digital acquisition formats, people using film have wanted to push ahead with higher resolutions like 2K and 4K," says Smith. "But these resolutions cannot be transported on a video signal and have to be stored as data. Additionally the world is becoming more and more IT and data centric. Storing files as data on a SAN allows many people to access it at the same time so the trend for high resolutions has been complimented by the move to data."
Smith says that DataCines, with pricing about twice that of some scanners, will provide the desired data faster and, if you can "feed the beast" with lots of work, would actually pay for itself more quickly.
But what of film archivists all over who have tons of delicate stock and don't have tons of money? The Spirit HD costs 35 percent less than the Spirit 2K and is aimed, in part, at archivists. And it promises to be gentle. "Because it uses the same film transport mechanism as the main Spirits, it handles old films beautifully," says Smith. The Spirit HD can be configured as either a video-based telecine or a data-based scanner-only system, or both.
"Digital intermediate has quickly become the dominant method for feature film finishing. With the majority of these features originated on film, there is an obvious need for faster and higher quality scanners," says Richard Antley, VP, Imagica Corp of America. And Imagica (www.imagica.com) is planning just that — specs will be released at IBC in September and a floor model is promised for NAB 2008. For now, we know next year's Imagica scanner will be based on a custom CCD area array sensor, LED illumination system, and a new film transport.
Imagica continues to sell its current scanner line, the Imager XE Advanced Plus, which "features excellent image quality and support for pin-registered 35mm [3-, 4- and 8-perf], 16mm and Super 16mm," says Antley, as well as "the only pin-registered wet gate scanning system available today." The scanner's basic speeds are 2K at 1.3fps and 4K at 1.9fps. The XE's price range is approximately $210,000 to $350,000 depending on configuration and uses a tri-linear CCD array with a 4K (4096-pixel) active image area in each line.
Antley says the industry decided on file-based workflow a couple of years ago in part because of the advantages of data networks for routing media around a facility vs. routing video signals and also because of the many data-centric creative tools available for color, VFX, compositing and more. Still another reason is the panoply of delivery formats — from big screen to very small — that post houses must deliver today.
Antley firmly believes that scanning is critical to archival preservation for three reasons. One is "archive preservation" — scanning existing archival film elements that may be deteriorating "so that the images can be re-recorded as film separations thus extending the life of the archive by some 500 years. You aren't doing any clean up or repair at this point, just preserving your archive."
The second is creating a "digital archive" — while you're scanning to data for preservation purposes it's simple enough to create a data archive while recording new separations. Data archives present a lot of advantages in terms of searchability, quick retrieval, and quick repurposing of assets.
Third, Antley says, is "restoration and repurposing" — here again the first step is scanning. "Once digitally resized, reregistered, repaired, and otherwise restored, the content can be repurposed for a digital archive, color film release, new film archival separations, Internet streaming, DVD, etc.
"Since so many of the performance criteria are the same for DI and archival work, it makes no sense as a manufacturer to develop totally new systems for the archival market, which is relatively small in terms of unit values and dollars available for equipment" Antley says. "They might make some special-purpose options or add-ons, but core technologies and base systems will be the same for both applications."
To put it bluntly, there are people in the scanning business who believe that speedier scanners, while maintaining the stability of pin registration, can overtake traditional telecines, due in part to their lower cost. California-based Steve Klenk is sales and marketing VP at Lasergraphics, maker of The Director series of scanners: "Not only are scanners doing high-end DI work, but the new high-speed scanners are also replacing the telecines which were traditionally used for television," Klenk says. "In addition to traditional 35mm scanning, producers can now shoot on 16mm, scan it to HD for television or to 2K for 35mm blow-ups, and save large amounts of money on raw film stock."
The Director simultaneously generates HD or SD video sequences for dailies along with raw 2K DPX data without any additional steps, Klenk says. "This obsoletes million-dollar-plus telecines at about 20 percent of the price," he believes. "Historically, people have used telecines to output dailies and scanners to generate data for DI. The Director does both simultaneously without any compromise of speed."
The Director scanner represents a breakthrough for Lasergraphics (www.lasergraphics.com) in scanning speed and performance according to Klenk, who claims bragging rights as the "world's fastest" 2K scanner. "It features a scanning speed of 9fps and format options of 35mm and 16 mm film. In addition, The Director allows multiple outputs, such as 2K DPX/Cineon and HD/SD QuickTime video proxies. The Director, with its high-speed area array CCD, ensures image stability via its custom pin-registered film gate, resulting in unparalleled image quality" Klenk says.
The Director is currently shipping as a 2K scanner, but a 4K upgrade is expected to be delivered within the next year. While 2K is mainstream today, over the next few years we will see dramatic improvements in data throughput, storage capabilities, and storage costs. All of these will eventually bring 4K into the mainstream for theaters."
SAVE THE ARCHIVES
Klenk says that scanners will save the day for the world's threatened film archives: "Scanners have made possible a whole new industry for restoration and archiving. Film elements that were heretofore stored away — many of which have deteriorated over the years — are now able to be scanned and restored for both re-release and archival of new, high-quality elements."
Lasergraphics sees a trend toward decentralization in film production. "In the past, people had to go to large facilities and pay large sums of money for scanning," Klenk says. "Now they can bring it in-house, control the process, secure the film source and the data, and save a lot of money."
He believes that ever increasing scanning speeds will only bring costs down. "Lasergraphics' mission, 'DI made simple,' is to manufacture the highest quality DI products, including scanners, at prices that average post facilities can afford — typically about 50 percent below our competitors' prices," he says. "We will also continue to improve the integration between our scanners, our partners' color-grading systems, and our film recorders to further streamline the DI workflow for post facilities worldwide." Meanwhile, ever-speedier data-resolution pin-registration scanners are not likely to be used in a traditional "telecine" process. Cintel's Clark believes the telecine process is evolving more into a data-scanning process: "I believe that customers are getting used to and are asking for a 'digital intermediate' process where they are looking at pre-scanned data images rather than the real film during color grading and enjoying in-context grading."
And as today's telecines start to do the direct-to-SAN work of a scanner, the battle lines get blurrier even as the resolution gets sharper.