SWOT: DIGITAL INTERMEDIATE
DI, digital intermediate, that is, has become so pervasive over the past six years that its no-film/digits-only version has trickled down to laptop users who are happy to hang out a "DI" banner where they work. Those with a fully tricked-out DI suite with theater seating tend to object, but there's no arguing with success. Endless innovation and the ongoing lust for increasingly improved moving images on ever-tightening budgets all ultimately spell better-looking content for viewers of all kinds of media.
Park Road Post Production
Founded by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, Park Road Post is both a one-stop post production shop and a boutique facility for filmmakers that takes on only "a few selected projects each year."
STRENGTHS: "The DI process has become much broader than just color grading. It now covers all manner of visual improvements to the picture, giving filmmakers more creative options. Having the creative tools available in a near-realtime environment offers instant feedback and approval. As well as the opportunity to push things in a different direction creatively, and see those results instantly, it is hard to beat in a traditional analog way. First-time DI users are usually blown away and it continues to be the process of choice for most filmmakers."
WEAKNESSES: "Growth constraint will mostly come from any industry contraction. There also continues to be huge pressure on budgets, and with increased competition there is also a lot of pricing pressure. There is oversaturation in some countries, but as always, the best will survive. The advantage at Park Road is being able to offer the clients a full post package and guarantee quality right through the post process, particularly being able to control the film-out via our laboratory."
OPPORTUNITIES: "DI is certainly not limited to feature films as the talent and equipment spreads over all revenue streams. Television programs, television commercials, cinema commercials, documentaries and short films all benefit from the DI process. Future growth is in the stereoscopic [3D] market, and there has already been a great deal of interest and inquiry. The artists and operators will also have more opportunity to use their creative skill in these other areas, and it also allows new talent to be nurtured and grown within the facility. It's an exciting time for DI."
THREATS: "The big issue is the ease of purchase of off-the-shelf boxes and software, which is getting quite close to the 'big boys' toys.' Clients are increasingly technically savvy now and have access to tools such as Final Cut with Color on their own laptops. There's a tendency to say, 'Hey, I can do this myself and save money.' In addition, the new reference of what's acceptable in terms of viewing format has changed with YouTube and DV being 'acceptable.' New digital formats, with the price points to match, make filmmaking much more accessible to more people."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: McCammon says Park Road sees a very positive start for 2009, with delivery of two films by John Woo; The Lovely Bones for Peter Jackson; and many others, saying, "We couldn't wish for a better start to the year!"
As for the threat of a production slow down in 2009, she says, "I wouldn't say we're immune, but due to the long lead times in film, we're not seeing this hit us yet."
VP Business Development
EFilm Digital Laboratories
Efilm is a digital film lab specializing in digital intermediate services for major film studios, independent filmmakers, advertisers, animators, visual effects companies and large format filmmakers. Efilm is a Deluxe company.
STRENGTHS: "DI has become accepted as part of the post production pipeline now. People have confidence in the system and that's a huge strength. Six years ago, the amount of demos we were doing just to introduce people to what the DI process was on a feature film, we certainly don't have to do anymore. We have established relationships with creatives, directors and DPs, so they can work quickly.
"Another strength is the image quality between digital and film that [must] match. The 2K projectors are really great and everyone keeps trying to improve the look of those."
WEAKNESSES: "There's a lot of competition locally in Los Angeles and in New York, and competition drives down the price. A lot of video post production companies are entering into digital intermediate. There are only so many [feature film] titles to go after and there's a lot of people going after them. With the market as it is now — there's not as much production going on; there's not as many dailies; there is more digital capture — people are really scrambling to get whatever work they can."
OPPORTUNITIES: "A huge opportunity is the 'compression of geography.' You can take the digital intermediate process to wherever the creatives need us to go, whether it's at our New York facility; on location in Connecticut, and we set up a portable unit there; Australia, where we come back to Hollywood for post production; or a director in the UK working with a DP in Hollywood. With our connectivity we can share files throughout the world. That sure helps with the compressed schedules and the fact that people do want to be working all over the world."
THREATS: "Unsatisfied customers. Four to six years ago, that was a big concern — everybody had to be successful with digital intermediate, whether it was Efilm or anywhere else because we didn't want people to think, 'No, my film doesn't look like the digital files that I timed.' Or if delivery was delayed because of some technical hang-ups. Quality is not equal everywhere you go. Bids should be accurate without a lot of overages and you should see things coming up early and flag them and come up with solutions before they become a bigger issue."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "We're going to get 4K projectors out there that also have great dynamic range and that helps with image quality, too. Also you get a lot of metadata out of digital-capture cameras [such as Genesis] and you can really start getting information into the system at the point of capture."
PostWorks New York (there's a PostWorks LA, too) serves the makers of network television (including Emmy-winner 30 Rock), feature films, commercials, cinema spots, corporate industrials and more.
Strengths: "DI is now the background against which all other development in post are arrayed, and DI tools are increasingly being used for other types of programming. The high standard that 35mm motion picture film imposes has invigorated considerations of quality in digital production: for example, producers are looking at cinema prime lenses with greater respect, having seen the difference they can make when coupled with a Red camera, or an Arri D21. This renewed focus on quality in the basic components of the image path is very welcome: these are aspects of film production that had become somewhat taken for granted."
WEAKNESSES: "Increased diversity in the market for DI has redoubled the need for cross-platform standards for color management, image metadata and sequence structure. It is almost worse to have half-developed standards than none at all, because the assumption on the part of the producer that all these disparate systems can now simply 'talk to each other' is very real. We exist in an ecosystem in which we may do the final color on a project scanned by one facility [in Toronto], conformed by another [in London] and recorded and encoded by two other facilities [both in LA]. To reduce losses in this interchange is a real challenge."
OPPORTUNITIES: "As the idea of a 'desktop DI' proliferates, demand for free-standing film scanning and film recording services has increased, and we have done quite a bit of that lately, but the strongest area of new growth for us has been in archival scanning, both for preservation and restoration and for commercial reproduction and remastering. There remains an ocean of virtually unseen film sitting on shelves all over the world.
"We have also seen vigorous demand for DCPs as the new deliverable standard for film festival exhibition and independent film distribution."
THREATS: "It is tantalizing to think that DI on your laptop is just around the corner. But to do DI properly, the most important considerations are environmental: at a minimum you need DCI-compliant digital projection on a sufficiently large screen; the ability to split-screen with a synchronous film print; and you need to establish tight calibration with the processing and printing lab. You also must have the right tools to precisely calibrate, align and verify every stage of the process. None of this is easy or inexpensive to do in a 'DIY' DI set-up."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "We are already seeing more digitally-acquired features on the DI schedule for 2009. The new year will also see smarter use of HD feature dailies, both for editorial and on set, with better displays and more interactive playback. We also predict a plethora of file-based post workflows.
"Contrary to many forecasts, I also think we will witness the un-death of independent film in 2009."
In addition to 4K DI, Concrete Pictures, not yet two years old, also offers editing, graphic design, CGI, visual effects, audio post and stereoscopic post production.
STRENGTHS: "The DI process increases the perceived 'production value' of a presentation, and this makes it a 'must have' process for many directors. DI is more than just a corrective process. Like lighting and editing, used creatively and effectively it can enhance the mood of the story and help lead the viewer's eye to the more relevant action on the screen.
"Directors are increasingly aware that their final product will stand out more against those of their competitors that have not used a DI process, and so are increasingly pressuring their producers to allow for DI in their budgets."
WEAKNESSES: "There is still a core group of DPs that see DI as something between a non-creative, merely corrective process and a thing of evil sent to encroach on their role. Those offering DI must continue to prove that it is a worthy creative addition to the image-making process and one that DPs should embrace and seek to be involved with. The DP controls the look of the photography and so should consider DI as just another set of filters they can apply to create the look and style they want."
OPPORTUNITIES: "The increasing number of delivery platforms and the re-formatting of material for them offer opportunities for DI work. Even on small mobile screens, a production benefiting from a good DI will stand out against one that does not. Also, the viewer's appetite for quality only ever increases, fueled by technical advances such as HD in the home. DI helps provide that perceived quality."
THREATS: "A good DI can only be guaranteed by using experienced operators and equipment powerful and well engineered enough to be able to provide the speed and quality needed. Problems occur where this doesn't happen; i.e. where operators can offer 'DI' because they can buy cheaper equipment and skip the whole training/experience process that they would otherwise gain from by working their way up through a post facility. Such systems are rarely fast enough to deal with the speed needed for client/operator working. At Concrete, we use Mistika for most of our DI work because it doesn't need to spend time rendering."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "The increasing number of delivery possibilities for moving media logically means an increase in material required for them. Digital cinema, mobile delivery, digital signage, HD broadcast and DVD, as well as stereoscopic productions, all increase the opportunities for post. Even the current financial climate offers encouragement to the true optimist — if people decide they can't afford to go out to eat, drink, take a vacation etc., then they will be home watching the TV! However, the post industry is over-saturated and so closures and mergers will be inevitable, and, in the long term, good for the industry."