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August 2014
Issue: January 1, 2010

OPEN HOUSE: NEW HAT'S NEW APPROACH TO COLOR GRADING

SANTA MONICA, CA - New Hat is more than the name of a boutique-sized color grading facility that launched in Santa Monica in 2008 — it’s also the way it does business. The company is determined to redefine what it means to be a new post house today.
Colorist Bob Festa and executive producer Darby Walker had each spent much of their careers at large facilities that provided a laundry list of post services and employed traditional film-to-videotape workflows. For Festa and Walker, changes in the economics and the technology of post meant that the large model was no longer workable. It was too cumbersome and based on outmoded tools.
Determined to break with the past, they decided that New Hat would focus on just one core service — color grading (with an initial concentration on commercials and other short-form media) — and embrace a tapeless, data-centric mode of production based on FilmLight’s Baselight color grader and Truelight color management system.
“It would have been easy to build a traditional facility, but the tools were changing and our clients were scrambling,” recalls Festa. “So, we began talking about ways to expedite the process and to include new workflows that weren’t limited to rolling 35mm film and outputting video.”
The company’s “new thinking” yielded a workflow where two 4K film scanners are used to fuel four color grading suites. Film elements are scanned as high resolution data and stored on a 300TB SAN where they can be randomly accessed from any of the grading suites. The result is a big savings in overhead and a highly-flexible workflow.
New Hat’s workflow also allows for Red camera files and other digitally-acquired media to be added directly to the SAN for immediate grading. “The beauty of Baselight is that it accepts digitally-acquired media natively,” explains Festa. “We can import R3D footage, for example, at 4K, assemble the client’s cut, and grade from the raw footage. We always work with the original camera material and grade it at the highest resolution.”
Baselight, Truelight and the data workflow also allow New Hat to more easily accommodate the increasingly complex delivery requirements of commercial clients. “Today, there are so many different presentation mediums and display formats,” Festa says. “But from our point of view as colorists it really doesn’t matter if the final destination is a movie theater, an HD television or a cell phone — our process is the same. We grade at the highest resolution possible and rely on Truelight to handle the output formats. Truelight takes care of the color space issues, sizing and format resolution — all that is downstream from what we do as artists.”
New Hat’s alternative thinking is also reflected in the aesthetics of its workspace. The company is housed in a gallery structure that has been renovated with a mid-century flair. “We wanted it to be airy with lots of available light,” says Walker, who estimates she spent $1,000 on design books while planning the renovation. “A lot of post houses still think they need a darkened environment. We decided to do the opposite.”
The space also includes a conference room along with lots of small nooks and work tables where busy ad agency creatives can find both comfort and elbow room to work. “Clients are often still busy with production when they come here and we want to accommodate them,” Walker notes. “Every few feet there is an area where a client can plug in a laptop and get high-speed Internet access.”
Seeking to grow beyond its three nonlinear studios, New Hat is currently building a DI theater anchored by a Baselight Four (the company’s third Baselight) and plans to use it to attract independent film work. “Our workflow and the way we use Baselight is independent of the length of the project or the presentation medium, Festa explains. “We are bringing in DI colorist Michael Mintz, but the Baselight equipped theatre will also allow our current colorists, Beau Leon and Marcelo Aprile to apply their short-form talents to features.”
New Hat’s launch in 2008 coincided with the start of an economic downturn that cast a pall over much of the advertising industry. Some might call that bad timing, but Festa and Walker don’t look at it that way. “It’s been a couple of challenging years and the larger studios haven’t been able to keep up, but it’s the smart thinkers who are making moves and capitalizing on new technology. As the production community recovers, the resourceful will be at the forefront,” Festa predicts. “New Hat is a poised, nimble studio, and it is very clear that we have the tools and talent to take advantage in this new post economy.”