Issue: HD - November 2005


NEW YORK – Make no mistake: high definition (HD) is not the future; it’s the present. That’s the word from Jim Riche, head of production at New York’s Nice Shoes and Guava (www.guavanyc.com), and Pat Portela, executive producer at Nice Shoes (www.niceshoes.com). The industry veterans say they are more than ready to take on the stunningly detailed, increasingly ubiquitous resolution that will become the government-mandated broadcast standard come 2008.

“HD is really happening now,” says Riche. “Anybody who is not considering HD is simply not looking forward. Yes, there has been a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’ over the last decade or so, but all the HD technology is easily available now and all five major networks are producing in HD. No one is producing top market gear that isn’t HD capable, and the broadcasters are realizing that originating the project on 35mm film and finishing in HD is the way to go without any significant cost increase since HD is not much more costly than SD. When you couple that fact with the government mandate for exclusive HDTV transmission by 2008, it is absolutely clear that there will be no more delays.”

While Riche joined Nice Shoes and Guava earlier this year, he’s been into HD for at least a decade and a half. As early as 1990, Riche’s company Caesar Video was working with HD “pioneers” Barry Rebo and John Sanborne. Having worked indirectly with Rebo, Riche worked directly with Sanborne on a number of HD projects.

And that was pre-digital, analog HD. Riche toyed with it at the beginning, but seriously immersed himself in it about eight years ago. As soon as 2K scans were possible, Riche started doing a fair number at that level and then downconverted to standard definition once the project was completed. HD provided him a much bigger creative palette to work with, even though the networks weren’t even broadcasting at that time.

Nice Shoes, along with sister companies Freestyle Collective (design and creative) and Guava (3D and visual effects), have long been ramping up for this next wave. According to Portela, Nice Shoes works mostly on television commercials and music videos. The studio currently boasts a fully HD-compatible studio including a pair of Specter 2K Virtual Datacines and four Spirits with da Vinci 2K color correctors. The four color correction suites at Nice Shoes, and the four edit/VFX suites at both Nice Shoes and Guava all have Flame with Smoke. To satisfy increasing client demand, sister company Guava has expanded its 3D department.

“Everything is HD, top-to-bottom,” says Riche. “We’re putting in more and more render farms at Guava, both for 3D and for our Flame. You don’t see any commercial work anymore that doesn’t have some effects and 3D work. Our implementation of the new Autodesk Burn technology means that we have a large background render farm working with our four Discreet Flame systems. In addition, we will soon be installing Xstoner from Maximum Throughput, which we see as the next logical step in the development of our 3D department. Xstoner is a media share software that [allows us] to move projects without going through an export/import process. What’s more, Xstoner allows our 3D artists to work side-by-side with our Flame artists.”

Thanks to the render farms at Guava, Nice Shoes is able to provide HD service without a significant increase in cost to clients. They see the effectiveness of shooting in 35mm and transferring to HD, and are reaping all the advantages of both. Riche predicts that within two years, 90 percent or more (up from 40 percent) of Nice Shoes’ projects will be completed in HD, although they are ready now.

The studio has already worked in HD for a number of high-profile clients, including Kodak, Sharp, and L’Oreal. And it has embarked on somewhat of an HD goodwill tour, headed by Portela, to help educate clients. The joint companies have developed an HD road show that they have taken to seventeen New York agencies thus far.

“The presentation demonstrates precisely why HD is the way to go, why every agency needs to take a serious look at it, and what HD means from a production standpoint,” Portela explains.

Riche marks what he sees as the growing excitement and reinvigoration within today’s rapidly changing, rapidly integrating commercial environment:

“Rapid change can be overwhelming, but I’m seeing more positive response than trepidation,” he says. “A head of production at Grey recently said to me that today, every producer must come back from a shoot with much more than a spot. That’s a very simple, yet incredibly insightful comment about today’s commercial world. With integrated marketing, integrated content and branding, etc, nobody can just do commercials anymore. Commercial spots are just one portion of the overall product content. We all have to be able to create content that can go across many, many types of media; from television spots to Web, phone and point of purchase content. Vendors like Circuit City will no longer show anything in their stores that is not HD, because that is what they are selling people. All of this makes integrated pipelines like ours critically important.”