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Digital Intermediate: Inner Workings

Here's the industry guru telling us how DI really works in the film industry today -- and tomorrow
DMN: Do you think Kodak, in its wisdom, was quite worried about film being replaced by all this digital equipment?

Wright: Well, of course. Kodak has a difficult relationship with the digital world. On the one hand, they know they have to embrace it or they have no future. On the other hand, they do not want to be catalysts of their own demise.

DMN: I can understand that. So are you saying that someday digital intermediate may not be so intermediate after all?

Wright: Well, [laughs]...

DMN: It may be digital from lens to screen?

Wright: Eventually. Right now, the movie is captured on film then immediately "digitized to video", where we do the editing digitally. All the visual effects are now done digitally. The intermediate is done digitally. Then it's put back to film for projection. So, in other words, except for capture and projection, the whole pipeline can now be digital. And, digital capture is on the horizon, as well as digital projection.

DMN: A lot of our readers ask us, what the heck is digital intermediate, and how does the whole workflow go, so maybe you can explain to our readers, from lens to screen, how does this work, so that they can get a good understanding of it.

Wright: OK. You've captured your shots for the day. They go to the lab for developing.

DMN: That's commonly done in 35 millimeter.

Wright: Yes. Of course, you can do it in 3-perf, or even Super 16. In fact, Kodak has developed this lovely new Super 16 film stock -- in a defense of film strategy. Instead of capturing your movie in video, use Super 16. 

DMN: Fine grain, lower cost, huh?

Wright: Beautiful stuff. And it works very well in the DI process. Okay, to return to the story.

DMN: Yes, so once you've captured, either on this Super 16, or 35, or Imax…

Wright: You have to transfer to video in order to do your editing.

DMN: So what kind of video do you transfer it to?

Wright: Filmmakers have pretty much gotten out of doing film dailies -- making a print of the neg that you developed last night, go into the screening room and watch it. They've pretty much quit doing that across the board. They're doing video dailies now.

DMN: The old way is just not cost-effective.

Wright: Right. You have to load everybody up into a car and drive to a screening room. It costs more money and it takes more time. Whereas with a video daily, I get my videotape on the set. Remember, I might be in Timbuktu, on location. I may not be sitting in a nice studio here in Los Angeles where I can just walk to the screening room next door. So the video comes in and when it's convenient, we can all huddle around the videotape machine and the TV and watch our dailies. More importantly, these can be "color-timed dailies." This means that when they're transferred to video, there's a colorist there who roughs in the color timing. This is not a final -- this is a rough, whereas when you're doing print dailies, you're getting a one-light print, and all of your dirty laundry is hanging out. You're overexposed, underexposed, you didn't use the right filter. But if you do video dailies and the color is sweetened up for you, the studio executives see something that looks nicer.

DMN: Ah, that's a good idea, too.

Wright: It's a very important idea.

DMN: And you get a good idea of the overall mood of the piece you're working on.

Wright: More importantly, the studio executive does not turn around to the DP [director of photography] and say, "Why in the hell did that look so bad? Is this going to look OK when we finish the film?" You see? They stay out of trouble.

DMN: Better for everybody. Keep the deep pockets interested.

Wright: Better for everybody. So you have your video transfers. You then take the video to your Avid or whatever offline nonlinear editing system you're going to use.  

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Related Keywords:Steve Wright, industry veteran, digital effects, feature films, broadcast television commercials, feature film digital intermediate, contribute articles, DMN, Charlie White

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