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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: Then why did Spider-man 2 use 4K? Was it a prestige issue? A pushing-the-envelope kind of thing?

Wright: You've got prestige. You've got future digital format potential, and they're thinking ahead.

DMN: They're trying to be the first kid on the block to do this new process -- it's a whole lot better quality, but the people who are watching the movie will never know it.

Wright: In the theater today I watched Spider-man 2, and I did not sit there saying, "Hey, wow, that looks better than any other movie I've ever seen."

DMN: And you have a highly trained eye.

Wright: That's right. But they have a 4K master of the movie. And that portends interesting things in the future.

DMN: Now that's a very important point. The shelf-life issue. Tell me about that. What will they be able to do with 4K that they wouldn't be able to do with a 2K master?

Wright: The only possible future use of a 4K master of a film is for some future digital cinema world that has higher than 2K projection. Some people think 3K is going to become the eventual digital cinema protocol. You can take your 2K digital movie and bump it to 3K, and it'll look nice. But if you had a 4K movie, and you dropped it down to 3K, it looks great! 


DMN: Better to down-rez than up-rez.

Wright: Absolutely. So, I don't know the people involved; I only know that they did a 4K DI. And I understand exactly what that means for the whole process. I am guessing as to Their strategies and tactics. But you asked what do you do with a 4K digital master of a feature film? Well, digital cinema. In a future 3K or 4K digital cinema world, they're going to be sitting on it. Everybody else will be up-rezzing their 2K movies, and these guys will be laughing all the way to the bank.

DMN: Theirs will look a lot better than everyone else's.

Wright: Definitely.

DMN: So going back to our workflow, we were in an Avid suite editing footage that had been captured from Betacam SP. This is the way things are done right now. So after that, you take these timecode numbers via OMF…

Wright: And translate them into key code numbers, and that tells you which pieces of camera negative you're using in your final movie. Now, there's a fork in the road here. There are two ways to go. You can cut your negative and splice it together to make camera rolls in the classical sense. This would be the same camera roll you would have taken to the lab to do a chemical color timing in the lab. Call it the "wet process." This is a conformed camera reel -- you've cut your neg and spliced it together, and you've got a conformed reel. You give that reel to your DI house and they just digitize it from frame 1 to the end. That's called the conformed negative method. Method 2: You do not cut any of your camera negs and splice them together. You hand all four or five hundred of your original camera rolls to the DI house. They put a camera roll up on the scanner and they have an automatic script that cruises through the camera roll and lifts off the three shots that are being used in our movie. This is the autoconform method. The key is, you've not cut your negative.

DMN: Except electronically -- you haven't physically cut anything.

Wright: Yes, the camera negative stays pristine, right out of the lab. So with the autoconform method, we scan sections of all five hundred of those camera negatives, and electronically conform the finished feature film. This is a more difficult and daunting task for the DI house, but it's a big win for the client. He doesn't have to hire a negative cutter. He doesn't have to cut his negative -- you know, when you cut a negative to splice it into your movie, did you know that you have permanently destroyed the frame on either end of that shot? Later, if you'd like to extend that shot, even one frame, you can't. Let's say you make an editorial change -- you want to extend this shot 12 frames.

DMN: Which is very commonly done.

Wright: It is. You can't do it. So it's a big win to do an autoconform, but it is more complicated and more painful for the digital intermediate house. It's a much bigger data management problem. I mean, clearly, if you hand me five 2000-foot rolls of conformed negative, I just stick them on my scanner and scan frame 1 to 32,000, on six camera rolls. Compare that to you giving me five hundred camera reels and I put each one on my scanner and have to tell the scanner to just roll down here and scan these 50 frames, roll down there, scan 100 frames -- see what I mean? Then I have to somehow get the information from you, the nice client, on how to assemble all those pieces together into your finished movie. So it's a much more difficult, complicated process for the digital intermediate house, but, again, it's a big win for the client. 

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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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