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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: Sometimes, that colorist is working right up to the edge of release?

Wright: Oh, absolutely. You could be color timing your movie one week before it's supposed to be in the theaters, in a worst-case scenario.

DMN: That guy's under a lot of pressure.

Wright: Oh, yeah. He's the last link in the chain. So you've color timed your movie now, it is now rendered out at 2K resolution with the color corrections, in 1000 or 2000 foot reel chunks. Typically, you have five or six 2000-foot reels. There will be 32,000 frames in a 2000 foot reel. So you've got six directories with frames numbered 1 to 32,000. That would be your six reels, and those go to the film recorder for film-out.

DMN: Which is pretty much the opposite of the film-in.

Wright: Exactly so. We're going to take pixels and turn them into exposed film instead of exposed film into pixels.

DMN: And then all those huge canisters of physical film are FedExed out to the individual theaters where people then watch them.

Wright: That's right.

DMN: There are so many atoms involved in those huge canisters. It seems like it's going to be a great day when you can send all that out via satellite and have it downlinked into the theaters, don't you think?

Wright: Absolutely. But there are a number of huge problems associated with that beyond the technical one. Just getting the data rate, and error checking, and all of that. Piracy issues.

DMN: Nobody wants their material available digitally.

Wright: Exactly. Or flying around the ether.  

DMN: Are we ever going to be able to surmount this?

Wright: Oh, absolutely yes.

DMN: How do you think that problem will be solved?

Wright: Trivially, we know the answer. It will just be hard encryption.

DMN: But can't any encryption be broken?

Wright: No. Using prime number encryptions of sufficient depth, you know, 120 digits or so, it takes computer/centuries to crack.

DMN: That could solve the problem. When could we expect to see this?

Wright: When will we have digital distribution of films? It's technically possible right now. The hurdle will be agreeing on a standard You're going to have a standards battle, and getting the costs down so that the equipment required to do it is not too expensive.

DMN: And maybe the people who run these movie theaters don't want to buy these $50,000-to-$100,000 projectors, either.

Wright: We were talking about digital transmission, we havent even talked about digital projection. Some gizmo is required for transferring the thing electronically up and down to the satellite or the fiber optic or whatever. Those gizmos have cost.

DMN: You're going to have to have a lot of bandwidth for that. There are some huge files you're dealing with there.

Wright: Oh, yeah. Something like three hundred megabytes per second, if it were uncompressed. Now that raises a whole additional technical question. We have compression schemes that can compress the movie, dropping the data rate, not 50 percent, but by as much as 80 percent. Wow. Big win. But there is certain degradation with that. Well then, what encryption scheme shall we use, and what level of degradation will we tolerate? So it's really a very complicated issue.  

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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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