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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: You're keeping an eye on that, no doubt.

Wright: Oh, yes. We have an engineering staff making the equipment purchase decisions. We actually will run tests on the machines and measure the MTF [Multiphasic Transfer Function -- how sharp the scanning is] and all kinds of things about it -- what file format it puts out and how well it constructs its headers and so on and so forth. So that's an engineering evaluation thing, and I don't generally participate in that.

DMN: Are there new scanner technologies on the horizon you're looking at?

Wright: Yes. Philips now has a 4K scanner, the new Spirit 4K. We have two of them at Laser Pacific. They'll scan 2K -- are you sitting down? -- in real time!

DMN: You gotta love that. That's going to save a lot of time and effort.

Wright: Yes. However, there are some gotchas along with that that I would rather not go into, nonetheless.

DMN: But that represents a huge improvement.

Wright: It does. By the way, the Spirit 4K is a joint venture between Kodak, which does the imaging chain, and Thomson, which does the transport, the boxes, and all that.

DMN: OK, so those are your front-line -- your big machines, the Big Iron.

Wright: They are what I call the heavy iron.

DMN: And then after that, you have all sorts of wonderful compositing equipment.

Wright: Well, remember dust busting and compositing are a side loop. Dust busting -- you might be using MTI on great big PC boxes. At Cinesite (now LaserPacific), we have a proprietary dust busting program that we use. There are other dust busting solutions, but one of the things you will do in your DI is, you will dust bust it. By the way, even though a movie may come in that has not a single digital effect at all in it, I wind up doing digital effects on the movie anyway, even though it was not planned and not scheduled. Here's why: The director's in the suite and they're looking at a shot and they're color timing it, and all of a sudden the director says, "Uh-oh, look at that microphone in the frame. Can somebody get that microphone out of the picture?" You see? They spot things. 

DMN: Now that's not the same thing as dust busting, is it? Dust busting is removing small pieces of dust that have somehow found their way onto the film. You're talking about fixes -- wire removal, things like that.

Wright: Right. Or, say you suddenly realize a shot's not working and you have to make a fundamental fix to it. You're going to have to do a digital effect on this shot that pops up in the process of doing the DI. It was not planned ahead, it was not booked or scheduled ahead.

DMN: That's where you sometimes have to almost work miracles.

Wright: It can get challenging. In fact, I've had to replace those missing frames because they edited the movie, they cut the neg, and then they wanted to extend a shot. They said, "Steve, can you make us a replacement frame?" Sure, we can do that.

DMN: Thatís when in our edit suite we would put on this wizard hat we kept in a drawer for just such occasions.

Wright: [Laughs] That's exactly right. Then we have filmed-out our movie, it is usually an internegative, where there's an important future point here. Right now, it may take one film recorder running 24/7, five or six days to film out the one negative. Of course, we might have several film recorders all running in parallel on the same movie.

DMN: That's a tremendous amount of processing.

Wright: Yes. It's a lot of data, and film recorders are not terribly fast. Take 180,000 frames in a typical movie, get out a calculator and take three seconds a frame and see . how much time you get. Convert that to days. [That equals 6 days, 6 hours] If your scanner can do it in three seconds per frame, and if your film recorder can do it in three seconds per frame, then you have all of these processes that you need to do some load balancing on.

DMN: So you guys are just hoping technology is going to speed up and that Moore's Law stays in effect.

Wright: Exactly so.

DMN: Maybe two or three years from now it won't take you a week, it'll take you two days, and ultimately it'll all happen as fast as you can roll the film through.

Wright: Well, this Spirit 4K I told you about will scan a two-hour movie in two hours.

DMN: They will make a huge difference.

Wright: That is a huge difference. 

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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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