Tuesday, 26 September, 2006

Digital Cinema - still needs film

Yes Digital Cinema, DCinema, still needs film to get going.

I'm just wrapping up the DI (digital intermediate) for a major Hindi feature film. And they will release that film worldwide with about 800 film prints. Besides, one DCinema company will release the film digitally at hundreds of theatres all over India.

There's still a month for release, so I got into some testing with the Digital Cinema release company. It turns out they work like this...

1. Producer hands over a final negative. And Dolby sound tracks (on Hi-8 or some other medium)
2. They telecine the negative to D-5. Meaning 1:7 compression depending on how they do it.
3. Format is 1080p25. So film is run at 24+1 in telecine. Motion artifacts? Need to see this.
4. They capture this D-5 into their system. Its a PC so maybe they use something like Premiere.
5. Marry the Picture and sound and compress/encrypt.
6. Final MPEG-4 is distributed over satellite or removable hard disks.

The producer gets to pay a fixed sum for the telecine. So maybe they've got a good deal with someone with an old CRT telecine somewhere.

I got into this and offered to give them the movie digitally since we're grading on Lustre. And I have the means (and a good reason) to convert these through our look-up tables into a format of their choice. They chose QuickTime Uncompressed. I made a small 2 min sample (really huge and great looking file).

First we went into a back and forth because their cheap USB drives simply couldn't transfer this without errors. I offered Firewire hard disks at my expense.

After about 10 days they came back and said their method (neg to D-5 to compressed) produced identical results to my digital to digital suggestion.

Look at the chain in the method they follow...

1. Film originally shot on 35 mm film.
2. 35 mm film scanned to hard disk.
3. Graded on Lustre. Digital processing. Mostly lossless.
4. Digital files output to film. Some loss here from the original.
5. Processed film telecine'd. Colour correction and some motion artifacts.
6. Compression on tape. D-5, 4:1 or 7:1
7. Tape captured to disk. Decompression from tape for HD-SDI and further compression in capture hardware.
8. Compression to MPEG4 for transmission. More compression.

Sure they say this looks good. And sure hundreds of theatres have shown this to thousands of people. And sure most people won't tell the difference anyway. But hey, why don't we shoot VHS and distribute VCD? Most people can't tell between that and Betacam anyway right?

I'm running out of patience. So the end result is that this film will be released digitally but with the help of film.

Wednesday, 20 September, 2006

HDV in Quantel eQ, Autodesk Smoke, Flame, Lustre

HDV is to 'mainstream HD' what DV is to SD. A small, compressed, reasonable quality low-cost medium that brings tools of movie-making and general videography to the masses. And its not just weddings, birthdays, anniversaries that will be shot with HDV. TV shows, commercials and as I wrote last week, even full-length movies are being shot and will continue to be shot on HDV.

Almost anyone who's seen HDV will agree that it is no match for 35mm or even HD. But that won't stop anyone from using it. The lure of the medium and the promises are too much and most anyone will at least give it one try.

With HDV, after the shoot is over, the challenge of editing and finishing is a whole new enterprise. The so-called 'offline' systems like Avid XPress, Liquid, Final Cut Pro, Vegas, Premiere and others all can capture HDV directly from a camcorder/deck. But clients don't want to work on these systems alone. They want to finish their films on the so-called 'online' systems like Autodesk Smoke, Flame, Quantel eQ and even iQ. For colour correction, keying, stabilization, whatever.

But none of these can directly capture from HDV camcorder/decks. Unless one uses special converters and decks. Later this month I will be using a Miranda HDV bridge that converts HDV to HD-SDI and even sports RS-422 deck control. So with this and a HDV deck one will be able to capture to any of these online systems from HDV decks. As uncompressed HD.

Last night I completed a workflow where a client shot a commercial on HDV, captured to his FCP station as HDV 1080i50 (thats HDV native) and edited it. He then gave his rushes as one Quicktime movie and an EDL to conform it.

The rushes were one long 4o min Quicktime movie with the HDV 1080I50. Opening this in Autodesk Smoke/Flame/Lustre is out of the question. Those systems don't open these 'consumer' formats. So I took it to a Quantel eQ (new, ver 3.5 1.14 or something like that). This system can open Quicktime movies.

But even that couldn't do it. One issue is that Quantel systems (which are WinXP PCs) run Quicktime 6 and not later. And Quantel doesn't recommend Quicktime 7. Even if they did, HDV and Apple Intermediate codec doesn't work on QT Windows any version.

So I had to export the HDV 1080i50 movie to Uncompresssed Quicktime 1080i50. I did that using Compressor. Now the original 7 Gb file became 225 Gb. Just 40 mins of rushes. So thats another thing to think about when capturing from HDV to Smoke/Flame or eQ/iQ. Through the HDV bridge as HD-SDI, HDV quickly fills up hard disk space.

Even after exporting as Uncompressed HD, eQ couldn't really play it smoothly. Some field/frame rate issue cropped up. So the eQ artist had to do something like render it out so it could play smoothly. And incidentally, the conversion stripped the original HDV movie of its time code so the point of this excercise to conform rushes was lost. Hmmm.

Eventually we opened the conformed film in FCP, exported that out as one 30 sec QT, then manually extended all clips by one min head and tail and exported that 'spread out' edit. Converted both these to Uncompressed QT and sent that to eQ. So they would have handles there. What a drag.

So bottom line. If you're shooting HDV...
1. Check out the video quality against other mediums like DVCProHD, HDCam, HDCamSR, even DigiBeta.
2. Capture and edit on an 'offline' system.
3. Master back to SD DigiBeta or HD or whatever on the 'offline' system itself.
4. If there are shots needing work on an online system, then export them Uncompressed Quicktime, or DPX, separately.
5. Take the whole film as another large Uncompressed Quicktime, or DPX.
6. Work on the shots needing work and then assemble them with the full film in the 'online' system.
7. Master out of the 'online' system.

But there's still work needed. Some more research and trial and error before one can recommend this workflow. And for a film going out to 35mm? Will check that out soon.

And if you're looking at doing HDV, do take a good look at Sony Z1 alternatives like the Canon XL-H1, JVC GY HD-100 even Panasonic HVX-200. You might be surprised.

Sunday, 17 September, 2006

HDV to film

Yes, you read right. Shoot on HDV, grade and record out to film for showing in theatres. I've just concluded one such assignment. My role was to supervise the conversions from HDV to a form suitable for grading. The film was shot on a HDV camcorder. Then graded on a Lustre while monitoring on a large-screen projection. Some compositing required was done on Flame and Shake and in a few days from now we'll output to 35 mm film.

I'll have more workflow details as soon as I see results in a theatre and, of course, seek the producer's permission to write publicly about this.