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Even under ideal conditions, there’s always going to be dust and debris that finds its way onto a brand new piece of film, and once it’s scanned, that debris becomes part of the actual image.This is an issue that post houses have been dealing with for years, and a range of software packages on the market deal with image correction and concealment. In general, they’re processor-heavy, relying on complex mathematical algorithms to compare several sequential frames in order to identify blemishes. Such systems include MTI’s Correct, Pixel Farm’s, PFClean and The Foundry’ s Furnace.But when it comes to dust busting, infrared techniques have been employed in telecines since at least the mid ’80s. The basic principle is that an infrared pass on the scanner only illuminates dust, particles and scratches on the surface of the film, giving a reliable defect matte showing precisely where all of the blemishes are.However, with the market for film scanners burgeoning as more and more post houses jump into the DI business, Kodak has managed to acquire a portfolio of patents that essentially give the company complete dominion over the infrared dust-busting techniques in film scanners.In 2004, Kodak acquired a small Texas-based company called Applied Science Fiction (ASF), which gave the company a portfolio of some 20 to 30 patents, ranging from technologies like the implementation of an infrared light source in a film scanner, defect mapping, image concealment and image-correction techniques.So now, if you want to use infrared dust-busting techniques, it’s going to cost you because you have to use Kodak’s complete Digital ICE hardware-software bundle.ARRI has begun offering Digital ICE as a upgrade for its ArriSCAN film scanner, and Imagica reports that its implementation of Digital Ice in the company’s Imager HSX scanner will ship in the fourth quarter of this year.Kodak will be charging an annual $25,000 license fee to turn on the Digital ICE package. Some post executives will certainly do a double take on that one. Infrared has been around for years, and they’ve never had to pay fees like that before.“We didn’t want to load the capital cost on to a scanner, because the technology fundamentally has a great deal of cost savings associated with it, and a great deal of investment on our part,” said Marty Oehlbeck, licensing and IP manager, Kodak Entertainment Imaging, “But you end up with a million-dollar scanner, and they only sell to a select few, and that wasn’t the model we wanted to see Digital ICE on.”Kodak’s patent position is considered very strong, but in spite of that, FilmLight has gone ahead with its own infrared implementation in the Northlight 2. The company feels that its technology does not violate Kodak’s patent, but according to several sources close to the company, Kodak doesn’t see it that way, and the two companies appear to be headed toward a legal showdown over infrared.FilmLight declined to comment for this article, but Oehlbeck, said: “Most people will want to adopt Digital ICE for the benefit it brings, not our patent position. But we intend to support the industry with our technology, and we intend to support our licensed partners, up to and including enforcing all of our intellectual property, which is fairly widespread and fairly helpful to the industry.”Thomson has shied away from using infrared, building instead on its Bones platform.Similarly, Cintel is staying away from infrared altogether. “Cintel has got around it by not using infrared. We can generate an alpha channel, but it’s not IR,” said Adam Welsh, who represents Cintel in the US. “It basically uses a clever green light source that gets us around the Kodak licensing issue.”Elfi Bernt, product manager, ArriSCAN Digital Systems, reported that ARRI has been offering a beta version of Digital ICE since May, and that, “From the beta sites we have learned that it saves a lot of time because all of these smaller particles, the human dust busters wouldn’t even see them. Digital ICE is integrated into the ArriSCAN. It’s the first level of dust and scratch removal that happens inside of the scanner.”But is it worth $25,000?Imagica’s VP of sales, marketing and support for North and South America, Richard Antley, reported that, “Different places put different amounts of time and effort and different resources into the problem of dust-busting and scratch removal. I think it really depends on the facility and the volume of work. They will have to look at the licensing model and decide if that’s the right way to go.”But grumblings can be heard across the industry from post houses who want to be able to unbundle Digital ICE and use just the infrared hardware to produce a generic defect matte.“What they really want is the scanned image and the infrared data separately in case anything is incorrectly identified. They don’t want that baked into the image and unfortunately, that’s the way ICE works,” said one source who asked not to be identified. “People would be happy to pay a royalty, if they would just present a reasonable licensing model.”In fact, many see the current licensing model as a non-starter.“Kodak needs to be sensitive to the industry and what the industry wants, and right now, they’re not helping enhance and preserve the industry,” said the source. “They’re basically preventing a tool that could be really useful from being implemented.”

Written by Scott Lehane

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