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Los Angeles, California

HomeGearHD on the Rise

HD on the Rise

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You know the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” Well, one could ask, “How does a film finally get released?” The answer would be, “Previews, previews, previews!” Film previews, which usually screen film workprints, are undergoing a change in format to HD. With this shift to HD come technological advantages and perhaps a slightly more refined process. Hollywood’s LaserPacific has been a pioneer of the HD preview process and senior telecine colorist John Potter has been at the forefront of this change. Here he talks about the purpose, process, and advantages of using HD for film previews.“The previews we do are for the purpose of testing the film before a sample audience,” says Potter. “Based on the audience’s negative or positive responses, changes can be made to try to improve the film. Each set of changes constitutes a new preview and thus another screening. These changes will continue to be made until the film is the best it can be.” Potter notes an advantage to working with HD for previews. “There is the ability to create a pristine master to show the audience a near final version of the picture. This allows the audience to focus on story and character without being distracted by those things associated with a workprint or a less than perfectly matched picture.”The process of creating an HD preview begins by combining the film reels into an HD edited master. At this point, a color timer, such as Potter, meets with the cinematographer and anyone else who may have input into the look of the picture. “The initial timing takes place over a period of two to four days,” Potter explains, “depending on the needs of the client for their particular screening.” Some of Potter’s clients just want to fix a particularly troublesome scene and others want to do a full-blown color correction. “The cinematographer will usually set the look with the color timer and convey what he intended the picture to look like when he shot the picture,” he says. “It is valuable to have the director see what is being done early in this process to insure that the color timer is capturing the vision of both the cinematographer and the director. If this collaboration doesn’t happen early on, the film may ultimately be timed twice—once to the cinematographer’s taste and a second time in order to provide the director with the look that he (or she) had envisioned.”Once the film has been color timed on HD, the picture is then screened for an audience and revisions are made based on the feedback. At this point, Potter’s job is to match the revised material to his original version. “Generally,” says Potter, “this stage is far less creative in that we are only trying to make this new version have the same look as the old rather than creating a new look.”For his color correcting tools, Potter uses the Pandora Pogle Platinum system, the 2K by da Vinci, and Digital Vision’s Valhall. The HD previews are played back from a digital source, usually a DDR machine, such as the Q-bit from QuVis. He screens the majority of previews on a Christie HD black chip projector. “Most of our work for previews is done in our state-of-the-art theater so we can time in the same environment that the picture will ultimately be screened,” says Potter.Part of this transition to HD previews has created an unusual turn of events: it’s often the HD version that is used as the ‘final’ reference. “Many of the projects I have worked on have asked the film timer to come and view the HD preview because the look established there is what they want their film to look like,” he says.According to Potter, what can be accomplished overall in the digital arena is so powerful that cinematographers don’t want to leave that environment to finish their film. “I work with cinematographers that want to fully utilize the technology that I have at my disposal to get the best possible look for their show and to correct things that time did not allow them to do in the field.”Potter has a simple philosophy about his role in the process. “My job is to make the technology as invisible as possible and put my efforts into creating on the screen that which was in the filmmakers’ minds when they envisioned and shot their projects.”

Written by Diana Weynand

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