HD and DI I remember when digital video effects first appeared in my online editing bay in the form of a small, operational box supported by a wall of processors in the equipment room. It was the Quantel DPE-5000, and its primary talent was an ability to freeze and zoom an image. I was editing ABC sports specials at the time and boy, did we make use of that new technology!Then came the Ampex ADO, which could not only freeze an image but spin and rotate it in 3D space and create nifty page-turn transitions to boot. Suddenly no one could produce sports, promos or commercials without using an ADO effect. What seems clear is that once a certain technology is in place, the need for it is not only realized but assumed.Much has been written lately about DI, or the digital intermediate process—color timing done digitally. It appears we may be at a similar place in this interesting technology curve as in the above example, wherein the need or desire for a process grows in direct proportion to the technical developments that support it.Steve Wright is a technical director for digital intermediates. He has worked on 12 films using the digital intermediate process films at Kodak’s Cinesite (now Laser Pacific), including Blade 3, Ray, Barbershop 2, Open Range, SWAT and Traffic. Wright offers a simple explanation of DI. “Digital intermediate is the digital version of the color timing process that is normally done for a feature film in the lab.”Although DI is primarily used for film finishing, HD figures into the DI process as well. “First,” says Wright, “the DI process can produce the HD 24P master as part of the normal deliverables.” What Wright is suggesting is that once a film has been digitally scanned and color timed using a digital color correction system, it’s a simple, straightforward step to output the corrected film to HD.“Second,” adds Wright, “a film might actually be captured [shot] using HD video. This video is color timed in the DI suite just as if it had been digitized from film. It is then filmed out [recorded to film stock] and projected like any movie.” So whether footage originates on film or on HD, once it becomes digital, it goes through the same process as digitized film.According to Wright, “it’s all a question of color space.” Color space is the range or gamut of colors used within a particular medium. The color space used in film is different than that used in video, or even print for that matter. “In a DI process,” Wright continues, “HD data is converted to film space, the digital projector is set for viewing in film space, and the picture data is color corrected in film space.” Wright compares this to the process of shooting on video and transferring to film. “The original video stays in video space for the color correction phase, then the finished HD master is simply filmed out in one step. There is no shot-by-shot color correction in film space and no viewing on a film-calibrated digital projector.”As with all emerging technologies, the DI process is not yet perfected and still has many rough spots. Yet it is an attractive option for many productions. Attractive, but not cheap. Wright says that virtually all big-budget films use the DI process, spending from perhaps $250,000 up to one million dollars. He adds, “Low budget films can also go DI because the DI process makes the film look better… if they can get the budget, of course. A low-budget DI might be done for around $100,000.”“DI is slower and more expensive than simple film lab color timing,” says Wright. Still, “the simple fact is that the DI process is vastly superior to conventional color timing in the lab. No director or cinematographer that has ever done a DI wants to go back simply because of the enormous increase they get in creative control.”Even though it is still in its infancy, many directors, producers and directors of photography are clamoring for DI—just as they once did for the ADO—as though they’d never been without it. So what is this emerging technology’s future? Wright thinks industry standards will become established, which will smooth out some of the rough spots. “The scanners, recorders, disk drives and color correctors will get faster which will shorten schedules and reduce budgets,” adds Wright. As far as technological advances go and the industry’s thirst for them, this one’s right on schedule.
Written by Diana Weynand