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HD on the Rise

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In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, the book’s title is explained as “…that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” At NAB 2005, HD did just that!The variety and costs of HD technology have allowed the entire production and postproduction community to enjoy the benefits of this format. And the most recent development that’s on the rise is HD becoming tapeless. That’s right—tapeless.At last year’s NAB, two versions of a tapeless approach to recording were on display: Sony’s optical disk and Panasonic’s P2 memory card. This year, Panasonic introduced the AG-HVX200 camera, which uses the P2 technology. Sit down because you won’t believe the list of formats this camera can shoot: 1080/60i, 1080/24p, 1080/30p, 720/60p, 720/24p, 720/30p, 480/60i, 480/24p, and 480/30p. Converting that to plain speak, it shoots anything from DV to HD, 24p or 1080i. As part of Panasonic’s DVCPRO cameras, the AG-HVX200 is on the low end with a 1/3-inch, native 16:9, 3-CCD imager. Priced at under $6,000, it’s another breakthrough in video technology. And shooting onto a P2 memory card means you can skip the capture process in editing. You do have to transfer the files from the card into your computer, which can be done on a PC or Apple (with additional software) at about two and a half times play speed.A high-end example of HD going tapeless is the new independent film, The Legend of Lucy Keyes. Postproduction supervisor David Bigelow talked about the process of creating a tapeless, file-based environment for this production. “We shot using the Panasonic Varicam (720/24p) camera and captured the footage into Apple’s Final Cut Pro via FireWire using the Panasonic AJ-HD1200A deck. Once we created digital files of what we shot, we never went back to tape.”Rather than follow the typical workflow of cutting the film in a lower resolution, Bigelow went a different direction. “We wanted to stay in HD resolution throughout the entire editorial process,” he shares. “So we duplicated a complete set of the captured media as a backup for protection and used the other set for editing.” One set of the film’s digital files filled a Lacie D2 Extreme 500-Gb FireWire 800 drive.For director/editor John Stimpson, this project was a first on many levels. “I had cut on Avid systems for 10 years, but to keep this project tapeless throughout, I needed to learn Final Cut,” he says. “I mean, what were we going to do, force a square peg into a round hole? I decided to just bite the bullet and do what’s best for the project, so I learned Final Cut Pro. As it turns out, I realized there are a lot of cool things Final Cut can do.”Stimpson edited the film using his 17-inch Apple Powerbook and a 23-inch Cinema Display. The Cinema Display can play the HD sequence full screen without having to have a separate HD monitor. “With this setup,” he says, “I can edit at home or at the coffee shop.” But Stimpson became really impressed with the entire process when he experienced the benefits of cutting day-to-day using the high-resolution HD images. “There’s no offline anymore. I’m cutting the entire film in high resolution. And to work in this gorgeous imagery is great. I don’t have any focus issues which I would if I were editing with a low-resolution image. I can make a decision about one shot versus another based on the quality of what I’m seeing on screen, which is the high-res quality.”The project involved a lot of action sequences using background plates and blue/green screen composites. For this work, post supervisor Bigelow turned to Boston-based boutique Brickyard VFX. “We uploaded onto our FTP server just the frames that Brickyard needed to create the effects,” he says. “They would create a low-res QuickTime version for us to review and post it on the server. The final shots were delivered as raw uncompressed files in the same format we were editing so we could just drop them back into the sequence.”Both Bigelow and Stimpson feel outstanding aspect of this film was working with a high-resolution tapeless environment. Offering the director’s point of view, Stimpson says, “I think we’re doing something that hasn’t been done that often. An independent filmmaker can go tapeless all the way, and get a wonderful cinematic image without paying the high costs of working in film.”

Written by Diana Weynand

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