Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Digital Domain

Digital Domain

The ubiquitous computer has made it to parts of the film business previously untouched Rob Buckley asks if video cameras, film-free projectors and digital film labs will change the experience

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CFC's Digital Lab boss Jan Høgevold also emphasises the additional creativity a digital lab can provide. “We're discovering all the very interesting things that can be done -dynamic grading to increase the drama, darken a scene, imitate cloud going over a dramatic moment. That's not new to telecine, but it's new to someone using the old route. It's not something you can do in your lab as an afterthought. It's real-time, too, whereas with the lab, it's always an overnight process.”

Of course, things can go wrong with digital too. When Michael Riley gave Soho Images the neg from Lava to run through its digital film lab, not only did he have to face the horror of a neg cutter that had already scratched his film, but a telecine without a wetgate. Fortunately, he'd agreed a deal whereby Soho Images would deliver a clean, digitised intermediate for a fixed price, so the cost of cleaning up the dust and scratches in Inferno was passed down to them. Says Riley, “once all the glitches are ironed out, I think everyone will be doing it this way. I can't think of any real disadvantages to the process.”

It's this initial scan that determines the quality of the final output. Soho Images has a closed loop system for taking rushes, telecineing them, recording them out then projecting them to see if it came out identical to the original. Men in White Coats does the same thing when it uses sister company Complete's C-Reality (although it prefers its Domino film scanners). That at least ensures everything is calibrated to give you unaltered output.

But think again if you're aiming for Imax, says CFC's Høgevold, or even if you're got plenty of fx shots: the telecine is just not up to the job. “2k just isn't good enough for the things we do. You really need to use a film scanner so that you can go up to 4k. Even if you end up going back down to 2k, it will still look better.” Cinesite's Williams agrees up to a point. Although he feels Philips' Datacine is great for most things (particularly if you just want to grade the film to give it a certain look), “if you've got a lot of matte work, you'll need to scan the film or else you'll lose the fine detail.” But he warns against mix-and-matching. “You can't drop in scans with telecine work since the resolution difference shows. But you can do it on different sections of the film.”

The concept of the digital lab is now taking a firm hold in the minds of facilities that deal with features work. But producers and directors are being converted as well. Says Soho Images' Collard, “we've always assumed that directors would see the benefits instantly, but we've discovered that as soon as producers hear about it, they like it too.” Just make sure your facility has a wetgate.

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