How Offhollywood Digital Gave an HD Feature a First-Class Finish on the Desktop
Producer and co-founder Mark Pederson and his team are disproving the
idea that digital intermediate finishing is an exclusive and expensive
art. The film Kettle of Fish, which his company
oversaw from pre-production through post, went through an HD DI using
the PC platform, saving the filmmakers thousands over comparable
applications. And the workflow Pederson describes offers a way for
indie filmmakers to work hands-on, while getting more creative bang for
Co-line produced by Pederson and Alday Sanchez, the romantic comedy was
shot in HD by DP Neil Lisk on New York locations in five weeks.
Kettle of Fish was, among other things, a study in
effective time management. The team at Offhollywood Digital in New York
City had just three weeks to complete pre-production and a mere two
weeks to test the DI pipeline. To make things even more interesting,
Pederson had to create a proprietary workflow for the DI process, as
the Mac-based shop used a Windows-only technology.
Prior to Kettle of Fish, colorist Joe Mastantuono
handled the DI finishing on numerous indie films using Final Touch HD.
But this time around Pederson wanted to provide Mastantuono with a
faster and more comprehensive color-grading tool. “We were looking for
a DI technology that offered not only flawless conforming, but also a
well-designed roadmap for visual-effects integration,” says Pederson.
What he saw in Assimilate’s Scratch convinced him to move to Windows.
The first obvious challenge was finding an appropriate Windows-based
workstation. Pederson and his team went with the HP xw9300 workstation
running on a Dual Dual-Core AMD Opteron 280 processor with an NVIDIA
Quadro FX 4000 SDI graphic card, which he says offered more than enough
muscle to get the job done.
From DVCPRO to DPX
All of the footage for Kettle of Fish – shot on a
Panasonic Varicam in 4:2:2 color space – was initially captured in
DVCPRO HD. Scratch, however, uses a DPX file-based workflow that’s
incompatible with QuickTime media. Pederson and his team had to find a
workaround to get their HD project into the application. Their
solution? Recapture all of the media into 4:4:4 RGB 10-bit log format
via AJA’s Kona 2 card. The QuickTimes were converted to DPX files using
AJA’s QTT-to-DPX Translator. Once the process was completed, the
project was conformed from editor Pete Beaudreau’s EDL, which was
created in Final Cut 5.
“There are several advantages that a DPX file-based workflow has over
QuickTime,” says Pederson. First, DPX has the same color space as 2K,
This is a benefit for a colorist working with native HD footage, as it
offers more room to finesse a shot. Scratch works in real time and,
according to Mastantuono, multiple grades can be created for the same
shot – if one choice doesn’t work another can replace it almost
immediately. “I was amazed at how fast I could create multiple grades
of the same shot,” he says. DPX also contains metadata in each frame,
which means that if just one frame in a clip is corrupted, that frame
can be rebuilt. By contrast, QuickTime requires that the entire clip be
reconstructed, which is a far more time-consuming process. Working in
DPX on Kettle of Fish proved to be more efficient and, by all accounts,
enhanced the overall creative process.
Getting the Director Hands-On in the DI Suite
As DI technology goes, Pederson sees two trends emerging in the indie
film world. One is that directors are becoming more tech savvy. “As
they find out what they can do with desktop DI technology, they’ll
become more a part of the creative process,” he says. And boutique
shops like Offhollywood Digital are looking to provide filmmakers with
a more hands-on experience. Price, of course, is an important factor.
Scratch’s $45,000 retail cost is economical when compared with the
$100,000-to-$300,000 price tag on leading DI technologies such as da
Vinci, Quantel iQ and Discreet Lustre. “Scratch does everything the
others do, and with the same high level of quality,” says Pederson.
With bigger-budget indies and Hollywood productions moving to HD, color
space is becoming a hot topic. Pederson sees this as another trend.
“Right now everyone wants to know about 4:4:4 RGB,” he says. “Since
Sin City there’s been a lot of curiosity about it.
And it really made the difference for us on Kettle of
Fish.” He believes that workflows similar to the one
Offhollywood Digital used on the film will become more standard in the
future. Also, with the recent resurgence in Super 16, filmmakers are
looking to telecine to HDCAM SR in RGB log or scan to 2K and master to
Kettle of Fish received a film-out via Arri Laser at
Cinecitta in Rome, Italy. “The film already has foreign sales agents
selling it overseas, and they have to deliver a 35mm print,” says
Pederson. But, like many others in the industry, he sees celluloid soon
becoming more or less obsolete. “2006 is going to be all about HD,” he