Why Lost Made the Move to HD Editorial

The editorial team on ABC’s Lost made a big move this year, bumping up the quality in the Avid suite from SD to HD. The show is currently editing for the first time using Avid’s DNxHD 36 codec for the season that premieres in January 2009. The technology is provided by Santa Monica’s Digital Vortechs, which outfits TV, feature film, and commercial shoots with editorial pipelines. HD Studio got CEO Jim Longeretta on the phone to find out how fast the industry is switching over to high-res editorial.
HD Studio: How prevalent is HD editorial for TV?

Jim Longeretta: This year was the first year where a lot of shows considered and weighed the cost options of going HD. A number of them still don’t think they can afford the added expenses, but more and more TV shows are weighing the benefits compared to the costs of cutting in HD.
HDS: How much more expensive is it?

JL: It’s not a lot more expensive. The systems from Avid have come down in price, so really the cost is adding more storage. Your storage needs depend on how many shows you want to keep online. I would say it’s about 15 percent more expensive than cutting in SD, just to have that extra hard drive space. All the shows I work on are Avid, and Avid has great HD compression so you don’t have to have tremendous amounts of storage. Most of the TV shows are working in Avid DNxHD 36.

HDS: What are the advantages?

JL: Lost shoots in Hawaii, and there are a lot of jungle shots that can have focus issues. One great advantage of cutting HD is that they can see these issues much better and relay that information back to the set. You just couldn’t tell in SD. If a shot looked out of focus, it could have just been the resolution they were working in. The producers can also see what their final content is going to look like because the colors are so much closer. It’s a big time-saver.

HDS: What kind of hardware is Lost using?

JL: They had Meridian systems, so they skipped the whole Adrenaline generation and went straight to the brand-new Nitris DX platform. They’re very happy with the speed of the new CPUs and the reliability of the DX hardware, compared to some of the bugs the Adrenaline had, especially in HD. They are using a Unity 5, which is the newest Unity, with 8 TB of storage that can be easily expanded. They don’t air any shows until they start airing straight through in late January or February, so they need a lot of storage to keep those shows online until they start airing them. They’ve got all of the latest pro HD plasmas – great 50-inch Panasonic plasmas for the producers, and professional JVC HD monitors for the editors themselves.

HDS: What kind of production benefits most from HD editorial?

JL: Every film production benefits because there can be tremendous cost savings. First of all, there’s the image quality that the editor has to look at every day. Then there’s the image quality when they have to show producers or a DP what they’re looking at. They can screen right out of the Avids. Films don’t have to do any onlines or film finishes for previews because they can literally take the DNx 36 or DNx 115 to a theater and project it, and everyone thinks it looks amazing. You can edit until 2 hours before your screening and then just screen the tape. That’s huge.

TV shows don’t do as much screening, although they do work a lot with their producers. And the producers are loving what they’re seeing. They’re not complaining as much about image quality. Those focus issues are huge, and it could be anything from a show like Lost to a drama like Grey’s Anatomy. A lot of these shows have moving cameras, so you’re dealing with focus problems a lot. The ability for the editorial assistants to output high-quality QuickTimes to give to sound and music people is another great advantage.

But we don’t do a lot of reality shows. They’re all about getting it done as quickly as possible and just getting as much footage in as they can.

HDS: How different is the HD workflow for the editors?

JL: It’s very transparent. Their first impression is that they just love the picture. Before we switched Lost to HD, we were starting Star Trek for J.J. Abrams, and we took some footage he was working on for a pilot and showed it to him in SD and then switched to HD, and his response was, “Why would I work in anything else?”

HDS: Is the transition happening more quickly in features?

JL: I’d say more than 50 percent of the films we’re working on are cutting in an HD resolution, and TV is following. Now that the prices have come down, and we can actually show them side-by-side and talk about the cost savings, the film people don’t even blink. They just love it. And the editors don’t want to go back.