With the rise in so much content being shot in 4K and with 4K Ultra HD television sets rapidly coming down in price, the need for full 4K post services has never been greater. Axel Ericson, founder and creative director of Digital Arts, is betting on the technology in a brand new, state-of-the-art 4K DI-grading and audio-mixing studio in the heart of Manhattan. He thinks 4K will lead the New York production and post communities into a creative and technical renaissance of ultra high-definition digital filmmaking.
Ericson's recently completed facility, built from the ground up on multiple floors above Digital Arts' original offices and sound-mixing suites, is anchored by a 27-seat 4K DI theater that doubles as a top-tier 7.1 and 5.1 surround audio mixing dubstage—a first, according to Ericson, not just for New York but for the Northeast.
Not convinced that 4K finishing makes a difference? Erikson begs to differ and says Digital Arts has an open-door policy for that very reason. "I want everyone to see this, to experience it," he says. "Once you do, you can start to make practical decisions and figure out if a 4K workflow fits your project. We can sit here in this screening room, talk about framing and answer your questions about the workflow."
During StudioDaily's recent visit, Ericson screened a segment of a project shot in 4K with available ambient light at night. The richness of the colors and detail in the images was exceptional. "As you move to 4K you really start to notice the glass," he points out. "The sensor is one thing, but the lens is an extremely important part of shooting 4K. We first put a 2K lens on [the projector] and immediately saw aberrations, but once we put a 4K lens on the projector and calibrated it, the difference was amazing."
Ericson says he began considering 4K workflows seriously about three and a half years ago. "We saw early on that, unlike the transition to Stereo3D, the transition to 4K would essentially be invisible. The whole spec is an adaptive one, 4K sets are already there, and most important, it's affordable."
Digital Arts' full menu of sound and picture grading and mixing services include 4K, 2K and HD digital dailies grading; editorial; DCP mastering and archiving to LTO-6 tape; sound editorial; sound design; and ADR and voiceover recording. On the same floor as the theater, which features a Christie 4220 4K projector and 17-foot horizontal mesh screen from the German manufacturer IMAGE Screen, are additional editorial and 5.1 sound mix suites and a machine room containing a 100 TB Facilis TerraBlock SAN. The Facilis stores a digitally remastered library of sound effects and drives both Assimilate Scratch and Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve. "Resolve is great for color," says Ericson, "but Scratch is the clear choice for any kind of creative DI work." Another floor houses a production space with green screen for VFX and interviews, plus additional production space that the facility is currently renting out to Warner Bros.
The new post house is the sixth studio that the Grammy-nominated and Emmy, ProMax BDA and MTV Award-winning Ericson has built. Long known for audio post, he was among the first to adopt Pro Tools when it was released and he has followed his passion for evolving audio technology into the DI suite. "When he began planning the build, we looked at everything in the pipeline related to both sound and image. I wanted to offer that same precision we've been known for in sound to the film world."
In the screening room's Dolby-approved audio mixing dubstage Ericson installed what he considers "the gold standard," a Meyer Sound cinema monitoring system. "You hear everything you are mixing and have expanded dynamic range," he says. "You walk in this room and with both sound and picture in optimal balance, you're inspired to create great stuff. A lot of places don't pay attention to that."
The suite also includes Quad Pro Tools HDX2 and double 32-channel D-control ES consoles for collaborative work. "We've had several well-known film editors and mixers come in to assess the theater's capabilities—a practice we encourage," notes Ericson. "We keep hearing how great the room sounds on everything from soft dialog to explosive action effects." Sound mixer Lee Dichter, who recently mixed Woody Allen’s upcoming feature Blue Jasmine at Digital Arts, first came to the facility to play some of his old mixes and assess the environment. "He started playing those mixes and noticed the clarity of the dialog," says Ericson. "A big smile spread across his face the second he heard the system." HBO’s music documentary Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream was also completed there.
Ericson clearly understands his facility's dual role as an evangelist of 4K post workflows, particularly in New York City, where the film industry was born. "We want to rekindle that spirit of pioneering in filmmaking," he says, "and be at the heart of a community here in New York that is pushing technology forward. It mystifies me why New York post has not caught up to Los Angeles and London. Well, real estate is expensive, sure, and that's a problem," he admits. "We took a leap of faith here and we're the first, but we want to lead the way for the rest of the post community here in the city."
The recently passed New York State post-production tax credit will help, he says. "Indie filmmakers own this city, but thanks to both the production and post credits, larger films are shooting here," he says. "Digital Arts wants to support that."
Is 4K the next logical step in digital filmmaking? Ericson thinks so. "We asked ourselves, where is that digital transition happening?" he says. "Obviously we've been transitioning for a long time, but we're at a point where the formats are so light and flexible and the cameras themselves are devices that fit into a pliable chain of other devices. We can now debayer on the fly! 4K, from start to finish, is beautiful, and it just makes sense."