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    Jon Creamer launches Televisual's 32nd exclusive annual Facilities 50 survey featuring the top post production houses in the UK and 48 pages of analysis of the sector
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    The grade provides a consistent ‘look’ to a drama, but a great grade can enhance mood, focus and narrative flow. Jon Creamer asks the experts behind Paddington, Ad Astra, Bohemian Rhapsody, Fleabag and more how it’s done
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01 September 2010

There's a continual need for post houses to invest in new kit and to keep on top of emerging technologies. In the month of IBC, Michael Burns reveals the essential kit for the coming year

Post production is one of the most technology-driven areas of TV production, with facilities having to continually innovate and invest to survive. An annual show such as NAB in Vegas, and this month’s IBC in Amsterdam, not only provides a chance to invest in the latest kit, but also to catch a glimpse of the current and coming trends in post. We asked the leading manufacturers supplying to the post market what they believe will be the key technology innovations that will drive the market forward over the coming year.

Main areas of change
Over the next year, as with this one, Autodesk Media and Entertainment’s senior industry marketing manager Maurice Patel believes, “The buzz is definitely around stereoscopic 3d and ‘virtual production’ techniques. These are rapidly shaping production and creating ripples throughout the industry.” He adds that, “Cameron led the way with his cg characters in Avatar and now the demand for cg characters continues to increase from movies to games to TV programming. Content producers are looking for more effective ways of creating them.”

As well as stereoscopic 3d and the increased demand for cg, Patel points to the grading market as one that continues to change rapidly as “the technology gets faster and faster and costs continue to drop. We expect that to continue.” Finally, Patel points to the seemingly endless new products available to capture images in the first place as being key drivers to future technology trends: “New digital acquisition devices from Red to Digital SLR to even the iPhone4 continue to drive rapid expansion and proliferation in digital media.”

The ultimate finishing tool
When it comes to Autodesk’s focus at this year’s IBC, Patel reveals it will be premiering a new offering that combines the capabilities of Flame, Smoke and Lustre in a single product: “All Flame, Smoke and Lustre customers will be able to crossgrade to the new product extremely cost effectively, enabling them to build multi-purpose suites and offer the complete panoply of high-end creative finishing services with a single product,” he explains. “Autodesk anticipates customers will call this offering ‘the ultimate finishing tool’.”

Web-based editing
Avid is also devising new methods of post production, promising to demonstrate the ‘future of editing’ with a technology preview at IBC of web-based editing tools that utilise wide area networks to provide editors with the freedom to access and work on content from anywhere in the world.

According to Patrick McLean, Avid director, segment marketing post and broadcast, all the media and processing takes place on the server side, with the client able to access the content in one of three ways: “First, we have a very low-bandwidth iPhone-type application over a 3G network,” he explains. “That’s for checking the media for approval purposes. We also have a medium bandwidth web browser-based application, also in the review and approval/shotlists workflow, which might suit a producer evaluating and commenting on the material.”

“Finally, we have a fully featured client application, which requires a network connection of around 6Mbits/s. It’s a Java application which can run on a fairly lightweight machine but for all intents and purposes offers a full editing experience.” McLean explains this will feature a familiar timeline, bin, effects, audio and video tracks. “A craft editor will find themselves at home with this interface,” he says. “They can do the work they do, the system is responsive. The only difference being the media is on the server and what’s being delivered to the editor are proxies that are being streamed in real-time. Even when you do an effect like a dissolve, the calculation is being performed on the server and the resulting image is streamed to you.”

It appears that any half-decent computer, whether Mac, PC or Linux, that runs Java will be adequate for the as-yet unnamed technology. If an editor is using a low-bandwidth connection, they’ll be served a lower quality image, and the quality improves with higher bandwidths.

“This is not something that we see as replacing the existing editing system,” adds McLean. “It’s a new way of working that allows the separation of the facility, the creative talent and the client, who can be anywhere in the world.”

The Stereoscopic view
With Sky rolling out its 3d channel this autumn and dozens of 3d TV channels springing up around the world at the same time, the stereoscopic post production sector looks set to boom in the coming 12 months.

“A lot of our clients are retooling infrastructures to accommodate stereo 3d workflows,” says Nick Rashby, president of AJA Video Systems. “We're seeing them tap our products to enable true stereo 3d output from Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro timelines.”

All the big names in production technology appear to be constantly updating the stereoscopic 3d capability in their systems. For example, FilmLight will be launching its Truelight 3d player at the IBC show – a cost effective review and approve station for 3d digital dailies.

Meanwhile, S3D Technologies is launching plug-ins for Maya and 3DS Max that import and export the parameters used in a stereoscopic live action shot as metadata to enable the integration of virtual images into real-time stereoscopic images.

SGO is also making big moves in stereoscopic 3d with Mistika 5, which includes a new intuitive interface as well as a real-time stereo 3d colour grading and stereo 3d compositing environment. The system provides multiple stereo 3d visualisation modes, dual stereo 3d ingest and real-time Z-Depth shot transitions. And SGO also has a new product called Mistika Live launching at IBC, which will apparently be “an innovative and timesaving stereoscopic 3d production tool”.

In stereo 3d vfx, Nuke 6.2 is due later this year from The Foundry. Future features in the release include an image modeller and other new tools for Nuke’s 3d environment. The Foundry has also refined its Ocula collection of plug-in tools to address common problems experienced with stereoscopic imagery in post. Ocula 2.1 is the result of a number of collaborations with artists on high-end stereo projects, including Avatar.

Camera Tracking
Camera tracking is one of the most critical aspects of successful vfx creation – it’s also one of the trickiest, so with the growth of stereoscopic content going through post houses it’s very likely we’ll see further development in this area in the future. It’s a market addressed by The Pixel Farm with the launch of PFMatchit, a 2d/3d camera-tracking/matchmoving software package.

PFMatchit is the first product to harness the company’s new node-based flowgraph architecture. It can track an unlimited number of camera and object motions per shot, with each contributing to another, and then export the data as a single file.

The ‘Edit Camera’ node provides manual controls enabling the user to animate the position of a camera in 3d space over time. It makes it possible for previous camera solves to be edited, and can generate hints to influence how a 3d camera moves with the result that shots can be solved that were previously considered untrackable.

On a similar theme, The Foundry’s newest plug-in, CameraTracker, analyses source sequences to extract the original camera’s lens and motion parameters. It enables you to match camera moves within After Effects, allowing new options for the placement of composite elements, such as the creation of Fringe/Heroes style ‘in scene’ titles, the extension of virtual sets and more.

Moving up a grade
One of the key areas of post production that never seems to stand still is grading. It’s traditionally been one of the final stages in the finishing process, but now FilmLight is doing all it can to move grading out from behind the scenes and onto the set.

“Producers and directors are realising the importance grading has on the quality of the end result and are considering its potential much earlier in the production process,” said Mark Burton, head of marketing, FilmLight. “Our Truelight On-Set system allows the production team to accurately visualise their shots on set, whatever the source colour-space, and to determine exposure levels.”

“The team can set the ‘look’ of the show by performing basic colour correction on set, seeing that the shot will work and allowing them to decide whether they need to reshoot, as well as managing the look directly from set into post production.” FilmLight will showcase Truelight On-Set in ‘on set’ and ‘near set’ configurations at IBC, demonstrating how to set looks and pass these through the post production pipeline, producing digital dailies and conforming from editorial.

“Key to FilmLight’s philosophy is the belief that grading is an intrinsic element of the production workflow and is central to making beautiful images,” says Burton. “This is reflected in the fact that grading is no longer bundled together with the post budget.”

There’s also an evolution in grading from Digital Vision, with the company exploring a new entry-level market with Compose. According to company COO Simon Cuff, Compose provides a cost-effective, multi-faceted workstation to aid in the grading, finishing and mastering of commercials, film and television post production. Cuff further revealed innovations that appear in the Digital Vision 2010 software release, including a new intelligent isolation colour keyer (I-Keyer) and updated file format enhancements including Arri Alexa support. All the company’s grading solutions are equipped with a 3d toolset.

Transfer and storage
As the market develops, new technology emerges to fill the needs of producers and facilities. The massive growth in use of file-based HD cameras is being followed by a new wave of file-based transfer and massive data-capable storage solutions. Nick Rashby, president of AJA Video Systems, says more and more customers are moving towards all digital tapeless workflows both in facilities and on set.

“Digital acquisition is becoming more and more ubiquitous across the board for broadcast, live event and film production, and there are a host of AJA products that streamline digital workflows for cinematographers, editors and post production creatives on set and off,” he says. “I am very excited about future products currently in development at AJA that will continue to address growing market trends – stay tuned for new developments across our KONA, Ki Pro, converter and mini-converter product lines at IBC and in the coming months.”

Avid is pushing a shared storage solution, the ISIS 5000, at post facilities. Kevin Usher, director of solutions development at Avid, says the unit is built upon proven ISIS technology and is designed to address the specific needs of companies requiring 40 or fewer client connections, but still in need of a flexible, scalable solution to accommodate changing business needs.

Signiant is using IBC to showcase its products that make it possible for organisations of any size to exchange content quickly, securely and cost-effectively. “After spending the last few years enabling the content creators, broadcasters and studios to operate on Signiant for file-based operations and digital workflows, Signiant has made its offering more accessible to companies who work with these firms,” says Gavin Tweedie, technical sales manager at Signiant.

“Our Content Point product, which comes with a sub £10k price point, is designed to allow partners and affiliates to connect to multiple Signiant-enabled facilities around the world. With this system, both sides involved in digital transfers have realtime visibility and control of their media transfers and can throttle up or down accordingly with no damage to the transfers.”

Retooling for the future
Budgets are tighter than ever following the credit crunch, so all post houses are looking to maximise revenue in the next year by looking outside of their traditional customer base. Simon Clark, business development manager at Cintel, argues that one route is film scanning services and offers his company’s new diTTo evolution product as a solution for both the Digital Intermediate process and old archive material.

Scanning and restoration
“diTTo evolution is instantly switchable from a full pin registration mechanism, ideal for new film, to a non-pin registration mode, which is perfect for damaged and shrunken archive film,” Clark explains. “In addition to this, the unique Dust/Scratch Concealment Option allows an optical fix of over 90% of surface dust and scratches saving valuable time and resource in downstream ‘dust busting’. Priced at circa £150k, diTTo evolution is not out of the reach of even the smallest post house looking to provide film scanning services for any application.”

Clark also identifies a growing market need for very fast noise reduction from digitally acquired sources and grain reduction from film acquired sources. Clark believes Cintel has a product to meet this need in the form of imageMill2 featuring GRACE. “This product is unique in being able to provide faster-than-real-time image processing on data such as DPX files,” says Clark. “HD data files can be processed at 47 frames per second, 2K at 31fps and SD files at twice real time.”

“In addition to GRACE, imageMIll2 has a full post production quality image stabiliser called STEADY,” adds Clark. “Early in 2011 it will also feature a restoration application called ORIGIN, which will provide faster-than-real-time dust and scratch correction. This is something that may take many seconds per frame on a software-only system.”

At a price of circa £25k, imageMill2 is priced higher than most of its competitors, admits Clark. But, he adds, “None of them can match the processing speed.”

Digital Vision is another major player in the restoration market. The company is in the process of launching new software that includes DVO Clarity, a next-generation noise and grain management software featuring automatic profiling. IBC will also see a demonstration of Phoenix Finish, the company’s new flagship end-to-end restoration, re-mastering and delivery system. This focuses on creating the highest quality deliverables from film or tape based materials.

Digital Vision’s new mid-range product, Phoenix Refine, also delivers high-end restoration image processing tools to repair any defect or damage to film and video media. A further product, Phoenix Touch, is to be positioned as an entry-level image restoration tool. According to Simon Cuff, it’s a cost-effective software solution that utilises DVO technology for cleaning up vfx plates and DI scans, or can be used as part of a large volume restoration project requiring manual retouch of content.


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