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Digital Intermediate: Inner Workings

Here's the industry guru telling us how DI really works in the film industry today -- and tomorrow By Charlie White

Steve Wright, LaserPacific (formerly Cinesite)When you want to find out how film producers are crossing that trecherous bridge between celluloid and digital technology, industry veteran Steve Wright is your go-to guy. After years of brilliant enhancement of over 40 big budget feature films, he's an expert in the alchemy of turning film into digits, working his effects magic and then sending it all back to film again to be projected in theaters. And lucky for us, Wright has agreed to contribute articles to DMN about digital intermediate production, so we can all benefit from his wellspring of expertise. To get to know him and his work, DMN's Charlie White spoke with him about digital intermediate production and how it's used in today's film production workflow.

First, more about Steve Wright: As Technical Director and Senior Compositor for Kodak's Cinesite, Wright has created digital effects shots for a long list of top Hollywood films. His earlier production experience includes eight years experience as an in-house digital effects producer and supervisor for CGI studios. He is highly experienced with client interface, storyboard breakdown, production bid preparation, and project management and has extensive technical and artistic experience with digital effects, 3D computer animation, and even digital ink and paint for cel animation. His production experience includes three years as a 3D animator and 12 years experience of compositing and digital effects. To see his complete list of production credits, they're all listed on the Internet Movie Database at IMDb. To contact Steve or see more of his production background visit his personal Web site at www.swdfx.com.

DMN: Tell us about how you got into digital intermediate production.

Wright: I joined Kodak's Cinesite back in '97 and I was brought in to do digital effects.

DMN: You were technical director there?

Wright: Yes. Then about a year and a half ago, Kodak decided to get out of the digital effects business. In the meantime, Cinesite had started the digital intermediate service, so when they decided to relinquish doing digital effects, they kept the digital intermediate service and they let all of the digital effects people go -- except for me. The reason they kept me was because the digital intermediate operation had been up and running for about a year or a year and a half, and I had always worked with them, helping them with their digital imaging problems. When they decided to close down the digital effects operation, the digital intermediate folks wanted to keep me around.

DMN: Nice for you. You made yourself indispensable.

Steve Wright's book, Digital Compositing for Film and Video, is available at Amazon.com.
Wright:. Exactly so. And by the way, as a side note, my forte was doing 2D digital effects. In fact, I've published a book on that -- I have a book on Amazon.com called Digital Compositing for Film and Video
.

DMN: What would you use for your 2D effects?

Wright: I use Cineon and Shake . At any rate, in doing digital effects, you have to learn a great deal about digital imaging and digital opticals. That helped me to make a very nice transition into supporting the digital intermediate operation. So a year and a half ago when Kodak decided that Cinesite would cease operation on digital effects, the digital intermediate process had been up and running for about a year and a half, and they kept me.

DMN: What is the relationship between Cinesite and LaserPacific? Same thing now, right?

Wright: Kodak took a long strategic view on digital intermediate, and said, we see a long-range potential for having a high-end video post production house involved with digital intermediate. They purchased LaserPacific about a year and a half ago. LaserPacific is unique in that they actually have a film developing lab in their video post production house. So here's the flow: The director drops off his unexposed camera negs to LaserPacific at the end of the shooting day. LaserPacific puts them through their own lab; the neg comes out of the develop lab at midnight or 1:00 in the morning and goes straight into telecine. The next morning the director has his high-def dailies right there, and you just cannot beat that with a stick. 

DMN: That's a great workflow.

Wright: That's a great workflow. Now, from high-def dailies to DI [digital intermediate], there's a bridge there, there's a connection there. So now you see Kodak's long-term strategy. LaserPacific develops the film, does the high-def video dailies and then that rolls right into doing the DI at LaserPacific.

DMN: Now the digital dailies aren't as high a resolution as you're using for the digital intermediate, right?

Wright: I was speaking of high-def dailies, not digital dailies. Digital dailies are a different thing. High-def dailies are your film, telecine'd to high-def video. Digital dailies are, your film is digitized and then Ethernetted or Internetted to your address, to your facility in Timbuktu or Chicago. In other words, no video tape -- more like a QuickTime movie dropped to an FTP site.

DMN: In some manageable form that's not too gigantic.

Wright: Right. I'm talking about doing high-def dailies. The digital daily thing, I don't think, has really flamed on because there are too many non-standard computer issues. But everybody's got a tape deck -- it's plug and play. At any rate, you see the natural flow -- that's why Kodak purchased LaserPacific. And LaserPacific is an award winning place. They have won six Emmys for technical innovation in television and video.

DMN: Invented 24p post production, didn't they?

Wright: Indeed. That was one of their innovations. So they had one foot in the film land, because they developed film and did the high-def dailies, plus they developed other high technology in engineering and won six Emmys for it, so we want to append to that -- the digital intermediate process. So that's why Kodak purchased LaserPacific. And then, effective July 1st of this year [2004], about two-and-a-half months ago, the two operations physically merged.

DMN: So they're one and the same now?

Wright: There is no longer a Cinesite. It's now officially LaserPacific. 

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Related Keywords:Steve Wright, industry veteran, digital effects, feature films, broadcast television commercials, feature film digital intermediate, contribute articles, DMN, Charlie White

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