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Final Cut to Film at PlasterCity Post

An inside look at PlasterCity's online HD pipeline technology By Frank Moldstad

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When PlasterCity Digital Post held an open house recently to celebrate the completion of its tapeless Final Cut Pro HD finishing pipeline, one of the most intriguing stops on the tour was the machine room. It is the nexus of the Hollywood facility, housing racks of SANs and a network infrastructure capable of handling any format up to HDCam SR 4:4:4 10-bit RGB.

Amazingly, its built with mostly off-the-shelf technology. Assembling it wasnt easy, but the staff, including Chicago natives Post Production Supervisor Michael Cioni, Colorist/VFX Artist Ian Vertovec and Editor Otto Arsenault, were all skilled Final Cut Pro users with a clear objective: an online HD pipeline from start to finish, capable of putting out finished 2k, or even 4k, digital intermediates if required.

?Our objective is to bridge Final Cut to film, says Cioni. ?People are comfortable with Final Cut, but theyre comfortable doing DI, not with 35. So, we tried to build the full bridge that people are using, and theyre recognizing it. Theyre noting the indistinguishable differences between a $300,000 or $400,000 DI and our DI. It costs so much less, its faster, its new language. I tell people we speak Final Cut."

Michael Cioni, post production supervisor
?Its crazy to think youll be offlining at low res in the future, Cioni adds. ?This has been something we had in mind when we moved here from Chicago. We wanted to bring LA nonlinear online solutions, because thats what made sense to us.

One of the people Cioni met along the way was Stephen Beres, an Apple Certified Technical Coordinator and Final Cut Pro trainer who was working for Apple at the time. Beres is now Technical Supervisor at Plaster City Post, and he played a crucial role in solving the pipeline's technical challenges. As Technical Supervisor, Beres is in charge of deployment and management of SAN and network infrastructure as well as systems support and new technology development.

Michael and I spoke about a year ago when I was still with Apple, and they wanted to do this, Beres says. ?The technology was sort of at a finite point then. But we were able to execute this for hundreds of dollars on the gigabyte, instead of thousands of dollars on the gigabyte.

In the following interview, conducted in the machine room during the open house, Beres presents a detailed overview of the technology behind Plaster City Posts workflow. He also reveals plans for a SAN-in-a-Box solution that will be marketed to other post facilities, based on PlasterCitys experience.

The Machine Room
Would you explain what were looking at?

Basically what weve developed here is a real time 4:4:4 uncompressed SAN solution. So, its a central storage area; every bay in our facility has 750 MB/second of direct access to the SAN, which is 24 terabytes unformatted. Our whole philosophy is to keep overhead down. We select one deck of every format from HD Cam SR all the wall down to DV cam, and everything in between, and we deliver that to the SAN. From there, it becomes a digital packet stream. Then it can be delivered anywhere in the building, from editorial to color, online layoffs to DVD, layoffs to DV cam, or projection in our 2K theater. All this can be done without ever having to lay back to tape, without having to do any significant rendering, and without having to do any significant hard asset management.

So basically our whole system doesnt save you thousands of dollars by being cheaper than everyone else, but we save you days, sometimes weeks, off the end of your production, which at several thousand dollars a day, saves you quite a bit off your bottom line. So we dont claim to be cheaper than anyone else, but because our system is very efficient, and we try to limit the amount of laybacks that we do, we end up being a less expensive alternative for a very high-end product.

Stephen Beres, technical supervisor
People who are used to working with tape-to-tape processes should appreciate that.

Thats right. The tape-to-tape color correction is definitely a viable medium, but we feel that our non-linear, what we like call high definition intermediate, is definitely not only cost-saving, but advantageous for about 80 percent of North American screens that dont see the difference between a 2K DI and a 1080 DI. So because we Telecine everything at 4:4:4, to HD Cam SR, you still have the same latitude you would in a 2K DI. Youre just looking at a slightly reduced resolution, a resolution by about two-thirds. So thats still a significant amount, considering that 70 percent of screens in North America are the size of our theater. And then theres the 10 percent that are a little bit larger, and then that very finite 10 percent that is Arc Light size. And for that, we definitely offer the alternative of a proxy to 2K.

 And we can absolutely satisfy the requirements of 2K to 4K DIs as well, because we obviously have the throughput to satisfy that. But we feel that this high definition digital intermediate is really the future. And thats sort of an exciting place to be. 

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Related Keywords:PlasterCity, Post, Final Cut Pro, HD, digital intermediates, 2k, 4k, pipeline, Michael Cioni, Stephen Beres


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