On a sunny day in mid-September, 40,000 attendees descended upon the RAI Centre in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, for the five-day IBC exhibition and conference. IBC is the European version of NAB, and is the third part of the troika (NAB, SIGGRAPH and IBC) for postproduction facilities to investigate new products or updates to the tools in visual effects and 3D animation. While not as large as the behemoth NAB, its still considered a must for the manufacturers and facilities who want to keep abreast of the latest in technology. It draws studios, broadcasters, filmmakers and commercial makers from around the globe.
And the location of IBC, Amsterdam, gives Las Vegas a run for its money. Vegas may have erupting volcanoes and dancing water, but in Amsterdam there are one million bicycles, every other street is a canal and, oh yes, dont forget the famous Red Light District and the brown cafes.
As with NAB, theres a mixture of broadcast and visual effects companies and products. Anyone attending for the visual effects/3D animation segment of the market makes an immediate beeline for Hall 7 (the RAI Convention Center is comprised of 11 halls spread out in a campus-like manner). Here, under one roof, are the main players with smaller ones tucked in-between. Its a mini-show within a show. Brian Reid, visual effects artist for Technicolor Toronto, said, This is my first time attending IBC, and I think I prefer it to NAB. The scale of the Vegas convention center is so large you have multiple parts of the industry in the same building, so Discreet might be next to a satellite company. And another company you want to see will be in a different building. At IBC, they break the segments up into multiple halls and so I can go to one specific hall that has the companies and products that hold the most interest to me.
Jim Davey, director of digital services at CapitalFX in London, stated, NAB and IBC are both important in terms of checking out new products. All the main players are at IBC, but at NAB youll see some of the smaller companies exhibiting who cant afford to make the trek across the pond. Obviously its easier for Europeans to go to Amsterdam, but NAB & IBC are both important for those of us investigating new technology, because at one show it might just be a technology demonstration, whereas by the time the next one rolls around its more a real product that we can incorporate into our pipeline. To stay current, I attend NAB, SIGGRAPH and IBC.
While companies announced new products at IBC, they were more evolutionary than revolutionary and a build-on to what was either showcased or announced earlier in the year at NAB and SIGGRAPH. With several hundred companies exhibiting, its not feasible to cover all the announcements or trends, but there were two topics that garnered particular attention.
One hot topic at IBC was Digital Intermediate (DI). In Hollywood, DI is defined as the process of transferring film to a digital file and doing the intermediate work, including color grading and mastering, in the digital realm, and then returning the work to film for delivery. In the commercial world, they may use a similar setup, where the spots are output to the digital deliverable required by the client.
Ascent Media outlined its strategy for DI, and Ken Williams, ceo, made a bold prediction for advertising production. The vast majority of commercials are not even finished in HD yet, so they may skip HD and go directly to data. He envisions an upsurge in commercials finished in the DI realm, but predicts the most critical growth in DI about to begin in the feature arena.
Manufacturers targeting the DI space included Discreet, Quantel, Thomson Grass Valley, as well as Filmlight, Nucoda and Assimilate. Some claim to provide an entire solution; others a part of it.
Nucoda and several other manufacturers in the digital intermediate space announced they have launched a new collaborative Open Systems initiative for film and video finishing. Nucoda, Bright Systems, Digital Voodoo, MTI Film and The Foundry promoted the benefits of using software applications based on open architecture by demonstrating a seamless integrated DI workflow.
Assimilate, a new company founded by several industry veterans, launched its debut product SCRATCH, an integrated realtime, 2K digital intermediate workflow solution. As with Nucodas solution, SCRATCHs foundation is open-architecture, and offers modular feature sets and image processing tools.
M.C. Patel, a U.K.-based industry veteran and technical advisor to many companies within the industry, said, DI currently is a bit of technology jumping the gun ahead of the market. Its an emerging field that already has a lot of competition in terms of vendors supplying a solution. By NAB 2005 some of the companies will have dropped out as the consolidation process continues; thats just an economic reality. But DI is a process thats here to stay. And currently Europe is further ahead in terms of DI than the U.S.
Mark Horton, marketing manager of Quantel, agreed. Countries such as France, Italy and Sweden have been involved with DI for quite a long time, whereas in the U.S. its just now coming along. Also, theres a challenge and opportunity to make the process feasible for lower budget features, not just the mainstream ones. Quantel previewed the next major software release for its iQ and eQ systems at the show. The goal for the release is to increase DI workflow opportunities, as well as to appeal to Editbox and Henry users who may wish to upgrade.
One trend Mark Horton stressed overseas is diversification. The commercial business has not been good in Europe; its too fragmented. So post houses, in order to stay alive and grow, are diversifying into arenas such as restoration, HD for the corporate market, DI and animation. Theyre being forced to re-invent themselves and actively seek new business.
Discreet announced new versions of its non-linear editing and finishing systems, fire 6.5 and smoke 6.5, both of which are involved in DI workflows for 2K film, high-definition television (HDTV) and standard-definition (SD) projects. The new versions of Discreets fire and smoke systems deliver workflow improvements that simplify file-sharing and enhance compatibility with multiple file formats, as well as off-load rendering to background processing systems. It also introduced 3ds max 7, with new workflow tools, including character animation capabilities. Discreet also announced new sales of its lustre digital grading and color correction systems for the DI process in Europe and Asia.
Patrick Jocelyn, EMEA director, Discreet, when asked about trends overseas, offered, Were seeing the continued success of Discreets HD solutions in the European market, even though there are no HD transmissions in Europe yet. Over half of all Discreet systems sold are used to do some HD projects, and its clear that European customers need the flexibility to do both HD and SD work. A major trend in Europe is extending the shelf life of the media asset, and this is a driving force for HD work. HD is a low cost way of creating commercials that can be used for broadcast and cinematic release. Overall, a growing number of end clients are demanding the option to work in HD.
A key difference in Europes broadcast market, as compared to the U.S., is that the European market is predominantly terrestrial (aerial) based, whereas the U.S. is very cable-heavy. Analog terrestrial transmissions in Europe will have to end in the coming years, in order for more content to be transmitted digitally.
Were seeing the ongoing push for equipment to create next-generation games with leading-edge technology pipelines, and demand for a growing number of details and more realistic characters and environments in the games. Customers are increasingly using 3ds max not only for game development, but also for feature film work and television.
The other controversial topic at IBC was the EBUs recommendation to adopt a 720p 50HD standard rather than 1080i. The EBU BTQE Group, responsible for setting the EU HDTV strategy for European broadcasters, believes that this standard provides efficiency in broadcasting and integrates well within modern domestic equipment. However, companies such as Sony expressed reservations about the decision, and highlighted that 1080i is the most common transmission standard within the leading HDTV markets in North America, Australia and Japan. The difference in the European battle seems to be a different television philosophy to the one in the States. While the EBU has recommended 720p 50, it has not formally endorsed it yet. The controversy is expected to continue into next year.
Some other highlights included:
Eyeon Software released free developer versions of Digital Fusion and DFX+ compositing systems. The developer version allows independent plug-in manufacturers and postproduction facilities the ability to write and test custom tools for Fusion without having to invest in a retail copy of either application.
Realviz introduced the latest versions of its flagship products, including MatchMover Pro 3.0, ReTimer Pro, Stitcher, ImageModeler and Re/Timer SD/HD.
Bluefish444 announced that it is teaming with D2 Software, a subsidiary of Digital Domain, to build compatibility between D2s Nuke compositing and effects system and the Bluefish444 video output product line for the Windows and Linux platforms.
- Celco released its FilmOutPro V2.0 color management and film recorder software package for the Fury and Firestorm film recorders. The automated color management system is designed to give filmmakers the confidence that they will get on film what they see on the monitor, with automated color management tools for DI and visualization tools.
There is one difference between NAB and IBC. While both are busy shows packed with hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees, IBC feels more laid-back. Perhaps its the city; perhaps its the layout of the show floor. And perhaps its the proliferation of pubs on-site and the drink trolleys delivering wine and beer to multiple booths between 4:00-6:00 pm. Europeans may be just as serious about technology as the U.S., but theyre much more relaxed while investigating it!
IBC 2005 will be held at the RAI Centre in Amsterdam Sept. 8-13, 2005.
Sharon Adcock is a marketing consultant in the visual effects and broadcast industries, whose clients are both domestic and internationally-based. She is a member of the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA-LA) and an Associate Member of the Visual Effects Society (VES).