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IBC 2005: DI & Data-Centric Workflow

Sharon Adcock reports on such exploding global trends as DI and data-centric workflow at the recent IBC 2005 tradeshow in Amsterdam.

IBC, Europes answer to the NAB, burst at the seams this year with studios, broadcasters, filmmakers and commercial makers from more than 120 countries attending. Courtesy of IBC.

IBC, the omega to NABs alpha, was held earlier this month in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The show draws studios, broadcasters, filmmakers and commercial makers from more than 120 countries.

This year, IBC was bursting at the seams, with an increase in both number of exhibitors and attendees. Having said that, IBC is still much easier to move around than the behemoth NAB. Unlike NAB, where companies are located next to each other with no rhyme or reason, with what has to be the worlds worst aisle-numbering system, the RAI is comprised of 11 halls in a campus-like manner with each hall assigned a different category. Like to like companies are near each other in a specific hall and the aisle numbering is logical, which allows attendees to maximize their time investment in demonstrations of new tools. IBC Hall 7 is the place to be for visual effects and post-production.

Lou Levinson, senior colorist, Post Logic Studios, who attended the show, said: Though this was my first IBC, I must say that the smaller size and smaller crowds make it easier to get quality time with those you need to. Unlike NAB, where crowds, especially on the first day or two, prevent much more than waving at each other, you can actually spend enough time with vendors to get something done. Also, lately, there seems to be a phenomenon that has things promised for NAB actually working by IBC, so it seems to be the place. A warning: because you can get stuff done, you find yourself having lunch at 3:00 pm, if at all, and not leaving the hall until 7:30 pm.

Ken Fuller, vp, technology, Ascent Media Services, commented, IBC is more fun than NAB! But that aside, its also user-friendly and easy to get around. Its less imposing. In addition, its more holistic. It covers the entire workflow and is not as focused on broadcast, especially with the conference sessions. NAB is still primarily a broadcast show. IBC provides a better balance exposition with post-production. The IBC conference sessions were quite good and totally relevant.

For us, IBC was an opportunity to narrow-focus on the last decisions of a significant capital expansion, added Steve Hendricks, president of Post Logic Studios. In the months after NAB and SIGGRAPH we ran models and projections and came to Amsterdam knowing what was important to our artists and engineers. Sometimes IBC is just a great way to stay in touch with our European vendors and counterparts, but this year was a very important one for Post Logic as we closed multi-million dollar purchases.

Digital intermediate (DI) was still a hot topic at IBC 2005. 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.

In addition, this years new buzzwords were data-centric workflow and collaboration. The prediction, however, is that by next year DI, data-centric and collaboration will no longer be hot topics, but simply considered a regular part of the post-production process.

Chatting with various vendors at IBC brought to mind the phrase great minds think alike, but also some specifics with regard to global trends in the marketplace, which are more detailed below by various managers.

The well-organized show allows attendees and vendors to get quality time with each other.

Quantel introduced the Pablo Suite. Its a combination of image processing hardware with versatile color correction software. Steve Owen, head of product marketing, Post & DI, at Quantel, said, In the past, DI was more a prestige loss leader; now its become a viable business for a number of facilities and incorporates the deliverables side of things. The key is having flexibility within a system and the ability to increase revenue out of different parts of the film pipeline.

He added, In terms of global trends, DI is taking off in a big way. Production accountants are adding DI into the budget. A company will spend some upfront money on post, but get it back on the deliverables. The rate at which different countries worldwide are incorporating DI varies, but nonetheless its increasing. While budgets are larger in Hollywood, it doesnt mean independent films or smaller films from around the world are left out. Even small budget films are incorporating DI, and actually some of the visual effects can be handled in DI, which simplifies the process and results in cost-savings.

Autodesk had announcements for its Lustre system, its TV Suite, D-Cinema and an audio collaboration with Fairlight. Tom Ohanian, senior director, Autodesk Consulting, stated, As digital technologies become more integral to every stage of the pre, production and post pipeline, workflow needs are changing dramatically. Collaborative productions are becoming commonplace where creative teams in one location are liaising electronically with animation teams in India, China, the U.K. and other locations around the globe. Changes in the way that creative content is produced are changing the needs of facilities on the infrastructure level.

CELCO introduced a new film recorder, the Firestorm2 (left), for film out. The company is known for its high-quality scanning and recording technologies, which are increasingly being used in the DI pipeline globally. Courtesy of CELCO.

One of the trends observed at IBC is the very real global demand for true collaborative workflows. Workflows that provide built-in collaborative review and approval structures, production monitoring mechanisms, scheduling, in addition to permissions hierarchies and even tie-ins to billing and reporting. This is a need at all large facilities, games studios and visual effects houses and as assets proliferate and data management issues increase, the demand for collaboration solutions is growing at mid-small facilities as well.

Assimilate presented its Scratch data workflow product line with new features and capabilities designed to improve the digital intermediate production pipeline. Jeff Edson, ceo of Assimilate, suggested, What we have seen over the past year or so in the DI space is a couple of things: 1) large facilities have made their initial purchases of software-based color correctors to either replace or augment their existing hardware-based color correction suites; 2) the market is now looking very hard at the entire digital pipeline.

He added, Historically DI has meant color correction only. It is being expanded to mean the entire digital pipeline, not just color correction. Over the past year, the amount of data that is being generated in the post-production world (through just film scanning or vfx or animation, etc.) has grown significantly. The issue choking most facilities today is lack of digital pipeline and workflow. Managing the data through their process.

Due to the sheer numbers of films done in the U.S., the U.S. has been ahead of Europe, specifically in installing and using software-based color correction solutions and we have seen the same thing to be true in implementation of digital workflows. Interestingly enough, for the size of the market, LATAM may be further ahead of either. The data-centric workflow model is now becoming the main focus of most areas that we are seeing. We are seeing Europe start to move forward.

Digital Vision announced new products for both its Digital Vision and Nucoda product lines, with a strong set of color, editing and image enhancement tools for DI and data-centric video, increased speed and 2K capabilities.

Motion picture DI is now becoming the norm and the majority of film labs and post facilities are DI capable, remarked Roger Ekstrom, president of Digital Vision. We are seeing a fairly uniform adoption across the regions but the budgets in the U.S. are generally much higher allowing the DI process to be more creative. IBC also demonstrated that the trend towards tapeless, data-centric content production is gaining significant momentum with broadcasters and video production facilities, even though there is no actual film in their workflow.

Added MC Patel, director of business development for Digital Vision, Second generation DI is really about data-centric, and not just the grading, but editorial, finishing and integrating vfx as well. In addition, multiplicity of use of DI solutions how can we carry on commercial work between our DI projects? Both Europe and the U.S. want suites that are capable of handling both video and movies in a data environment, and are looking at creating HD data-centric solutions rather than just conventional HD suites.

Digital Vision announced new products for its recent Nucoda acquisition Film Master, a complete resolution-independent end-to-end film finishing solution. Courtesy of Digital Vision.

eCinema Systems launched a new professional, reference-grade DCM23 monitor at IBC. Martin Euredjian, founder of eCinema Systems, commented, As the film industry becomes more globalized, this is mandating more similar and consistent workflows in production and post-production worldwide. The monitor products were developing tie into this trend because we guarantee that an image being critically evaluated on one of these displays will be the same, whether the person is viewing it in Los Angeles or London. Especially now with the proliferation of projects involving digital color grading and DI, its about seeing the same image everywhere. New advances in fields such as monitoring and color consistency are helping open doors that will allow colorists, DPs and other creatives to collaborate with confidence across continents.

Adding to the alpha and omega concept, both IMAGICA and CELCO had new introductions at IBC. IMAGICA launched two new hi-speed scanners for film in, and CELCO launched a new film recorder, the Firestorm2, for film out. Both are known for their high-quality scanning and recording technologies, which are increasingly being used in the DI pipeline globally. In addition, CELCO showcased footage from the Sharks3D IMAX film, which was output on the CELCO Fury film recorder and which is currently in worldwide release.

Sohonet is a private secure hi-speed network for the media industry. While not exhibiting at IBC, Sohonet had arranged strategic meetings with vendors, studios and post-production facilities at the show. Dave Scammell, managing director of Sohonet, said, There are two trends were seeing in the marketplace: 1) collaborative working and 2) the realization that video can indeed be moved across an IP network. With the former, the industry has become more global. Youll have post facilities in London, Sydney and Hollywood working on the same project. To do so successfully, they need good connectivity. Not just in terms of products such as Toxik or the Nucoda kit, but anything that makes it easier for two or more locations to work on the same piece of material or the same project.

CELCO showcased footage from the Sharks3D IMAX film, which was output on the CELCO Fury film recorder and which is currently in worldwide release. © 2004 3D Ent. Ltd.

With the latter, content can be moved in two different spectrums from low-res content to mobile phones to the other end of the spectrum, moving high-quality film resolution material. Sohonets network has been used on the Harry Potter films, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Superman Returns, as well as the HBO series Rome. It recently moved material from Australia to Warner Bros. in Los Angeles, and managed the entire process from London.

One area that Europe is largely ahead of the U.S. is mobile technology, particularly in delivering content to mobile phones. IBC had a separate Mobile Zone where a broad range of applications was on display. Alongside the displays was a content café at which visitors could download clips, free, to their phones. These clips ranged from short comedies to special versions of IBC TV news stories.

IBC has offered a D-Cinema track as part of its conference for the past few years. With the recent Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) announcement regarding its final system requirements and specifications, the D-Cinema sessions have become a must attend part of the conference line-up at IBC. D-Cinema will likely roll out in Europe faster than in the U.S., especially given the recent announcement by Ireland to go all D-Cinema. Richard Nye, market development manager at Christie Digital, said, No longer are we talking about the potential of D-Cinema and what is required to be accepted. D-Cinema is accepted and whilst there is still a future for 35mm film cinema, D-Cinema is here to stay.

While NAB is still the 800 lb. guerilla, IBC is just as important to the industry, not only in terms of products and sessions but also in offering a more global perspective. And only in Amsterdam and at IBC would a manmade beach with volleyball nets and topless sunbathers be located in-between the halls of the convention center, alongside a café and convention goers in suits watching and discussing the attributes of the show, er, the tradeshow. Top that NAB!

IBC 2006 will take place Sept. 7-12, 2005 at the RAI Convention Centre in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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).