Even as more and more feature films use visual effects, deadlines shortenfor the creation and completion of those effects. Postproduction houses areconstantly in search of systems that will allow them to meet intenseeffects deadlines. Workstations must be beefed-up, and input and outputdevices must be fast. This is why postproduction facilities such asDigiscope are looking to laser technology for their output needs.Digiscope’s future strategy is to concentrate on film compositing as wellas film scanning and recording. To this end, the company recently addedAutologic’s LUX Laser Cinema Recorder.
There are a variety of reasons why we investigated laser technology forfilm recording. Being a compositing facility, one of our goals is to outputthe highest quality product. That led us to Kodak’s 5244 film stock andlaser technology. While we do have in-house CRT film recorders, there arecompromises with cathode-ray tube technology. Laser technology eliminatesthose compromises.
When we originally looked at laser technology, it was for our own in-houseuse-the ability to control 100 percent of the process and offer the highestquality product. But we then saw that the I/O (input/output) departmentcould become its own entity; we could offer fast, high-quality scanning andrecording services to other postproduction facilities. Since we have someof the top I/O people in the industry, combined with the latest technology,I felt we could offer a good solution to others.
The other reason we looked at laser technology is that producers anddirectors are becoming more knowledgeable and sophisticated with respect tovisual effects. These days they are asking specifically for laser output.
“We looked at the various laser film recorders in the market, as well as aCRT recorder that claimed to have laser-like quality,” says Tommy Hooper,operations manager at Digiscope. “Well, two of the three laser recordersare no longer available on the market, and the CRT unit, while a good one,was still not of the caliber you’d get with a laser recorder. There’sanother laser recorder which is supposed to come on the market in eithermiddle or late 1999, but we didn’t want to wait that long. And withAutologic being in the Los Angeles area, we thought we’d get betterservice. With tight production deadlines, neither we nor other post housescan afford to be down.”
The LUX laser recorder has been in-house for just over six months. The setup went well. We basically rolled it in, booted up, and output film thenext day. The next month was taken up with calibration-we needed to createa lot of different LUTs (color Look-Up Tables) to handle our specificneeds. We have output quite a bit through the LUX and, at press time, areworking on Enemy of the Stateand Wing Commander.
The positive angle to laser technology is its unequaled quality and speed.We looked at CRT film recorders that could output to Kodak’s 5244, but thequality is definitely better with a laser recorder, and it is significantlyfaster. We would need up to four CRT recorders to match the output speed weget with one laser recorder.
The cons to laser technology? Because of differences in the technology,lasers can be more finicky. You can not get away with tolerances you couldget away with using CRT technology. Also, service contracts are anecessity. It follows that with the higher cost of a laser device (to acomparable CRT), service contracts are more expensive. The service we havereceived from Autologic has been superb, however. Autologic understandsdeadlines because of its laser technology used in the newspaper market.Their service technician, Sabio, is here in the middle of the night if weneed him.
Of course, you still need a capable staff. Laser technology, likeeverything else, is a tool. Without talented people, you will not get thebest results. Currently we find we have had to write some of our own(proprietary) software for the LUX. Luckily, that was not a problem. But itwould be nice to have more. For example, the software setup came with onlya basic driver. It added an extra step, but that was all right. Iunderstand that Autologic and Quantel are discussing a direct interface,which would be great, as we have two Quantel Dominos along with our fourInfernos. To have the Dominos tweaked specifically to the laser wouldprovide us with the best product for our clients regardless of the box usedduring the composition of the film.
Paul Howarth of our digital imaging department started out in optical workand eventually moved to scanning and recording.
“The biggest advantages to laser technology are its speed and that it workswell with 5244, the stock of choice,” he says. “For example, with the LUX,we can image a 2K image in six seconds, which is significantly faster thanCRT recorders. Also, laser technology won’t flare the way CRT technologydoes, especially on 5244 stock. Finally, the laser’s convergence andalignment is exacting, which is what we need.”
As more movies use visual effects and deadlines get tighter, it will becomethe norm, not the exception, for postproduction facilities to acquire thelatest, most powerful technology such as laser film recording technology.Facilities will look for scanners, workstations, and laser recorders thatwork together to produce the highest-quality product. We did at Digiscope,and it was the right decision for our clients.
Tom Thill is co-president of Digiscope, a division of American ColorGraphics. Digiscope concentrates on feature films (projects includeIndependence Day, Godzilla, Blade, Small Soldiers, and Armageddon) andcommercials. The company’s tools include four Discreet Logic Infernos, twoQuantel Dominos, an Oxberry scanner, a Domino scanner, and two Solitairefilm recorders. For more information, contact Santa Monica-based Digiscopeat (310) 315-6060, or visit www.digiscope.com.