Digital Production, Part 1 – Concept

Introduction
For a long time now, I’ve been thinking about digital production, how it might relate to both small and big productions.
Digital production, to my mind, is an extension of the digital intermediate process. The difference being, where the digital intermediate process focusses on post-production application, such as digital colour grading and adding visual effects, the digital production process covers (or at least, should cover) all aspects of the production.
With this definition fixed firmly in mind, the next step is to work out a methodology of using a digital process that is both useful and efficient. The logical choice was to apply any ideas to a real-world scenario, so we opted to try out all our ideas on the Surreal Road production, The Toilet Guy (currently in pre-production, and seeking sponsorship at the time of writing).

Pre-visualisation
Digital technology offers the possibility for new methods of previsualisation. Drawn storyboards can be evolved into full 3D animatics done to scale, with interactive lighting. We’ll be looking into the feasibility of using systems for that effect.

Production Database
One of the things I’ve had problems with on sets in the past is remembering why I made a particular decision during pre-production. Was that particular line worded that way for a reason? And so on. This prompted us to try to find a system that can be used to catalog our thoughts about every element of the production, and so provide quick and easy access on-set. I wanted to be able to break down each scene into individual, annotated shots, and add production notes, storyboard images, even video clips to them. Every asset we create during pre-production would be included. Everything in one place. Because we have the luxury of working on a smaller production, security is not such an issue, so things like assigning permissions to users and preventing the data from being “stolen” didn’t worry me.

Shooting Format
Thinking further about this, I wanted to make the actual shooting process simpler too. I reasoned that the most efficient shooting method in this case would be to use HD, capturing material directly at full quality to a hard disk. So the plan is to connect an HD camera via a firewire link to a laptop, and connect a USB disk drive to that. The camera will still roll to tape, as a backup. Simple in theory. I forsee two possible issues. The first is that I’m definately going to want to do an offline edit in SD, so converting the HD data to SD data, while retaining the timecode and other metadata may be tricky. It may well be that the easiest solution will be to dub the tapes. A more attractive solution would be transcode the data to an offline format, e.g. to a quicktime file, but I suspect this will be wrought with problems. Nevertheless, it bears testing. I’m hoping that going directly to a digital format will allow other advantages, namely being able to generate reference stills fairly conveniently, and perhaps the possibility of dividing up each shot as a separate file (or effectively, an individual reel). Undoubtedly though, while the latter option will provide greater flexibility in terms of data management, it will also present problems when trying to relate material back to the recorded tapes.

Dailies
The most obvious advantage of this approach is the prospect of digital dailies. Using this method of recording to hard disk should allow easy conversion to a number of formats, meaning it should be possible to view dailies easily on (amongst other things) a relatively inexpensive (and highly mobile) PlayStation Portable, as well as through the web. The PSP in particular will allow us to watch dailies even when in transit, which will hopefully be very convenient.

Output format
By the same token, it should be possible to output the end result to a wide variety of formats. We’re deliberately avoiding the possibility of output to film for a number of reasons such as colour space considerations and resolution (but it all boils down to budgetary restrictions really). We will definately output to DVD, keep an HD master for posterity, and we’ll have the option of digital cinema out put. Our primary target will be the web though, and in this, our main concern will be which format to use. In this, we’ll definately take a close look at Windows Media HD, as this is obviously geared towards HD material. Distribution over the web will probably be accomplished through the bittorrent protocol (assuming there will be enough demand, of course). We’re banking on the fact that people will actively want to download and watch something which will be completely free (and legal). The bittorrent method of distribution has negligible associated costs, and the budget will be supported by “bookended” advertisement and sponsorship deals (forming part of the viewing), with the possibility of adverts on the production’s promotional website. We generally consider that we will not be taking the usual short film route, entering it into competitions or trying to get it broadcast on television, as these approaches are generally restrictive (i.e. they will prevent our ability to distribute the production freely on the internet) and time-consuming.

Production & Post
On-set production will probably be typical to every other moving picture production, and of course, we will be extending the idea of the annotated database throughout shooting and editing. Post-production gives us the multitude of digital intermediate options, from digital colour grading through to possibilities of using digital compositing and numerous effects. This is not exactly a visual effects-laden picture, so any effects we do use will probably be subtle. Because the production is short (approximately 8 minutes), we can use an off-the-shelf software system to do all the grading. Right now, I have my eye on Autodesk’s Combustion, which should have all the features we need to get this done.

Mastering
We have a great deal of flexibility for output, and it may be that we divide the production into 2 or 3 parts, doing a slightly staggered release, or we could just output the whole thing in one go. The nature of the story also means there will be plenty of room to film more adlibbed comic sequences, which could then be distributed as short extras.

read on for part 2…

Posted: August 4th, 2005
Categories: Articles
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Comment from Arjun - 1/29/2006 at 9:58 am

information provided here is good, but since still a student ( studying in film institute ) , i need information form the basic. Kindly explain what is digital intermediate & its stages of processing. I am expecting the reply at the earliest. kindly do the needful.

Comment from Jack - 1/29/2006 at 3:48 pm

Hi Arjun, I recommend you look at these two links for more information on the digital intermediate process:
http://www.surrealroad.com/digital/index.php/digital-intermediate-primer/
http://www.surrealroad.com/digital/index.php/digital-intermediate-book/

Comment from n.denish niranjan - 8/22/2007 at 9:40 am

thanks a lot, what r the other advanced technology they have used in matrix apart from mocap. plz help me out

[...] place in Soho, London last night. There was nothing to get that excited about, certainly not much on the nature of digital production… I haven’t covered [...]

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