Commentary: 3-D push adds dimension to DI


It looks like DI is about to heat up -- again.

Since digital intermediate -- the method of handling color grading and other postproduction finishing processes in the digital realm -- went from mostly experimental to industry mainstream around 2004, a Hollywood production using a DI process has gone from the exception to the norm. Today, the rooms for this sort of work are mainstays in post houses; at the high end they can be multimillion-dollar theaters with film and digital projection. The color grading/finishing system is the heart of these work environments.

Now 3-D has entered the market.

A few DI systems, including Quantel's Pablo and Assimilate's Scratch, already offer 3-D features. On Friday, when the International Broadcasting Convention's exhibition opens in Amsterdam, the industry will be introduced to a few more. Da Vinci will preview a version of its Resolve with 3-D tools, and Autodesk will similarly show a new version of its Lustre. Avid's Nitris DS finishing system will have 3-D capabilities, as will Digital Vision's Film Master.

Meanwhile, the post business isn't having a banner year. Hollywood facilities had not yet recovered from the WGA strike when the stalled SAG negotiations further slowed business. And DI margins already are thin.

Still, an informal poll of a few Hollywood-area postproduction businesses -- Efilm, Laser Pacific, Technicolor Digital Intermediates and Ascent Media Group's creative service unit, which encompasses Company 3, Riot and Encore Hollywood -- revealed that each is upgrading one of its DI suites to offer 3-D, with some of the new technologies slated to be introduced at IBC.

To be specific:

> Efilm has set up a suite with a beta version of Autodesk's 3-D-capable Lustre coupled with the post house's proprietary software.

> TDI has a suite offering 3-D DI and is beta testing da Vinci's Resolve technology with 3-D tools.

> Laser Pacific has a 3-D-capable room where it is beta testing the newest version of Lustre. It also is looking into upgrading its DI theater to include 3-D grading and conforming.

> Ascent is upgrading its Riot facility with a 3-D-ready suite as the business extends efforts for cooperation among its bases.

"I think 3-D is real," says Glenn Kennel, vp and GM of Laser Pacific's feature film group. "There is strong interest from the creative community and pull from exhibition. We do believe that 3-D is here to stay and there will be increasing production, and we want to be prepared to support it."

The post initiatives demonstrate demand, but facility execs are proceeding with caution.

"I'm not seeing a huge push for it, but we do have a few in the pipe," says Stefan Sonnenfeld, a leading colorist and president of Company 3 who also heads features and commercials at Ascent's creative services unit.

Says Efilm president Joe Matza, "I would expect to do somewhere between two and five 3-D films next year, a mix of live action, animation and a combination of both."

In addition to the upgraded DI/color grading system, a facility also would require the installation of a 3-D projection system or systems from a company such as Real D or Dolby Digital Cinema. If using Real D, it would need a silver screen for viewing.

Storage and infrastructure is another element. "You need network infrastructure; you probably need triple the amount of storage for a given project," Ascent vp DI services Rainer Knebel says.

TDI vp theatrical production Steve Rundell estimates, "Assuming that you already spent multimillions of dollars on the room, if you do the 3-D installation right, it's about a $1 million upgrade."

Executives point to other aspects of entering the 3-D business. Says Kennel, "It also means training people to understand and work with new issues that 3-D brings to the table."

Pricing and scheduling are not insignificant concerns. "It is much more time consuming," Sonnenfeld says.

Although 3-D will be offered in select DI suites, "I think clients will be able go to their facility of choice," Matza says.

With about a dozen 3-D titles slated for a 2009 release, a market driver will be just how much postproduction work will emerge in additional areas, including 3-D trailers, advertising and home entertainment remastering.

Carolyn Giardina can be reached at