Then in the mid-1980s the offline editing process was made mote efficient by using compressed digital video from the hard disks of workstations. Now computer graphics specialists such as Doug Walters, head creative director of Super Real Graphics, had a choice: They could squeeze their fries into low-resolution versions that were almost unrecognizable in order to fit them onto hard drives for offline editing, or they could wait for the online session in order to make their images and effects available. Under this scenario, the original file formats would be inserted into the final recorded master tape, at which point their creators would have no choice over where the effects went or how they were integrated with the other shots. Still cut out of the creative part of the editing loop, the artists had to rely on the talents of others to bring their computer-generated contributions to the screen. Creative decisions were often made by editors and producers who may or may not have seen the aesthetic impact of the original graphics files. It was a little like judging the Mona Lisa from a Xerox copy.
Now we are entering the era of digital broadcasting, which has brought with it new standards for the quality of the video coming out of post production. Our current analog style of broadcast video, called NTSC (for National Television Standards Committee), is commonly referred to by video engineers as “Never Twice the Same Color” because of its lack of color consistency. This has made NTSC relatively tolerant of mixing computer-generated images with pictures shot on tape because any colorization inconsistencies were usually masked by NTSC’s loose method of color playback.
Digital television, however, whether SDTV, with pictures in a 4 by 3 aspect ratio, or HDTV, with 16 by 9 images, will reveal any qualitative deviance between images coming from different domains. Now video producers have started to see the need to incorporate high-quality computer graphics directly into the online editing process when finishing a digital video production.
That’s why in just the last few years, as computers boast ever greater throughput and hard disks come at ever lower costs, we have seen the advent of disk-based, non-compressed online finishing systems with advanced digital effects and graphics capabilities. The four companies whose systems we highlight here–Avid Technologies, Discreet Logic, Jaleo North America, and Quantel–offer high-end online systems equipped with sophisticated computerized imaging capabilities. Today, these are the only companies making these kinds of systems. But others will certainly follow as the demand for this technology increases. All systems are shipping and in use now.
Now that non-compressed digital online finishing from disk has finally become practical for today’s post production, computer graphics specialists in the film and broadcast industries can enjoy better control over their work than ever before. Only a couple of decades ago we were impressed by primitive edit systems that could move a simple 2D wipe across the screen. If we considered that an example of cutting-edge effects technology, we can only imagine what the future of digital post production will bring.
Avid Technologies Tewksbury, MA 978-640-1366 www.avid.com INFONOW 63 Symphony Platform: Windows NT Cost: $150,000 without storage Softimage/DS Platform: Windows NT Cost: $150,000 with one hour of storage
In the wake of acquiring Softimage Inc. from Microsoft last summer, Avid Technologies is presenting two non-compressed finishing systems to broadcasters: its own native-born Avid Symphony as well as the Microsoft-initiated Softimage/DS. Both work with totally non-compressed video, but the foundation of the Windows NT-based Avid Symphony system is its Total Conform capability, which lets it seamlessly re-create anything edited offline on Avid’s original digital edit system, the Avid Media Composer, including all graphics, effects, and titles. It also offers enhanced conforming from OMF compositions and support for Avid Log Exchange files.
Whereas Avid’s Symphony is intended to anchor the final link in an editing chain started offline by Media Composer, Softimage/DS is designed for more independently graphics and effects-centric duties, which works for Ted Ralph, principal at Martens AV.
An Interactive Preview function will allow users to see what an effect will look like without having to wait for a full render. As a user scrubs over a complex effect with a mouse, frames previously displayed are cached, so that performance improves even for very heavy effects.