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BBC delivers film used in Planet Earth production to HD

BBC Bristol BBC Resources started investigating HD in 1998 to understand the technology and determine its commercial viability. Blue Planet, an eight part series exploring the planet's oceans and released in 2001 to much acclaim, was one of the first projects to be made available in HD, but was the result of an up-conversion as the series had been posted in SD.

Four years later, the BBC was approached with a new and even more ambitious project called Planet Earth. This time the series would still be partially shot on film for its special look, but would be transferred and posted in HD from the outset; and, decisions had to be made about the gear that would be acquired. The project was awarded to BBC Bristol, and on-site they already had an HD-capable Shadow Telecine and Pandora color corrector, so the decisions were focused on the output medium and editing system. The traditional method would have been to acquire an HD resolution VTR and grade the material straight to tape. Tapes would then be digitized within the editing system and the creative aspect of the job could begin.

However, there were several problems with such an approach. First, all major tape formats for HD are compressed. Second, the BBC desired to work with 4:4:4 based material in order to have the maximum amount of color information available to its artists. Third, the project required an enormous amount of footage, so tape stock costs were bound to be very high. The focus thus shifted to tapeless, disk-based storage solutions for the telecine transfers.

Unfortunately, DDRs did not solve the issue of data transfer. The editing staff wanted the color-graded material to be available throughout the BBC facility so that anyone could digitize the required elements. Another solution had to also deliver its contents very quickly over a gigabit Ethernet network. BBC turned to Sledgehammer. The product is simultaneously a multi-resolution DDR and a high-speed NAS device.

The BBC ultimately purchased a 9TB Sledgehammer HD!O system to support the Planet Earth project, capable of holding in excess of 11 hours of material. The workflow has each film roll first loaded into the Shadow Telecine. Then, the Pandora color corrector performs a primary grade for the roll, and transfers the output in real-time at 10-bit precision to the Sledgehammer, uncompressed over dual link HD-SDI. The Sledgehammer stores the material according to a user selected naming scheme as a sequence of .dpx formatted files. Any system on the LAN can see and access these frames the moment that they are stored, even while the telecine transfer continues. The Sledgehammer guarantees that video I/O operations are real-time with remaining bandwidth available to network clients.

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