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Mega Playground pioneers new digital dailies process

Terry Brown knows a thing or two about digital post production and its effect on color rendition across different monitors and display devices. Sometimes what you see on a monitor is not necessarily what the director of photography (DP) envisioned on the set (or what’s on the film negative, raw data recorded on a hard drive or videotape).

Brown has worked in post facilities most of his career, including a long stint at Laser Pacific in Hollywood, where he was part of a team that received several Emmy awards for technology development including pioneering the 24p post-production process.

So, when Mega Playground, the post facility in New York City where Brown is chief technology officer, announced it would begin offering the local production community a new digital dailies workflow that allows DPs to see true color rendition on the set and throughout post production and saves on time and cost, many have taken notice. It works for feature films as well as television productions, where TV producers can now get a more accurate film look in viewers’ living rooms.

In fact, the concept of DP Dailies has been in development by Brown for a number of years, although he only joined Mega Playground in 2007. It leverages the Spirit 2K telecine, Bones Dailies software, Digital Video Systems storage area network, Nucoda HD Grading System, and color management tools by Film Light.

One of the challenges in developing DP Dailies was the absence of an off-the-shelf system that could accomplish the task with consistency and efficiency. While at Technicolor in a senior technology position, Brown was the chief architect and project manager of a project called Bones Dailies. The development of Bones Dailies was a joint effort between Technicolor, Grass Valley (Weiterstadt Film group, now Digital Film Technology, Weiterstadt) and Thomson Corporate Research. That Bones Dailies system is now the primary enabler of Mega Playground’s new DP Dailies process.

As Brown explains it, DP Dailies enables directors and cinematographers to screen their images with digital emulation of a photochemical print and rely upon scanned, not “telecined,” dailies. Whatever look a DP wants can now be seen accurately in the dailies stage, which DPs have complained about since the dawn of digital post production.

“What we’re doing is allowing DPs to see into the future of their projects, and get the best rendition they’ve ever had of what the final print will look like during the dailies process,” Brown said. “We’re satisfying the creative and financial people and allowing everyone to make money.”

Using the DP Dailies process, the DP can now call in printer light offsets to the dailies colorist that are representative of the photochemical process. The colorist can also feed back relative exposure information to the DP, giving the cinematographer confidence in the negative without requiring a photochemical test print.

In addition, color decisions used for dailies can be carried through to the DI stage utilizing the American Society of Cinematographers’ Color Decision List (ASC CDL).

“With the majority of projects finishing as a DI today, DP Dailies allows the utilization of the final DI color ‘look’ and photochemical printing emulations throughout the post process,” Brown said. “This means there is no longer a disconnect between the DP’s original vision (dailies) and the end product (DI).”

That’s because, unlike traditional “electronic dailies,” DP Dailies are scanned as 10-bit Kodak Cineon DPX files using the exact same process as a DI.

Sound is synchronized with one-quarter frame accuracy just like the traditional print and magazine process. With the Bones Dailies System, it is even possible to quickly sort and locate scenes for processing. The ALE files associated with the DP Dailies process are accurate and complete with all necessary metadata, including the ASC CDL color list.

Another benefit of DP Dailies is the ability of archiving the raw scans to be used as the source not only for Digital Previews, but also for the final DI as well, resulting in further economic savings. This “scan once” process reduces time spent in the post facility as well. The archived scans can be conformed and color corrected for digital previews, providing a finished look.

This means the actual DI starts during the preview stage, and by the time the preview rounds are complete, the DI is also ready for delivery.

“With the Mega Playground process, even if a full 2K rescan is required (as for projects shot in ‘scope’), it can be done with no additional color correction, since we can use the same exposure settings as the original dailies scan,” Brown said.

As for cost savings, Mega Playground owner/co-founder Eitan Hakami said the process is substantially more efficient, gives the DP and director more creative control on-set, and prevents redundant scanning. All of this translates into less time and lower rates. For starters, productions don’t have to rescan negative for finishing, it’s done in the dailies stage. DPs need not produce as many reference prints, if they can see the negative as it should be and rebuild trust in their video dailies. He explained that a typical feature film shooting over 250,000ft of film could save a minimum of $100,000 of the cost it would normally incur in a traditional telecine/DI process.. Reality TV and episodic shows, which tend to shoot lots of footage, would also see a significant savings.

“From a facility standpoint, using this new process, we’ve figured out how to utilize our Spirit telecine across multiple rooms, so I am maximizing my investment in hardware and software and getting clients through the facility faster, which translates into savings for clients,” Hakami said. “DP Dailies is both a technical and economical breakthrough. In this day and age there’s no reason for anyone to do HD dailies anymore. This process levels the field for those that could not afford high facility process. It’s a win-win scenario for creative and producers alike.”