Producer's Blog #5: Capturing Waco Mammoths in HD

KWBU-TV in Waco, Texas, is co-producing a special HD video about the Waco Mammoth Site for the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University. Located at the confluence of the Brazos and Bosque rivers, the Waco Mammoth site has unearthed the remains of 23 Columbian mammoths. The HD production, being co-produced by 16X9 Productions in Los Angeles, will serve as an introduction to museum visitors and to help raise funds to preserve the site. Our blogger is executive producer Joani Livingston of KWBU-TV:

"PREP FOR POST: In today already walks tomorrow.

"It's now a week after the HD Mammoth shoot. Producer Kristen Cox built a delivery schedule, which I feel is fat enough to not have to work at a breakneck speed. We do have some constraints, however. We've secured DP Allan Westbrook between two feature films for our two pick-up days in early May. Also, we've scored a couple days in June with award-winning composer Mark Vogel (also between features) to compose original music for our project. In order not to lose either of these serendipitous moments, picture lock HAS to be before June 12.

"For the sake of haste (and pragmatism) I decide we'll downconvert the 1080/60i footage to DV (time code lock) for the initial creative decision-making offline. Unfortunately, our Sony HDW F500 deck resides in master control in a completely separate building, so we'll downconvert now and do the HD conform later.

"All four of our edit systems are equipped with Final Cut Studio HD. We'll cut the offline on one of the machines using DV, and then import the whole FCP project on our latest and greatest -- a Power Mac G5 Dual 2.5GHz (with Quad Core) and Blackmagic Decklink HD Pro (dual link) card. This allows us to finish at 4:4:4 10 bit with a pristine-looking master. By only digitizing the HD shots we need for the final product, we won't have to worry too much about storage.

"Why bother with the downconvert and not just capture in proxy mode at half rez? I've got two chilling words for you -- "rough cut." Comments spring to mind like, "Are you going to have music here?" or "I think we need to put people's names on the screen when they are talking." Using beautiful looking, downconverted footage makes our lives just a little bit easier during client reviews by eliminating the need for still one more explanation.

"In addition, we can burn DVDs on a separate Mac once the audio conform has been done on the SD version, while the robust Big Mac Voodoo Daddy works its Blackmagic to conform to HD.

"For now, the SD version is what will be showing in the Mayborn Museum's theatre and in hundreds of homes on DVD for fundraising purposes. We are helping the museum representatives understand their HD playback options: an HD tape deck playing back a looped tape, or various HD hard drives like Sencore, Pluto and Doremi. Hmmm ... We can add HD DVD to that list now too, can't we?!

"With each scientific advance in technology, the solution of the Mammoth mystery looms large. Dr. Ellie Caston and her museum colleagues are well prepared. With the foresight to capture everything in HD now, they are set to chronicle the ever-changing story for all ages to come."

[To be continued.]