The Mystery of Mastering

With high-definition screens becoming commonplace in home theaters, and everyone migrating to digital reception whether they want to or not, the signature “look” of TV shows is becoming as important as the auteur visual concepts traditionally heralded by feature film makers.

With high-definition screens becoming commonplace in home theaters, and everyone migrating to digital reception whether they want to or not, the signature “look” of TV shows is becoming as important as the auteur visual concepts traditionally heralded by feature film makers. With greater capabilities comes greater demands, and post-production facilities are competing to employ the latest digital wizardry to fulfill those expectations.

There is no more boisterous advocate of the importance of post than Leon Silverman, president of Hollywood’s LaserPacific Media, a facility whose six Emmy awards for Engineering Excellence substantiate its claim of defining the cutting edge of digital innovation.

LaserPacific’s business is divided pretty evenly between servicing the needs of television shows and post production for theatrical film releases. Among this season’s episodic primetime fare posted by LaserPacific will be shows like “Medium,” The Shield,” “Dead Zone” and “The Riches.” But Silverman tells us that the one show in particular will exemplify the importance of creating a unique visual impression is the highly anticipated new series for ABC called “Pushing Daisies.” The show, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, is an offbeat comedy/drama about a man who has the power to bring dead people back to life.


“This will be the most talked about show in the fall season, and that’s partially due to its ‘look,’” Silverman said. “We’ve brought online a series of new technologies for DI timing tools for television.”

(click thumbnail)LaserPacific Digital Theater with Autodesk Lustre software-based consoleHe said one of the first examples of its impact is “Pushing Daisies,” which is based around the Lustre color timing system from Autodesk. Silverman said the stylized way the show was visualized with a saturated color palette to emphasize its hyper sense of reality is unlike anything that has been seen on television.

“Producers know it has become important to visually distinguish one show from the others to grab the audience as it switches through the channels, and that is what our new DI timing tools let us achieve,” Silverman said.

A key component of this is LaserPacific’s Full Range Dailies service through which their Thomson’s Spirit Telecine is calibrated to have the same characteristics as a film scanner. When dailies are transferred, there are actually two copies made: one is color corrected in a compressed format for screening purposes during the production, and the other is a full range scan that will be used for the final color correction process in the Lustre. This allows Silverman’s team to carry color variables across the entire project, or as Silverman puts it, “It’s like Photoshop on steroids, but for episodic TV.”


LaserPacific won an Engineering Development Emmy in 1996 for its SuperComputer Assembly System that streamlines the nonlinear online assembly process by accessing multiple ingest sources simultaneously. Now they have developed the next generation SuperComputer 2.0 that adds the ability to faithfully recreate optical effects created in an Avid NLE.

“One of the most difficult parts of the post schedule is getting a show locked and out of the cutting room to get ready for final conform,” Silverman said. “SuperComputer 2.0 is like a Time Machine, allowing producers to drop off their EDL in the wee hours of the night and pick up the finished version next morning at 7 a.m. It simply buys them more time during those critical final hours.”

To service its clients, whose feature films, have recently included “Kite Runner,” “Bolden,” “For Your Consideration” and “Balls of Fury,” LaserPacific has instituted its accurateIMAGE system incorporating proprietary Kodak color science coupled with innovative LaserPacific technology. The aIM approach provides an end-to-end color calibrated workflow to preserve the cinematographer’s visual intentions from the set to dailies and through previews to DI creation. By supporting the Color Decision List developed by the American Society of Cinematographer’s Technology Committee, the images are encrypted for security and a proprietary Look Up Table automatically adjusts the projected images to mimic film projection.

(click thumbnail)LaserPacific Digital Theater with colorist’s console in forefront“Some filmmakers have been reluctant to adopt digital post-production processes because they could not be sure that the final product would have the same picture quality and image characteristics they saw in their digital dailies,” Silverman said. “With aIM, every time an image is viewed during each stage of post production it looks like a piece of film.”

Silverman said the aIM Dailies Player, founded on a Kodak digital cinema server, is calibrated to the same imaging characteristics so the footage can be accurately played back whether on a remote location set or in a studio screening room. Once a DP has made adjustments to the CDL, he or she can rely on those calibrations being consistently maintained throughout the process.

“We think of aIM as a means to tie together the entire workflow of motion picture post production in a way that will satisfy even those veteran cinematographers who had been skeptical about film-to-digital processes preserving their original intentions,” Silverman said.


But it is during the creation of promotional trailers for feature film releases that the dedicated sophistication of the LaserPacific team proves its ability to come through in the clutch. All too often these days, instead of being strategically crafted, market-tested reflections of a filmmaker’s original vision, the creation of movie trailers requires a mad-dash last-minute scramble against unforgiving release dates, involving all out ‘round the clock efforts by many levels of specialists.

“For the most part, trailers are edited using constantly changing versions,” Silverman said. “It is more intense than hitting an air date in TV because of all the prints that need to be delivered with finished trailers attached. It’s high pressure, high creativity, and a total adrenaline rush requiring the ability to look studio representatives in the eye and assure them you can pull it off. We have a staff of people that eat, breathe and think trailers. They know the lingo, and can walk the talk in an almost combat-ready mode.”

Silverman said the digital post-production industry is at a crossroads.

“There are huge challenges facing everybody in television. On the one hand we have a proliferation of reality TV while also seeing increased interest in stylized, high concept narrative programming,” he said. “Increasingly, the ‘look’ of a presentation has become a character of the show affecting its popularity, and the kind of increasingly powerful tools we are developing at LaserPacific are going to be factors influencing a production’s success. People can see things better on their home theater screens, and they will be expecting to have better things to see.”