Tech Note: Film Completion Using “Digital Intermediate”

by Michael D. SellersIn many discussions about Eye of the Dolphin, the term “Digital Intermediate” comes up, and needs to be explained. So here’s an explanation:Goodbye America, Legacy, Vlad, and Karla were all shot on 35MM film and completed during post production using traditional techniques that include physically cutting the negative, creating dissolves and titles using an “optical printer”, and creating the film elements used to create release prints — all using traditional means that involve physical handling of the negative and creation of elements using traditional, chemical based laboratory methods. This “tried and true” method is essentially the same series of steps and techniques that have been in use for over half a century.In the case of Eye of the Dolphin, we went a different route and made a digital intermediate. This is the way that virtually all major studio films are being completed, and for the film-maker it is a very welcome change because it eliminates many cumbersome steps and maximizes the film-maker’s creative control. When makng a film using digital intermediate techniques, the film megative is scanned frame by frame at very high resolution to create a digital version of the film. This allows the film-maker to then make all of his color grading choices in a digital environment, which provides much greater color control than in the traditional system. In the case of Eye of the Dolphin, we were particularly interested in maximizing the beauty and color values of the shots involving water — both above and below the surface–as well as all the other aspects of the film. Working in the digital environment also makes it much easier to do special effecs shots. For example, there is a critical shot at the end of Eye of the Dolphin where three dolphins are jumping (it’s in the trailer, actually, so many of you have seen it). We actually only had two dolphins in the shot, so we had to add the third dolphin digitally. Working in a digital environment this was very simple and inexpensive.A digital intermediate results in an end product that is digital, which is fine for DVD and video masters — but does not solve he problem of how to create film elements for theatrical exhibition. This is accomplished by creating a “film out” of the digital intermediate at a cost of about $30,000. This film-out results in the creation of a new negative from the digital intermediate “master” — and then from this negative prints can be struck and traditional theatrical exhibition accomplished.Having done a digital intermediate — I can say that it would be very difficult and frustrating to go back to traditional post production. This is the way of the future for all movies that are acquired on traditional film.

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~ by Michael Sellers on June 13, 2007.

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