Left: Peter Swinson in 2007 and right in Chicago when working for Bell & Howell, holding their Technical Oscar.
Early one afternoon some 30 years ago a young Peter Swinson, at the time part of the research department of telecine and scanner manufacturer Rank Cintel, explained to us the results of tests he had run with differing resolutions of the same image, so as to evaluate the amount of data each image contained. It took a little to understand but Peter had shown us that by scanning in ever higher resolutions, ever smaller file sizes resulted for equivalent picture quaity. In other words, using Peter's techniques we got smaller files with less data, and yet higher quality pictures. More bang for the buck, so to speak.
To give a pertinent example, compressing a 12k image by 5:1 gives excellent imagery with no visible difference to the compressed original. This is called lossless compression. To be honest there are some occasions where we will prefer the uncompressed image, for example, where there are many different and numerous objects changing positions or lighting, but these are fairly rare.
Over the years we have done numerous comparitive tests on the big screen of different resolutions and compression ratios. Making use of ever improved codecs (such as the new Blackmagic Raw), we've also come to the practical conclusion that small amounts of compression can be used for mastering, editing, grading etc. in a pro-active way to reduce costs, while also reducing storage requirements and processing power of equipment. This can be done with no degradation at all in the quality of the images, as long as lossless compression is used, because this is mathematically guaranteed to have exactly the same pixel values as the original.
12k Compression with high resolution images.
With the Mobile Digital Lab we can shorten the time normally required for delivery of finished product when using today’s off line / on line and multi format editing workflows, while also offering a high degree of quality control and peace of mind over and during the production's progress.
Using the lab, graded dailies with synched audio are produced and shown to the director and production as they are shot and processed, complete with visual effects. Being able to view HDR reference images within a calibrated environment helps decision making for the entire crew, from director and producer, heads of departments, production design, make up, hair, costumes; all have much to gain viewing and checking their work on the ultra high resolution calibrated display of the lab, and which gives a precise rendition of what we are going to get in the final master.
As an experienced visual effects supervisor I can say that I often felt that I had my eyes blindfolded in the past as I could usually only see months later elements shot for visual effects composited together. With the mobile lab, I can now see the composites of these elements almost immediately, at least for circled takes, and, in general, the capability of the lab to work on visual effects as they are shot helps to improve the quality of the results, with the added advantage that if all is not working, then elements can be re-shot there and then. From green and blue screens, tracking, stabilisation, re-framing and more, the use of 8k and 12k imagery for these adds image quality to the composites. Indeed, grading in these resolutions offers an incredible and absolutely unique selectivity for colours and, at the same time, less image noise, especially in the lowlights.
Of course, productions are made of images and sound, so the mobile lab is designed to work for this too. Alberto Parodi, partner with his for sound, also works initially where the production is being shot, and with portable units cleans up the raw audio takes, making ADR if necessary too, while synching the edit as it is being done.
80% of the film or episodic television’s edit, colour grade, visual effects and sound are ideally finished by the end of shooting, and, at that point are moved physically to Alberto Parodi's sound studios in Genoa for final audio mixes, refinements in colour and editing, titles and deliverables.
Another technique for getting more bang for your buck in terms of image quality is the practise of oversampling - or shooting digitally or scanning film, by using higher resolutions than the final deliverable format will be. This offers better image quality for the finished product, once down-rezzed to the deliverable format. With today's deliverables now usually 4k, what this means is to shoot at 6k -12k, and then down rez to 4 on the final timeline for deliverables. It is also worth noting that using oversampling and compression render remote working eminently more efficient as the resulting reduced data rates mean faster transfer times over the internet.
Talking of this, it is often thought that remote work is only possible in large cities with fibre optic cables, but, as has already been experienced during the spring of 2020 in full lock down by partner Alessio Focardi of Florence based , for those with adequate software and hardware it is easily possible to receive directly from the set 8K Raw with a 4G + LTE connection, even when living in the countryside.
In 2020, together with Mike Connor we founded and designed the innovative Mobile Digital Lab which we offer operationally to large and small documentary, film, streaming and television productions around the World. It is based on our experience and desire to improve a process we have witnessed daily for decades in our work. It turns the post production process upside down, saving money and time, while offering new creative opportunities and a faster time to market for projects that use it.