4K on the Desktop?

Back in the early ’90s, when HD wasn’t even a glimmer in our eyes, I predicted that online and offline would merge. But that didn’t really happen. What changed instead was that the bar was raised. Just as it became possible to work with uncompressed standard def on the desktop, HD came along and made the SD issues irrelevant.

Today, we’re seeing compressed HD as the new offline format of choice for television and feature work. But we haven’t lost the old offline/online paradigm. Uncompressed HD is still a bridge too far for a lot of people. But someday that won’t be true. For that matter, rumor had it that Apple was going to offer a 4K desktop solution at last year’s NAB. It didn’t materialize, but can it really be that far off?

Which leads to a question: what are we going to do with all that power? Do we want to do full-bore finishing in the formerly offline editing room? Or is there an intrinsic difference between editing-from-dailies and finishing, a difference that no amount of equipment will change?

Yesterday I visited a friend who was doing a complete sound job on an industrial. He was cutting dialog, sound effects, creating a score and mixing the whole thing, straight through to delivery, in his extra bedroom. Sound always seems to get to these things first, partly because the bandwidth issues are easier. Will we picture editors soon be doing the same kind of thing, even as resolutions increase?

This is a key question for editors, equipment manufacturers, and facilities alike. What does the shape of the post production landscape look like when we can do final, finish-quality work, at any resolution, on the desktop? How do we prepare for that time?

Then again, maybe the issue is overblown. We tend to get sucked in by the allure of all the glitzy new gear and too often ignore the human dimension. Does anybody really envision a time when we’ll be mastering “The Dark Knight” in the same room where it got edited? I doubt it. Way too much risk for a limited economic benefit. But the trailer? The featurette? The DVD. Probably. And lower budget features. Sure. Anywhere that the risk/benefit equation skews toward cheap.

Even at the top of the pyramid, if we don’t have responsibility for mastering, we’ll be doing more titles, more visual effects, more sound work — and more of that is going to make it onto the screen unchanged.

Which means more responsibility for editors and assistants. And the inevitable need to keep improving our skills.

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4 Comments on “4K on the Desktop?”

  1. Hi Steve,

    Great post, except I think a lot of what you’re talking about is already happening in most places other than LA. Being editors here, I think we’re quite insulated to the way things work in the rest of the country and around the world. In the last year or so I’ve discovered a plethora of forward thinking companies who are doing all their own finishing just as you mentioned, and why not? For all but the most specific types of productions, (motion pictures and television) the power and flexibility of the tools now available make it an economic necessity.

    We work in a very small, (and becoming smaller every day) specific niche in the greater worldwide media production industry. Our corner of the business has been governed by production schedules and guilds that required the segmentation our industry’s labor tasks. This was probably a good idea at one time but personally, I think it now works against us in a digital environment. I remember a time when it was the editor who was the “title designer”, they who did everything except the analog comps and the processing. And what about back east? I remember most editors would cut ANYTHING they could get their hands on; picture, sound, television, industrials, commercials, and that was in New York.

    I think we will continue to see more crossover as craftspeople gradually become more adept at doing things such as titles, temp mixes, etc. digitally. Of course our employers will encourage this and I do think it’s important to clearly define what will be required before you sign on for the job. For everyone else, wearing many hats will continue and increasingly become SOP.

    Larry J.

  2. Frank Reynolds Says:

    What concerns me about being able to finish a movie on the editing system is the aesthetic quality of the color correction, which, at least in low-budget movies, will probably be done by the editor. I consider myself a pretty good editor, but a fair color-corrector at best. I mean, I can make all the shots in the scene match and make sure the flesh tones are alright. But as far as “color-designing” a movie, conceiving the movie from a color standpoint (the way a sound designer designs with sound), I don’t consider myself that good at all. I haven’t been asked to color-correct the final version of anything I’ve edited, but I dread the day….

    What I’m using as a basis of my concern is a time several years ago, where there was a window of a couple years where low-budget movies were being shot in standard-def DV, and desktop editing systems could handle the full-res standard-def DV. (This is before HD cameras got cheaper, and DIs became both somewhat affordable and a cool thing to do.) The color-correction on a lot of these low-budget movies was mediocre at best and at worst downright awful. I believe the reason for this was that, since you could now edit and output at full-res, these novice filmmakers didn’t even bother with (or even think about) any time of color-correction, unless something was horribly wrong with the footage. “Oh, my movie is edited now, I’ll just output to tape and I’m done.” Now I believe that an earlier generation of filmmakers that shot on film could be equally clueless about color-correction, but the difference was that since an answer-print had to be made at the lab, a professional color timer at least made a pass on the movie, giving it at least a sense of a professional look. But then on DV, that professional was taken out of the workflow. But with HD, and the need of an online or DI, that professional is now being put back into the workflow, at least temporarily. But when desktop uncompressed HD (or 2K/4K) becomes a reality, will low-budget movies look as awful as those DV movies of a few years ago?

  3. Norman Says:

    Larry is correct, but I’d put a different spin on it. This is already happening but it’s not an LA vs. the rest of the world thing. It’s a budget/indie/DIY thing. Many of the students I work with want to do their own color work, they want to work on the effects, and a few of them want to design the sound.

    Of course, one of the things that separate high budget films from the rest of them is the intense time pressure. There’s no way that we could convince our producers and directors to give up three days to color correct before a preview, which is a good thing because my wife is convinced that I’m color blind.

    When you think of all of the things that you do now that we never did when we were on film, it’s overwhelming. We occasionally did temp opticals, temp mixes and such. Now, it’s a given that we’ll be doing the temp music and sound, as well as have many of the visual effects done in our NLEs.

    So, there’s no reason to assume that it’s going to stop growing.

  4. Loren Says:

    OffHollywood in NY demo’d film out to 35mm from RED 2K last fall in New York– Final Cut Pro user group event– the first public east coast demo of RED footage scanned to film. Held at the AMC Theatre complex near B&H– what’s that, 34th? This shouldn’t be big news– there have been west coast demos as well.

    No CC whatsoever, only a basic CLUT applied, right out of the box. Pretty damn good looking! Incredible latitude. Each frame: 6 seconds to scan.

    Think that’s slow? Five years ago I watched a film out from HDCAM SR to 35mm, done by Tape House, NY– THIRTY seconds a frame! Impending online capability is a given– I see a time when even the frigging film scanner will show up in my spare bedroom! Remind me to preorder the newest DI-friendly Kodak stock.

    I produced a home movie of the RED event which will be on web soon.

    Believe it or not, you can sense how nice the HD is– even in DV shot obliquely in the dark! We won’t talk about the Sony A1U’s lovely CMOS grain… an imager about a tenth the size of RED’s.

    The other part of the workflow OH’s Mark Pederson outlined involved cutting 1K proxies of 2 or 4K Redcode footage– live! What you cut on the proxy translates to the full rez media– not certain how fast that conform will be, but Mark commented we’ll see this in a near-future version of FCP.

    I believe him. He was playing a 1K proxy from an actual 2K Quicktime-wrapped Redcode clip on his MacBook Pro– embedded in Keynote, Apple’s Powerpoint.

    Jaws were dropping. I could feel it in the dark. It’s coming. We’re being led right into becoming our own vision engineers.

    I do think there will be a new layer (and union category where that’s important) facilitating finish of a finish. Paladin CC babes and hunks will respond to our Craigslist appeals. They’ll march in and park at our seats and unfold these nanotech scopes– built into their eyeglasses! They’ll polish our work on our desktop systems, tweaking our title design, our color settings, our terrible key mattes, etc. Oh, it’s going to be great. We’ll tend to marry these folks and become unbeatable post teams.

    And then we can once again get on with story editing.

    – Loren

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