Optimus turns to disk-based color correction

Many post-production houses, such as Chicago-based Optimus, use a telecine to first transfer original film footage onto some form of video tape (such as DVCAM, DigiBeta, D5, or D1). Optimus is a full-service post-production facility that helps produce TV commercials, such as many of the recent Dell and Army of One spots.

Early in the offline edit cycle, video tape is digitized and sent to some form of local or shared disk storage system so that editors and visual effects artists can add creative content to the original footage-a fairly standard practice in today’s digital post-production workflows.

The challenge occurs when you try to move to an all-digital workflow. According to Knox McCormac, director of operations at Optimus, this requires eliminating the need to transfer ongoing work back to tape format for key activities in the workflow, such as performing real-time, final color correction. McCormac estimates that an average commercial project requires Optimus to convert digital work back to tape an average of three times before the final cut is made. “When we do dailies, it gets transferred to a tape. An initial tape is also taken to editorial. Final color correction also gets transferred to another tape,” he explains.

At Optimus, color correction had to be performed via videotape, manipulated in real-time using a da Vinci 2K color-correction system and telecine machine. The color-corrected version was then fed back out to videotape again, requiring it to be redigitized if editors and artists needed to perform further work. This process required a lot of manual steps that often bogged down the workflow.

In an effort to eliminate this reliance on tape-to-tape transfers, McCormac and one of the Optimus colorists, Craig Leffel, began investigating some of the newer digital workflows in use to color-correct feature films. Many shops were using some type of color-correction software, such as Discreet’s lustre product.

Optimus was already using a variety of Discreet’s editing products-such as smoke, flame, and backdraft-on several SGI Tezro workstations. Optimus decided it was time to replace the old process with a more streamlined workflow. Using lustre’s software-based color-correction methods, colorist Leffel and his team can now show clients color-corrected changes to footage in near real-time, thanks to the use of lower-resolution images stored on lustre’s associated desktop computer-an IBM IntelliStation M Pro with about 4TB of storage capacity. The M Pro also uses a digital video card from DVS that allows Optimus to digitize footage from tape.

“With lustre in place, instead of taking the telecine to tape, we can now take the telecine directly to a hard disk over a data pipe,” McCormac explains. “Data can then be copied into lustre, where we perform color correction work on it. The data can then be saved out to local hard drives.”

According to McCormac, software-based color correction is just the start in Optimus’ quest for an all-digital workflow. McCormac is also installing a 20TB Discreet SAN, called stone shared, that combines 1.5GBps throughput speeds of DataDirect Networks’ storage controllers and disks with two SGI Origin 350 metadata servers and the CXFS shared file system. With all SAN components running 2Gbps Fibre Channel, McCormac anticipates the SAN will allow Optimus artists to push three streams of 2K data off the SAN in real-time. McCormac expects to have the full system up and running next month.

“Ten years ago it would have cost millions of dollars to be able to pass data around like this. Today, that cost has dropped to an affordable level,” says McCormac, referring to the ability to share data over a digital network.

Michele Hope is a freelance writer. She can be reached at mhope@thestoragewriter.com.

This article was originally published on March 01, 2005