Broadway Video is a New York-based independent entertainment company. It encompasses all aspects of development, production and distribution. At the heart of its post-production services is the Discreet smoke 6.0 editing and effects creation system for completing both episodic TV shows, high-end commercials and trailers for theatrical release. The software, publicly released in January, has been in beta testing and running on an SGI Octane2 platform ever since its debut at IBC in September 2003.
Recently, Broadway Video completed several commercials for Nickelodeon's series “Fairly Odd Parents.” This involved combining SD and HD video with computer-generated graphic files up to 5K in size. The new multi-resolution capability of the software allows mixing source material of any format on the same timeline, regardless of frame rate, resolution or aspect ratio. That enabled the company to combine 4×3 material at 30fps from archived episodes of “Fairly Odd Parents” with new footage shot for the promotions in 24p HD at 16×9. Even the computer-generated graphics from other workstations now can be imported directly into the software as QuickTime movies, a feature lacking in previous software releases. Because smoke 6.0 offers the option of working with either 10-bit component 4:4:4 RGB video or Discreet's own proprietary 12-bit media format, the system promises consistent high-quality images.
The software comes with an advanced color corrector called color warper, which uses the familiar 3-ball on-screen interface with a fourth warp ball for separate secondary color correction without the need for manually created vector shapes. It was sophisticated enough to distinguish between the green of the backscreen from green elements in one of the character's clothing.
For overall color timing, a new timesmear feature shows a sample from every frame in a visual display that can be stretched to any duration. Throughout the “Fairly Odd Parents” promotions, this feature provides a visual cue for checking color continuity and identifying specific problem regions on the program's timeline.
The new unlink/relink tool in the software is invaluable for recapturing media at different resolutions. This tool allows the user to disconnect metadata from an original clip and re-attach it to the new material intended to replace a given shot. Each time graphics and animation from other workstations are revised, the new media can be relinked, and all the original edits and effects setups are automatically retained.
During editing, smoke 6.0's more intelligent master keyer has a 3D color-isolation technology, which permits the blending of edges in composites even if the green screens were occasionally unevenly lit. The master keyer interactively determines the optimal parameters for the key based on a selected region. It also brings up context-sensitive controls directly under the operator's pen cursor for manual fine-tuning. This was called upon extensively during the elaborate compositing in the “Fairly Odd Parents” spots.
Another workflow improvement in the software is the new intelligent proxy feature that was previously available only on the Discreet inferno 5, flame 8 and flint 8 effects systems. At any point during the post-production process on the software, low-resolution proxies of each clip can be generated to allow the artist to work in HD with all of the performance and interactivity of SD. With one click, the proxies are replaced with the full-resolution material for final tweaks and rendering.
The new software offers a multi-mastering feature that can output projects in any format, including PAL, NTSC, HD and 2K. One component of this, the EDL module, now can keep track of EDLs at different frame rates. For “Fairly Odd Parents,” Broadway Video shot at 24fps HD and performed its offline edits at 30fps SD. The 30fps EDLs were converted in the software to 24fps, providing a seamless match with their 24fps HD masters. Conforming the shots and performing final composites at 24fps saved 20 percent of the rendering time. They then output the release version in 30fps SD for DigiBeta delivery.
Broadway Video is looking forward to moving its smoke systems onto the new Tezro platform from SGI. It is powered by up to four MIPS processors in a high-bandwidth architecture leveraged from the SGI 3000 family of supercomputers. Smoke 6.0 on the Tezro visual workstation will enable real-time output of 2K projects as well as a significant acceleration of all I/O and internal digital media processes.
New possibilities always lead to new challenges. Archiving a project when it is finished has become more cumbersome when different formats are involved in the same production. For example, the software can currently archive standard-definition projects to SD media, and high-definition projects to HD media. But if resolutions are mixed on the same timeline, the project can only be archived as data. This can be time-consuming and expensive compared to traditional methods.
In the future, the software should be able to recognize the properties of all of its stored material as a whole project and archive it in a single format. Perhaps it could all be recorded to HD, with material smaller than HD placed in an HD frame and elements larger than HD broken up into HD-size tiles. That way the project could be reloaded from one source and re-assembled on a single timeline.
Andy Milkis is the visual effects supervisor and senior effects artist at Broadway Video.