June 2003|The "dailies" of yore were a necessary evil of tight shooting schedules—a time-consuming, expensive process that required miles of film to be printed and viewed exclusively in an on-site screening room. Videotape introduced convenience to the mix, but at a price, taking the pristine image quality of film and subjecting it to the aesthetic limitations of small-screen VHS.
Today, various technologies and strategies enable us to digitize our dailies, restoring quality and adding hitherto unimaginable features such as automated menu creation, director's notes, timecode, random access, and—best of all, particularly where remote location shoots are involved—electronic delivery. Going digital opens a whole new world of possibilities.
Because of the media-independent nature of digital files, the methods of transporting them are varied, including D-VHS, DVD, FireWire hard drive, and both streaming video and downloadable files over the Internet. The task of creating digital dailies also welcomes a number of suitors: online services, standalone encoder/DVD burners, turnkey all-in-one systems, and post-production facilities that receive the physical film and then are able to produce digital dailies in all their myriad forms.
The How: From Film to Digital
Let's say you've decided to go digital with your dailies, but you don't work for a major Hollywood film studio, and your budget bears less resemblance to the eight-figure sum Julia Roberts commands per movie than the change you might find in her couch. While the switch from analog to digital dailies has been primarily Hollywood-driven, some options actually might open up the possibility of dailies to studios that would otherwise have found them cost-prohibitive. So let's take a look at what's available, starting from the least expensive and requires the one that's least amount of technology, the online service.
We Do Windows: Sample Digital's Dailies
Founded three years ago, Sample Digital's main commodity has been their encoding services, especially their ability to take off-the-shelf components and tailor them to their customers' needs, according to Mike Fowler, vice president of business development at Sample Digital. Their digital dailies Web site (www.digitaldailies.com) sprouted off another Internet project that facilitates the transfer of digital video resumes between directors and ad agencies looking to hire (www.samplereels.com). Working with Microsoft, Sample Digital has utilized their expertise in encoding and moving digital video to create an online digital dailies service, based on Windows Media Player technology. Sample Digital works as a partner with telecine-equipped post-production facilities, setting up a high-end PC to take a split feed off a telecine, capturing DigiBeta video and converting it to Windows Media files. The PC encodes the video at different bit rates (typically 1500Kbps and 500Kbps), creates a flex file containing information such as timecode and scenes, and links that data file back to the Windows Media files. Once the data is uploaded, Sample Digital's servers automatically chop up the video into scenes. Fowler points out that this system requires no manual data insertion.
The pay structure for the Sample Digital system was based on the average cost per tape, including shipping and blank media, of VHS-based dailies, or $30 per password. This password allows one user a secure, one-day access to Sample Digital's Web site. "Each file in Windows Media is encrypted and licensed to an individual user and individual computer," Fowler says. "In order to play the media, your computer is going to go and look for a license. You obtain this license the first time you log in to a project, and PCs cannot play the media without acquiring that license."
The Sample Digital interface also allows users to add metadata to their files, using a clip collaboration window, which allows comments to be exchanged between collaborators and can include hyperlinks to specific timecodes. Another window provides a space to make additional files, such as images of costume design, available on the server for download; still another offers a calendar through which users can navigate to footage from specific dates. All of these features surround the central WMP window. Video can be downloaded immediately, downloaded later, or streamed at either available resolution. Users may also enlarge the window to full screen. To use the Web site, studio execs, directors, and other collaborators need only have a 600mHz Pentium 3 PC running Windows 2000 or better.
Future developments at Sample Digital include imminent availability of digitaldailies.com for the Mac, still using Windows Media, and the eventual availability of high-definition video. While currently only intended for studios shooting with film, Fowler will consider new applications for their technology, including finding a way to translate MPEG video into Windows Media files so that studios shooting digitally can still use the functionality of the digitaldailies.com interface and conserve bandwidth.