Digital Intermediates
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 10 (October 2005)

Digital Intermediates

Plenty has been written in the past few years about digital intermediates and the DI work flow, but my first indication that this DI turtle might be hungry came when I happened upon a discussion board with scores of threaded entries by professionals who work with or around DIs simply trying to agree on an answer to the question: What is a digital intermediate? Is the term a nod to the film intermediates the DI might replace, or simply a label for anything digital and “in the middle?” What if the project is shot in HD? What if it’s not destined for a filmout? It’s all up for discussion.

With the self-assurance of a man with nine remaining fingertips, I’ve lifted liberally from the thinking of others and constructed a definition we can use here today.

A digital intermediate is a representation of acquired visual content in the form of digital data files that allow potentially lossless manipulation of images with the goal of creating a universal master that, with minimal subsequent adjustment, is ready for output in a variety of distribution formats and digital archives.

Or you can go with the description offered by Efilm Digital Laboratories’ Steve Scott: “The DI is film’s best friend.”

IO Film, a full-service DI film finishing facility in Hollywood, used Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master DI system to complete the 2k DI conform and color-grading processes.

Scott, whose impressive credits as a supervising digital colorist include recent movie releases such as Lemony Snicket and The Wedding Crashers, explains, “Because the latitude you have in film is just so incredible, the digital intermediate is one of the best reasons to still shoot on film.” Compared to the rudimentary chemical color-correction process, a DI allows today’s colorists to do highly refined and selective color enhancement in layers of overlapping windows, defined by keys and traveling mattes-the same abilities enjoyed for years by computer artists, video editors, and commercial and music video directors who typically finish their films on video. However, not all film work is destined for filmout. Commercial and music video directors tend to shoot on film and finish on video. “This is the first time in the history of film that we’ve actually been able to delve into the secrets that have been hidden in the negative.”

“I can’t remember a film that I’ve done that I wouldn’t want to do over again in the DI.” That’s an especially powerful avowal coming from Steven Poster the cinematographer who shot Donnie Darko, Stuart Little 2, and at least two-dozen other films. “Having the ability to control the image after it’s made, to do more than just color timing, is a real blessing. It allows me to do that much more to direct the audience’s eyes within the image.”