Mastering a film in high definition - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 13 Old 01-20-09, 06:46 PM Thread Starter
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Mastering a film in high definition

I previously posted my experience mixing in the 5.1 format so I thought I'd mention
mastering my movie, "What Really Frightens You" in high definition for those who
are interested in the technical process of releasing a film on video.

I shot the film in 35mm and it's in four reels (80 minutes) plus a 1 1/2 minute trailer.
The film was negative matched so it's complete as I wanted it although many producers
don't go this route anymore.

There are two ways of mastering a movie in high definition.

One method is to digitally scan in each frame of the entire feature into a computer at
either 2K or 4K. Then color correct it and output it to a high definition tape. They now
have a videotape that contains 8 channels (previous HD tapes only had four) so a producer
can input the 5.1 mix and 2 channel stereo directly onto the master video in HD. The tape
is HD SR 4RR 1080p. Previously only the 2 channel stereo and M & E would fit onto the tape
and the producer would have to supply the 5.1 mix as a separate CD-ROM which would be
played in synch when the film was authored for release so this new tape is much better and
doesn't run the risk of drifting out of synch. The advantage of this method of mastering is
if the movie is very old and a bit shrunken, the splices of the negative might jump at each
cut. The computer can stabilize the image since each frame is a separate entity. You can
also clone out scratches, dust, dirt, fill in missing frames by sampling previous ones and other corrections since each frame is a separate image in the program. The disadvantage
of this method is the cost. It's about $10,000 for a 80 minute feature or
more if a lot of digital fix ups are required. But, for an aging worn out negative you can
make it look brand new providing you can afford the expense.

The other way is what I utilized which was to master the film on a Spirit 4K telecine which
plays the negative continuously through sprockets and rollers. Rather than scan it in a frame at a time, the reel just plays as if it was being shown in a theater and the telecine
tapes it. The process involves first going through the entire negative on a shot by shot (instead of frame by frame) basis in the telecine (which is similar to a projector and has
a lens that inputs the film) and adjusting the color so it matches. Then the negative is cleaned and it's transferred to tape with the proper color timing on a reel by reel basis
which has already been pre-programed from the first shot to the last, leaving out the leaders at the head and tail of each reel and making it a continous movie. It's considerably cheaper this way and ran me $300 per hour. I was able to transfer my 80 minute feature and trailer in nine hours. After transferring the image, it went to the sound department to dub in the 5.1 and 2 channel stereo tracks in the eight audio tracks available. The M&E will be on a separate CD rom for foreign release (both 5.1 and 2 channel but without the center channel dialogue). This method will only work with brand new features that aren't shrunken or damaged because there are limits what can be done in terms of stabilizing
a shrunken frame or eliminating dirt and dust. If the film is very worn, it should be done in the computer frame by frame method.

What was quite interesting was how the Spirit telecine was set up. The colorist, Jane, kept the room in darkness except for the control panel and adjusted the color, contrast and brightness on a 25 foot HD monitor according to my specifications. However, next to the screen was a computer monitor that took a sample of each frame and retained the color correction in a succession of tiny thumbnail images. So when we were working on another reel that had the same location that was used in a previous reel, she could go through the computer thumbnails of each scene, click it on and the new scene would automatically match the early sequence in the same location. For example, the publisher's office is
used in three scenes in my film contained on reels #1, #2 and #3. So after color correcting the scene in Reel #1, we could automatically correct the later scenes in #2 and #3 by just clicking on the color corrections from Reel #1. This was much easier than color correction on film for a print where you had to physically put up the other reels and manually rewind it down to the scene and check the timing numbers. This method ensured that the timing would be identical from scene to scene and shot
to shot.

My final transfer really looked awesome. Because I used a lot of light on set and a stylish color design which replicated the Technicolor Hammer horror thrillers of the sixties, my movie is razor sharp, incredibly fine grain and detailed with vibrant primary colors and fleshtones. It really paid off shooting at a high f stop (5.6) compared to some cinematographers like Gordon Willis ("The Godfather") who shot with very little light and the camera lens wide open at f 2. There is no grain at all in my film and the HD master looks better than a camera negative release print because it's not 'first generation' but the actual generation of the image that was exposed in the camera.

So at this point in time I would still strongly advocate shooting in 35mm rather than digitally
and then transferring the cut camera negative directly to 4K HD. I think it looks better in
some respects than a Technicolor print. Also, I have the advantage of being able to transfer
the negative to some other future higher definition format. 35mm emulsion is very fine grain
with a lot of detail. If I shot digitally I'd be stuck with the limitations of that pixel count and
couldn't generate the same quality at a later date. Plus digital isn't permanent. Whether it's
videotape or a computer disc or hard drive it's subject to long term degradation if not complete erasure. 35mm negative is a hard copy of the images and far more permanent for the long run.

As a footnote, some producers are not actually cutting the 35mm together into reels
and just putting up the dailies and taping the shots they used and making their HD
master that way. This is really penny wise and pound foolish because then the original
movie will be contained on hundreds of little reels and if they need to make a higher
definition version in the future, they will have to tape each shot one at a time from
the original camera rolls. It makes much more sense to have a completed cut negative
will all the shots you selected on each reel which you can then master to HD or make
a film print from. Unfortunately, since so few people are actually creating a final cut
camera negative now, all of the negative matchers have folded in NYC. I had to hire
a free lance cutter to assemble and splice my negative this time. I might have to negative
match my next movie personally. Curiously, Jane, the colorist asked why I bothered to
cut the negative together into a continuous feature since she was used to taping each
individual shot from a separate camera roll for other clients. But I'm one of those people
that doesn't 'follow the current trend'...especially if the current trend doesn't make
fiscal sense to me. Most producers just do what everyone else is doing at any given
time and then worry about the expense or problems later.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 01-21-09 at 04:32 AM.
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post #2 of 13 Old 01-20-09, 07:09 PM
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

Thank you for sharing this ...very interesting
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post #3 of 13 Old 01-20-09, 07:16 PM
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

Always interested,... may not understand it all but, always interesting and informative.

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post #4 of 13 Old 01-21-09, 04:36 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

You're welcome. What didn't you understand? I can try to clarify it.
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post #5 of 13 Old 01-21-09, 07:28 AM
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

One thing that I've never fully understood is the term 'color timing'. What is this term?
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post #6 of 13 Old 01-21-09, 08:35 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

Color timing is the same thing that you do when you go into your menu for your
television monitor or video projector. You have a multitude of adjustments you
can make. Saturation, contrast, brightness, sharpness and the three primary
color levels. You have red, green and blue at 50 %. But it you want the color
warmer you adjust the red to 60 % while leaving green and blue at 50 %. If you
want a darker image you make the brightness less than 50 % and so on. The difference
is, you save these adjusts for each shot in the computer while you're going through the
reel and each shot has to be consistent within the scene.

For example, let's say you have a scene that takes place in an office. There are
8 shots contained in the sequence. A long shot that establishes it then 7 close ups
of two actors talking. So you make your first adjustment in the wide shot in terms
of all of those variables. Let's say the brightness is 50 %, contrast 50 % and red,
green and blue at 50 %. You save that setting for the wideshot. Then the next shot
is a close up of an actor in the same office but you notice it's a tad too dark compared
to the wide shot. So the next color setting will be brightness 60 %, contrast 50 % and
red, green and blue at 50 %. You save that setting in the computer. The next shot is
a close up of the other actor talking. Because it was shot with a window behind him
in mid-afternoon, it's a bit too yellowish and bright. So you set the brightness for 40 %,
the contrast at 55 % and the red at 40 % and leave the green and blue at 50 %. Then you save that setting in the computer. Now the rest of the sequence are the same two
actors talking so you click on the same settings as the first shot of each of them and then that scene has been 'color timed'.

You do that for every shot in the reel. Then they rewind the negative and clean it in an ultra sonic machine that very gently removes any dust or dirt particles that may
have gotton on the film after screening it and adjust the color. The reel is they 'layed down' (recorded on the HD tape) with all of the color setting stored in the computer.
Once that reel is done, you ignore the tape and put up the next reel and make all of your settings for each scene and each shot within a scene. As I said before, if you
already have the settings from another reel in the same location, you just click on the
thumbnail frames that were saved as reference and it automatically adjusts the color
which saves a lot of time and time is money when you're being charged $300 an hour.

Film timing is basically the same thing. You look at the negative on a computer screen
and make the same adjustments except you cannot store thumbnail images. If you want to use the same settings you have to physically put on the previous reel and wind
it down to the scene to see what the settings are and of course that increases labor
costs. Once a reel has been 'color timed' for a film print, the computer prints out a
ribbon with all of the settings. It's known as a timing ribbon and it's inserted into the printer before threading up the negative. However, the soundtrack is also threaded up so as the print is exposed through the negative (using the color settings from the timing ribbon), the optical and/or digital track is also exposed along the edge of the print
outside of the picture area. Then the exposed reel (with both picture and sound) have
to be processed. And then you won't know if it came out or some mistake was made
until the next day. And if the lab made thousands of copies but something is off in terms of color or contrast, there is no way they are going to remake those prints so it gets shipped to the theater 'as is'. Sometimes the prints are okay, often they are inconsistent because the labs cut corners and don't change the developing chemicals
as often as they were supposed to. That's among the flaws and problems with Eastmancolor.

In contrast, when making a digital master you can see exactly what it's going to look
like as the reel is being recorded. If there is a problem, you stop the reel and go back
and record it again. This actually happened in one case while I was mastering "What Really Frightened You". At the beginning of Reel #2, I saw a flash and had them stop.
One of the settings wasn't saved in the computer. We had to reset it and then start again and the next time it came out fine. That's the advantage. If there's a problem you can see it and fix it. You can't with Eastmancolor.

The 'Glorious Technicolor' (dye transfer process) was similar to the digital system in
that you could actually see the print being made and stop and make adjustments if there was a problem. Once you had your color settings, Technicolor made a set of
three matrices directly from the color negative. A matrix was a printing plate of one
color. It was a reel of film with that one color popping out of the emulsion like a rubber
stamp. They coated it with dye and each layer of color was wiped onto blank film
stock that already had the optical track printed on. While I was in China making dye
transfer prints of "Space Avenger" I could see the colors being wiped onto my prints
layer by layer. At the end of the line was a high speed projector that would play the
final release print at about 80 frames per second. If it looked fine, the print was ready
to be shipped to a theater and play that day. No processing was involved nor a wait.
And if you saw a problem you could stop the line and put more dye on one matrix if
the color was off. They could also wash off the bad print and then put it back on the
machine to re-wipe on the color. The color was permanent on the print and didn't fade.
Before 1983, all Eastmancolor prints (that were processed and had a one day delay for
examining) would eventually fade away.

So the two best formats for movies in terms of quality control was the dye transfer
(Technicolor) and the 4K high definition mastering process for making DVDs.

The process with the most inconsistent quality control is the Eastmancolor format
which is the only one available for making release copies shown in theaters. That
doesn't mean a lab cannot make a good print. But there are so many variables involved
and no way of checking the quality until after it's been processed and inspected the next
day that you cannot count on having a good presentation. In general, they make the
top quality prints (made directly from the camera negative) for press screenings and
Hollywood showings. Those prints are checked and remade if there's a problem because
they are custom made. But the copies shown in the megaplexes are made from duplicate
negatives on a high speed printer (about three times the speed of a camera negative print)
and they have very poor quality control and have substandard resolution compared to
the camera negative prints the insiders see. Of course most digital masters for HD and
standard DVD are created directly from the camera negative itself as described above
so it looks even finer grain than the press prints. The only process that could improve
the quality of mass produced release copies is the dye transfer system but that's gone
for good.

So...unless you want the experience of watching a movie with an audience, you'll
get better quality control at home watching a blu ray or standard DVD of new
features and many classics too.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 01-23-09 at 08:46 AM.
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post #7 of 13 Old 01-21-09, 09:02 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

The names of people involved in movies have changed over the years.
Originally people who did the sound mix were called simpley 'mixers'.
Now they are called sound designer which may seem a bit pretentious
but the mixes are much more elaborate in the 5.1 format than in the
earlier Dolby 2 channel or mono mixes so perhaps it's appropriate.
However, sound design can also refer to the sound editor who created
the multiple tracks before mixing.

Color timers (people who do color corrections for movies) are now called
'colorists'. I have no problem with this term although I will say it is much
easier to color correct a movie today than it was in the past since they
have computers that can sample frames for reference. The earliest color
timers in the fifties didn't even have a computerized Hazeltine to see what
the film looked like on a monitor while making the corrections. They had little
filter cards that they would look at through their eyes to estimate what they
think each shot should look like examining the film on rewinds. Very primitive but I guess they became expert at it and it worked.

In the past some sound recordists or companies received important credits in the
film based on how well they were able to mike actors on the set. Thus 'sound by
Glenn Glenn' or "Todd-AO sound' was important. But now the mixers have such
elaborate equipment to correct and alter sound digitally, you don't really need
a perfect dialogue recording. They can get rid of traffic or hiss or unwanted noise and
make almost any recording sound great. Thus the mixer/sound designer is much
more important the sound recordist who mikes the actors on location. Until the
digital age, analog recording on set was more critical since you had fewer options
of fixing up the sound later. And analog sound tended to pick up some track hiss
when you altered it after the fact. So an ultra clean recording was critical back
then. For example in "The Godfather" Brando mumbled so much on set that most
of his lines had to be dubbed after the fact. But today, they could clean up his
tracks recorded on set and make them sound fine. Another film that had problems
during the recording on set was "Giant". Like his hero, James Dean, mummbled so
many of his lines that Nick Adams had to dub them for the mix since Dean died
after filming his scenes. The entire drunk scene that got him such good notices
for his performance was dubbed by Nick Adams...

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 01-23-09 at 08:49 AM.
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post #8 of 13 Old 01-21-09, 09:06 AM
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

Thank you for the (as always) very informative and interesting insight into the art of film and film-making. There's so much to it that we don't even think about.
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post #9 of 13 Old 01-21-09, 09:19 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

You're welcome.

I hope it helps everyone appreciate what some of the 'unsung' heroes are
of contemporary movies. The colorist and the sound designer.
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post #10 of 13 Old 01-21-09, 10:48 AM
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Re: Mastering a film in high definition

Thank you Richard, very informative. You are an asset to this forum.

On question I have is what does this new HD SR 4RR 1080p tape look like is it similar to what was known as Digital-S? How much time can be recorded to one tape?

Home theater:
Onkyo 805, Yamaha YDP2006EQ, Samson Servo 600 amp
3 EV Sentry 500 monitors across the front, 4 Mission 762i's Surrounds, SVS PB13U sub, Panasonic BDT220, Harmony 1100, Nintendo WiiU
Panasonic PT-AE8000 on a 120" 2,35:1 fixed screen

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Sherwood/Newcastle R972, Mission 765's, SVS SBS02's, A/D/S MS3u sub, Yamaha YDG2030EQ
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Panasonic TC-P50ST60, HD-PVR & WDTV Live, Harmony 900

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