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FotoKem takes Lexus to the Max

Audiences for the Imax 70mm/15-perf film Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk will not only enjoy the giant-screen exploration of human risk-taking, but also experience total immersion in a car commercial. Up on the screen, some 80' or 90' wide (depending on the venue), will be an enormous diptych illustrating the Lexus IS’s attributes, alternating between wide shots of the car maneuvering curvy roads and close-ups of the luxurious appointments inside.

Shot by Alex Lemarque and directed by Francois Vogel, the images came out of a shoot done last summer in Prague with a mostly French crew. Shot in 35mm for a DigiBeta finish, the commercial was broadcast in the United States earlier this year. El Segundo agency Team One subsequently decided it wanted a version that could be exhibited in Imax theaters. “There had been discussions about running a Lexus spot in Imax, and this spot seemed appropriate,” says Jack Epsteen, executive producer for Team One. “It’s designed to make the viewer feel it’s a luxury car that handles like a sports car. It made sense to put it in front of Adrenaline Rush.”

The agency approached the Burbank post house FotoKem to see if there was a way to transfer the DigiBeta version to 15-perf 70mm. FotoKem’s technicians explained that the resolution, latitude and color information would be vastly reduced — even transferring DigiBeta back out to 35mm film would seriously compromise quality — and on an Imax screen, there would hardly be anything left. Instead, Andrew Oran, vice president of sales and operations for FotoKem’s large-format division, suggested going back to the original camera negative, scanning at 4K, and then re-posting the spot and filming out to 15-perf 65mm negative in 4K. FotoKem had recently implemented a full 4K digital-intermediate (DI) workflow and was eager to increase its share of the large-format post market. “We wanted to be able to show just how good advertising can look in Imax,” says Oran. “It’s such a tactile experience. That giant screen can communicate with the viewer in ways that television and even regular theatrical commercials can’t. But you have to start with high-resolution imagery to get that effect. The rule of thumb is that the 15-perf 65mm format is approximately nine 4-perf 35mm frames. [The effect] is something beyond the typical way an audience interacts with a motion-picture image. When you watch a movie [in a normal theater], you’re more aware of the frame. This Lexus ad is 4K and enormous, so there’s really nothing between the viewer and what’s onscreen.”

Naturally, the large format exaggerates the tiniest imperfection, just as it enhances what’s good in high-quality imagery. “Perfection is harder to come by in Imax,” acknowledges Oran. “Working in this format is very exciting for us, but it’s also a challenge.”

The agency delivered the original camera rolls, and FotoKem scanned them at 4K on its Imagica XE Advanced “Bigfoot” scanner, translating each film frame into a DPX file of nearly 50 megabytes. Each frame then went through dust-busting using Mathematical Technologies Incorporated (MTI) software. “The tiniest speck of dust will be the size of a basketball on an Imax screen,” notes Jose Parra, digital producer at FotoKem.

The material was then brought into one of FotoKem’s DI suites using Quantel’s new iQ4 and Pablo color-correction system. Colorist/digital artist Walter Volpatto conformed the digitized film frames based on film edge numbers and the DigiBeta version. In addition to re-creating the spot in a higher resolution, FotoKem had to finish it at 24 fps, rather than the 30 fps (with a 3:2 pulldown) of the DigiBeta version. Volpatto re-created any post-added speed changes and rebuilt all the split-screen effects in Pablo, using the video-finished version as a guide. He also used Pablo to reposition the shots and lock them into place because a tiny bit of weave, undetectable in an NTSC broadcast, could be jarring on the Imax screen. The Quantel gear allowed him to do all this work in real time, using a workflow essentially identical to the one used to post commercials to be mastered to video, but retaining true 4K data throughout.

Stabilization can be particularly important on any giant-screen film, and is especially important on something like the Lexus spot, which is made up of split-screen imagery. “The original commercial didn’t use image stabilization,” says Parra, “but we did for this version. If you’ve got two images up against each other like this, the tiniest movement will be very noticeable on that giant screen.”

“I’m a big fan of this Quantel equipment,” says Bill Schultz, senior vice president/general manager of Fotokem’s digital film services. “It’s built from the ground up to do DI; it’s not cobbled together from things designed to do something else. It doesn’t require a lot of support gear. You can do editing, stabilization, wipes and repositioning at 4K all in one box.” Mark Horton, Quantel’s worldwide marketing manager for post and DI, says the Lexus Imax project was a good example of the equipment’s 4K workflow. “We’re not based around CPUs and graphics cards,” he notes. “We don’t think it’s ever a good idea to work with proxies, and that’s even truer with a large format like Imax. If you’re only looking at part of the image, there’s always the possibility of missing some kind of error. In any DI, there can be errors in dust-busting or scanning, during transfer or rendering — a whole range of errors. This can be an issue in normal 35mm DI work, but a proxy could miss an error that’s a foot high on an Imax screen, and that’s a very big deal. There are some famous stories about facilities that used proxies and didn’t spot errors until the project was recorded to 35mm.”

With Quantel’s system, he adds, “the bulk of the job can be done on a single machine, rather than conforming on one machine, grading on another, and compositing on a third. You don’t want to push your data around a facility if you can avoid it, especially on a 4K project; that takes time, eats up disk space, ties up your network, and runs the risk of adding transfer errors. FotoKem was able to avoid this because they used iQ and Pablo.”

Once Volpatto re-created the spot in 4K, he and Epsteen worked together to slightly augment the color correction for the Imax screen. “There wasn’t much to do because FotoKem did such a good job,” says Epsteen. “We realized our disclaimer was way too big for Imax, so we made that smaller, but otherwise [the Imax version] is a higher-resolution version of the original.”

The spot’s 4K frames were output using the Celco Nitro film recorder to the 65mm version of Kodak’s 5245 negative stock, which was then used to optically strike 70mm positive prints.

“Most ads shown in theaters come from standard-definition originals and don’t stand up well to large-screen projection,” says Oran. “The 4K and 2K process for producing or repurposing spots represents the quality that advertisers will need to aspire to if they want to have an impact on the large screen.”


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