I’m going to be a bit nerdy this week, as I came upon an interesting piece on DI. For a long time when it first became popular, I wondered why this process was named after a girl? Was she related to one of the inventors, like Alan Michael Sugar of Amstrad, was she someone’s long lost pet? Then I discovered, DI is a Digital Intermediate, how dull is that! But for director’s and DOP’s, it’s nirvana and has been said to be one of the largest single revolutions in 100 years of film making.
It has been the buzz since 2000 and has become a most important part of film making – artistically and technically, though it’s a process that can be so subtle as to be invisible but can give a movie an original and stunning look.
So what is it? Put simply, it’s colour grading. Didn’t they use to do that at labs? Yes, but this is more, and very sophisticated. Here’s how it works. The film from the camera is transferred into a computer, then projected on a screen – in accordance with the final cut, colour corrected to fit the vision of the director and DOP, recorded back into the computer then output onto a film negative ready to be release printed at the labs. So it’s an intermediate stage between the camera film and the print and it’s digital.
The very first film to have a full DI was the Coen’s, ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, in 2000. The dry, tinted, desaturated look was created, despite the fact that the film was shot in locations with lush green vegetation. Then they used what’s called 2K resolution, the best quality available at the time. Flash forward to 2008 and the time-lapse documentary, Baraka – originally made in 1992, was re-mastered at four times that quality, 8K, so much so, that each frame took 12 seconds to scan and the whole film took three weeks to do. It was shot on 65mm though, but phew!
When the DI process first came along it was expensive and slow compared to traditional colour grading at the lab. In the early days it could cost up to five times more than traditional lab grading. O Brother Where Art Thou, took ten weeks to grade, but like all new technology, people were learning. Now, three weeks is average and it could get quicker.
The majority of movies seen at multiplexes now, have been graded with the DI process and with the popularity of shooting digitally on films including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Michael Mann’s, Public Enemies, using cameras including Viper and Red, the DI is the natural co-star. DI facilities now produce the dailies and while doing so record specific picture information, which is later used as a starting point in the grade to achieve the look.
Some directors of course have been somewhat carried away by the effects that can be achieved, but for most, it provides a subtle means of creating a more involving experience for the audience.
Nerdy, but to good effect.