Q&A: 5D NAB Followup

Following up on NAB and our coverage of Colossus, we wanted to get more information on what 5D is doing and their other products. We spoke recently with J Miguel Ferros, Products Manager for 5D Solutions about Cyborg, Colossus, Commander, Monster Sparks and more…

Following up on NAB and our coverage of Colossus, we wanted to get more information on what 5D is doing and their other products. We spoke recently with J Miguel Ferros, Products Manager for 5D Solutions about Cyborg, Colossus, Commander, Monster Sparks and more…

FXG: What position does 5D Cyborg hold in the high-end post market, as opposed to all the other players?

[JMF] When we decided to enter this market (1999) the high-end was already quite full. Discreet had replaced Quantel as king of the pile, and there were a number of other pretenders. It was never our idea to simply copy what was already available though, and this has stood us in good stead. Three years later on and we have completed the first phase of our development plans, and have a family of products covering capture, effects, grading and output in a multi-resolution working environment. We believe that no matter what the acquisition format, once material gets to post it all about data, how you generate the data, how you organise and work with it. Whether you are in a small bureau or a multi-seat facility you need to know that your systems integrate well and can cope with anything that is thrown at you (of whichever resolution, bit-depth or frame-rate). Every one of 5D’s systems fulfils this.

FXG: Please describe your systems, and what do they do?

[JMF] Our current product range includes 5D Cyborg for effects compositing, 5D Colossus for digital grading and 5D Commander for capture, playback, organisation and distribution. These are linked by 5D RFS which enables 5D users to look into the libraries of other users and move about images without impacting on the workflow of the other systems. The functionality of each of these systems is very high, and it would take me a very long time to go through all of it. Maybe we can tackle one at a time?

Cyborg v2 screenshot
(click image to see larger)

FXG: Okay, so can you quickly Recap the features of the Cyborg v2? And give us the full spec and pricing for an entry level SD system.

[JMF] Briefly, 5D Cyborg now offers a full suite of tools for taking on complete effects jobs, as well as superior performance. Anybody that saw our demos at NAB will have seen how amazingly fast Cyborg is. . I do need to re-iterate that all of our systems are designed to be multi-resolution, multi-frame rate and multi bit depth. You can seamlessly mix 2K, HD and SD in the same job. No other interactive product handles 8, 10 and 16 bit material as simply and smoothly as Cyborg, or working with mixed aspect ratios. Companies using 5D Cyborg are not batting an eyelid at taking on 2K commercials with Cyborg.

We have also introduced superior 3D compositing with v2, with FFDs on every layer, simple primitives, 3D object support and a very accurate camera model. So much of this is real time as well. Distort is a brand new 2D Warper/Morpher. It uses spline control, but works on a mesh base for improved results. More real-time here too, and split views for working in context. Possibly the most radical move has been to introduce the Timeline as a compositing node. For editors it might seem a bit strange to have to go to the compositor to work in the timeline, but it means that everything can be kept live. Timelines can feed timelines (containerised edits), timelines can feed effects, and effects can feed timelines. Making changes is a piece of cake, because everything will ripple through the pipeline and end-up in the final result. We have also introduced a Process Queue which takes a snapshot of your job, and can be set aside for later rendering.

An entry level Cyborg system that allows multi-resolution workflow with SD real-time playback and SD video I/O come in at $120000 with 350 minutes of SD Raid 3 storage. All systems include Sony FW900 16:10 monitor and Wacom and pen as well.

FXG: What’s the advantage of 5D Cyborg over rival products?

[JMF] Our major advantages lie in the design of the system. Right from the start we have focussed on talking to customers, finding out how they felt about the tools they had, and what they wanted to see in the way of developments. There was a very clear need for tools that would be flexible enough to enable different types of work to be handled. The over-riding issue was that the tools should help not hinder when trying to work in a world where source material could be any size, shape or bit-depth and come from a variety of sources. There was also a need for systems that could work together on projects without the overhead of high-cost proprietary networking, and tools that would help the organisation of such work.

FXG: How about the hardware?

[JMF] We really don�t have a fundamental preference in terms of the operating system, but our current hardware, coupled with some serious system development, does give us tremendous speed and interaction advantages over our competitors. Our code is written to run on Irix and Windows, we simply certify hardware that gives us the best possible price:performance ratio.

FXG: What about sparks? what can users expect in terms of support, updates and new development in that area?

[JMF] Our Plug-ins division is run separately from Systems, and it is our aim to continue to supply and support our Monsters customers. We plan to release some new boxes later this year.

FXG:Colossus seemed to be generating quite a lot of traffic at the booth at NAB, in fact I would go so far as to say it was one of the highlights of the show. Can you describe Colossus for us and what the workflow would be using this product?

[JMF] Colossus is a Digital Grading and Mastering system, initially being targeted at feature film work. It works with DPX files of any resolution, conforms from Keycode or timecode (including optical quality dissolves) and brings a set of tools to grading that a Colourist will feel comfortable with, but actually is far deeper than even they are used to, and all working in full 10 bit log/16 bit linear colour depth.

In terms of workflow, it all stems from the increasing move towards data in post. Once the film has been scanned, at 2K, 4K, whatever, Colossus can work from either the original DPX files, or from lower res. Proxies. For example, most shots can be graded comfortably at 1K, even if the final files will be 4K. All that happens is that when the Digital Colour Artist hits the render button, instead of rendering at 1K, it would go off and render using the original 4K file as its source.

The other very important innovation is that of calibration. Telecine Colourists have always had the benefit of being able to view their work on a calibrated monitor. When working with film this was much tougher. With Colossus, we have built in a tremendous number of calibration tools which even go so far as to be able to let a DP confidently call out a printer light setting, knowing that what he sees on the monitor or projector will be what appears on film back at the lab.

So at last, DPs working on film can grade creatively, using all the tools of the telecine, plus quite a few more, and know that it is all going to look right in the theatre.

FXG: Who is the primary market for this product?

[JMF] Initially it would seem that Colossus has been designed very much for feature film work. Indeed, the collaboration of our developers with the Lord of the Rings team was vital both for that production pipeline, and also for shaping the product as it is today. That means that collaborative workflow is of high importance. Multiple seats of Colossus can work in parallel, with a senior Colourist working with the DP to set the look, whilst others can work with the set-ups and use the multi-head views provided to apply continuity grades quickly and efficiently. There are also tools for ganging controls over multiple shots, and full animation curves and tracking.

FXG: You say initially?

[JMF] Quite. If you look further, I believe that Telecine as it is today is going to be increasingly challenged by datacine. Colossus is ideally suited for this, and we have some exciting developments which will integrate the grading session with effects and compositing far more closely. Not only that, but we will be showing an SD version of Colossus in the coming months. I believe this is a product that will revolutionise grading and finishing for episodic TV work, as well as dealing handsomely with television commercials and music videos. We have big plans, and over the next year you will see the next phase of our development released to the market, as well as continued improvements to our current systems.

FXG: How much can be done in real time?

[JMF] That kind of depends on what resolution you are working with. All primary work can be done at real time at 2K. It is only when you start adding on secondary layers with potentially very soft-edged windows, that it becomes slower. At this point it is very difficult to say what speed it is, because it depends on how much you are loading on to it.

FXG: Even if rendering is required it would seem that would be quick… can applying the correction to the whole clip be processed in the background or on a remote render farm?

[JMF] You have hit the nail on the head there. Most grading is done on a single frame, and this will all be real time no matter what you are doing so real time is not really the issue any longer. We can use render farms, and so once the grade is set-up you simply send it off to render. By the time you have finished looking at the next shot, in all likelihood, you will be able to play it back in context of the previously graded shot which will have finished rendering, and been slotted into place whilst you worked on the current shot.

FXG: Colourists have always been very fussy about their control surfaces, can you describe yours?

[JMF] Right from the start we knew we needed a good control surface. Everyone gets used to the panel they use most, and become comfortable with it. What we set out to do, is to make sure that we had a panel that was well laid-out, felt good to use, and was flexible enough to re-map functions. We have this with our panel.

FXG: Pricing?

[JMF] One thing we haven�t spoken of is the restoration tools that we are adding to the Colossus Digital Mastering system, for dust-busting and scratch removal. With these, and with the turnkey hardware the price is $350 000. A considerable saving equipping a Telecine suite. This also includes 90 minutes of Raid 3 protected storage. There is also the Colossus Grading system that retails at $235 000 which is aimed more at Labs. This does not have the Secondaries or the Restoration tools and Plug-ins.

FXG: This product seems to us to be ready to completely change the way we do Colour correction… in context to an EDL, random access with all images online without shuttling film, computer tools like tracking… basically applying a more computer savvy approach to the workflow and all the benefits that come with that…. what has been the reaction of traditional colourists?

[JMF] On the whole it has been very positive. They are desperate to get their hands on advanced tools such as the tracker, and see that it is the way that post is going, but at the same time are having to deal with a new workflow. It is really the DPs and Directors who have taken to Colossus though, and I guess where they go, we�ll all end-up following.

Commander screenshot
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FXG: What is Commander and how does it fit in?

[JMF] 5D Commander is our Data Portal. With data being such an important part of post now, and even mores so in the future, workflows will necessarily need to change. 5D Commander can control a Telecine, and capture 10 bit 2K data via dual link HSDL. It can also hook up to an HD camera head, and capture uncompressed 10 bit HD directly to disk. On top of that it can use EDLs to capture HD and SD, and it uses 5D RFS (which is free) to link directly to other systems to deposit the clips where they need to be for the job. It does all this using the familiar Cyborg interface and gestural controls.

5D RFS can be managed remotely, and all data transfers are entirely backgroundable, so a system administrator can makes sure everything is where it needs to be, without interrupting the suite work. Archiving can also be handles this way. At the end of the job, Commander can be used to playback real time 10 bit 2K material for checking composites and 3D, and then create HD and SD versions, for viewing. We have also linked-up with The Mill, to link to BeamTV for remote viewing of Digital Dailies.

We’d like to thank Miguel for his time to help us understand their plans.