A Conversation with Bill Feightner, New Colorfront CTO
COW Library : : Debra Kaufman : A Conversation with Bill Feightner, New Colorfront CTO
His other technology innovations at EFILM were new software for digital laboratory calibration; image processing and image management software; end-to-end, multi-site, collaborative workflow procedures and software; and the first 4K DI finish on Spiderman 2 (2004).
The industry-respected image scientist is due to receive the Technicolor/Herbert T. Kalmus Medal for his extensive contribution to the art and science of digital motion picture film image science, at the upcoming Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) convention.
Previous awards include a technical achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for the creation of a Digital Color Separation process for the archival of motion pictures; an Emmy Award for special effects work on the TV series Moonlighting; and a Monitor Award for the opening segment of The Magical World Of Disney.
Feightner began his career as technical director of Compact Video, before moving on to similar roles at Laser Edit and Composite Image Systems (CIS). At Laser Edit, Feightner created a live, real-time, multilayer VFX compositing system, and at CIS, he helped to develop the 2K pin-registered telecine.
Creative COW: I understand that in your role at Colorfront, you'll drive the development of tools into new areas of color and image-science, calibration, as well as remote, collaborative production and post-production operations. Can you tell us more?
Bill Feightner: I will continue a lot of things that my career has been built on. I'm certainly going to be helping with the development of image processing and color management, in the existing product line as well as some new additions which will enable a complete easy-to-use, end-to-end solution from pre-production through final delivery. These offerings will be expanded into a service model.
COW: Do you mean you'll be offering Colorfront products as a rental or a Software as a Service model?
Feightner: Right now if someone wants to do a film, it's quite difficult; there are so many choices from capture to every other step in the pipeline. There are bits and pieces of software that serve those processes, but connecting them together in an efficient manner is very difficult. Some of the larger, better post houses have their own in-house systems, but once you leave that environment, there is a lot of difficulty. Even the big houses are struggling trying to keep it coordinated.
We should be able to capture something and not have to re-engineer and re-invent the pipeline for every project. These are some of the goals we're going after: a plug-and-play solution for finishing a movie with a system flexible enough to accommodate special needs and versions. It's correct to call these project pipelines "snowflakes," in that each one is unique. Maybe in the past, our industry could support snowflakes with the inherent inefficiencies. But our budgets and the industry can no longer support that; it demands a more efficient workflow. We have to handshake through the whole thing.
Look how we live our personal lives: I didn't have to commute to where you are to have our interview. Our whole lives are conducted in a virtual fashion. But if you look at the tools, it's like going back to the horse and buggy days. It's very linear, people have to be geographically in the same place, we can't collaborate. We don't have spontaneity and the business needs this. That is our future, so that anywhere you are, you can log in and be involved.
Colorfront CopyCentral interface. Read more in the press release.
COW: Can you give an example of what creatives stand to gain from a more virtual model?
Feightner: Cinematographers can have a hard time maintaining control of the image with today's way of doing things. As we go down the digital path, more and more decisions are made in post; the cinematographer can take time off from his busy schedule to go to a post house, but usually he's somewhere else in the world or already working on another project.
COW: But people have been offering tools for remote collaboration for quite a while in our industry. How does what you propose differ?
Feightner: There have been many futile attempts and I don't think any of them took in a broad enough scope to make an effective change. The tools in our industry for virtual collaboration work just aren't working. The bandwidth certainly wasn't there and connectivity at the locations where people are weren't there.
But I think that the other side of it is that there's been a big paradigm shift in how we live our lives outside the industry. We've all changed our lives in this virtual world, and it's a natural thing to want to do things how we live our lives outside the industry. For example, when we published dailies, the first try was distributing media, not collaborating with it. Now we want to interact with it.
I think in the near future we'll see virtual and distributed post production finishing. We've seen that trend take off in VFX long ago. In post, it'll go to a new level once we move to lots more interactivity and playing very large images. The root technology is there, the core pieces are there.
COW: What's the obstacle to achieving this kind of virtual post production finishing now?
Feightner: Right now, we aren't able to plug the pieces of software together. We need specialists to do that and it's too costly. For the bulk of production, it's too complicated today. We've added so many tools and expectations have increased. It's so different from a simple film production in the "good old days" -- we've completely reversed that process. We can start picking away at the core things that people need to do and then it will grow on that. When you have a foundation, other pieces will plug into that basic core technology and it'll continue to grow. No one company will own it all. We need some catalysts though, by identifying some key areas that are particularly cumbersome to our industry and providing real game changer solutions.
COW: Is dealing with color in a multi-format, multi-codec world one of those issues?
Feightner: Some people say color management, which is a sub set. I extend the term to image management. This is one area that could really be addressed today. When you look at the technology and what a few houses have done, there's no reason why it can't be available to the masses. It shouldn't be as complicated as it is. Right now, if you drill down into image or color management, it's a complete gulag. Though some of the larger houses do deliver a workable solution, for a lot it just fails.
For most people, it fails. With all these different cameras and all these different flavors, people struggle to get just a baseline image to look good. And to have two cameras match is really difficult. These are things that are plaguing everyone; they see an image one place and then it looks completely different in another place. People spend way more time in color correction to get a good baseline image rather than being able to enhance it and do the artistic side. There are some solutions around the corner that will really help this.
COW: I know you are on the Academy's ACES committee. Is that where we'll be seeing solutions come from?
Feightner: The Academy's ACES format in terms of color-encoding system is an important seed helping that along. There are many attributes to an image that are required so that a filmmaker can go out and shoot something and it flows through in a cost effective way. We need a whole new set of automated tools that are much simpler to use to get an initial baseline picture.
The work of the Academy's ACES committee is coming along. The basic system works. Different cameras can capture the same scene side-by-side and produce the same ACES values. Many cameras support this with their own transforms (IDT). That part of the system works well. Previously, there was only one basic default look available. Now we're making it so it can support any look, and that's huge.
One of the attributes -- and one of the challenges -- of the ACES system is that it's designed to be future-proofed in terms of maintaining a large color space and dynamic range beyond anything we can see or will be able to capture. Most image workflow systems only worry about what can be displayed. By retaining high dynamic range beyond what the eye can see or any future capture device can acquire, what happens with the extreme values becomes an issue. We see some of the usefulness in that attribute, since at some point HDR display will be available once we standardize that for the home and the ACES color space more than supports the range for that. One big change was realizing that any custom look can be put in there and it's not limiting. The system from Colorfront has supported that flawlessly -- you just push a button.
In the past, post houses could establish and publish a color specification so within a particular project, we could get everyone on board and then have a good handshake. But it didn't endure beyond the project. What we need is an industry standard to shake hands with color. A handshake in terms of color is a really good possibility - a color space that is published, that people understand and can be passed from one house to another house. We can use this container well into the future, with new cameras. For the ACES committee, it's important that we do our best to make it future-proof and adaptable for whatever comes up in the future.
COW: What is Colorfront working on now that furthers this goal?
Feightner: Colorfront demonstrated the 2014 versions of its Express Dailies, On-Set Dailies, Transkoder, and an array of new tools supporting the virtual and cloud environments at a Colorfront User Group meeting on Saturday, October 19, at Sony's Digital Motion Picture Centre, Culver City, prior to exhibiting at the SMPTE 2013 Annual Technical Conference.