Sapphire Brings Finesse to FotoKem

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Last Updated: December 16, 2005 5:12 pm GMT
FotoKem, the premier independently owned film & video postproduction facility based in Burbank, CA., has been providing services to the Hollywood community for more than 40 years.

The company is a unique full service facility that embraces the entire sequence of motion picture and television postproduction by combining full-scale laboratory services with advanced digital finishing services and equipment rental - all offered through its three divisions: FotoKem Film & Video, FotoKem Nonlinear, and Keep Me Posted.  The company’s work can be seen every week on top television shows including Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Ghost Whisperer, Bones, Over There, and many others; in big-budget and independent feature films such as Serenity, Lord of War, and Hustle & Flow; on DVDs such as King Kong; and numerous movie trailers and station promos seen on television and in theaters worldwide.

One tool that serves every division, on nearly every job, is GenArts’ Sapphire Plug-ins, a versatile collection of over 175 state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis effects. FotoKem has implemented Sapphire across all three of its divisions – on all of its online finishing systems, including multiple Avid DS Nitris, Avid Symphony, Avid Media Composer Adrenaline, Discreet Fire, and Quantel iQ systems. FotoKem has also purchased Sapphire licenses for the Avid offline editing systems it rents to clients. “We ordered Sapphire as our premiere effects plug-in toolset when we planned out the equipment we’d be using across the FotoKem facilities,” said Bill Admans, the company’s director of creative editorial. “There are lots of plug-in packages that offer specific tools. Sapphire is the one package that has everything.”

Admans and his fellow FotoKem online editors use the Sapphire package as both a creative and a corrective tool, to bring realism back into shots that have been digitally manipulated, to give all footage a consistent look, and to add the extra visual interest that makes a shot or image look special – rather than just ‘fixed.’  Admans said, “We tend to forget that we live in an organic, natural environment.  Too often, when we shoot images or build effects, they can look artificial.  Sapphire allows the digital artist to take that extra step and enter an arena where they can create a truly realistic image that’s totally believable.”

One such example is a scene in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which Admans finishes on the DS Nitris system. The production team had set up a complicated shot; a nighttime scene where a character gets shot out of a moving car. Admans explained, “It was really dark, and there were layers of light and wispy smoke from the gunshot.  While they were shooting, a car drove right through the background, so we had to remove it in post.  But with all of the different depths of light and the wispy smoke to deal with, it was a really difficult fix.  We couldn’t just paint the car out – it would have looked fake. We used several Sapphire Plug-ins to bring realism back into the frame.  We used FilmEffect to merge the frozen clean-plated elements with the 35mm grain inherent in the rest of the image, and we used ZFog to create a diffusion of mist in the shot to restore an even depth of field and disguise the elements we’d pasted in. Using GlowEdges we also added a slight glow on the car we had added in digitally in the foreground. It’s those small but important tweaks, which Sapphire does so well and so quickly, that make all the difference.”

Creating realism is also the focus for Admans in finishing the dramatic series about the Iraq war, Over There. “When you look at photographs of actual weapons firing, they’re not all the same.  The muzzle flashes vary quite a bit.  We use the GlowMask effect to create muzzle flashes for the show that have an amoebic look, so they’re not just uniform bursts. We don’t settle for the obvious.” Admans also uses a combination of Sapphire Glow effects to key out highlights and add a soft, rich glow to shots on the show regularly.

Admans noted that the Sapphire effects he uses most often are the GlowDarks and other Glow effects, when color-correcting faces to achieve a more glamorous look.  “If something’s poorly lit or shot, I just add an optical mist or a glow to achieve the kind of results that a very experienced portrait artist could produce.”

Over at FotoKem’s Keep Me Posted division, Sapphire is a key enabling tool for president and senior editor, Andrew Hanges, along with senior Quantel iQ artist Jay Segimoto in their work creating international versions of film trailers for worldwide use and promotional spots for network television shows.  Hanges explains that for trailer work, “We get text-less versions of the finished trailer, and we add the titles in Thai, Portuguese, Korean – whatever foreign language is required.  When we create the titles, not only do we have to match the font, we have to match the look of the title, and the way the text appears, which is usually some kind of an effect.  Maybe it was an EdgeRay, or the title came twirling in.  There are always some light effects, glows, and glistens.  We have to match that exactly.  Sapphire is the tool we use to re-create the look. There is just no way we could handle that work without it.  I guess we’d have to create them from scratch if we didn’t have Sapphire.  It would make the jobs take much, much longer.”

Hanges and his colleagues Erik Peterson and Michael McLaughlin who work on the Avid Symphony system, also both employ Sapphire effects to add visual interest to text and titles to promotional spots for network television shows. “We added Sapphire to all of our online bays because it brings another layer of creative freedom to the toolsets those systems already offer,” Hanges noted.

Operationally, the implementation of Sapphire across FotoKem’s offline and online systems plays a big part in the company’s ‘total workflow’ concept.  Admans explains, “We encourage clients to rent Sapphire licenses as part of the editing system rental because having Sapphire in the offline saves them a lot of money in the online.  They can take the time to set up their effects in offline where it’s less expensive, and all of those decisions translate into online.  Since we have Sapphire on both ends, we can finesse the pre-built effects in online. You can bring them in early during editorial and provide continuity of creativity from production to the final rendered image.”

Admans also noted,  “What GenArts has done that’s so important is that they’ve made their effects native for different platforms, so they’re optimized no matter where you use them – in Media Composer, DS, Fire -- whatever the platform, the tools are fluid and fast.  A lot of other plug-in packages out there tend to crash a lot, and you have to pay for an upgrade to get the fixes. Sapphire just works, every time.” 

According to Admans, nonlinear tools have taken the online world away from pure assembly and into finishing and finessing.  “In that world,” he said, “Sapphire Plug-ins are an absolute must-have.” 


About GenArts' Sapphire Plug-ins
Sapphire Plug-ins provide digital artists with a collection of over 175 state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis effects. They fully and seamlessly integrate into a number of editing and compositing systems including: Adobe After Effects and Premiere; Apple Final Cut Pro, Shake and Motion; Avid Media Composer Adrenaline, Media Composer, Xpress Pro, Xpress, Xpress DV, Symphony, DS, Nitris and Newscutter; Autodesk Combustion; Discreet Flint, Flame, Inferno, Fire, Smoke and Burn; eyeon Software Fusion; Quantel generationQ; and Sony Xpri. Sapphire Plug-ins offer a comprehensive suite of tools and effects that can transform any film or video clip. They are resolution-independent, include multi-processor support for faster rendering, and run on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Irix. Effects in the package range from everyday tools such as Glows, EdgeRays, LensFlare, Glint, Blurs and RackDefocus, to more exotic effects like Lightning, FlysEye, JpegDamage, HalfTone and Textures.


About GenArts, Inc
Based in Cambridge, Mass., GenArts, Inc. is a premier provider of digital visual effects plug-ins for the film and video industry. Introduced in 1996, Sapphire Plug-ins have become an industry standard for high-end visual effects creation at leading studios, broadcast and post production facilities around the world. They are widely recognized for their unrivaled quality and ease-of-use, and have been used extensively to create an array of feature films such as Star Wars-Episode I, II, and III, Sin City, Spider-Man 1 and 2, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix trilogy, I Robot, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, X-Men II, Daredevil, Ice Age, Pearl Harbor, Final Fantasy, Dinosaur, Titanic, and Armageddon. Additional GenArts product information can be found at http://www.genarts.com

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