The American Society of Cinematographers

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The Bourne Ultimatum
DVD Playback
Points East
Post Focus
Chace Audio
Genetic Engineering at FotoKem

Death Sentence photo by James Bridges, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Volpatto photo courtesy of FotoKem.

“It’s a dark story mostly based on revenge,” muses FotoKem colorist Walter Volpatto, referring to the film Death Sentence, the first project to go through FotoKem’s recently upgraded digital-intermediate (DI) pipeline. Fortunately, FotoKem’s integration of Quantel’s Genetic Engineering shared-storage architecture presents a much brighter vista.

FotoKem has provided DI services for almost five years, and during that time it has used the traditional SAN-based system. As Quantel Strategic Marketing Manager Mark Horton notes, the SAN left plenty of room for improvement: “The SAN shared architecture had some fundamental flaws. It couldn’t play back 4K, it couldn’t reliably play back 2K once it was more than half full, and it had lots of problems with metadata handling.”

Perhaps the “Achilles’ heel” of the SAN architecture is sharing media across multiple workstations, a process that requires time-consuming copying of files that in turn clog disk space. According to Bill Schultz, senior vice president and general manager of FotoKem’s Digital Film Services, within the SAN-based workflow “we had to export from one machine to the SAN so we could then import [the media] into another machine. We spoke to Quantel on numerous occasions about the difficulty of this.”

Naturally, FotoKem was not alone in desiring a better system, and, fueled by similar feedback from other post facilities, Quantel dedicated a team to circumventing the limitations of the SAN architecture. Around the end of 2006, the company emerged with Genetic Engineering. “They came up with their own idea of what a shared storage architecture should be, and it solved all the problems but was also a completely different approach,” says Schultz. “It takes a little while to get your head around exactly what they’ve done. It’s a better way of utilizing technology that was already available. Most of the product is software; the hardware is essentially the same as what we had before. We just added a little bit more disk, and then we connected it in a different way.” (Loaded-up Quantel storage won’t have playback issues because of Quantel’s patented intellectual property relating to the management of fragmentation and scatter.)

Central to Genetic Engineering’s design is its easy interoperability with third-party products. “It rather helpfully confuses some of our friendly competitors,” says Horton. “There isn’t any development you need to do for it — there’s no API [application programming interface] and no licensing — so basically it’s plug-and-play for third-party vendors.” For example, using MTI Film’s Correct Digital Restoration System (DRS) previously required a workstation and storage outside of the Quantel. Genetic Engineering allows the MTI Correct system to dust-bust images directly on the Quantel storage pool with no need to copy or export.

To accomplish this feat, Quantel has introduced the “Sam” data server, which Horton describes as “the way of hooking everyone in together. Sam’s got a very unusual trick in that it doesn’t behave like it’s a Quantel device. Essentially, it fools a third party into thinking it’s working with its own local 10-GigE network-attached storage.”

Within the Genetic Engineering architecture, media is stored in what is called the GenePool, which Sam links to all of the in-house, non-Quantel workstations. (Quantel workstations have their own additional direct connections that don’t require Sam.) Rounding out the new workflow is the Max assist station, which frees the creative suites by tackling such tasks as conforms, quality control and playout.

Quantel offers Genetic Engineering in HD and DI versions; the latter, employed by FotoKem, features 2K and 4K capabilities. Other key tools in FotoKem’s DI workflow include an Arriscan film scanner and Correct DRS. David McClure, product manager at MTI Film recounts, “Quantel approached us in December 2006 to let us know what they were working on and that FotoKem was beta-testing it. We gave Quantel the license of Correct and walked them through the basics of the program. Once they had verified in their own lab that they were on the right track, I worked directly with [Quantel R&D Manager] Simon Rogers in FotoKem’s production environment to work out the last kinks and get them rolling.”

FotoKem was still working with Quantel as Death Sentence was coming in, according to Schultz. “The clients were aware we were going to try something new, and Quantel had come up with a fail-safe plan wherein we could back out at any time with only a few lost hours if things didn’t work out,” he says. “As Simon and the R&D team were walking out, the clients were coming in, and fortunately, it all just worked.” Volpatto adds, “Quantel worked very hard to give us no [interruption] at all, and I was amazed at how well it has worked since day one.”

With Genetic Engineering in place, FotoKem can scan footage at 4K on the Arriscan directly into the GenePool through Sam, which in turn makes all of the media immediately accessible to the various workstations. Once Death Sentence was scanned, the post work was done at 2K, and everyone working on the project was able to share their work by updating the media as it appeared in the GenePool.  Schultz is quick to note that this “sharing” process can get users into trouble if a division of labor is not maintained. “Any time you share what you’ve been working on, it’s almost like an instant archive is created, and there are new problems that arise in terms of managing what you’ve got, where you’ve worked, and which new versions have which new assets that you have to merge back together.”

Volpatto explains the process that was worked out on Death Sentence: “We broke down reels and scenes so as I was color-correcting one scene, someone else could do editing or effects in another scene without us stepping on each other. As soon as something was ready for me [on another IQ], I could grab it in a couple of seconds and color-correct it.”

By Volpatto’s estimation, the new workflow has trimmed the time needed for a DI by about one-third. “Death Sentence was the second movie I graded with [cinematographer] John Leonetti [ASC], and he certainly felt we were working a lot faster. On the previous film, Dead Silence, we had to intercut the edit session with the color session, and that really slowed us down.” The new system has also enabled FotoKem to take on more projects, he adds. “In the past two months we’ve done four features and several trailers, and before [Genetic Engineering] we probably would have needed four or five months to do that much.

“Our GenePool now has 48 terabytes,” concludes Volpatto. “I’m currently working with only 1 percent of the space free, and the machine is flawless. There is no other SAN that can do that.”

For more information, call FotoKem at (818) 846-3101 or visit To learn more about Quantel, visit

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