Stabilization Software

From: Ken Paul Rosenthal (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Jun 26 2009 - 10:06:38 PDT

Thank you one and all for the feedback on stabilization software.
Freya, I understand that both cartridge design and manufacturing defects contribute to jitter. I first experienced manufacturing issues such as the film becoming untethered from their cores and audible wobbling noises (not to mention blue emulsion scratches in processed Kodachrome) back in 2000 when I was living abroad. I was purchasing various S8 stocks from a certain store in London, and Kodachrome was being processed in Switzerland after the Dallas, TX facility closed down.
Of course, it could be the condition of the camera or, as Vera suggests, germane to using a tripod. But I have a Canon 1014XLS that has been thoroughly tested and adjusted, as well as a substantial tripod that firmly locks the camera down. I'm also aware that super 8 cameras don't have a double claw or registration pin like larger formats (except, maybe a Beaulieu??). Though it's been quite some time since I've projected super 8, I recall it as being pretty rock steady. So if Kodak has rectified such problems after complaints of instability, there are other factors at play. I've tested the same footage at 5 or 6 different high end facilities and the range of jitter has been staggeringly apparent.
For the record, any apparent 'obsession' on my part to eliminate image movement is neither a denial of the comparative 'limits' of super 8, nor any expectations of 'technical alchemy'. Rather, what I cannot stomach is paying thousands for an HD transfer, only to have motion artifacts introduced that were not there in the first place. For this project, it's important to me that the frame work as a window, or portal, sans the distraction of jitter. Some drift is one thing, jitter is another. So finding the right transfer facility has been quite the holy grail chase.
The test I did on a Spirit Data cine was the most steady by far. However the look was more akin to video; far too contrasty with some subtle pixelation on portions of the image in motion, such as billowing weeds. On the other hand, a Millenium II transfer was more 'film like', but with some vertical jitter. As Vera suggested, I might feel differently about it by the time I'm done editing. It's possible that the sound design may also mitigate perceived movement. In the meantime, I'll continue to investigate stabilization software.
In terms of recommending transfer houses, I've learned that one **cannot** (read; can--not) separate the operators from the technology. You can have the best operator working on the wrong piece of equipment, or a telecine that gives you the look you want by an operator who does sub-par work. In the latter situation, I paid thousands to someone who gave me a transfer in which a quarter of the footage was out of focus. To my surprise and consternation, I thought it was me until I looked at the raw footage under a lupe and realized my shooting was razor sharp!
Another critical factor is customer service, and how that affects pricing. Transfer houses generally charge you by the rather amorphous, 'session time'; a 3:1 transfer ratio. In other words, if you have one hour of footage, you'll be quoted for three hours! Obviously, pricing is largely contingent on whether you get a scene to scene transfer or a 'flat pass' (which includes a basic degree of density and color correction, allowing for further grading later during online). But another critical factor is the interface between what customer service quotes you upfront and the time the operator actually takes. The two are not always in sync, and how well they communicate differs from lab to lab. I don't want to burn any bridges via this forum by disparaging certain labs based on (relatively perceived) customer service issues. But follow your instincts. And do tests! Don't (as I initially did) choose your transfer house based on specs alone!
Vera, you asked for the house I ended up with? I'm going with Pro 8 (aka 'Super 8 Sound') in Los Angeles. They have a Millenium II, and will transfer straight to drive, Pro Res compressed or uncompressed files.
Brooke, thanks for your detailed response. If I may, I'd like to follow up with you off list.

Lauren found her dream laptop. Find the PC thatís right for you.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.