Pressure from Below
In Hollywood during 90s, AVID was the king of Nonlinear editing systems but it was still a fairly expensive system. Several companies tried to compete for a share of that video production market.
Beginning In 1990, Newtek released the first Video Toaster on the Amiga system.
Though technically it was more of a Video Switcher which only had limited linear editing capabilities until they added the Flyer, the video toaster brought video production to lots small televisoin studios, production shops and schools. Costing only a few thousand but loaded with effects, character generator and even a 3d package called Lightwave 3D, Video Toast proved there was a market for small scale media production.
As computers continued getting more powerful and storage cheaper and cheaper, Software based Non-linear editors like Adobe Premiere and Media 100 kept nipping at the heels on Avid forcing the company to constantly lower the price of their system.
A media company called Macromedia wanted to get in the game. The hired the lead developer of Adobe Premiere Randy Ubillos to create a program called “Keygrip” based on Apple’s Quicktime codecs. The product was fairly developed when Macromedia realized it would be unable to release the program as it interferred with their licensing agreements they had with their partner Truvision and Microsoft. So Macromedia sought a company to buy the product they had developed and they found one at a private demonstration at NAB in 1998. The buyer’s name was Steve Jobs and his company Apple would release the software the following year as Final Cut Pro.
High-Definition Video and Film Scanning
The divide between television/video production and film production began to close with the adoption of high definition video production. Engineering commissions had been working on the standardization of High Def video since the 70s and experiments in HD broadcast were being conducted by the late 80s in Japan. The first public HD broadcast in the United States occurred on July 23, 1996.
Now about this same time, the mid to late 90s, Hollywood studios were beginning to use DI or digital intermediaries to create special effects. A DIs were created by sending 35mm celluoid film through a telecine which scanned the film to created a digital files. These could be manipulated and composited in the computer and when they were satisfied, the final shot would sent to an optical printer which put the digital images back on film. Hence the term Intermediary.
In 1992, Visual Effects Supervisor/Producer, Chris Woods overcame several technological barriers with telecine to create the visual effects for 1993’s release of Super Mario Bros. Over 700 visual effects plates were created at a 2K resolution - that’s roughly 2,000 pixels across.
Chris Watts, further revolutionized the DI process with 1998’s Pleasantville. Pleasantville held the record for most visual effects shots in a single film as almost every shot when the characters visit the fictional 1950s idyllic town of Pleasantville required some kind of color special effects.
That title for most digital effects would not last long as it was overtaken by Star Wars Episode I in 1999.
The first Hollywood film which utilized the DI process for the ENTIRE length of the movie was the Coen brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou in 2000. After trying bleach processes but never quite getting the right look, cinematographer Roger Deakins suggested doing it digitally with a DI. He spent 11 weeks pushing the color of the scanned 2k DI, fine-tuning the look of old-timey American south.
The thing is HD video and 2K film scans share roughly the same resolution - HD being 1920x1080 whereas 2K is 2048x1080. So it wasn’t long before Hollywood started asking, can we just skip the whole 35mm film step all together.
The first major motion picture shot entirely on digital was Star Wars II: attack of the clones on a pre-production Sony HDW-F900
And by the late half of the 2000s, with faster computers and storage, better cameras and even 4K resolution, it became conceivable to capture straight onto a digital format, edit online which means working with the original full quality files rather than a low quality working file, and even project digital files - all without celluloid film.
Moving into the second decade of the 21st century we’re adding even faster computer and video processors, incredibly efficient compression techniques like MPEG-4 and H.265 and a powerful network of data distribution with broadband internet.
The journey to get to modern day film/video editing can trace all the way back to TV networks needing to delay the broadcast of their shows. Everything we have now is built on the sparks of genius that electronics engineers, software engineers, and mathematicians had over the past 60 years - coming up with incredibly brilliant solutions to problems that hounded electronics from the start. Each step, each advancement adding more and more tools for us filmmakers to realize our dreams. How can you not look at the momentum of history and how we got here and not wonder in awe that so much as changed in so little time and it’s all so we can just tell stories to each other - Filmmaking is it technological fulfillment of our most basic human need, the need to communicate. So go out there and communicate! Use these tools that are available. Be part of the next chapter in filmmaking history.