Thursday, May 1, 2003

High and wide

As the widescreen, high definition era evolves what happens to all the standard definition stock footage?

by Nick Dager

For more than 20, years the world of professional video production and post production has largely been defined by the 4:3 aspect ratio of traditional broadcast television.

Much of our recent history -- war political events, historical figures, etc. -- has been captured and archived for later use in feature films, television shows, documentaries, commercials or corporate presentations, And virtually all of it has been recorded in standard definition.

The question, then, is this: As the industry moves into the widescreen-era of high definition video, what's to become of that vast collection of SD images?


Venice, CA's FootageBank ( is a newish stock footage house serving the production business. Industry veteran Paula Lumbard, who opened her first stock footage company in 1985, founded it last May. She says she started FootageBank in part because of her desire to return to the "boutique" footage business. FootageBank is focusing almost exclusively on HD footage.

"I made the decision to go wholly HD a year ago.," says Lumbard. "Our collection is 90 percent HD." She describes the FootageBank niche as a contemporary collection with an emphasis on nature. "We're doing a lot of location shooting, cleared for the broadcast market, and I'm about to take on a science technology library." And, Lumbard points out, "I have 4:3 material to fill the gaps as we wait for this market to mature."

FootageBank clients can get either a 4:3 or a 16:9 master of the clips they select. Lumbard asks them, "Do you want us to create a 4:3 master or do you want to create that yourself? Most people create that themselves. They'll take the 16:9 footage and crop it to 4:3 when they're doing their final edit."

Lumbard says she started the company because of her observation that there was a shortage of HD stock footage available to producers. "We knew it was coming," she says." There was so little out there. Where can you find an HD shot of Sydney Australia or Hong Kong or Paris at night? I was hoping that the business need would hit a critical mass point that it could support a business."

Lumbard says that one of the appeals of launching her business now is the newness of it all. "It's new technology. It's all new footage. It's a whole new product that's coming into the market," she says.

Lumbard believes all that is needed to jumpstart the complete transition to 16:9 is a critical mass of HD cameras in the hands of the production community. She's also seen a new spirit of camraderie among people in the production community She says people are more willing to share information. In that regard, Lumbard has an arrangement with Randall Dark's HD Vision Studios ( to host events to educate clients and potential clients about HD the technology the quality, the cost, etc.

LA-based Dark is also one of the HD shooters that supplies footage to FootageBank. "I handle more than 30 different HD producers," says Lumbard. Dark says he welcomed the arrangement because of Lumbard's strong track record in the stock footage business. Dark estimates that FootageBank represents about 20 percent of his existing library of HD footage; his own company handles the remaining 80 percent.

Dark, for his part, is among those who believe that SD footage will have limited value in the HD widescreen world of the near future."The world is going 16:9, and 4:3 upconversion does not intercut with HD or 16:9," he says. "The options are you blow the image up [zoom in] to fill the screen that crops the frame and softens the image or, my favorite, make everything fat and short by stretching the picture or side bar panels. All of the above completely takes the viewer out of the willing suspension of disbelief or breaks the visual flow of the story. I have done extensive tests, and it does not work We now have a television system that demands excellent visuals and heightens inferior images, It's called high definition for a reason. The creative community historically has strived for the best looking pictures during the image capture process. Why would they compromise their story telling?"

excerpt from Post