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Inventing the Digital Intermediate

Understand what is impossible can create the future. It is up to believe that it is possible and then find a way.

At the end of the last century, I was one of the producers on the film Pleasantville, a movie that literally changed how movies are made by creating the digital intermediate, a digital color adjusting process now used on virtually every film made today. In its simplest form, Pleasantville is the story of two modern kids who get transported into a 1950s world where everything is black and white and with their arrival color slowly starts appearing in town.

The challenge for us was, in the analog era of 35mm movie film, how could we make parts of the scenes realistically black and white and also with lifelike color and do it for 1700 shots?

It was impossible. ILM wanted more than $15 million to create the effects, if they even could, pushing Pleasantville's budget past $50 million, killing the project.

So a group of eight to ten of us put our heads together, and each holding a unique piece of the puzzle, set about finding a way to get the 160,000 (ultra high resolution) movie film frames into a computer, then develop a way to manipulate the color of the image and then get that finished digital image back onto a piece of analog film.

The solution we found, utilizing the entire groups knowledge base and experience, was to do it ourselves, literally building and inventing the pipeline and procedures that are now commonplace and called a digital intermediate.

I will always remember one weekend the group of us running something magical called Ethernet cables between the cutting (editing) room and the visual effects offices a few rooms away.

Ultimately the artistic need and passion for the project gave birth to a solution. At the time, none of us knew what we were creating would change the way movies are made. But the impossible became possible, because we made it so.


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