Producing HD Graphics

Update: December 7th, 2009

Producing HD Graphics

by Kelvin Hughes
Graphics Designer
American Production Services

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Never Twice Same Color(NTSC) will soon be a vague memory in our distant past as we progress to Digital TV. Digital means we no longer have issues of color to worry about. The colors we design into our work now will be seen in all their clarity instead of bleeding and buzzing all over the screen. Red makes a very strong statement but has been all but off limits until now, but with digital it stands strong and clear.

High definition digital television takes us a step further down the digital path with an image that has five and a half times the visual information and is a native digital signal. In the world of graphics this equates an equal increase in quality and time. Quality is unsurpassed in the world of HD signals. Clarity of image means that every pixel is now sharp and clear. There is no more “fudging” of graphics with the disclaimer that “nobody will ever notice in NTSC”. This means we can design in greater detail and color. Time and budgets have to grow to account for the extra design time that needs to go into filling this big canvas. As well as design time, actual render times for graphic compositions increase by a factor of 4 or more as the computers strain under the burden or pushing 6 to 8 MBs of data per frame through the system instead of the single MB that Standard Def entails. Start doing multi layer composites and all but the beefiest computers start to break down. Many graphic artists who work in HD for the first time fall foul of system requirements and time needed to render their creations.

Even when a graphic is finally rendered on a hard drive and ready to output to tape, the fun and games do not stop. A standard 30 second spot will fit on a 1 GB Jaz drive. Any major post house can put that onto DigiBeta for as little as $100. A 30 second High Definition spot will be around 6 GB`s of data that only a half dozen facilities in the USA can output to tape at a cost of around $1000.

Designers have become used to seeing their compositions rendered and played back in real time either from a DDR or from a RAM preview to gauge timing and visual flow. High Definition strips the average designer of these tools and places him/her back in the dark ages to see the creation in motion. He/she has to create, render, and after it has been output to tape the designer can see the piece for the first time!! As luck would have it the general trend over the last few years has been away from the closed system Black Box type of graphics creation tools to more open, resolution independent workstations such as Mac and Win NT systems that can now use multi processors and GB`s of RAM. All this power, and then some, is needed to work with High Definition video as each frame is 1920 X 1080 square pixels at 30 frames interlaced or 24 frames progressive. In comparison, a standard definition frame of video is only 640 X 480 square pixels at 30 frames interlaced.

Most of the available tools to create graphics can handle theses various frame sizes though at a much-reduced capacity. As a broadcast designer working on a WinNT platform my most used tools are all resolution independent. Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe After Effects, Newtek Lightwave 3D and Discreet Effect are all in constant use and able to switch from standard to High Definition in a mouse click. Though instead of rendering compositions over lunch, we wait to render out over night or over the weekend now for High Def work.

There are, of course, incredible advantages with working in High Definition that makes all these problems seem minor in comparison to viewing your creations in a format that rivals motion picture film for its visual impact. A digital signal frame pixel aspect is 1:1 i.e. The HD picture is composed of square pixels instead of the rectangular ones of standard D1 video. Working on a PC based platform, this brings the advantage of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). No longer do crisp CGI images look out of place when composited into grainy film background plates or pixelly video footage. Now they blend much more seamlessly into the image for greater realism.

The greatest advantage must be the 16:9 canvas to paint across that brings with it a whole new dimension to content creation it feels so natural that creating in the 4:3 aspect makes one feel boxed in and limited in the creative process.


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