Magazine article American Cinematographer

Spotlight on Labs

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Spotlight on Labs

Article excerpt

When animation studios began moving from traditional ink and paint to digital ink and paint in the late 1990s, Steve Hagel was manager of sales and marketing for Chromacolour North America, Ltd., a major supplier of equipment and materials to the animation industry. The physical production of animation was changing, but that didn't necessarily spell gloom and doom. In fact, he saw a new business opportunity.

"Big animation studios still had a film archiving policy, so they needed lo get from digital back to film. But film recording was very expensive and not sustainable on a large scale," he points out. "So there was an opportunity to develop a cost-effective film recording process aimed at archiving television animation."

Hagel launched Calgary-based Acmeworks Digital Film in 1998 with the Cartoon Network series, Courage the Cowardly Dog, as the first client for its editorial and film recording services. Acmeworks received high-resolution data files from the animation studios and a digital betacam master with which to perform a matchback that was then filmed out for archiving. Warner Bros. Animation, Universal Cartoon Studio, Stretch Films, Curious Pictures and Walt Disney TV Animation quickly joined the client roster.

For 15 years, Acmeworks sent their film processing to film labs, first in Edmonton then Vancouver. "When Deluxe Vancouver closed we became a customer of Deluxe in Los Angeles," Hagel says. Then he saw another opportunity - one that appeared to reverse an industry trend.

"Almost three years ago we made the decision to pursue setting up our own lab," he says. "We felt the trend of large labs closing was a threat to our business and felt the only way forward was to set up our own lab to service our clients and others who might naturally evolve."

Hagel notes that Acmeworks hadn't seen any drop-off in film as an archiving medium among their clients, and he firmly believes that film still has a role in moving image content whether for capture or preservation. So Acmeworks forged ahead with plans and opened its lab about a year ago.

"I think you're going to see a re-emergence of small boutique labs," Hagel predicts. "A number of people in western Canada and the western U.S. are looking for lab services, and schools still use 16mm and 35mm in the educational process."

Although all studios are experimenting with digital archiving, it's a complex and expensive process, he notes. He sees a "hybrid" model taking hold where "studios use film for deep archiving but keep digital versions of content handy for day-to-day needs and distribution. …

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