L.A. Footage house banks on HD

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The high-definition footage industry may be in its nascent stages, but to Paula Lumbard, president of L.A.'s FootageBank, it's "like being on the frontier of something." And with a whole world of images to shoot, there's plenty of ground left to cover (not to mention sea, sky and all manner of bird and beast).

Exploring the HD wilderness is not for the faint of heart, though. "It was definitely a risk to assume there'd be a business there," admits Lumbard, who after 17 years in the film-based footage industry decided to claim a piece of the untamed HD landscape by founding Footage Bank in 2002. Not only did her broadcast television clients predict the imminent arrival of HD. The federal government mandated it by requiring that analog broadcast TV signals and TV set tuners go digital by 2007.

Today, FootageBank shots are used by clients as diverse as Microsoft, Samsung, Best Buy and Chef Boyardee. The company licenses the standard stock fare, but also has a substantial collection of aerial shots in addition to footage of landscapes, animals, sporting events, underwater scenes, and sophisticated eye candy relating to science and technology. Even images featuring CGI elements output to HD like the ones Connecticut's Keiler & Company licensed for a 30-second Lockheed Martin spot are available. FootageBank also converts film to HD, a service used often by its clients.

While visitors to its web site can currently search FootageBank's online library of stills from its collection of HD and 35mm footage, they soon will be able to experience that footage in motion at FootageBank.com via Apple's QuickTime player.

HD's true-to-life quality is probably its most desirable feature. Regardless, the first and last times mass audiences experienced HD was on the big screen in features like Star Wars: Episode II and Spy Kids II. But little do the millions of analog TV-watching couch potatoes know: they've probably viewed many hours of television content shot in HD. More than 40 TV shows are shot in HD right now, says Lumbard, The West Wing, Law and Order and The Young and the Restless among them. FootageBank licenses footage to several television shows including The Bernie Mac Show, JAG, Friends, It's all Relative, Malcolm in the Middle and Monk. "We hear from pretty much all the shows," Lumbard adds.

Image clarity and government decree aside, the fact remains that for many, switching from shooting on 35mm film to HD may makes sense. First, it saves money on film stock, lab processing and film-to-tape transfer. Minus those expenses, directors can roll far more liberally. "Directors like HD because of its ability to catch things as they happen," asserts Lumbard.

National Geographic, along with many early-adopting documentarians, has also taken to HD. For The Living Machine, an upcoming National Geographic documentary about extinction, Monterey's Sea Studios licensed FootageBank's HD footage of a jaguar in Bali.

Unlike the company's TV broadcast production clients and tech clients with vested interests in promoting HD, FootageBank's commercials clients are in the minority. Some may use HD footage to build spots around content that's been captured on film; however, much of FootageBank's HD library, and that of other HD footage storehouses as well, is lacking when it comes to the people-driven images marketers often rely upon to communicate their messages.

Lumbard hopes industry efforts like the Dreams project, launched in 2002 by Young & Rubicam to help promote Sony's 24p HD technology, will help spur greater interest in HD among commercial creators. Still, a dearth of basic knowledge regarding camera functions, format suitability and the like is a formidable barrier to HD adoption in the ad world. Realizing this from the start, FootageBank has made a concerted effort to educate clients and potential HD users by producing learning tools such as its High Definition Format Guide which provides a quick study of the three HD format types, 24p, 1080i and 720p. Many of the company's clients are actively educating their production staff about HD, too, stresses Lumbard.

"I think for the commercials world it's still coming," she predicts, "but it'll take a couple more years of experimenting before HD use will be as common as it is in broadcast community."

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