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Canada's ‘best-equipped school of cinema’

$2.1 million investment in Hollywood-grade digital technology allows Concordia students to take their work to the next level
May 21, 2014
By Anne-Marie Curatolo and Jasmine Stuart

Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema The transition from film to digital technology is the largest and most comprehensive change in the history of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. | Photo by Concordia University

Students at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema (MHSoC) now have access to the same technologies as filmmakers from major Hollywood studios.

Thanks to a $2.1-million investment in equipment, they can now take advantage of 35 new high-end digital cameras. Furthermore, the school now provides fully equipped post-production suites featuring Mac Pros running DaVinci Resolve, Flanders Scientific grading monitors and professional control surfaces. Students finish their films using a cutting-edge Rohde & Schwarz DVS Clipster to generate industry standard Digital Cinema Packages (DCP).

“The investment in digital technology is the largest and most comprehensive change in the history of the school,” says Daniel Cross, associate professor of film production and chair of the MHSoC.

With the exception of one high-definition editing station, which was added in 2010, the school taught and shot with 16 mm and 35 mm film until the spring 2014 term.

“We still love and will continue to work with film, but it simply isn’t viable to shoot everything on film,” Cross says.

The once-standard medium has become increasingly costly and time-consuming to use. Kodak recently closed its Montreal office, and Technicolor has dramatically reduced its support for film stock: in the span of a year, students went from producing 80 per cent of their work on film to 95 per cent in digital.

And as digital acquisition, post-production and distribution become the norm, the MHSoC must ensure that its graduates’ skills were in line with the demands of the industry.

A team project

When the decision to move to digital was made, it quickly became clear that this would mean more than buying new cameras. Another serious concern emerged: the school needed to store the mass of data that those cameras would create.

With that in mind, Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS) stepped in to help the MHSoC assess its back-end needs and develop a business case for its purchases.

“We needed to carefully consider what would best meet its requirements in terms of storage, specialized software, high-end workstations, bandwidth and so on,” says Marc Denoncourt, associate vice-president of Information Systems and chief information officer.

Once the project was approved by the IS Advisory Committee (the committee that oversees all IT investments in systems and technologies at Concordia), a project team comprised of representatives from both the Faculty of Fine Arts and IITS, including MHSoC and the Centre for Digital Arts, was charged with designing and implementing the system. “This really became a team project,” Denoncourt says.

After researching different possibilities and visiting the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Technicolor to learn from their transition from film to digital, the committee settled on the same model as the NFB  — a system designed specifically to store image data. Its capacity is 150 terabytes.

With the help of fiber-optic cables and a storage area network, it is possible to operate the six upgraded editing suites simultaneously, in real time, using the raw, stored data. The MHSoC also boasts the fastest broadband speeds of any Canadian university department.

“The addition of this state-of-the-art technology makes Concordia the best-equipped school of cinema in Canada,” Denoncourt says. “It gives us an added advantage in the recruitment of top students.”

Cross agrees. “Beyond storage needs, the introduction of digital equipment for shooting has changed the workflow of making student films. It will change the way we teach film production.”

As a result, he says, a new age of cinema is dawning at Concordia.

“We have the faculty, we have the students and now we have the equipment. We have taken things to the next level.”

Check out Concordia’s new, improved J.A. DeSève Cinema.


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