A tale of tech pipelining two cities

'X-Files'

A high-tech, low-key investigation like some of those undertaken by Scully and Mulder on “The X-Files” changed the Vancouver-to-Los Angeles pipeline of the show’s post-production system two years ago, eliminating the need to send the dailies south by airplane through customs.

When producer Paul Rabwin and “The X-Files” post operations switched to a powerful fiber-optics technology to get the dailies across the border and down to L.A., post efficiency increased markedly.

“The ravages of distance and time used to get in the way as we tried to process the material,” says Rabwin, producer on this year’s shows. “Now we transfer the negative image onto videotape and do a reverse polarity of the positive image through the Telecine process and transfer it to the Fox Studios in L.A. by using Vyvx — the powerful fiber-optics line that can completely convey precise video images and full sound recordings.”

The 20 to 40 minutes of the director’s daily circle takes — which are developed by 2 a.m. after the previous day’s shoot at Gastown Lab in Vancouver — now can be viewed as early as 8:30 a.m. by Rabwin and the other principals at Fox. Formerly, the plane process got the dailies to Fox by 1 p.m.

“Financially, it’s a wash,” says Rabwin, who supervises post closely with co-producer Lori Jo Nemhauser, “and a drastic improvement over the old system.

“The quality is excellent. There’s competition for the Vyvx line with communications networks sending their news coverage, and we can’t always get stuff the first thing in the morning, because we’re doing two series there at once (‘Millennium’ being the other), but it’s much better than before.”

Final colorization and light painting to achieve the distinctive noirish, sometimes nightmarish look of the show as well as the editing and formatting and some of the visual effects are done at L.A.-based Encore Post-Production.

Colorist Phil Azenzer, in telephone collaboration with the show’s cinematographers, then uses the Da Vinci color-correction process after the computerized construction of an entire show from the editor’s decision list.

“At that point the show will have only been colored once,” says Rabwin, who formerly produced “The Streets of San Francisco” for Quinn Martin Prods. as well as “CHiPS.” “Phil will spend a day and a half or two days color-correcting a show. He paints in light or enhances a color or removes a color. The show demands that we push the envelope.”

Azenzer, who says he “banged heads” with Chris Carter initially because of the creative producer’s insistence on ultra-dark images for the show’s look, says the two had a meeting of the minds and now “he lets me do my own thing.”

“I determine the detail or create more contrast or add more chroma, enhance skin tones and hair and eye color,” Azenzer says. “With the Da Vinci, I can create light sources that don’t exist in certain parts of the frame. I can create blue skies when there are gray skies. All four d.p.s have been great to work with.”

David Nutter, who directed 15 “X-Files” episodes during the first three years of production and has helmed episodes of “Millennium” and “Sleepwalkers,” calls Azenzer’s work “very important. It helps give the show its signature.” He adds that Encore “is groundbreaking in what they’re able to do.”

After Azenzer’s contribution, the show’s supervisor sound editor, Thierry Couturier of West Prods. Inc., and his team add sound effects and additional dialogue, as well as composer Mark Snow’s distinctive music.

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