Workflow Special: The Digital Lab

With film accelerating its march into extinction, file-based workflows have become the most dominant for feature and television productions. But with all of these drives containing sound and picture files flying from set to post and back, what has happened to the dailies process? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that crews were exclusively dealing with film dailies.

If you’re unfamiliar with dailies, the process is basically screening unedited footage shot usually the day before. The postproduction team would process film, sync sound and then print to film (or via the telecine process) for the director and crew to view. Dailies gives you an excellent idea on how well the shoot is progressing, as well as allows you to catch continuity mistakes that can be re-shot before the film wraps. Producing dailies is a huge undertaking, but for the director, crew and actors, it’s an essential piece of the filmmaking.

With the exception of a few Hollywood directors (Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.), who are still shooting on film, creating consistent dailies for file-based workflows is difficult since there isn’t an industry-standard procedure yet. But don’t worry, a number of upstarts, as well as established post companies, have been creating digital labs on or near the set to work seamlessly with production and post.


Deluxe (, a giant in the post industry, has slowly, but surely transitioned from film to digital, and for the past decade, they have been buying up digital post companies. For larger productions, EC3, the dailies services division of Deluxe Creative Services companies EFILM and Company 3, offers a number of workflows to choose from.

Colorist Adrian DeLude at work.

"We’re not about a one-size-fits-all approach," says EC3’s Production Manager, Marc Ross. "We offer some of the most elaborate setups available anywhere. The fully outfitted grading theater we sent out to the locations of X-Men: Days of Future Past—the cinematographer and director could walk just off the set and sit with one of our talented colorists as he worked on the 3D stereo dailies in real time. But we also have a lot of productions where we just send mobile dailies carts or our ColorStream setup that displays images through multiple LUTs so people on set can get a better idea of what the final grade might look like."

EC3 trailers were designed on the outside by Star Waggons, a manufacturer of luxurious trailers that actors hang out in between takes. The inside was built from the ground up by EC3’s technicians and offers all the technical capabilities of a brick-and-mortar feature-grading theater, including full DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives)-compatible projection, a color-grading console capable of the same level of primary and secondary work, and even plush, comfortable seating. EC3 currently has two of these trailers, which have worked all over North America, from a remote mountain range in the New Mexico desert for Lone Survivor to the Montreal location of X-Men: Days of Future Past.