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The Super 8 Direct To Hard Drive Revolution. Who, Where, and How


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#1 santo

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 05:21 PM

Thankfully the era of crappy Kodachrome 40 is now behind us and rapidly vanishing with it are the notions that acceptable results for super 8 video transfer can be had with some kind of video camera aimed at a mirror box, or even a transfer to miniDV. The K40 was killed wisely by Kodak. Now we've got nothing but excellent film stocks. The DV transfer era is now being killed by the emergence of direct-to-harddrive. Don't be fooled by a DV dump onto a hard drive, real direct-to-hard drive usually involves a 10-bit process with a Blackmagic Design universal codec, and always requires scanning with a real telecine machine (Rank/Shadow/Spirit/etc). The difference between DV and digibeta shooting on video is noticeable. The difference between transfering super 8 film to DV compared to digibeta is devastating.

Just to recap a little from another thread I started on the basic current standards for quality super 8 filmmaking, below is another sample picture from two super 8 frames. It's pretty self-explanitory. Both are Plus-X super 8 in origin. Both the same size of the frame. The 10-bit image is a frame I shot. The DV transfered frame is courtesy Steve Hyde.

Posted Image

The cost difference for a typical short film project to choose uncompressed standard def over DV? Hang on to your chair. It's usually about a hundred bucks to two hundred tops plus the cost of a portable hard drive. No poop.

Obviously, if you have any ambitions at making short films in super 8 or other projects for public exhibition, digital beta is the minimum standard to use. HD is obviously going to be terrific, but it becomes questionable how important it is for super 8. I say it is worth it for negatives, while digibeta is all you need for reversals. What is important is that you observe this minimal digibeta standard for your work to look good in exhibition. Ideally, a very simple workflow can now occur which was impossible before maybe 6 months ago. Send in film, transfer direct to hard drive, you get back usually mov files and you download the free Blackmagic codec from their site, you edit with Final Cut, Adobe, Vegas 6, (preferably using DV proxy files to make it easy on your system and for real time effects until the final assembly when the proxies are replaced with the uncompressed files) then the final edited file is brought to a post house and dumped onto digibeta for a finished project.

At present, as of this writing, the following post houses offer direct to hard drive super 8 transfers. Here's what I know as far as basics. Details/prices you should contact them or maybe other members of this forum can fill us in. In no particular order. But these ones are in the US.

1) Cinepost -- They will transfer your film to digibeta and then dump the digibeta onto hard drive. Just to clarify, for all practical purposes, it is pretty hard to detect any difference between uncompressed direct to harddrive and digibeta, if you can actually see any. http://www.posthouse.com/

2) Bono Labs -- You can get direct to hard drive standard definition and also high definition here. http://www.bonolabs.com/

3) Cinelab -- Direct to hard drive. 10 bit. Standard def only. Cheap. http://www.cinelab.com/

4) Debenham Media Group -- Direct to hard drive. 10 bit. Standard def. Cheap. http://3516.com/

5) Flying Spot -- I believe both a digibeta dump to hard drive and HDcam with a dump to hard drive are possible here. http://www.fsft.com/

No doubt there are at least one or two places in Germany that offer this. Somebody must know. Please post if you do!

As can be seen, it has become, virtually overnight, a buyers market for true professional transfer of super 8 for anybody on the internet. Truly a revolution. Because of it, and the new super advanced filmstocks in super 8, we will see more and more quality super 8 shorts and projects finding wide audiences. Super 8 is approaching a virtual critical mass as a filmmaking tool for low budget filmmakers, with no end in sight.
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#2 Rod Otaviano

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 06:29 PM

I've been following your posts since you were an active member on the "other" forum and although sometimes they generate some disagreement I gotta admit I'm glad you've been pushing the limits of Super 8.

Excellent post by the way.

Cheers
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#3 Chris Graham

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 06:44 PM

Santo, I salute you. Posted Image
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#4 Trevor Greenfield

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 08:27 PM

Thank you for this, this was something I looked into for my latest short unfortunately I only discovered two sources to do this and both were quoted around $400-500. Now, although it suffered my being transferred to DV, I did get to go do a supervised session with Alpha Cine which is relatively local at only 350miles away (this is how you do things when you live in a town of 1800 in Idaho).

So my question is twofold - 1, do you have a raw bm frame or two you could share with us so we can play with it to see the difference? 2 - I wonder if there is truly more power available to a colorist doing a tc than if you simply get it uncompressed and do it yourself.
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#5 steve hyde

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 08:41 PM

....a very timely post Santo.

Let me offer a couple of corrections since I may be responsible for spreading some misinformation on the other board.

Flying Spot Film Transfer in Seattle is running a AJA Kona 2 card.

here is the propaganda about it:

SDI, HD-SDI, Dual Link HD-SDI 4:4:4
PCI-X Bus Interface
DVCProHD hardware acceleration
HDV hardware acceleration
Dynamic RT Extreme hardware acceleration
Broadcast Quality hardware 10-bit Up-convert
Broadcast Quality hardware 10-bit Down-convert
12 bit HD component and SD component/composite analog output
8-Channel 24-bit AES and Embedded Audio
AJA QuickTime? Drivers
Support for Apple Final Cut Pro?
Support for Adobe AfterEffects, PhotoShop...and Much More!
RS-422 Machine Control
Cables Standard?K3-Box Breakout Optional
3-year Warranty

source:

http://www.aja.com/products_kona.html

CinePost in Atlanta is using a Black Magic card (I think - not sure which one)

http://www.blackmagi...om/products/hd/

So to clarify, these are not tape dumps this is full uncompressed 10 bit at both posthouses.
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#6 steve hyde

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 09:08 PM

I'm planning to ask for the direct to hard drive uncompressed files on my next xfer, which will happen in the next week or two, but I'm still a bit unclear about working with the files.

Thinking out loud here (please chime in with suggestions if I'm off base)

I will be asking for a simul record to DVCAM and SDI hard drive so I don't think I will need to generate proxy files from the uncompressed. I will capture the DVCAM into the NLE with plans to conform the EDL to the uncompressed later in the online.

So my question is on conforming edits in the online: Will I be able to conform my edits to the uncompressed before taking my drive back to the posthouse for finishing? I will be using a dual proc G5 3.5 gb ram. Do I need special hardware?

It would be nice to walk in dump all the cuts out to HD or DigiBeta without having to spend 300.00hr shuttling around with tapes.

Thanks in advance for insights and or tips,

Steve

Edited by steve hyde, 27 January 2006 - 09:10 PM.

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#7 Chris Burke

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 12:35 AM

I'm planning to ask for the direct to hard drive uncompressed files on my next xfer, which will happen in the next week or two, but I'm still a bit unclear about working with the files.

Thinking out loud here (please chime in with suggestions if I'm off base)

I will be asking for a simul record to DVCAM and SDI hard drive so I don't think I will need to generate proxy files from the uncompressed. I will capture the DVCAM into the NLE with plans to conform the EDL to the uncompressed later in the online.

So my question is on conforming edits in the online: Will I be able to conform my edits to the uncompressed before taking my drive back to the posthouse for finishing? I will be using a dual proc G5 3.5 gb ram. Do I need special hardware?

It would be nice to walk in dump all the cuts out to HD or DigiBeta without having to spend 300.00hr shuttling around with tapes.

Thanks in advance for insights and or tips,

Steve


It all boils down to your hard drive speed. If you are going to conform your online material at home on your own system, you will need a RAID. SCSI or SATA II will do it. Here's the catch. SATA raid will set you back about 1500. I am not sure how long your pieces is or what sort of effects are in it, but 1500 is about a day at a really good post house using all their stuff; proper monitors and all kinds of tape decks for output. A SCSI raid will cost much much more. So, if you intend to do all your films this way from now on, then the SATA raid may be an option. If not, go to a post house to have it done. They have done this sort of thing many times. Good luck
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#8 steve hyde

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 01:52 AM

...thanks, I'll have to look into what these drives are all about. I use a university-owned editing suite so I may be able to request that the computer be upgraded. I'll ask the guys that run the lab if there are any computers that can handle the conform. We have an HVX-200 camera on order so I think we are getting ramped-up for HD.

Steve
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#9 steve hyde

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 11:49 AM

.....So those of you that are using this 10 bit uncompressed SDI to hard drive work flow - how are you doing it? I don't understand why conforming an EDL to the uncompressed files would require a special hard drive (??) I do understand that finishing will require a Black Magic or Kona card and Digibeta or whatever tape deck.

So if I'm finishing at posthouse, do I really need a RAID or SCSI or SATA II? The files will just be sitting on a drive - no rendering or anything.... I'm confused. :blink:

Is it unrealistic to think that I can conform my EDL to the uncompressed files via firewire to an external? If I buy an external drive to commit to this task, which external type drives are most appropriate?

Thanks in advance,

Steve

Edited by steve hyde, 28 January 2006 - 11:52 AM.

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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 02:10 PM

Hi,

> So to clarify, these are not tape dumps this is full uncompressed 10 bit at both posthouses.

Not necessarily; standard def SDI and single link HD-SDI is 4:2:2, so you are losing something. Probably nothing to get upset about, but it ain't quite all there.

Yes, I am an obsessive about this, but really there shouldn't be any room for bandwidth backsliding when you're talking about data that doesn't have to be realtime. If I want 1920x1080 images, I want 1920x1080x3 discrete 10-bit samples, thankee very much.

As to whether you'd need to supply a RAID - not if I were in charge. I'm sure what they actually do is scan it to a RAID of their own, because it has to hit a certain data rate at that point, then do a file transfer to your media which doesn't have to be realtime. The alternative would be a fairly horrendous mess of interfacing and drivers for them to maintain.

Phil
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#11 Anthony Schilling

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 04:50 PM

My question is, if I get a straight to hard drive transfer, why do i need anything else? Can't I just plug the hard drive back into my computer and pull the uncompressed file into Sony Vegas? The black majic card and SATA would be needed for hooking up decks and capturing from a deck... which defeats the purpose and advantage of a straight to HD transfer.
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#12 santo

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 06:09 PM

I only started this thread because I got a PM from somebody asking some questions in this area and thought about how tough it was to develop just a simple list a couple of months ago on who does this and who was about to do it and a few basics so I could do my own research and price comparisons.

I'm no expert on hardware and whatnot. However this next point is really obvious, but I'll make it anyway: there is a difference that needs to be kept in mind in that doing an uncompressed HD transfer (final destination HDcam probably) as part of your work flow requires a lot more computing power than doing an uncompressed SD transfer (final destination digibeta probably). These are two seperate things. Although both are 10-bit uncompressed to hard drive.

I've run a Standard Def 10 bit direct to hard drive with Sony Vegas 6 no problem. Just download the free Blackmagic codec to your computer, plug in the hard drive with the files (likely mov) via USB and edit away. It is really that simple. And this is just with a consumer off the shelf Medion "professional" PC I've experimented with. The 6010 with NVIDIA 6200 card and an AMD dual core processor and a gig of ram. Works fine until you do a few edits then it gets a little choppy -- not all that bad, really -- but the proxy file solution of making DV files for edit solves all those problems. Uncompressed files switched back for final edit and render.

With high def 10 bit, forget trying to run it in real time with this system with any editing. But with proxy files, it can handle it. However I'd recommend sticking with the types of more expensive solutions suggested above, or upper end macs. Simply because there is so much more information and rendering is a big strain on a system like that. Likely you might run into problems and glitches. Rendering times are also a big difference.

So that's really all I have to add. again, i'm no expert. Standard Def uncompressed, no problem with a top end off the shelf consumer PC and Sony Vegas 6, but proxy recommended until final edit. High Def, you really should use higher end gear, but proxies might get you by. Wouldn't recommend it. My experience.
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#13 Trevor Swaim

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 06:44 PM

So I guess my question is, what is the point? I know that s8mm can look great and all if that is the look you are going for, but after you have done all of this to ensure the highest quality possible your output options are basically DVD, or a film out. one is super expensive and the other is low res. I know that Blueray might change this equation but at the current time it seems a little like kissing your sister.
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#14 Robert Hughes

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 08:41 PM

Trevor, I believe the point is that S8 can now be considered a viable origination medium for SD and perhaps even HD video.

Super 8 has several advantages, including the small size of cameras and their "home movie" public personality, which is less threatening to on-the-street pedestrians and Law & Order enthusiasts (I just today got chased away from a gas station near the Pentagon because of my 35mm Eyemo & tripod setup). The picture quality is good enough for broadcast, is better than much of the standard "America's funniest..." footage, and - it looks like film. As Santo says, this improvement is a relatively recent phenomenon. I look forward to using more Super 8 in the near future.

Edited by Robert Hughes, 28 January 2006 - 08:44 PM.

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#15 Trevor Swaim

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 09:08 PM

Oh don't get me wrong I too love super8, I wish I would have shot my film on S8 instead of DV. I didn't mean to come off as a nay sayer, I am interested in this work flow. My question is what is (currently) the point of the increase in cost, to gain the extra picture quality?

I for one am stoked at the resurgance in super8. the supermag, new stocks, premium transfers, i love it. I would just love to see a "new" camera come out. yes i know its crazy but a factory blimped beaulieu 9008 with a teflon film guide, and modern TTL light meters. man it would be sweet.
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#16 Anthony Schilling

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 02:15 AM

My question is what is (currently) the point of the increase in cost, to gain the extra picture quality?

With some of the higher end post houses (that do S8), your paying digibeta rates anyway, and getting a miniDV or DVcam dub so you can capture it. And there's digibeta tape stock and dub time that cost extra. And if your lucky enough to find a digibeta deck and pay over $500 to rent it, it's probably not worth it. But if I can get the full 4:2:2 for $125hr, thats pretty awsome. All the video files I'm working on now are stored on an external 400gig seagate, all the Vegas virtual files and test renders too. having uncompressed transfers that I can just plug into my system, and never see a deck would work great for me.
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#17 santo

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 04:44 PM

So I guess my question is, what is the point? I know that s8mm can look great and all if that is the look you are going for, but after you have done all of this to ensure the highest quality possible your output options are basically DVD, or a film out. one is super expensive and the other is low res. I know that Blueray might change this equation but at the current time it seems a little like kissing your sister.


Clearly you're confused and that's fine. You're a student. Well, this is something you need to learn to make sure your efforts look like anything in a public exhibition and you aren't throwing your money away.

The point is, that if you intend to shoot super 8 for a short film project, which is what super 8 has emerged as a terrific medium for, and have any ambition of putting it in some film festivals that are of any consequence, you are looking at digital beta as an exhibition format as the premier cost-effective choice.

Because this is the case, you need to avoid the destructive step of putting your film through the DV meat grinder, which turns it to grunge. That goes for any film gauge, not just super 8. Unless you really want your super 8 to look like grunge, then go ahead. It might be the sort of project that benefits from a bunch of extra artificial digital noise in the image, bad colour, and murkiness. That's possible. But if you are shooting super 8 because you want the intense film texture and beautiful colour and the magic of film grain in your images when it's shown on a big screen, then DV has to be avoided.

In the recent past, serious super 8 short film filmmakers which have seen big festival play (meaning they were output to digital beta) had to find themselves spending a lot of very expensive time in a professional post-production environment when it came time to put together a digibeta tape to send out for festival play.

Probably my favourite super 8 short is a typical example of this. Guy Maddin's HEART OF THE WORLD was shot on super 8 and finished and exhibited on digital beta. Winner of 6 international short film awards including the US National Society of Film Critics, San Francisco, and Miami, it is generally regarded as one of the greatest Oscar oversights in short filmmaking. It single-handedly revived a dead career for Maddin and led to several multi-million dollar feature length projects. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0260948/ Ironically, Maddin is not a filmmaker looking for pristine images from super 8. He used digital beta to finish and avoided DV because digital beta is the minimal standard for film festival exhibition of any consequence, and because it preserves the beauty and texture of film.

A recent example I have not seen, but has produced a lot of publicity, is the Cannes super 8 short film this past year. Shot on K40 with a home movie camera, the filmmaker was looking for a washed out old film look. THE MAN WHO MET HIMSELF seems to be doing quite well for itself. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458422/ The filmmaker shot it, transfered it to DV, edited, then, when it came time to display it, he did it all over in digitalbeta so that it would look half-decent on screen. Even though he, too, was not going for maximum super 8 potential, he was aware or advised that DV transfered film looks like garbage on the big screen. Which it does.

Now examining your statement:

"...your output options are basically DVD, or a film out. one is super expensive and the other is low res. I know that Blueray might change this equation but at the current time it seems a little like kissing your sister."

DVD -- First off, even if DVD is a destination, which it is if you're making film festival submissions, your image is still going to look twice as good avoiding the DV meat-grinder and doing a straight to hard-drive transfer and generating an uncompressed final cut which you then author to DVD. If you would run some of your own tests, you'd be shocked at the difference this makes over film which has been "DV'd". And it makes complete sense the difference would be so great. Afterall, the DV transfer/codec involves such a reduction in visual information that your image gets soft (while compressing it 5x) and then to get any kind of sharpness back you have to digitally sharpen it. This introduces all kinds of compression and digital artifacts, making super 8 look far "grainier" than it really is. The grain of super 8 film is beautiful, the digital noise introduced with the DV process is not. In fact, a lot of the "grain" we see in super 8 negative examples posted all over the internet (and in the new 64t stills) is mostly a result of this artificial sharpening and digital noise. The worst are all these "grainy" long shots and "grainy" blue skys. It's ridiculous and misrepresentative. There's grain there, but it's a beautiful part of the image which does not detract from the viewing experience.

Film Out -- Why bother with film out when you can get a digibeta dub (or HDcam if that's the route you're going)? This doesn't make sense unless you really insist on finishing your short on film. If you're followed a decent workflow to maintain the film quality, there isn't really a big point for an independant short filmmaker to do so. It won't stop you from being exhibited at the biggest, most important film festivals in the world to finish on digibeta or HDcam.

BlueRay -- This doesn't make any sense, either. There's all kinds of HDV options currently available. D-VHS being the most flexible, whether Sony likes it or not. And any film festivals worth anything only show as their video finished exhibition media digital beta or HDcam. And in the case of minor league festivals who might show films in HDV formats now or in the future, a dub from a professional format like a digital beta tape or HDcam final cut is pretty straight forward at any decent post house.

I hope this clears some things up.
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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 05:50 PM

Hi,

What I don't quite get is why you'd want to shoot super-8 when super-16 is barely more expensive in terms of consumables and consumables are by far the greatest expense.

Phil
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#19 Chris Burke

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 06:12 PM

Hi,

What I don't quite get is why you'd want to shoot super-8 when super-16 is barely more expensive in terms of consumables and consumables are by far the greatest expense.

Phil



Good question. I guess the only real reason is for it's look. I have been pricing out shooting a 20 minute short on 7217 Super 8, transfer to hard drive as uncompressed HD. Both Super 8 budget and the Super 16 budget have the same scary minimum shooting ratio of 6:1, and both cost roughly the same amount of money. So it must be for the look.

chris
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#20 steve hyde

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 07:34 PM

...Well, Santo makes a strong case for squeezing every drop of juice out of super 8. It is nice that the 10 bit transfers make it far more cost effective to do this as he illustrated above - by bypassing expensive DigiBeta online costs.

Let's also keep in mind this workflow can be applied to all film formats - as he also stated above.

The beauty of super 8 is the beauty of film grain. To get beautiful film grain the pixels need to reside behind the grain. This is what Santo's comparison of DV and 10 bit at the top shows.

For feature productions this workflow won't catch on very soon because there is way too much disk space required, but for short-form films, this opens a lot of possibilites for finishing a film on broadcast quality tape much more economically.

For me the aesthetic of super 8 goes beyond just how it looks. There is also an ethos characterized by making the most from least. It's a lo-fi thing. And I always feel a bit disapointed when I see artists taking hi-fi and trying to make it look or sound lo-fi. You know: adding feedback to a recording in post or putting stupid scratch filters on video.

Instead take care to spend a a few hundred dollars to have a Beaulieu, Nizo or Leicina serviced and then spend a few thousand dollars on film stock and transfers. Save thousands on rental fees and put that money to creative use. Make a super 8 film that uses grain-crawl in its visual design and takes advantage of super8's photogenia. Put the pixels behind the grain and refresh film festival audiences that are growing tired of looking at the harsh reality-TV photogenia of HD and video.

This said, if you have an Aaton XTR laying around....by all means..

Steve
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