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The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.


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Old October 12th, 2003, 02:48 PM   #46
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Hi, Federico!

First of all I'm sorry to start my being part of this great Forum "stating" things in such a way as I did.

Maybe I didn't fully understand this thread. But if you say "I don´t think anyone here is arguing that Video cannot achieve what Film can...", then this maybe the right dicusssion. If someone is arguing that video right now can achieve what film can, then that someone is wrong. My whole point was to show why video is several generations behind film on what they can achieve. But that doesn't mean all that much if you don't consider other factors.

And I certainly defend what video can do better and that it should be used as extensively as possible. One thing low budget productions shot in video have is that they are more democratic than film ever got to be (or probably will). I foresee a future of hundredths of thousands shooting videos which I think will be great for the audiovisual culture. So we also agree on that.

The teacher you mention was certainly a creep and is quite likely a very short minded person. We just have to beware of such persons when they can harm us, when they have power.

I certainly agree that film and video can live together and help each other. On the times when many people were against video as a film tool, I always stated that it was different, that it could be used for different things.

For instance, the first time I saw theatrical documentaries shot in video and kinoscoped to film, I realized what we would have to sacrifice and what we would win. Then I knew film was dead for documentaries, particularly for interviews.

But for features I'm a bit more demanding. The infinite subtones you get with film, and can't get with video, are a pleasure to dive in when you have a good projection at the theatre.

As I consider myself an independent filmmaker, of course I always look (and looked) for ways to be able to film things cheaply. Whether in film or video it's not really that important if you get it done. That should be the main task.


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Old October 12th, 2003, 05:07 PM   #47
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<<<-- Originally posted by Carlos E. Martinez : Hi, Federico!
...My whole point was to show why video is several generations behind film on what they can achieve. But that doesn't mean all that much if you don't consider other factors....
-->>>

I agree with you in most of your statement... I just think that nobody here said that Video can do the Same thing as Film.. That´s not the argument here... So that´s why I think your post didn´t quite fit in here.... but maybe it´s an English thing that I just don´t fully get...

Rob Lohman backed me up, so maybe I do understand... (although he couldn´t spell my name right :-))

<<<--
As I consider myself an independent filmmaker, of course I always look (and looked) for ways to be able to film things cheaply. Whether in film or video it's not really that important if you get it done. That should be the main task.
-->>>

I couldn´t agree more with you here... And I think that´s the point we are deffending here.. that Video can let us "get it done"... and Done Right..

<<<---Hi, Federico!
First of all I'm sorry to start my being part of this great Forum "stating" things in such a way as I did.
--->>>

As far as I´m concerned nothing to be sorry about.... I didn´t see any rudeness or anything negative about it.. It´s your thoughts... and that´s what these forums are for.. right?

And I hope it´s not too late.. But Welcome to the forums... :-)
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Old October 12th, 2003, 05:51 PM   #48
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<<<-- Originally posted by Rob Belics : Sorry, but you're wrong. Most films that use a DI are scanned at 2K, not 4K. It's expensive enough and slow enough to get a 2K DI. 4K is almost prohibitive at this point unless you have lots of time and a big budget.
-->>>

I didn't say there were no other formats being used. 2K DIs are looked at as a compromise the same way 2K cinematic projection is looked at as a compromise by DCI, who are reluctantly agreeing to a scalable 2K/4K distribution path. 2K DIs aren't detailed enough to surpass the quality 35mm, though. It's no wonder so many people who've had the option of using them have passed.

A 4K image is almost 13 megapixels, though. I've yet to meet anyone who used imaging sensors in that range who didn't prefer working with them over working with film. Digital still photography has been considerably ahead of digital video as the format has emerged. Look around right now at working still photographers and look what most of them are using. I seldom ever see any professionals working with film anymore. It will eventually be the same in cinema.

My argument isn't that what's currently being done in Hollywood isn't mostly film-based. My argument is that the technology is right on the brink of making film vs. video a non-issue. There are millions of theaters in the world with film projectors and I'm sure the distribution path for filmmakers will favor film for some time to come. Likewise, I'm sure the high-end digital systems that are about to become available will be prohibitively expensive for some time to come. Even then, there will be some people who choose film, just as there are some portrait and studio photographers who wouldn't give up their view cameras for a large digital back anytime soon.

My point was that very soon it isn't really going to matter if you decide to realize your vision using film or video. Really soon they'll both offer comparable visual quality and within a few years digital video will offer that quality at a fraction of the production cost. Maybe then the elitists who feel that video isn't art will find something else to occupy them.
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Old October 12th, 2003, 08:13 PM   #49
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It is correct that many films scan work for special effects shots in at 2K resolution, and render the computer imagery out at that same resolution. It results in very soft visuals onscreen, like most of The Perfect Storm, which the SFX were all done at 2K. The big waves look incredibly fake as a result. Movies like Stuart Little were done 100% at 4K resolution, and as a result they look much better.
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Old October 12th, 2003, 08:53 PM   #50
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Sorry really long post...

This thread is really great. Excellent info and very interesting opinions have been expressed. I would like to add mine. I think the road that leads to the death of film is a road we have already started to walk. I know film *is* better in many ways. But I also believe we are very close to getting there with video, as it's problems are close to being fixed. Consider just the following two problems: resolution and lattitude. Right now, these two parameters are really what set's the two technologies appart.

In regard to resolution, the market has already seen 8Mpx CCD still cameras. These cameras sometimes do some basic form of video, usually MPEG based and not high quality... but they are photo cameras, not video cameras. I am convinced that, under the current state of technology, a 4K video cameras is possible, you just need to put more processing power into the camera so all those pixels can be pumped out in real time. Of course it will be expensive. Of course it will not be small. Of course it might not be very simple to operate. But there is absolutely no way it will be more expensive, bigger and harder to operate than a 35mm film camera. Even if the camera itself is more expensive (surely good glass will be *as* expensive), processing power and compression will make media much much less expensive. Even if the resolution is really not as high physically as that of 35mm film, it won't matter. Sure, it matters to me, it matters to most of you, in those rare ocassions where we are in a cinema, close enough to the projection screen to tell the difference if we are looking for them. But most viewers will not notice the difference.

As for lattitude, I think the problem might be easily fixed using multiple CCD arrays, but not the way they are used now in normal video cameras... not one for each primary color. The best still cameras use a single CCD. So adding a second or third CCD with different ND filters can serve the purpose of capturing a wider dynamic range in the AD stage.

I firmly believe that the reason why better technology is not available does not respond to real technical problems. It's just Moore's law being an integral part of the tech manufacterer's business model. So they want to be able to sell us a product now, a better product in two years and an even better one four years from now. DV is governed by this because it was developed for a mass market, not to replace film... and that is why the DV vs Film debate is somewhat senseless, although obviously very interesting. The death of film will not be DV, it will not be HDV, but something between CineAlta and UHDV with a pixlet-like high bit depth codec. I am not saying this is what I want or that this is a good thing. I am just convinced that it will happen. When? Well... ehhhh... basically when Sony wants. Or when somebody else, with less to cannibalize, hits home. JVC is sure trying hard with HDV, but it is somewhat cripped technology. The others will be playing catchup with JVC in the nexts months, but somebody needs to try just a little harder, with a new format, probably disc-based or solid state. Canon perhaps? Great glass at least...
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Old October 12th, 2003, 09:47 PM   #51
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Re: Sorry really long post...

<<<-- Originally posted by Ignacio Rodriguez : This thread is really great.

In regard to resolution, the market has already seen 8Mpx CCD still cameras. -->>>

http://www.dalsa.com/

That's an 8 megapixel motion picture camera with a 35mm-sized sensor and a PL lens mount. There's more stuff like this coming soon, too.

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Old October 12th, 2003, 11:35 PM   #52
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> That's an 8 megapixel motion picture camera with a 35mm-sized
> sensor and a PL lens mount. There's more stuff like this coming soon

Ohh yes. Read about Dalsa... seems like the resolution is very high... perhaps even too high for practical use right now. I mean, assuming that the masses can't tell 8Mpx from 4Mpx... I would be happy with the latter and a big compression ratio a-la-pixlet so as to not lug around and process terabytes and terabytes. UHDV seems like a nightmare to manage... not exactly what I have in mind as the digital film dream...

I imagine something which uses a drastically modern codec with res big enough to compete with film for the average eye, where the resulting stream can be managed on a G5 or big P4 machine with off the shelf storage.
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Old October 13th, 2003, 12:00 AM   #53
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<<<-- Originally posted by Ignacio Rodriguez : >

Ohh yes. Read about Dalsa... seems like the resolution is very high... perhaps even too high for practical use right now. I mean, assuming that the masses can't tell 8Mpx from 4Mpx... I would be happy with the latter and a big compression ratio a-la-pixlet so as to not lug around and process terabytes and terabytes. UHDV seems like a nightmare to manage... not exactly what I have in mind as the digital film dream...

I imagine something which uses a drastically modern codec with res big enough to compete with film for the average eye, where the resulting stream can be managed on a G5 or big P4 machine with off the shelf storage. -->>>

Yeah, the data storage issue is what I think is slowing everything down at this point. Quite a few companies have sensors capable of spitting out high-resolution images fast enough, but very few companies have solved the problem of what to do with that data. The Dalsa page says their system takes about one and a half terrabytes of storage per hour of run time. Disc I/O requirements are around 1 Gb/sec. That's RAID-only bandwidth.

Of course, we're talking about technology comparable to shooting with 35mm film. There aren't a lot of people who can do 35mm post in their garages, either. Five or six years from now, though, who knows? Cameras operating at these resolutions may be able to record on internal media that can manage hundreds of terrabytes of data at those I/O speeds.
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Old October 13th, 2003, 12:29 AM   #54
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> Of course, we're talking about technology comparable to
> shooting with 35mm film

Hmmm. I don't think it needs be *that* good. The 35mm negative will have a much higher res than a 4 Mpx digital image, but the 4 Mpx digital image will be good enough for the masses... that's my whole point.

I mean, when I saw the Star Wars sequel shot I think in CineAlta... I really enjoyed the imagery, I don't see how it could have been better to use film. I wasn't close to the screen, I wasn't looking for jaggies, I just enjoyed it (even though the story was sort of boring), the sound was great, the image was great, what else can we want? Simple: a 35mm CCD, better lattitude, inexpensive media...

Perhaps in the end it's all going to be about who has the best quality CCD and the best quality glass, so there will be on one end the 'pro' stuff being used by next year's George Lucas and on the other end the 'indie' stuff, which is what you and me will use. 'pro' being perhaps Zeiss lenses and a Dalsa head and 'indie' being a Canon Xl1-like thing with a 35mm Sony CCD.
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Old October 15th, 2003, 04:27 PM   #55
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There's another aspect of the (I believe eventual) digital takeover of theatrical capture and exhibition that no one seems to talk much about, and it may be one reason that Hollywood is dragging it's feet just a bit on embracing digital.

Digital is too good. Yes, I'm talking about even current technology. Even the Panasonic Varicam, at only 1280x720, and even the current DLP projectors that are installed in maybe 30 locations nationwide. They are too good.

The first time I saw a movie projected digitally was JVC's DLP technology demonstration at NAB in 1999. They showed a D-9 copy of Shakespeare in Love on an ad-hoc theater in a ballroom at the Riviera Hotel. It was a really good job for a temp theatre, with a big screen, stadium seating (albeit with the hard ballroom rental chairs), and a killer surround sound setup.

As my wife and I sat down to watch the feature, the first thing that struck us both is how much better the image looked than when we saw it in the theater. Once you took away the gate weave, printing inconsistency, sprocket jitter, and the inevitable bad focus and dim projection bulb of your local Cineplex, the effect was astounding.

Having worked on some feature films, I’ve had the opportunity to watch 35mm film dailies on many occasions, and it's really stunning how far removed from that camera original the standard Hollywood feature gets. A normal feature gets printed at least 3 times before it gets to your local theater. That's a copy of a copy of a copy, folks!

The point is, that we were watching a very different movie that night. It looked like I was watching dalies on set. Better than that, even. You could see subtle details in the costuming and makeup that were totally hidden on a 35mm print. You could see paint texturing that was faked on the set. You could even tell which greenery were real plants and which ones were fake plastic!

I know that SIL was shot on 35mm film, but the problem I’ve just described would be even worse on HD capture, in my opinion. In that case you’re looking at a perfect digital copy.

It's just like the local news outfits that had to completely upgrade the news sets when they made the switch to HD. Problems that would be hidden on old NTSC were ugly, obvious flaws in HD!

My wife recently had a similar experience when she went to see the Matrix Reloaded at the IMAX. She told me how Keanu Reeves' makeup was horrendous. You could see how they covered his dark stubble with makeup to create a smoother skin texture, and it just looked bad. She said Jada Smith was beautiful, you could tell she was just a knockout in person, but Keanu and Carrie-Ann Moss looked like hell. I noticed none of these things when I saw the Matrix Reloaded on 35mm. Maybe from a storytelling standpoint, there is such a thing as too much resolution.

My point is that when feature films are captured digitally, even at current resolutions, and projected digitally, we'll basically be seeing as close as possible to the camera originals. Any cost savings from an all-digital pipeline is going to be FAR offset by higher production costs in sets, costume, lighting and makeup. The bar is going to be raised so high for production design that the entire industry will be turned on its head.

I guess this all brings me back around to the original post on the thread. That instructor had it right, but he actually had it completely backward, and for all the wrong reasons. 35mm film IS like a dream. It's a hazy representation of reality. The digital future is perhaps more real than we would like it to be. The images are disturbingly lifelike. In the near future it will actually be harder to shoot digital than film. It will take more work to sell the fantasy. I, for one, hope that the bar IS raised. I think the industry as a whole will be better for it.
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Old October 15th, 2003, 04:48 PM   #56
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What you saw in the digital projection, the 'defects' of makeup and foliage, are artifacts of digital conversion and possibly post processing. If the foliage looked plastic it's due to loss of gray scale and maybe an attempt in post to increase the colors. Since digital can't capture the full range of the film, it tends to go "plastic".

So digital isn't too good. It's not half as good. You can get away with more on digital than you can in film because mistakes are more likely to show up on film.

If the theatre you go to has all those problems, I would change theatres or complain to someone. If they can't properly project a film they surely couldn't do it right with digital.

Depending on the chain, certain theatres do not get the best prints. I've heard a lot of complaints about Deluxe which a lot of the studios use.
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Old October 15th, 2003, 05:12 PM   #57
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<<<-- Originally posted by Rob Belics : What you saw in the digital projection, the 'defects' of makeup and foliage, are artifacts of digital conversion and possibly post processing. If the foliage looked plastic it's due to loss of gray scale and maybe an attempt in post to increase the colors. Since digital can't capture the full range of the film, it tends to go "plastic". -->>>

I'm not at all sure that that's a fair assumption. We really don't know what Scott and his wife saw. I suspect that Scott could spot compression artifacts, given his background.

I think Scott makes a keen point that digital versions of material -can- be less forgiving than some film renderings. Although pixels are larger than film grains, they remain in precisely the same position on the screen unlike film grain.

[EDIT]
I seem to recall someone, perhaps Charles Papert, recently remarking that HD productions must pay more attention to subtle details and defects on sets because of this characteristic.
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Old October 15th, 2003, 06:00 PM   #58
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Just don't get too close to a feature being projected digitally, or you will begin seeing pixels and aliasing. It is recommended to be at least 1 and a half screen heights away from the screen at the minimum.

As far as "dim projection bulbs" go, that really is an unfair comparison. Once DLP gets standardized into all theaters, owners will let them get just as dim and flickery in a digital projection unit as they did in a film lamphouse. In fact, the lamphouses are the same for both film and digital, only for some reason digital seems to need more light (thus more expensive xenon bulbs) to light the same size screen as film. I think a lot of people are impressed by the artificial "sharpness" of digital cinema. It's like taking a large photo of something, then scanning it to say, 800 x 600. Then you run it through Photoshop's sharpening filter. Suddenly people are like "The digital version looks sharper. Digital is better!" They do the same exact thing with digital cinema, and if you look carefully, you can see the ghosting around the edges that result from digital sharpening.
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Old October 15th, 2003, 06:06 PM   #59
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Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ken. You're right. I could and have spotted compression artifacts on a variety of content, from DVDs and digital cable to cheaply done CG FX in big Hollywood movies. The issue was that with such a clean transfer, and such a rock-solid presentation, the image is much less forgiving. Even though technically the resolution is nowhere near 35mm film, the combination of factors makes the overall psychological effect is of a cleaner image.

I've been a professional theater projectionist (remember those?) I've been a professional videographer. I've shot films, on both film and video. I'm pretty much as anal about image quality as it gets, and I can tell you that past row 4 or 5, my local Technicolor DLP projector blows film out of the water. I will grant you, I've only seen Shrek, Episode II and Finding Nemo on that particular projector, so it's not really fair, as they're all animated films ;-)

I have, however, seen clips from several other features in darkened rooms all over NAB the last few years. Seeing 10 minutes or so of Amile' was a trancendent experience. That's an example of a film where the production design was so lush and overwhelmingly fantastic that it holds up wonderfully. I only wish I could have seen the whole film like that!

Rob, being in St. Louis, I can't believe you haven't run into the same inconsistancies that we get in my neck of the woods. Let's face it - outside of the Studio Zone in Los Angeles, theatrical presentation is a crap shoot. Something like 85% of theater houses are not up to SMPTE standards. It simply costs too much to replace xenon bulbs. Theater owners just wait for the bulbs to burn out. I'm not saying this will change with digital projectors, but one thing will change.

When a print is threaded through a projector, it needs to be re-framed and re-focused for each show. That's just the nature of the beast. even the best 35mm projector will require this. Now, take a 25-plex with one manager who now starts all the shows. Someone else probably did the build-up with all the trailers and promos. This manager has no time to ride the print through until the movie actually starts. They have to serve double duty selling concessions. So they rush in, start the projector. Maybe they do a rough framing on the first promo. They don't focus at all unless it's way out of whack or someone (usually me) complains. Then they walk away. Now, let's say the assistant manager who built the film from the reels and trailers missed a sprocket on the splice between one trailer or another. Now the film is 10% out of whack vertically, but no one (except me) complains because there is often a soft matte on the picture. That means the full academy frame is still printed on the print, even though you're supposed to see the middle 1:1.85, or more, for a 'scope picture. Now everyone's head is cut off, or the opposite - you start seeing boom mikes creep into the top of frame. That happens less often these days, but still.

Let's say the gate and intermittent on the projector hasn't been cleaned in 2 weeks, because projectors run so smooth these days, and film lubricants are so much better than even 10 or 15 years ago. Great, but all the while, the jitter and weave gets worse, and every print they show gets eaten up. Who cares? The film isn't worth diddly squat after opening weekend anyway, and after that the print just gets shipped off to the dollar theaters.

Okay. Same theater. Same (ahem) projectionist/manager. Digital projector. Files get shipped in on DVD-rom, or satellite. Wherever. Manager builds up previews point and click. Focus only needs to ever be set up once for the projector. Never changes - no moving parts. Maybe it's checked twice a year with a collimation chart. Maybe the projector senses lumen output changes and reacts to a fading bulb. Gives a warning signal when bulb is within 500 hours of failure. Manager never even starts the projector as it's all programmed into the computer. Set your watch by it. Picture is always the same, always framed and focused properly, never weaves or jitters, never a bad print by Deluxe or any other of those dinosaurs. Print also looks as good after 200 shows as it looked opening night. I'll give up the resolution right now, and so would a lot of other people.
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Old October 15th, 2003, 06:13 PM   #60
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Right. More "real" is not at all a function of HD being "too good". It just means that it represents the world in a different way.

I have seen actresses who look fine to the eye and would photograph on film nicely look haggard and/or older on video. The cameras respond to colors and contrasts differently than both film and the eye, and require a different approach. However, I have also seen skilled on-set video techs instantly dial out those kind of problems in a way that would be much more of a crap-shoot if even possible on film.

Last night I watched some camera tests of beautiful underwater footage from the Bahamas shot on both 35mm and HD. I only got to see the 35mm, in an HD telecine bay. It was stunning. Some of the contrast was so extreme that it was pushing the limits of the latitude of the motion picture film. I mentioned that it would likely be virtually blacks and whites on the HD, not much gray scale left in the middle. I'm going to check in today to see if this was the case.

Without a doubt, 4K film-outs or even top digital projection can present a 35mm-originated image in an impressive way (I still see aliasing and artifacting, but it's getting better). Digital origination is well behind in maturity. It seems likely that barring the political and economic issues of converting theatres over to digital projection and revising the distributions system (no easy task), we will see the exhibition end of Hollywood filmmaking go largely digital well before the acquisition end.
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