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The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.

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Old October 24th, 2004, 11:07 AM   #1
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Filmlook - and the little boy in "The Emperors new Clothes"

There is something I have been wondering about since seeing HD for the first time. Why is everybody so conservative? Why this obsession with a more that 100 year old technology?

In fact I and a flock of video and film persons had a very interesting discussion after seeing HD on the biggest moviescreen in Scandinavia. It was at the local bar, so it was a real discussion.
One of the filmpersons was complaining about the videolike blown out highlights in HD, another complained about the color rendition.

But one part of the showreel was very different from the others. It was apparently recorded by somebody who did not knew og cared about video look or film look. The cameraperson had just tweaked on the cameras setup and achieved a look that was very beautiful, but completely alien in terms off looks.

And it fired the discussion up, as I and a couple others argued that we now have the possibility to find and explore new possibilities of filmic expression. And that all this discussion of film look or not is a big conservative mindblock.

There are three phases of evolution in all new technology. The first one is emulation – we simulate the old technology. The second is evolution – we expand the possibilities. and the last one is revolution – we change the foundation and use all the possibilities.
An example of this is the digital camera. The first ones looked (and some still does) like analogue cameras. Then came the mixture of video and still photography units we have today. Next is the camera mobile phone hybrid that is popping up now.

I talked to HP's head of development of digital cameras. He said:
-- The only thing that a modern digital camera has in common with an old analogue one is the mount for a tripod. It would be better to call it a computer with a lens that a camera.

He mentioned that all the camera manufactures are investing more in ASIC's and DSP's than optics. And that the output from a digital camera has nothing to do with film, as everything is tweaked digitally.

They have a thing called "adaptive lightning" on their cameras, witch is a dynamic gamma correction based on picture content. This means that the typical consumer into the sun shot will be corrected as far as the camera can do. Unfortunately they use only 8 bit DSP's in their cameras, and noisy CCDs so the results are not optimal.

But HP has tried to sell the technology to several videocamera manufactures with no luck. "They are sooo conservative" he remarked.

Scott Billups remarks in his book Digital Moviemaking, that the Hollywood crowd has grown up with grain and 24P, so anything else is alien to them. He also mentions that shooting DV for 24P in order to get 35 mm distribution is a dead end strategy, and fires a few torpedos at the indie crowd, that thinks 24P is the holy grail. I think his conclusion is something like "when in Hollywood do like the hollywoodians, when not in Hollywood do the sensible thing - HD"

And I can see changes even in the attitude in Hollywood – take this from Millimeter magazine on the filming on Colleral:

It is very interesting reading. Since it is Hollywood movie it'll end up on 35 mm in normal distribution. But the look they have is more digital than film like.

And the first "made for HD" movies are popping up here in Europe as more and more festivals offer HD-screening. And the HD-satellite channels are going to need content.

In conclusion: Any production has to look good, but why does it have to look like film? And if we all have 720P cameras in two years time ;^) then would it not be better if we all used our energy exploring all the possibilities in stead of talking about emulating 100 year old technology?

JOS. Svendsen
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Old October 24th, 2004, 05:23 PM   #2
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It doesn't really have to look like film--but what looks "good" is in the eye of the beholder.

For those of a certain age who have grown up with many years of conditioning/exposure to current formats, 24p says "I'm watching a story" and 60i says "I'm watching reality". I believe that this has nothing to do with having a Hollywood mentality versus an indie mentality, it's how our brains have come to categorize visual stimuli. For younger or future generations, a different paradigm is evolving. Right now, to make a narrative film in 60i is to struggle upstream against most people's perceptions--they will likely think it looks cheap, or fake, or like a soap opera. For others, it may be completely acceptable.

With the experimentation in chemical processing in the past ten years (think "Three Kings") and more recently, digital intermediate possibilities ("Amelie"), it's safe to say that even film has undergone a redefinition of what looks "good". Grain can be embraced, or entirely eliminated. The final look is less of a function of the means of image capture, more due to post manipulation.

Although likely rhetorical,I'd respond to your question why does it have to look like film by saying it doesn't; it just has to look as good as film. By that I mean a dynamic range at least equal to current filmstocks (and there's no reason to assume that it can't exceed this benchmark in the future) and high-speed recording capability of at least 150 fps. From a functional perspective, the cameras need to support self-contained recording with a footprint no larger than current film cameras.

Will the future of image-making look anything like film? It's hard to say. One would hope that in twenty years, it will look better--and that's an entirely subjective judgement.
Charles Papert
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Old October 28th, 2004, 03:11 PM   #3
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It is the same discussion as with vinyl vs digital wave audio. We know digital camcorders can record the best of the best and in a superclean way, but people in those countries who have been brought up with american movies are so used to seeing dreamlike/warm/fantasy/blurred images. I have to say that they reallly look warm to me in spite of the blureness. I also see changes going on in Europe.

When I watch a english movie I say to myself....' this looks cold, but it has a supercool story' . The same with Spanish TV-movies. The same with those south american romance series. If you look at ' friends', ' ellen' or maried with children you feel the warmth in your soul. It atractsd my attention really. It is just one selling point for me I guess. If you look at ' santa barbara' you get a much colder feeling. Things are changing. There is a famous spanish drama docu called ' cuentame como paso' and that one is amazing. It is european and warm at the same without using blured hollywood kind of images.

It is also depends on the screenplay and the actors and everything. A spiced up american movie with effects and fire and cars doesn't do it for me. I hate those kind of movies cause they have nos tory and it looks the same as other comercial movies.
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Old January 13th, 2005, 04:54 PM   #4
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I too prefer the dream-like look of film as opposed to the reality-in-your-face look of video. I don't think it has much to do with evolution as Jos suggested.

There is nothing artistic about video - it looks crude and cold, 'clean' if you prefer. Everything looks too shiny and crisp. Off course this can be toned down, but then you'll just be swaying towards the classical film-look.

This is not to say the industry won't 'evolve' - look at Amelie which as an astonishing cinematography and uses HD.

I just don't go to the movies to watch 60i video because it would look boring, amateur-like and, most of all, not artistic in the slightest.
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Old January 13th, 2005, 06:57 PM   #5
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Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amélie Poulain is not recorded in HD, it is just 35 mm... It's just been heavily manipulated in HD.
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Old January 13th, 2005, 07:13 PM   #6
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Amelie was shot on film. It was then scanned into a digital format and color graded/corrected/enhanced and then printed back onto film. There are a few threads on that.
scroll down to the link to the ARRI article.

2- 24p vs 30p vs 60i:
To me, I have a very difficult time telling the difference unless it's a fast pan shot (which you aren't supposed to do with film).

24p to me on fast pans looks bad. The motion is all jumpy. I believe this is why the ASC manual/handbook recommends objects take 7 or more seconds to cross the screen on pans.

Adding motion blur to 60i may also look better than 24p. I haven't tried this yet.

3- Why you might want to shoot on film:
A- Your DOP knows film really well. Video is relatively new and they may not have that much experience with it.
B- Film has better exposure latitude. It has a lot more stops of light than video.

This offers more lighting possibilities with film versus video.
C- With certain film stocks, you get a natural S-shaped gamma curve (more perceived contrast) and greater saturation. If you don't tweak video, then film will look better.
D- Overexposure: Video that is just about to overexpose will experience color shifts.
Take a look at the florescent in the background- it has a cyan fringe with the PD150, and a cyan and then magenta fringe with the DVX100.

4- If you look at still photography, the technology is similar but digital is quickly overtaking traditional film. Perhaps video will soon end up on this path too...
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Old January 14th, 2005, 02:35 PM   #7
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Phantom Menace was filmed using Sony's CineAlta, so that one is HD for sure, although it was printed on film.

24p vs 30p may be harder to see the difference, but when I look at 60i it's obvious to me it's nowhere near film. Unless you're shooting a still where there's no motion, but then film IS about motion.

As to the PD150 vs DVX100 test, although the fluorescent light colour is distorted in the DVX100, overall I still think the DVX100 as a much more film-like image than the PD150, which looks like more broadcast quality.

Please understand I'm not suggesting it's impossible to produce presentable films using video. I'm talking about the look, not the medium.

If you manage to manipulate video using motion blur, colour correction, etc. to get a film look then I'm sure it will look great - but then you're cheating in order to get the film look most people prefer.

I just doubt that filming using standard non-manipulated 60i will ever be accepted as an 'evolution' step towards film making.
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