Technology 2014 | Production, Post & Beyond: Part ONE
COW Library : Cinematography : Debra Kaufman : Technology 2014 | Production, Post & Beyond: Part ONE
As 2013 was drawing to a close, Creative COW decided to check in with some of the technology savants we'd interviewed throughout the last year to find out what they believed to be the most important trends of 2013…and what they predict for 2014. We suggested a few of the topics that we've been covering on a regular basis – High Frame Rate, 4K/UltraHD, 3D and ACES – but also left the door wide open to hear their thoughts on developments in entertainment technology that warrant attention.
We're including the longer texts of several of those who responded to our query. And keep checking back: we asked numerous technology leaders who haven't yet responded and we will add their responses as they come in.
Here's what we found out.
Trumbull, who is involved in creating what he believes is the future of movie-viewing – an immersive 3D, HFR, high-resolution environment, focuses on the end result and sees vast need for improvement to compete with the ubiquitous mobile devices that are the content distribution platforms of choice for the younger demographic.
Douglas Trumbull directs calibration testing for real time compositing of live action and miniatures on the set of his feature UFOTOG, with Joshua Crane shooting.
Panavision Senior Vice President of Advanced Digital Imaging John Galt shares some of the same concerns. "With most television panel makers phasing out 2K for screen sizes above 55 inches, the big screen TV you buy next year will be 4K whether you want it or not," he said. " Contrast this with the four out of five theatrical screens that cannot project 4K. Since the exhibitors have only recently spent the money to convert from film to digital projection, this is unlikely to change for many years to come. We are faced with the specter that for the first time in history, television could exceed the image performance of theatrical projection."
Dave Stump, ASC was part of a team that won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement for motion control systems developed for the Tim Burton Batman films.
Cinematographer David Stump, ASC [Editor's note: for more from Dave Stump at the COW, click here] notes the positive changes wrought by the difficult transition from analog to digital. "The really good thing that I didn't expect to see that has come out of the hard lessons of adopting digital is that the industry has learned how to learn again," he said. "We had the same workflow, the same conditions and the same parameters for making images for 100 years. Then we started getting all these digital cameras and workflows and, in hindsight, most of the discomfort was our own personal discomfort of having to learn. Now we as a culture have gotten over that. Whether we're old or young, we have accepted that learning new cameras and new ways of working are going to be a daily occurrence."
Others involved in production and post also saw huge strides forward in the nuts and bolts of digital production and post. "I think we've done the transition [to digital] and we're arriving at the place we're going to want to be for a while," says ICG Local 600 President Steven Poster, ASC. "We're finding out that software, hardware and computing power have gotten to the point where it's no longer necessary to…send out unprocessed images to a lab or post production house and hoping they come back right." [Editor's note: Poster has contributed to several articles at the COW, including Film Fading to Black and VFX Crossroads.]
Steven Poster, ASC on set.
"And as the tools get better, faster and less expensive, we're finding out that this work is being done by crew people, whether it's in production or post production, whether it's on the set or in editorial," he continued. "And that's pretty exciting. What it allows for is the image intent of the director and director of photography to be preserved in a way that we've never been able to control before."
Yuri Neyman, ASC, President of the Global Cinematography Institute, [featured in his article, If Beauty Will Save the World, Will It Save Cinematography?] points out that cinematography has become "expanded" as digital cinematography becomes more integrated with digital VFX. "New forms of interdependence between "traditional" cinematography, art direction, VFX/FX, "virtual cinematography" and previsualization will continue," he said. "It will evolve into additional varieties of technological and artistic pipelines and workflows."
The adoption of log workflows is another great thing, says cinematographer David Stump, ASC. "The first time I worked with a log workflow, shooting my first Viper movie in 2002, everybody was so averse to anything log because they didn't know how to use the signal," he said. "Log was an orphan. And it was stillborn then. Now it's the easiest thing on the planet."
A scene from "Cowboys & Aliens," edited by Dan Lebental. Universal Studios and DreamWorks II Distribution Co. LLC
The concept of "distributed" or "virtual" post is rising in popularity as a variety of tools make it possible for post processes to take place outside the post house. Colorfront CTO William Feightner [read his interview with us here] reported that his company has been working on a number of different scenarios for distributed and collaborative workflows, including delivering 4K images via Amazon's cloud service. "Right now, we're all looking at how to distribute and collaborate with high quality images," he said. "We see total chaos out there with different cameras and distribution approaches. Our industry cannot afford those inefficiencies because it costs money and we don't have the budgets to waste money."
Norman Hollyn, Professor, Editing Track Head, Michael Kahn Endowed Chair, USC Cinematic Arts [read Hollyn's thoughts on The Intersection of Editing & Film School here] said that his last three films have been done over long distances. "On two of them, I never even met the directors," he said. "I can work with people all over the world who I never would have had the opportunity to work with before. On the other hand, we are missing the personal and the eye contact that can be so essential to a successful project. A number of people have been working on tools to solve some of these personal issues during the past year. I hope that we will start to see the fruits of their labor in the coming year."
Equipment manufacturers have to get on board to implement ACES, and some already have. At Canon, Larry Thorpe, Senior Fellow in the Imaging Technologies & Communications Group [Thorpe weighs in on several pieces at the COW, including Film Fading to Black and Canon's new C500] also noted that "ACES became very real in 2013." Thorpe further added, "This sterling development work by so many far-sighted technologists and production folk reached levels that allowed manufacturers to begin serious product developments," pointing out that Canon has already developed an implementation of the new ACESProxy system with a related integrated link between its EOS C500 camera and the new DP V3010 4K studio reference monitor.
How many K is enough? This debate has been ongoing since the move to High Definition. For those of you just adjusting to 2K, don't get too comfortable: 4K is coming and in two years, Japan's NHK plans to broadcast 8K.
Panavision's Galt is rightly concerned about the widespread misinformation about higher resolution. "The migration from 2K acquisition and display to 4K acquisition and display is as great a technology challenge as the migration from standard definition to high definition television was back in the early 1990s," he said. " The unfortunate adoption of the one dimensional metric 2K, 4K etc. belies the fact that 4K has four times the image data at 2K, not double, as the metric implies."
John Galt, Panavision Senior Vice President of Advanced Digital Imaging, led the team that created the Genesis camera, was responsible for the F900 "Star Wars" camera, and continues to play a leading role in guiding future digital cinema technologies. John authored one of the COW's most-read articles, The Truth About 2K, 4K and the Future of Pixels
Despite his concerns over many technical aspects related to acquiring content in 4K, Galt also looks at the opportunities afforded by 4K and above. "Although the migration from film to 2K digital, and now to 4K digital and beyond creates many imaging challenges, it also creates great opportunities for the lens designer and manufacturer," he said. "Freed from the constraints of film emulsions and spinning mirrors, the lens designer can now reinvent the cine lens."
The data rates – and associated costs – for 4K and beyond are staggering, and yet the momentum to raise the resolution higher seems inevitable. But technologists understand that higher resolution implies evolution of other imaging parameters. Thorpe relayed the discussion that is taking place among his colleagues. "Beyond the promise of what 4K offers to perceived image sharpness (an enduring discussion in itself), there was increasing insistence that a wider dynamic range had to be an additional dimension to the 4K viewing experience, ideally accompanied by a wider color gamut and a greater bit depth – and of course, higher frame rates," he said.
The argument that high frame rate can be used variably throughout a movie (or, even, variably with the layers of a single image) is one that Trumbull has been describing for several years now, and is implementing in his UFOTOG project.
"Within the television discussions there was broad agreement that 30 fps was much too low for 4K motion imaging and that at least 60 fps was essential," said Thorpe. "120 fps has been formally incorporated as an upper frame rate in the new ITU Recommendation ITU-R BT.2020 for UHDTV (both 4K and 8K). Convincing demonstrations by both BBC and NHK research on the benefits of higher frame rates are spurring a broader global examination."
Although some kind of high frame rate seems likely, the debates over what's ideal are still ongoing. "3D, UltraHD, HFR...they are all inevitable, and we'll see them in combination," Stump said. "A missing factor that nobody is talking about that's a revolutionary technique is wider shutter angle. I'm a huge, huge proponent of wide shutter angle and I always have been. Did you know that the amount of blur in a single 24P frame is greater with a 180-degree shutter than the amount of blur in a 60P frame with a 360-degree opening? If you're going to go to high frame rates, why not leave the shutter open?"
Why not, indeed? The discussions will continue into 2014.
3D TV and movies
2013 was a year of hard lessons for 3D. "3D for television more or less bit the dust in 2013 – at least if judged by its lack luster presence at both CES and NAB," said Thorpe. "Personally, while I don't think it is dead, some considerable wounds are being licked. Still, a great deal of highly valuable lessons and experiences were gleaned over the past five years."
Feightner noted that 3D's downward turn was typical for the format's history of boom and bust. He also pointed out lessons learned. "To dimensionalize a project as an after thought has been a flop," he said. "In most cases, it doesn't work well; it has to be integrated in the initial project. This is the pattern we've seen throughout the history of 3D, but we keep learning a lot each time." We have seen our share of movies converted as an after-thought – we agree with Feightner that it's never a good idea – but 3D conversion has worked quite nicely on movies that are planned from the beginning to add the Z-axis.
Live 3D TV is hard to pull off, another lesson learned said both Thorpe and Feightner. "Certainly, it emerged that live 3D television coverage is hard – in every respect," said Thorpe. "Based upon these many projects it would appear that all are now taking a deep breath before resurrecting any major revival."
Feightner believes that, although 3D has retracted, "what's left is some validation on its use as a creative tool." "When it's properly applied, it can really look good." But both Feightner and Thorpe agree that new tools are required to make live 3D TV a reality. For Thorpe, the list includes "a decision by a major camera manufacturer to design a serious integrated 3D camera; new compression technologies that facilitate transmission of full HD-resolution for each eye; and possibly a marriage of 4K and 3D."
In 2014, expect more research, more development, more testing on all these fronts. It's quite likely that 3D will return, revived, and partner with 4K/UltraHD and High Frame Rates to serve existing entertainment outlets as well as new delivery platforms that we can only imagine today.
For a deeper look at the observations from leading technologists about what's ahead, please see Part 2 of "Technology 2014".