Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trumbull Tackles Higher Frame Rates

Continuing James Cameron’s dialog about higher frame rates, Douglas Trumbull, the inventor of ShowScan, delivered a keynote at the DCS during which he suggested that when it comes to frame rates, it is not “one size fits all.”

“It’s not just about higher frame rates,” he said of creative filmmaking. He suggested that filmmakers use what is appropriate to a given movie. “There is no one size fits all.”

But like Cameron, he emphasized the benefits of higher frame rates include reduction of strobing and sharper images.

He reported that he plans to helm a 3D feature that would be shot using his ShowScan Digital system that uses 24 fps but allows embedded 60 frames per second sequences. He has applied for a patent on the system.

To test this process, he recently shot a music video in New York, using Vision Research’s Phantom 65 with Zepar 3D lens system, shooting 120 fps. SpeedeGrade was used for color grading.

It has not yet gone through full postproduction, but the intent is to test a new workflow, developed with suppliers including Vision Research, maker of the Phantom; and equipment supplier AbelCine.

During his address, he asserted that brightness remains a key issue that needs to be addressed in 3D.

Footage from the music video--Dana Fuchs’ Golden Eyes--will be displayed at the AbelCine booth during NAB.

First Images From Sony Prototype 4K Camera Screened at DCS

The Arrival, a short lensed with a prototype of Sony’s new digital cinematography camera that is capable of recording 16-bit 4K and higher, got a lot of interest when it was screened during the second day of the DCS.

The short was lensed outdoors and in the Bradbury building in downtown Los Angeles. "The resolution and detail is just remarkable," Clark said of the camera's capability. "The details draws you into the image. You can comfortably let your images lead the narrative."

During a session on “Advances in Image and Sound: More Pixels,” ASC Technology Committee chair Curtis Clark, who wrote, directed and shot the short, spoke not just about the camera, but the workflow.

“It is critically important to extract the best possible images from these new 4K pipelines,” Clark said. “If we do something to degrade the image, then what you think is 4K may not be 4K. … It needs to be 4K end to end, and that needs to include color management that is consistent and reliable.”

ASC president Michael Goi shared some concern about today’s generation of 2K archival material. “Some consider 2K as their master archival element,” he explained. “Going forward, I think less that 5 years, those 2K masters are going to look very soft.”

He concluded: “We want the best presentation and the best tools. Aesthetically, we need to approach these technologies in a way that give us that toolbox. That is something the ASC is concerned with.”

DCS Explores IIF and Greater Bit Depth

Bill Bennett, ASC opened a morning session titled “Better Pixels from Greater Bit Depth,” during the DCS with a series of beautiful images that he shot 12-bit with the ARRI Alexa, including imagery shot directly into the sun over the ocean.

During the session Ray Feeney, co-chair of AMPAS’ SciTech Committee, discussed the emerging IIF (Image Interchange Framework) aimed at seamless image interchange.

He suggested that today’s image interchange is “totally insufficient,” noting that there are new cameras, new display devices, and more and varied distribution formats. ”It is about any format, anywhere, anytime,” he said. “We are reformatting for a wider variety of distribution mechanisms that ever before. Each has a different sweet spot.

“Existing standards are outdated,” he asserted.

He suggested that if a change is to be made, that it be to 16-bit with its ability to increase dynamic range and color gamut. IIF enables workflows including 16-bit 4K.

For those in attendance at NAB, Feeney announced a few IIF related presentations scheduled during the week. These include:

--TV series “Justified” Monday, 2pm, Room N115.

--Sony’s new 4K camera imagery through the IIF pipeline. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 am, Sony booth.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Streather Emphasizes Need for 3D Training Courses

“I find it astonishing that there is no permanent 3D training course at any film school in the UK,” said Phil Streather, CEO of UK production company Principal Large Format, Saturday during the DCS.

Streather is one of the UK’s leading stereo 3D educators, having worked with Sky and training body Skillset to arrange the country’s first 3D primer for cinematographers and producers.

“We do need to find some accessible and permanent training solutions because there are still far too few production and craft personnel who understand the principals,” he said.

Presenting a case study of one his most recent projects, the National Geographic documentary Meercats 3D, produced by Oxford Scientific Films in association with PLF, Streather suggested that the best 3D created volume and that the best way to achieve that was to get as physically close to the subject as possible.

Streather added that the only way to get physically close to subjects like insects and small mammals was to go in close with a wide angle lens.

“In the same way that you collapse depth using zooms in 2D so you collapse depth using zooms in 3D,” he said. “You may have objects separated in background and foreground but they will look like cardboard. It’s also important to use motion parallax to create depth cues for objects moving in foreground and background of the frame.”

Streather added: “For me the idea of 3D being a window into another world is wrong. I don’t want a window or things bumping up against a screen plane. I want objects to pass in front, pass through and live behind the frame effortlessly.”

Sky Accelerates 3D Program Production

British payTV satellite broadcaster BSkyB launched the world’s first 3DTV channel last October. Already Sky 3D has amassed 70,000 subscriptions, half of the estimated total number of 3D-ready TVs installed in UK homes.

The man responsible for driving this technical innovation on behalf of Sky is Chris Johns, the broadcaster’s chief engineer who was first alerted to the potential of 3DTV delivery over satellite in demonstrations at NAB three years ago.

“We are now looking to bridge the content gap by accelerating 3D program production,” he told the audience at the DCS. However such acceleration should not lead to corner cutting on the creation of a high quality and comfortable 3D viewing experience, Johns said. “If you deliver cut price 3D people won’t buy into it.”

No matter the genre, and Sky has experimented with most of them illustrated here with clips from several live sports to documentary programming, live opera, dance and studio entertainment shows, there were a core set of lessons that Sky wants to educate the market about.

“A producer’s first project in 3D turns out, in most cases, to be theme park 3D which emphasises the wow factor but is actually very demanding on the eyes,” said Johns. “At Sky we want viewers to be able to watch 3D – sports or opera for example - for 2-3 hours or more at a time. That means creating the 3D in a natural way – retaining the theme park effects but limiting them for special occasions and for certain effects.”

Sky ensures that everyone who creates content for its channel adheres to a set of guidelines, available on its website. These are not specifications, stressed Johns, in as much as they are not defined rules, but guidelines to create a foundation for everyone to work from.

These include keeping the depth budget to 3% into the screen and 1% out of the screen and minimising the amount of 2D-3D conversion.

“We don’t advocate conversion,” he said. “It can be done but only at great expense and not on a $10k box in realtime. You need to have editorial control and you have to do it with care or don’t do it at all.”

It’s perfectly practical to use a wide variety of rigs and camera equipment provided the tech choice is tuned into the particular project. For live sports, where there is no second chance, Sky uses 3Ality rigs - expensive acknowledged Johns but a technology that provides the production team with full control over all the lens and rig parameters.

“Yet using manual convergence on camera set-ups is fine if, for example, you are shooting a drama,” he said. “Integrated cameras can also produce great results - if used correctly. The important thing is to understand what technology you are using and what it can achieve. The same goes for postproduction. Understand what transfer methods there are for getting material out of a digital camera all the way through the chain before you start. Don’t short change yourself on preparing the workflow because it will end additional cost in post when you find you cannot correct misalignments.”

He advised covering any 3D material in 5.1 multichannel because the sound adds to the 3D effect by positioning objects in the picture, if done correctly, and even helps the viewer predict the direction from where things come from out of the frame: “That applies not just to sport but across all genre,” he said.

Sky is investing heavily in commissioning 3D content and hopes its initiative, along with that of 3net, will push the industry forward and create a virtuous circle; “So that when a viewer turns on the TV they have a choice to watch in SD, HD or 3D,” said Johns. “When their first choice becomes 3D then we will have achieved our aims.”

2011 DCS Opens in Las Vegas

SMPTE president and Sony exec Peter Lude opened the DCS 2011, “Advances in image and sound: 3D, 4K and Beyond,” explaining “we are trying to extend this beyond cinema, though we recognize that many innovations start with cinema.”

He cited a number of key topics as technology continues to march forward, including higher frame rates, higher spatial resolution, high dynamic range, expanded color gamut by display technologies, stereoscopic 3D, and volumetric 3D.

Lude announced that in June, SMPTE will publish a book titled “3D Cinema and Television Technology: The First 100 Years,” with over 400 pages and more than 33 papers. Pre-orders will be accepted at the SMPTE booth during NAB.

Barbara Lange, executive director of SMPTE, discussed some additional Society news. For one, SMPTE will launch a new conference, a global summit on emerging media technologies, which will be held in Geneva during 2012. EBU’s David Wood will chair the event.

A digital library will be introduced by SMPTE, enabling the community to learn by accessing information from the desktop. A new SMPTE web site is also launching.

A new SMPTE professional report series is on the way, with the first publications slated for availability in June.

Disney’s vp production technology Howard Lukk will chair SMPTE’s second annual international conference on stereoscopic 3D for media and entertainment, June 21-22 in in New York.

Upcoming regional seminars on file-based workflows are scheduled to take place in Montreal, Toronto and Atlanta.

Discounts for may of these events and opportunities are available at the SMPTE booth in the South Hall, during the NAB Show.

During welcome remarks, Andrew Stucker of sponsor Sony said: “It is well known in the industry that there are a few places where smart people openly exchange ideas,” said Stucker, citing the DCS, as well as the HPA Tech Retreat and ASC Technology Committee meetings. “You are in for a real treat.”

He completed his remarks by recognizing colleagues and friends from Japan and their “determination in the face of insurmountable disaster.”