Film and Digital Times February 2014 Double Issue 58-59 is now online and ready to download for subscribers.
Here is the introduction — also available in the free preview:
Above, Below and Bottom Line
The Business of the Business
The phone rang. “Mr. Starr on the line.” My pulse quickened to 120 fps. Maurice Starr, studio chieftain and latest tycoon, is a constant critic of Film and Digital Times.
The barking began, “Whaddaya, whaddaya got—delusions of Dickens? Are they paying you by the pound of paper? Just give me two pages of coverage so I don’t have to read the rest.”
Monty is accustomed to summary. The scripts upon which his head rests are covered, SUMMARIZED! by a squadron of readers.
News from the Times, FDTimes, Hollywood Reporter, and Variety is culled by a team of interns who cut, with SCISSORS! and paste the headlines on sheets of paper.
The usually predictable Hollywood weather is reduced to a one-liner by Driton the driver, “Nice day today, sir.”
Box office, studio fortunes and the latest disasters are dispatched perfunctorily. Tycoons like Starr have little time for 80 pages of wisdom on the technique and technology of the business. Tycoons are interested in getting down to the business of the business.
This nascent column was conjured up during a subsequent phone call from Volker Bahnemann, my mentor with the most prescient predictions. He said, “How about writing something for film executives and business people? Executives and decision makers of our industry may base some of their investments and planning on your well informed writing. They depend on understanding the technology and trends that you cover.”
So, here’s FDTimes condensed coverage from the business of the business point of view. We remain neutral as the Swiss, names are respected, NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements) are scrupulously protected, Off the Record comments are withheld, and idle speculation is avoided. Welcome to our newest addition to this edition: “Above, Below and Bottom Line.” I have included headlines for the job security of Maurice Starr’s scissor-wielding interns.
Sensors will get bigger
This is the year we will see more 24 x 36 mm sensors from the full frame DSLR world appear in digital motion picture cameras.
Multi format digital cameras
Format is the size of the image on the sensor—shown by the framelines and aspect ratio. (Format can also mean file type or compression format, like RAW JPEG, ProRes—but not now.)
The idea of multiple formats goes back to the beginning of film history. 35mm film was a universal standard for more than a hundred years. But many different formats were available within that standard. All you had to do was put a mask in the gate and change to a different groundglass. In fact, there are so many selectable film formats, they fill a 98-page online Ground Glass and Format Guide from ARRI and a 96-page guide from Clairmont Camera.
And not only 35mm. Want a larger format to get people away from their tiny home TVs and back into movie theaters? If it’s 1954 and you’re Douglas Shearer at MGM, Robert Gottschalk, president of Panavision, or Mike Todd, you call Kodak and get a commitment for 65mm and 70mm film negative and prints. Even earlier, 70mm film was used at the Henley Regatta in 1896 and the Paris World Exposition in 1900.
Cut to January 2014. We basically have 35mm digital motion picture cameras with aspect ratios of 4:3 (ARRI Alexas), 16:9 (Sony, Canon, Blackmagic, Nikon, GoPro, Phantom Flex 4K) and 2:1 (RED Dragon). Gaze into the haze of the tea leaves for NAB and IBC 2014. You are delighted if your cameras have sensors 18 mm high—which do not crop the huge selection of new anamorphic 2x lenses coming out. If your digital motion picture cameras are using sensors 13.8 mm high or less, your customers are probably beseeching you to provide cameras that will accommodate all these new anamorphic lenses. So, what’s a designer to do?
My guess is that rather than try to stretch a mere 3 mm more in height, there will be a leap directly to sensors with 24 mm height. After all, that’s a ready-made sensor size (24 x 36 mm) in the digital still arena, and there are millions of them being fabricated.
RED, of course, predicted the digital motion picture paradigm of DSLR technology at 24 fps and faster, with larger sensors, selectable formats, and increased resolution.
And what of the R&D departments in Munich, Hollywood and Woodland Hills? I look to 1954 and remember that history repeats itself. Formats even larger than those available to mere mortals are always intriguing. Mere mortals buy; Tycoons rent.
The most important thing about designing selectable format CMOS sensors, I think, is to accommodate the lowest common denominator. So if you are planning to put 16mm or B4 lenses on your camera, those formats should have at least HD capability. You then do the math up from there.
PL and PV Predominate (for now)
Lest these pronouncements produce dispepsia among lensmeisters in Leicester, Oberkochen, Wetzlar, Saint-Héand, and Saitama, they can take comfort in hearing that 95% of high end features and commercials are using PL or Panavision mount lenses on variations of the Academy format. But I wouldn’t be complacent. Read Dr. Winfried Scherle’s interview.
Things will get sharper
Jon Thorn of AJA writes, “Consumer electronic introductions often help define when an emerging technology is about to become a standard. While many Ultra HD/4K monitors were introduced at CES this year, perhaps more importantly, new content creation devices and content delivery services were also revealed.”
Mr. Maeda of Canon says, “Imagine if you had a baby today, you would think about the future of this baby, and you would want to record everything in 4K. Once we see a better picture, we don’t want to go back to a lower level. That’s what we saw with the Standard Definition to High Definition transition. Nobody today would want to see SD anymore.”
Bryce Button of AJA writes that the emergence of 4K and Ultra HD as primary capture sources for projects moving forward is well established today. This evolution makes a lot of pragmatic sense as the resolution available finally meets a digital alternative to the film negative that has been the cornerstone of media mastering for over a century.
Fastest Computers Win
In Who Owns the Future, Jaron Lanier writes, “In the past, a revolution in production, such as the industrial revolution, generally increased the wealth and freedom of people. The digital revolution we are living through is different.” Companies with the fastest computers and largest storage succeed. This will be true for cameras, post production, and delivery.
O-mikuji are fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. Tengenjutsu is another form of divination, established in the Edo period by the Buddhist monk Tenkai, who served several Shoguns.
By the way, the provenance of 3 billion fortune cookies made in the US each year may be a bakery near a temple outside Kyoto, according to an article by Jennifer Lee in the New York Times. “The bakery has used the same 23 fortunes for decades. In contrast, Wonton Food in Brooklyn has a database of well over 10,000 fortunes.”
This edition of FDTimes is a tale of several cities: Tokyo and Kyoto, Jena and Oberkochen, Munich and Paris, New York and Hollywood, and many more places. Our journey begins in Japan, not to dabble in divination, but to study the state of our art and learn about the state of production there. There were some surprises.
InterBEE had been described as “a small, local show.” It turned out that this local show gets more than 30,000 visitors. Here in the land of Sony, Canon, Fujifilm and electronic giants, 40% of high-end production is still shot on film. There are 5 film labs running in Tokyo—more than any other city, I think. 98% of high-end digital motion picture production was done on a German camera, the ARRI Alexa, and more than 300 features were produced last year. Maybe this should not have been such a surprise. Many of the film production executives drove in German cars. The skilled optical workers at Canon and Fujinon lens factories are called Lensmeisters. There is a fascination with European brands and French food…and perfection.