The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and
Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) have taken an important step towards
producing standardized test material for evaluating the performance of
digital projectors and other elements of digital cinema systems. The test is
being produced under the auspices of the ASC Technology Committee in
partnership with DCI, which represents seven Hollywood film studios.
“Our purpose is to help assure that standards
recommended for digital cinema enhance the movie-going experience and
maintain the integrity of the art form,” says Curtis Clark, ASC, who chairs
the organization’s Technology Committee. “The test material we are producing
will provide a standard way to evaluate the capabilities of digital
projectors and compare them to film.
“DCI is excited about working with ASC and it’s
Technology Committee on this project that will enable us to perform various
testing using standardized evaluation material to generate consistent and
objective results,” noted Walt Ordway, DCI’s Chief Technology Officer. “We
are also pleased to make this test material available to other companies and
organizations for use in their various testing programs.”
Clark says that members of DCI and the ASC Technology
Committee had an in-depth dialogue before reaching a consensus regarding the
original footage needed to adequately “stress test” digital projectors for
technical performance and also to compare the emotional impact of digital
and 35 mm film. The film sequences they produced will be used as a standard
test for evaluating current and future digital projectors.
Members of the ASC Technology Committee agreed on
parameters for the test, including nuances in colors, contrast, textures and
Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC, who designed the shooting
script, says it was a team effort, including Ron Garcia, ASC, Daryn Okada,
ASC, Clark, other cinematographers, and associate members of the
organization who work in various sectors of the industry.
“I had an idea for a wedding scene that takes place in
a 1950s Italian village,” Spinotti says. “The bride is dressed in white, the
groom in black with different colors in other costumes and backgrounds. The
bride and groom and their wedding party come out of a church, walk down a
street, around a corner and arrive at a crowded dinner table in the middle
of a village square. We planned to film the master shot at least six times
in different situations, from dawn to magic hour and also in the rain.”
Spinotti says that the scene contains powerful
emotional content, and it also includes various challenging situations. He
explains that when film images are converted to digital format the files are
“compressed” for efficient distribution and handling in digital projection
booths. Aggressive camera movement during production can create artifacts if
the film isn’t properly scanned and projected. The test was designed to
shoot with multiple cameras in Super 35 and anamorphic formats, with
selected 65 mm shots.
“Up until now, projector manufacturers have selected
scenes from existing films to demonstrate products,” says Okada. “There was
no way of telling whether the source material was negative, interpositive or
internegative film, and that makes a big difference. We believe the same
source material should be used for all demonstrations and for side-by-side
comparisons. Our plan was to scan the negative at 4K now and at higher
resolutions in the future, presuming that continuing advances are made in
The test was filmed on August 26 and 27 in the European
Village on the Universal Studios backlot. Peter James, ASC, ACS was the
executive producer and Allen Daviau, ASC was cinematographer. Daviau
assembled an experienced crew, including cinematographers Roy Wagner, ASC,
Michael Negrin, ASC and Peter Anderson, ASC. The A and B cameras were used
to record images in Super 35 format, and the C camera carried anamorphic
lenses. Anderson operated the 65 mm camera.
One of the 35 mm cameras was on a Technocrane with a
30-foot long telescoping arm, and the others generally tracked on dollies.
Daviau created contrast to visually punctuate dramatic moments, and he used
color gels to make the light warmer in some shots and cooler in others
staged at different times of day and with varying emotional overtones.
Daviau also used smoke to diffuse light in one shot, and rain in another.
“We are talking about making a fundamental change in
how audiences will experience motion pictures in the future,” he says. “It
is important to set the standards for digital projection high enough so it
properly serves the art form. We don’t want to look back someday and regret
that we didn’t aim high enough or take the time to do it right.”
Clark says that ASC and DCI are currently planning the
next step, including culling appropriate short scenes from nearly two hours
of original footage. Those scenes will be scanned and converted to digital
files that will be used to master the standard materials designed to test
the performance of digital projectors compared to film.
“I’m extremely pleased at the results of the ASC DCI
shoot at this time. The cinematographers exceeded all expectations in the
capturing of these images on film. I’m looking forward to a highly
technical post-production process where we intend to push the boundaries of
digital image processing,” said Howard Lukk, DCI’s Director of Technology.
“This has been an exhilarating experience,” Clark says.
“The people who we are working with at DCI are passionate about their
mission and determined to do it right. Many ASC members are participating,
giving freely of their time and talent. We have had tremendous support from
other people and companies. We still have a lot of work to do, but we have
already made tremendous progress. I’m optimistic about the future.”
Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC (DCI) was created in
March, 2002, as a joint venture of Disney, Fox, MGM, Paramount, Sony
Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios. DCI’s primary
purpose is to establish and document specifications for an open architecture
for digital cinema that ensures a uniform and high level of technical
performance, reliability and quality control. DCI will also facilitate the
development of business plans and strategies to help spur deployment of
digital cinema systems in movie theatres.
The ASC Technology Committee was formed earlier this
year. It consists of some 50 cinematographers and technology thought leaders
from all sectors of the industry. Clark says the goal is to create an open
forum “where some of the best minds in the industry” can exchange ideas
about the evolution of film, digital and hybrid technologies for the purpose
of recommending standards and practice that enhance the art form.
ASC was founded in 1919 for the main purpose of
advancing the art of narrative filmmaking. There are some 215
cinematographers and visual effects artists in the organization today and
another 135 associate members who work in allied sectors of the industry.