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Film vs Digital - carbon footprints compared?


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#1 Dominic Case

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 05:56 AM

In another thread, Dom Jaeger wrote:

As an aside, I was wondering if anyone had done a study on the different carbon footprints of image capture technologies. While the hard-copy nature of film and all the associated processing chemicals would seem to favour digital, the increased power requirements and incredibly short-term redundancies in the digital world must surely tip the balance back to film. Might not seem an issue now, but if ever a true carbon price gets added to the film industry's tools...

If anyone has done this, it would be tremendously useful. As Dom says, the equipment manufacturing footprint, amortised over a very short time, would be a big part of the digital side of the equation. And film manufacturers and labs have made great strides in recycling chemicals and water (though energy efficiency has a long way to go, so CO2 is still a big issue).

So, any clues, anyone?
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 06:10 AM

In situations where there is a comparatively small consumables component compared to the equipment manufacturing component, it can often be better to keep using older gear. For example, you might choose to keep using your (fuel inefficient) '57 Chevy on the basis that by replacing it with a Prius you are consuming the entire manufacturing footprint of the Chevy which might have given years more service - and on manufactured goods, that footprint tends to be far larger than the fuel they will consume in use.

Film is of course an enormously large consumables component for both stock and chemistry, both of which have significant environmental impacts, so it may not be as clear cut.

What is obvious, though, is that modern consumerist society is extremely bad at getting the maximum benefit out of environmentally expensive manufactured goods. Cars perhaps aren't a great example as they tend to be sold second hand and used for a couple of decades, but something like a digital cinematography camera or even consumer stuff like a desktop computer takes an enormous amount of building, and tends then to be used for a very short period of time before becoming a waste disposal problem.

P
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#3 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 12:17 PM

I don't imagine either one it particularly environmentally friendly. With film, the processing chemicals are pretty toxic and silver is pretty valuable so film, because of governmental regulations has been forced to clean up it's act, so to speak. "Course, that's in the US, as far as India, China, Russia, who knows, BUT I would imagine with the prevalence of video cameras in the last 30 years, between the consumer and pro video markets, plus the changing cassettes and the fact that the technology obsoletes so quickly, I'd be willing to bet video has a significantly larger footprint at this point than film. I have to admit though, I'm really just speculating as I have no stats to back my assumption, but it does seem logical simply because of the shear volume of video cameras being made which would include everything from Panavisions to cell phones. When you think of it in those terms, video HAS to have a bigger footprint just based on the electricity it would take to run the factories. B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 20 September 2010 - 12:18 PM.

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#4 Alain Lumina

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 04:36 PM

I'm biased toward film, and I think the points makes sense about the large footprint (FP) of making all these new video cameras all the time. And don't forget the hard drives as currently storage cards are still pretty expensive.
Hard drives seem energy intensive to build, super precision metal must use a lot of electricity, and even emerging solid state drives are a big bunch of chips.

Something I've found when shooting both 7d ( CF card+ hard drives as LT storage and backup) and film (hard drive for working storage and backup) is that there is more overhead with hard drives with digital, because since you're presumably going to ERASE your CF cards, you have to have at least two copies on at least two digital media, and only Blue Ray and maybe tape have enough storage outside of hard drives right now.

You WANT to keep backups of your telecine for film, but the film itself is a pretty good backup, especially for someone ...ahem... disorganized.. because those reels of processed film are pretty big and heavy for even a true dunderhead to misplace. So Film is its own backup, making two BU copies of the telecine files acceptable ( for my low budget productions anyway)
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#5 John Sprung

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 05:10 PM

I'd be willing to bet video has a significantly larger footprint at this point than film. I have to admit though, I'm really just speculating as I have no stats to back my assumption, but it does seem logical simply because of the shear volume of video cameras being made which would include everything from Panavisions to cell phones. When you think of it in those terms, video HAS to have a bigger footprint just based on the electricity it would take to run the factories. B)


By that reasoning, the Prius would have a larger carbon footprint than a nitro fuel funny car, because they make so many more of them. To be fair, it would have to be carbon per vehicle mile, or in our case, carbon per frame, corrected for equivalent resolution.

So, before we can deal with this carbon thing, we first have to determine how to compare film and video resolution. ;-)




-- J.S.
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#6 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 12:02 AM

A quick google shows a number of productions that have attempted to map their carbon footprints. Recent big budget films such as Syriana and 2012 used outside consultants to measure the entire production's emissions and attempted to offset them using carbon credits, biofuels and recycling. The Matrix series managed to recycle 97.5% of their sets, re-using the materials to build housing for low income families in Mexico. Other productions that tracked their emissions include the Australian films My Year Without Sex and Love The Beast.

As just one example, this company specialises in assisting film and television productions become carbon neutral:

http://www.greenproductionguide.com/

Others are less specific, but have worked with film productions:

http://www.beyondneutral.com/

Some of these consultants may have done studies comparing film to digital.

From the articles I read, the assumption generally seems to be that digital technologies are cleaner, because they don't use film, chemicals and water to produce an image. It may be too complex to include the rate of equipment redundancy in the equation, as it is spread out over different manufacturers and products, and today's digital camera does not have a specific use-by-date.

Another problem is that compared with the travel, food, set construction and lighting contributions of most large productions, the camera and recording medium is only a small portion of the total footprint.

However if a truly accurate value could be assigned to the carbon cost of digital capture - cameras, HD monitors, hard drives and other recording devices, all with significantly shorter life spans than film cameras - the cost of offsetting those emissions might conceivably be more than the extra cost of using film.

I vaguely recall a recent newspaper article that reported on the surprise findings of a study comparing the old paper-trail office with the modern computer-based variant. The modern office had a far larger carbon footprint, due to the constant power requirements and rapid turnover of computer hardware.
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#7 Thomas James

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 12:40 AM

If one truly wants to eliminate the problem of global warming the best way to do this is to make a film showcasing the various technolgies that enable the carbon free production of energy. In my proposed film Nuclear Heaven a colossal 8 million ton nuclear rocket powered by thousands of atomic explosions is launched which carries 4 million tons of solar panels which orbit the sun which can supply the entire worlds energy needs without carbon. However in order to avoid contamination of the Earth's atmosphere with dangerous radioactive fallout the rocket first goes to Saturn to mine the exotic radiation free Helium 3 nuclear fuel.
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#8 K Borowski

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 01:37 AM

Thomas, plead get your Nuclear Engineering B.S. before you "BS" us anymore. . .
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#9 Frank Glencairn

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 01:58 AM

Actually I don´t believe in that whole global-warming-carbon-mumbo-jumbo after I looked into the facts.
It´s just an other attempt to suck money out of our pockets and make profit out of thin air (pun intended).
In 50 years people gonna laugh at us, how we could be so overcredulous and naive, as we laugh today at the folks that believed in Catholic indulgence letters, that made sure you "get to heaven", if you only paid them enough money for your "sins". It was nothing but a great profit for the church. Now they try to pull that stunt again.

Bottom line: Carbon footprint? I could not care less.

Recycling sets, re-using the materials and other things like that is a good idea thou.

Frank

P.S. Please don´t start a GW debate here - it always gets ugly, because it´s a religious thing.

Edited by Frank Glencairn, 21 September 2010 - 02:01 AM.

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#10 Thomas James

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 02:48 AM

Without nuclear power we would all be dead because that is what makes the sun shine.
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#11 John Sprung

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 01:48 PM

Without nuclear power we would all be dead because that is what makes the sun shine.


Ummm ..... sorta ....

The sun's energy comes from fusion of hydrogen into heavier elements. IIRC, we can do that here on earth for "H" bombs, but not for power plants. They all rely on the much less powerful fission of very heavy elements, the same thing that was used in the little "A" bombs of WWII.





-- J.S.
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#12 Thomas James

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 04:16 PM

During the 1970's a Pacer power plant was developed that uses the power derived from peaceful thermonuclear hydrogen bomb explosions in order to harness fusion power. If Helium 3 fuel is used instead of hydrogen no radiation would be produced making these power plants much safer and cleaner than any conventional fission power plant. Although many find lighting off atomic bombs to be obscene in reality a pure fusion bomb is not really a self contained bomb at all but requires the use of a billion dollar super laser in order to achieve ignition. Therefore these devices would not be practical as weapons and would not encourage nuclear proliferation. As a matter of fact a carbon free Helium-3 Pacer power plant would save the Earth from becomming a Venus like global warming inferno and billions of lives would be saved.
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#13 Ruairi Robinson

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 04:50 PM

During the 1970's a Pacer power plant was developed that uses the power derived from peaceful thermonuclear hydrogen bomb explosions in order to harness fusion power. If Helium 3 fuel is used instead of hydrogen no radiation would be produced making these power plants much safer and cleaner than any conventional fission power plant. Although many find lighting off atomic bombs to be obscene in reality a pure fusion bomb is not really a self contained bomb at all but requires the use of a billion dollar super laser in order to achieve ignition. Therefore these devices would not be practical as weapons and would not encourage nuclear proliferation. As a matter of fact a carbon free Helium-3 Pacer power plant would save the Earth from becomming a Venus like global warming inferno and billions of lives would be saved.



Sorry, what's the topic again?
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#14 Keith Walters

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 04:54 PM

Without nuclear power we would all be dead because that is what makes the sun shine.

There is is no guarantee that controlled nuclear fusion will ever become possible, although it's certainly worth a try.
The fusion reaction that powers our sun is extremely weak, generating only a few microwatts per cubic metre. The reason the sun and other stars can put out such an prodigious amount of energy is simply due to the sheer number of cubic metres involved. The enormous weight of all the hydrogen compresses it to a degree that starts a fusion reaction, but the heat generated then causes it to expand, increasing the distance between hydrogen nuclei and so damping down the reaction. There seems to be no way this could be scaled down to dimensions small enough to run a power plant.

I personally don't think any of the currently proposed "alternative" energy systems are ever going to come to much. A vastly better "solar" alternative would be to genetically engineer plants or plant-like organisms that can make hydrocarbons directly from the carbon dioxide in the air by photosynthesis, and considerable progress in this field is already being made. When you think about it, what could be better? They remove carbon from the air, they're plants, which would have to be more environmentally benign and they manufacture themselves, and they have the potential to slot seamlessly into our existing hydrocarbon-based transport infrastructure.

Current photosynthesis is based around the Rubisco enzyme which appears to have evolved over 2 billion years ago when there was virtually no oxygen in the atmosphere. Oxygen reduces its efficiency drastically, but it's such a complex enzyme that evolution appears to have no way of retracing its steps as it were. Rubisco is only about 2% efficient in converting light into energy, scientists are pretty sure they can do a lot better than that.
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#15 K Borowski

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 05:33 PM

Umm, what does nuclear fusion or global warming have to do with carbon footprints?


These are both fascinating and highly debatable issues but you won't. . . . solve them. . . . . . here (like the Corigan Initiative;-)
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#16 John Sprung

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:02 PM

Umm, what does nuclear fusion or global warming have to do with carbon footprints?


According to the global warming believers, it's big carbon footprints that cause global warming. Nuclear stuff -- fission more practically than fusion -- could be used instead of some of the carbon based stuff, thereby reducing footprints and warming, according to those who believe it.




-- J.S.
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#17 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:18 PM

I think perhaps the argument about carbon footprints is misconstrued as you too quickly get into issues of what needs more light, which DP is shooting it, to what stop at what ratio etc, because that effects energy used, whether or not they're on gennys, where they're shooting (and where that power comes from) etc, on top of the manufacture of the individual parts and what's involved in that. Further, what part of the work-flow are we dealing with, just production, post too, distro, all etc.
Perhaps a better way to look at this would be via sustainability, which of the two mediums consume the least amount of stuff over their average life-time. And even therein we'd need to average out "digital" and "film," based on a vast swath of what's available now and what has been available. Even then, I am unsure how this can really help us, or why we should care. Granted, keeping this planet alive is VERY important, but perhaps we all have larger fish to fry before we try to figure out what impact film making itself have on the environment. I'd say such things as, hell, just how big is an American's carbon footprint, and how can we reduce all of that! Again, just my take on the whole thing.
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#18 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:19 PM

Bottom line: Carbon footprint? I could not care less.

Recycling sets, re-using the materials and other things like that is a good idea thou.


I find it curious you should favour one but not the other, Frank. After all the whole sustainability movement is really just a larger attempt to get us all to "recycle our sets". Carbon footprints are simply one way of measuring our waste.

At any rate, as Dominic Case tried to outline in the thread title, this isn't a question of whether you or I believe in global warming. Already there are very big budget films that have shown interest in mapping and offsetting their carbon footprints, and the trend is likely to continue. At the moment it's driven by investors or a high profile activist star, in the future it may well be governments.

The question is whether digital capture technologies, at present gaining ascendency due mainly to cost savings, might lose that advantage if a true carbon price were assigned to them.
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#19 K Borowski

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:31 PM

According to the global warming believers, it's big carbon footprints that cause global warming. Nuclear stuff -- fission more practically than fusion -- could be used instead of some of the carbon based stuff, thereby reducing footprints and warming, according to those who believe it.




-- J.S.



Yeah, so call it something other than "carbon footprint." I know what a carbon footprint is, and how it pertains to the global warming.


It also pertains to pollution, and there isn't an ass alive that really pretends that generating huge amounts of waste isn't problematic on a planet with 6 billion people. Whatever you power it off of, a dirty coal power plant or cold fusion, the first R of recycling is "reduce," and a reduction in individual consumption and increase in efficiency benefits all mankind.



Addition:

In response to Dom's reply, those Green policies and film studio memos clearly say that film is more wasteful; whether or not it is true depends on the long-term cost analysis. Unless you have long term archiving issues accounted for, I'm sure film seems more wasteful.

So we should all shoot 3-perf. never use scope ever again, because it is "25% more wasteful," and never use film stills or polaroids for the same reason.

Let's also banish incandecents. Because a certain lighting technique uses more power, let's banish it, regardless of artistic considerations!


Film noir lighting is hearby mandated because of the lack of fill lighting energy waste. It is green filmmaking!

Edited by Karl Borowski, 21 September 2010 - 06:36 PM.

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#20 K Borowski

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:39 PM

I have another gripe: These memos. They just want to save money. The environmental concern in those memos is, at best, a guise for saving money.

The only :"green" they care about is the kind they can shove in their wallets (at least that is the analogy in the states.)
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