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The Consequences of Going Digital Are Vast, and Troubling


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#1 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 02:58 PM

http://www.laweekly....ital-Hollywood/
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#2 George Ebersole

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 01:13 AM

Wow, the times; they are a changing.

Go digital or fall behind and die.

Rough business.
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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 02:56 AM

A small, council-run art house in the town where I live is considering going to digital because the distributors are refusing to issue prints (note: refusing to, by choice - they have prints, they're just not letting them out).

What's interesting about this is that the equipment somehow ends up being cheaper if you're not a studio-backed exhibition house using the virtual print fee mechanism. It's about half what it would be if you were. So what's actually happening is that the equipment manufacturers are gouging the studios terribly, and if you're not studio-affiliated, you can get it a lot cheaper.

OK, so it still isn't cheap, it's still a five figure investment, but it seems that the whole studio-backed funding model for the digital transition is actually distorting equipment prices quite severely.
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#4 Keith Walters

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 11:25 PM

http://www.laweekly.com/2012-04-12/film-tv/35-mm-film-digital-Hollywood/

Bah. Whoever wrote that doesn't really understand the technologies involved, or the film industry generally.
I rather think that when push comes to shove, the distributors will find a way to provide prints, even if they're made in Shanghai. There are simply far too many small town cinemas which won't be able to afford the upgrade to digital projection. They'll simply disappear, along with a not insubstantial part of the distributors' income stream. The cost of the print is normally recouped in the first session, if there is no first session, they recoup nothing!
What is really needed is cheaper and more reliable digital projectors.
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#5 James Malamatinas

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Posted 22 May 2012 - 04:11 PM

When I was reading this a question came to mind several time.

When a movie shot on film is projected digitally, how much of the film aesthetic is lost compared to projecting the movie on film?

When people say they prefer watching film, how much of this is down to it being shot on film and how much of it is the aesthetic the film projection element brings e.g. film artifacts, cue marks and so forth. Is digital scanning of high enough quality yet to capture the 'organic'essence of film?

Thanks,
James
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#6 Tim Halloran

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Posted 22 May 2012 - 06:29 PM

When I was reading this a question came to mind several time.

When a movie shot on film is projected digitally, how much of the film aesthetic is lost compared to projecting the movie on film?

When people say they prefer watching film, how much of this is down to it being shot on film and how much of it is the aesthetic the film projection element brings e.g. film artifacts, cue marks and so forth. Is digital scanning of high enough quality yet to capture the 'organic'essence of film?

Thanks,
James


Watching projected film and watching a digital projection are two totally different physiological and psychological experiences.

I myself prefer watching projected film because it is a richer experience because of these differences. I find my body and mind much more engaged because of the different things my body and mind are "doing" while processing the information of projected film. I do also prefer the look of things shot on film, but I could put up with digitally captured stuff as long as it was exhibited on film. Sadly, this is quickly going away.

In regards to the experience of others, we may reach a point where people just don't care, but digital projection will simply NEVER be the same as film.

Tim
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#7 Keith Walters

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Posted 23 May 2012 - 04:11 AM

When a movie shot on film is projected digitally, how much of the film aesthetic is lost compared to projecting the movie on film?
When people say they prefer watching film, how much of this is down to it being shot on film and how much of it is the aesthetic the film projection element brings e.g. film artifacts, cue marks and so forth. Is digital scanning of high enough quality yet to capture the 'organic'essence of film?
Thanks,
James

People insist on trying to make a big mystery out of this, but there really is no mystery. Film has a much greater dynamic capture range than any current digital camera.
What that actually means the film can record a usable replica of the entire tonal range of a scene, up to at least 16 stops.

In simple terms that means that if you had a good enough lens that you could focus an image on the emulsion where the brightest parts of the image are about 65,000 times as bright as the darkest parts, everything in that range will recorded in some meaningful fashion. However, because of the non-linear response of the emulsion, when the film gets processed, this is squashed down to around 11-12 stops - that is about a 1:2000 - 1-4000 range. This is still far more than is actually needed to produce a convincing image; a 4-stop display range is perfectly adequate for most people, and in practice very few displays can even manage a 6 stop range. (The contrast ratios routinely quoted are usually complete rubbish).

Even the best electronic cameras fall a long way short of 16 stops. Claims of 14 stops are something of a stretch, since they all use noise reduction of one sort or another, so the quieter you make the dark end obviously the bigger the ratio is going to get. The perennial problem is that when you take out the noise, you always take some of the low-level detail with it. The true figure is something less than 12 stops, which is still pretty good. However the stunning results obtained with cameras like the Alexa owe an awful lot to the care taken with the lighting.

The thing is, once the film has compressed the range down by a factor of 16 times or so, it's vastly easier for an electronic scanner to then capture that "replica" of the original scene, and the result is always going to look better on a digital projector than something captured with an electronic camera directly. That's simply because with film, the highlights tend gradually lose contrast rather than be clipped off suddenly the way they are with an electronic camera.

As regards watching a movie projected on film, that's something of a can of worms. If the print is struck directly off the original negative, (pretty unusual) well yes, it can look very good indeed. Unfortunately, in a cinema you're nearly always going to looking at a fourth generation contact print.

Apart from that, most commercial films these days are Post-Produced with a 2K digital Intermediate, which means that the 4-generation chain then starts with a negative with considerably less than half the resolution of the original camera negative, so it's not surprising it's going to look pretty ordinary by the time that comes out the other end!

When it's projected digitally on the other hand, you're effectively projecting a 2K scan of the original negative, so it's not surprising people find the picture looks a lot better. (Apart from being free of dirt, jitter and scratches).

However, not all digital projectors are created equal, and most of them don't produce terribly convincing blacks.

Personally, if I could actually get to see a contact print struck of the original negative, I'm sure I'd greatly prefer that. But the only place you're ever likely to see that is at a rushes screening on a film set :(

Given the choice of a **good** digital projection over a standard 4th generation print started from a negative struck from a 2K DI, I'll take the digital option!
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#8 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 23 May 2012 - 09:12 AM

People insist on trying to make a big mystery out of this, but there really is no mystery. Film has a much greater dynamic capture range than any current digital camera.
What that actually means the film can record a usable replica of the entire tonal range of a scene, up to at least 16 stops.

In simple terms that means that if you had a good enough lens that you could focus an image on the emulsion where the brightest parts of the image are about 65,000 times as bright as the darkest parts, everything in that range will recorded in some meaningful fashion. However, because of the non-linear response of the emulsion, when the film gets processed, this is squashed down to around 11-12 stops - that is about a 1:2000 - 1-4000 range. This is still far more than is actually needed to produce a convincing image; a 4-stop display range is perfectly adequate for most people, and in practice very few displays can even manage a 6 stop range. (The contrast ratios routinely quoted are usually complete rubbish).

Even the best electronic cameras fall a long way short of 16 stops. Claims of 14 stops are something of a stretch, since they all use noise reduction of one sort or another, so the quieter you make the dark end obviously the bigger the ratio is going to get. The perennial problem is that when you take out the noise, you always take some of the low-level detail with it. The true figure is something less than 12 stops, which is still pretty good. However the stunning results obtained with cameras like the Alexa owe an awful lot to the care taken with the lighting.

The thing is, once the film has compressed the range down by a factor of 16 times or so, it's vastly easier for an electronic scanner to then capture that "replica" of the original scene, and the result is always going to look better on a digital projector than something captured with an electronic camera directly. That's simply because with film, the highlights tend gradually lose contrast rather than be clipped off suddenly the way they are with an electronic camera.

As regards watching a movie projected on film, that's something of a can of worms. If the print is struck directly off the original negative, (pretty unusual) well yes, it can look very good indeed. Unfortunately, in a cinema you're nearly always going to looking at a fourth generation contact print.

Apart from that, most commercial films these days are Post-Produced with a 2K digital Intermediate, which means that the 4-generation chain then starts with a negative with considerably less than half the resolution of the original camera negative, so it's not surprising it's going to look pretty ordinary by the time that comes out the other end!

When it's projected digitally on the other hand, you're effectively projecting a 2K scan of the original negative, so it's not surprising people find the picture looks a lot better. (Apart from being free of dirt, jitter and scratches).

However, not all digital projectors are created equal, and most of them don't produce terribly convincing blacks.

Personally, if I could actually get to see a contact print struck of the original negative, I'm sure I'd greatly prefer that. But the only place you're ever likely to see that is at a rushes screening on a film set :(

Given the choice of a **good** digital projection over a standard 4th generation print started from a negative struck from a 2K DI, I'll take the digital option!

Very well put and informative, I think I'd take the very same opinion too.
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#9 James Malamatinas

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Posted 23 May 2012 - 05:13 PM

I completely agree with Marcus, that was a really great post and was very helpful in answering exactly what I was trying to ask. Are you aware of any articles or sites that detail this process further? I'm really interested in exactly how afinished film is made transferred ready for projection e.g. which various formats (both film and digital) are available for film and digital projectors and what the advantages and negatives of each are?

Thanks,
James
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#10 Cody Smith

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Posted 23 May 2012 - 08:31 PM

Before moving out to Los Angeles, I was a projectionist at a small sole proprietor type cinema in the Midwest, six screens, the type of theater that you would think would be the among the last ones the studios would get to. I can tell you for a fact that my employer was told by the studios that if he didn't acquiesce to installing all digital projectors by 2013 they would stop sending him film prints. Now maybe they were just trying to scare him, but that's what they said.
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#11 Keith Walters

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 06:13 AM

Before moving out to Los Angeles, I was a projectionist at a small sole proprietor type cinema in the Midwest, six screens, the type of theater that you would think would be the among the last ones the studios would get to. I can tell you for a fact that my employer was told by the studios that if he didn't acquiesce to installing all digital projectors by 2013 they would stop sending him film prints. Now maybe they were just trying to scare him, but that's what they said.

Currently he wouldn't get any change out of a million dollars even for a minimum installation, so unless the studios are prepared to heavily subsidize the installation, he's just going to be out of business. Multiply that by a few thousand like him, and it's big hole in their takings. It just isn't going to happen.
And it's most definitely not going to happen for the bulk of the world's population, so they've got to either continue supplying prints from somewhere, or they lose another massive slice of their takings. So prints will still be available, at what quality, who knows?
It's just Idiots in Business Suits again.
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#12 Pat Murray

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 10:41 AM

A small, council-run art house in the town where I live is considering going to digital because the distributors are refusing to issue prints (note: refusing to, by choice - they have prints, they're just not letting them out).

What's interesting about this is that the equipment somehow ends up being cheaper if you're not a studio-backed exhibition house using the virtual print fee mechanism. It's about half what it would be if you were. So what's actually happening is that the equipment manufacturers are gouging the studios terribly, and if you're not studio-affiliated, you can get it a lot cheaper.

OK, so it still isn't cheap, it's still a five figure investment, but it seems that the whole studio-backed funding model for the digital transition is actually distorting equipment prices quite severely.


We have a rep theater here in Ottawa that is about to make it to its 80th birthday in the same situation. They need to come up with $55K by the end of the calendar year to buy a new Digital projector so they can show second run Hollywood features in 2013 and beyond. As much pride they take in showing rare 35mm prints of "Deep Red" and "Once Upon A Time In The West" (the owner had to beg the studio to send that print as they thought it wasn't presentable, it was actually a very nice print), they sustain themselves with a steady diet of Avengers, 5 Year Engagement etc. after they've gone through the Cineplexes.

It appears that the classics will only be available in digital projection too. Although the owners of the Ottawa rep theater do have around 200 privately owned 35mm/16mm prints and are always hunting the film markets for more. Being able to show them legally to the public can be dicey depending on the film though.
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#13 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 10:35 AM

I'd swear the closer we get to film being completely superceeded, the higher the claims of film's resolution and dynamic range seem to get!

It makes me sad to think that film is going, and even sadder to think I'll almost certainly never get the chance to shoot a feature-length narrative on it. But such is the march of progress, and if there's one certainty about technology - it's that it slows for no man. And in the end, does it really matter?

For me the moment came when I saw Drive at the cinema, it was projected digitally and shot on Alexa, but I never even thought about that until after the film was finished and I was told it was shot digitally - all I saw were beautiful pictures. And in the end, that's all we're really trying to create.

So if the quality is equivalent, who cares?
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#14 Matt Stevens

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 11:23 AM

Last week I had the good fortune to see two Ridley Scott films, in 35mm.

BLACK RAIN and BLADE RUNNER.

BLADE RUNNER was 35mm, pristine and absolutely glorious. No 2k or 4k presentation that I can recall could match this. Honestly, the image quality was insane. The only clearly better looking stuff I've seen is 70mm. I was about 12 rows back and at that close distance a 2k or even 4k projector would have noticeable screen door effect.

Now BLACK RAIN was not so lucky. Clearly this was an old theatrical print. It seemed soft, slightly out of focus, with numerous defects, scratches and for three reels, something I have not seen before: red blotches that shimmered and infected all deep black areas of the image. It made watching the film difficult.

Anybody know what I was experiencing?

I mention this because digital projections suffer no such problems. They have other problems, mind you. But for classic films, prints can be a pain if they are not checked and clearly, Paramount provided the Walter Reade Theater a real crap print.

Edited by Matt Stevens, 31 May 2012 - 11:25 AM.

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#15 Michael T Gardner

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 02:04 PM

Film disappearing feels an awful lot like telling a sculptor who works with marble that he can no longer use marble and then telling him all the benefits of using clay instead. Its malleability, its forgiving nature. It might even be painted to look like marble. Clay is all fine and good and great work can be produced from it, but at the end of the day it's a different medium with its own unique look and set of challenges. I wish the two could coexist. Not have one replace the other.
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