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Techniques for Film and Video Production

A couple of words of caution as we contemplate where we can go from here. As good as film to digital to film is getting, we are not yet transparent to the process. By Lou Levinson
At first glance, the techniques for film and video production and post seem more like polar opposites and the idea of such diverse things converging seems unlikely. The convergence I'm talking about is really applicable to any uses of moving pictures to tell stories. From :10 tags to commercials to feature films to miniseries, a lot of cross-pollination of ideas and techniques is happening and has been for a while. At first, I was thinking that this would be the grounds for this whole story. But to this audience, much of this is becoming second nature already. For many of us, the limits are not what's technically possible, but what's fiscally responsible for us to implement. So, I started thinking more about the consequences of convergence, and came to the conclusion that one big consequence is a more diverse toolbox for all of us to reach into.

Lou Levinson is a colorist at Post Logic StudiosAn example: "Film is dead!" is a marketing tool designed to sell electronic image capture gear, with promises of equal (or better) quality and reduced costs. I've seen some very good results, no doubt. However, HDTV or 2K resolution and bit depth isn't equal to film. And, having a big name cinematographer lighting for a capture device that has six stops of dynamic range instead of the 12 to 14 stops he or she may be used to is probably not going to be less time or money consuming. Fixing it later almost always is more expensive, and usually less satisfying from a quality standpoint. Having an electronic image capturing system that can do what film capture systems do now in terms of quality, usage, and cost appears to be about 10 years away.

However, the toolbox is bigger. We have more ways to tell stories. Maybe more stories get told, as well. Overall, our visual language gets enriched.

Speaking of an enriched visual language, it's time for me to digress and rant. There is a very distressing trend for cable channels here and abroad to order films originally composed at aspect ratios of 2.20:1 or greater as panscans inside the 16:9 HD and European DTV shape. And for studios to provide them unquestioned. What kind of crap (well, Lou, actually it's mostly pure capitalist crap) is this? I was privileged to be at meetings where those representing the creative authors of films were assured that 16:9 was perfect for showing letterbox and there would be no need for panscanning. Really? So what is happening now? And my European friends who looked down at us Americans for not accepting the intended composition as is? To me, it's no surprise that a lot of these same organizations that think no one watches letterbox are suffering from erosion of viewership. Look at the major broadcast networks here in this country.

They will struggle mightily to keep a show from being seen as a 1.78 matte, but at the same time will take huge money to show a :30 spot that may have the aspect ratio jumping all around in it.

Would an expensive commercial really be shown matted if there were a belief that the audience was smaller? The advertisers have clearly identified what the networks miss ? the enriched visual language of their target audience.

And here we are back at an enriched visual language for storytelling. An ever more diverse language for visual storytelling arising from tools from all disciplines converging onto platforms where more and more of us can get our hands on them.

A couple of words of caution as we contemplate where we can go from here. As good as film to digital to film is getting, we are not yet transparent to the process. But we are on the verge of achieving transparency, and our world becomes more diverse when we do. Diversity without intelligent limits can be chaos. Here I'm thinking mainly of the need for some standardization in file types (which seems to be happening), and some standardization for efficiently moving images between service providers and storing image data long term, which seem a bit chaotic just yet. As another pointer to film not being dead is that film is probably the best archival instrument we've got when properly cared for. Not long ago, as I was coming off a panel at a seminar, I was treated to the pleasure of watching a Technicolor print of A Midsummer Nights Dream from the early ?30s. Seventy years is beyond us in the digital domain just yet. To put even that in perspective, I had this humbling thought which I'd like to pass along lest we beneficiaries of "modern" techniques for visual storytelling get to feeling too good about ourselves: We can go, either in corpus or virtually, to cave walls in Dordogne, France, and see and understand stories whose visual language works across twelve thousand years. Anybody that good, raise your hand.
Lou Levinson is a colorist at Post Logic Studios

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Related Keywords:film, electronic image capturing system, 2.20:1, 16:9 HD, European DTV, Post Logic Studios


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