The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Casino Royale
Tomorrow Technology
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DVD Playback
Books in Review
ASC Close-Up
The four-year anniversary of the ASC Technology Committee is a mere month away, and though four years might seem like a blip within the grand history of motion pictures, the effect the committee is having on the industry is seismic.

The four-year anniversary of the ASC Technology Committee is a mere month away, and though four years might seem like a blip within the grand history of motion pictures, the effect the committee is having on the industry is seismic. As productions shift to digital workflows, the committee has formed initiatives with such groups as the Art Directors Guild, Producers Guild, American Cinema Editors and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — each of which has formed a technology committee of its own, based on the ASC’s model. The ASC’s goals are simply stated but complex to achieve: how to best implement digital technologies so that data can be easily exchanged while maintaining image integrity throughout the workflow, thus presenting and preserving artistic intent. Though a motion-picture utopia might not result, at least a friendly working environment will.

Members of the ASC Technology Committee recently shared their observations about the progress the committee has made and what comes next.

Curtis Clark, ASC, chair: “We’re entering a new phase, one of tighter integration between all the stages of motion-picture production. The interaction between our various Technology Committee subgroups that deal with key constituents of the workflow is becoming more critical, and the Workflow Subcommittee [led by Al Barton from Sony Pictures, Gary Morse from 20th Century Fox and Howard Lukk from Disney] was created to be the “meet-me room” where a lot of the interaction between the other subgroups can help facilitate better integration of their respective accomplishments into the most effective workflow solutions. Focusing on workflow integration has really become the key to success. The workflow subgroup also includes art directors from the Art Directors Guild [ADG] and members of the Producers Guild, with which our relationship is growing. In fact, we’re talking about creating an event where the ASC and the ADG put on demonstrations and seminars to help better educate Producers Guild members. 

“We’re looking at how to weave emerging technologies together into something that makes sense for working out the best visual approach to storytelling for a given project. This includes establishing and managing chosen looks throughout the various stages of preproduction, production and post, from art department previsualization through live-action shooting through incorporating references for the dailies scan and/or telecine transfer, as well as ongoing references used by visual-effects supervisors and digital artists in CGI and colorists for digital mastering in the final stages of DI [digital intermediate]. This is what the committee’s focus will become in the coming months. We’ve seen the different subcommittees dealing with different facets of one workflow process, and we are now weaving those processes together. 

“It’s good that we didn’t realize how enormous this whole project would be when we started, because the group was nowhere near as advanced as it is now. But the Technology Committee literally is growing with the workflow process, and we’ve been influencing important aspects of its development since the committee’s launch almost four years ago. The committee has been right there at every stage of the DI’s evolution, for example, influencing important aspects of its hybrid film/digital image management. 

“The DI Subcommittee is focusing on consolidating the advances and the steps of the ASC CDL [Color Decision List], an important means for sharing critical color-correction information between different color-correction platforms, and creating some de facto, open-architecture standard. There seems to be enough support at the moment to suggest that this will become an industry standard implemented by all the color-corrector manufacturers. It’s important foundational technology where we can implement the integrity of the look throughout the imaging chain, through editorial, through digital effects and the visual-effects process — all the things that are critical and increasingly prevalent in the way films are being made. 

“One of our newer initiatives, previsualization, is gaining momentum. It grew out of our relationship with the ADG Technology Committee, chaired by Alex McDowell, and now includes Local 728. This coalition will find ways to refine this process of defining user requirements and look at where applications can exchange data with certain file formats, so we can advance the concept of setting or integrating not only look-management features and color-management capability into these applications, but also powerful new digital lighting software tools. Frieder Hocheim, president of Kino Flo, has been developing software modules that simulate the effect of Kino Flo lighting units in digital previz-type environments. Ultimately, we will see digital-lighting modules that will enable cinematographers to see how the lighting will impact the set design and set the parameters for visual-effects facilities. The visual-effects supervisor can maintain the integrity of that look throughout the CGI process, so the tail won’t wag the dog — the CGI won’t come back to the cinematographer with a note saying, ‘This is what you need to match.’ It should be the other way around. It’s very exciting to see this coming together, because these convergences are happening as a direct result of the ASC’s initiative and the work the Technology Committee and our industry partners have been pursuing. 

“Another initiative is in the digital-display area. We’re beyond digital projectors. Don Eklund, an executive vice president of advanced technologies at Sony Pictures, has joined our group, and his main concern is what happens to the integrity of images when they go into the consumer world of DVDs, but more importantly Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. We need to interact with display manufacturers to encourage them to make sure that the calibration settings of their devices conform to something closer to the digital-cinema specs as best they can within the color-gamut limitations of those display devices. Can they accommodate the possibility of XYZ color space? Does it always have to be RGB? There may still be time to still make a difference, particularly with Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. For instance, there could be certain metadata information on the Blu-Ray or HD-DVD discs that can trigger calibration settings on monitors, assuming that the end-user doesn’t override them. It could be metadata that creates calibration settings for a certain type of LCD or plasma or DLP display device. Garrett Smith [of Paramount Pictures], co-chair of our Digital Archiving Subcommittee [with Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures], has been talking about this for a long time because he deals with digital mastering. I see some convergences and synergies between archiving and what happens with the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray master. What are we going to do in regards to future access to those? 

“The Metadata Subcommittee has been reinvigorated. Metadata is key to understanding how to make the workflow more integrated and efficient, and we’re working very closely with the Academy Sci-Tech Council in that respect. One of their big projects is file format.  

“We’ve been part and parcel to the development process, as groups and manufacturers include us to see how their developments best serve the cinematographer and the filmmaking process. I’m very proud that we’ve earned that status. The Technology Committee is a forum that is unique in the industry; there is nothing out there quite like it. That’s one reason why people give the committee so much of their time and attention. It’s not competing with SMPTE or the Sci-Tech Council; we’re all complementary. The role of the Technology Committee is to try to maintain a cohesive understanding of how the digital and hybrid film-digital processes integrate, with a special emphasis on how they affect the role of the cinematographer and the cinematographer’s filmmaking colleagues. 

DI Subcommittee

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