The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
ASC Master Class
ASC Technology Committee
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ASC Close-Up
ASC Technology Committee

The ASC Technology Committee continues to pilot a vital course.

Over the past 12 years, the ASC Technology Committee has been working diligently to integrate an unprecedented number of new developments into the complex landscape of digital filmmaking. Among the group's list of achievements are the ASC Color Decision List, the ASC-PGA Camera-Assessment Series, the ASC-PGA Image-Control Assessment Series, the ASC-DCI Standard Evaluation Material, and contributions to the Academy Color Encoding System and the AMPAS/ASC Common LUT format.

ACES, the result of 10 years of work, was recently officially launched, and the ASC CDL has already won three prestigious honors: an Academy Scientific and Technical Achievement Award, a Primetime Emmy Engineering Award, and a Hollywood Post Alliance Judges Award for Creativity and Innovation.

Approximately 140 ASC members and associate members participate in the committee’s initiatives, which comprise an extensive slate of ongoing projects. Curtis Clark, ASC, was charged with leading the committee in 2002, carrying on the work of John Hora, ASC, who led the group in the pre-digital era. Clark chaired his first Technology Committee meeting in January 2003. “At that point," he recalls, "we were facing a disruption of the photochemical post workflow due to the emergence of the digital intermediate.”

Indeed, as the committee's mission statement reads, “some of the most pressing issues that the committee needs to address include an array of digital technologies that have been and are being progressively introduced into the motion-picture-imaging workflow.” The concern, notes the statement, was that “cinematographers will become increasingly vulnerable to certain industry trends that could marginalize our creative contributions, [which] have been the cornerstone of filmmaking since its inception.”

In addition to DI, the committee also examined the impact of HD digital motion-picture cameras, digital visual effects, digital source mastering, digital cinema. and digital image compression. “Anything that disrupts the comfort level of convention is always looked at with a bit of anxiety,” says Clark. “We wanted to address the issues and figure out how to shape [them] to better serve the art of cinematography.”

The ASC Technology Committee has, in fact, examined every one of these issues. For example, the advent of early digital cameras — including Panavision’s Genesis and the Thomson Viper — was “the beginning of a digital evolution that would take over image capture,” says Clark. “In 2004, Collateral was among the first mainstream Hollywood films that incorporated digital image capture, and, as such, it was a milestone. That led to the first digital-camera assessments we did, starting in 2007, in conjunction with the PGA and Revelations Entertainment.”

The first rumblings of digital cinema also prompted the Technology Committee to research and develop the appropriate tools. “We created the STEM not just to test digital projection, but also to test compression technologies used in creating a digital-cinema package, including JPEG 2000, which won out among other compression schemes that were contenders,” Clark says.

The committee frequently works in partnership with other Hollywood guilds and organizations. “In conjunction with AMPAS, we created the Common LUT format, which now has become a component of ACES,” says Clark. In addition, ICAS — which incorporated ACES as the common color-encoding and color-management system for all participating digital cameras, as well as scanned film — was also accomplished with the PGA and Revelations Entertainment.

“The objective of this work was to create a unique forum that addressed these digital-imaging technologies and influenced their development in a way that would better serve the creative aims of cinematography and filmmaking,” says Clark. “It combines the creative filmmaker perspective with an understanding of the technology [in order] to harness the disruptive threat. We saw our role as helping to guide digital-imaging technology development in ways that would help create effective toolsets for cinematography.”

ASC Technology Committee Secretary David Reisner describes how subcommittees have furthered the aims of the larger group. “Subcommittees have come and gone as their importance has evolved,” he says. “Camera was quite important while we were trying to understand where we stood with what digital cameras did and didn’t do and set goals for manufacturers. Now, digital cameras have reached the point where they’re quite good. Focusing our attention on the DI was very important because people needed to understand what was required of the process in order to be effective for the creative side of making movies.

“And that’s our touch point: What is the technology required, and what do people need to understand to let creatives make the movies they want to make?" Reisner continues. "In the first eight years of the Technology Committee, we had some significant tasks where we could identify their critical nature. It got people motivated and kept them focused. Still, there are critical issues that need to be addressed and resolved.”

The committee’s current vice-chairmen are ASC members Richard Edlund and Steven Poster. Active subcommittees are Camera, chaired by David Stump, ASC, and vice-chaired by Edlund and Bill Bennett, ASC; UHDTV, chaired by Don Eklund; Digital Archive, chaired by ASC associate Garrett Smith; Digital Restoration and Preservation, chaired by ASC associate Grover Crisp and vice-chaired by Michael Friend; Virtual Production, chaired by David Morin and vice-chaired by John Scheele; Laser Projection, co-chaired by Michael Karagosian and ASC associates Eric Rodli and Steve Schklair; Advanced Imaging, chaired by ASC associate Gary Demos and vice-chaired by Jim Fancher and ASC associate Phil Feiner; Digital Finishing, chaired by ASC associate Lou Levinson and vice-chaired by ASC associate Joshua Pines; Motion Imaging Workflow, chaired by Al Barton and vice-chaired by ASC associates George Joblove and Bill Feightner, along with Greg Ciaccio; Metadata, chaired by Stump and co-chaired by Jim Houston; and Professional Display, chaired by Jim Fancher and vice-chaired by ASC associate Gary Mandle.

“Another important matter is Ultra HDTV, also known as 4K TV, with wide color gamut and high dynamic range,” Clark says. “UHDTV needs to be better defined regarding mastering and content delivery, especially for the new HDR mode of image reproduction.”

As Reisner points out, “The idea when we started work on digital cinema was to try to come up with, ideally, a single-source master.” This single-source master, Clark adds, “is what our UHDTV subcommittee is currently assessing, with active participation from several major consumer TV-display manufacturers.”

Levinson describes how the original DI subcommittee transitioned into a subcommittee focused on digital finishing. “We struggled with issues surrounding the ASC CDL, and then ACES, so we’ve had a more behind-the-scenes effect than anything else,” he says. “Now that we’ve garnered those awards, we’ll have to find a new morass to jump into — and there’s no shortage of those!”

The Advanced Imaging subcommittee also grew out of the original DI subcommittee, says Demos. “When we split off from [DI], that allowed them to independently work out a system architecture without the calibration and linearization goals that we were pursuing,” he explains. “Almost immediately, the DI subcommittee began pursuing the ASC CDL.”


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