New season brings more of new look
Twenty-four frame-per-second progressive-scan video first arrived on the scene as a high-definition video technology aimed at motion picture production, spurred on by a few notable proponents such as George Lucas. But in the past year, the big growth for 24p has come from two divergent production communities-episodic television in the HD realm and independent motion picture and documentary production in the emerging SD domain.
"The big news is that the TV production community jumped in with both feet," said Jon Reiner, marketing manager for Movie and Television Production at Sony Electronics, referring to the over 30 episodic television shows shooting with Sony's CineAlta 24p system across the six major TV networks and cable.
Reiner said that while mature shows are sticking with film, the new shows, led by sitcoms with some dramas and movies of the week, have embraced 24p video. And even though the end product is geared for television rather than the movie screen, 24-frame production is entrenched in the Hollywood community, he said.
And then there's that look. "With 24p you get that suspended reality look, that film look," said Mark Chiolis, product manager for Acquisition and Production at Thomson Broadcast and Media Solutions.
Ancillary businesses such as stock footage companies are already benefiting from this growth in 24p HD native production.
FootageBank, a Los Angeles-based boutique stock footage company, has seen the demand for 24p material explode this year. "The tipping point was this new season," said FootageBank President Paula Lumbard.
One of the company's in-house cinematographers is DP Ken Garff, who shoots with his own Sony HDW-F900 CineAlta 1080/24p system.
Lumbard said that shows such as "Judging Amy" and "Malcolm in the Middle" are requesting 24p elements, as are "movie-of-the-week" productions, cable, government and technology companies.
Lumbard cites the ease of cutting 24p with both film and native 24p video as two of the reasons for the format's growth. Also, government agencies and technology companies are asking for HD material in all formats for testing materials.
THE BIG-SCREEN LOOK
On the feature film front, first-time director Mark Decena shot his romantic drama "Dopamine" on a Panasonic AJ-HDC27 VariCam HD camera and was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Rob Humphreys was the DP on that project, which followed the lives of two people with opposing views of love.
The AJ-HDC27 shoots not only in 24p, but also in a wide range of frame-rates from 4 to 60 fps (in single-frame increments), which allowed Decena to off-speed effects and time-lapse photography.
And two new high-res technologies may help bring 24p to the major studios. The Grass Valley Viper FilmStream, introduced at NAB2002, has been undergoing extensive tests with most of the major studios, Chiolis said. That camera captures raw data directly from the three 9.2 million-pixel Frame Transfer CCDs to a recorder, leaving all the pre-processing for post. With 27.6 million pixels per frame to deal with and the need for transparent fully sampled 4:4:4 RGB recording, recording and worlkflow technologies have been issues. At NAB2003, Grass Valley showed some results of such developments with third-party vendors.
Also at NAB2003, Sony introduced the HDC-F950 camera and a new recording format, HDCam SR, that permits full-bandwidth RGB 4:4:4 recording. Reiner said the HDCam SR format provides a fuller dynamic range and color reproduction. "Based on our conversations with the studios, we feel this will help move more studio [motion picture] production to 24p," he said.
While 24p has been mainly thought of as a medium for recorded and edited programs, an unexpected phenomenon, Chiolis said, has been the incorporation of 24p in live television events such as the recent MTV Music Awards, where 24p segments were intercut with 1080/60i.
"It was a unique look that got MTV a lot of attention, and we think we'll see more of it," Chiolis said.
Events like this are affecting how the major mobile production companies outfit their trucks with cameras. NEP Supershooters purchased 40 Grass Valley LDK 6000 MKII Worldcam cameras, National Mobile Television (NMT) has bought 22 and New Century Productions is in for 16.
Panasonic is paying attention to this market as well. It introduced the AK-HC931 studio camera at NAB2003 this month, with 24p capability along with other frame rates.
THE PEOPLE'S HANDS
At the other end of the resolution spectrum are low-cost standard-definition 24p or PAL cameras.
"These acquisition devices are putting 24p in more people's hands," said Matt Allard, senior manager of production marketing at Avid Technology Inc.
Los Angeles-based filmmaker and Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish had a choice of one HD camera or two Panasonic AG-DVX100s for his musical feature "Open House," and chose the latter.
"This is very different from any other musical, and as we wanted as much camera coverage as possible, the easiest way was to shoot with two cameras," Mirvish said. "A 24p camera would have been too big and bulky. It made more sense to use the little camera. It was more nimble, lightweight, and the technology was very easy to use. If you had used a prosumer camcorder before, you could pick up the DVX100 and use it right away."
But what about the image quality at 480 lines and 4:3 aspect ratio? "We noticed the minute we looked at the footage that 24 frames progressive looks and feels more like film than any kind of video, even compared to PAL, which was another option we had," Mirvish remarked. He added that he perceived a certain film-like grain to the image that he liked.
As Mirvish noted, PAL has been another option for cinematographers for 24 (well, actually, 25) frame progressive acquisition.
"'The Technical Writer' is the first motion picture shot in [Sony's] IMX 25p," Reiner said. "Filmmakers have gravitated to PAL resolution because they like the extra lines of resolution and the increased color range, and Sony is satisfying them by making PAL production available in the U.S."
Case in point is the Sony DSR-PDX10 DVCAM lightweight camera, available in PAL with native 16:9 and selling for around $3,100. "Sony is willing to go ahead with a 24p foundation with every different format level we support," Reiner said.
At NAB2003, Sony introduced optical disk-based cameras for IMX. While the first round of buyers is expected to be ENG customers, Reiner said, the cameras will have a 24p option, "which could conceivably catch the attention of the independent production community."
Panasonic introduced the AK-HC900 multipurpose box camera, about 5 x 3 x 4 inches in size with the capability for multiple frame rates, including 24p.
Even as 24p TV production is on the rise, commercial spot producers, at least on the national level, have shown a reluctance in adopting the technology. But at the local level, the Panasonic Varicam has been used on a number of projects, with the AG-DVX100 showing plenty of promise.
Video Design, a Michigan-based production company, used the VariCam HD Cinema camera to shoot spots for the 2004 Ford F150 truck and 427 sports sedan. These videos were presented at the Chicago and New York auto shows. Rick Yarmy, owner and president, Video Design, chose to shoot 24p video instead of film.
Sony and Panasonic are aggressively marketing 24p. Sony, with ad agency Young & Rubicam, developed the "Dreams" project, now in its second year, which gave commercial directors a chance to create short vignettes using the Sony CineAlta system.
Panasonic's Product Line Business Manager for High-Definition Production has been on a 24p tour, visiting dealers and inviting customers to seminars explaining 24p, what it's being used for, and what equipment is available. The tour continues through July of this year.
24p video, no matter what format, has increased the tools available to the cinematographer.
"We believe there is a demand for content with image quality similar to film, and 24p acquisition provides it," Merritt said. "These products are not a replacement for film, but another tool for content producers and cinematographers."
New season brings more of new look