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Annual Technology Retreat brings together the gear users

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.

A few hundred techies made it out to the Hollywood Post Alliance retreat in Southern California, where the weather was great, the camaraderie excellent, and the issues at hand expansive.

Front and center was digital cinematography. The consensus was that HD cameras, 4K scanners, and digital cinema would not replace traditional film production any time soon.

On "The Cinematographers Panel," representatives from the American Society of Cinematographers' Technology Committee embraced the new creative possibilities offered by digital media, but were also concerned about quality control.

Among them, Michael Negrin pointed out that the "language of film" had already evolved into a "film-digital language"-one whose idiosyncrasies were not easily identified.

DIGITAL FRONTIERS

Nevertheless, HD continues to make its way into feature films. On "The Cameras" panel of manufacturers, Sony Marketing Manager Yasushiko Mikami said that the HDC F-950 is at work at Robert Rodriguez' Los Hooligans Studio (two cameras) and on Sony Pictures' "Ultra Violet" (three). Thomson's Mark Chiolis noted the use of its Viper, Sony's HDC F-950, and film in Michael Mann's "Collateral," which is now in post-production.

(click thumbnail)Sean Fairburn operating a 3D camera at the Super Bowl, with (L to R) Steve Andrich of NFL Films, Gary Ushino and Paul Gibilisco.
During "The European MetaVision Project" panel, BBC Producer Tony Salmon and Snell & Wilcox's Projects Group Manager Paul Walland showed a short feature made under the Project's auspices. The footage used various speeds (including 4:1 slow motion), depths of field, and effects (like motion blur) under different lighting conditions (sunlight, interior, night) using Arri's D-20.

Though pleased with the effects and optical viewfinder, Salmon said the lens field of view angle was narrow and called the cable a "tether."

Other drawbacks to the production-distribution chain were also cited in the various panels-cost, limited availability of equipment and facilities, security, lack of good business models and the limited number of digital cinema-capable theaters.

The panel cited only about 160 digital theaters worldwide at the end of 2003, (about 70 in the U.S.). The announcement that the Cinecom chain would convert 125 of its 250 theaters in Austria and Switzerland stood out from what otherwise appeared as apathy toward digital cinema.

The Tech Retreat's exhibition room included the first-time demonstration of Sony's new SRW-1 HD digital video cassette recorder which, with an adaptor, provides a full-bandwidth 4:4:4 RGB portable VTR system.

Off the main exhibition hall, Cobalt Entertainment screened the digital 3D Super Bowl footage it shot for NFL Films. Nearby lay the requisite eye gear, including the "T Cam" and the "Bernie Box," a couple of jury-rigged camera support devices.

The "T Cam" is the front of Sony's HDC F-950-lens mount, prism block, sensors, filter wheel, viewfinder and, "enough electronics to plum the image back," said project director of photography, Peter Anderson. The back end of the camera-image processor-was on the floor, attached by a copper cable.

The "Bernie Box" is shorthand for the box that contains all the additional processors that didn't make it into the master rig control unit.

"It is affectionately named after our lead engineer, Bernie Butler-Smith," said Steve Schklair, CEO of Cobalt.

Bill Lange, a research specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, reconfigured the HDC F-950 for a non-SMPTE interface. At the Super Bowl, approximately 50 feet of cable leeway between the camera and processing, enabled a lighter, more maneuverable version (70 to 80 pounds with harness) to shoot footage on the field. The ultimate goal, said Lange, is a direct fiber connection to a truck parked outside the stadium.

The "Bernie Box" gave everyone working around the camera rig a more detailed reference about what's in the frame. Unlike television, cinematography doesn't rely on the direction of a one-man band from a control room. Here, a four-man crew was assigned to each of the two cameras-camera operator, focus puller, director of photography and "utility" (who carried the processing equipment)-plus cable wranglers.

Evertz equipment insured matching time codes for each recording, and enabled the crew to capture the big game at various speeds.