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New Year, New Technologies

Ah, the first column of a New Year, burgeoning with potential. We're going to kick it off by looking at two new technologies I have been tracking recently that may offer significant benefits to the future of film and video production. Neither has been used in a major mainstream Hollywood production yet, but I hope you will be as excited as I am about their potential contributions.


The first is Circlescan 4D, a revolutionary concept developed by Eddie Paul of EP Industries in El Segundo, Calif., that could make entertainment involving three-dimensional images economically feasible to both celluloid and digital productions. Ever since Charles Wheatstone demonstrated his theory of "stereopsis" in June 1833 to the Royal Society in London it has been known that discretely presenting two different angles of the same image to each eye will produce the visual phenomenon of three dimensions. But up to now, in order to display this parallax view on the screen, photographers have had to shoot scenes using dual image reception systems-either film, video or paper prints-then process them with specialized equipment and accept the fact that the result had little value unless audiences wore special glasses to re-separate the stereo images onto each individual eye's retina. That relegated 3D films to the niche of a fad marketplace.

(click thumbnail)A cameraman lines up a shot using Circlescan's 4D camera fixture.But after spending 35 years in the motion picture business as a cameraman and prop designer Paul hit upon a better idea that he calls Circlescan 4D, with the "4D" indicating the necessary inclusion of motion in the recorded images to produce its illusion of depth. The unique advantage of Circlescan 4D is that the original film or video looks normal on any screen or monitor to the naked eye. But when viewed through special glasses, the three-dimensional imagery suddenly appears.

Since Paul's process is solidly protected by patents, he generously revealed its secret to me. Circlescan 4D is built on a phenomenon of vision called the Pulfrich Effect (discovered by Carl Pulfrich in the 1920s) that says if each of your eyes receives an image of different light intensity they will be fooled into thinking they are seeing two separate images. Then if the foreground of a picture moves across the background, the necessary stereoptic parallax will be perceived and the brain will process the two images into an illusion of depth.

For the last half of 2002, visitors to the vast Ankeney Studios (office cluttered with NLEs, monitors and VCRs) were treated to a test tape of Circlescan 4D and I can attest to the fact that it works remarkably well. Yes, to get the illusion of depth you have to wear cardboard glasses but for Circlescan 4D they are cheap to manufacture since they contain just a darkened neutral density filter on one side and a clear lens on the other. The beauty is that the video looks unprocessed without the glasses which means it can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Paul's Circlescan 4D recording system is simply comprised of a fixture attached to the front of a film or video camera containing two mirrors that rotate once a minute in a periscope-like arrangement that always keeps the image vertical. These induce a very subtle, barely perceptable movement into the recording even in static setups. As a result, Circlescan 4D productions can be shot with a single strip of film or videotape and then edited on conventional equipment. They require no special processing or projection, and look perfectly normal without the glasses.

Paul figures that adding Circlescan 4D technology to a feature film shoot will only bump the budget up about 10 percent, far less than other 3D technologies, and he has demonstrated it to several mainstream studios and even large format film companies. So far the initial interest has produced no followthrough, but this entrepreneurial inventor is considering developing his own market demand by creating a prosumer version of the Circlescan 4D rotating mirror rig costing just a couple of hundred dollars that could be attached to a home camcorder.

Paul plans to exhibit his Circlescan 4D system at NAB2003, but you can learn more about it on his Web site at


Our second new technology is the answer to an editor's dream: a practical, large capacity field disk recorder that can transfer its material directly to a studio NLE. But don't confuse it with remote disk recorders for ENG work. This portable powerhouse, called df-cineFS, from Germany's director's friend GmbH is designed to capture even the demanding requirements of the uncompressed output of today's state-of-the-art digital cinema camera, Thomson Grass Valley's Viper FilmStream. The founder of the company, Erhard Giesen, predicts it may be a harbinger of finally replacing film with videodisks for field recording, especially for digital cinema applications.

"Our df-cineFS system can capture at up to 248 Mbps which, through dual HD-SDI links, will more than accommodate the uncompressed, raw data output of the Viper FilmStream camera for 24p recording," Giesen says, "Since this is the uncompressed RGB 4:4:4 signal, you are not limiting your ultimate image quality options during field recording. Just as a film negative only produces its final picture once it is processed in the lab, we believe that capturing the raw data instead of a compressed HD signal gives you maximum flexibility for subsequent post-production editing, effects and image manipulation."

Giesen founded the director's friend company in 1998, and, being unsatisfied by existing laptop field computers, decided to build his own. The df-cineFS rests in a rugged magnesium alloy shell, and uses the director's friend's own mungo software to bring in images through a DVS Digital Video Systems capture card. In the field the df-cineFS stores its material on the director's friend HDreel portable storage unit that, with its new 1.1 terabyte RAID hard disk array, can hold up to 90 minutes of uncompressed, 10-bit RGB 24p material.

But in an era when many in Hollywood are skeptical of digital cinema's image potential, can the combination of the Thomson Viper FilmStream camera and df-cineFS field recording system really rival film? Director of Photography Joe Di Gennaro, notable for 1990's "Margaret" and 2000's "The Opponent," shot a short film last year called "QIK2JDG" (try pronouncing it "Quick To Judge") for actor/director Nick Spano.

"I recognized that the df-cineFS was an ideal conduit to get the data out of the Viper FilmStream camera andafter the project was edited on an Avid Media Composerfed into a Thomson Grass Valley Specter Virtual DataCine to output to 35mm, using an ARRILASER film recorder," di Gennaro recounts. "I can see that this method of field acquisition can be a cost-efficient way to feed a nonlinear edit system and post-production finishing process to continue the evolution of digital image capture."

So is this a sign of sync pulses replacing sprocket holes? Nobody wants to venture a definitive answer in today's climate, but di Gennaro will say, "in certain situations, a digital cinema acquisition system like this could go head-to-head with shooting film. Of course, the technologies will always be improving. But the advantages of the df-cineFS and HDreel recording give us one more very viable link in an approach to all digital cinema production."

It's worth noting that when "QIK2JDG" was shown at the October 2002 Hamptons International Film Festival, the descriptive paragraph in the judge's catalog described the widescreen digital cinema production as being "told by a montage using lush 35mm cinematography". So at least for some knowledgeable people, increasingly the difference is in the eye of the beholder.