Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Cinema look-Digital projection

What defines the cinema look?

Now that most(?) of us have seen digital projection, is the cinema look/experience confined to film projection?

Is digital projection a different experience?

Mike Brennan DP London


If for no other reason than it is NEW. It is being Hyped. Much attention is being paid to it. It is being closely monitored (my understanding is that there are techs assigned to the projectors - but I could be mistaken).

There is the "trailer" that plays at the head of DLP projections advertising DLP.

If it really was a replacement for film projection, then it would have been a quiet changeover. Now it is a marketing ploy.

A) Probably an attempt to get back those people who have stopped going to the Theater by offering them "new and Improved" when it is only "New" not improved, but the theaters are paying attention to the presentation, whereas with the Standard film projection - Presentation is seemingly not important.


B) An attempt to win the young crowd that watches T.V. and Plays Video games for their entertainment - by giving them a theatrical experience that more closely matches what they are used to. I saw the beginning of the A.T.O.C. movie in Digital. The Opening with the C.G. Ships looked very plasticy, and very video gamelike to me, whereas when I saw that sequence projected on film, it had a far better look (in my opinion), more organic, more "real".

So in my opinion it is a different experience. Which must make the distributors happy as I'm certain that the windfall is people seeing the movie twice ($$$$) to decide which experience thay like better.

Steven Gladstone Cinematographer

Gladstone Films

Cinematography Mailing List - East Coast List Administrator

This is a different, well phrased twist to the "film/cinema look" question.

Last night I saw Star Wars 2 on the Framingham, MA DLP system, and then saw several scenes immediately thereafter on film in a staggered showing in an adjacent, otherwise identical theater.

I sat 3 picture heights from the screen in both cases.

The digital projection of the 24p digital source is not a completely cinematic experience. It is better. The temporal cadence provided a sufficiently similar "veil of fantasy" that I've pointed to in the past.

The color pallete was photographically lush - rich and vibrant.

The only digital disappointment - the amount of "lift" or "setup" for the given projector placed Zone 0 with a slight wash as opposed to being a true black. I know the DLP technology can provide a superior black, but this projector was just off a bit at the bottom of the Zone scale. As you rise through Zone 4 and up the error becomes less relevant, so skin tones and the like were fine, but the deeper shadows intended on backlit faces in the film's darker moments were a bit washed, again because of the projector's excessive black lift.

Otherwise, I'm totally sold.

When I stepped into the film theater I saw the pastoral valley/waterfall shots and the flowers and the darker seastorm scene that followed.

I also saw the black dust, the white negative hairs, the weave.

I also noted that the skin tones were pretty consistent, with slightly improved shadows. However, the color gamut of the film hit the wall with the red flowers and some other color extremes. The vibrance and detail was gone and the most saturated colors didn't compete with the digital version.

Is digital projection a different experience? If the source is digital, absolutely. If the source is a digitized film - the question becomes, can the digital projector faithfuilly convey what's on the emulsion- including the anomalies? Yes.

The display technology definitely works. Further, I think that Lucas' DP got his recipe right, whatever it was.

It's all IMVHO.

Pete Fasciano Fellow, Advance Development Avid Technology

Peter, you can't make that statement using A.T.O.C. as your source, as apparently it was all shot in a form of Video.

I'm not sure that even a Film print can faithfully convey what's on the negative. The whole Gamma thing, and contrast range of a print is less than the neg.

I also saw the Film Print, of this movie, and The print I saw was clean, did not have white or Black hairs or dirt. Perhaps a word to the theater, or a call into THX to complain about the poor print. As for Weave, well frankly People get a life. I have NEVER seen weave Unless I've GONE looking for it. In all my lifetime of viewing a film Theatrically, I have NEVER had Weave take me out of a film. Mistimed Shutters on the projector -yes. Weave, No.

My Opinion (Humble or Not)

Steven Gladstone

Cinematographer - Gladstone Films

Cinematography Mailing List - East Coast List Administrator

Completely agreed.

I was making that very point. "If the source is a digitized film - "

I know SW2/ATOC is digitally derived.

I also saw Ocean's 11 both ways.

Definitely closer to the projected film experience


Two interesting pieces of history to consider -

HD Audio -

When RCA (Ed Armstrong) was developing FM radio in the 30's they conducted tests to determine listener preference for higher quality music/audio.

FM doubled the upper end spectral response from AM's 7-8 KHz to 15 KHz.

They A/B compared an AM broadcast of a live band performing in the next room to a simultaneous FM broadcast of the same live performance.

The results were disastrous. The audience chose the AM radio by a wide margin because that listening experience was more familiar to them.

A second test was conducted as a 3 way comparison - live band, live band over AM, live band over FM. reframing the question, "Which radio is a truer representation of the live performance?"

FM won by a hefty plurality.

Observation: Properly framing the debate and criteria is critical.

Film at 11 -

We haven't heard that expression since the seventies. In the film days of news gathering the story would be first told early evening, often without benefit of pictures if the events were late in the day. Then there was the promised "Film at 11".

Then in the mid-seventies RCA and Ikegami introduced portable video cameras coupled to Sony's portable U-matic field recorder, all on batteries. CMX, Sony and Paltex introduced small edit controllers as well. ENG, Electronic News Gathering was born. The hue and cry from staff cinematographers was to no avail. Although the hardware was considerably more expensive, the tape stock was much cheaper, the process faster, and an entire broadcast industry shifted to videotape in the blink of 3 years.

We have HD cameras +

We have a workable digital negative system of editing/compositing tools.

We have distribution and display technology.

Is it all perfect? No.

Was the early ENG system perfect? Most definitely no.

How does digital cinema play over time?

What are the remaining barriers? What is the uptake?

Pete Fasciano Fellow, Advance Development Co-founder Avid Technology

However, the color gamut of the film hit the wall with the red flowers and some other color extremes. The vibrance and detail was gone and the most saturated colors didn't compete with the digital version.

But how can you be sure this is a film problem, and not a problem with the color correction of the film version, and the laser recorder filmout of the film version, of this film? Perhaps they need to refine their Arrilaser LUTs?

I saw a 10 minute reel on DLP at NAB and was quite underwhelmed. It looked like a grayed-out video game. Fine if you don't like good blacks and like big-screen video games... and the weird lack of detail in some outdoor grassy scenes (Lake Como?) really was obnoxious.

Then again, three screen heights away from the screen is a lot further than I ever sit. I was in the second row at NAB... with jaggies visible quite plainly.

Jeff "10 minutes of this mindless crap was more than enough for me" Kreines

Is it all perfect? No.

Was the early ENG system perfect? Most definitely no.

One thing to ponder is that ENG was intended as "fishwrap" -- i.e. news today, discarded tomorrow. (Look at how many stations re-used field tapes until they fell apart -- thereby losing untold amounts of historic material.)

People working on films often think of them as something meant to last for a long time -- whether or not they should. So perhaps digital cinema gear should be held to a higher than ENG gear was (not that you were conflating the two).

Jeff "news gathering to me = CP16" Kreines

Pete, I can't believe that you were not disappointed with resolution or highlight issues. The biggest differences between the film and digital projections of AOTC (IMHO) were DLP's pixelization and aliasing, and the further exaggeration (beyond what happened in camera) of video's problems with ramping highlights. Film scratches were also a significant difference between the two displays.

Mike Brennan's question: "Is digital projection a different experience?" makes me wonder if the heart of this issue isn't the blurring of the line between cinema and television. As audiences redefine what they believe to be acceptable cinema, video origination and display have become more viable. 24p's most perplexing characteristic is that it weds mental constructs that we had clearly separated in our heads. Film purists want a film experience at the cinema. Audiences seem to be trending in a new direction.

Jim Iacona DP San Francisco

Film purists want a film experience at the cinema.

Audiences seem to be trending in a new direction.

Yep. Yup.

On that observation we are in violent agreement. There will be many unintended consequences attached to the new technologies. Some marketing folks are trying to get their arms around these as opportunities.

I also expect that even in the fullness of time there will be film purists who know what the medium could deliver, and who will remain disappointed with gains in d-cinema for some time.

The Miramax position is - it's there now.

The Warner position is - not til we get to 4K x 4K.

Others have their business and performance positions.

I'm willing to explore d-cinema as a replacement for traditional film processes - acquisition-process-distribution. I'm equally willing to explore d-cinema as an alternate entertainment form, differentiating by content, venue, purpose and time of use and many other possibilities that may arise.

I saw SW2/AOTC as an open observer.

Other than the blacks, this DLP was set up superbly.

And I intended my comment as an opinion - subjective.

A specific user experience and merely a data point of one.

That leaves much room for your other real concerns which I also have seen in other test examples and demo's. Also agreed.

My SW2/AOTC theatergoing experience was for the most part a good one. (Note ditorializing on the content itself)


But I'll say again, with the content being 90 % to 100 % digital CG, depending on the movie, the "trending" has been rather rapidly manufactured.

-Sam Wells

This is a very limited perspective. If I asked what is the most influential movie made in America in the past ten years, what would you answer? My answer would be The Blair Witch Project. This film opened the door to video originated drama for American audiences and expanded the range of acceptable styles of storytelling. Prior to this only documentaries could get away with originating on video. It was thought that audiences would forgive the look of video for a compelling, real life story. Blair Witch showed distributors that they could make money on a dramatic feature shot on video. This was no small revelation.

While video origination remains a barrier to theatrical release, the wall gets smaller every day. Lars von Trier, Mike Figgis and Lone Scherfig (and others) have proven that audiences will accept video on the big screen. Lucas was able to spin it into a selling point. Why? Because audiences are increasingly accepting an ever widening range of visual styles. The mainstream acceptance of daring visual styles has brought image degradation along with it. For example, we can call it a look but when we bleach bypass negative we are willingly degrading the wide tonal range captured on that negative. Nothing is sacred in the quest for style. Video no longer has to emulate film to be accepted on the big screen. Video has become just another look. It's not that the high end is going away. Rather it is that the universe is expanding. In my opinion the trend is glaringly obvious.

Jim Iacona DP San Francisco

P.S. I have no connection to Blair Witch and didn't even like the movie.

I believe this to be a common misconception that led to a somewhat misguided explosion in DV "filmmaking". Blair Witch's look was accepted by audiences precisely because it was a fake documentary that exploited our expectations of what a documentary would look like. Using video for that project was the only right decision since the gimmick would not have worked if they shot it on 35mm. In the ongoing discussion of "format vs. content" people rarely realize that it's the content that FITS the fomat that wins. There are scores of unsold movies with great stories that won't see the light of day simply because their creators opted for digital acqusition and the content didn't fit that format.

In the case of SW EPS 2 a sci-fi movie without a digitaly unaltered frame (all right maybe a few frames were left intact) and a mostly CG content, going with HDCAM doesn't seem like a bad idea, but the same look might sell differently if you tried shooting the next Godfather.

Just my two cents.

Tamas Harangi hyphenate

The Blair Witch Project opened the door to video originated drama <

Eduardo Sanchez: "We shot it on Hi-8 and 16mm ... because that is what they would use. We were completely after realism. We figured these people were out shooting a documentary about the Blair Witch and out there shooting it on a 16mm camera, and that they would also take a behind-the-scenes video camera which would be a Hi-8 camera because this supposedly happened in 1994 "

It was then edited on a Media100 and printed to film.

Scott Billups - direct quote from an interview DP / journalist

There are scores of unsold movies with great stories that won't see the light of day simply because their creators opted for digital acqusition and the content didn't fit that format.

Could you be more specific about the content that doesn't fit digital acquisition? Do you seriously think that good scripts can't be shot in a classic way on digital. Do you include HD transferred to film?

Do you mean to make it sound that merely shooting on a digital camera creates a similar *style* to Blair Witch?

More likely it is questionable script, acting or directing style than format that puts a concrete boot on a movie!

Is it a common excuse for producers with great scripts to say that they *would have* been successful had the (usually limited) budget been put into 16mm or 35mm film rather than digital?

In respect to your comment about whether the next Godfather would play differently if shot on HDcam. From my experience, for 99.99% of the audience the HD picture transferred to film is "good enough" and familiar enough not to distract from the script, lighting, camera moves, acting, editing or directing.

But some may say that if the Godfather was shot on HDcam it would look like..... Blair Witch?

Mike Brennan DP London



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