February was a difficult month for us here at DCS; in addition to the upsetting developments in Ukraine, we lost two longtime members, friends and industry icons, Douglas Trumbull and George Dibie, ASC. Following are short tributes including clips from DCS activities they participated in. On a more positive note, we are happy to report that Sir Roger Deakins, BSC, ASC has been formally granted knighthood.
Other industry news this month includes an announcement by Quasar Science on the launch of their latest linear LED lighting instruments, the Rainbow 2 and Double Rainbow tubular LED lights. Meanwhile, SIGMA has announced the availability of several new DC DN Contemporary lenses in Fujifilm X Mount format. After the Academy’s contentious plans to cut eight categories from the main telecast including Film Editing and Sound we thought it fitting to include those categories in a listing of this year’s nominees along with Cinematography and VFX.
In his essay this month, James Mathers reports once again on the HPA Tech Retreat. It was really great to be back at an in-person event. It was a great success despite lingering Covid challenges and gives us confidence to carry on with planning some of our own events. So, we are happy to announce that we have scheduled our 2022 Cinema Lighting Expo for Saturday, May 21st, returning to the Grip’s Local 80 stage in Burbank; please save the date.
In Memoriam: Douglas Trumbull and George Dibie, ASC
Following, are short remembrances with clips of the two highly respected and much loved DCS members we lost this last month:
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of longtime DCS member Douglas Trumbull, whose credits include sci-fi classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner. He died on Monday, January 7, 2022 at the age of 79 as a result of complications from mesothelioma.
Trumbull earned Oscar nominations for his VFX work on Close Encounters and Blade Runner, as well as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He also oversaw the visual effects for The Andromeda Strain and Silent Running, which he directed. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1993 for conceiving the CP-65 Showscan Camera System for the 65mm motion-picture camera and received the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award for his technical contributions to the industry as well as the President’s Award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 1996, Georges Méliès Award from the Visual Effects Society in 2012 and was later named a VES Fellow.
Trumbull took a break from the movie business following the making of 1981’s Brainstorm, which proved to be Natalie Wood‘s final film after the actress died in the middle of production. In recent years he resided in Massachusetts where he continued to innovate. Doug was not only a master craftsman, and a gifted artist, but also a good friend and a kind man, who was very generous with his knowledge and willing to share advice or even just a great tale from his storied career in the industry. He was also an important contributor to DCS, participating in our productions, such as this interview for the Digital Cinema Show episode on Visual Effects: https://vimeo.com/675248695
It is hard to express the great impact George Dibie, ASC had on my life, my career, and the Digital Cinema Society for which he was the inspiration. When he shared his age with me recently it was hard to believe he was 90 years old. He still had great vitality and a zest for life even near the end, truly like the energizer bunny. If you’re interested to know more about George’s many accomplishments and his impact on the Digital Cinema Society, please view this short video of him accepting a DCS award at the 2017 DCS Cinema Lighting Expo: https://vimeo.com/209454170
Save The Date: DCS Cinema Lighting Expo Returns as In-person Event on May 21, 2022
As the threat of Covid transmission has eased somewhat, we are excited to announce that our 2022 DCS Cinema Lighting Expo will take place on Saturday, May 21st, returning to the Grip’s Local 80 stage in Burbank, CA. Our 2020 Expo was the last major in-person event to take place before the pandemic lockdown and our 2021 edition had to be cancelled when new variants were on the rise. We now feel that it will once again be safe to congregate and are looking forward to carrying on this very popular tradition…utilizing safety precautions, of course. Please save the date.
Quasar Science has announced the global launch of its latest linear LED lighting instruments, the Rainbow 2 and Double Rainbow tubular LED lights. The units feature multiple individually controllable pixels for both white light and saturated colors. The slim Rainbow 2 (R2) is available in three lengths (2’, 4’ or 8’) featuring a single row of 10, 24 or 48 pixels, while the Double Rainbow (RR) is uniquely configured with two rows of pixels totalling 20 or 48 across two sizes (2’ or 4’). A newly developed color engine produces dramatically more accurate colors and control. Both the RR and R2 luminaires feature Quasar’s RGBX Spectral Science Color Engine (RGBX SSCE) using more than one quintillion diode combinations, producing greater than one billion unique colors.
Another industry first is the Spectrum Control feature which grants the ability to choose the spectral quality of any color point the lights can produce. 100% on this parameter gives the optimal spectrum for that color, and 0% gives the spikiest RGB-only spectrum. Networking capabilities are addressed with new Rainbow Series communications hardware. Rainbow fixtures accept every industry-standard wired and wireless protocol including DMX, CRMX, W-DMX, Bluetooth, sACN and Art-Net, providing advanced networking architecture with no need for additional data boxes, receivers, or transmitters. The R2 has a built-in Ethernet Node, expanding data versatility while the RR is equipped with both an Ethernet Node and a Network Switch creating a whole new universe of possibilities. Rainbow 2 and Double Rainbow fixtures are available to order now from Quasar Science dealers.
Our DCS interview with Steven Strong of Quasar Science includes more details of their latest lighting technology. In addition to the Double Rainbow, he presents an LED Ladder system, Multi-light Kits, built-in wireless DMX control, and new firmware to add X-Y coordinate spectral control to precisely match other lights: https://vimeo.com/617303477
SIGMA Announces Release of Three F1.4 Prime Lenses for Fujifilm X Mount Cameras
16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary: $449
Roger Deakins, BSC ASC granted Knighthood In Ceremony at Windsor Castle
Sir Roger Deakins, as he shall hence be referred to in addition to his honorary cinematography association initials, was knighted for his exceptional contribution to film by the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle. Of course, Deakins is one of the most celebrated cinematographers in cinema having lensed a vast array of masterpieces and winning two Oscars – one for Blade Runner 2049 in 2018 and one for 1917 in 2020. He has also won five BAFTAs along with five ASC Awards and seven BSC Awards.
2022 Oscar Nominations for Cinematography, Editing, VFX, and Sound
With the excitement generated around the Oscar nominations in the categories of Acting, Directing, and Best Picture, and with the controversial decision not to include categories such as Sound in the live telecast, we wanted to highlight instead some of the technical arts and crafts we tend to follow for the Digital Cinema Society including Cinematography, Editing, Sound, and VFX. Following are the nominees in these categories for the 2022 Academy Awards, (as reported by the Academy without any group affiliation initials after their names). A complete list can be found at: https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/2022
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY NOMINEES:
DUNE: Greig Fraser
NIGHTMARE ALLEY: Dan Laustsen
THE POWER OF THE DOG: Ari Wegner
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH: Bruno Delbonnel
WEST SIDE STORY: Janusz Kaminski
BEST FILM EDITING NOMINEES:
DON’T LOOK UP: Hank Corwin
DUNE: Joe Walker
KING RICHARD: Pamela Martin
THE POWER OF THE DOG: Peter Sciberras
TICK, TICK…BOOM!: Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum
VISUAL EFFECTS NOMINEES:
Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer
Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis and Dan Sudick
NO TIME TO DIE:
Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner and Chris Corbould
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS:
Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker and Dan Oliver
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME:
Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick
Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri
Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett
NO TIME TO DIE:
Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey and Mark Taylor
THE POWER OF THE DOG:
Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie and Tara Webb
WEST SIDE STORY:
Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson and Shawn Murphy
One DPs Perspective
It’s Great To Be Back – DCS Explores the 2022 HPA Tech Retreat
by James Mathers
Cinematographer and Founder of the Digital Cinema Society
In a DCS tradition maintained for many years, (with the exception of 2021 which was held virtually due to pandemic restrictions), I have traveled each February out to the California desert near Palm Springs to attend and report on the HPA Tech Retreat. It is a very high level gathering, now in its 27th year, that brings together a core group of technology leaders to share with each other challenges, solutions, and innovations in motion picture production and post. It allows me a forward looking chance to recognize and analyze future trends that will affect our members and the industry at large.
There were several areas of concentration that I found of particular interest this year including Virtual Production, the integration of AI and Cloud technologies, and the use of motion picture cameras in live production. There was also an unintended theme that kept occurring to me, the increasingly heavy influence of gaming on our visual language which seems to permeate many other forms of entertainment.
It would be hard to beat the practical demonstration of virtual production and cloud workflows put together for the 2020 Tech Retreat. “Lost Lederhosen,” a full-on high production value motion picture was finished in near-real time, after shooting an elaborate scene set on a moving train right inside the conference room and featuring the entire audience as extras. However, that didn’t stop this year’s organizers from trying to top it, and perhaps they did.
There was not just one, but three separate and complete virtual production volumes constructed inside the main conference room, combining technology from most of the major manufacturers in the industry. Cameras were supplied by ARRI, Sony, and RED with volumes by AOTO, Planar, and Sony fed by both Unity and Unreal gaming engines. But the Tech Retreat is about a lot more than just eye candy; it’s the presentations by experts in the field and panel discussions that are the most valuable. So, allow me to run through some highlights from the four days of content.
The first day’s session was curated by DCS member Mark Chiolis and explored the use of cine cameras in multi-camera live production. It was a deep dive into the challenges and benefits of using larger single sensor cameras in a world that was once dominated by 2/3” broadcast cameras and lenses. Separate panels discussed the production of concerts, award shows, and the 2022 Super Bowl game telecast. They had members of the team responsible for this year’s game telecast as well as another panel on the impressive high-production-value half-time show. Camera and lens manufacturers shared their perspectives, and Bill Bennett, ASC described his process in producing the last live ASC awards using ARRI S35 cameras. Overall, it was demonstrated that although there are some obstacles to overcome, they are able to successfully integrate cinema cameras and techniques into such productions.
It was during a presentation by Mike Davies, Chairman of the Fox Sports Video Group, that first got me thinking about the growing influence of video games in how we visually tell our stories. He is the man responsible for their coverage of major sporting events including multiple Super Bowls, World Cups, Baseball World Series, NBA championships, and NASCAR. He made the point that covering a sporting event is basically telling a story, much like a motion picture narrative, and the way audiences expect those stories to be visually presented is getting evermore sophisticated.
Davies credits video games with setting a new standard which live sports coverage is trying hard to emulate. He gave football as an example, where long lens cameras high atop the stadium and perhaps a few down at field level were once adequate to cover the event, or tell the story if you will. However, an audience accustomed to playing Madden NFL is no longer satisfied being on the sidelines; they want to be in the action.
Audiences are used to a cinematic aesthetic in terms of depth of field and framing, a high bar to meet shooting a live event, but technology is helping them get there. Skycams, drones, large sensor cameras isolating the subject with shallow depth of field, wireless cameras and microphones on the athletes; these are just some of the tools being utilized to bring the audience into the action. But the intent to make this coverage look like movies, and to a greater extent, like video games, is what I found revelatory, especially being that day two of the Tech Retreat delved into Virtual Production, a technology literally spawned from the gaming industry.
The broad range of computer-aided filmmaking methods variously known as Extended Reality, Mixed Reality, or Virtual Production have benefitted from the accelerated graphics processing needed to not only create, but to play games in real time. The mass market demand created by gamers allowed for investment in research and resulted in much innovation in terms of processing speed and graphics quality. But it is not just the technology that has been borrowed from gaming, the whole visual language used to tell our stories is now heavily influenced by this medium. A representative from one of the three LED walls on display shared with me that the Chinatown background volume used in their demo was lifted directly from a popular video game. It looked GREAT, extremely photorealistic, and it was hard to believe it was computer generated.
The current top box office release is Sony Pictures’ Uncharted which is based on a series of action-adventure games published by Sony Interactive Entertainment for PlayStation consoles. The movie lifts sequences straight from the games and Sony has already indicated that the planned Uncharted 2 movie will take on more video game elements in terms of action, adventure, and storytelling. At a time leading up to the Academy Awards, when moviegoers are eager to catch up with nominated movies, such as Power of the Dog, Coda, King Richard, etc. these critically acclaimed titles are experiencing lackluster box office performance. In fact, the Academy declined to include any of this year’s top 10 domestic-grossing films among their nominees. More than any other factor, box office success is what will drive future productions. So, for better or worse, in a risk adverse industry, you can expect to see more tentpole effects laden offerings modeled on video games, (and, of course, sequels based on comic books). This will only increase such visual influences on motion picture aesthetics. This is not an analysis that was part of any Tech Retreat presentation, but just something that occurred to me while exploring the various technologies.
Getting back to what was presented, let’s look at some of the other technologies and issues that were discussed. It seems one of the benefits of working with virtual production volumes is that the LED panels can be used not only for backgrounds, but also as a light source, offering the bonus of realistic location-based reflections. However, like early LED luminaires offered up for motion picture lighting, there are gaps in the spectrum of light currently emitted by the volumes’ video walls.
The light produced by the LED panels that make up the volumes may be acceptable for a background image, or when reflected off the helmet of the Mandalorian, but can leave some skin tones lacking, and matching colors with scenes shot in the real world can be problematic. A presentation by Quasar Science Color Engineer Tim Kang and Netflix Color Scientist and USC Professor Paul Debevec outlined some of these issues. In another presentation, a team including Steven Poster, ASC, and our own Jim Defillippis, among others, offered a possible solution. They propose adding additional colors of LED chips to the volume’s light engine arrays, just as motion picture LED lighting manufacturers have learned to add extra colors in addition to RGB to fill in their spectrum.
Meanwhile, ARRI showed their Skypanel and Obiter units being driven by a game engine to provide color correct light in sync with color and intensity of the volume’s LED walls. Although ARRI doesn’t make displays or game engines, they have established a new business unit called the Global Solutions Group bringing together their camera, lighting, and lensing expertise to consult in the building of mixed reality environments. A demo volume was shown in partnership with AOTO, Mo-Sys, and B&H.
One of the presentations dealt with authorship and control of the final image as well as interoperability between systems. Another dealt with the need for a standard terminology and introduced the VP Glossary, an industry-wide effort to establish a common vocabulary across professionals working in Virtual Production. Created by the Visual Effects Society (VES), the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and a host of industry experts, with support from Epic Games and Netflix, it is freely available online here: https://www.vpglossary.com/
A presentation that really caught my attention was titled the Future of Synthetic Beings in Digital Entertainment by VFX Producer Tom Thudiyanplackal. It explored what is possible with synthetic beings which can be controlled by mo-cap or as background characters with preprogrammed wireframes. A literal army of extras can be easily created and their clothing/uniforms and coloring can be quickly swapped out. What would be a multimillion dollar epic battle scene can now be easily and convincingly staged in front of an LED wall with a small fraction of the resources, then easily edited and reused for the next epic scene. It was also interesting and a little scary to note that research has shown highly rendered synthetic beings are more trusted than actually human actors. These so called, “digital humans” may soon be used to pitch products in commercials or even as reporters to read us the news headlines.
AI-Assisted Color Pipelines was the subject of a panel moderated by ICG Local 600’s Michael Chambliss that featured Lawrence Sher, ASC, DIT Dane Brehm, Colorist Mark Todd Osborne, and Dado Valentic of Color Intelligence. They made the point that AI can be used to do some of the more mundane color timing chores, such as matching disparate cameras in order to leave more time for the Colorist to concentrate on the creative work of shaping the final images.
Case studies are always an important part of the Tech Retreat and this year there were not only reports on a Virtual Production created by the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, but also on a new StEM, (Standard Evaluation Material), created by the ASC which also incorporated virtual production techniques and just about every other new motion picture technology. Most of us will recognize the Italian Wedding scene that was produced by the DCI, (Digital Cinema Initiative,) back in 2004, (lightyears back in “tech time”). It was created under the auspices of the ASC Technology Committee to provide standardized test material for evaluating the performance of digital projectors and other elements of the systems at the dawn of digital cinema.
The futuristic StEM2 has the goal of including technology that was hardly even dreamed of in 2004. Key contributors included Writer/Director Jay Holben, DP, Christopher Probst, ASC, VFX Supervisor David Stump, ASC, 2nd Unit Director and DP Steven Shaw, ASC, and Producers and Post Supervisors Wendy Aylsworth and Joachim “JZ” Zell, who with the exception of Probst, were all on the panel. The impressive action packed 17-minute film, called The Mission, was specifically designed to incorporate challenging cinematographic material and will soon be openly available to the entire entertainment industry as a common reference to evaluate our imaging chains.
Another case study given by HPA President and Light Iron CEO Seth Hallen, along with Light Iron’s Katie Fellion, and Adobe’s Michael Cioni looked at cloud post-production technology on the feature Biosphere and the ACES team of Annie Chang, JZ Zell, and Alex Forsythe gave an update on their tireless work establishing the interoperability standard.
Perhaps it is because I spent some time several decades ago making a documentary on the Navajo reservation and have more recently been teaching underserved youth as part of the InnerCity Filmmakers program, but I really appreciated finding out about a project sponsored by Blackmagic Design and AWS. Native American high school and college students from Arizona reservations were given a little bit of training and some of the latest gear, then set loose to make their own film. They made a beautiful little drama, partially in English, that poignantly made the case for preserving their native language and culture. It was inspiring to see what underserved young filmmakers could come up with if given access to the proper tools.
Besides the formal presentations and demos, time was reserved in a trade show style environment known as the Innovation Zone. Manufacturers were assigned booths and it was a great way to get some one-on-one time to really dig in and find out about their new products. Of course, there were also the Breakfast Roundtables, another opportunity to get face to face, (unmasked when eating breakfast), with some of the top technology minds in the industry. I was able to get a highly detailed run down of the extremely versatile Riedel Bolero system from Rick Seegull and am eager to try it on a future production.
Speaking of masking and covid protocols, I have to give the HPA a lot of credit for creating a covid-safe environment. They required all attendees to prove that they were fully vaccinated and tested negative in the hours leading up to their arrival at the Tech Retreat. In addition, self administered Covid test kits were handed out at check-in for attendees to test and report daily that they remained Covid negative. Such protocols were a bit of an inconvenience, but it was well worth it for the peace of mind provided especially when gathering so many people from all over the world. They proved that such an event can be staged safely and it can serve as a model for future industry events until this pandemic has completely passed.
Onward to NAB, Cine Gear Expo, in-person DCS events, and looking forward to the HPA Tech Retreat 2023.
(Images of the Tech Retreat courtesy of the HPA and photographed by Rand Larson. Uncharted game and movie collage from ScreenRant.)
Renewing Your Membership and Supporting DCS
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