By Michael Cioni
The optimization of workflow in today’s motion picture industry is clearly adding competitive diversity to the marketplace. But without massive capital expenditures, having a competitive edge in the professional market is difficult for small businesses and independent filmmakers. Digital technologies help to democratize the industry, but by themselves they don’t automatically enable market penetration. That is: the right tools + experience + talent = the ability to leverage the benefits of digital cinema.
This is why existing cap-ex strong companies don’t automatically increase market share with digital tools they don’t fully understand, nor do new companies who understand these tools increase market share without access to professional talent. But when the elements above are harmoniously combined, the result is one that changes the outlook of a company, a customer, or even an entire community.
NAVIGATING YOUR WAY TO A SOLUTION
This reminds me of the subway systems of major cities. Visitors unfamiliar with navigating the colored patterns, names of stops, or the orientation of maps can become easily overwhelmed. Similar to modern cinema workflows, some people stumble along the path trying to make it to a known destination. Others give up and look to alternative options. And others never quite make it at all. Travelers must connect the relationships between the subway maps’ elements to unlock the potential of the city. In cinema, we think of this connecting process as “workflow,” but in mathematics, we call it an “equation.”
Some equations come to us in the form of simple production budgets. Others are used in calculating dailies by terabytes per week. Even 3:2 pull down is an equation to simplify common format conversions. Independently, these elements might not have much to do with each other. But when we connect independent tools through an equation, we can get a result that forms a powerful solution. For example, how does an equation of Arri + Sony + Red + Sharp get you a privatized 4K anamorphic exhibition solution? Sometimes having an open mind and leveraging the strengths of competing brands is the best way to solve a complex problem.
Here’s a non-cinema example of how this works: Think about the most famous equation in history. What does the speed of light have to do with the energy of your car? Well the relationship between the mass of an object and the energy it can potentially put out are explained in this equation, which we all know as: E=MC2.
Now stay with me! Mass and the speed of light are independent principles in physics. But when combined in this equation by Einstein, a new foundation of thinking became possible.
I believe that we as filmmakers perform this same act on a much smaller scale — but with equations just as significant to the development of digital cinema.
THE MAN OF TAI CHI
A good example was at the New York Cine Gear Expo in September. Light Iron recently completed work on the first feature shot on Arri’s Alexa Studio 4:3 camera, Man of Tai Chi. The result was the highest resolution anamorphic motion picture digitally photographed and exhibited. The feature, directed by Keanu Reeves, delivers over 5.6 megapixels visible on theater screens (average 2K widescreen movies only contain about 1.7 megapixels). As enthusiasts for high-resolution filmmaking, we weren’t satisfied with delivering Man of Tai Chi’s 5.6 megapixels just to theaters. We wanted to demonstrate the resolution benefits to audiences everywhere, and we needed an equation to help make that possible. But like Einstein’s E=MC2, we needed to connect independent entities to achieve the desired result. That equation looked like this: Arri + Red + Sony + Sharp = Privatized 4K Viewing.
Intimate knowledge of cinema tools is critical in achieving this. The reason the workflows I deploy work so well is largely due to knowing what tools can do what. The net result is the sum of the parts becomes more valuable than the whole.
SIMPLIFIED 4K VIEWING
Here’s how simplified 4K exhibition of widescreen movies just became possible: Arri offers the 4:3 Alexa, capturing anamorphic pictures at a starting megapixel count of 6.2MPs on a 1.33 sensor. This is the only optical viewfinder and 1.33 sensor that enables anamorphic capture without cropping off valuable parts of the sensor, which is standard in 1.78 or 1.89 sensors.
Red offers the most advanced compression on the market through their RedRay player. The RedRay codec is paired with a free encoder in a set-top player that delivers 4K content over HDMI2. The compression offers flawless 4K at bitrates comparable to MiniDV.
Sony GT100 is the latest in 4K/UHD display technology, which offers full 4K (4096) in a small projector housing. Only requiring standard power, this 44-pound projector can sit on a table or easily hang from a school auditorium and can handle HD, 2K, or 4K over a single HDMI2 cable.
Sharp just created the biggest consumer UHD TV in history at the best price-per-inch. The brand-new Aquos LC-70UD1 is 70 inches across, with 15% more screen space than the previous largest panel and does 2160p over a single HDMI2 panel.
When we added these elements together, we were able to demonstrate the benefits of anamorphic photography in a 4K environment with minimal effort. I have personally overseen the exhibition of dozens of 4K projects and with this equation it has never been easier.
Light Iron’s Cine Gear demonstration showed how these components work so harmoniously together. Just like in science, it takes time for technology to mature in such a way that these equations can be appreciated.
Independently, Alexa stands on its own, and the same goes for Red, Sony, and Sharp. But one of the most rewarding parts of working as a progressive filmmaker is understanding how to make technology flex in ways that benefit the creatives. When done improperly, creatives are asked to flex themselves to react to the technology. Like the confused subway traveler, they may get to their destination, but it’s going to take a lot longer and require a lot more effort.
The best technology should be invisible. To the audiences at Cine Gear New York, seeing Man of Tai Chi on a portable 4K projector or 70-inch UHDTV was truly amazing. With the technology quietly slipping aside, that’s exactly what the filmmakers wanted.
Michael Cioni is CEO of Light Iron (http://www.lightiron.com), based in Hollywood and New York City. He has over 200 digital intermediate supervisor credits in the past decade. He embraces technology and what it can offer the creative. He can be reached at email@example.com.