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news from Dick Hobbs
The following appeared in the IBC Daily News last week and is
reprinted here with permission by the author, Dick Hobbs.
--- Forwarded mail from Dick Hobbs <100331.3540 at CompuServe.COM>
Silver bromide and gelatin
"We bought a Digital Betacam and gave it to our cinematographers to try it can
only capture one way of viewing the scene. The sensor is pretty wide ranging,
but the recording does not have the latitude. On film, the cinematographer has
an infinite range of looks. He can create an image on the film."
Not my words, but those of John Johnston, who rejoices in the job title of
Worldwide Segment Manager, Television Commercials at Kodak's headquarters in
Rochester, New York. Not unsurprisingly, when I interviewed him recently he was
pretty enthusiastic about the future of film.
If you are closely involved in the telecine business you are probably aware of
the splendid Internet mail group* moderated with a light hand by colorist Rob
Lingelbach in California. In a simple e-mail-based forum all sorts of topics are
debated, from specific technical problems to the nature of the art of film
Earlier this year, though, it found itself on the tricky topic of "the film
look" and why film looks different - better - than video. The best brains (and
eyes) in the business could not come up with a definitive answer, although there
is a lot in Christopher Bacon's comment:
"It seems to me that a large part of the look of film is due to the randomness
of film grain grain falls into a range of sizes and consequently exhibits a
range of sensitivities. It is this pseudo-randomness that makes film so similar
to the way our own eyes see things."
So, film has grain which is an integral part of its attraction; it has a
latitude which allows creative use of the camera to form the image. And probably
a lot of other things too. But you are here at IBC to see the hardware and want
to know what you should be checking out, not engaging in philosophical debate.
Launched to tumultuous fanfares at NAB, Spirit is the new telecine from Philips.
Actually, they do not call it a telecine but a datacine, because as well as
conventional telecine work it can also handle data transfers at up to 2k
resolution into digital film workstations. The data port, a promise for the
future at NAB, is expected to be demonstrable here at IBC and deliverable
Spirit is based heavily on the FLH-1000 high definition telecine developed
jointly by Philips and Kodak, who contributed the lenses and light source as
well as the CCD sensor system. It is this sensor system which provides one of
the more controversial aspects of the datacine, as it uses a fixed array of red,
green and blue sensors each with 960 pixels per line, plus a single "detail"
sensor of 1,920 pixels. Its supporters say that the large colour pixels help
Spirit achieve its very low noise; critics say that it inevitably means a lack
of colour resolution which will show up in matte work.
I have seen the Spirit installed at Tape House in New York, and I have to say it
produces remarkable pictures. Whether they are sufficiently remarkable to
justify the datacine's high price tag is something the market will have to
To do them justice, the people at Rank Cintel are not just sitting back and
saying "We already have 90% of the market and anyway URSA Gold is less than half
the price of Spirit". They have taken a long look at the business, and admitted
that they have been wrong in the past. From being somewhat scathing about the
third party products which smaller companies have built for Rank Cintel
telecines, they are now actively encouraging them.
It is a bit like the chicken and the egg. Rank Cintel telecines are universally
popular because there is a whole raft of add-ons and options available (from
gates and rollers to major electronic upgrades); there is a whole raft of
add-ons and options available for Rank Cintel telecines because they are
One new package particularly worthy of mention is ClrView, developed by DAV,
which will be available as a factory fit option on new URSAs in the future. One
of the perceived problems in telecine is aliasing, the jaggedness and buzzing of
fine detail. Spirit, by scanning at high resolution and using internal digital
processing to downconvert to conventional definition, minimises the effect. The
same can be achieved by using a high definition telecine and an external
downconverter. Although the exact nature of ClrView remains shrouded in
patent-protecting secrecy, it seems likely that it induces URSA Gold to overscan
vertically to achieve the same effect.
So, set against the new contender from Philips - which has generated a lot of
excitement in the market-place - is the established standard from Rank Cintel,
which, it is claimed, will be demonstrating better pictures than ever. Take
plenty of time and look carefully at both.
Both main manufacturers of telecine controllers and colour processors - da Vinci
and Pandora - are showing their latest control surfaces, user interfaces and
colour processors. This is an area of the business which has increased in
complexity in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and both have responded
well to demands.
Da Vinci's new user interface for Renaissance is now definitely called DUI which
stands not for driving under the influence but Da Vinci User Interface. It
relies heavily on the graphical power of a Silicon Graphics Indy for its
displays, and is therefore the DUI GUI. More seriously, it - and the revised and
simplified control panel - is the first step in a major upgrade programme of the
hardware to meet the challenges of the future.
Pandora has developed a new, scaleable colour correction architecture, of which
the telecine version is generally known as ESR. It is available for conventional
definition, high definition and a Spirit data version named, with characteristic
Pandora wit, Megadef. Pandora has been working closely with Philips on the
Spirit project, and the vast majority installed so far have Pogle controllers.
Third party products have already been mentioned in the context of Rank Cintel,
and indeed, their stand features a display of a huge range of them. Just across
the aisle in hall 3 you will find Options International, the dealership which
markets many, from PTR film cleaning rollers to major components like the
digital deflection kit for Mk III telecines. Indeed, Options can now offer
complete telecines, as they market the Turbo 2, a modernised and remanufactured
Mk III analogue flying spot machine.
Incidentally, while it is true that the majority of these third party products
are for Rank Cintel telecines, RTS has responded to the challenge of creating a
pin-registered gate for a CCD line array telecine, which was hitherto felt to be
impossible. While it is mechanically complex, when I saw it at NAB it seemed to
me to be doing the job without endangering the film.
While there is not space to mention them all, there are three options worth
mentioning. First is Astec, an edit controller designed especially for the
telecine suite. It is simple, inexpensive and it works, not a combination of
factors often seen in the edit control market. Astec originated in a post house
- VTA in Atlanta - and is distributed by Options International.
>From the same source comes MetaSpeed, almost a standard in the USA but rarely
seen outside. This is a servo update for all Rank Cintel telecines, which
includes a broad range of running speeds. This, too, is now available as a
factory fit option for URSA Gold, and its hardware now complies with European
TWiGi is a comparitive rarity, a third party product aimed solely at URSA and
URSA Gold. It is a radical redesign of the analogue to digital conversion
circuitry right at the front end of the telecine and appears to offer a
worthwhile reduction in video noise. Innovation TK - aka The TWiGi People - can
also be found in hall 6.
IBC is the first European sighting of the next generation of Cineon workstations
from Kodak: Breeze, Storm and Tornado. Each can run more or less the same
toolkit, but on different platforms to give greater power as the wind strength
increases. Breeze was launched at NAB with a base price of only around $20,000,
which makes it a very cost-effective entry level system indeed.
Expect to see a couple of interesting tools on Cineon demonstrations. Da Vinci
has been working on a full colour correction node for Cineon, using the
Renaissance control panel and DUI but processing the image at up to 4k
resolution. And for cinematographers who love the use of filters, Tiffen has
embarked on creating digital equivalents of their range of optics.
Kodak's Cineon demonstration reel will also run regularly on the stand, and this
is always an insight into the state of the art in digital film technology and
tricks. It is unfortunate, though, that for a lot of the projects in which
electronics plays a hand there is a confidentiality clause - often to protect
the ego of an actor or director. I could not possibly betray a confidence, but
ask Cineon about a recent sword fight scene!
Discreet Logic has recently announced sweeping changes in its corporate
structure, including the concentration of all development activity in its
Montreal headquarters and the closure of its research centres in London amongst
other places. It remains a major force in creative workstations running from
video to film resolution, and it is unlikely that you will see nothing that
astounds you on their stand.
These are not the only players in film resolution workstations, of course, and
you should also check out the offerings of Quantel, Alias/Wavefront, Softimage
(Microsoft) and the various partners of Silicon Graphics amongst others.
One stand you should not miss out on is Cambridge Animation. They have built a
business out of making cartoons, or rather developing sophisticated systems to
support the animator by taking away the drudgery and leaving the creativity.
Thanks to the European Union initiative Europort, Cambridge Animation has now
added Silicon Graphics to its original PC platform. The SGI version has
attracted big sales from leading Hollywood houses like Dreamworks.
And last but most certainly not least, you should check out some film itself.
Kodak has recently launched a new film stock, Vision, and everything I have seen
of it is quite remarkable.
I recently visited the new building in which Kodak has invested $250 million to
manufacture this new stock. The aim is not just for the quality of the film (it
incorporates three dye layers per colour not the normal two, for absolutely
uniform response across the whole range of light levels) but complete
consistency in manufacture.
In the past it has been standard practice to "mortgage" film stock: order more
than enough for a complete project from a single batch, keep it in cold storage
and call it off when you need it. For a feature that could be as long as a year
from manufacture to shooting, a delay which in itself is likely to lead to
chemical changes in the raw stock. With Vision and its consistency that is no
longer necessary: just order the freshest film available.
While Vision makes beautiful images, non-American visitors to IBC should talk to
Kodak about Primetime, a special stock currently only available in the USA. This
is designed with limited masking to get the very best out of the transfer when
you put the original camera negative on the telecine (both Spirit and URSA Gold
have Primetime masking settings). The downside is that it is to all intents and
purposes impossible to make a print from it.
That is just a lightning glimpse of film innovations at IBC '96. You should also
see the cameras from Arri and Aaton, keycode systems from Aaton and Evertz, film
cleaners from Lipsner-Smith, editors from Avid and Lightworks, and much more.
And if you come to any real conclusion on what makes film look so distinctive,
please let me know.
* - for information on the telecine interest group, contact rob at alegria.com or
http://www.alegria.com/telecinehome.html, or talk to Donna Reid at Options
--- End of forwarded message from Dick Hobbs <100331.3540 at CompuServe.COM>
Rob Lingelbach | 2660 Hollyridge Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90068
rob at alegria.com | "I care not much for a man's religion whose dog or
rob at sun.alegria.com | cat are not the better for it." --Abraham Lincoln
rob at praia.alegria.com KB6CUN http://www.alegria.com