Posts Tagged ‘4k’

Reviewing the 2011 Summer Movie Season

August 1, 2011

The summer of 2011 has provided movie audiences with a full roster of feature film entertainment. We’ve enjoyed no less than 10 big-budget, action-packed films that, collectively, have provided entertainment for virtually all ages. Our previous blog posts about TRON Legacy and Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides have helped bring to light some of the technical considerations of modern filmmaking. But now that the blockbuster season is winding down, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve experienced this summer to see what trends currently dominate the Hollywood production process.

We’ve had the opportunity to experience an array of different filmmaking techniques and movie styles over the past few months. Film, digital, 3D, 2D, IMAX, RealD 3D, Dolby Digital 7.1, live action, animation, super heros, westerns, action and sci-fi all graced our local cineplex screens. For the movie fan, it was a cornucopia of visual and auditory information overload. And for the cinemas, it was a profitable summer of popcorn and Coke sales. But is there anything for us film buffs to learn after laying down our hard-earned cash or running up our credit card balances to see all these films? Well, a few things may surprise you.

IMAX display for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Let’s take a look at the production details of the biggest films this summer. Following is a summary of the camera systems, aquisition formats and presentation configurations of 10 big-budget movies released during May, June and July. If the technical details of film production and presentation are of limited interest to you, we’ll summarize after the list.

Thor
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Photo-Sonics 4ER (high-speed film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.35:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D and IMAX 3D

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Camera systems used: Red Digital Cinema Red ONE (4K digital), Red Digital Cinema Red EPIC (5K digital, for pick-up shots)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via stereo production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D and IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Kung Fu Panda 2
Camera systems used: 3D Computer animation (via InTru3D)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39: aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (original production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D

Super 8
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Arriflex 16 SR3 (16mm film), Beaulieu 4008 ZM4 (Super 8mm film), Bell & Howell Eyemo (film), Canon 1014XLS (Super 8mm film)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D, IMAX Digital

X-Men: First Class
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL (film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D

Green Lantern
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 (film), shot in Super 35
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D

Cars 2
Camera systems used: 3D computer animation (2K resolution)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (original production), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm (1.44:1 aspect ratio)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Camera systems used: Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), Arriflex 235 (film), Arri Alexa (3.5k digital), Red Digital Cinema Red ONE (4K digital), Silicon Imaging SI-2K (2k digital), Sony CineAlta F35 (1080p digital)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (mostly via stereo production with some post conversion), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Camera systems used: Arricam Studio (film), Arricam Lite (film), Arriflex 235 (film), shot in Super 35
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D, IMAX 3D, IMAX 3D DMR 70mm

Captain America: The First Avenger
Camera systems used: Panavision Genesis (1080p digital), Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Arriflex 435 (film), Arriflex 235 (film), Arri Alexa (3.5k digital), Canon EOS 5D Mark II (1080p digital – used for vehicle POV shots)
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D and 3D (via post conversion), Real-D 3D

Cowboys & Aliens
Camera systems used: Panaflex Millennium (film), Panaflex Millennium XL (film), Panavision Panaflex Platinum (film), shot in anamorphic
Theater presentation formats: 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 35mm anamorphic and D-Cinema, 2D, IMAX Digital

IMAX Digital press brochure

So, after sifting through all of that technical production and presentation information, what can be concluded? Quite a few things, it turns out.

First, note that every single film listed above was presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (also known as Scope, Anamorphic or Widescreen). Traditionally, there are far more films released in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio than the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This is simply because 2.39:1 aspect ratio films generally result in higher production costs because of the production processes required. It’s true that action films or big-budget films are often released in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio but, for fans of widescreen presentation, it’s a welcome situation to see so many directors and cinematographers embrace the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Shooting a scene for Harry Potter using Arri 35mm film cameras on dolly tracks

Secondly, notice how many of the movies utilize traditional 35mm film cameras as their aquisition format. If you remove the two computer animated films from the list, only one of the remaining nine films was shot completely digitally. Every other film was completely or mostly captured using 35mm film systems. In this age of digital filmmaking (heck, digital everything, really), it’s really interesting to see how well 35mm film is represented this summer. I’d venture to guess that this summer represents the highest percentage of film-based movies we’ve had in the past 5 years. The film production vs. digital production situation will be interesting to keep track of in the coming years.

Thirdly, with 3D supposedly being all the rage right now, note how few films were produced the dual camera stereo 3D process…only two. And three of the nine live action films weren’t even offered in a 3D presentation format. Of course, the two parts of the Harry Potter finale were shot at the same time and the filmmakers only found out towards the end of principle photography that Warner Brothers decided to release the final film in 3D. Still, it would appear that Hollywood has perhaps cooled off a bit – at least for the time being – about shooting everything in 3D.

DP Matthew Libatique uses Panavision 35mm film cameras to shoot Cowboys & Aliens

While we still have a few more big-budget films scheduled for late summer, the next big movie season is the holiday season. On tap are several action films, a few animated films, some super hero films and even some remakes and re-releases. We’ll keep track of these releases and provide an update on the production and presentation trends throughout the rest of 2011.

In the mean time, we invite you to leave a comment about what you thought of the summer 2011 movie season. We’d love to hear your thoughts on 2D vs. 3D, Real-D 3D vs. IMAX 3D, 2.39:1 aspect ratio vs. 1.85:1 aspect ratio, film production vs. digital production, film projection vs. digital projection, stereo production 3D vs. post conversion 3D or any other thoughts you have on the current state of movie production and presentation.

We appreciate you taking the time to read and respond.

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TRON Legacy…from IMAX Digital 3D to Blu-ray: is there even a difference?

April 13, 2011

One of the hottest Blu-rays around right now is Disney’s TRON Legacy. And for good reason…this 1080p, 7.1-channel version of the film offers viewers mind-blowing animated visuals and a soundtrack capable of rattling windows. For fans of the genre, the continuation of a story involving the virtual reality of living programs inside a computer network along with the ability to revisit The Grid almost 30 years after Disney’s first TRON story hit theaters adds to the excitement. I admit I’m a fan. I still own the Special Edition Laserdisc Box Set of the original TRON movie and I purchased the 4-disc 3D Blu-ray edition of TRON Legacy the morning of its release. Being produced three decades apart, there are naturally some differences in the technology used in creating 1982’s TRON and 2010’s TRON Legacy; however, in some ways, we’ve not come as far as you might imagine.

TRON Laserdisc Box Set

The original TRON was shot primarily using Super Panavision 65mm film cameras. In fact, at least one of the cameras used in the filming of TRON was previously used to film Lawrence of Arabia in the early 1960s. Most film-based movie cameras shoot on 35mm film. Because 65mm film offers over two and a half times as much picture area as 35mm film, the format can provide significantly higher resolution and picture detail over the more traditional format. Of course, it’s not just the size of the film and the type of cameras used on a production that determine the overall look of a movie. The lighting design, shooting conditions, technical and creative capabilities of the crew, post-production process, etc. all play a role in how a film looks. And the amount of processing and optical compositing a film goes through during editing plays a role in how clean the final version of the release print looks. TRON went through a heavy post-production process with lots of optical compositing and colorization of film frame blow-ups.

An amusing report by Walter Cronkite about the making of TRON provides some detail:

Because of the unique hand-animated processes and early computer graphic imagery used on TRON, it’s a wonder it ever looked as good as it did. The new Blu-ray release of TRON – which was released the same day as TRON Legacy – looks amazing considering its age and production style.

Blu-ray screenshot from TRON (1982)

Today, most films are shot digitally. But some directors still prefer to shoot on 35mm film and occasionally, as with a few scenes in the recent film Inception, 65mm film cameras are brought out of the storage closets to shoot special effects scenes. 35mm film has been the quality standard since the late 1800s. It’s a very high quality format. Even though digital cameras offer several advantages over film cameras, they’re still in their infancy when compared to the 35mm film format. It’s somewhat difficult to compare the quality of film camera images to digital camera images. Film systems use an optical process that captures pictures by exposing light to a fine silver grain embedded in a chemical emulsion. Digital systems use an electronic process that records pictures by exposing light to a sensor of a fixed resolution which saves images as pixels. In attempting to equate film grain to pixels, most cinematographers would agree that 65mm film has a minimum resolution of 8,000 vertical lines of pixels, commonly referred to as 8K. 35mm film has a minimum resolution of 4K. Most digital projectors in modern theaters, including the IMAX 3D projectors, utilize 2K projectors to present movies.

Dual 2K IMAX Digital projectors

So, if the original TRON was shot on 65mm film cameras which can provide a minimum 8K resolution, how does that compare with the latest digital cameras used to shoot TRON Legacy almost 30 years later? Well, the latest TRON film was shot using Sony F35 digital cinema cameras. These cameras are very good. They represent the latest mainstream technology for filming movies digitally. Their resolution? Less than 2K. Yes, the Sony F35, and several other competing systems, captures images using a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution imager; that’s the same number of pixels on the 1080p HDTV in your living room. Not that resolution alone, by any means, determines the quality of a digital video camera but I have a $2,000 professional Panasonic camera that shoots at the same resolution as the $200,000 Sony F35! When it comes to movie-making and the transition from film to digital, does it seem like we’re stepping backwards rather than forwards?

Sony F35 CineAlta cinema camera

Wait, there’s one more point…most of the scenes in TRON Legacy were composed and projected in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The Sony F35 cameras shoot in a native 1.78:1 aspect ratio and digital projectors display a native 1.9:1 aspect ratio. So, to present a 2.35:1 film digitally, black matte bars have to be added to the film to create the wider aspect ratio, just like when a letterboxed movie is presented on your TV using black bars on the top and bottom. This means that some of the pixels of the digital camera and the digital projection are being wasted on black bars rather than picture information. To be fair, when the original TRON was released in theaters on 35mm film, a bit of the top and bottom of the 65mm picture image had to be cropped off to fit on the anamorphic 35mm film print. But there were no black bars wasting a portion of the film frame; the entire 35mm film area was used.

Matted 2.35:1 TRON Legacy frame in a 1.78:1 (16x9) HDTV format

So, it sounds like shooting on 65mm film is way better than shooting on modern digital 1080p cameras. Well, there’s more to the story. In a film-only workflow, special effects have to be composited together. A cinematographer might shoot a background scene on one reel of film and then shoot the actors in front of a blue screen on another reel of film. The special effects department might create explosions, animations or other effects as separate elements each on their own reels of film. To create the final scene, all of these separate film elements have to be optically combined by layering them on top of one another and taking a composite photograph on yet another reel of film. Once a master edit of the completed film is ready, an additional set of film reels is produced from the master for distribution to theaters. All of this compositing and creating of new film reels over and over leads to a build-up of film grain and a loss of clarity. This is why special effects-heavy film producers often use 65mm or VistaVision film cameras for shooting their special effects scenes even when the final release prints will be down-sized to 35mm or even digital formats; it gives them more initial resolution to work with knowing that they’ll lose some of that during the post production process.

Consider digital filmmaking, on the other hand. A background scene is shot on a digital camera and is loaded into the computer as an identical, pixel-for-pixel copy with no loss of resolution or clarity. The blue and green screen elements are treated the same way. Then all of the special effects, animations, color corrections and compositing are performed digitally using the computer. This means that there is no film grain build-up, no loss of picture quality or, in the case of elements that are created inside the computer and never shot by a camera, no video noise or other anomalies to deal with. So, while shooting TRON digitally doesn’t offer viewers the resolution of 65mm film, the filmmakers have eliminated many of the problems that the traditional film post production process presents and can actually create a cleaner, higher-quality picture for special effects films. Compared to a straight 65mm film negative that doesn’t undergo compositing and other post production special effects processes, as in Lawrence of Arabia, The Sound of Music or even Baraka, the 1080p resolution still has a way to go.

Blu-ray screenshot from The Sound of Music

But we’re making progress. Red Digital Cinema Camera Company manufactures the Red One professional filmmaking camera that shoots at 4K with a Scarlet model in the works that shoots at 5K. And just this week, Sony announced a new F65 CineAlta camera said to mimic the look of 65mm film using an 8K sensor that shoots at resolutions of 4K and above. We already have 4K digital cinema projectors that bring out the detail of 35mm film; now those 4K projectors can be used to their full advantage by digital filmmakers as well.

So, back to the TRON Legacy Blu-ray. It’s getting 4.5/5 and 5/5 reviews for both picture and sound quality on just about every Blu-ray site that has reviewed it. Heck, even the sound engineers at Skywalker Sound, who managed the sound editing and mixing for the film, are stating that TRON Legacy is their new reference film for movie sound quality. Is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Why, yes it is! I saw TRON Legacy in a theater with one of the new IMAX Digital 3D projection systems installed and was blown away by both the picture and sound. (Being a fan of the original film and the sci-fi/action genre in general, I enjoyed the story, as well.) The colors, contrast, clarity and realism of the visuals was more than impressive. And the soundtrack, including all of the original sound design and the Daft Punk original score, was lifelike and room-shaking. Does this experience translate to the home theater Blu-ray version? Well, that depends on the quality of your home system, of course. I have a 65″ 3D HDTV calibrated to SMPTE standards and a THX-certified home theater sound system at my disposal so I can generally enjoy the most the Blu-ray format has to offer. I can honestly say that, after 3 complete viewings over the past couple of weeks, I’m still mesmerized by the TRON Legacy Blu-ray. It’s that good.

TRON Legacy Blu-ray set

The movie-making process has changed quite a bit in the past 10 years with the advent of digital cameras, computer animation and editing and 4K 3D digital projection. Home theater technology has also come a long way from the 640 x 480 resolution of the laserdisc and 3-channel Dolby Stereo. And it will all continue to advance at a rapid pace. Televisions with 2K and eventually 4K resolutions will become a reality and 8K and even 16K cameras will be developed. And there will likely always be those who prefer to shoot on film, which is the original high definition format.

While there may not be much of a technical difference between the IMAX Digital 3D version of TRON Legacy and its Blu-ray counterpart, seeing TRON and other films in a modern theater with digital projection and a high-end sound system can be an exhilarating experience. And the ability to closely reproduce that experience with a dedicated home theater allows film fans to enjoy those experiences for years to come. The TRON Legacy Blu-ray allows you to push your home theater system to its limits; I say you owe it to yourself to own TRON Legacy on Blu-ray, even if it’s just to show off your system to your neighbors!

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