Thursday, 2 January 2014

High Definition in 2014

2013 was an eventful year, not only in terms of the way moving image capture has developed, but also in terms of opening a new research center in Cinematography at the University of the West of England. During the year 3D was superseded by 4k as the key buzz phrase – not that 3D has gone anywhere, in fact with Gravity, in my opinion 3D has come to something, finally. What I mean by this is that in this film the camera moves around its subject and the extra level of depth generated by 3D has added something to the experience.

With 4k, cinematographers have been working at that resolution with the Red One since 2008 – though when a term like 4k is used, arguments break out about what that means – can a compressed signal ever really represent it’s supposed resolution, when there are so many factors that represent the true resolution? One of my earlier artworks uses this technology but the issue with 4k has been how we display the actual image for some while, but all key manufacturers now make 4k displays and also, now, the manufacture of the domestic TV screen is getting closer and closer to the quality of the professional display – so prices are coming down. I intend that the new research centre buys a 4k display in early in 2014 so that we can then display what we capture.

Earlier this year in collaboration with University of Bristol and BBC Research and Development I was privileged to lead several shoots in Higher Dynamic Range which had the intention of being displayed in HDR as well – this was a world’s first and because of that the code is still being written though we can display a basic edit of the piece at 8bit with one track spread across the dynamic range of the Dolby 6000 nit screen. In the eye brain system we have around 14.5 orders of magnitude of response which at any one time we use 5 orders of that scale - so in going into a starlit environment we slide down to the bottom of the14.5 order scale and on entering a desert landscape in bright sun, we slide those 5 orders of sensitivity up that scale to the top – thus keeping the highlights exposed properly for viewing. In this scale 1 order of magnitude is vast. So the difference between the eye brain system and what is displayed is immense. The screen you are viewing at best displays 2 – 3 orders of magnitude and the HDR screen we are capturing images for at University of Bristol is 5 orders – the same as the eye brain pathway. Using the term orders of magnitude means that the scale is not just arithmetic, but geometric – the highest values of the scale are millions of times that of the bottom of the scale. The eye/brain system is truly magnificent in its capacity.

Later in 2014 we expect to have combined the 2 tracks we shot into a truer form of HDR. The most surprising – and disturbing element of the shoot was in learning that 100 years of cinematographic law had to be turned on its head: In exposing for 6 stops of latitude between the two exposures I could only monitor the highest exposure which was 3 stops above the correct exposure, in the knowledge that the true exposure was set in virtual space and as with film I had to have ‘faith’ that the end image would be exposed properly. One track recorded 3 stops over, one track recorded 3 stops under – therefore I had to knowingly gather an overexposed image in the hope that somehow the two could be combined and a decent image delivered. When we finally had the code written for the recombination I was relieved to find that it had worked. It left me knowing how we’d achieved the end result, but emotionally I didn’t know how it could be ok when my experience was of searing over-exposure. Interesting.

Over the year I set about the process of setting up a research centre that meant presenting to various academic research committees and with luck by April 2014 we shall be authorized to proceed. Meanwhile I began the process of attaching visiting professors and the first was Emeritus Professor Chris Meigh Andrews of Central Lancashire. Chris is a professor of electronic and digital art and adds his weight towards investigating the histories that have been written on the subject (including his own second edition of ‘A History of Video Art’) plus an investigation of where we are and where we’re going during the advent of the digital. For my own summation of that issue you can read a short paper on the Future of the Moving Image and how it will affect the production of Art at this URL:

On another issue, previously, Arts and Humanities subjects have utilized the theorization of a subject through various strategies, such as dialectics, structuralist analysis, semiology and so on. But now there is a sense within academia that though these have been useful tools, they are no longer fit for task, due to the constant and rapidly changing landscape caused by the introduction of the digital era. In the UK, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has called for new ways of evaluating subject areas and many researchers have wholeheartedly embraced empirical principles, a consequence of which is to have embraced cognitive neuroscience as a primary route for the use of eye tracking devices, fmri scanners and then combining testing with social science practices of evaluating the data or ‘evidence’.

One of the issues with this practice is that truth at best is implied – that a hypothesis is set up, an experimental test administered and if the cards fall right then the implied truth of the hypothesis is ‘proved’. It can be argued that deep within the ideological position taken by empiricism is in a fact a gnosticism argued by many cognitive neuroscientists, that there is a grand human project to excise it’s entire knowledge into exograms – or sites of memory outside the person (a book, a computer, a map, hierloglyphs etc) - and it follows that the final manifestation of this project is exporting all knowledge into data. A final outcome of this act is as yet un-theorised by cognitive neuroscientists but I have proposed the concept of velocitisation to help describe acts on the internet that express behaviours that speak of human change. With a simple gesture like the Harlem Shake, one person gestures mimetically that everyone should ‘do their own thing’ and later in the piece, all then gesture mimetically that difference. What this describes is a positive response to change, rather than a dystopian response. But there is not theoretical position on this behavior and the social sciences have only just begun to take up the challenge.

Enter Complexity Theory, born of mathematics and physics and the human response to the multifarious comprehension of complex behaviours. Complexity theory seeks to theorise the complex and has a set of strategies to deal with this apparent limitlessness, by limiting it’s possibilities through rules drawn for the complexity that has been witnessed. Of course what seems limitless is actually limited and so this is a mathematics ntended to pick up at the point at which human systems given up on numbering and categorizing. It is the point at which we might say ‘I saw many starlings in a murmuration and they seemed to act together as they flew’ or that a weather system is too complicated to describe but that it worked through a series of states that derived from prior states – this is where we know that a system is complex and may do one of several things and science does not yet know which way it might go and possibly that we will never be able to predict its exact outcome.

So since the 1940’s when Illya Progogene began thinking about complexity, we now theorise that a system can be ‘complicated’ but is not necessarily to be described as ‘complex’, where complex does mean complicated but can go one stage further by being able to enter new states, through ‘emergence’. A car engine is complicated but will only remain as such. A storm is both complicated in terms of the many factors that come together to form it, but it is ‘complex’ because several other states may emerge – a hurricane for instance. So complexity is about richness – chaos is no longer being ‘chaotic’ because in that chaos lay a set of variables which can result in ordered states it can become also then become further ordered, or disordered.

But the main point here is that what seems too much for the human system to ‘count’, but can now be mathematically modeled and therefore described – at least in some part. Before we described something as having a number too large to be counted – now we can say we no longer need to number something in its description – suffice it to say that it is now to be considered as complex and can act in different ways that could be one of the following. This too has to have an impact on human consciousness with regard the introduction of different frame rates, dynamic ranges and resolutions – right now the young express a preference for higher frame rates but the old prefer slower frame rates. Why is this? (is it related to higher frame rates in computer games?) What does this preference say about human evolution? Is it temporary or indicative of eye brain development? And so on and so forth…

So when the research centre begins its activity we will look as much toward future technologies as towards the past (a critical issue will be the re-investigation of how past histories have been told and hat they have included as ‘important’ in the telling). We will look at technology as much as at the human system that utilizes that technology, we will take account of the biology of the human system – the equipment that each human is endowed with – and we will also look at the cultural systems that encompass the individual that help create meaning and significance in the production and consumption of moving images. We will look at the cognitive systems employed by human species, and the situation the individual finds him or herself in, with regard the cognitive distribution of information.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Contemporary Paradigm and Cognitive Neuroscience

Hi - sorry for the delay in writing. You know how it is: you have the best of intentions but things come up. So I gave a lecture in Oz  on the gnostic ideology underpinning Cognitive Neuroscience. There are papers available, there's also a journal call for this subject which will soon go large. Everyone loves CG and MFRI scanners because they seem to offer proof where before there was only conjecture.

Eye tracking only tells you where eyes are triggered to move to, which talks about design but not art, it talks about mechanics but not aesthetics. As it stands in the attached paper the researchers are careful to say that CG and MFRI scanners only imp lie certain things - and of course everyone's executed because the medieval latin scholar has access to 'proof' as much as the hard core scientist - but the truth is the proof is circumstantial.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has called for the cultural values evaluation project to reveal ideas of the value of culture and art that are more empirical than flowery french prose and at back of that the work of the Frankfurt Group, already criticised as a misdirection by Thomas Crow in 'The Intelligence of Art'.

But - because society functions in faddist terms (as a friend of mine says: "academics are like cows in a field they hear a loud bang and all look in the same direction" - but you can substitute artists, cinematographers - whatever you like here) then we can be sure that rock and roll currently finds its resting place in Cognitive Neuroscience.

And then there's the problem of what art is in an age of integration (having superseded convergence). It's said by Emeritus Professors of Cognitive Neuroscience that the Artist is the cognitive formative node that sits within a cognitive distributive network - and that art is what it is to be human, not just a thing that humans do (note the Gnostic position) - so the question arises in an age when everyone has a platform for screeching their individuality (and here I always laugh at the Italian phrase: "Few are called; But many answer"): what is the function of art within a paradigm that few even recognise has superseded an older paradigm that no longer functions?

I make art work that is cognisant of this set of problems and have two new works that directly deal with the central problem of the role of the artist - one of which I have to premier which has taken a year and is a triptych which feature a reconstruction of Dali's Crucifixion (really). I'm also preparing to do a performance event where I engage with the celebrity Ted lecture stance which is called: 'An Anatomy of Light'. This is a lecture in-the-round which invites the audience to consider how the world is illuminated, how we use light to manifest 'moving images' and what happens when light ceases to operate in the universe (I say moving images but that's a complete fallacy - it is the mind that moves).

So there it is, that's what I've been thinking about lately - how to deal with a new era of human thought given that contemporarily we're still thinking in old pattens.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Understanding the Digital Realm - On coming to ISEA 2013

Duchamp must be laughing in his grave as we go forward towards the future, as we appear to be walking backwards staring into the past. Duchamp might laugh because he was always strong on pushing the concept rather than the material – or at least balancing the two. But now we are having real trouble disentangling the real from the unreal, the material from the immaterial. Trying to understand the things that flow past us as we walk backwards – effectively part of the past as soon as we notice them – we reach for descriptions of these things fashioned with the terms and ideas we understand so well, from the past. Ideas that once fitted like gloves. But these are of course inappropriate to grasp the naming of the needs of the new.

Were we facing the right way when walking forward we would see an unfamiliar landscape and we’d have to invent names for the things that we see coming towards us, some animate, some inanimate and sometimes we’d confuse the two. But we’d have a new language that would describe the form and behaviour of the new things that approached us – or as we approached them, because it is we that are moving.

We would have to remember Einstein’s dictum that everything is relative and what we think we see as we red-shift our way towards things that in the distance would appear different from the way we see them close-up, and then differently as they fall behind: we’d have to realise that they have a changing nature as we apprehend them and lose them from sight.

Right now in walking backwards as we go forwards we use the nomenclature of things we have become familiar with from past experience, because of their similarities with the new things we perceive – but of course there is a moment when our metaphors start to fail in their description of what we are seeing – and the language is no longer fit for purpose. But we cling to this language because it has served us until now. It will be our older selves or even our children who will laugh at the misconceptions we generate and wonder why we didn’t walk forwards, facing ahead, describing what we once saw, in new language rather than old.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Ontology of Digital Cinematography

I’ve been reading reports in Senses of Cinema* on recent international film festivals and came upon this comment on the film Leviathan by Daniel Fairfax and Joshua Sperling during their review of the New York Film Festival:
By contrast, Leviathan is pure cinema. The fact that it, too, was shot on digital does not detract from such a status. Rather, it demonstrates that there are really two digital aesthetics: the fantasy digital practiced by the likes of Ang Lee, and the “ontological digital” at work in this film. Or rather, it demonstrates that the digital/analogue dichotomy is more a question of aesthetic principles, of philosophies towards filmmaking, than of technology – and in this case, Castaing-Taylor/Paravel’s work falls squarely on the analogue side of the divide.
‘The analogue side of the divide’ is the metaphor used to describe that which entrances by lack of guile – whereas the digital side of the divide is all guile. It used to be that the metaphor for the digital was ‘clinical ‘and in some senses the ‘fantasy digital’ has helped move the clinical into the mythic. But here, a documentary helps create another line of division, where the poetic and the clinical can mix and transmute the medium into what the authors describe as the ‘ontological digital’:
The waterproof prosumer cameras used to extract the extraordinary imagery of Leviathan are tasked simply with recording the real. They do so to such a visceral extent that at certain moments – when the masses of dead fish squirm about as they pile up before the camera – Leviathan can feel like a horror film, an effect which the Gothic writing on the film’s title card would suggest is intentional. In a way, it possesses a more truly three-dimensional quality than the tawdry gimmicks of Pi could ever hope to attain.
This associative thinking is reminiscent of much film theory of the French style where over elaborate and poetic descriptions are used to massage the reader into the belief that they are reading ‘truth’. But you can’t really blame the French for trying their best – after all they have a lifestyle to maintain and the rest of the world should celebrate their largesse, their joie de vivre. Any country that has such a surfeit of bakeries deserves respect even if it requires agricultural support way beyond others. The Anglo-Saxon critic owes a great debt to French theory with its twin polarities of articulation and obfuscation in pursuit of poetic truth.
This last comment really allows the digital through into cinema as it invokes one of the mythic gods of French theory to authenticate its position:
Our absorption in the film’s unrelenting diegesis is enhanced not only by the immersive camerawork, but also by the unsettling surround-sound audio, which I felt was reminiscent of Philippe Grandrieux’s Un Lac. And, lo! Grandrieux himself was in the audience for Leviathan’s press screening, having just embarked on a road-trip with the filmmaking duo, where, as Castaing-Taylor related, they whiled away the hours by discussing Deleuze.
The fantasy digital’ is actually a symbolic reference to what is in truth a combined commercial and technical description. What the digital has enabled in surpassing the capabilities of film, whilst at the same time finally imitating its ability to invoke ‘cinema’, is a set of economic benefits. If you wanted to shoot 35mm film at 48 frames per second – you would need a massive stock budget. With digital you simply dial up 48fps. Yes it has data ‘costs’ – that is management issues around the production of large amounts of data, which also has cost implications for storage – but due to the much-abused Moore’s Law, computational storage becomes cheaper over time. The issue is that one can dial in a specific enhancement, 3D, higher frame rate, uncompressed recording, higher dynamic range etc, without the pain of late Victorian industrial style costs.
Film grew out of sewing machines and fake teeth. Stop-start machinery could enable proper exposure and shifting film in the gate to move on without fogging. Material developed for Victorian dentists for replacement teeth could be stretched, flattened and made clear – a medium fit for holding virtual images (until they were developed). Even with Henry Ford’s intervention, it would still be expensive late into the twentieth century. The masses would not take up such a clunky modernist medium. With the advent of analogue, then its chimera digital video, the last gasp of the struggle for democratic production of images was to be heard, but the ‘industry’, the protective mechanism of ‘quality’ would see that Digital Cinematography, raw, progressive imaging, was sufficiently expensive to deter the great mass of untalented or rather, derivative creativity - as exhibited by user generated content. Until the great mass receives the education of the intelligentsia the end product would always be the accidents of a 1000 chimpanzees typing away, with the odd surprise on Utube.
Beneath this piece of blogging (unsubstantiated opinionating) is a conviction derived from many years of being at several ‘coal faces’. These are professional production in the UK TV and film industries, artistic practice, theorizing as an academic and lastly and tellingly,  as a socialist. This latter is about youthful conviction where I believed that the means of production should be placed in the hands of the populace so that its more varied stories and perspectives could be spoken aloud. I had that belief whilst being enabled as a speaker for that demographic – that is, I was a specialist who could ‘help’ the masses. As defined by Buckminster Fuller, E F Schumaker, Edmund Carpenter, Stafford Beer and their like I could be a ‘competent man’ (this term coined prior to the advent of feminism really means competent person). This competence began its like as a specialism, such as drawing, which when abstracted from the practice could be made universal in creative terms: if you were good at radio, you could be good at anything if you simply kept your wits about you and exported a set of taste functions (in most circumstances, ‘this’ is better than ‘that’, but in specific circumstances remember ‘this’ juxtaposition). But there was a high romanticism about this which included a belief in ‘great art’ -  that is some art was better than other art – and in that belief the socialist ideal fell. And it stands with me now that I do not believe everyone is as talented as everyone else – and the training of everyone to be excellent must also mean that everyone has to have a value system of excellence – which is both tautological and self-defeating.
Just look at Ang Lee for instance. He can certainly make movies, but frankly with his resources (and I include talent) so can anyone. The Life of Pi in movie form to me is trite and soporific. It has a confused message which advocates embracing symbolism over ‘reality’. I’m not sure about the book because I haven’t read it – but I suspect it as a piece of modern fiction as most modern fiction is victim of ‘cut and paste’. But that’s a different argument.
But back to ‘the fantasy digital’ and ‘the ontological digital’. These are consumerist descriptions as they can be applied to different cinematic experience on a consumer level. I like the idea of an ontological digital because I’ve been operating it since I first took up making experimental motion images – even in analogue form when it was equally a form of ontological video – and was appropriate in the naming because video is latin for ‘to see’. And ‘to see’ is important if understood from the vantage point of cognitive neuroscience where when one speaks of ‘seeing’ one is speaking of the combined eye/brain pathway. In these terms perceiving and understanding are a combined activity, the left eye being governed by right brain and vice versa…. And in this narrative, left-brain is the site of focused attention which is highly ratiocinatory in nature – or so the neuro-scientific community would currently have it.
Whilst looking through or within the electronic terms provided by video, I have seen a description of the world that has been reflective of my internal state. I have made works in this electronic as opposed to photo-chemical medium that have added meaning to the world I see in biological terms. Biology here means ontological in a certain sense – that sense if added to, is more full when combined with the extra viewpoint enabled by video.
Max Hastings once wrote ‘film is a long-distance telephone call whereas video is a call from the box round the corner’. This comment was made at a time when there was a qualitative difference in the two kinds of call. The distant one sounded so due to interference on the line, the inferior sound quality, the clicks and bumps and atmospherics. Hastings wasn’t saying that film was inferior; he was talking of the romanticism of distance – distant, unknowable lands where information had been brought back by a Marco Polo, as an ambassador that brought back tales of the unknown. Interestingly there are questions about the authenticity of Polo’s stories – but again, that’s another article.
It was in fact Hastings intent to describe something other than the lesser quality of video – that though the displayed image was lesser in quality it had a greater quality: video was live, it was here and it was now. Remember that video came along a long time after television, the parent medium with its ability to disseminate. So the currency of television was of presenting the world as it is NOW. Video inherited the connection of representing NOW. The feel of it was and is immediate and Digital Cinematography, when it became progressively based, shed the sense of the immediate and became THEN, elsewhen and  elsewhere. With Digital Cinematography came a greater possibility of the electronic capture of video as having a developed capacity for ontological use.
So our two authors bring up a definition of immediacy as if it were a Gothic artefact additional to the medium that has been introduced successfully as a medium of fantasy. I think there’s more to it than that description, that delineation of two levels. I think it has many more levels than two and this current description is unaware of the width of the medium. My evidence for this the developed plasticity of past media, which, when they go past the necessary period of remediation, always disclose their true nature outside of their ability to chameleon-like imitate the behaviour of other media. For a description of what that true nature is, watch this space.
Note to self, see 'Leviathan'.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Expanding Horizon of Digital Cinematography

Recently I have been working with Faculty of Engineering at University of Bristol and BBC Research and Development to shoot some tests for the expanding capabilities of Digital Cinematography. My role on this project was to oversee the cinematography. In essence we have been trying to calibrate Higher Dynamic Range, Higher Frame Rate and Higher Resolutions to match the eye/brain pathway to create highest immersion for the viewing experience. The first tests were shot in November 2012 and since then have been ongoing.

In the human optical system we have a sensitivity of 14 orders of magnitude of which we can always access 5 orders of magnitude. These 5 orders slide upwards for bright desert sun and downwards to cope with low light levels of moon and starlight. The University of Bristol has a display that exhibits this dynamic range.

Digital Cinematography cameras capture around 12 – 14 stops and 35mm film captures around 18 stops. Standard displays, TV’s projectors & computer screens display between 10 and 16 Fstops – that’s between 2 to 3 orders of magnitude of the entire 14 available in the human system, so if you create a higher dynamic range image of 18 or above stops – it will display beneath its dynamic range on contemporary displays. The common response from people seeing this is: “the image looks ‘plastic’”.

The department of Experimental Psychology at Bristol has already undertaken 2D and 3D immersion tests – but these require of 30 minutes of footage. With a limited budget we decided to shoot the Somerset Carnival because of its high internal illumination and floats with internal movement. To shoot HDR an Epic would shoot 50 fps at 4k in HDR mode with a 4 to 6 stop difference giving 18 stops dynamic range.

We then considered mounting 2 Phantoms to shoot 200 fps at 2k in a 3D mirror rig, one camera exposing the high stop the other the low. Dr Marc Price & Alia Skeikh of BBC R&D placed two cameras on a rig at BBC London, but found that artifacts became evident as the tolerances necessary for HDR alignment are far higher than 3D because you need pixel accurate registration to eliminate these artifacts.

We calculated on Epic we could record 6 mins of 4k, 50 fps HDR (thats 100 fps) that would take 40 minutes to download. We decided that due to much higher levels of data output on the Phantom, we would shoot selected floats at the carnival exhibiting high levels of motion. Had we shot Phantom in a mirror rig at its highest speed you could easily generate 1 terabyte of data per minute and that would take 6 and half hours to download.

An HDR stop-motion test conducted by Aaron Fang of University of Bristol Engineering revealed that you need 7 exposures combined to display full higher dynamic range on the display. So using Red’s strategy of setting a correct Fstop to build upon for HDR did not exploit the full-potential available.

The hardest thing to expose in cinematography is a subject that emits light: At our first shoot in Burnham on Sea on the Epic I set the ASA at 320 at 50 fps with a shutter of 100th, then used a spotmeter to calculate a stop. But following this through to display, we discovered that a full HDR image was not achieved using normal cinematographic judgment. I realised that the 100 year old maxim of exposing to protect highlights was no longer a correct rule for HDR. In fact you had to expose the ‘correct’ stop ‘virtually’ – What I mean by this is that if the Fstop should be F5.6 then we would have set the Iris to overexpose three stops over at F2 plus HDRx highlight protection of three stops under: making 18 stops in total. That might seem obvious now, but on the shoot, sphincters tightened, because the Epic images looked terribly overexposed.

We had planned a second shoot at Wells and collected material at 2 stops and 3 stops over and under e-exposed. In HDR terms that’s between 16 to 18 stops respectively. We are about to shoot more footage for immersion testing at the newly built lab at Bristol University. It should be remembered that the first tests worldwide with this expanded digital cinematographic form took place in the South West of the UK.

From the cinematographers viewpoint, it seems to me that counter-intuitively, lower lighting levels are where HDR will function with most impact on a photographic level. Obviously in the highlights colour formation will be held better than in standard systems, but this is a technical issue, rather than specifically an artistic one. But this is interesting because it may in fact require a renaissance of cinematic judgment – someone will need to know that the end result will be fine. With regard low light, the way we read an image may allow the cinematographer to offer clues when underscoring plot, story & emotional cues, in a far more subtle way than with standard dynamic range that the cinematographic arts have used for decades: that of trying to represent 5 orders of magnitude in a 2 – 3 orders of magnitude display.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Technologies of Digital Imaging

I recently wrote a post on CML asking the following:

"I saw The Hobbit in 3D at 24 fps at 2k, then walked into the next-door screening which was showing in 3D at 48fps at 2k.

So the first looked film-like and the second looked like old-style interlaced video - there was even a sensory and hallucinogenic lag in the image, mostly with regard to colour. People who buy 48fps argue that you should try to watch for 10 - 15 minutes to lock-in to the way you perceive the experience before condemning it out of hand.

Also as far as I understand it, instead of a 96th shutter, Lesnie shot the movie at a 64th shutter to add motion blur - and this didn't do anything to spoil the 24fps 2D filmic looking version when alternate frames were removed (being sharper than a 48th).

So my question is: Has anyone seen 48fps at 4k and if so, was the look filmic or video-like? 

I'm asking that question because it's my guess that 'film-immersion' works at certain 'sweet-spots' of the sensory experience and that because 24fps is one of those, then multiplying the factors could mean that either: 

a) a sweet-spot is disrupted if it's not a full multiplication of factors (so 3d at 48fps needs to be at 4k minimum to work) b) the next sweet-spot is a different multiple (96fps at 8k, or 120fps at 10k, or 192 fps at 16k - or something counter intuitive on an apparently different scale) c) after 24 fps the sweet-spot is way, way above those co-ordinates (on the basis that is a harmonic of the original)d) our senses film-immerse around 24 fps of image and 24 fps of black, regardless of resolution, and that's just how it is....

If there's anyone looking in from the production - you must have done shot some tests and screened variations - any comments? How did you prepare the 48fps and decimate the footage back to 24 fps?"

Someone wrote in response:

"I'm rather amazed and befuddled by all of these calculations and speculations as to the effect of framerates and sweet spots.  2D or 3D, the effect is apparent rather quickly, and this is nothing new. Oaklahoma! in Todd-AO (30fps) looks remarkably different to the CinemaScope (24fps) version which was shot along side it (a take with one camera, then a take with the other).  When the VariCam first came out I used it to demonstrate the difference between 24p and 30p, 48p and 60p.  The difference between 24p and 30p was easy to see for all.  You can think of it whatever you wish, but the moment you get to 30p the effect is very "video-esque" in motion, at least to a brain used to 60i American television.  There's no magical formula of shutter angle and 3D immersion which will change this.  Refresh rate is refresh rate and the mental connotation is, well, whatever the viewer brings to the table.  One can give it a try and decide if it is interesting or acceptable, but the effect is the effect and it's really that simple.  There's no "training the audience," no "finding the magic combination," no "filmmakers not using their tools properly."  Either it is liked by the audience or it is not.

And to a great degree, I think this is true of 3D in general".

I felt I had to reply:

"Mitch and Mike: we're ok with numbers aren't we? After all that's an aspect of much of what we do.
I didn't know the Hobbit was finished in 2k, so that was worth writing the post in the first place for, as I found something out - it certainly kills the issue of seeing a '4k' version at 48fps.

'There's no "training the audience," no "finding the magic combination," no "filmmakers not using their tools properly." Either it is liked by the audience or it is not.....And to a great degree, I think this is true of 3D in general'.

I get it that there should be a resistance to pr style thinking and I wasn't really interested in the 3D issue, as my interest is with audience immersion (we use light and camera movements to underscore dramatic narrative and deepen audience engagement - why not use new capacities in the medium we work in?)
I'm very privileged to be working on higher dynamic range capture and display and when you see this actually working before your eyes there's a sense of seeing three dimensions, which comes through without the tricks of standard stereopsis. The response after seeing this new imaging technology for the first time is: 'It's like looking through a window'. When you see an HDR image in HDR display space, the sense of it being plastic and unreal goes (mainly because up till now HDR images were seen in non-HDR display space and the audience didn't like what they saw). The possibility for really amazing lighting is there, because the display space is approximate to the eye-brain pathway.

True, up till recently each image has been captured using 7 or more exposures in each frame and so has been still-image or stop-motion - but we're now perfecting moving image HDR streams instead of stepped still images. At the capture stage data bottlenecks are becoming an issue as we're generating huge amounts of data (could be up to 1 terabyte per minute next year as we'll move into high fps hdr - so there'll need to be developments in every part of the chain - that'll explain my OCD interest in numbers then). Most importantly though, we'll be looking at what kind of content works in this new area.

Call me old fashioned or even OCD, but I am interested and curious about what can be done outside of what's currently liked by an audience, and I'd prefer this information to come out through CML, within the community that creates moving image art for a living - not only that but involve members in trying to do this. 'Course, we may not manage to pull it off, but I'm quite happy to go down in flames trying."

So reader: What do you think?

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Art and Commerce in Cinema and Television

Years ago when I was a young DP I spent £500 on a single day session to learn how to expose for low light. That was a lot of money then. At that session there were several DP's who are now working at the upper echelons of UK film and TV Drama.  By the end of the day I had discovered that the answer to my question was: sure there are technical boundaries, but in the end there is no such thing as the correct exposure - because art is a gesture of the moment. A correct exposure in one moment is not the correct exposure in the next because the art or intention, or colour or texture of the scene.
The light meter and waveform monitor as used today for digital cinematography (and television back then) are two forms of evaluation, but these are just devices that allow a certain kind of ritual gesture to happen that produce a decision. If you're 'in the flow' when you make your decision, choosing a fat or thin f stop - or placing the exposure on the stop itself - then that decision, if made whilst transcending the form you're working in aligns with what artists do when they make their artistic gesture. That may sound airy-fairy but whether you're a street cleaner or an astronaut, we all operate in the same way - choices in the moment. So there's technical excellence on one hand and on the other, art - and if you're really aligning with 'the flow' or as Taoism would call it, 'The Way', then art can happen within commerce.