The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents September 2006 Return to Table of Contents
Black Dahlia
Digi Printer Lights
Page 2
Page 3
Nightmare
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
The Proposal

The effort to meet this demand needs to unfold in an orderly fashion according to a practical and achievable design.

First, we must create a way to calibrate the entire digital workflow within a universally interoperable color space. This is an issue of overriding importance not just for cinematographers, but for everyone in the industry; nevertheless, its absence at this moment is no obstacle to the development and implementation of a DPL capability.

Second, working within this arena, we must create a way to precisely measure what R, G, B, C, M, Y, gamma, gain, lift, luminance and chroma are doing at any point during the digital transfer process. These numbers will represent the DPL.

Third, we must create a protocol that delivers the exact same look during each transfer session within a given facility simply by setting the telecine controls to the chosen coordinates, just like the Hazeltine. The point system by which numeric value is assigned (the DPL) can be entirely arbitrary in nature and precisely tailored to the working methods of the cinematographer. There are an infinite number of look choices available in digital transfer, but the fact is, we’re interested in only one look at a time. If a certain project demands a variety of textures to be applied over different scenes or sequences, then a variety of DPLs can be designated for use — once again, just like the Hazeltine.

Furthermore, the R, G, B, C, M and Y coordinates must be set up to track directly with the lab’s Hazeltine printer light. In other words, a 2-point increase in blue on the Spirit or the da Vinci must have the same effect as adding 2 points of blue to the print. In keeping with this, software must be designed to detect and compensate for any drift or deviation from the “norm” anywhere in the digital transfer system. Because this norm is established by the cinematographer during preproduction testing, what’s most important is what the cinematographer actually sees on the display. After choosing a specific look or looks, consistency must be guaranteed.

Fourth, we must create a method by which to record all relevant negative and transfer information as metadata. This road map must then follow a project from inception to completion and should include reference to any changes made to the image during postproduction as well. In doing so, it will for all time provide a record of the cinematographer’s original intent.

Ideally, a universally interoperable color space within the digital workflow should apply from image creation through image delivery, but its development represents an enormous challenge. Although a solution is most certainly within our reach, this proposal accepts a system of calibration unique to the post facility in which the cinematographer happens to be working. Don’t forget, the primary application of the DPL is for electronic dailies. With that, each production is essentially a “one-time-only” affair whose baseline measurements, whatever they may be, are, in effect, solely for that specific project in that specific facility. For example, a cinematographer wraps Movie A on Friday and returns to the same facility on Monday morning to start anew with Movie B. Because Movie B calls for an entirely different visual texture, fresh tests and calibrations will be needed in order to find the DPL that delivers this new look.

The DPL in Practice

After arriving at a desired look or looks on film during prep, the same test negative is brought to the digital facility for the next step. Utilizing the services of a talented colorist, the cinematographer works to find the appropriate digital look or looks. When satisfied, the cinematographer makes note of the relevant R, G, B, C, M, Y, gamma, gain, lift, luminance and chroma settings on the transfer console; these figures make up the DPL.

At the end of each working day during production, the camera assistant enters these DPL numbers on the camera report (along with the Hazeltine printer lights for the print side, if print is involved). The colorist receives the camera report at the digital facility and sets the console controls to these exact coordinates. Then the negative is scrolled through the scanner, and the electronic dailies are timed precisely to the cinematographer’s directions.

Further Advantage

1. A practical DPL will for the first time qualify electronic dailies to give meaningful information to the cinematographer. The concurrent use of a single Hazeltine printer light with a single DPL will automatically corroborate what’s seen onscreen in both the digital and film domains. Granted, there is an innate difference between the two mediums that’s unlikely to be bridged. But cinematographers long ago mastered the internal computations and adjustments of the eye needed to make substantive judgments about different forms of image creation and delivery.

2. As stated earlier, today’s digital transfer can render remarkable images from all but the most grievously deformed negatives. But currently, on productions that do not print their dailies, the cinematographer is literally in the dark in this respect. “Is my exposure good or bad?” There’s no way to know. Often, mistakes don’t show up until the release-printing stage, at which point it’s too late to remedy any problems. In helping cure this infuriating problem, it’s ironic that the DPL may in some cases render the need to see a print superfluous.

3. Ridiculously long hours and tight schedules mitigate against all but the most superficial participation in the transfer process for the television cinematographer. It’s easy to see how the DPL will help solve that dilemma. Just having the ability to communicate in a language that means the same thing at all times to all parties will represent a huge step forward on that front.

Looking Ahead

Take a quick look around any digital suite, and you’ll recognize that we’ve already got the rocket that goes to the moon. What we need technicians to do is merely install a speedometer. Tell us what the machinery is doing at any given instant, and let us measure it so that we can repeat its effect.

Believe me, this can be done.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 of this article, in which ASC President Daryn Okada will recount his real-world experience with a prototype DPL system.

 

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