Falling Skies

Having just come back from NAB, I still feel a bit shaken, apprehensive and very excited about what we all saw at the world’s biggest media equipment tradeshow. To me, it felt like there were technological bombs going off all over the place, and they took two distinct forms.

The first was the emergence of 4K as the convention’s dominant theme, thus calling attention to the many workflows being showcased at this resolution point, or even higher. Not just 4K cameras, mind you, but 4K (and beyond) throughout the entire pipeline – from production to post.

This kind of leap has come about in a relatively short amount of time and is rather remarkable. Think back to the mid-1990s when we couldn’t even do 24-frame video, and the substance and format of high definition were dictated by a narrow window. Some of us (me) in those days said 4K is where all of this will land. We were told, “No, that will never happen. It’s too expensive and not technically practical. HD is good enough.” Yet, here we are at 4K and beyond.

High-resolution formats like 4K create a new kind of experience for cinema and television audiences that has been dubbed “hyper-reality.” It’s an approach to presentation that, in just a few years’ time, offers more visual stimulus than we’ve had at the movies for the last century and beyond.

And since Moore’s Law is forever in play – dictating that the pace of technology will increase by geometric leaps and bounds – the amount of information audiences will continue to absorb will consistently increase. The more information we present to audiences means the more we, as filmmakers, must consider what movies and television are supposed to achieve in terms of the suspension of disbelief.

Add to this information avalanche upcoming high-frame-rate (HFR) workflows, which have appeared before in Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan and Dean Goodhill’s Maxivision processes, both of which advocated for anywhere from 48 to 60 fps origination but are now easily obtainable with digital technologies.

The other big explosion heard and seen at NAB was the astonishingly low price points for much of this new technology. How much camera and software we can get for a lot less money is also adhering to Moore’s Law. And that means a speeding up of the “democratization of filmmaking” (a phrase with which I am not deeply enamored). Just as the Canon 5D Mark II fomented a new revolution in production, so will all these new workflow options give everyone an opportunity to tell their stories.

Creative (and technological) changes are detonating all around us, and they pose a real challenge to the skills and artistry of every crewmember and director of photography in this Guild. We can charge forward into battle with all of the armor – i.e., training, education, and experience we have worked so hard to achieve – or stand back, with fingers in our ears, to cushion the sounds and aftermath of falling skies.

Which do you think is the best way to proceed?

Fraternally,

Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600

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