“Questions and Answers”

Composer Mason Williams once noted that “the question is often much more interesting than the answer,” and we’re in a technological era where there are often many answers to each question. Sometimes those answers are based on the work done by the many different artisans in our Guild. Whether it’s a camera loader, camera assistant, camera operator, digital imaging technician or director of photography, each answer can be specific to each of our many crafts.

But what are those questions?

Typically they evolve around new and emerging technologies that are coming at us at a blinding pace from every corner of the industry; and, true to Williams’ quote, the questions can be far more interesting than any individual answer. For example, as I write this, Sony is introducing Venice, the company’s first full-frame digital motion-picture camera system to include a firmware upgrade to accommodate 36-mm-wide 6K-resolution capture. And the camera system is just the beginning of any workflow.

When film was the predominant imaging platform, directors of photography molded specific emulsions to the needs of their projects. That is still true, with the main difference being the vast number of choices digital technology requires us to make to determine a successful workflow – choices made by every job classification in our Union.

Involvement begins at the earliest stages, as with digital imaging technicians helping to design on-set workflows, and interfacing with Editorial to help preserve the original intent of the image-capture team on down through the pipeline. The DIT will often have to query the DP, the post supervisor and a project’s editors, resulting in many more answers to parse through than questions asked. Working with the DP, they will develop ideas for the colorist to – again – help preserve original intent.

Speaking of original intent, directors of photography, who have been in involved with pre-visualization since that format’s conception, are now tasked with helping to create effective post-visualization, developing visual concepts with the VFX team that may play all the way through production. New tools that utilize metadata help to preserve the DP’s original intent – examples include the ASC’s Color Decision List (CDL), which allows for the exchange of basic primary color grading information between equipment and software from different manufacturers, as the image moves from set to post.

Camera assistants, too, are faced with much more complex technology – remote systems and various metadata collection systems – all creating workflow questions that need to be answered before day one of production. Likewise for the many file-based Cloud systems that have enveloped our industry, requiring data handling to be developed from scratch with each project.

This month’s issue includes an article about one of the most exciting technologies for preserving the original intent of images captured on set: the Academy Color Encoding System, more commonly known as ACES. These digital production standards, more than a decade in the making, help to build image pipelines that offer end-to-end color consistency – what is seen on set is exactly what is seen in dailies, in VFX, in DI and in the archival process. ACES provides a much bigger information bucket than we’ve ever had before, and it reflects an industry tradition of jointly agreed standards, be they the Digital Cinema Initiative (an open architecture that ensures a uniform and high level of technical performance, reliability and quality) standards created by the Hollywood studios, or the many different standards drawn up by the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE) that date back to almost the beginnings of our industry.

As we can see, there are always many answers to the same question, depending on who is asking the question, who is answering the question, and the ever-evolving availability of new technology and systems. One question for me that remains unchanged in the last 25 years is: what is the Holy Grail of digital technology? I’ve always felt the answer is an end-to-end, device-independent color management system. With the advent of ACES, we’ve taken a giant step in that direction. Now it’s up to our industry to complete the journey.

 

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

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