“In Our Wheelhouse”

From the beginning of the digital transition, almost 20 years ago, I and others announced that the end goal of this technology must be to find a Holy Grail of imaging – an “end-to-end, device-independent color-management system.” This would be a “closed-loop” system that would allow a director of photography to manage color on the set, and then ensure it would pass seamlessly into the editing room, the DI suite and on into theaters – much like what we had with film for nearly a century. And now I’m thrilled to announce that this Holy Grail of imaging we all have sought has finally arrived.

You may know it by its official name – ACES – and it’s being launched this month at NAB. The Academy Color Encoding System – ACES – has been in development for more than a decade through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Science and Technology Council. It’s the product of the very best minds in color science, image capture (cinematographers), and postproduction engineers, all working to deliver a system that will ensure the images created on set remain consistent throughout the digital pipeline.

ACES will “future-proof” our industry. It will create a process as transparent as everything that’s come before, as well as allow for greater color depth, storage and transfer of information than even what the film era could provide. It is also the tool that will help clarify the murky world of digital archiving.

I’m very proud that the Academy has chosen Local 600 as an ACES training partner. Not only will this Guild be able to educate its own members, but we’ll also help bring the benefits of ACES to the entire production community. There is more information in this month’s ICG Magazine (from workflow veterans like Mark Weingartner and Bobby Maruvada) that will explore ACES’ many attributes for our industry.

Along with ACES (which, by the way, the Motion Picture Academy is making available to use as an open-source system) are other technologies that have been in a similar lengthy development; the idea of HDR (high dynamic range) capture, for example, is becoming more feasible all the time. This month’s NAB gathering will showcase tools that can not only capture HDR, but also display the new technology.

Of course, at the recent HPA (Hollywood Professional Alliance retreat) in Palm Desert, CA, there was healthy skepticism about how HDR will help us tell our stories. But my feeling is that it’s never bad to have more “overhead” in our images. A window previously blown out can be brought back to wherever it needs to be in post; a deep shadow can have texture that was impossible to see before. These are extreme simplifications of the potential of HDR; but once displays are in place that can showcase this new technology, we’ll be able to know how we can use it to tell stories.

It also was striking to note, at the HPA retreat, how little discussion there was of HFR (high frame rate) technology. To me it indicates that the industry has come to realize that HFR, as well as motion interpolation on consumer displays, may be terrific avenues for sports and live events, but they are not effective ways to tell artistic stories. In the case of motion interpolation, there have been recent industry-driven petitions and numerous requests for consumer electronics manufacturers to create displays that allow consumers to more easily turn the feature off.

Ask any director of photography about the industry today, and his or her response is likely to be: “I really don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time I start a new job.”

To that I would say: “Take comfort, my friends.”

This long period of digital transition has now reached a level of maturity that will ensure we, as creative artists, are right where we finally need to be.


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

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