The following is from John Bailey's blog over at ASC:
Last November 19, I received an email from James Owsley of Sony Colorworks, writing that he and Grover Crisp of Asset Management at Sony were planning to do a 4K data transfer of Groundhog Day, a film I had photographed 20 years ago.
Bill Murray and friend, Phil.
Sony is creating content for their new 4K, 84” Bravia Ultra HD LCD television. There is not yet any broadcast band at 4K, nor consumer discs—select movies from their library are being made available to the Bravia buyers on drives. The television sells for a more than modest $25,000– but it includes passive 3D glasses.
Sony 84″ Ultra HD television.
It was an invigorating experience to work on the re-mastering ofGroundhog Day with colorist John Dunn at Sony’s Stage 6 Colorworks facility. We were seated at the Baselight at a screen height distance of less than 2x; the clarity and detail from the scanned negative at 4K was staggering. The process of re-mastering this much beloved film was a revelation. John and I were able to extract incredible detail, retiming shots with subtle color and density controls, as well as selecting multiple power windows—generating a level of scene to scene consistency that had not been possible with the limited controls of the photochemical era. Consistency in this film is especially important because of the oft-repeated scenes shot on successive production days in changing light. The richly dense and fine grain Kodak negative clearly contained even more than the 4K data scanned. After an initial runthrough, I asked John to exploit his full digital “toolbox” in his first pass at re-mastering. “This is no sacred cow,” I said.
What does this suggest about a decade of DIs that have been rendered at 2K resolution—and of the filmout negatives struck from those files? Sony is rescanning and remastering many popular titles in their catalog, movies that initially had been exhibited from 2K digital intermediate files, as film prints or as DCPs—but now rescanning from the original camera negatives at 4K resolution. This remastering of the OCN may be viable for films that have been successful enough to warrant such added expense, but what about those films that have not made the cut, films, for the moment at least, shelved because of an indifferent box office— and waiting for a possible redemptive rlate inclusion in the critical canon or as a cult favorite? Citizen Kane was largely forgotten for several decades. Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop, a film roundly pilloried on its initial release in 1971, recently received a glorious 2 DVD and Blu-Ray release by the Criterion Collectionand has just been included in the 2012 National Film Registry.
Unless rescanned, movies mastered with a 2K DI, and a 2K filmout negative, are married to that resolution, even allowing for the evolving technology of uprezing. Will many of us just have to accept that the past decade of our work will be trapped in a rapidly obsolescent 2K format? What more apparent “watermark” of an era of filmmaking can you imagine than a generation of movies marked as substandard?
This is a lamentable prospect as well for filmmakers who have embraced digital video capture as their choice. The ruling caveat of movies has always been, “The only constant is change.” This year’s lean forward technology is doomed to become next year’s pratfall. I include myself, at least in part, among the leaners. All four of the feature films I photographed in 2012 were at Arri ProRes 4444 Log C resolution. There were many reasons the directors, producers and I made this choice over any higher resolution video or film capture; these were valid choices given multiple factors affecting the movie’s aesthetic or financial bottom line.
I am excited about the dramatic quality of these two movies finished for Sundance 2013— but also about their technical quality. Seeing them on large screen projection, the emotional intimacy and human scale of their stories are not much compromised by the ProRes format choice. But there does remain an indisputable fact: All four of these movies exist at their capture level as essentially HD digital video files. As Sony colorist John Dunn said, a propos of the rich negative of Groundhog Day, “The difference is that with 35mm film negative you can keep going back to the well.” For the several dozen movies I have photographed on 35mm film at full aperture, anamorphic aspect ratio—the “well” is likely to contain (depending on your predilection) an equivalent 8K image. What is important to accept here is that the media and format choices that we filmmakers make at the ground zero of image capture—are “baked in.” For Silverado, Larry Kasdan and I chose Super 35 (then called Super-Techniscope) over anamorphic, just as we chose anamorphic over 1:85 for our next film, The Accidental Tourist; these were for strictly aesthetic reasons just as Zak Penn, Werner Herzog and I chose a low end, standard def, Panasonic prosumer camera forIncident at Loch Ness, and just as Anthony Dod Mantle and Thomas Vinterberg chose for Celebration.