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Robert A. Harris addresses digital photography for the Movie Anwser Man.

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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted July 25 2002 - 04:45 PM

From Roger Ebert's Movie Anwser Man column for Sunday, July 14th:
Q. I read the Credit Suisse/First Boston report on digital projection vs. Maxivision. Interesting, and certainly well researched. While some of the financial concepts just barely made it through my gray matter, I did notice something that seemed off. There is a mention of the average life of the hardware used in projection. While I have little doubt that the electronics used for digital projection would need to be replaced/upgraded/ supplanted every three years, I don't understand the number of seven years placed upon 35mm projection equipment. Many theaters have projectors with bodies which go back to the 1940s and 50s. Lamphouses and audio gear may be upgraded, not a huge investment, but those old 35mm projectors just keep chugging along with only reasonable servicing.

Re the visual quality of digital: My son went to see "Star Wars: Episode 2--Attack of the Clones" at a film venue and reported that it looked "soft." At [the current digital standard] 1.8k, it can't look anything but soft. As long as 1.8 is all that folks desire out of the theatrical experience, it certainly works, especially when the use of 24fps digital allows for ultrafast post-production and multiple layers of digital efx. The only problem, as you've properly stated, is that the experience of cinema is gone.

I still haven't been able to create an acceptable film look using digital restoration in anything less than 4k--and that with emulsions from the 50s and 60s (Eastman 5248).

What the public doesn't seem to recognize and what the uneducated eye will not confirm unless the two are literally viewed side by side, is that current digital technology in the ultralow-res of 1.8k looks like just so much mush when compared to a 35mm frame.

Robert Harris, The Film Preserve

A As the ranking genius of film restoration, you should know. I treasure your restorations of film classics from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "Vertigo." What has happened, I think, is that executives who are only semi-literate in technical matters have been seduced by the magic word "digital" into embracing the idea of digital projection, and are too busy, lazy or unprepared to do the necessary homework. The Credit Suisse/First Boston report essentially said the digital emperor has no clothes, by pointing out digital's shortcomings in quality, maintenance and cost. The surprise was its endorsement of Maxivision, and its conclusion that Maxivision was a natural fit for Kodak.

#2 of 10 OFFLINE   Mark_Wilson



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Posted July 26 2002 - 01:39 AM

Go RH!

Anyone have a link to that Credit Suisse/First Boston report on digital projection vs. Maxivision?

#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael St. Clair

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Posted July 26 2002 - 01:50 AM

When I saw Episode 2 in DLP, I was wholly unimpressed. The picture of both the feature and the trailers were lacking in resolution. Sharp, yes; detailed, no. The projector was in focus, and this was easily verified by walking down front and looking at the sharpness of the screendoor effect.

DLP is not ready for prime time, but certain companies and individuals are trying to push it on the industry. I say wait until DLP can match 70mm, not 16mm.

Then again, since the average viewer thinks that SVM and EE makes pictures look better, and even Robert Altman can be suckered by Darbeevision, I suppose the general public will think DLP looks fantastic. Posted Image

#4 of 10 OFFLINE   Jean-Michel


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Posted July 26 2002 - 05:20 AM

I doubt any film standard developed in the rest of human history will be able to match a good-quality 70mm print.

Ultimately I found Harris' response quite sane -- a lot better than some of Ebert's own opinions on the subject, which act as if a conversion to digital will lead to the complete destruction of cinema. Although I'm not sure what Harris means by "the experience of cinema is gone." Anyway, nobody can really claim that 1.8k resolution is good enough, but fortunately technology moves fast -- 4k is already being used in some capacities and it won't be long before we have 10k. The main problem is just ironing out the digital projection standards and coming up with a more modular design to facilitate easier upgrades (my understanding is that to upgrade a DLP projector now you pretty much have to buy the whole thing again).

#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted July 26 2002 - 05:29 AM

Also, you have to remember what the source material was like. While high resolution by digital standards, it's low definition by film standards. Rick McCallum stated that Sony's developing a camera that should be ready by the time Epsiode III starts filming that has nearly 5 times the resolution of the ones used to film Episode II. That alone should close the gap. Also the lenses have been improving leaps and bounds. The lenses that Robert Rodriquez used to film Spy Kids 2 and Once Upon a Time in Mexico are multiples better than the ones Lucas used. Also notable with Episode II was that when editting it, he really abused the footage. He'd take long shots and zoom them into close ups on a few instances for example, which means you're seeing images at a lower resolution than the camera is capable of.

I'm still hoping for a digital future. While Maxivision beats current digital for quality, it still requires the variables of chemical processes. To ensure that you get the same picture everytime, you need a less organic format. That said I'm glad it's not catching on yet. Let the pioneers like Lucas and Rodriquez push it to where it needs to be first, then let it go mainstream.

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   Dan Hitchman

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Posted July 26 2002 - 05:43 AM

The trouble being that Lucas and Co. are pushing digital cinema before it's ready to go mainstream. He's shot himself in the foot by only having archival footage of AOTC at HD television resolution, as one example. In fact, it might have even been lower than that because the Panavision lenses weren't totally ready to go at the time of shooting and they letterboxed some of the stuff in-camera at a lower resolution.

If he had shot on fine grain 35mm or even blown some of his billions on Super Panavision 70mm archival stock as Kenneth Branagh did for Hamlet then the camera negatives would have been there to scan it digitally at much, much higher resolution later on and then re-render the CGI to match.


#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Kevin Coleman

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Posted July 26 2002 - 08:56 AM

I rest my case.
I agree with RH 100 percent.

I agree with you also Dan.
GL will probably wish he did what you suggested in a few years because now all of that resolution was lost and can never be restored. I think his ego got in the way of quality filmaking.

Kevin C. Posted Image

#8 of 10 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted July 26 2002 - 10:22 AM

In George's defense, he certainly knows his technology and has aided the industry in making advancements.

If one is creating a project in 2k and if 2k fits the needs of the filmmaker for that particular project, then 2k is fine.

The fact that it doesn't begin to come close to film rez has little to do with anything.

As an aside regarding my quoted comments, I didn't mean to make it seem that 2k was not a high enough rez for some film, just not for original negative or second generation elements.

It is entirely possible that if one were working with a third generation element and that element was the only one extant, that 2k might well do the job with no apparent increase in rez, even if one did go to 4 or 6k.

But as far as newer Eastman stocks are concerned, 2k is not just missing from the party, it isn't even in the building.


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence

#9 of 10 OFFLINE   Ricardo C

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Posted July 26 2002 - 11:10 AM

Kevin: His "ego"???

I find it sad that not many people seem willing to give Lucas credit for being so willing to push digital cinema that he put his own baby on the line, and shot a Star Wars movie with a technology that's quite new, sacrificing the definition he could have had with film. He's paying the price of innovation, and hopefully this move will be acknowledged and praised a decade from now, when the resolution of digital isn't an issue anymore.

As an aside, I saw a film screening of AOTC, and while the yellow text in the opening crawl looked muted, the overall image was quite pleasing. Not as detailed as 35mm film, but I doubt I would have noticed if I hadn't known it was transferred from digital.

Man, an hour wasted on this sig! Thanks, Toshiba! :P

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   Ricardo C

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Posted July 26 2002 - 11:13 AM

Empty post to get to 667... Posted Image Don't like that 666 by my name :P
Man, an hour wasted on this sig! Thanks, Toshiba! :P