Sunday, 27 June, 2010

Mumbai CAS Day 1

The Cinematographer's combine CAS event got off this morning at a packed Imax theatre at Wadala. For a change the participants got there before time and the hall was packed with time to spare. I take this as a sign that digital is ready to be received. Or, that there was very little traffic in Mumbai this morning.

The first session was on the new Arri Alexa digital movie camera. I wrote about this camera on this blog a few weeks age and you can find it by looking through the links in the margin to the right. Or here.

The day began with a talk by Henning Radlein of Arri. I've been hearing Henning for over 5 years now. At various trade shows and demos, even a guided tour around Arri that he kindly gave me some years ago. And he delivers, with the manner of one of my professors of Classical Mechanics at Physics post-grad University class. Simple, concise and technically perfect.

There were some features that Henning spoke about that are not there in their brochure or web site. There was also a hands on demo of the Alexa, played out live on the big screen with a live camera. A rather good way of showing a device to a large audience.

Later we saw tests that Arri shot on an Alexa. These were shown as Digital, from the (presumably) Christie 2k projector. At 2k, or maybe 1080p24, I forgot to ask.

To my untrained eyes, the tests looked awesome. And I didn't find anyone who said anything derogatory about them, and most seemed suitably impressed. Until we saw the Indian tests later in the day.

The Indian tests were shot by two leading Cinematographers - Sudeep Chaterjee and Amit Roy. They had both shot some typical film scenes with props, actors and the like. And they both shot to film and Alexa and showed both one after another, as a film print.

I'm no cinematographer so a lot of the figures about shutter angle and aperture were just numbers to me. So I just saw it as one picture compared to another. From the general murmurings around the house, it seemed there were many who were doing the same.

One set of tests had a freeze frame in every shot with animated supers showing what seemed to be some kind of exposure level. I found that a trifle disturbing. I wonder, even among those who understood what those numbers meant, how many could retain that info. I think a set of stills on the Cinematographers Combine website would have been a better idea.

The tests were shown as a film print. On a film projector that was weaving and vibrating. So that was a bit jarring. So it was decided to see them as a digital print or DCP. One astute person in the audience asked for the Arri tests to be also shown right after the Indian tests.

For me that was an interesting watch. Seeing tests shot here, vs those shot by Arri both on a clean bright digital projector. What a vast difference in the sheer quality of images. Amazing. I don't mean to slam anyone here, but I think for quite a few persons in the audience the truth was before their eyes.

There was also a Q & A with some of those associated with the tests. Unfortunately, out of the two cinematographers who shot the local tests, only one could attend and answer tests on the shooting. And, as far as post was concerned, the colorist was absent too. And Ken, who filled in, did a reasonable job of providing info.

I found the workflow for the Alexa tests locally done to be... well, 'interesting'. At Reliance MediaWorks.

They scanned the film at 4k. On a Spirit 4k. Graded at 4k on a Baselight. and recorded back to film at 4k too.
The Alexa shot to SxS cards as ProRes 4444 as well as HDCamSR as 444HQ. In the logC colour space. But Reliance chose to capture the tape. This was captured to Clipster and exported out as uprezzed 4k DPX, for grading in Baselight.

So, the film images were presumably 4096x1744 pixels during scanning, grading and recording.
The Alexa images were shot at 1920x1080, cropped to 1920x817, Scaled up to 4096x1744, graded at that size, and recorded to film.

So, if my presumption is correct, we were shown native 4096x1744 film vs 1920x817 size digital images side by side but on film. All those who debate on 4k vs 2k for film DI need to take careful note of this in relation to what they saw on the screen this evening.

To be sure, I asked Henning whether the camera provided to CC for tests was capable of shooting ProRes. He said Yes. So, the decision to use the tape instead was taken by Reliance. Maybe because they don't have a Mac at Reliance with the latest FCS 3 which is needed to open ProRes 4444. Or maybe they feel tape is better.

I also checked with Henning if the Arri tests that we saw earlier were shot to HDCamSR or ProRes. He told me which were HDCamSR and which ProRes. He also explained me their workflow, which was radically simpler and arguably more edit friendly that the one Reliance adopted.

For me, the highlight of today was how different our shoot looked compared to the one done by Arri. Exactly why, is something I'll ponder about.

Later, there was a presentation from Sony on the SRW 9000 camcorder. Actually, calling that somehow puts it in the same league as an EX3. but not really. This is a digital movie camera with an HDCam SR recorder built in. The SRW 9000 is based the F23. And there will be a SRW 9000PL based on the F35.

The SRW9000 will have a memory card recording option in some months. This is a flash memory card that will be 1 Tb and record uncompressed. This memory card option will also work with the F23 and the F35. There is also a 4k upgrade path for the camera section. Which makes sense as this special 1 Tb cartridge will be capable of 5 Gbps.

Sony and Arri are adopting similar approaches, that of recording to a know medium and format. Easy to store, edit and manipulate. Both are good cameras and I wish there was a Alexa vs SRW 9000 comparison instead of film.

For us in India, unless post houses use the Direct to Edit Apple ProRes function of the Alexa, both will become HDCam SR cameras. So rentals will be similar. It will boil down to which camera cinematographers prefer.

Eventually the 1 Tb SR2.0 card will be introduced. And some may demand the raw recording capability of the Arri Alexa or uncompressed for the SRW 9000 over ProRes or HDCam SR. But both these approaches take up huge amounts of disk space so they might be non-starters in our context.
The rushes of an average Hindi movie, uncompressed (SR 2.0) or ArriRAW will take up 12-15 Terabytes disk space. I know exactly how hard it is to get someone to invest Rs 35,000 that it costs to get one secure hard disk to store just one ad film's a Red rushes, so asking for Rs 12-15 lakhs ofr a hard disk array for rushes... forget about it.

There was a very basic test of some shots with the SRW 9000 shot a couple of days ago. These were shot as S-log. The camera played the tests directly with and with a 'linearizing' LUT applied. I felt the test was playing at double speed. Meaning, they were shot 1080p25 or 1080p24 and the camera system was set up for 1080p50 or 1080p60.

If it was, then that shows how careful we need to get with these HD formats. 

By the way, where does Red figure in all this? It does. And I plan on doing a compare, very soon.

I've written on the Arri Alexa, SRW-9000, and SR 2.0. Check it out. And please, if anyone is using this info for any commercial gain, consider the donate or subscribe button.

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