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Digital Cinematography and the Technological Horizon Leandro Lisboa

I submitted this document for the exam on 17/04/2008 of the Interaction Design Theory 2 course (Telecomunicazioni) given by Gillian Crampton Smith with Philip Tabor at the Faculty of Design and Arts, IUAV University of Venice. For all word-sequences which I have copied from other sources, I have: a) reproduced them in italics, and b) placed quotation marks at their start and their end, and c) indicated, for each sequence, the exact page number or webpage URL of the original source. For all images which I have copied from other sources, I have indicated: a) the creator and/or owner of the image, and b) the exact page number or webpage URL of the original source. I declare that all other word-sequences and images in this document were written or created by me alone. Venice 03/04/2008, ____________________________



Chapter 1: Current uses of advanced technologies in Digital Cinematography


Chapter 2: How these technologies work


Chapter 3: Possible futures







In 1964, Marshall McLuhan pointed out that besides technology can creates its won ways of being necessary for living, more than that it can not be dettached of humans bodies and feelings. Digital cinematography seems to bring and offer a big range of creative possibilities to the present and for the future democratizing the access into cinematographic production and facilitating films distribution in a world where the cinema is being influenced by convergent new technologies. Digital cinematography appeared in the 90’s when a few independent directors proposed and expressed a new way of cinema challenging Hollywood aesthetic and high-budget productions. However, the cinematography industry realized how the digital support could be an interesting way to make cinema. This booklet will present a bit of how digital cinematography started and explaining how it works nowadays, some controversial discussions about film against digital and some ideas of how this field may be in the future. In fact, here the term digital cinematography is wider than shooting scenes. This part of the cinematographic process will be discussed as well as how cameras work. Rather than that, this booklet will offer a discussion which cover shooting, different kinds of cameras, digital supports, digital intermediate process, distribution, and specially how digital technology affect nowadays and will affect society, realizations, and market in the future.



Chapter 1 C u r r e n t uses of advanced technologies in Digital Cinematography

In the 90’s, a danish avant-garde filmmaking movement nominated Dogma 95 proposed a new kind of cinematography in which the main features were the use of natural light, non-use of special effects and real locations. At that time, its main leaders, Lars Von Trier and and Thomas Vinterberg, shot “The Idiots” and “The Celebration” respectively, reaching important prizes and some important critics due the realistic acting and aesthetic proposes. These low-budget “films” were shot with a mini-dv cam without artificial lights. The movement split off suddenly but gave the world some interests aspects like filmmaking without high-cost producing and adding the digital support to the big screens.

Lars Von Trier’s ‘The Idiots

In the 2002, the renowned director, George Lucas, shot “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” introducing Hollywood to the digital era. The camera used was the HDW-F900 (or Panavision HD-900F) and was developed by Sony and Panavision together specially required by George Lucas to shoot the film. The greatest achievement was the 24P HD (progressive scan), which captured 24 frames per second normally recorded with a 35 mm. The final result of the images impressed the director and the cinematography industry. The discussions about the use of digital had just started. For example, the film digital record costs were just US$ 15.000, instead of US$ 2.500.000 which would had been if shooting with the 35mm cam.

George Lucas’ Star War II


The economic results and smaller time production brought some attractive aspects for Hollywood’s eyes. As less use of negative film as more dynamic the crew production schedule gets, plus post production eliminates the low process demanded by 35 mm film. However, not all executives and producers are completely convicted about its quality and currently saving costs. The digital production has been a great opportunity for the independent filmmakers to put in practice their own ideas. It is not just because of the whole process of telecine negative is put away saving money, but also the digital cinematography has been creating a new aesthetic language in which motion design, animation, web features, graphic design mixing diverse supports and formats are added. So, a new creative way in filmmaking has been more hybrid and possible.

HDV 1280x720 HDV 1920x1080

Resolution chart of digital cameras


4K 4096x2160

DV NTSC 720X480



For a better comprehension about the digital cinematography it is interesting to know a bit about the others formats as well as distinguish them in some technical aspects. The quality of the formats is defined by the amount of resolution, pixels, chroma sampling and bit rate. Digital cinematography is a term used when negative film is not used. It has a little difference between digital cinematography and High Definition Video (HDV) but it can be said that when a camera can shoot at least with 1080i or 2K resolution it is for cinematographic purposes. Negative films are shot in 24 frames per second diverting of video which is shot in 30 (NTSC) or 25 (PAL). Some new HDV cameras simulates the cinematic-look while others cameras, more

advanced, really shoot in 24 frames without interpolation between frames. The MiniDv is a digital format recognizable as Standard (SD) which defines the TV broadcasting yet. MiniDV format has 480 horizontal lines in NTSC system (american and japanese) and 576 lines in PAL system (european). It uses tape to storage data. It is the most common camera used for homemade videos and amateurs consumers.

MiniDv Sony TRV900

The HDV is a high-definition video which has being developed by the principal vendors and has been gaining importance in the prosumer market in the last few years. There is a wide range of prices and capabilities. The data can be storage in video tape or recorded directly on hard disk or flash memory. HDV cameras are able to shoot in different modes, as well as the progressive frame mode (cinematic look), and record in 1080i and/or 720i (horizontal lines). Digital cinematography cameras are designed for HighEnd use. These cameras have 4K (4096x2160) and 2K (2048x1080) resolutions which means the highest-quality in video reached. 4K movies can be used purely for digital theater projection or downsized to HD and other formats. Besides the resolution, another great feature about these cameras are the 24 Progressive Scan that record at 24 frames per second allowing the scanning process to film more precisely and real. These kind of cameras work with lossless compression file system. The data is stored in RAIDS (multiples hard disk drives that achieves great level of performance).



4K cameras capture a huge amount of details and are able to use 35 mm optical lens which has a great characteristic to grants the same quality of film cameras. Commonly, most of these cameras have not been sold and are only available to rent for movie studios. Panavision HD900f

Film stocks are the commonest way to shooting a film yet. It has a range of sizes which varies depending on the quality, grains, dimension and specific purposes. 8 mm, 16 mm and 35 mm are the film gauge selection. Advertisements and commercial films require the 35 mm due the resolution, technical quality, sharpness and saturation of colors, however the prices is very high. After the introducing of the sound films in the 20’s a constant speed was defined to 24 frames per second. Negatives must be processed in lab and be telecined for posterior editing phase. In other hand, this process does not occur with digital films which allows a cheaper intermediate and more flexible pos-production.

Arriflex 35mm


Chapter 2 H o w t h ese technologies work

Film Stocks has a “natural sensor” - a grain structure in a irregular pattern. Different film has different grains. Grains are composed by a silver crystal which receives a quantity of photons (light). This amount of light “prints” the grains creating the image recorded. The quantity of grains is called granulation and its intensity is defined by the ISO of the stock film. The size os the grains indicates the sharpness and the sensitivity of the film, this is, the smaller is the grain (a silver crystal), the finer the detail in the photo (still frame). Digital cinematography cameras capture picture in motion using two sort of sensors: CMOS or CCD. It means that any pixel of the image receive and convert also a amount of photons into a digital representation of brightness and color transforming it in red, green and blue values. In MiniDv and HDV cameras are common using the 1/3” or 2/3” sensors (which determines the image size captured) with a prism. Each sensor is responsible to pick up a primary color. Three-chip design allows these cameras to reach a very good color reproduction, however, it is not able to manage the 35 mm depth of field, which is an usual and unique characteristic of cinematographic film.

Photomicrograph of grain of different photographic plates

Otherwise, High-End cameras (also like others) have a single but have a specific large sensor with the same dimension as the negative film frame which allow more quantity of information and accuracy. Pixels grid with RGB values


Incoming light

Filter layer

Sensor Array

Resulting pattern

Color Filter

These digital cameras use the “Bayer array” - a color filter array for receive RGB colors on a grid of photosensible surface. “Virtually all current digital cameras can only capture one of the three primary colors in each cavity, and so they discard roughly 2/3 of the incoming light. As a result, the camera has to approximate the other two primary colors in order to have information about all three colors at every pixel”. ‘Understanding Digital Camera Sensors’. Consulted 01 Mar 2008.

This method understand that the human eye is more sensitive to green light than red and blue light. For this reason, the filter array is more composed by green than the other two colors.

Bayer pattern on sensor


In spite of all, there have been controversial discussions about the real precision of the digital image achieved by these sophisticated cameras. The “plasticity of the image” captured by a High-End camera does not contains grains - which is associated as a “real” film. However, digital filmmakers adepts say that this look can be obtained by plugins in post-production phase.

Chapter 3 Possible futures

The speculations about the digital cinematography are very high and increase at the same time that new technologies are created. As this subject has a vast process like shooting, intermediating, editing, finalizing and distribution, in this chapter it will be presented some kinds of ideas in general aspects. Here it will be described a global possibilities observing society and market aspects, the interaction between amateurs filmmakers due internet facilities and the convergence of new technologies. Transition... How long will it take? In the last few years high-definition in video and film scenery has quickly increased and so has become a reality nowadays. It is a general agreement that in the future the digital medium will completely take over on analogical cinema. But, how long negative films will survive? Like others technologies this subject requires a time to understand completely the whole process, and not just in the technological aspects, but also in terms of market regularization, legal terms, prospective profits, consumer demands, Hollywood industry, HDTV broadcasting, budgets researches, distribution, cinema projections, pos-productions houses and government interests. For instance, in one hand there are the greatest negative film vendors, who have been doing some analysis on how cinematography market may be in the next years. As an excerpt, KODAK demonstrates its worries and strategies for the future: 11

“Kodak enters the fray with a major disadvantage. It continues to generate the majority of its sales in the traditional film market, which is experiencing long-term decline. Although we think the move to lure customers toward its digital offerings makes strategic sense, the near-term impact is being somewhat mitigated by what we view as the cannibalization of Kodak’s film offering”. Business Wekk. ‘Kodak’s Many

Negatives’ by Richard Stice. Consulted 27 Mar 2008. http://www. pi044.htm

The opinions in the cinematography field still diverging between everyone. George Lucas said to the NY Times that negative films are old-fashioned, akward and very expensive. However his collegues as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott keep reluctant and septics with his enthusiasm and prefer shooting with negative films. It will take a while for the industry to be convicted of the possibilities offered by digitalizing all the cinematography process. When all these happen, theatrical projections may be substituted already by digital projection. At this time, camera consumers and society in general will get used with digital support and equipments (this remains to the next item predicted) as well as HDTV (high-definition television) certainly will be in use properly and established by specific region rules. The opinion of this booklet’ author is that the total substitution from film into digital will take around 15 to 20 years yet . 12

Democratizing the Production and Prosumer Realizations McLuhan wrote in 1972 in his book “Take Today” that the arrival of electronic technologic will turn the consumer in producers. In the 1980’s, the futurologist Alvin Toffler nominated the term “prosumer” to describe the mix function between producer and consumer. Currently, with the big amount of specific information provided on the web, a lot of technical publications, increasing of cinema colleges and videographism workshops, there are a improvement of new filmmakers, which in the past would be restrict to a very few people. Today a HDV camera is very accessible and can be purchased by a reasonable price. In the future, with the advance of technology, the simplest camcorders will have features very similar of professional cameras for a very good price. It means that there will be a very good quality in terms of equipments, but not exactly the same about contents and devices. In fact, there is being a prominent discussion about the large amount of homemade production nowadays. Everyone will be able to film their ideas, scripts, opinions and expressions. Big companies will pay attention to videographics realizations made from their own consumers and pick some good works up to diffuse in alternative or conventional medias indeed. A glance of it has happened already at this year of 2008, when a homemade spot created by a iPhone consumer was chosen from YouTube by Apple. Video Music


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will be created by fans and everyone will try different kinds of official music awards, contests and prizes. It will mean less expenses for the phonographic industry at the same time in which approach artists and fans. Compressions, Wireless Distribution and Digital Projection Compression ratios is a very important item to be developed in digital cinematography. Currently, High-End cameras use lossless system which means more quality and consequently more data rate while HDV cameras use lossy compression to decrease data rate without discarding too much information. Broadcast system and prosumers users urge compression to facilitate data transmission and to become more workable in personal computers. In a few years, new compressions systems will be developed allowing better quality with little data rate. When the data rate compression will be decreased and internet will get a higher level of transmission speed, all cameras will not need tapes, flash-memories, hard-disks or any physical devices. Cameras will be connected to the internet and will transmit the files chosen by the director, after analyzing if that was or was not a good clip. Probably, it will be an account to storage all the data files on the web and in every computer which will be accessibly with a specific login code. So, it will be possible to work and to edit in real-time the files storage on the web.

Particularly, Hollywood will use digital distribution to facilitate releases simultaneously around the world, saving costs, instead of doing copies of innumerous print films. At first, theaters will received the “films” in hard disks, and later in a more advanced stage, it will be possible to download all the contents on the web, using specific accounts that will be bought by studios and “film” distributors. Obviously, at this point, digital cinema will have a very good digital projectors with unlimited quality of images and Hollywood will, probably, be worried of not losing its theatrical exhibitions consumers (and money) to internet releases. Perhaps, new sensorial sensations will be produced, like 3D sounds and smell.



C o n c l u s ion

Traditional cinematography is a very wide theme. Its aesthetic language, concepts, theories and studies, critics, market rules, and film production by itself involve a large range of professionals of diverse areas. The cinematography process demands diverse phases, different crews, specific knowledge and a variety of equipments. The arrival of the digital support influences not just the cinematography process but all the social co-related fields like market consumer, legal terms, aesthetic realizations, pos-production tools, theatrical public projection and much more. Analyzing this current time in which happens a real digital revolution, it can be said that the society is in a transition period more o less similar how succeeded with the arrival of the cinema in the beginning of the 20th century and how affected others sort of arts like photography. New technologies’ advent like internet and smart phones will influence completely the cinematography field. If, nowadays, this systems/devices provides exhibition, recorder possibilities, wireless transmissions of data, videos and photos how will the industry be able to keep the audience in the theatrical space? How will be the independent production and how this will affect television, studios and specialized professionals? Who will broadcast copyright realizations? How will be the narrative, and the aesthetic aspect of the new cinematographic language? Digital cinematography is not a isolated phenomena. It must be analyzed near by all digitalization influences like digital photography, new developed tolls, TV (HDTV), internet and other kind of mediums. The convergency of technologies turns difficult to understand a specific field


disassociated it from the others. This booklet was a good exercise to picked up small pieces of this large field in full swing, tried to explain how is and speculate some directions about the future. Not just how a camera works or will work on the stage, but rather than that, how digital cinematography will affect the society in general.


B i b l i o g raphy

Marshall McLuhan. 1994. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The MIT Press. ‘Digital cinematography’. Digital_cinematography. Consulted 12 Mar 2008. Adobe Systems Incorporated. 2007. A Digital Video Primer: Understanding and Using High-Definition Video. ‘Understanding Digital Camera Sensors’. http://www. Consulted 21 Mar 2008. ‘Cinema Digital’. Consulted 27 Mar 2008 Selonk, Aleteia. 2003. Cinema e Novas Tecnologias. Porto Alegre. “Digital Cinema’. Consulted 26 Mar 2008. ‘Cinematography’. Consulted 28 Mar 2008. ‘Prosumer’. Consulted 28 Mar 2008. Dave Liwiller. ‘CCD x CMOS: Facts and Fiction’. http:// Consulted 01 Mar 2008.


‘Understanding Digital Camera Sensors’. http://www. Consulted 01 Mar 2008. Alessandra Campos Pérgola. 2003. ‘O cinema e a produção audiovisual: Um estudo preliminar sobre as novas formas de distribuição na Internet’. .


This booklet was written in TextEdit. All the figures (except for the picture list below) were created by the author of this booklet in Adobe Illustration and Photoshop and laid out in Adobe InDesign. Body text is ‘Diavlo’ and headers was typed with ‘Supernova typeface. List of authorized figures downloaded from: Page 05: LZZZZZZZ.jpg 1207590671&sr=8-1 Page 09: Page 10: profile.svg


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