More features now shot on digital than film

This year is likely to be remembered as a pivotal one in the history of filmed entertainment, and hardly anybody seems to be noticing.

Last week the PGA’s mobile committee hosted an event at the Apple store in Century City. There Michael Cioni of post house Light Iron presented some statistics on digital imaging vs. tape vs. film. According to Cioni, 2011 is the year digital capture becomes more popular than film for professionally distributed, narrative filmmaking.

Counting indies, user-generated content, news, gameshows, sports and reality television, digital passed film years ago. And Cioni’s unofficial stats count only the number of titles, not the amount of footage shot. But if he’s right, 2010 will be the last year to see more scripted features shot on film than on some form of digital.

“You can’t make film smaller,” says Cioni. “You can’t make 35mm be 8K resolution, no matter what you do. You can’t have a (film) camera be four pounds. You can’t fit a 400-foot magazine in a smaller space. It can’t improve at the rate Moore’s Law says we can predict technical improvements (in digital).”

But film will linger for a while, he predicts, as a boutique format. What’s really doomed, he says, is tape. Tape resolution is locked in by hardware to “2005 specs,” says Cioni, and it’s being left behind by file-based capture, recorded directly onto hard drives or solid-state storage.

What about the film look? Cioni says that like car buyers, producers now have to consider “look” along with a slew of other factors including efficiency, size and cost.

Cioni said, “If there are people out there, and there are, who want the picture to be the end-all, be-all reason to choose a format to shoot on, they’re going to be the last guys at the Alamo. Because in the world I live in, image quality is not the No. 1 factor. It is cost.”

A Correction and

an Addendum:

In my previous column, I quoted instructions from Terrence Malick to projectionists for “The Tree of Life.” Reader Philippe Theophanidis wrote to point out that I had actually quoted from a news account of the instructions, which included a typo. (He has a copy of the actual Fox Searchlight document on his blog, Aphelis.) I apologize for the error, especially to Mr. Malick and to Fox Searchlight, whose spelling I impugned.

Malick did feel compelled to ask projectionists to actually meet basic standards for digital projection, saying: “Please ensure that the lamps are at proper standard (5400 Kelvin); that they have the right wattage, and they’ve been tested recently so that the foot Lambert level is at standard 14.” But Fox’s Steve Barnett sent me a copy of Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 instructions to projectionists for “Barry Lyndon.” It says, “There should be no less than 15 foot lamberts of light on the screen, and no more than 18.” So concerns about light levels aren’t new, though I have to smile at the thought of a director worrying about his picture being shown too bright. That makes me more nostalgic for the ’70s than “Super 8.”

By the way, here’s some hard evidence that even NATO sees a need to educate its members about best practices in projection, especially for 3D: NATO of California/Nevada and Dolby Labs are teaming on a special workshop for exhibs on what it takes to create the best 3D experience for auds. Workshops will be held July 13 in San Francisco and July 14 in Burbank. Topics include tools and tricks for calibrating theaters, the importance of light levels and do’s and don’ts of 3D movie presentation.

Bits & Bytes

Avid and Adobe are pouncing on users unhappy with the latest version of Apple’s Final Cut Pro app, which dropped some pro features. Adobe Systems announced a switcher program, with a 50% discount on Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe Creative Suite for users who want to ditch Apple’s editing program or Avid Media Composer. Not to be outdone, Avid announced a “crossgrade” special promotion for editors switching to Media Composer from FCP. The Avid and Adobe promotions are both available until Sept. 30. The Topanga Film Fest (July 28-31) is touting its use of the MyndPlay system, which uses a brain-computer interface to allow the viewer to influence the story, direct the plot and affect the ending using nothing but thoughts and emotions. Auds don MyndPlay headsets; MyndPlay system then scans them and adjusts content to their mood. … Headed to ComicCon? ASIFA-Hollywood, Technicolor, the PGA’s New Media Council, 23DX and One Plus Hub are hosting the Comic-Con Beer Bust at the Yard House on July 21 at 6 p.m.The Consumer Electronics Assn. has launched its “Declaration of Innovation,” an online pledge Americans can sign in support of the CEA’s tech policy positions. Pledge supports the rights of U.S. innovators to buy and sell their products globally; expanding wireless broadband; “welcoming the best and bright and brightest minds to the United States”; and cutting the Federal deficit.

Marcus Theaters has pacted with with Cinedigm Digital Cinema to deploy d-cinema projection systems in about 630 Marcus screens at 47 locations. Agreement covers 64 previously converted screens. … Cineplex Entertainment has settled on Christie as its exclusive digital projector provider and Doremi Cinema as its exclusive server and media block provider. Cineplex will install d-cinema projection systems in more than 900 theaters over the next 18 months in addition to the 450 already installed. That will completely digitize the circuit. … Christie has passed 20,000 d-cinema projectors installed worldwide. … Toho Cinemas of Japan and Les Cinemas Gaumont Pathe, France’s largest theater operator, have chosen MasterImage 3D for their theaters. Toho is Japan’s biggest multiplex operator with 58 cinemas and 520 screens. The Gaumont chain has 740 screens in France, 147 in the Netherlands and 70 in Switzerland. Gaumont installations will begin with the Gaumont Marignan and Gaumont Ambassade on the Champs Elysees. … Engineering services and equipment provider Callahan Digital Cinema has completed its 1,000th d-cinema projector installation. Callahan has named NEC as its preferred projector provider. … Dolby has launched kid-sized Dolby 3D glasses. The new specs, which come with Sensormatic and RFID tags, list at $12 when purchased with a Dolby 3D bundle.

3D television coverage of the Wimbledon tennis tourney was shot with five Element Technica 3D rigs mounted with Sony digital cameras. CG prooduction manager Chris Blake and lead animator Eric Meister have joined Calabash Animation. Blake was most recently academic director at Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago, and his credits include stints at Post Effects of Chicago and Film Garage in London. Meister’s credits include art direction on indie docu “On The Shoulders of Giants.” Calabash also announced it is ramping up, adding workstations and software licenses. …

Light Iron has appointed Des Carey VP of post production for its new Hollywood location. Carey was most recently at Company 3, where he was a senior digital intermediate producer and vfx supervisor. His credits include “300” and Terminator: Salvation.” … Big Block, the digital production and design studio in Santa Monica, has added vfx supervisor Chris Noellert, executive producer Pete King and software development director Gary Vick. Big Block’s recent credits include the show open and launch promo for National Geographic Channel’s skein “Indestructibles.” … Design and production company Superfad created graphic elements for docu “Project Nim” (Roadside Attractions/HBO Documentary Films). … New Zealand based Huhu Studios has signed a “multi-million dollar” production deal with Big Idea Entertainment to produce content for the VeggieTales DVD series. Under the deal Huhu will produce six new direct to video VeggieTales toons in the next two years. … … Look Effects has moved from its longtime location in the El Capitan building in Hollywood to more spacious digs on L.A.’s Westside. New HQ at 12910 Culver Blvd. almost doubles Look’s space. Look’s recent feature credits include “Captain America,” “Green Lantern,” “Black Swan” and “Fast Five.” TV credits include “Bones,” “CSI: NY” and the final season of “Lost.” … Ubiquity Broadcasting Corp.’s 30,000-sq.ft. 3D digital production facility in Irvine, Calif. is fully operational. Ubiquity founder/CEO Chris Carmichael said “Our goal is to move the center of gravity for content creation 50 miles south to the heart of Orange County.” … Cinegy and AQB Argentina are partnering to bring Cinegy Workflow tools to Latin America. Cinegy’s suite of tools includes Ingest, Archive, Editing, On-Air Graphics and content management.

The Foundry has released Nuke 6.3 and Mari 1.3v2. … SmartSound has introduced plug-ins for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects. … Red Giant has released Magic Bullet Suite 11. Magic Bullet software includes color correction, enhancement and film output. New tools in the suite include Cosmo, a tool for skin smoothing and cosmetic effects, and Grinder, for transcoding DSLR and HDSLR footage for editing. … Assimilate has shipped Scratch Lab, its digital lab app for Mac and Windows.

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