Digital growth forces rethink of old roles

Steven Poster says biz needs to manage evolution

As anyone who follows Variety’s tech coverage knows, one of the consequences of the digital revolution is the blurring of traditional job functions.

Matte painting on glass is extinct; matte painters are digital artists now. With digital set extensions and all-CG shots and scenes, the visual effects realm overlaps with production design and cinematography. Some of what used to be vfx is now done by colorists in digital intermediate. Editors at their Avids can now do effects that used to be the province of f/x or opticals. Compositing, once an obscure f/x process, is on its way to being as powerful and creative as editing or DI. And with the latest advances in lightfield capture, even basic jobs like camera operator and focus puller are likely to evolve, if not disappear.

But as Steven Poster, prexy of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild noted Monday at Variety’s Film Technology Summit, existing job titles are enshrined in union contracts, work rules and best practices hammered out over a century. And that’s a problem, because the filmmaking process that spawned those definitions and rules is fading into history.

Poster called for an industrywide consortium similar to the Digital Cinema Initiative to look at the on-set workflow and find new, flexible definitions and rules.

“We need to develop a flexible concept of what the work is going to be over the next three years,” he told Variety offstage, “because it’s going to change, and we can’t lock ourselves into something that isn’t going to have some flexibility to it.”

The DCI spec that Poster cited as an example, less than a decade old, is already showing its age. There’s been talk of a DCI 2.

“I think that every certain number of years you’re going to have to do this because it’s changing so rapidly,” Poster said. He said the pace of change has forced the ICG to constantly retrain its members, like never before.

Among the new challenges that demand new standards, he said, is 3D exhibition. Poster said he’s recently discussed with a studio the idea of exhibition standards, because the 3D golden goose could be killed by dark, muddy projection.

“If there are no standards… you’re going to get mom-and-pop theaters, you’re going to get small chains, and everyone has their own standards, instead of everyone saying, ‘Let’s work toward this.’?”

3D’s fuzzy math

Speaking of 3D, I have another rant on 3D exhibition.

Since I cover 3D, I’ve accumulated a handful of reusable circular-polarized 3D glasses, which are an upgrade vs. standard recyclable RealD glasses. My family and I used them at the preem of “Immortals” Monday night and all of us enjoyed the 3D experience.

The next night we went to a screening of Sony’s 3D “Arthur Christmas” at Pacific Theaters’ The Grove in L.A. The Grove uses the Xpand active glasses system. We’ve had so many bad experiences with 3D at multiplexes — especially at theaters using the Xpand system — that we habitually arrive early to get good seats and check the glasses for dirt and broken lenses.

The lenses on our glasses were intact but filthy. After 10 minutes of effort and expending most of a bottle of lens cleaner, one pair remained hopelessly smeared and gritty, so I went out to ask for a different pair.

The theater employees were unsurprised.

“People’s greasy fingers from the butter,” one said.

In a few moments, they found me a less greasy pair, cleaned it further, and I was able to enjoy the movie.

My question for studios, distributors and exhibitors: What portion of your customers think to check their glasses the way I do? How many end up squinting at your nine-figure tentpole through a slick of butter and salt?

Now let me say, my family and I enjoyed “Arthur Christmas” and we ended up with no complaints about the 3D. But as an observer of the industry, I think it’s insane for theaters to charge people a premium then hand them dirty glasses.

As a customer, moreover, I sometimes find myself feeling about movie theaters the way I do about the people who send me Nigerian bank scam emails. I doubt I’m alone. I don’t think this is how you want us to feel when we ponder how to spend my entertainment dollars.

Bits & Bytes

The Cinema Audio Society has added scoring mixers to its awards lineup, with categories for Motion Pictures, TV Movie and Miniseries/DVD Original. … The NAB Show will again sponsor the Hollywood Post Alliance’s Engineering Excellence Award.

Panavision has branched out from its entertainment role with its Dynamax-11 CMOS image sensor, which it says will be useful for machine vision and industrial applications such as traffic systems, security, surveillance and scientific imaging — as well as HD camcorders.

Christie is staking a claim to leadership on high frame rates among projector makers. They announced a high frame rate (HFR) projector system at IBC in September and at ShowEast they announced a HFR upgrades for their Solaria Series projectors. Christie is also partnering with movie helmers to nurture HFR and establish standards. … Christie has also pacted with Landmark Cinemas, the largest independently owned theater chain in Western Canada, to digitize more than 100 Landmark screens with Solaria Series projectors.

Gravity produced more than 200 vfx shots for Universal’s “Tower Heist,” including digital set extentions, CG buildings, digital matte paintings and simulations. … Company3 and Method Studios, both Deluxe companies, collaborated on the post for “Tower Heist.” Companies share a Gotham address and were able to share common servers and projectors, speeding up and simplifying vfx and DI. … Luma Pictures created visual effects for “In Time.” Pic marked Luma’s fifth collaboration with d.p. Roger Deakins. … Culver City-based Zoic is providing effects for new skein “Once Upon a Time.” …

The Foundry has launched the commercial version of Katana look development and lighting software. Industrial Light & Magic concurrently purchased a site license for Katana 1.0. Katana was originally developed as proprietary software by Sony Pictures Imageworks. … The Foundry has also released Ocula 3.0, a “significant upgrade” to its stereoscopic plugin for compositing package Nuke. … Digital Domain has standardized on Tweak’s RV and RV-SDI software for collaborative review of images and footage, including dailies, throughout its studios. DD will integrate RV into its own proprietary dailies system. … Soh VFX of Toronto has purchased a 100-seat license for Southpaw Technology’s Tactic workflow-management software. … Luxion has released a KeyShot plugin for PTC Creo 1.0. … Blackmagic Design announced Desktop Video 9.0 with support for Avid Media Composer 6, including Symphony and NewsCutter. … Avid and Thought Equity Motion have also struck an exclusive partnership to link editing workflows with cloud-based licensing and storage services. Thought Equity Motion’s services will be offered in the Avid marketplace, and Avid users will be able to search, preview and download millions of hours of library footage from directly within Media Composer projects. …

Vancouver-based 3D conversion company Gener8 received a C$1.5 million funding round. … MasterImage 3D and Chimei Innolux Corp. are partnering to show glasses-free 3D on a 4.3″ smartphone. Autostereo screen uses MasterImage’s proprietary Cell-Matrix Parallax Barrier technology and shows 720p resolution. … Speedshape officially launched its 3D Stereo Film Division with 2D-to-3D conversion work on “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.”

Maxon has a new Exchange plug-in that allows artists to import directly from Adobe After Effects into Cinema 4De-on Software is shipping Vue 10, an update to its “digital nature” solution, “in early November.” … Nvidia and VMWare have struck a strategic partnership to enable remote delivery of high-end, workstation-class virtual desktops and applications for artists, engineers and scientists. … Assimilate has launched an online store for its Scratch production and vfx workflow tool. Store will include third-party soft
ware and selected hardware accessories. … Cinedeck has announced version 2.5 of its Cinedeck EX portable, multi-format, recording, monitoring and playback system.

Speaker maker Audez’e has unveiled their new Realty-1 nearfield studio monitor for recording studios and other pro environments. Audez’e uses planar magnetic driver technology.

Paradise FX has launched its Helios 3D rig for native 3D shooting. … D.p. Rhonda Dorsett of the Phoenix Group chose Litepanels LED fixtures for interviews and footage surrounding a Harry Chapin tribute concert timed for the 30th anniversary of the singer-songwriter’s death. …

Ingenuity Engine created 125 stereoscopic vfx shots for “A Ver Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.” Company’s vfx supervisors David Lebensfeld and Grant Miller. … “Pixeldust Studios produced over 1000 animations for the four-part “Nova” series “The Fabric of the Cosmos.” … Steele Studios has delivered more than 60 elements for the on-air 3D graphics package for 3D TV network 3Net. …

Wealth TV covered the Viva Don King World Championship Fight Card with Panasonic AG-3DA1 cameras. WealthTV is using 15 of the cameras around the world. … Panasonic has released 42″ and 50″ versions of its BT300 professional plasma reference monitors, aimed at applications where color accuracy and 3D rendering are essential. … Daniel Lynch is the new general manager of Xytech’s London office. He will lead sales and operations for company’s growing European customer base. … Cinesite has opened pre-registration for its Inspire internship program for students with an interest in computer programming or technical effects. …