Digital technologies craft the art of storytelling

A picture is worth a thousand words. Marrying this saying with the advancement of technologies, content producers today have even more tools at their dispense to enhance the art of storytelling, as Josephine Tan writes more.

In the late 1990s, director George Lucas took moviemaking into a new era with his decision to film Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones on digital 24p high-definition video cameras. Shot using the HDW-F900, Sony’s first 24p digital camera, the movie shaped the future of digital cinematography as Locus showcased how digital acquisition is capable of empowering creative minds.

The success of the HDW-F900 ushered in the development of Sony’s CineAlta digital camera series. The range has since expanded to include the F23, F35, F65, F55/F5, as well as Venice, a 6K full-frame digital motion camera.

Equipped with 24x36mm full-frame image capture ability, Venice is able to manage 6K recording in Sony’s 16-bit acquisition format, X-OCN, when paired with its AXS-R7 recorder. To enable filmmakers to create emotion in every frame, Venice is enhanced with image capture in key areas of dynamic range, colour rendition and large-format aspect ratio freedom.

Hiroyuki Takahama, assistant general manager, content creation solutions marketing, professional solutions company (PSAP), Sony Corporation of Hong Kong, tells APB: “Apart from the surging demands from moviemakers for digital motion cameras to create the filmic look, broadcasters are also increasingly ‘upping their game’ to create more filmic looking content for their drama and documentary production to impress their audiences.

“And with the multitude of formats available for acquisition, content producers are given the flexibility to achieve the best possible quality. Moreover, they enjoy the option to re-master in different resolutions and dynamic range, based on the maturity of the media industry and network infrastructure as well as viewers’ preference.”

In Asia-Pacific, there is an escalating demand for bigger 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) and high dynamic range (HDR) TV sets, alongside 4K/UHD and HDR content productions, Takahama points out. “The powerful appeal of HDR constantly drives Sony to enhance our offerings. For instance, we have developed solutions such as the 4K/UHD HDR workflow for our digital cinema cameras — F65 and F55 — that captures 16-bit linear RAW data with high-latitude HDR.”

For TV distribution, he reveals that Sony’s HDC-4300 and HDC-4800 cameras have been well received by media companies. Coupled with the SR Live for HDR workflow, the cameras can create both 4K/UHD HDR and HD SDR pictures based on Sony’s S-Log3 or hybrid log gamma (HLG) format.

And in the area of sports broadcasting, technologies have been empowering broadcasters to deliver live action from the pitch to audiences across the globe. This year, some of the major sports events that will be taking place include the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, and the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

During the broadcast of these sports events, broadcasters are required to provide slow-motion playback so that viewers are able to catch the detailed movement of a particular action replayed in split seconds. In such circumstances, technologies like high frame rate (HFR) allow broadcasters to capture more of the action in frames, resulting in a “smoother” slow-motion replay during sports events, such as a goal scene of a football game, says Takahama.

Suggesting that HFR brings “dyna­mic excitement” of live sports to life in vivid details, he adds: “Today’s TV sports fans demand better-looking pictures, revealing every instant of explosive on-pitch action with clarity, colour and contrast. The adoption of HFR in live sports production reduces judder on moving objects, and motion blur, which is more obvious on larger TV screens, resulting in a generally sharper and smoother image.

“HFR also achieves more satisfying slow-motion footage for playback purposes. The technology enables the creation of slow-motion sequence of key moments in a game, provides broadcasters a platform to analyse athletes’ decisions and unfold the drama during the game, thus delivering bigger returns.”

Sony has also developed a “Super Motion Camera” that is equipped with the ability to capture up to four hours of 4K/UHD video footage, allowing for “complete” slow-motion video coverage of sports games.

Sharing how this “game-changing” technology delivers slow-motion video, Ryosuke Amano, HDC-4800 imaging module designer, Sony Corporation, explains: “What Sony is aiming for is to capture every single moment, even when shot in 4K/UHD at 480fps, so that when all the data recorded by the camera is sent to the processor unit, the colours of the image created will match that of other cameras.

“In sports, for example, the focus is obviously on covering the main action, the scenes where players are moving. But by taking a wider shot and capturing something taking place away from the players, that part too can be cut out to make two videos originating from the same camera.”

For Panavision, the company recently organised a workshop — The Beauty of 8K Large-Format — during the Camerimage International Film Festival of Cinematography, which took place in Bydgoszcz, Poland, from November 11-18 last year.

At the workshop, Panavision discussed the math, science and artistic components to high-resolution and large-format subjects. These topics included the differences between sharpness and resolution, the impact of a wider field of view and less depth of field, as well as the importance of utilitarian benefits that high resolution offers creatives.

Michael Cloni, senior vice-president of innovation, Panavision and Light Iron, elaborates: “Digital image capture has taken a new evolutionary step with the recent deployment of large-format motion picture sensors. Until now, shooting large-format motion was typically reserved for a few specialty film projects, and came with a number of physical and financial challenges.

“But with the new large-format digital sensors deployed by ARRI, Red, and Sony, large format is about to become a common format with a wider reach, which is going to open up a new world of opportunities for cinema­tographers to create images that, in many cases, weren’t even possible until now.”

In this transition to produce large-format images, one of the challenges is to increase the resolution of a sensor, says Cloni. “With increased resolution, there is concern about the impact of the sharpness, contrast and the clarity of an image that could deter from the intended large-format look.”

To allow cinematographers to increase their creative control over the imaging chain, Panavision has launched the Millennium DXL 8K camera. Developed through a collaboration between three companies, the Millennium DXL brings together large-format optics and modular accessories from Panavision, an 8K sensor from Red, and colour science and optimised workflow from Light Iron, Panavision’s post workflow company.

With optics, camera and colour working together as an integrated camera system, the Millennium DXL is able to capture 8K images using the REDCode RAW codec, a visually lossless compression algorithm.

In addition, the camera is able to capture 2K proxy files in the form of Apple ProRes for Avid DNx, which enables a 2K workflow that every production is more acclimated to. With the proxy file engaged, 8K files can be saved for the finish while the 2K files can be used during post, thereby reducing the cost, time, and complexity associated with 8K.

“In all, a better story is often crafted through more creative control. The best technologies should not only serve the creative process, but elevate it in ways that were not previously available,” Cloni concludes.

When it comes to shooting overhead or steady motion video shots, the use of camera cranes has become a reliable choice for many filmmakers. However, the advent of drones has brought forth new possibilities to aerial photography, making the crane-style shot more accessible to video productions of all sizes.

One company who is specialised in utilising drones in aerial filmmaking is Skynamic. Founded in 2012 by Gabriel Manz and Julian Glöckner, the German company has been involved with projects such as Berlin Station, an American drama series, and a TVC shooting for German bank, Commerzbank.

Glöckner says: “Drones are tools directors of photography (DoPs) use for telling stories in a different way, with technology that was not available a few years ago. The drone can be a crane, a dolly in the air. This is a new method to combine several tools in one, while saving time and costs.”

Also a drone camera operator himself, Glöckner explains that the time taken to set up a drone is around 10 minutes, and the DoP is ready to do a crane shot from any place on the set. “It is a tool that is very versatile, opening up the limits for DoPs to come up with more ways to execute a shot than he usually is used to,” he adds.

However, drones have their limits and disadvantages when compared to other tools. For instance, drones have limited flight time and payload, and are dangerous to fly close to people with the spinning rotors, unlike what a crane is capable of doing.

Glöckner elaborates: “DoPs who have not worked with drones before tend to have a complex mindset of how to execute a shot with the drone. They think that drones have the ability to capture the most fantastic movements imaginable, but they forget about the safety aspect, and that the pilot needs to have a visual on the drone.

“So during the creative process, it is important to talk with the DoP and figure out what is possible, to be on the same page. It is always a compromise between the imagined shot, and the technical and physical abilities of the drone.”

Recently, Skynamic embarked on a trip to Morocco to capture aerial shots for a Chinese action film. For this project, the Skynamic team worked in pairs on-site, with a pilot flying the drone, and a camera operator who controls the gimbal and concentrates on the shot.

Attaching an ARRI Alexa Mini camera on an octocopter, Glöckner had to manoeuver the drone steadily through air-down narrow alleys and amid flocks of birds, as well as past low-hanging power lines in varied wind conditions.

“As the production team has been using Alexa cameras throughout the entire shoot, they decided to deploy the Alexa Mini on the drone so as not to compromise quality up in the air,” Glöckner explains. “Dust everywhere, huge differences in temperature between day time and night time, lots of smoke. The conditions were really difficult, but we never had any problems with the camera — Alexa Mini can handle it all.”

ARRI’s Alexa Mini is a 35mm format film-style digital camera, featuring a compact carbon body, and switchable active sensor area. Designed with mounting and shooting options, the Alexa Mini can be operated in a number of ways: by wireless remote control, as a normal camera with the ARRI MVF-1 multi-viewfinder attached, or with an on-board monitor and controlled via the user button interface on the camera body.

Apart from managing 4K/UHD and HFR recording, the Alexa Mini also captures HDR images as ARRI has been equipping the Alexa family with HDR since the introduction of Alexa in 2010.

Marc Shipman-Mueller, product manager, camera systems, ARRI, concludes: “As HDR becomes available in more TV sets, and as more HDR projection systems become available, the industry will continue to explore the best way to transport HDR images from the set to the screen.

“What is important for us is the filmmaker’s ability to preview HDR on set. While this is currently possible, we are working on various improvements to expand on this capability.”


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