Digital Cinema Initiatives

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ASC And DCI Creating Digital Cinema Test Film

LOS ANGELES, (September 24, 2003) - The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) have taken an important step towards producing standardized test material for evaluating the performance of digital projectors and other elements of digital cinema systems. The test is being produced under the auspices of the ASC Technology Committee in partnership with DCI, which represents seven Hollywood film studios.

"Our purpose is to help assure that standards recommended for digital cinema enhance the movie-going experience and maintain the integrity of the art form," says Curtis Clark, ASC, who chairs the organization's Technology Committee. "The test material we are producing will provide a standard way to evaluate the capabilities of digital projectors and compare them to film.

"DCI is excited about working with ASC and it's Technology Committee on this project that will enable us to perform various testing using standardized evaluation material to generate consistent and objective results," noted Walt Ordway, DCI's Chief Technology Officer. "We are also pleased to make this test material available to other companies and organizations for use in their various testing programs."

Clark says that members of DCI and the ASC Technology Committee had an in-depth dialogue before reaching a consensus regarding the original footage needed to adequately "stress test" digital projectors for technical performance and also to compare the emotional impact of digital and 35 mm film. The film sequences they produced will be used as a standard test for evaluating current and future digital projectors.

Members of the ASC Technology Committee agreed on parameters for the test, including nuances in colors, contrast, textures and camera movement.

Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC, who designed the shooting script, says it was a team effort, including Ron Garcia, ASC, Daryn Okada, ASC, Clark, other cinematographers, and associate members of the organization who work in various sectors of the industry.

"I had an idea for a wedding scene that takes place in a 1950s Italian village," Spinotti says. "The bride is dressed in white, the groom in black with different colors in other costumes and backgrounds. The bride and groom and their wedding party come out of a church, walk down a street, around a corner and arrive at a crowded dinner table in the middle of a village square. We planned to film the master shot at least six times in different situations, from dawn to magic hour and also in the rain."

Spinotti says that the scene contains powerful emotional content, and it also includes various challenging situations. He explains that when film images are converted to digital format the files are "compressed" for efficient distribution and handling in digital projection booths. Aggressive camera movement during production can create artifacts if the film isn't properly scanned and projected. The test was designed to shoot with multiple cameras in Super 35 and anamorphic formats, with selected 65 mm shots.

"Up until now, projector manufacturers have selected scenes from existing films to demonstrate products," says Okada. "There was no way of telling whether the source material was negative, interpositive or internegative film, and that makes a big difference. We believe the same source material should be used for all demonstrations and for side-by-side comparisons. Our plan was to scan the negative at 4K now and at higher resolutions in the future, presuming that continuing advances are made in projectors."

The test was filmed on August 26 and 27 in the European Village on the Universal Studios backlot. Peter James, ASC, ACS was the executive producer and Allen Daviau, ASC was cinematographer. Daviau assembled an experienced crew, including cinematographers Roy Wagner, ASC, Michael Negrin, ASC and Peter Anderson, ASC. The A and B cameras were used to record images in Super 35 format, and the C camera carried anamorphic lenses. Anderson operated the 65 mm camera.

One of the 35 mm cameras was on a Technocrane with a 30-foot long telescoping arm, and the others generally tracked on dollies. Daviau created contrast to visually punctuate dramatic moments, and he used color gels to make the light warmer in some shots and cooler in others staged at different times of day and with varying emotional overtones. Daviau also used smoke to diffuse light in one shot, and rain in another.

"We are talking about making a fundamental change in how audiences will experience motion pictures in the future," he says. "It is important to set the standards for digital projection high enough so it properly serves the art form. We don't want to look back someday and regret that we didn't aim high enough or take the time to do it right."

Clark says that ASC and DCI are currently planning the next step, including culling appropriate short scenes from nearly two hours of original footage. Those scenes will be scanned and converted to digital files that will be used to master the standard materials designed to test the performance of digital projectors compared to film.

"I'm extremely pleased at the results of the ASC DCI shoot at this time. The cinematographers exceeded all expectations in the capturing of these images on film. I'm looking forward to a highly technical post-production process where we intend to push the boundaries of digital image processing," said Howard Lukk, DCI's Director of Technology.

"This has been an exhilarating experience," Clark says. "The people who we are working with at DCI are passionate about their mission and determined to do it right. Many ASC members are participating, giving freely of their time and talent. We have had tremendous support from other people and companies. We still have a lot of work to do, but we have already made tremendous progress. I'm optimistic about the future."

Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC (DCI) was created in March, 2002, as a joint venture of Disney, Fox, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios. DCI's primary purpose is to establish and document specifications for an open architecture for digital cinema that ensures a uniform and high level of technical performance, reliability and quality control. DCI will also facilitate the development of business plans and strategies to help spur deployment of digital cinema systems in movie theatres.

The ASC Technology Committee was formed earlier this year. It consists of some 50 cinematographers and technology thought leaders from all sectors of the industry. Clark says the goal is to create an open forum "where some of the best minds in the industry" can exchange ideas about the evolution of film, digital and hybrid technologies for the purpose of recommending standards and practice that enhance the art form.

ASC was founded in 1919 for the main purpose of advancing the art of narrative filmmaking. There are some 215 cinematographers and visual effects artists in the organization today and another 135 associate members who work in allied sectors of the industry.

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Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)(Note: Photos available upon request. Please e-mail

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)photo captions:

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)The creative team that produced the original test footage included (L-R) cinematographers Peter James, ASC, ACS, Allen Daviau, ASC, Roy Wagner, ASC and Michael Negrin, ASC.

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)Allen Daviau samples the light before shooting a sequence for the wedding scene.

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)A film crew at work on the Italian Village backlot at Universal Studios prepares for a tracking shot of the wedding scene with multiple cameras. The test was filmed in 35 mm Super 35 and anamorphic formats with additional 65 mm cinematography.

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)The wedding scene begins with the happy couple leaving the church followed by their friends and family. The bride is dressed in white, the groom in black, with all the colors of the rainbow represented in other costumes and backgrounds.

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)Curtis Clark, ASC (headshot)

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)Dante Spinotti, ASC (headshot)

Daryn Okada, ASC (headshot)