More and more of our lives seem to go digital nowadays. Digital television
replacing regular television, digital radio replacing your standard FM/AM tuner,
digital camera and digital video replacing their analogue counterparts.
One bastion of the analog, however, has been the cinemas . Sure - quite
a few films, beginning with smash hits such as Toy Story and Dinosaur
are created almost exclusively digitally, culminating in realistic masterpieces
such as Shrek. However, when you go to see it at your local cinema, the film
that runs through the projector is still your average 35mm film most of the
The recording process
Star Wars:Episode II, the Attack of the Clones, for example, was shot exclusively
using digital video cameras. This has an environmental gain (see vegan
photography), but if you know the cost of recording one hour of "real"
film, you realize how much there is to be gained from shooting digital instead.
For small, independent productions, the choice between digital or film can
mean a massive price difference - In hollywood, even though the digital
video cameras and lenses are slightly more expensive than the film cameras,
the removal of film means that the actual shooting cost is next to nothing.
As a general rule, 1 hour of 35mm cinema film (including developing)
costs about 8000 US dollars. In comparison, 1 hour of high quality digital
video tapes costs less than 75 US dollars.
Another advantage of shooting digital is that the results can be seen right
away. That way, the director and producers can decide right away if the
shot is the way they want it, rather than to get nasty surprises after the
film has been developed.
Of course, there is a problem, too: Film and video has a massive difference
in "feel". For one thing, the frame rates are different (24 fps
/ 30 fps), but the technology are also vastly different - the data capturing,
the depth of field and the lens capabilities are different. Most producers
agree that even 8mm film has a lot going for it in the competition with
digital video, because film just looks prettier!
However, there are high-end digital video cameras that will mimick the progressive
mode (i.e shoot entire frames instead of interlaced frames) 24 fps that
is common for cinema work. In Attack of the Clones, Sony F900 HDCAM
digital video recorders were used, shooting with extremely expensive Fujinon
(Fuji) and Panavision (Panasonic) lenses.
Digital editing is already used in most Hollywood productions, for adding
effects et cetera. It makes perfect sense to shoot digitally, because transferring
all the image (and sound) data to the editor's desks (see Avid Symphony
for details on digital video editing) takes less time. Also, even though
digital video has less resolution than film, with digital video, you don't
have to convert the footage twice, as you have to with film footage. This
means that the drop in resolution is almost countered, and that the quality
is approximately the same.
It is commonly accepted that the quality of digital video is not yet up to
Film standards, but it is slowly getting closer. If you have seen Attack
of the clones (which was, upsampled to 6 megapixels per frame before it
was written back to film for showing in theatres), chances are that you
couldn't tell that you were watching something other than film.
In the final stage of the editing, after upsampling the entire film (we are
now talking about 120 minute s of film, 24 frames a second at 6 megapixels
- in other words a roughly a terabyte of finished picture data. In addition
you will have five channel sound thoughout the entire movie, which means another
few terabytes of information), several filters are ran over the picture
data, to make it look even more like film.
The showing process
All of this is nice for tech-freaks, but the average cinema-goer won't
care. We just want to see the damn movie. This is where another digital
advantage rears its head: picture stability. Have you ever been to a movie
that has been running for a while? When you look in the light areas, you see
millions of tiny specs of dust, scratches and blemishes, from the film being
ran through the projectors hundreds of times. Digital film - like CDs, DVDs
and all other digital media - stays the same every time it is played.
Because the pictures cannot be shown digitally yet, because neither the projection
quality or the standards of the cinemas is good enough. To tackle this, the
footage is transferred back to film to be shown in theatres in the conventional
Per today, digital projection systems are good enough for living rooms
and office applications, but for the brightness and size a movie theatre
makes up, the technology is still pushing it. Three-colour (like those three-eyed
monsters you see in pub s, you know) and single-lens LCD projectors are
quickly developing, but are not quite there yet. JVC is currently being backed
by several major picture studios, to intensify the development in these technologies. Another exciting technology is Digital Light Processing
(read more about it in that node - this is likely to be the "killer app" for digital cinema.
George Lucas is hoping that for the last Star Wars film - Episode 3 - that
the technology will be good enough for the film to be shown completely digitally.
... Who knows. All I can say is that I feel it will be very exciting, and
it is highly likely to be fully digital within 5 or 6 years.. Bring on those