Category Archives: Digital Cinema

UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network – Looking Back 10 Years On

Steve Perrin

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the UK Film Council awarding the contract for the setting up and running of the Digital Screen Network (DSN) to Arts Alliance Media (AAM), following a competitive tender process. The DSN was arguably the first large-scale digital cinema roll-out that aspired to conform to the specifications that were still in being formulated by DCI in Hollywood. [Full disclosure: I assisted in the evaluation process as a consultant.] Spearheaded by Steve Perrin and Pete Buckingham the DSN sought to promote the distribution of a wider range of films in a wider range of cinemas for UK audiences everywhere. The DSN arguably paved the way for the subsequent mass digitisation of UK cinema industry and started exhibitors on the learning curve that was necessary to fully comprehend what was at stake. For Steve’s achievements after a lifetime in the industry he was awarded an MBE for services to the UK cinema industry in this year’s New Year’s Honours List. Here he looks back on the experience of shepherding this critical project and its subsequent legacy. – PvS

You two must be mad. It’ll never work. What a waste of public money.

                                                                       - Unnamed UK industry academic.

What a great idea. We applaud you.

                                                                     - Unnamed Hollywood studio executive.

Embarking upon a scheme to digitise over 200 screens in the UK in the mid 2000’s was a daunting task. DCI was still working on their technical recommendations, and exhibitors were still yet to grasp the fact that digital cinema was their inevitable future. In short, it was an uphill struggle. What kept Pete and I motivated was twofold.

First, it was the best scheme that we could imagine to fulfil the brief that we had been given by the UKFC Board; a wider range of films in a wider range of cinemas. Second, whereas our aims did not revolve around the promotion of digital cinema ‘per se’, we knew that it was coming and that the DSN presented a unique opportunity for the industry to begin take on board the ramifications that such a change would bring about.

Thus, we set of a journey that might not just be valuable for the industry, but to ourselves in terms of learning and fully appreciating the complex factors involved.

Needless to say, there were a number of ‘naysayers’ that said that it could not be done; that the industry did not need and would never convert to digital and that had set ourselves out on a fool’s errand. In addition, it was claimed by other detractors that all we were doing was to subsidise the studios and big cinema chains and that they should be doing it themselves. No real surprises there; the key point that we were doing this for audiences was totally missed by such commentators. Fortunately, such comments were in the minority, and basically confined to those who made their living from the public purse. Still arrows in the back are always expected by those that start something new and innovative…

More surprising though was the support and enthusiasm that we received from the major US studios when we explained our plans to them. Whereas the DSN strategy was not directly aimed at them, they appreciated what we were planning and offered every support and advice that we might need. Contrary to some in the UK that thought that we were wasting our time, the studios understood immediately what we were attempting to achieve and supported it whole-heartedly. Read More »

Laser, the Next Big Digital Transition as the Xenon Lamp Fades Away

NEC laser projector

This year (2015) is definitively the year the world became completely digital as Sundance Film Festival announced that not one film shown was on celluloid-film. Most of the major markets are now completely digital. If you listen carefully, you can hear tens of thousands of cinema owners letting out a sigh of relief as they think now that the transition is over they can forget about it for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately this is not the case.

The use of lasers as a light source has been an interesting topic for many years. It has taken a change in government restrictions/regulations to put a rocket under laser, and it is literally taking off. We now have Barco and Christie with LPF (Large Premium Format) offerings. But more importantly, it is the NEC BPP (Blue Pump Phosphor) that is of most interest.

Recently Bill Beck, now at Barco, did a detailed techical presentation of Laser for SMPTE. After watching this presentation and a number of follow up Emails, it became clear to me that BPP-based laser projectors would flood that market in 2015.

NEC has shown BPP-Laser works well with small screen solutions.  This year we will see the next generation of BPP-Laser projectors based on more effective Blue Lasers allowing BPP-Laser based projectors to replace small, medium and potentially large cinema projectors. It was also made very clear that Xenon, at current prices, would quickly be overtaken by laser, making Xenon solutions obsolete.

This leads to a realisation of another equipment transition. If projector vendors stop making Xenon projectors, this would eventually lead to Xenon lamps no longer being manufactured, and we are back to a similar situation to film.

Read More »

EDCF Guide Highlights Film Festivals’ Digital Nightmares

EDCF Film Festivals guide

The European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF) has just published ‘The EDCF Guide for Film Festivals in the Digital Age.’ The free guide, available to download on the EDCF website (PDF link) was created based on feedback from professionals responsible for running major international film festivals in the post-film age. Because while most of the technical wrinkles have been ironed out from regular digital cinema operations in cinemas and multiplexes, this is far from the case for film festivals.

The opening of the Guide, which, to give it its full title, includes the sub-heading “- technical operations, theatrical solutions and recommended practices”, makes clear exactly for what and whom it is aimed:

This is a beginner’s guide for people who are dealing with festivals in the evolutionary digital age. It is for operators, engineers, planners, managers, and everyone who has an interest in the long life of film festivals.

As Antoine Virenque, President of EDCF stressed in the Guide’s Foreword, “One of the aims of EDCF is to bring practical information to our members in the film industry. That is the purpose of this guide.” It follows in the footsteps of several previous EDCF guides, such as the ‘Guide to Digital Cinema Mastering’, ‘The EDCF Guide to Alternative Content for Digital Cinema’ and ‘Technical Guide for the Projection Booth in Digital Cinema.’

Typically these guides are written by leading digital cinema practitioners and companies from across Europe [and Jim Whittlesey] who share their expertise, experience and insights. In the case of the Film Festivals Guide the guiding spirit has been Angelo D’Alessio, who has been active with the Venice Film Festival and other events that have faced problems relating to the new digital realities.

With analogue film being a rarity at almost all film festivals showing new films – and even many showing restored and remastered archive films – the Guide is timely given the large number of problems film festival staff encounter with what can often at best be politely described as half-baked DCPs (digital cinema packages) and equipment often temporarily installed. The Guide is helpfully divided into sections that can be used even as stand-alone aids: ‘Understanding Key Terminology’, ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, ‘Words of Warning’ (including ‘Lessons Learned’) and ‘Quality Management System (QMS)’.

Read More »

CJ@IBC ‘Immersive Audio – from the big screen to the small screen’

image

Julian Pinn (Julian Pinn Ltd.) says the industry in embracing immersive audio at a fast rate, at least if compared to the uptake of digital audio in cinemas in the 1990s. He invites the panel to stage in turn and opens up the session. No powerpoints. Instead Julian promises to be a ‘fair’ moderator and give each speaker his turn. (The balance between Atmos, Auro and DTS is fair, in terms of time, though Skywalker Sound is given the most time.)

“There is a real hunger that people are prepared to pay for a premium cinema experience,” which includes better audio, says Pinn as he kicks off the panelists’ five minute each.

Brian Claypool (Barco BV) says Barco is not known for audio, but once digital cinema projector deployments were well underway they asked cinemas what was next. Atmos and other Barco initiatives (Escape et al) is what the result of that feedback was. “We don’t want to re-invent the wheel, we want to create something tangible of value to exhibitors,”  says Claypool of Auro. “We need to keep the interest of cinema at the forefront of what we do. Not many people have Barco projectors in the home.” [Do I etect tension with Auro in the home?] Stresses importance of unified workflow.

Stuart Bowling (Dolby Laboratories) stresses that “audio is our background and we had different approach” to immersive audio. “5.1 is not enough. Creatively the movie makers we spoke to felt it was holding them back.” He goes on an elaborates, “With digital cinema we had greater bandwidth and uncompressed audio, which gave greater potential. We had to create tool sets, we had to create new ecosystem.” The starting point was with a ProTool plug-in and worked with mixers.

Gerard Loupias (DTS) – Pinn asks if DTS didn’t exit cinemas and why is it getting back in? Loupias says “we want to do immersive audio without restrictions and by ‘restrictions’ we mean costs. This is why DTS is offering an ‘open’ format.” He says if a cinema has 20 screens it cannot afford to make them all immersive because of the cost. Points out that all of them on the panel “love sound”. Says that Auro and Atmos “are the same idea.” Emphasizes that this is aso an issue for broadcast and the home. Says that their tools are available from the likes of Fairlight.

Read More »

CJ@IBC ‘Doug Trumbull Keynote – An Odessey of Cinematic Innovation’

image

“There is no more appropriate visionar than Doug Trumbull to have as our keynote,” Julian Pinn says as he opens the IBC Big Screen Keynote session, listing Trumbull’s many cinematic achievements, ranging from being responsible for the groundbreaing visual effects for ’2001 a Space Odessey’ and ‘Star Trek the Motion Picture’  to writing and directing ‘Silent Running’ and ‘Back to the Future: the Ride’.

Trumbull begins by thanking the team behind the scenes. (I know that this presentation was particularly bleading edge and that the last 48 hours had been frantic in getting it all together.) He talks about his life-long fascination with science-fiction and how he liked panoramic paintings, but got frustrated that they didn’t move – hence he got into film.

From the beginning it was always the largest of screns that held the greatest fascination for him. “I was disapointed when the giant screen experience went away and they got chopped into multiplexes. 70mm production largely ended,” and this was tough for him, Trumbull admitted. Anyone who has seen a 70mm presentation of ’2001′ can probably understand his sentiment. He then switched his focus to World Fairs and Expos as a substitute for he big screen experience.

The Life and Times of a VFX Wizard

By way of introduction to his body of work and cinematic vision he then screens a short film and history which charts his journey from ’2001′ all the way to his Magi process and Trumbull Studios, with cameos by the likes of Roger Ebert, Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner extolling his virtues. He then switches back to explaning how he arrived at the 70mm Showscan process in the late 70s/early80s, which he had wanted to use for his film ‘Brainstorm’, and how this in turn then led him to Magi in the present day.

“We lost track of something a long time ago when we transitioned from silent films with hand cranked cameras – we called them ‘the flicks’ for the flickering – to 24fps to accomodate the optical soundtracks. We have never insreased it since then,” Trumbul bemoans, even as color and other innovations were added. “Unfortunatelly people are now migrating away from the cinema experience, because the convenience of tablets outweighs the inconvenience of going out to the movies.”

He says that the Hollywood studios think they have the tiger by the tail… so they prefer a commonality of formats that works for cinema and television. But Trumbull sees this as a false economy if it dilutes the cinematic experience. Studios also don’t invest in R&D, prefering to leave that to manufacturers, he observes. This left him in a quandry.

Trumbull Studios

“My wife and I decided we have to do it ourselves, so we had to build the stage, bum every camera and light we could get our hands on and put together this UFOTOG film as cheaply as possibly,” Trumbull explains, bringing us into the present with his latest work. “Instead of the two cameras shooting in sync, they shoot sequentially, [and thus] they achieve 120fps for the same price as 60fps.” It is the same (Threality) rig that Jim Cameron and Peter Jackson use, with Cannon cameras. “This captures 100% of the action that goes on in ront of the camera and 120 frames of unique fields of action,”Trumbull explains.

Read More »

CJ@IBC EDCF Global Update

image

The EDCF annual IBC gathering is a smorgasbord of information about the latest developments in the digital cinema industry. More speakers than time, so without further ado, Dave Monk kicks it off handing over to the first speaker.

David Hancock (IHS) – “9 1/2 years I’ve been doing this slide,” Hancock said, “and in 12-18 months there won’t be the grey bar any more because analogue will be gone.” There are still a handful of territores where there is analogue (Turkey, Baltic States, Latin America). “Technlogy is now the currency driving cinema,” and that’s what he is focusing on today. Hard drives dominate still, even though some territories like Fance it only accounts for 1/3. But that’s all set to change. Most of the focus for DCP delivery today is on broadband, but that and satellite co-exist.

Ymagis takeovers of dcinex and Smartjog has created one major entity. That’s the biggest change in the last year. “The market is concentrating down to a few players,” such as Deluxe, Unique and Ymagis. “But as an exhibitor, how many suppliers do you want i your site?” Some countries have just one supplier for all sites.

Laser projection – some consumers cite lack of brightness as reason for not going to see 3D. It has not been proven to work, “but what we have now is the first generaton and not what it will be shipped to cinemas.” IHS predicts 100-200 this year and 400-500 in 2015, but mainly smaller projectors. “Laser is inectricably linked to the replacemnt [cycle] of the first generation of digital cinea projector.” Business model is needed for replacement machinery – there is no VPF for laser replacement, Hancock highlights.

Audio – “Recently the sector has re-discovered competition after a decade of lack of competition.” 1,500 screens equipped with Atmos or Auro by the end of 2014. But there is now focus on the home evironment, as well as markets such as automotive (cars). Where does it all lead, ancock asks. Premium cinema, particularly large format, is the answere Hancock notes. “Technology pushes the premium experience,” he observes. 1.,401 PLF screens 1h 2014 with IMAX capturing 45%. Conclusion: may you live in interesting times.

There is a tension between technology and cinema. “The cycle of technology does not match the technology of cinema.” Last observation particularly interesting: “physical decline [DVD etc.] ups cinema in Europe: the value chain increasingly underpinned by cinema.”

John Hurst (Cinecert) – First slide asks ‘Is Ten Years Too Long’ but his topic is the state of [digital cinema] equipment in the field. It looks like cinemas here in Europe are better maintained than cinemas in US in temrs of receiving SMPTE DCPs. You have to keep your software up to daye in your digital cinema server to take advantage of all new features – not just bells-and-whistles ad-ons.

He then calls Rich Philips from Arts Alliance (AAM) up to stage. AAM have spun off most of their digital cinema business, but they still have the digital cinema software technology. The message from Richard is that verisoning is not too bad in Eurpe, but that education is an issue, with most exhibitors clueless that there is another hurdle that needs to be jumped through. “That’s all I have to sya really.”

Chris Witham (Disney) is then called to stage by Hurst. He jams through it in two minutes. “For people to keep coming back to cinemas, we have to offer the best experience possible.” He then discusses Disney’s transition plan to SMPE DCPs with 2015 the target date.

Read More »

IBC 2014 Big Screen Experience – Q&A With Exec Producer Julian Pinn

 

Douglas Trumbull

Keynote speaker Doug Trumbull (not Julian Pinn)

With digital cinema conversion completed in most of the world, this year the IBC Big Screen Experience (running 12-15 September in Amsterdam’s RAI) has be re-vamped extensively to focus on the latest issues facing the industry. Sessions such as EDCF have been moved from their traditional slot (now Sunday evening, followed by drinks) and new areas of coverage introduced.

Significantly the Big Screen Experience conference strand will be completely free to anyone attending the IBC trade show, which means that anyone can come and hear leading industry experts discussing the issues affecting the industry today and tomorrow at no extra cost. There is also the traditional Hollywood blockbusters, only this year it’s Apes with both Atmos and lasers, also free (thanks to 20th Century Fox) as part of #IBCbigscreen

Celluloid Junkie caught up with industry veteran Julian Pinn (founder and consultant for Julian Pinn Ltd) who is the Executive Producer for this year’s Big Screen conference, to ask him what those planning to attend should make room for in their no-doubt packed IBC diaries.

Celluloid Junkie: This is the first year that IBC’s Big Screen conference stream is free to all attendees of the show, what’s behind this change?

Julian Pinn: For IBC registered delegates, the IBC Big Screen Experience is indeed a free-to-attend programme of carefully curated, editorially lead conference sessions, exhibitor product demonstrations, and Big Screen movies. The minimum IBC registration one needs to gain access to the Big Screen Experience is an Exhibition Visitor Pass, which itself is free if booked before 21 August 2014. This is an initiative by IBC to add value to the overall IBC experience and to remove barriers and complexity to those who are looking to make the most out of their busy schedule during the entirety of IBC2014.

CJ:  Is there a theme running through all the sessions?

JP:  IBC Big Screen in recent years has focussed on the transition to Digital Cinema. With Digital Cinema done and dusted in most parts of the world, this year’s IBC Big Screen conference is looking at the disruption taking place in cinema and the wider industries:

- disruption due to a wealth of scientific innovation that digital has unlocked, and what that means to the artists’ abilities to create new stories and to move their audiences in more powerful ways, and

- disruption due to the new entrants, new commercial realities, and new ways of doing business not only within the cinema business but within the wider industry from big screen to small screens.

CJ:  What new issues and topics will be discussed at this year’s Big Screen?

JP:  Not a quick answer I’m happy to say! The conference kicks off this year on Friday afternoon when we will be asking for the first time if the Big Screen and Second Screens can coexist peacefully and profitably—experiencing first-hand the technologies from Shazam and Cinime.

Saturday will feature a mixture of sponsored sessions, from Red and ARRI, with a couple of editorial sessions new to IBC in recent years. The first is on Event Cinema—a new sector to the business that is predicted to grow to 5% of the overall global cinema box office by 2015; we will be seeing examples and discussing important questions about the challenges of merging the two disciplines of broadcast and cinema from technological, artistic, and commercial perspectives.

Read More »

The Cannes Film Festival Overcomes Its Digital Dilemma

2014 Cannes Film Festival
As the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival came to a close last week, artistic director Thierry Fremaux scheduled a last minute press conference so that journalists from around the world could speak with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The director was visiting the festival for a 20th anniversary screening of his second feature, “Pulp Fiction”, which premiered at Cannes in 1994 and won its top prize, the Palm d’Or. It’s a safe bet nobody predicted the lead story coming out of Tarantino’s 48 minutes with journalists would be about digital cinema and serve to underscore the learning curve film festivals are grappling with when it comes to the new technology.

Yet, every year in Cannes there is at least one press conference where a filmmaker or actor says something that gets tossed into the media echo chamber and published around the globe en masse. Director Lars von Trier’s comments about Nazis a few years back are a perfect case in point. In 2014, the honor went to Tarantino, whose animated, hyperactive Cannes press conferences are the stuff of legend. This year he managed to bolster his Cannes cred after negative comments he made about digital cinema were turned into headlines by every major media outlet in all languages.

As Fremaux pointed out while introducing Tarantino, the filmmaker’s name is closely tied to Cannes and the year “Pulp Fiction” won the Palm d’Or is an important milestone in the festival’s history. That is why Tarantino was asked to participate in a press conference, an activity usually reserved for filmmakers with movies premiering in Cannes. Fremaux also noted that “Pulp Fiction” was the only title in the festival to be projected using 35mm film. “Everything else is DCP, digital,” Fremaux reported. “But obviously we wanted this film to be shown in 35mm.”

With that said, it didn’t take long for Tarantino to turn his attention, not to mention his ire, toward digital cinema. “As far as I’m concerned digital projection and DCPs is the death of cinema as I know it,” Tarantino proclaimed. “The fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost. Digital projection, that’s just television in public. Apparently the whole world is okay with television in public, but what I knew as cinema is dead.”

After comments such as that, you can only imagine how many headlines screamed “Tarantino Declares Cinema Is Dead”. More than likely you’ve already seen a few of the thousands of stories in which the filmmaker’s comments on the subject are extensively quoted.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going through a woozy romantic period with the ease of digital and I’m hoping while this generation is completely hopeless that the next generation will demand the real thing,” he continued. “I’m very hopeful that future generations are much smarter than this generation and realize what they’ve lost.”

Read More »

China’s ‘Last Mile’ Plan for Digital Cinema: Ditch Western Technology

Sun Xiaobin

Is Chen Xing the biggest and most important digital cinema company that you’ve never heard of? Quite likely.

With the conversion of existing cinemas to digital winding up around the world, future focus of manufacturers will be on territories with organic growth, before the the replacement cycle sets in towards the end of this decade.

And no market right now has more focus on it than China, with it strong (though likely unsustainable) growth of 18 new screens per day. This means that there is still a need for thousands of projectors, servers, speakers, screens and more every quarter in China. Even other emerging markets like Russia, Turkey and Indonesia can’t match that level of demand.

Given that China started early with digital cinema installations, it also means that its replacement cycle will start earlier than many other territories as next-generation laser projectors with HDR/HFR (high dynamic range/high frame-rate) come onto the market.

So it should come as a wakeup call to western digital cinema equipment manufacturers when a smart, ambitious and heavily R&D-focused Chinese manufacturer comes along as states that ‘cinema equipment autonomy will be China’s film industry digital revolution “last mile.”‘

Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd. 

Chances are that you have not heard of Sun Xiaobin, or even the company that he heads, Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd., or the Oristar brand under which its products are sold. But all that is likely to change soon.

Mild mannered and sweater-wearing, Mr Sun is nevertheless as laser-focused and as unwaveringly determined as Steve Jobs in his vision; by the time China overtakes the United States as the world’s largest cinema market it will be his company and not Christie, Dolby/Doremi or GDC that is the dominant technology player in the cinema technology space.

In a lengthy Q&A interview in China’s Enterprise Observer titled ‘Leader in Digital Cinema Revolution Last Mile‘ Mr. Sun lays down his precise vision and methodology for how Chen Xing is going about becoming the Mainland’s leading cinema technology company.

It is a vision that goes far beyond just new servers and technology autonomy, but encompasses a holistic view of the cinema technology environment. But servers are the obvious entry point for the company.

We see the enormous capacity of the Chinese film market and the fact that it relies on imports for digital cinema servers. We at Chen Xing Technology think that independently developed digital cinema servers can not only break the technical barriers abroad, but also has a huge market potential.

With 35mm film movies starting to be replaced by the digital cinema trend, starting in 2006, Chen Xing Technology homed in on the needs of the digital transformation of the theater with a systematic analysis and research of digital cinema encoding system, so that we developed sophisticated digital cinema servers and digital cinema auto show management systems.

In 2011 we had developed AQ10 digital cinema server, which finally passed the third grade U.S. FIPS security certification, also passed the certification test of DCI. Chen Xing Technology is unique in this whole industry because it is China’s first to achieve DCI-certified digital cinema servers. Previously, only foreign companies developed a DCI-compliant 2K screenings server. Now, AQ10 is on Disney’s official website as having also become a recognized facility.

Marketed as the Oristar AQ10 digital cinema servers, details about it can be found here. The focus on servers is a smart move as they are likely to be replaced before the digital cinema projectors they are tethered to. This is particularly true if servers are to offer HFR of 60fps or even up to 120fps, with the next Avatar films likely to push such an envelope, since many early servers can’t handle any DCPs encoded above 48fps.

AQ10 digital cinema server

But Chen Xing is thinking way beyond the server to a whole end-to-end technology ecosystem for the theatre.

Read More »

How the Gates Family Foundation Saved Small Town Cinemas from Death-by-Digital

Fox Theatre Walsenburg

As the clock ticks down for the end of 35mm film prints, so the race is on to save the last few small town cinemas that cannot afford the switch to digital. We are now talking months, not years.

In the United States funds typically come from one or a mixture of three sources, all of which we have profiled here at Celluloid Junkie in the past: local community fund-raising, on-line crowd funding and even grants or donations from the local Chambers of Commerce. There was even an effort to tap the Pepsi Refresh Project a few years back, while Honda did something similar for drive-ins.

But philanthropic foundations have had a relatively low profile until a recent effort got underway in Colorado. While charities alone cannot save all the small cinemas across the US, the experience in the Centennial State shows that they can provide critical seed funding. Over the next 12 to 24 months, this can mean the difference between life and death for thousands of small town cinemas across the United States.

Colorado’s Rural Theater Digital Conversion Grant

The key to the success of Colorado’s venture has been the bringing together of three critical actors: State authorities,  non-profit bodies and private charities. As outlines last year in The Denver Post:

A number of foundations, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and the Denver Film Society have teamed up to create grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 for theaters converting to the new digital equipment required by the film industry.

Film distributors, which no longer distribute traditional celluloid prints, have converted to digital format. The new distribution method requires digital projectors, which cost an average of $60,000 to $70,000 each.

The state said many rural theaters can’t afford these projectors and will probably close, threatening the arts, culture and fabric of the community.

The last sentence has been crucial in mobilising government, business and philanthropic support, as we will see.

Read More »