Tuesday, October 25, 2016
  • Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016
Differing Views On VR Cinematography Emerge at HPA Tech Retreat
The HPA Techology Retreat's Innovation Zone.
Event delves into virtual reality, HDR, assorted innovations
  • INDIAN WELLS, Calif.
  • --

Steve Schklair, CEO of 3D firm 3ALITY and founder of VR production company 3mersiv, observed that much of VR is still being defined. While elements are emerging, “this medium needs a language,” he said, noting that traditional filmmaking techniques and concepts--like framing of a shot and interpreting a shot through camera moves--don’t necessarily apply to VR production. In this vein, Schklair assessed, “For cinematographers, I’m not sure where the art is. At this point I would say VR is a storyteller’s medium but not a cinematographers medium.”

Schklair’s comments came during a VR panel discussion at last week’s Hollywood Professional Association (HPA) Technology Retreat in Indian Wells. The next day at an HPA Retreat panel on HDR Production Workflow, Steven Poster, ASC, national president of the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, went off session topic for a moment to share that he talked to Schklair about his remarks. Schklair made a mistake, said Poster who affirmed that VR is “a cinematographer’s medium.”

This back-and-forth banter, in this case carrying over from one day to the next, underscores that VR is still in its relative infancy, if not an embryonic state, with many creative and technical aspects still quite fluid.

Yet while in a fluid situation, virtual reality is still managing to develop a solid business base according to VR session panelist Phil Lelyveld, virtual reality program manager of the USC Entertainment Technology Center within the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He said 2016 is the year when VR has its “first chance of taking off in the mass market.” He cited a study which projected that Google Cardboard and other systems in the mobile phone sector could reach 20 million users by the end of 2016. Also by year’s end, another report anticipates that nearly 3.5 million Sony PlayStation virtual reality systems will be actively used in the marketplace.

Schklair said that while the technology is advancing, he’s more concerned about the content, noting that VR projects are being created that would otherwise be just fine in a 16 x 9 world. VR encompasses “a lot more real estate than a 16 x 9 window,” related Schklair, meaning that it’s incumbent upon the creative/production community to turn out compelling VR content which justifies the wider view.

Audio is an integral yet at times overlooked component of the VR experience, added Schklair. While sound is 50 percent of the movie-going experience, Schklair contended that the impact of audio, with spatial relationships and other considerations, goes well beyond 50 percent when it comes to VR.

Also on the VR panel--moderated by journalist Debra Kaufman--was Stuart English, head of worldwide sales for presence capture at Nokia Technologies, who’s been exploring business opportunities for VR and related media in news, advertising and entertainment. Audio, video and other dynamics go into the VR experience, said English who shared the personal viewpoint that we “see the world through our eyes, not with our eyes.” VR encompasses different inputs and when done well convinces the brain to say, “That’s right, I’m there.”

English provided an overview of the Nokia OZO, a professional camera which is among the tools, said Lelyveld, that seems to be “stabilizing” VR production workflows.

In the alluded to HDR Production Workflow session, among the panelists were cinematographers Poster and Bill Bennett, ASC. Bennett was fresh from receiving the ASC Presidents Award on Sunday (2/14) at the ASC Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

On the subject of HDR, Poster offered a caveat, advising that “you don’t have to use it full throttle all the time.” Being true to the story is key and often “so much of the story is in the shadows.” Thus you have to be judicious in how high the highlights are. HDR can be a great storytelling tool as long as filmmakers keep the story as the guiding light for decisions relative to technology and approach, asserted Poster.

Bennett said that the historical precedent is that once something new becomes available, it is “horribly abused.” He cited, for example, the success of the Steadicam in the Rocky movie with the beloved fighter ascending the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That iconic scene spurred on uses of the Steadicam which were gratuitous and not well grounded in story. But eventually over time, Steadicam became an artistic tool.

On the workflow front, Poster noted that when recently shooting Amityville: The Awakening, he did coloring in the video village on set, meaning there was never a question as to what the vision was for the film.

Poster added that it’s “essential to finish work we shoot.” Poster explained that “to have the artist who understands the original intent of the director and storyteller in the finishing room monitoring the outcome of what we do” is key to the success of a project.

Innovation Zone
Technologies applicable to VR and the HDR arenas, as well as assorted other production and post disciplines were on display in the HPA Tech Retreat’s Innovation Zone.

--Among Avid’s major offerings is its MediaCentral Platform, the centerpiece of the Avid Everywhere vision, designed to advance content creation and distribution workflows. That vision recently broke some new ground with the announcement that TV station operator and local news provider Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., has chosen to standardize on the MediaCentral Platform to unify its 64 local news producing stations. Avid will deliver advanced end-to-end newsroom production and content management solutions for Sinclair under a 10-year agreement, replacing legacy technology from other vendors.

Jeff Rosica, sr. VP, chief sales & marketing officer for Avid, noted that originally some 20 Sinclair news gathering operations were on the MediaCentral Platform. Their positive experience led to Sinclair’s decision to expand that platform’s reach to all of its 64 news station operations, which serve a total of more than 120 Sinclair television stations.

Powered by the open technology MediaCentral Platform, the next-generation IP-based workflow for Sinclair’s news producing stations will feature Avid’s Artist Suite, Storage Suite and Media Suite solutions with third-party and custom workflow integrations. Avid Professional Services and Training teams will provide project and fleet management, commissioning, workflow consulting, and a comprehensive training curriculum. Avid’s Customer Care team will deliver a tailored 24/7 support program.

“Moving to a common production platform across all of our news markets provides us the platform to create a content sharing news community across Sinclair increasing efficiency and productivity,” stated Scott Livingston, VP of News, Sinclair Broadcast Group. “Having defined and more frequent technology upgrade cycles will enable us to keep our newsrooms current across the enterprise and allow us to respond to rapid changes like new digital distribution models in a more cost effective way.”

Rosica noted that Avid’s tailored platform provides the foundation for companies to tap into and bring their resources and talents together for optimum effect. This can apply not only to station groups like Sinclair but other varied sectors in the community at large such as post facilities and in-house ad agency production/post studios separated by geography that can benefit from operating on a unified platform, facilitating shared, managed resources and meaningful collaboration.

On the latter front Avid is slated to roll out Cloud collaboration for Pro Tools later this month. During an HPA Tech Retreat discussion session on next generation Cloud workflows, Rashid Desai, CTO of Avid, cited the company’s commitment, exploration of and success with its platform facilitating connectivity and collaboration in the Cloud for varied creative endeavors.

--Blackmagic Design came to the HPA Retreat riding high this industry awards season. Several Oscar-nominated films were created using Blackmagic solutions. For example, The Martian was stereo converted with Fusion Studio and color graded with DaVinci Resolve Studio. Mad Max: Fury Road had select scenes shot with Blackmagic Cinema Cameras. The Academy Award-nominated documentaries Amy and Cartel Land were graded with DaVinci Resolve Studio, respectively, by colorist Paul Ensby of Company 3, and colorist Seth Ricart of RCO.

On the Innovation Zone exhibit floor, attendees got a look-see on how Fusion Studio and DaVinci Resolve Studio can support virtual reality’s resolution-independent post workflow while delivering a seamless final output. Blackmagic Design’s Micro Cameras also provide VR-friendly features including large sensors, high dynamic range and high frame rates within a compact size.

--Also making a mark this awards season is Codex which, for example, had a hand in developing the ARRI ALEXA 65 workflow for The Revenant lensed by Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, ASC, AMC who recently won the ASC Award for his work on that film. Codex created a recording system that facilitated Lubezki’s cinematography, capturing the ARRIRAW image with the ALEXA 65. Codex’s equipment and workflow have also been used on Mad Max: Fury Road. The Revenant garnered a dozen Oscar nominations to lead the field this year, followed by Mad Max: Fury Road with 10.

On the VR front, the Codex Action Cam also figures prominently. DP Andrew Shulkind is working with Headcase VR, Codex and Radiant Images on the Headcase Cinema Camera, using 17 Action Cams to capture 360-degree images along with the metadata necessary to stitch all the pieces together.

And Oscar-nominated (for Nebraska in 2014) cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, ASC, GSC recently turned to the dual Codex Action cam packages on a branding project for the Infiniti QX50 SUV, directed by Jaume Collet Serra via production house Bullitt.

--Aspera, an IBM company, is building upon its streaming/media distribution business, looking to diversify into remote collaboration services for editors, colorists and other artisans.

Dipak Chocha, director of sales for Aspera, said that this new area for the company will be facilitated by what he described as the placing of “an intelligent layer” on Aspera’s long established pipeline for file-based work. HPA Retreat attendees got a taste of the Aspera technology on the exhibit floor, with further advances anticipated in time for the NAB showcase in April.

--Among the technologies on display in MTI Film’s booth was the CORTEX Dead Pixel Detection and Correction system. Randy Reck, director of development at MTI Film, demoed the new software capability which identifies bad pixels and corrects them. He said a number of prominent cameras (which he declined to identify) consistently have a bad pixel problem, making the new CORTEX service particularly relevant.

Also among the latest features of CORTEX software is IMF-CORTEX which creates IMF deliveries for streaming services (Netflix, Amazon).

Furthermore the Innovation Zone featured MTI/Samsung 4K/UHD upres, a service co-developed with Samsung to yield an image that appears as a 4K capture rather than an HD upres.

UK Retreat
The HPA has unveiled plans for a regional version of its HPA Tech Retreat, to be held in the UK this July. The HPA Tech Retreat UK is the first example of an HPA global focus enabled by its affiliation with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). The HPA and SMPTE are partnering to present the event. The 2016 HPA Tech Retreat UK will take place at Heythrop Park Resort in Oxfordshire, Wednesday and Thursday, July 13-14, 2016.

The HPA Tech Retreat UK is co-chaired by Jerry Pierce, HPA VP, and Richard Welsh, former SMPTE Governor for EMEA, Central and South America Regions. Pierce stated, “The Tech Retreat is unique, and the UK version will be uniquely British as well. We will take the essential ingredients that have made the HPA Tech Retreat such a powerful combination of intense knowledge transfer and dynamic personal interaction, adapted for the UK.”