Saturday, June 18, 2011
Ever had an idea for something that would revolutionize an industry? Ever wonder how you'd need to write it all down? If so, why don't you take the time to review the US Patents for the ARRI ALEXA and ALEXA ALEV III SENSOR.
A big "Thank You" to my buddy David Garden for tracking these down.
Though I don't really know the circumstances it seems that Indianapolis-based Cine-tal, a color display processing hardware and software design company, has quietly sold off all of its products. I've been a big fan of the company's Cinemage 24" HD Displays for years now and have used them exclusively for most of my color-critical jobs. Extremely accurate and overtly complicated (for better or worse), I've always likened the Cinemage to a Ferrari: incredible performance with a price tag to match.
It's difficult to anticipate where the Cinemage product line will go from here. Will Ikan really expand the line or simply use the technology to upgrade their existing lower-class monitor lines? What about Dolby? I've been told that a few of Cine-tal's lead technicians are now a part of Dolby's display team. Will we see some 17" and 24" Class-1 Dolby Displays in the near future that include a bit of the Cinemage lineage?
I was recently able to demo both the Dolby 42" and the new Sony OLED 24" Class-1 monitors. The Dolby is by far the most amazing panel I have seen yet. The picture it produces is brilliant by technical standards and overly gorgeous by eye. This monitor really makes the argument concrete that ITU-R BT.709-5 is an outdated standard. With most professional cameras and displays and an increasing number of (pro)consumer cameras and displays already capturing and displaying colors and tones outside of the rec709 space it seems continually silly to insist on conforming everything into this little box. I would argue that color gamut and fidelity is much more important to our images than any need for increased resolution.
The Sony BVM-E250 was very impressive as well. Fantastic blacks. I never really liked the previous BVM-L230 and always found that any of the Cine-tals consistently provided much better performance. Interestingly enough, the Cinemage 2000 (older 8-bit panel) performed extremely well when compared to the new 24" OLED. The Sony definitely smokes everything else out there in black level and end-to-end contrast ratio but the Cine-tal seemed to continually provide better luminance range in the lowest blacks. Supposedly the soon-to-be-released PVM-2541 will be made with the same panel found in the E250 for a quarter of the price. The E250 seemed spot on in terms of calibration so it remains to be seen how close the 2541 will get... though I do have high hopes.
Below is a copy of Cine-tal's "Dear John" letter. Will the lights really go out for good or is the company streamlining itself for its next venture? As the saying goes, only time will tell...
April 15, 2011
Dear Customers, Resellers and Marketing Partners,
First and foremost we at Cine-tal would like to thank you for your friendship and support over the past 7 years. When we started Cine-tal in 2004 we set out to mobilize our industry for the changes in display technology that were on the horizon. We did this by introducing new concepts and workflows in color management and display calibration with much success. Much like a relay race we are now handing the baton over to others to continue the race. Our partners are strong runners who will build on our technology and success creating stronger and bolder solutions to today’s display technology challenges.
The core technology in our DAVIO product line has been acquired by Dolby Laboratories. Cine-tal continues to manufacture and sell the DAVIO product under license from Dolby and is seeking a partner to continue that effort. Our cineSpace product has been acquired by THX. Last month iKan acquired the Cinemage Monitor product line. iKan will continue to develop new monitor solutions under the Cinemage brand name. Each of these companies have the resources available to run the next leg of this race, empowering you with the solutions you will need for tomorrow's challenges.
Cine-tal customers with products under warranty will get the support they need as follows:
Cinemage:Service and support by iKan
cineSpace: Support and Software Maintenance by THX
DAVIO: Warranty repair by Cine-tal
Color Processor for Dolby 3D: Warranty repair by Cine-tal
We thank you once again for your loyalty and support.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Do you have any idea what the above refers to? It's a brand spanking new digital cinema workflow standard that is being developed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Called the Image Interchange Framework (IIF) this is a complete specified architecture for placing any and all capture mediums into a standardized gamma and color space that far exceeds anything available today.
Here's the problem: you shoot film, RED, ALEXA, and 5D (dammit!) on your next 300-million dollar blockbuster (tentatively entitled "BANG!, silence, CASH!"). How do you handle viewing, conforming, grading, and outputting to different masters (ie: film print, digital master, blu-ray, HD broadcast, DVD, iPhone, etc.) all of this footage? Today most post houses have to handle all of these flavors uniquely in their own workflows. Film needs a LUT to display correctly on a facility's Baselight in order to mix it with the ALEXA footage. Then it needs an output LUT applied for a film-out and another different LUT applied for a rec709 output for broadcast. Everyone just loves the RAW files from the RED but those R3D's don't mean anything until they're debayered though REDCINE-X or some other proprietary software. The ALEXA footage could be ARRIRAW, ProRes Log-C Quicktimes, or uncompressed DPX frames. And the 5D... well let's just say it's gotta fit in too. Besides actually getting each capture medium to open up and play on a particular post system like DaVinci or Scratch the biggest concern is making sure what you're seeing on the screen is ALL or MOST of what each camera actually captured.
Here's a simple example: you want to grade and output a rec709 master of your film for television broadcast and you're dealing with ALEXA Log-C QTs. You've already calibrated your Baselight system to your new Dolby 42" Display and have everything set into a rec709 gamma and color space. Good. Since this is where you want to end up it makes sense that this is where you should start, right? Hmmm, maybe not. Here's the problem, the ALEXA doesn't capture dynamic range and colors according to the rec709 specification (unless you set the camera to conform to this spec but who in their right mind would do that?). The ALEXA natively captures a much, much broader range of gamma and color gamut than is even allowed by the rec709 standard. This is indeed awesome because this is exactly how the camera is able to record such impressive dynamic range. What's important is that the camera captures as much information as possible so we can use all of it later in post during our final color-grading session and eventual conform/output. The distinction is in what parts of the whole we actually end up using. 13 stops of DR is great but usually looks like crap. Why? With all that tonal range you've inherently got LESS contrast. And as all self-conscious image makers know... contrast is your friend and should be embraced. Why does Log-C look so flat? Because it doesn't have any contrast! Duh...
Think of it as a box. Rec709 is a little box. Log-C is a much, much bigger box capable of storing a wide range of tones and colors. It's fine if you intend to finish within the rec709 space. The problem is stuffing that big Log-C box into the teeny, weeny rec709 box. If you simply just jam it in there you're liable to lose 50% of the ALEXA's color and tonal range. Eventually you'll HAVE to loose that range in order to finish your grade for TV broadcast but the distinction is if you can SEE all of the CAPTURED RANGE you can DECIDE what parts stay and what are discarded. This is the essence of color-grading. A nimble colorist will give you everything you need and none of what you don't. Unfortunately, just when a colorist feels confident in grading RED MX Build 1067.2 along comes some 500fps Phantom Flex footage. They may both be RAW files but they react to light and color in dramatically unique ways.
With film it was easy. DP's knew how film reacted to light and color. They knew how it needed to be processed and printed. And the colorist knew how to add points (printer lights) to create the DP's "look". The workflow and color science were well understood and standardized. Now, in our digital world, each camera behaves differently. Each camera sees tonal range and colors different than the next. There is no standard as each camera is it's own standard. The ALEXA has 13 stops of dynamic range. The RED has 13 stops of DR. Sony's F35 now has 13 stops of DR. And Kodak 5219 has 13 stops of DR. But each will map what it perceives as "blackest black" and "whitest white" to a different place on it's tonal curve. If I choose 5219's "black" as THE BLACK then the ALEXA, SONY, and RED would need to be somehow conformed to match how 5219 encodes BLACK. After that I'd have to calibrate 5219's BLACK to display correctly as "blackest black" on my new Dolby 42" display. Then make sure that the ALEXA, SONY, and RED matched that. And make sure that any other displays like my AC's 5" on-board monitor, my director's 17" monitor, my DIT's 24" master monitor, or my own living room's 103" Panasonic Plasma also match. Yeah, it's a pain. And most of the time they all match... sort of, kinda, close-but-not-quite, ok... no, not really, not even close.
So this is where the IIF comes in. The BIG IDEA here is to take any and all recorded sources and transform them into a standardized gamma and color space that is so large that it can hold all legacy and (hopefully) most future imaging devices (that would be cameras). By transforming a source (like ALEXA) through the AMPAS's Academy Color Encoding Specification (ACES) you can standardize and theoretically future-proof your entire capture-to-display workflow across every conceivable output (theatrical, tv, dvd, etc).
Again think of the IIF-ACES as a really, really, really BIG box that anything can fit into. Be it RED, Weisscam, Fuji Film, ALEXA, Sony F65, 5D, or yer iPhone everyone of these capture mediums will have it's own specified transform to take it from its native gamma and color space to the much larger and standardized IIF gamma and color space. Now you won't get anything for free here. If you shoot 8-bit with an AF-100 and encode it to the IIF's proposed 16-bit specification you're not gonna gain any extra DR or color gamut. You'll just have a lot of empty spaces between your little 8-bits. The obvious benefit is that once the transform is completed that "blackest black" will be consistent across all of your cameras, displays, and outputs. The RED's BLACK that encodes at .0023xr3d and the ALEXA's BLACK that encodes at 20c.-2 and the 5D's BLACK that encodes at "-crappy" and 5219's BLACK that renders at x,y slope will ALL be transformed to encode at simply 0 within the IIF.
So when your colorist pulls up the scene in your movie that has 5D inter-cut with film inter-cut with RED inter-cut with Phantom inter-cut with ALEXA... BLACK on ALL will appear BLACK on your display. And when you're finished with your final grade your Digital Master will appear the same across all of your deliverables (Theatrical, TV, Blu-Ray, You Tube, etc.). This is the hope and motivation at least. And I for one welcome it.
Though the IIF is still being refined FX's show "Justified" is already using the standard as a basis for the show's pre-thru-post workflow. Check out this HD Video Pro article on real-world implementation. If you want to implement IIF in your real world all that's needed is to sign up. And if you're feeling especially nerdy and a glutton for punishment REDUSER never fails to deliver the goods.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
In case you haven't already heard Technicolor recently released their custom picture profile for the Canon 5D Mark II. Called CineStyle this profile was created by Technicolor color scientists and engineers with the help and cooperation of Canon USA. CineStyle converts the 5D's usual rec709 gamma and color space into log for increased dynamic range and control in post-production.
Similar to shooting S-Log with a Sony F35 or Log C (download the Alexa color processing white paper) with an Arri Alexa, CineStyle will encode your video (or stills) with a stretched gamma curve and desaturated colors producing flat, grey images perfect for a proper DI session. And best of all, CineStyle is free and available for immediate download. Just don't forget to read through the user guide and accompanying documents.