Processing Power Results in Rapid-fire Moviemaking

Until recently, digital cinema has been the poor stepchild of traditional 35-mm film, lacking the image quality and resolution to rival its predecessor. That is rapidly changing, due in part to a host of new technologies, larger frame sizes — such as Cinema 2K and 4K — and advances in multicore-processor performance that underlie much of the image capture and manipulation.

The digital image processing that characterizes modern moviemaking requires 12 MB of disk storage for the capture of a single uncompressed Cinema 2K frame (assuming a resolution of 2048 x 1556 at 10-bit quality). Twenty-four frames must be captured each second, requiring a sustained data rate of nearly 300 MB per second, or one terabyte of storage per hour.

The Cinema 2K format is rapidly giving way to 4K, which uses frame sizes with four times the data of a 2K frame. Without some form of compression, these volumes of data are essentially unmanageable as part of a digital workflow solution. The exceptional image fidelity and color richness of a 4K frame, however, must be handled without visual loss if the format is to stand as a competitive alternative to 35 mm.

CineForm addressed this challenge by devising a compression format that uses a form of Wavelet compression, without visual loss. Industry technology firms have embraced the CineForm RAW and CineForm Intermediate codecs, incorporating them into digital cameras, video-storage solutions, nonlinear editing suites, color grading and finishing applications and other products. The result is that many high-end, data-intensive tasks can be performed in real time, to the benefit of moviemakers, production crews and postproduction professionals, and included in the digital workflow.

A Collaborative Solution Built Around Compression

Creating movies is admittedly a complex process but one that is vastly enhanced by using better tools and faster processors.

The compression technology has been integrated into digital cameras, including Silicon Imaging’s SI-2K, as well as into video-storage equipment and the postproduction environment. The producers of Dark Country, a trend-setting 3D film directed by Thomas Jane, had ParadiseFX create a unique stereo moviemaking rig with adjustable interocular capabilities to take advantage of the highly mobile compact camera head. During filming, the SI-2K performed CineForm RAW compression to the onboard removable hard disk drive and produced real-time, graded preview video using IRIDAS .Look files.

The Wafian family of video recorders, meanwhile, uses native CineForm files for storage, providing extremely high-quality capture and the flexibility of models designed specifically for field operation while on battery power. This feature proved invaluable for the Mi Casa Multimedia team that created a documentary on past-century tall ships, using Wafian HR-1 and HR-F1 HD video recorders under the difficult conditions encountered at sea.

“The emergence of new digital cameras and imaging formats presents new industry-workflow challenges,” says David Taylor, CEO of CineForm. “But the great success of our partnering efforts are end-to-end product solutions which are otherwise unavailable.”

Digital Cinema Comes of Age

Investments in digital cinema equipment and acceptance of new formats and projection standards by theater chains herald a compelling new experience for theatergoers. Stereoscopic films are garnering attention and attracting substantial audiences, led by such titles as Beowulf and Dark Country.

“I believe stereoscopic 3D is going to transform the entire movie experience from top to bottom, and in fact, it will cause a greater sea change than the introduction of sound,” says Nick Dager, founder and principal of the Digital Cinema Report. “The kinds of movies that are made, how they are made and the intensity of the moviegoing experience is about to get bigger and better than ever.”

Multithreading underlies many of the advances that are bringing improved image fidelity and enhanced workflows to the moviemaking community. Individual cores in a multicore processor can be devoted to the data-intensive tasks encountered when moving terabytes of data through a series of capture, storage and effects pipelines.

Reducing the barriers and lag time between video capture and the application of image enhancements and effects is a clear advantage to moviemakers and one of the driving forces behind the growth of digital cinema. As new hardware platforms are introduced, powered by new multicore processors, software applications in the digital image-processing realm will be able to capitalize on the performance and increase efficiency. This, in turn, will expand the support for large frame sizes for images, more complex effects and more thoroughly integrated postproduction pipelines.

All these elements are factors in the creative renaissance that is driving present-day moviemaking and fostering imaginative projects and innovative content from a new generation of communicators.