|by Laurence J. Thorpe of Sony Electronics
for TV Technology|
"Once more into the breach, dear friends..." Mario
continues to fulminate on contemporary HD topics as evidenced
by his latest discourse on 24P. Mario bases his arguments
on premises exclusively created by Mario and not by the marketplace
that requested and is using 24P. Nor by the manufacturer he
has once again singled out - Sony. The tongue-in-cheek methodology
used by Mario cannot entirely disguise the fact that he is
offering a view on 24P that is patently false. At a time when
there are many who are just beginning to discover the creative
attributes of 24P production, it would be a shame if the perpetration
of erroneous opinions were to discourage their doing so. It's
also hard to imagine his motivation to attack a technology
advance that so many have found useful and valuable. Accordingly,
we must set straight a record we deem to be important to the
Mario voiced the opinion that Sony's motivation to develop
24P was: "They were just providing something to see what
the market would do with it..."
Too glib - and quite incorrect. 24P was created as a consequence
of a recognition - finally - by video equipment manufacturers
that there was something very useful to be gained by recognizing
that the 24-frame picture capture rate was both hugely entrenched
all over the world, and, that it was widely loved by creative
folk in moviemaking and in television production. These facts
are utterly divorced from any technical considerations surrounding
recording and transmission capacity. They are also totally
divorced from the subjective imaging issues surrounding the
sub-sampled nature of 24-pictures per second versus 60 or
50 pictures per second.
By creating a digital production system that operates on
precisely the same picture capture-rate platform as the de
facto established 24-frame film platform, an entirely new
series of creative flexibilities have been added to the program
production arsenal of moviemakers and television producers.
And, a very key point - distinctly absent from Mario's commentary
- is that 24-frame digital was urged by a broad representation
from the global program-making community. Its arrival was
marketplace-driven - and decidedly not manufacturer-driven.
First, in late 1996, Sony was approached by Lucasfilm and
was asked by George Lucas to consider development of a digital
24-frame production system for moviemaking. As clearly stipulated
at that time by Mr. Lucas, his intent was to continue his
unceasing quest for new tools to facilitate the visual telling
of his stories. Total workflow was the central issue here,
on the basis that a great deal of the imagery shot by Lucasfilm
for the Star Wars series end up in a computer workstations
for special effects additions and further image manipulation.
Bypassing the need to transfer large amounts of film to digital
would greatly expedite his workflow.
Second, many within the post-production community had long
argued that a 24P digital post-production system would greatly
enhance their work on film-originated material (and film still
constitutes, by far, the majority of the input to the top
post houses in the U.S.). This request acquired a whole new
importance with the advent of the U.S. DTV broadcasting agenda,
when the post industry was suddenly confronted with the specter
of having to create multiple digital video distribution formats.
Laser Pacific boldly stepped forward in 1998 and brought
to Sony (and a dozen other manufacturers) a specific proposal
based upon a very detailed outline of a multi-format post-production
system that accepted 24-frame film input and transferred and
mastered in 24P, with final digital derivation from that master
all of the required HD and SD formats for the disparate broadcast
DTV operations. Sony closely collaborated with Laser Pacific
in developing this 24P system, as did many other manufacturers
who brought important pieces to the total technical puzzle.
And, as a consequence of this collaboration, our customer,
Laser Pacific, very rightly shared in the recent prestigious
Emmy award for 24P technology.
Mario completely missed (or ignored) these marketplace dynamics.
So much for the raison d'etre for the arrival of 24P.
THE 24P SPECIFICATION
The 24P production system conforms to the international standard
- the ITU Recommendation 709-3. As, such, the cameras that
originate digital 24P video have been designed to conform
to the specified transfer characteristic and colorimetry very
precisely stipulated by this now well-established standard.
These specifications produce an HD "look" that has
no direct basis on any "look" of motion picture
Thus, 24P was not specifically designed with the avowed aim
of attempting a precise emulation of 24-frame motion picture
film - as intimated by Mario. What the marketplace has subsequently
elected to do with 24P is quite another issue.
The digital 24P camera is endowed with many digital processing
controls that facilitate powerful real-time manipulation of
the four primary imaging characteristics of the picture (these
are common to all imaging media, including film). Picture
Sharpness can be readily altered, Tonal Reproduction can be
digitally manipulated over a broad range, Color Reproduction
also can be aesthetically exercised (deviating from the "detent"
ITU standard), and finally, the Exposure Latitude of the camera
can be digitally adjusted.
The combination of all of these controls can allow a director
or cinematographer to create an endless range of "looks"
in that HD imagery. The experiences in the first two years
of 24P production have clearly shown that these controls have
indeed been exercised and many creative looks have been synthesized.
It is critical to stress that the success of many directors
and cinematographers in achieving a specific 24P "look"
has been enormously assisted by this digital empowerment -
overlaid upon the continuing and crucial utilization of their
innate craftsmanship in lighting, lensing, filtration etc.
THE FUTUREOF 24P
We will now turn to the specific point being made by Mario.
The first question that might be asked is: "which film
stock?" In the case of television production that is
originated on film, there is the attendant query on the substantial
imaging intervention of a colorist (no two having the same
Based on a quite broad 24P experience globally gained with
moviemakers and television producers alike, there is now a
quite visible shaping of the future of 24P. And, indeed, two
categories of producer have emerged. First, there are those
who are today utilizing digital 24P and do specifically seek
the look of film in the end product - be this theatrical release
film or television (either NTSC, PAL, digital SD or digital
HD broadcasting), or packaged media such as the popular DVD.
There are others who seek a distinct alternative to the long-established
look of film.
From Sony's point of view, both are perfectly valid. We have
worked extensively with both in further refining the capabilities
of 24P to meet their separate imaging aspirations, and we
will continue to do so.
The fact that these digital camera controls exist does allow
the "look" of any given film stock to be reproduced
with remarkable accuracy. To avoid any ambiguity in this claim,
let us immediately clarify that this "look" reflects
that of a specific film stock from the viewpoint of the four
primary imaging characteristics described above. Coupled with
the unique temporal footprint of 24-frame image capture -
the final imagery can become uncannily akin to that of 24fps
motion picture film. There are, however, other secondary attributes
indigenous to the film medium - most notably, film grain -
that are not in any way emulated by the 24P system. Image
weave, and even film scratches, have also been cited by some
as part of the uniquely "organic" look of film.
Sony certainly has no intention of emulating any of these
secondary attributes. Those who seek such should indeed continue
to shoot on film.
During this first year and a half of 24P marketplace experience,
a number of producers have worked closely with Sony in refining
the digital tools to facilitate a closer emulation of film
imagery. In some cases this has been driven by the need to
intercut film transferred from 24P into a movie that has other
segments shot on film (the movie "Ali" being a case
in point). Dennis Cooper and his team at ESC are presently
doing similar investigations for their use of 24P special
effect scenes that will be intercut into film-originated scenes
in the new "Matrix" movie presently being shot in
Australia. Similarly, Fred Meyers of ILM has done impressive
investigation of transfer characteristics with the goal to
produce both digital and transferred film releases that meet
the aesthetic goals of George Lucas and his producer, Rick
The decision of the creative community to emulate the "look"
of film in 24P origination is a totally creative choice. If
they seek it - they can have it.
Mario snorts at the premise that 24P might be used to realize
cost savings. Specifically he stated: "Yes, dear, we've
always had the classic triangle: economy, quality and speed.
Pick any two. There ain't anything that 24P does to affect
Yet, that is precisely why some producers (of both theatrical
movies and television primetime programming) have elected
to switch from film. How much that triangle has been affected
can vary significantly between producers and directors. But
Mario needs to pay close attention to their explanation of
enhanced management of cash flow (for example, the large upfront
outlay for 35mm film stock, shipping, and processing is substantially
alleviated with 24P digital acquisition). While this might
be in the few percent range on "A hundred million pistoolahs?"
movie, that can still leave it significantly in excess of
a million dollars. On a $2 million production, the media-related
savings have been cited as very significant. On a television
production one must further factor in the elimination of Telecine
transfer costs and the simplification of color correction
- not a trivial cost today.
SPEED IS AN ISSUE
Mario's protest notwithstanding, speed has indeed been cited
by other producers as contributing to some degree of cost
control: they are into off-line editing much sooner; they
can do more setups per day because of the many advantages
of long record times (50-minute "loads"); the use
of the HD monitor on-set has expedited some productions by
allowing sets to be struck that same day (total confidence
in what was captured). Time is money in high-end production.
"But, Mario, what about the director being able to see
stuff as it's being shot?" Mario's retort here: "
Hello? How many dozens of years have there been video viewfinder
taps on film cameras?" totally misses the key point made
by most directors that the large high definition monitor on
the set empowers them to make crucial aesthetic and image
quality judgments in real-time. Such crucial judgments could
never be made on a traditional film camera's video tap.
On the issue of camera costs, Mario might be very surprised
to make a cost comparison (list price) between the most expensive
24P camera and both a 35mm film camera and a Super 16mm film
camera. The numbers speak for themselves - suffice to say
that the differences are impressive.
Finally, Mario's thoughtless insistence that: "If you
believe 24P will be cheaper, then you will make sure 24P is
cheaper, and I do mean cheaper, not just less expensive..."
is, in fact, a hugely careless statement that ignores the
24P production record to date. It certainly belittles the
aspirations of serious producers, directors, and cinematographers
who have completed those 24P productions. We have carefully
debriefed many of these and we never heard such a verdict.
I'm afraid that Mario's comment on this score smacks more
than a little of "methinks he doth protest too much..."