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METAVISION DIGITAL FILM: MDF 30\24

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:


DIGITAL FILM PRODUCTION NOW!

For all those applications where it would be nice to shoot a movie with equipment no more cumbersome than a BetaCam rig, Metavision has created, refined and can demonstrate a production system that integrates all of today's cine and High Definition Video tools into an orchestrated symphony of possibilities.

It's digital, it's complete and it is available right this second.

First used on Quest For Life, the NASA 35mm film on permanent display at the Kennedy Space Center, the MDF 30\24 system of production integrates normal 35mm camera acquisition, High Definition Video acquisition, computer generated scene production, Ultimatte™ compositing and the broad range of computer special effects into a unified film production tool available today for a consultant fee. Since we own many of the production processes in-house, we can help there, too.

We have managed to get a practical jump on Sony's 1080/24p High Definition production gear (delivering in, well, "sometime early in the year 2000" -Sony rep at NAB) and can do 99.99% of what this future equipment will do by using present-day High Definition resources (30 frame equipment) in combination with our 24-frame conversion and mastering process. Each digital frame on the final digital HD edit exists on a perfect 1:1 relationship with the final film frame. In this format, conversion to film is straightforward without added motion artifacts of any kind.

The name of the process is short for Metavision Digital Film 30 frames in \ 24 frames out.

Video techniques such as non-linear editing, image playback for sound track construction and video tape distribution of the work-in-progress for composers, animators, producers, executive producers and clients are all inherent to the system and the cost savings and anguish reduction over traditional film production methods is great. The camera negative is never cut down to anything smaller than slate-to-slate scenes. It seamlessly integrates computer techniques, superb matting, special effects and audio production requirements and consumes much less computer time to manipulate while maintaining on-screen image quality and extremely high color control.

As an added benefit, all MDF 30\24 masters are directly convertible to Sony 1080 24p masters the instant the Sony equipment becomes available.

MYTHS EXPOSED

There are a number of myths in traditional film concerning the paths one must follow to preserve image quality. They perhaps grew out of pride as much as anything else but they show up in the beliefs that many film-makers carry around in their "gospel" files. Running through these myths is the central theme of "film is very Good, therefore anything else must be Bad." Film is very Good, but it isn't the end of the story.

The lenses that are custom made for film cameras are apocryphal indicators.

Besides the special mounts, T-stop markings and ergonomic refinements, makers of lenses for 35mm cameras traditionally claim that their lenses are very much sharper than anything you could possibly buy for your Nikon or Canon 35mm SLR. Yet off-the-shelf Nikon SLR lenses are exactly what are used for most 8-perf Vistavision cameras, known to cinematographers and special effects people to be the ne-plus-ultra format for really high-end critical work. The value of prime lenses is more in their compatibility, ergonomics and mount than in their glass, but claims of sharpness sells.

On close examination it becomes apparent that a higher contrast, lower resolution prime lens will beat out a lower contrast, higher resolution prime lens if the judgment is made from the release print and not the camera negative. The entire production process must be considered as a whole. Digital images have perfect contrast right down to the limits of the size of a single pixel and preserving that into the emulsion of the film is the centerline challenge to preserving image quality in Digital Film techniques.

Tap most film effects people with the question of what rendering resolution do we need for our computer special effects output to 35mm and they commonly reply, "Oh, 3 thousand by 4 thousand pixels will do it." It sure will. In fact it is overkill. Oddly enough, 3,072 pixel-wide renderings are quite literally IMAX quality and fabulously detailed computer graphics are typically rendered at this size because larger wouldn't be perceived as an improvement on even the giant IMAX screen. Houses that render 3K x 4K images often do so to overcome the limits of computer-to-film transfer devices. The MDF 30\24 process avoids these tools and lets 2K renders (which generate about 4 times as quickly) reach the theater screen in better condition than most 4K renders.

Film has inherent physical limits. It is multi-layered chemistry at the mercy of optics. All optics have aberrations in which various physical tolerances cause limited resolution, different depths of color focus and non-flat focal planes. The emulsion of the film scatters photons into neighboring fields of molecules that are unable to distinguish scattered light from focused light. It is called "halation" and it limits detail. Add to this the four steps from camera to theater print, each of which copies the previous image, and you probably won't be surprised to learn that the image on the screen is more like 750 by 1500 lines of resolution--and that's in an optimized projection room! Your theater may vary, generally downward.

There may always be "purists" who believe that the "film look" is the only look for them. Mitigating against this extreme view is the fact that the historical evolution of film has included a series of far more radical changes from the first Technicolor™ three-strip color cameras of the 1930's to today's emulsions than the new digital gear represents. It is possible to emulate today's emulsions on the newest digital cameras in order to achieve that specific "film look" within a given exposure. I would be curious to see if film could ever achieve an "HD look".

Perhaps it would be more fun to speculate how future HD purists would be argueing against the introduction of UD, the Ultra Definition, 150 frame per second so called "reality" format due to be introduced in 2021.

MDF 30\24 BREAKS THE MYTHS

The MDF 30\24 process is digital, operates at HD pixel resolution and transfers to film completely electronically, not at all optically. Electrons expose the film, not photons. The difference is similar to the inherent difference between an electron microscope image and a light microscope image. (Light: Fuzzy. Electrons: Sharp.) Electron microscopes dig out details light could never hope to see. Electrons don't scatter in the film emulsion and the result is that the image on film is neither limited by the optics (there aren't any) nor by its own halation.

We use the Sony EBR, Electron Beam Recorder, for film output from our 24-frame HD master. Our EBR master is an archival black and white color separation master and the negative that makes the release prints is struck from it with the quality very close to an original camera negative. If needed, many apparently original printing negatives can be struck, each with identical high quality. Theater prints are two entire generations closer to the original, in one sense, and it shows on screen.

In the "Quest For Life" film many scenes took place in outer space and as special effects people know, making the starfields look sharp and clear without blooming or blobbing is an art and a challenge. Stars looked great in "2001-A Space Odyssey" but that was 70mm. The computer generated starfields in Q4L are closer to the "70mm look" than any we've seen in recent sci-fi films. Freed from the limits of optics and excessive oversampling, they look deep, clear and realistic, a testament to their digital origins and the digital production path that kept them pristine before that last jump to chemical film.

Filmmaker George Lucas has seen the light and has taken delivery of the first Sony 24-frame gear. He knows that which our experience has demonstrated. His future films will be made with all the flexibilities and advantages our process allows us to achieve. The major difference is that we do it on existing HD equipment and that means we are already doing it right now. As the Sony gear becomes more generally available the MDF 30\24 process will become history. Until then, it is the present. Work completed in MDF 30/24 is forward compatible with Sony 1080/24p when it arrives.

MDF 30\24 works, it is now and it is capable of delivering images to a theater near you that are sharper and clearer than all the ones that took the Academy Awards last year.

If you are interested in accessing the advantages of digital film production and are uninterested in waiting until Sony's Digital 24-frame gear is commonplace, give us a call. The future has arrived.


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