The Sundance Film Festival not only presents the latest in independent filmmaking, it hosts a variety of panels with topics relevant to film culture and filmmaking in general. Monday afternoon at the Sundance House, HP sponsored a panel called 4K & Beyond: The Evolving Role of Technology in Digital Filmmaking, that included panelists Mark L. Pederson (Off Hollywood), Al Mooney (Adobe), Steve Bannerman (Assimilate), David Morin (Autodesk), Vincent Brisebois (Fusion-io), Ray Gilmartin (HP), and moderator Ted Schilowitz (RED), who all spoke eloquently about the imperative to embrace change, to look ahead, and to shoot, post and deliver in 4K.
Schilowitz said he was approached by HP to host a panel of “experts about the future,” and compared this moment in time to when the industry moved from standard definition to high definition. He said we all have to be asking, “what’s around the bend?” The panel was a combination of though-provoking dialogue, questions from the audience, and sales pitches from each panelist about their company’s objectives to push 4K into the future.
The first question posed to the panelists was where do we stand today with 4K acquisition and ease of delivery? “We made movies the same way for decades,” said Mark Pederson of Off Hollywood in NY. “You don’t have to love technology, but we’re at a time where it’s all going to change, the entire process of how we make a movie and how we distribute a movie.” Adobe’s Al Mooney commented, ”When we build CS5, we realized the world was going in this direction. We made sure Premiere Pro was capable of 4K when built the software engine. A native 4K pipeline is very straight forward with Adobe Premiere Pro.” The other panelists seem to concur that 4K is here — from RED 5K camera technology to the affordability of multi-terrabyte hard drives, to the overall pipeline of being able to shoot and post in 4K quite effortlessly. Schilowitz added, “all of the toolsets are more affordable and easier for us to touch,” while David Morin claimed Autodesk is “doing our best to democratize our new technologies.” The message is clear that technology is changing the process of filmmaking and there is a need to think about the process holistically, because making films today requires a holistic solution.
For the savvy filmmaker, these are things we already know. But what really came across in the panel is a sense of urgency from the panelists to see a mass adoption of 4K in both the home and the theater. The good news is that they are all proponents of what Schilowitz calls a “high-fidelity image,” meaning they are pressing for the highest image resolution quality available today. The bad news, for the indie filmmaker, is this kind of workflow still comes with a price and depending on your budget, you will have to decide if a 4K workflow is worth the cost. Realistically, most indies barely reserve any money for post, but if you are knowledgeable about the costs of a 4K workflow and smart enough to consider how your film will play in the future, it does make sense to prepare in advance because 4K really is here.
“Our goal was always to get closer to the raw material, and it’s happening now everyday, says Schilowitz.” But Pederson, almost a voice of reason replied, “but that’s not always the goal for us. Filmmakers need to understand the different workflows, the different options and advantages.” It’s easy to push for bigger resolution and better image quality, but the key here is knowledge and understanding that the more planning that goes into your post, the better you’ll be. We are at a time now where the world of production and post production are extraordinarily blended now more than ever.
An audience member asked the key question, “what will it take for theater projection to go from 2K to 4K?” The general sentiment from the panelists was that we are in the midst of it right now. Most movies are currently being delivered digitally, as projection technology is already being installed and major manufacturers are planning for the upgrade to 4K. They claimed it’s actually less about the projection technology and more about pushing playback deliverables to 4K DCPs calling a 2K DCP “the old guard.” Someone stated that 4K delivery is starting to happen on social media platforms, pointing to Google and YouTube working on it and the fact that iTunes already has 4K. The problem is, no one has a 4K TV yet to make good use of any of this.
“It’s not just about an increase in resolution,” says Adobe’s Mooney. “Things like high dynamic range (HDR), stereoscopic images, and high frame rates are all going to change the way we make movies.”
So what is “beyond”? David Morin commented that the “technology that brings you more possiblities does not erase the past. These tools are all in your tool set, there are just more options. We’re starting to see a trend from the old way of making movies with separate processes in pre-production, production and post-production. PreViz and Virtual Production as well as the idea of a data backbone began to happen which created a completely new environment and a new workflow emerged. At the center of the world is still the idea, but everything rotates around it in a way that can be very interesting.”