According to James "Jim" Jannard, founder and former owner of Oakley and a man who chose to create his dream camera with Red Digital Cinema – James Cameron recently made an order for purchase of 50 Red Epic high end digital cinema cameras. For one of the most successful and visionary directors of today this move may be seen as a significant step for cinematography of tomorrow.
Why is this announcement so important? Let’s go through it:
5K versus 1080p
Until now, Cameron has been focused on using Sony HD camera systems in his digital moviemaking, which were Full HD 1080p cameras, combined into 3D rigs to capture stereo imagery. You can probably remember the scenes from Avatar in which real characters were shot and composited inside a CGI generated space, which looked kind of soft. This is because resolution of the cameras was lower than 35mm film and much lower than CGI generated environment. Upcoming RED Epic camera will solve that by enabling shooting in 5K resolution (5120 x 2700 pixels). Having a 13.8 megapixel movie enables significantly higher picture detail, finally surpassing the 35mm film resolution. This also means that the next time you go to IMAX and see Cameron’s flick on the largest screen – you will enjoy in the experience even more than before.
48p or 60p versus 24p i.e. 24 frames per second
For a while now, Cameron has been suggesting an increase in frame rate of future movies, with a firm standpoint that increasing temporal resolution has the potential to immerse the viewer more strongly. Having made high frame rate tests myself I share his standpoint. Generations of computer gamers have been used to higher framerates for years, while the filmmaking community is filled with opposing views, greatly addicted to the look and feel of 24p, fearing the loss of one of the aesthetics which make "cinema" feel like "cinema".
As Jim Cameron has a great technical background, and many innovations in the film industry as well, the direction which he suggests taking does deserve at least some benefit of doubt. 3D movies will surely benefit with this switch, with removed strobing of 24p, which pulls the viewer back from the illusion of virtual space. For cinema goers removing the temporal limitation of 24p means 3D films becoming "more real". How good will this new aesthetic implemented in 2D type of storytelling will mostly depend on creativity of storytellers themselves. Epic cameras will allow shooting at higher native frame rates enabling Cameron’s vision to come to life. Today?s digital cinema projectors support higher frame rates, so apart from more work for CGI artists and longer render times in special effects suits which this step requires, cinemas are already there for the switch.
In digital multimedia we sample reality with bits, and the size and precision of those samples affects how good that reality is represented, or how real does the created fantasy world look. Epic captures RAW motion imagery at 16-bit per color depth, much higher than 10-bits per channel used today. Moving to 16-bit per color makes a huge step in digitally recorded motion picture quality and gives post production artists much greater flexibility and creativity. What does it mean for the average viewer? More natural looking colors and gradations with film like depth and richness. Additional high dynamic range capability will also add a new "edge" if used in the right hands, and it looks like in right hands it may very well be.
One of biggest advantages of RED Epic-M camera is its compact size, especially when compared to traditional cinema cameras
In any artist’s toolset practicality of using the creative tool has a great effect on the final artwork, and the better it is the greater creative freedom it brings. Compact size and low weight of Epic cameras enables much greater creativity and flexibility which means that film crews will be able to work and move faster with less technical limitations. New rigs and types of shots will be possible, meaning more eye candy for the film fans.
3D films or "stereo" is nothing new. Cameron did not invent it. What Cameron achieved with Avatar, and new stereo capturing techniques and approach was a proof that stereo storytelling does have a great potential in modern filmmaking. Next step in cinematography may very well be the increase of temporal resolution – upping the refreshing speed of the imagery which practically removes the perceived screen between the viewer and the virtual space. The move of embracing the full potential of the latest technology, made by one of the most innovative directors of today can easily tickle one?s imagination and raise the expectations for storytelling and entertainment of tomorrow.
Having spent more than a decade behind the camera and a bunch of years in post-production as well…I’d say that this move from James Cameron will create the next step in filmmaking.
Let’s see if I was right.