Beyond HD

“You know......I read a lot.”
Clifford Worley, TRUE ROMANCE, 1993

I read a lot too. And there’s a lot to read nowadays (what with all those FaceTweets) which makes it hard to separate fact from fiction occasionally or to know how credible the source of news is. Like the recently deceased man who didn’t know he’d died until he read his Facebook tribute page. Ok, so that wasn’t true - it was a tweet I read the other day.

So sometimes it’s good to get out there and see things for yourself and hear from people who can actually profess to be experts because they are telling you to your face and you can see their earnest expressions. In high resolution as it turned out. Today I attended the first of a two day event called Beyond HD which was organised by and held at Ravensbourne College next to the O2 Arena in Greenwich.

The event aimed to collate and share information about the latest HD camera and workflow technologies and explain how they are being used in the real world (or the world of film and TV anyway). There was a good mix of conference keynote sessions, workshops and exhibition with a distinguished array of speakers and tutors who work with this technology every day.

We kicked off with a fascinating talk from Cinematographer Gavin Finney who demonstrated how he was able to shoot digital images ‘log’ which means the camera does not apply its own set of image corrections, and be able to monitor the images with a range of colour grades to choose from so that the production team can get an accurate view of how the shots will look and more importantly, be able to send the post-production team a set of files called Look Up Tables or LUTs to communicate the DoP’s vision. The most impressive gadget was a waveform monitor from Astro that could sit on your camera and display your image with a histogram underneath so you can see whether your whites are peaking or your blacks are crushed. He used an Arri Alexa and a Canon 7D camera to compare between and it was interesting to see how much more dynamic range there was with the Arri, ensuring that every detail of the image was captured ready for enhancing in post. It highlighted to me just how critical the grading process is in the modern digital film workflow, making locking the video of a film an important collaboration between the editor, the colourist and the DoP.

There was a great panel discussion where it was heartening to see that the film industry is actively embracing the new camera technology as it gives them a whole new set of tools, with many professionals such as director Danny Boyle choosing to use a range of cameras on any one project, mixing film formats with digital acquisition like he did on Slumdog Millionaire. There will always be a love of film and for the moment there is still a definite need for it - as they said, if you want the ‘film look’, shoot on film!

Understandably there was a grudging respect for filmmakers like Gareth Edwards (Monsters) who was able to gain worldwide distribution for a film which he wrote, shot, directed, edited and did the visual effects using high definition pro-sumer video formats. Not everybody on the panel was as complimentary - there must be a certain insecurity in knowing that almost anybody can gain access to equipment to make a film and get it seen in cinemas around the world, for someone that has trained their whole life to become an expert in one discipline. The point that some of the best films are the result of a team effort is a valid one.

But ultimately I guess it comes down to the story. Millions of us will watch a tiny, grainy image on our mobiles if it is engaging and entertaining. And that is the most interesting aspect of how technology is changing the way we obtain our programming. Cameras today are simply computers with a lens on the front of them able to record massive amounts of picture information for sending down a pipe. My only hope is that we don’t get too used to watching the miniature window at the other end of the pipe so that we can do justice to these glorious images.

The truth is out there - and it looks amazing.