THE GOAL OF DIGITAL CINEMA… 4k?

4k-byCMEI remember attending a screening in Silverlake, California, years ago and seeing one of the first feature films shot on HD.  It looked… okay.  Digital cinema had not yet come of age but it was clear that it was coming soon.  With all of the recent discussion about 4k and the validity of 4k I started thinking about those days.  To me, what always seemed to be the goal, was to create a digital image using a digital camera that actually looked like film.  This was especially important for lower budget and independent filmmakers who had always been plagued by that “video look”.

The video look meant that, somehow, your film was cheaper and only meant to be taken seriously to a point.  HD continued to get better but still lacked a cinematic quality on the cameras.  Until the Red camera and DSLR filmmaking came along to save the day (although I’m sure Kodak would not see it that way-we’ll always have a place of respect for film…).

No doubt the Red Camera changed everything.  With the intense focus currently placed on the Arri Alexa as the “go to” camera for most television/film production we sometimes forget to thank the fine people at Red for changing the way we captured images.  As sensors got better and, now that we had a true depth of field, we suddenly saw even the little films starting to have a true cinematic quality (of course, 24p helped all of this as well).

Which brings us to now.  With only a handful of purists holding onto shooting film, digital cinema has truly matured.  It’s certainly not in it’s infancy, it’s past it’s awkward teenage years, and has hit what feel’s like it’s 20’s-yep the time where you leave mom and dad, party a little bit, and then learn what the real world is all about.  Okay, enough of that rant…

So, back to 4k.  I think pretty much everyone in the production world is on the same page that acquiring in 4k is helpful and basically by achieving that we’ve hit that mark of truly creating digital film (since film is essentially 4k).  Although I still am not on the 4k train (yet) I do think it seems excellent to acquire images in.  Especially for projecting or down-converting to 1080p.

However, my question is this.  If the goal was to get digital to replace film, and we’ve essentially achieved that, what is the point of going beyond this space? Now I am all for better images, better codecs, more dynamic range, etc.-especially at a cheaper price.  But at what point does this just get out of hand? And what’s the point? It creates a lot of challenges not just for the content creator but also for the consumer.

After all, I’ve listened to more podcasts then I care to mention asking how many people can actually tell the difference between 1080p, 4k, etc.? Now, if you’re in a movie theatre, maybe… But at home, most people can’t tell the difference.

There is no doubt that it is an exciting time to be a filmmaker/content creator but it does get complicated when deciding what to purchase, when, and the big question of whether or not I really need something?  And I think it’s fair to say this from both the consumer and professional side.  There is no doubt that we will see more 4k and beyond items but I am still not convinced that the end-user consumer really cares.

A lot of people compare HD and 4K as a big jump for consumers.  But I still feel it is not as huge a jump as it was to go from VHS to DVD as a consumer delivery format.  When this happened you could really see the difference-not to mention films were finally released in a widescreen format showing their true glory.  Comparatively some people cannot see the difference between DVD and BLURAY, especially with how well some BLURAY players up-convert the image.

Again, if the goal was a 4K film look and we’ve achieved that then I think we’re getting to a place where we have to ask ourselves the real question-what is the content? And is the technology helping me to tell the story better or am I getting lost in shooting pretty images that ultimately have no meaning? I think it’s important that we push ourselves as filmmakers to tell a great story and move the audience emotionally and stop focusing so much on our gear.  Of course, I love the tech and the tools but it’s a great reminder to consider what seemed to be the original goal of the digital filmmaking shift.

I will say this-the good thing is that at this point, as content creators, we have reached a place where the technology is so great we really can’t go wrong-we’ve got the tools.  Which is really cool because now we can tell stories and not have the audience get distracted by some “video look”.

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