CLOSE-UP: CRAFT/CAMPAIGN SCREEN FEATURE - Digital video shows its quality for Attack of the Clones shoot. The digital format has the necessary quality to work in ads, Lisa Campbell says

"Every general leads in battle ... Every queen discovers her destiny ... Every boy becomes a man."

These lofty promises are to be fulfilled in less than two weeks when the eagerly awaited Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, bursts on to our cinemas.

But that's not all. As the first major movie to shoot exclusively on to digital video using a new 24-frame high-definition camera, the director, George Lucas, hopes that it will help to revolutionise film-making.

Predicting that the era of film photography is nearing its end, Lucas claims: "We are in the digital age now and trying to hold on to an old-fashioned technology that is cumbersome and expensive - you just can't do it."

Early reviews suggest the results are good, with the camera capturing a remarkable clarity, vibrancy and detail. The camera's makers, Sony/Panavision, are equally optimistic about its suitability for the commercials industry, but up to now the technology has been slow to gain as strong a foothold as was first predicted.

Sony is among those trying to change that, particularly with its latest initiative, the Dreams Project. This began back in autumn 1999 when Sony asked Young & Rubicam New York to make a commercial in hi-def. It couldn't find anyone to do it.

"There was much fear and loathing and scurrying for the doors by many a fine director at the prospect of being a technological test case,

Ken Yagoda, the director of broadcast production at the agency, says.

However, with the creation of 24P technology - a digital production system that emulates the 24-frame picture capture rate of film - attitudes are changing.

The Dreams Project, completed earlier this year, saw directors including Tony Kaye, Bob Giraldi, Frank Todaro and Jordan Scott bringing dreams and, more importantly, the technology to life. The results, which are showcased in the latest issue of Campaign Screen, are extremely encouraging.

Yet does this new format really stand up against the dizzying array of impressive filmstocks available on the market today?

And what are the views of commercials' directors and cinematographers who have worked with the technology?

Many are impressed with the image quality. Sony has been working closely with Panavision for a number of years to develop a digital video format capable of capturing five times the amount of data as digital betacam tape. This is an impressive technological feat that has led to claims of an image quality rivalling 16mm film.

Cost is also a major benefit, with one £50 tape running for a full 50 minutes, which could alleviate some of the pressure caused by shrinking production budgets.

"High definition digital tape definitely has more detail (than normal digital tape),

John Pardue, the cinematographer who recently wrapped on an Aids Awareness campaign utilising the new 24P camera, explains. "Blur has been added to the image by shooting at 24 frames per second in an attempt to make it look like film - this makes it look far more poetic, like regular film ultimately is."

Shooting through Serious Pictures alongside the director Dan Nathan, Pardue was impressed by the quality of the format but had to overcome a handful of problems with lighting and post.

"If you have a set in front of you with no contrast, film will give the scene added punch. On the 24P the image remained flat when looking at the work in post,

Pardue says.

Lenses become another consideration on the 24P. Cinematographers have to be content with much greater depth of field on the lenses developed as opposed to the shallow depth of field possible in the 35mm format.

Yet instant playback on a HD monitor does erase the need for rushes, representing an important time saving. Shooting Star Wars with digital cameras, for example, speeded up the production process considerably.

Instead of waiting for dailies to be screened the next day, footage could be viewed immediately. If everyone was happy, sets could be dismantled that day. Meanwhile, zero film processing and lower telecine costs continue to make the format attractive in regard to timelines.

"The most precious commodity on a commercial shoot is time and digital video allows more flexibility,

Ivan Bird, one of the most prolific cinematographers on the advertising scene today, says.

"The cheap format and quality of digital video is fantastic for allowing new talent to enter the industry,

he adds.

Yet as upbeat as Bird is regarding digital video, his experience with the range and flexibility of film leaves him wary of the new 24P camera.

"You just can't be as creative (with digital video) as with film; I've been in tough situations where I haven't been able to light anything and just let the filmstock look after me. These are scenes where digital video just wouldn't handle the low light,

he claims.

Others argue that the camera is more suitable for some things than others.

Matteo Bonifazio, who recently collected top prize at an HD 24P competition organised by Sony at the New Technology exhibit in Milan last year, comments: "I think (24P) is cool for graphically based stuff. If you have a range of colours to capture it's definitely a fantastic tool."

No doubt the technology on the HD 24P camera will advance over the years, making the format more readily adaptable to the commercials industry.

It presently seems best suited as a low-cost alternative to film for the likes of short features and episodic work. Higher budgets ensnared within the commercials production arena seem to indicate its lack of need at present. Nevertheless, the new 24P digital format has made a small but marked dent in the industry thus far, as a cheap alternative that offers imagery remarkably similar to that of a motion picture camera.