FEATURE: Film versus Digital

Sony has been in collaboration with Panavision to develop the 24P camera technology, which plans to eventually revolutionise the commercials industry.

After completing the Star Wars prequel, Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace in 1999, George Lucas declared that film was dead and the future was digital.

The comment provoked both panic and excitement. And yet the technology has not gained as strong a foothold as first predicted, in commercials' production as well as films.

Sony is among those trying to change that, particularly with its latest initiative, the Dreams Project. The project began when Sony asked Young & Rubicam New York to make a commercial in hi-def. They 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," says Ken Yagoda, director of broadcast production at the agency.

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, which was completed earlier this year, saw directors including Tony Kaye, Bob Giraldi, Frank Todaro and Jordan Scott bringing dreams and the technology to life. (See this and the next issue of Campaign Screen).

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

Sony has been working closely with Panavision for a number of years to develop the 24P camera technology to create a DV format capable of capturing five times the amount of data as digital betacam tape. 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.

"High Definition digital tape definitely has more detail [than normal digital tape]," explains cinematographer John Pardue, who recently wrapped on an Aids Awareness campaign utilising the new 24P camera.

Shot through Serious Pictures alongside director Dan Nathan, Pardue was impressed by the quality of the format but still had to overcome a handful of problems with lighting and post, as he discusses on the tape.

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, while zero film processing and lower telecine costs continue to make the format look attractive in regard to timelines.

"The most precious commodity on a commercial shoot is time and digital video allows more flexibility," remarks Ivan Bird, one of the most prolific cinematographers on the scene today; the Mini 'Martians' campaign, Orange 'Hold Up' and the recent 'Champagne' spot for Xbox are recent visual adventures on his resume.

"The cheap format and quality of DV is fantastic for allowing new talent to enter the industry," adds Bird.

Yet, as upbeat as Bird is regarding DV, his experience with the range and flexibility of film leaves him wary of the new 24P camera, as he reveals on the tape.

"I think (24P) is cool for graphically based stuff," comments director Matteo Bonifazio, recently collecting top prize at an HD 24P competition organised by Sony at the New Technology exhibit in Milan last year. "If you have a range of colours to capture then 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 commercial 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 commercial production arena seem to indicate its lack of need at present. Nevertheless, the new 24P digital format has admittedly made a small but marked dent in the industry thus far, a cheap alternative that offers imagery remarkably similar to those of a motion picture camera.

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