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Digital Cinema Initiatives

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Rick Mitchell Film Editor/ Film Director/ Film Historian Date: April 18, 2004
On March 29 and 30, 2004, the Digital Cinema Initiatives, a consortium of studio and vendors involved in developing standards for Digital Cinema demonstrated a film they had made for that purpose at their lab in the Hollywood Pacific Theater in Hollywood.

As the member studios were reluctant to allow clips from their films to be used for this purpose, DCI decided to make their own film, which was probably a better idea anyway as standardized cameras, lenses, film stock, and development would be used. They approached the American Society of Cinematographers for help and discovered the ASC had been working along similar lines.

Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, ASC, came up with a script involving an Italian wedding, and Allen Daviau, ASC directed the material on the Universal back lot. The subject matter was designed to cover as many conditions as possible, including fine material like lace veils and glass, and was photographed in daylight, magic hour, night time, and fog and rain at night in Super 35, 35mm anamorphic, and 65mm. This material was scanned at 6k and downrezzed to 1K and 2K for the test. 

The screening began with selected daily clips from the 35mm anamorphic version shown split-screen from film, on a Kinotone projector, and digitally from a 2K Christie projector. I sat third row center, where I used to sit back when the Pacific was operating as a regular theater. Supposedly digital projection cannot stand up when viewed that close, but I was quite surprised at how well it did. Only the material shot in night time fog looked really less than satisfactory. Others in the audience saw more pixilation in the digital version than I did, but that may be due to the fact that I had been unable to clean my contact lenses beforehand.

However, I found the film version more satisfying, with more snap, though the digital did look better than any I've seen previously. But, as I've mentioned in the past, mine are film, not video oriented eyes.

The final presentation was the digital projection of the edited 12 minute film, which intercut shots from all three formats. On a one time viewing, it looked pretty good, something the average person probably would not differentiate from film. I could tell which shots were Super 35, anamorphic, or 65mm, sometimes; I could probably pick out more, and spot more flaws, on another viewing.

Caveats however, are, as usual these tests are usually done under optimum conditions: scanning at 6K, uncompressed projection at 2K, etc. Are these the conditions that are likely to prevail if this system is implemented? Given the industry's tendency to take the cheapest way out, still unanswered is the degree to which compression will ultimately negatively affect Digital Cinema.

Also, there has been an increase in the use of video, HD, DV, and even camcorder for production. Some behind-the-scenes camcorder footage uprezzed to the resolution of the final version was used during the end credits, and looked as bad as such footage usually does. Since, theoretically, video origination should yield better results than film origination for Digital Projection, is anything being done with this?
Further in 70mm reading:

More DCL

Video Projection Revolution: The Phantom Improvement

Internet link:

Note as of July 15, 2004:

Correction to your information regarding the Digital Cinema Initiatives. The Entertainment Technology Center at USC uses the Hollywood Pacific Theater for its Digital Cinema Laboratory. The Digital Cinema Initiatives is a client of the ETC-USC conducting its testing and standard development at the DCL.

Your article mentioned that the lab belongs to DCI and that's not the case.

Thank you.

Edie Meadows
Chief Administrative Officer
Entertainment Technology Center at USC
734 W. Adams Blvd. KCH 204
Los Angeles, CA 90089-7725
213-743-1610 direct
213-743-1803 fax

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Updated 21-01-24