More image quality, yet less production and post production costs



























In the case of the Blackmagic 12k, for example, the uncompressed image of 12,288 x 6480 pixels would require 7.220 Mbytes/sec to playback at 60 fps, whereas the lightest compression of 5:1 requires a much more modest 1.500 Mbytes/sec. The point is, since I can’t see any difference between the two, surely needing only one fifth of storage requirements and lighter processing in post are advantages. And, indeed they are.


What this translates into is that the rate card for a facility working in the full, uncompressed resolution is probably likely to be much more expensive that a lightly compressed version of the same. True, fixed facilities in some major cities often also have high overheads to contend with, a scenario that springs to mind particularly with Soho, London and its whopping rate cards, but also the underlying technology in many of them can often no longer be the “cutting edge" it was when originally acquired, and may indeed not be able to handle these new very high resolution cameras at all.


From cameras to editing, colour grading, visual effects and distribution different types of compression play multiple roles in enabling on the one hand pristine quality images and sound, and, if used appropriately, can be indistinguishable when compared to their uncompressed “parents”.


This brings to mind the term “lossless”. To the sceptical, and to prove that there really is no visible difference, I offer to put the two images in comparison side by side, without explaining which is which. I have yet to find pairs of eyes capable of getting right consistently which was compressed and which no. Even with big screen projection, and even with A-list directors, and however close we stand to the screen. Lossless really does mean lossless.


Since seeing is believing with compression and imagery. If I can’t see a difference, why pay for it.


And now for recording 8K, and for that matter 12K image files too. For some these conjure up the idea of huge file sizes, related long transfer times, piles of hard drives, and slow proxy workflows. There is too a misconception that these high resolutions are vastly more expensive than they actually are. They don't have to be. With lossless compression the data rates are lower. There is no excuse for post facilities to over charge for 8k or 12k with light compression as the new post production technologies are far less expensive than the previous generations were. The only acceptable additional cost is that of some LTO 8 tapes to back up the original shot material in the case of a film, and this is probably less than $1000.  


Even though HDR (high dynamic range) and HFR (high frame rate) are far more valuable than resolution to the consumer’s eye, there are other benefits with an 8K - 12K production which an increasing number of projects are taking advantage of. These are better results for chroma keys, composites, colour grading, tracking, stabilisation and indeed practically all of the operations for visual effects, not to mention extensive possibilities of re-framing.


Innovative camera pioneer Red Digital Cinema has developed over the years a wide range of digital cameras using very efficient wavelet compression to achieve extremely high image quality with very small amounts of data. 

 

Such is the company’s faith in Redcode Raw and their colour science that there is no “uncompressed” version available from the camera. The lowest amount of compression is 5:1, and that is the “master”. Shooting 8k at 60 fps. gives a data rate of 300 Mbytes/sec. The excellent results and quality of the images tell the story by themselves.


The new Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 12k camera is brilliant for feature films, episodic television and immersive, large format IMAX. The ultra high definition around objects also makes it ideal for working with green, blue screens and visual effects - including compositing, live action and CGI. Super sampling at 12K means you not only get better color and resolution when down-rezzing to 8K or less, but also a smoothness that comes from making aliasing invisible.


Yes, this format represents a new benchmark that requires powerful computers configured appropriately for high resolution formats to edit and grade it, but that’s what cutting-edge post production facilities should now be able to offer to their clients, and if they can’t deal with it then my thought is that they have become obsolete.



























And on comes RAW, another clever idea that has also been developed by camera manufacturers to get the best possible image quality out of digital cameras while using the least amount of data. 


Images from cameras that can shoot in raw are perfect for colour grading with Da Vinci Resolve as they contain all of the original highlight, lowlight, and mid-tone information, they enable the full image latitude and HDR, and yet the files are made of reasonable amounts of data.


Post production can be made simpler and more efficient by not converting files into other formats, and, indeed Resolve is an excellent example with its capability of being able to work directly in native raw files. Why transcode to any other format? Doing so would be a waste of time, a waste of space and also a waste of money, whilst it would also degrade the image quality.


Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design adds;


"With the new Apple Mac Pro we see full‐quality 8K and 12K performance in real-time with color correction and effects, something we could never dream of doing before. DaVinci Resolve running on the new Mac Pro is easily the fastest way to edit, grade, and finish movies and TV shows.”


Based on Mike Connor's and my collective professional experiences and recent quantum leaps in the technology our Mobile Digital Lab functions both as a DIT workstation and as a creative editorial hub with on line editing, colour grading, sound and visual effects in the final quality resolution. It is the equivalent of a fully fledged post production facility that can be set up near shooting or even directly inside a film studio. It offers a simple, practical, cost effective and fast workflow for finishing high resolution 4k, 5k, 6k, 8k and 12k films and television series, shaving many weeks and months off the usual time to final delivery with the current standard methods, while also helping save overall costs along the way.


Carefully controlled light compression schemes can also be applied to film originated materials as well as digital cameras, and, towards this end a new joint venture with partner Pixelman offers 8k scanning for 35mm and 65mm films (with liquid gate Cineric scanners in New York, Lisbon and Rome), and which give the resulting 8k mastered and restored films an extremely impressive look. The standard 4k 16 bit DPX files that have been up to recently the usual mastering format, require in playback a data rate of some 405 MBytes/sec, whereas the same film scanned in 8k with the highest quality Pro Res Raw is a higher (but manageable) amount of data, with an incredible increase in picture quality.  Mobile Digital Lab's Mac Pro is capable of showing us in playback in real time files of up to 3.500 MBytes/sec. In numbers, the maximum quality Pro Res XQ file of an 8k film at 24 fps. is 848 MBytes/sec. On the other hand, the uncompressed 8k 16 bit dpx file would be a whopping 8018 MBytes/sec, or nearly 10 times as much data.


The point is that the 8k pro res offers visually lossless compression, or, in other words a result indistinguishable from the uncompressed version.


Those that have not yet seen the kind of result possible with 8k scanning of films state with conviction that 4k is “enough” for 35mm films. The Mobile Digital Lab pushes the benchmark from “enough” to "excellent", and for good reasons; it offers an analog style purity and subtlety with a pristine quality, in what could be defined as a possibly better than projected film experience.


The practise of oversampling, or using higher resolutions to shoot and scan offers, in our opinion, better image quality for the finished product, and now that the technology has become eminently enabling for 8k and beyond, there’s no excuse not to use it!! It will look better!! And it won’t cost more!! Indeed, with Mobile Digital Lab it will cost less!!


In the case of film mastering and restoration the Mobile Digital Lab ingests the scanned materials, and offers colour grading on its calibrated screen, following which the finished film (after a small amount of digital restoration) is output in 2k, 4k, or 8k or whatever file type is required.


Lossless - A type of codec for which putting an image through encoding followed by decoding results in an image that is mathematically guaranteed to have exactly the same pixel values as the original.


Visually lossless - A type of codec for which putting an image through encoding followed by decoding results in an image that is not mathematically lossless, but is visually indistinguishable from the original when viewed alongside the original on identical displays.












































There’s nothing wrong with a little compression, especially in the cost of production and post production.


Early one afternoon some 20 years ago a jovial young boffin called Peter Swinson of Rank Cintel demonstrated how, by scanning images in ever higher resolution, it was possible to use ever higher levels of compression, generating smaller files.


It seemed a miracle: using Peter's technique we got smaller files, less data and yet higher quality pictures.


Certainly, his work stimulated many of us to imagine that compression would become rather important from then on, and, indeed, it did.


Since that demonstration, and based to some degree on it, I’ve applied what has now become known as “Super Sampling” in all of my successive visual effects and post production work, and it has served me well. This technique uses over sampling, or using more resolution than the end product requires, so as to reap both compression benefits, better aliasing and higher quality images.


Through my many experiences, I’ve also come to the conclusion that small amounts of compression can be used effectively for mastering, editing, grading etc. in a pro-active way to reduce costs, and reduce storage requirements and expense. What I mean by that is that uncompressed formats are usually several orders of magnitude more data than their lightly compressed versions and, as the lossless compression is indistinguishable from the “uncompressed master”, can be somewhat inefficient if used for post, as they will inevitably cost more to master. I have also noted that with such light compression there are not issues with other, downstream compression schemes such as those used by internet streamers.



         Top right Peter Swinson in 2007 and bottom right in Chicago when working for Bell & Howell, holding their Technical Oscar.

                                                                                                                                       Below, Blackmagicdesign Ursa Mini Pro.