OPPORTUNITIES: Directors who elect to work in HD will find opportunities to tell stories in new ways, says Yagoda. He points to Ananda, Will Vinton Studios' striking entry in Dreams' second-year series on the subject of joy. "I've never seen anything that uses technology in a more inviting and clever way. It mixes live action, 2D, 3D, models, compositing. People are looking for the killer [HD] app and finding it."
Y&R has been a leader in migrating spots to HD. It completed 20 to 25 HD spots this year, including an AT&T campaign and PSAs marking the bicentennial of Lewis & Clark's expedition.
THREATS: HD "is not going away" but the industry needs to "make HD standards a little more similar and work on making equipment design more user friendly."
OUTLOOK 2004: "I've given up predicting!"
Partner, Chernoff Touber Associates, LA
STRENGTHS: "The main strength of the move to HD has to be the final commitment by Fox and its transition to the 720p standard. With all major networks now committed, demand for programming, and thus equipment and services, has increased," reports Touber who's partnered with Larry Chernoff in a new consulting firm.
"The R&D work that manufacturers and facilities have invested on HD workflow, process and technology these past few years has spawned bonus results in 2K and 4K technologies, which are now being applied to feature work." This includes digital intermediates, visual effects and electronic capture, he adds. "This helps to support the future model of the 'electronic laboratory,' which is perhaps the inevitable next step in the evolution of the post facility."
WEAKNESSES: Touber sees "several minor weaknesses to the conversion to HD, such as our necessary commitment to maintaining a 'legacy' path for existing television, MPEG glitches and workflow snags. Plus, with all the additional bandwidth required for HD, certain steps just take longer."
OPPORTUNITIES: "For producers, one of [HD's] best opportunities is its ability to let new players into the creative filmmaking game. For budget-conscious independent feature filmmakers it may be just the break they were looking for. For TV production companies and broadcasters, the opportunity with HD lies in the ability to utilize fully electronic techniques for production and yet maintain the visual appeal normally associated with film."
For emerging post houses, Touber sees "an opportunity to potentially grab market share from more established players by developing new post techniques based on lower cost server solutions that require significantly less initial capital investment and therefore lower rate structures. For a couple of years this may be a tremendous windfall for adventurous entrepreneurs, as long as they can hold firm on their business model and set a healthy rate structure based on the costs of their equipment rather than simply the rate of the bid next door."
THREATS: According to Touber, "the business is key" to HD's success. "A more fractured and declining viewing audience has resulted in lower ad revenues and licensing fees from broadcasters, which ultimately trickles down to all facets of production and post. No technology is immune from this business phenomenon, and unfortunately HD requires large amounts of infrastructure and capital re-investment at a time when client budgets are tighter than ever. The result has been a challenging price battle amongst post houses which, though temporarily beneficial to producers and the buyers of post services, continues to erode the health of the industry at a time when much more, not less capital investment is required."
OUTLOOK 2004: "The post industry has always been a challenge, suited best for entrepreneurs with tough guts!" He believes 2004 will be no exception. "It appears content demand will be increasing, especially if more cable channels begin to consider HD, so hopefully this will breathe more demand into the ultra-competitive facility environment going forward."
A.S.C., Cinematographer, Hollywood
STRENGTHS: For Robert Primes, "the ability to monitor precisely is the primary artistic advantage of HD." He also likes HD's low-light capabilities, which can trim lighting budgets. But film "is not standing still," he stresses, citing the introduction of the Arricam, new Kodak stocks and Kodak's development of an advanced previewing system.
WEAKNESSES: "Most HD cameras are modified ENG cameras. I hope the next generation of cameras will be designed as more efficient production cameras with better ergonomics. Cinematographers are used to a very sophisticated camera infrastructure, which has been refined over the decades. HD cameras are currently more awkward systems."
Specifically Primes would like to see better viewfinders and increased color-bit depth. "You can't get the wonderful continuous gradations of color you get with film, although the results can still be quite beautiful. One weakness "that's improving rapidly," however, is exposure latitude.
OPPORTUNITIES: "Digital intermediates are going to be the future. They offer enormous image manipulation tools that you don't have with a contact print. They give me the opportunity to take the best photography I'm able to do under budget and time constraints and then do a polishing pass."
Improved HD cameras will offer cinematographers new opportunities. "Thomson's Viper camera and Sony's 950, which are in production now, have 4:4:4 compression and higher color-bit recording which increases quality. Dalsa and Arriflex have cameras coming with full, 35mm-size chips. Digital has proven its viability. Now people are working on new-generation equipment, and the results should be terrific."
THREATS: Primes likens film and video to a sailboat and a motor boat, respectively. "You need a fair amount of seamanship to sail a sailboat, but the ease of running a motor boat means anybody can drive it. You learn a certain amount of craft to shoot film, but video is right in front of you. There's a danger that people shooting video won't learn the craft of cinematography, resulting in a diminution of quality and emotional impact in the work."
Primes does his part to see that doesn't happen by teaching Panasonic VariCam workshops, which emphasize "some of the bold and expressive looks" achievable with modern HD cameras.
A proponent of "emotionally effective cinematography," Primes added HD to his creative toolbox in 1998. Since 1998, Primes has lensed the TV series MDs in HD, shot an HD pilot with Tom Selleck and just finished his first full-length HD feature, Mario van Peebles's Getting the Man's Foot Outta Your Baadasssss.