Friday, June 3, 2011

Digital Cinema For The People

Last month’s 8th Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival was a huge success! We screened over 35 films in competition, held a special exhibition of student works from USC, CalArts, and the Echo Park Film Center, and presented a sidebar show of movies by Korean filmmakers. There was a conversation with Stereo VFX Supervisor Chuck Comisky, equipment demonstrations from festival sponsors 3D Film Factory and Ron James Film, a great Q&A with stereographer Brian Gardner following the screening of Coraline, and a spectacular closing night awards screening and party. I want to thank all of the incredibly talented filmmakers who submitted their work to be screened, the many club volunteers who worked so hard to make the festival happen, and everyone who came out to enjoy two days of the best indie 3-D content in the world.

And of course, a huge thank you to Jim Kirst and the staff of the Downtown Independent Theater. The Downtown Indie has been our monthly home for 3-D movie nights for almost two years now, and we’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with the theater to continue showing stereo content that you won’t see at any other venue. If anyone poked their head into the projection booth during the festival, you may have noticed the brand new Dolby digital cinema server and Barco 2K projector that was just installed a day before our show. This new equipment is brighter and has a higher resolution than the theater’s previous digital projection system, and allows the theater to show movies delivered as digital cinema packages, or DCPs - essentially a digital version of a film print - the digital format utilized by mainstream cinemas around the world. This gives the theater the ability to play more content from a wide variety of distributors.

A DCP is a specially mastered set of files - each frame of a movie is encoded into a jpeg2000 file, and the audio and video are saved as “essence” files within mxf wrappers, along with additional files that tell the server where to find each frame in those wrappers. DCP files can be encrypted by the distributor to require a special digital key in order to play on a specific server/projector. DCPs can support both 2-D and 3-D content, so I was very excited to hear that the theater had purchased this equipment.

Now, running d-cinema 3-D requires some additional bells and whistles to provide left and right polarized images from a single projector configuration, and unfortunately, this extra equipment wasn’t part of the theater’s package, so we weren’t able to use it to show 3-D content during the festival. The theater asked me for advice on adding 3-D capabilities to the new system, so I introduced them to Chris Ward of Lightspeed Design, the company behind the DepthQ electronic polarization modulator - an LCD panel placed in from of the projection lens, which polarizes the light, rapidly switching 144 times a second between opposing circular polarizations in synch to the left and right frames being projected. One week later, the DepthQ modulator was installed and ready to use. This device, in conjunction with the theaters new server and projector, and the LA 3-D Club’s silver screen, provide all of the pieces for true 3-D digital cinema at the theater, and at our future screening events.

I can’t wait for next year’s 9th Annual LA 3-D Movie Fest!