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Going Digital: Fad or Reality?

Digital cameras for professional filmmakers and digital equipment to handle production and projection of films are hot topics and a very lucrative business. But is the future for filmmaking going to exclusively employ this technique, or is it just the latest technological trend? A number of equipment, filmmakers and post-production experts gave their opinion at the Hong Kong Filmart's Seminar on Digital Camera & Production, held on the afternoon of 22 March.

Vice-President of the Hong Kong Film Director's Guild Mr Alex Law opened the session with a few comments about the changes in digital production over the past 30 years. He cited movies such as Casino Royale and directors such as Mel Gibson as having gone digital, and questioned whether it is going to completely dominate the future. He asked: "Is it another possibility for filmmakers? Is the future already here and are we ready for it?"

Session One covered the various components of the digital cinema system, such as mastering, distribution and theatrical projection. Presented by Mr Edman Chan, Manager, Digital Cinema Greater China Cluster for Kodak Hong Kong Limited, the digital cinema distribution master (DCDM) would contain image data, audio data, subtitles and other auxiliary data. While image data would be compressed to remove redundant information without losing the quality of the film, audio data would remain uncompressed. In order to ensure uniform specifications, seven of the major Hollywood studios established Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI), a set of guidelines for digital content. He advised that although Mpeg2 was the more mature method with a lower cost, Jpeg2K is what the DCI outlined as it results in a higher quality picture over time; in addition, the two systems are not compatible. "I don't see digital taking over filmmaking or theatres very quickly," he said, as it is still a small percentage of the market share.

Mr Paul Yim, Marketing Development Manager with BARCO, continued Session One by explaining the advantages of going digital, such as lower production costs, more special effects and guaranteed perfect copies. In addition, digital allowed for simultaneous global release of movies, no film wastage and reduction of piracy with encryption and watermarking of originals. The advantages for the exhibitor included less preparation work, more opportunities for alternative programming--such as events, live television and local productions--and a lower real estate cost since projection rooms would be eliminated. "For the patron, it means a faster release schedule and the same image quality everywhere," he said.

During Session Two, Hong Kong Director Mr Fruit Chan and Chairman of the Hong Kong Society of Cinematographers Mr Arthur Wong shared their respective high definition (HD) camera filmmaking experiences with the audience. Chan believed that Hong Kong is moving slowly in terms of experimenting with digital filmmaking, mostly because of the costs associated with the equipment. However, he did not see much difference between the two: "Just as long as my cinematographer knows how to play with the 'menu' to get the desired moods and effects, I support HD camera work." Wong pointed out that the Beijing Olympics would be broadcasted using HD cameras, and that the equipment made post production work more simple. "You don't have to worry about running out or replacing film," he added. "HD cameras are better for dark or dim conditions, such as filming taxi drivers late at night."

Post-production experience with digital equipment was shared by Mr Paul Stambaugh, Managing Director of Technicolor in Thailand, and Mr Eric Stark, Director, Electronic & Electrical Operations, Shaw Studios in Hong Kong. Stambaugh explained that Digital Intermediate is an evolutionary process that allowed perfectly colour-timed feature film masters to be created digitally. The process allowed for a greater range of colour manipulation, desaturation and other special effects. Stark, however, cautioned that filmmakers should not believe everything they are told, stressing that quality of the film should still be the most important criteria. "A good film will be enjoyed by an audience," he said. "Film is an art form with over 100 years of tradition. The content of the film supercedes the technology. Digital has to be affordable, cost effective and commercially viable in order to work."

Rounding out the speakers was Ms Tracy Hon, Marketing Manager with Sony Corporation of Hong Kong, who gave an overview on the latest digital equipment her company offered. "Sony offers a total solution package for digital cinema, from shooting to theatre," she said. "Our philosophy is HD for all," with products ranging from the entry level HDV to the professional HDCam SR.

For press enquiries, please contact Ms Rochelle Lewis at 2584 4403.

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