Digital cinematography is the process of capturing motion pictures as digital images, rather than on film. Digital capture may occur on tape, hard disks, flash memory, or other media which can record digital data. As digital technology has improved, this practice has become increasingly common. Many mainstream Hollywood movies now are shot partly or fully digitally. The Academy Award for Best Cinematography was awarded to Slumdog Millionaire, a movie shot mainly digital in 2009.
Better sense of how the image will look - When shooting digitally, response to light is determined by the sensor(s) in the camera and recorded and "developed" directly. This means a cinematographer can measure and predict exactly how the final image will look by eye if familiar with the specific model of camera being used. On-set monitoring allows the cinematographer to see the actual images that are captured, immediately on the set, which is impossible with film. With a properly calibrated high-definition display, on-set monitoring can give the cinematographer a far more accurate picture of what is being captured than is possible with film.
More portable - Ultra-lightweight and extremely compact digital cinematography cameras are much smaller and lighter than mechanical film cameras. On Slumdog, film was shot with combination of 35mm and digital film with a ratio of 40:60. Smaller, lighter digital films were useful in action scenes in narrow streets and alleys. Danny Boyle had previous experience of digital shooting with his director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle, on 28 Days Later.
Digital filiming offers better performance than film in low-light conditions, allowing less lighting and in some cases completely natural or practical lighting to be used for shooting, even indoors. This low-light sensitivity also tends to bring out shadow detail. However, the sensors even in most high-end digital video cameras have less exposure latitude (dynamic range) than modern motion picture film stocks. In particular, they tend to 'blow out' highlights, losing detail in very bright parts of the image – you saw this in Shooting Magpies!
Films are traditionally shot with dual-system recording, where picture is recorded on camera, and sync sound is recorded to a separate sound recording device. Picture and sound are then synced up in post-production. In the past this was done manually by lining up the image of the just-closed clapper board sticks with their characteristic "Click!" on the sound recording. Nowadays this is normally done automatically using timecodes burnt onto the edge of the film emulsion. Digital cinema cameras can record sound internally, already in sync with picture, eliminating the need for syncing so work can be faster.
Cheaper - For the last 25 years, respected filmmakers like George Lucas predicted electronic or digital cinematography would bring about a revolution in filmmaking, by dramatically lowering costs. Amber used digital on Shooting Magpies due to problems with funding when Channel 4 were undergoing restructuring - felt the need to reclaim some kind of control so they decided to make the feature with considerably less expensive digital video, particularly when the filmmakers were pleased with the quality of the material that had been shot to research the production. The film was shot with available light and virtually no location budget. Digital video takes cost pressures off improvisation and experiment and digital editing allowed access to a far wider group of the filmmakers than traditional analogue editing.
For low-budget productions, digital cinematography has cost benefits over shooting on 35 mm or even 16 mm film. The cost of film stock, processing, telecine, negative cutting, and titling for a feature film can run to tens of thousands of dollars. Editing is also easier and the equipment can be portable and viewed immediately. Most extremely low-budget movies never receive wide distribution, but this may change with the advent of disgital distribution.
Improved speed, security and the ability to connect to the postproduction already while shooting, play a role when A-budgets are shot digitally and not mechanically. Skipping developing the negative, linking live via satellite or data networks, on set backups of the shots and immediate availability of high-quality dailies on blu-ray, hdcam or file-base have become commonplavce for many directors and Directors of Photography. The ability to check expensive shots at once on set, the possibility to backup and copy shots in high quality on the set, the immediate transfer to postproduction and remote viewing of second unit work by directors allow massive cost- and timesavings and reduce risks.
Recent films, such as Sin City and Superman Returns, both shot on digital tape, had budgets of $40 million and close to $200 million respectively. The cost savings, probably in the range of several hundred thousand to over a million dollars, are not negligible for today's producers. Consider, for example how small Slumdog’s budget was – it would have been much more – beyond what the producers had – to shoot the whole movie on film.
In 2009, the Academy Award for best cinematography was awarded for a film where more than half was shot digitally, Slumdog Millionaire. Another nominee, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was also shot digitally.
Digital distribution and exhibition - For the over 4000 theatres with digital projectors in the USA, digital films may be distributed digitally, either shipped to theaters on hard drives or sent via the Internet or satellite networks. Digital Cinema Initiatives, a joint venture of the major studios, has established standards for digital cinema projection.
Distributors prefer digital distribution, because it saves them the expense of making film prints, which may cost as much as $2000 each. Digital projection also offers advantages over traditional film projection such as lack of jitter, flicker, dust, scratches, and grain. They are also far more flexible with regard to running trailers, pre-feature advertisements and the like. In the majority of cases, rather than being a complete conversion to digital projection, the likely scenario is digital projectors sitting side-by-side with film projectors in the projection booths, (often replacing the pre-feature slide projector) or only some units in a multiplex being Digital Only. New cinemas use a mixture of film and digital projection.
Digital distribution in the UK – near the end of 2005, the UK distribution and exhibition sectors were starting to move towards digital distribution and exhibition. For exhibitors, digital projection, especially when married to the increasing use digital formats in production, can now replicate - if not surpass - the image quality of conventional 35mm cinema presentation. And, of course, digital sound systems have been used in cinemas for some time.
At the stage of distribution, the advantages of digital technology are even clearer. Digital technology is seen to offer a more cost effective and logistics-light alternative to the tried and trusted, but unwieldy model of 35mm print distribution described above. Eventually - cheaper and much less stressful to send films as computer files to cinemas across the UK, than to transport 20-25kg tins of film in the back of a van.
The force of this change and the new capacity of technology to replicate 35mm imaging, has led the UK Film Council to establish a digital distribution and exhibition programme for the theatrical sector at the end of 2005. The Digital Screen Network (DSN) will eventually support new facilities in 211 screens across the country (out of a total of just over 3,300 screens in the UK) - a small but important step change towards full digital cinema.
The DSN will initially work with files transferred from a high definition digital master (either HDD5, or HD Cam). The compressed and encrypted files will be sent directly to cinemas to be opened as files for screening with digital projection equipment. In the future it will be possible for the distributor to send feature film files electronically, via broadband networks, thus eliminating dependence on transportation.
The advent of digital distribution has the potential radically to alter the work of distributors around the world. The comparatively low cost of film copies and additional logistical effectiveness of digital distribution provide the distributor with greater flexibility. It will be less expensive in the coming years to offer a wide theatrical opening with many copies, and also conversely, to screen a film for just one performance at any cinema. In theory - possible for both distributors and exhibitors to respond more precisely to audience demand.
In the future, more titles, both mainstream and specialised, could receive wide theatrical openings, and that this broadening of access at the point of release will dramatically reduce the overall theatrical period from 3-6 months to perhaps 1-3 months. Films will then enter into a second-run and repertory programming market aided by lower costs.
The shortened first-run period will in turn bring forward the distributor's release of the DVD. And there's the rub. The adoption of digital technologies offers greater opportunities for distributors to create joined-up campaigns for theatrical and DVD releases, in which, increasingly, the theatrical opening is used as a way of providing a loss-leading marketing platform for the highly lucrative DVD leg.
Currently, however - not all theaters currently have digital projection systems, even if a movie is shot and post-produced digitally, it must be transferred to film if a large theatrical release is planned. Typically, a film recorder will be used to print digital image data to film, to create a 35 mm internegative. After that the duplication process is identical to that of a traditional negative from a film camera. Slumdog, of course, was a mix of 35mm film and digital.
Digital special effects – creation of crowds, buildings, fantasy worlds – can cut costs but the artificial nature can be off-putting e.g. Beowulf as opposed to the more arty look of Sin City. On Sunshine (2007), about a spaceship heading for the sun to save earth, Danny Boyle used CGI to create the effect of the craft moving through space.
Marketing - New technology can target specific audiences in a variety of ways - creation of standalone studio-sponsored per-film websites such as "example-the-movie.com" – which will include trailers, teasers, competitions, infiormation, stills, short excerpts, music etc
Slumdog – stories, reviews and interviews in traditional print and audo-visual media were bolstered by word of mouth – supported by new technology – twitter, email, social networking sites, blogs - in today’s highly networked world, the buzz spread so fast.
Viral marketing: free distribution of trailers on movie-oriented websites and video user-generated-content websites (e.g Youtube), and rapid dissemination of links to this content by email and blogs. Includes alleged leakage of supposed "rushes" and "early trailers" of film scenes. E.g.- a remixed viral trailer for the UK release of the Oscar-tipped Danny Boyle film Slumdog Millionaire, using only images and sounds from the film has been produced by audiovisual artists Addictive TV.
Addictive TV was approached by French film company Pathé (distribuor of the film in Europe and the UK) and filmmaker Boyle to create a mash-up video for Slumdog Millionaire after giving similar treatments to previous blockbuster film releases such as Iron Man. Their purpose was to help market the film through online video sharing sites, like YouTube.
The mobile phone is the ultimate platform for targeted advertising – trailers etc - right in front of your face all day; it’s your most personal device, your conduit to the outside world. It’s a marketer’s dream location.
Take the example of Watchmen on iphones - this application has a head start, as there are already superb visuals to work with from the graphic novel. Its main screen features one character watching a bank of TVs (like the bank of icons on the phone) - one of the recurring points in the graphic novel - and is scrollable. Clicking on those TVs releases further content, and when you return to the main screen, more TVs are available to click. It’s a nice interface, and in keeping with the source material. Content available includes: trailers, “motion comics” that were developed from the original novel, photos, which are saveable to the Photo Library, character profiles, video journals, links which open up Safari (the internet).
Ads for films can be placed on social networking sites – targeted at specific age groups and gender based on information gathered on users’ profiles.
Audience strategies in facilitating or challenging institutional practices – in the past, studios tended to control film publicity, allowing interviews and sending out press releases. Now, in the era of mass popular access to the internet, people express their views on films on blogs, social network sites etc and some have become well established enough to be accesses and referenced in newspaper reviews e.g. Ain’t It Cool News (aintitcool.com); negative comments about Slumdog Millionaire were written by the Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan on his blog and then picked up by The Guardian in the UK, then referred to by film scholars like Roy Stafford and David Bordwell on their blogs.
Of course, you now have to factor in the loss of the UK Film Council and its replacement by the BFI...