Q&A with Christian Zak, VP, Workflow and Technology, Technicolor
Make no mistake about it. High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the future of digital entertainment. Today we’re at a major pivotal point in the industry, one that affects the entire entertainment ecosystem – from content creators and their creative vision, to content consumers in theaters and homes. As such, Technicolor is playing a key role in HDR content distribution, easing the transition to HDR by making it more seamless – all toward realizing the goal of HDR for everyone.
As the future of our entertainment delivery systems, we need to support an open ecosystem today, where there’s an open HDR workflow from start to finish and everybody can collaborate freely. The decisions we make today are crucial, so it’s important to understand the current state of HDR and how it’s primed to evolve over the next decade.
Toward that end, here’s a closer look at HDR with Technicolor’s Christian Zak, VP, Workflow and Technology.
Q - What is the current state of High Dynamic Range, specifically as it relates to content development? What are you seeing in that environment in terms of how it is being embraced?
A - More and more studios are requiring some flavor of an HDR file as part of their standard deliverables package. At present, most productions still think of this deliverable as an afterthought, with SDR still largely the focus. This mentality stems from the fact that most of today’s content is still being viewed on SDR devices. The first time many creatives view their images on an HDR display or projector is at the very end of the process. This can be a bit shocking, in turn making them reluctant to embrace HDR to enhance their story. They are accustomed to the look of SDR; after all, this is how they have been viewing their content in pre-production, on-set, in editorial and in VFX reviews.
Q – It would seem then that it’s important to include HDR in the planning stages of a production? How does this affect Technicolor’s role and the post-production process itself?
A - We understand that we are in a bit of a transformation and that HDR resources are not readily available for every production or edit room to monitor in HDR. So in lieu of this, Technicolor does have a responsibility to help inform our clients about this evolving technology. One option might be to use the camera or hair/make-up tests to set looks in both SDR and HDR to help better understand the correlations. We can also illustrate the value and current limitations of these HDR ecosystems. Understanding what should be done on set vs. in color correction will help DPs make decisions so there are no surprises during finishing. As with any new technology, it’s about getting users to better understand how it can be used to enhance the experience and what limitations it may have at this point. Though HDR allows for brighter highlights and deeper shadow detail, not every project will necessarily want to take advantage of this.
Q - What is the benefit of bringing HDR on-set, and what other changes can be expected?
A - DPs have been capturing HDR for ages, but much of this dynamic range was never seen by the consumer due to the limitations of the projection or display technology. The dynamic range of the film stocks and digital cameras is basically the same as it was previously, but now the displays and projectors are allowing us to see more stops of information in both the shadow and highlight detail. Having the HDR monitors on-set will allow the camera department to help make lighting and exposure decisions for the desired look in both SDR and HDR. What may have been previously blown out by lighting on an SDR display may now be visible in HDR, so considerations will have to be made for this.
Q - Are you anticipating that as HDR evolves, it will change the skills required for content creation going forward?
A - As HDR evolves, I don’t feel it will change the fundamental skills required, but we might have to reevaluate our approach. Referring back to the example above: if a DP lights for the highlights on a window to be blown out, in HDR it might not be blown out. So decisions will have to be made on how to achieve this look, whether it be in camera or in post. Likewise, some limitations in current HDR delivery systems may mean making some compromises which will require different strategies.
Q - What other challenges do you see and what do you think needs to happen in order to overcome them?
A - As with most disruptive technology, HDR comes with its share of challenges. There are multiple types of HDR systems and the standards committees have not all agreed upon the specs of these systems. So each studio is responsible for initiating their own specs, which can cause issues when it comes to standardization. The main two HDR systems (HDR10 and Dolby Vision) were fairly recently introduced and many of the frustrations the community experienced are now trying to be addressed with HDR10+ and DV 4.0.
Q - While HDR grading is currently viewed as “future-proofing” content, many believe this will be the new delivery standard. Where do you see HDR in the next 5-10 years, in content creation, monitor sales, etc.?
A - I don’t have a crystal ball, but what I am hoping happens in the next 5-10 years is that standards and specs will be introduced so the workflow and deliverables become consistent for all studios. Hopefully once a true standard is introduced, then the consumer market will create displays to hit this standard and we won’t have a plethora of devices that all have different peak luminance levels.
Q - Are consumers ready for HDR? And if so, what other opportunities will the demand create in the entertainment sector?
A - Whereas “more pixel” displays had little impact on the consumer, HDR’s ability to display “better pixels” is receiving more of a reaction from the consumer. So consumer electronics companies are focusing on having all their devices support HDR in one form or another. Once this transformation takes place and the majority of consumers are viewing content on their HDR devices, studios will have to take a look at their libraries and make decisions on what titles are to be remastered for HDR.