NAB: Universal Becomes First Studio to Fully Commit to AMPAS' ACES Digital Standard

Aimed at protecting the creative efforts of filmmakers in the digital age, the system could be implemented within two years.

Universal Pictures has become the first studio to announce a major commitment to implementing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ ACES system from production through distribution and archiving.

“Universal has set a target of comprehensive ACES implementation within two years, or by the first quarter of 2018, for all of our features,” Wade Hanniball, the studio’s senior vp digital cinema operations and technology, announced Sunday during a panel discussion at the National Association of Broadcasters Show.

The Academy Color Encoding System, or ACES, was developed through AMPAS’ SciTech Council with input from all of the Hollywood studios. It is a system for managing the digital negatives that replace film negatives.

As digital filmmaking becomes the norm and digital standards replace the old 35mm film touchstone, a standard digital negative is important for preserving film. It can also aid the postproduction process, because the new digital tools and formats create challenges, Hanniball, explained, saying they "make timely mastering and finishing more difficult, often with significant added expense. Those formats put further demands on a shrinking timeframe that’s under increasing pressure to move forward the availability of electronic sell-through and VOD following theatrical release. If the work isn’t done properly, there’s a potential risk of jeopardizing all the creative efforts of filmmakers with respect to the feature’s look and color.”

Hanniball called Universal’s goal “complicated and not trivial,” but added that it's necessary. “It’s a response to the continuing rapid rise in new technologies that affect our core business of creating feature motion pictures," he said. "New digital tools are enabling a surge of new formats and their resultant deliverables."

While Universal is the first studio to announce such a large commitment to ACES, Hanniball said he "fully expects other major studios to follow suit."

Since the first version of ACES was introduced in late 2014, roughly 25 companies including equipment manufacturers and VFX houses have signed on to support ACES.

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