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NAB Wrap: 'Life of Pi' Cinematographer Says He Will Do HDR Pass on 'Tomorrowland'

As NAB wrapped, a call for High Dynamic Range imagery is gaining traction in Hollywood. But where 4K is concerned, it’s not an either/or situation.

Claudio Miranda Oscars - P 2013
John Shearer/Invision/AP
Claudio Miranda

LAS VEGAS — Director of photography Claudio Miranda, who won an Oscar for Life of Pi, “will do [a high dynamic range] pass” on Disney’s Tomorrowland, he told The Hollywood Reporter, during this week's NAB Show.

Miranda lensed Brad Bird-directed Tomorrowland using Sony F55 and F65 cameras, which are capable of filming in 4K, or four times the resolution of HD. “We were interested in 4K resolution," he said. "When I did Life of Pi, I wished it had just a little more information [in the picture].”

Now he intends to explore the potential of high dynamic range (HDR) during postproduction.

In Hollywood, there’s a growing number who want HDR — which effectively expands the range between the darkest and brightest images a display can produce. Since this is not about the number of pixels in a frame, this can accompany any picture resolution, including 4K. But there's a growing number of industry veterans that say, given a choice of one, HDR creates a more noticeable improvement that 4K — and so this option is generating a lot of interest.

“I think every cinematographer will have an interest in high dynamic range,” Gravity’s Oscar-winning director of photography Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki told THR at NAB, saying that he would explore this potential for “all my future projects,” including Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, which was lensed with an Arri Alexa and is currently in postproduction. “We have all these new instruments, and they are fantastic, but they are not really capturing what I was used to capturing with a [film] negative. So if I could capture [and project] that, or more, I would be incredibly excited.”

Meanwhile, several Hollywood vets are planning to independently make a short film to test these capabilities.

Disney’s vp of production Howard Lukk is directing a short, titled Emma, which is scheduled to be lensed in early May by director of photography Daryn Okada (a past president of the American Society of Cinematographers) using an Arri Alexa.

Emma is a thriller written by Pixar Animation Studios' senior color scientist Rod Bogart. The filmmakers intend to do an HDR finish and test elements such as rain and lightning as part of the production. “We want to push the boundaries of color and light,” Lukk told THR. “I want [Hollywood] to be able to get what Gregg Toland (the legendary cinematographer of Citizen Kane) was able to achieve in film, but digitally.”

Dolby Labs is bullish about HDR — and has already introduced a format, Dolby Vision, that can accommodate HDR along with other elements that it believes will improve picture quality. They also say that numerous high-end cameras — including the F65 and F55, as well as Alexa and Red’s Epic — can record enough picture information for an HDR finish.

Miranda already gave this a test drive on his prior film, Oblivion, which he shot with Sony’s F65. Working with Dolby, an HDR clip from the film was completed and screened as part of a Dolby demonstration last January at CES, along with Dolby Vision-finished clips from The Great Gatsby and Pacific Rim.

Dolby is working on production and postproduction support. At NAB, it debuted a prototype Dolby Vision monitor (with a light measurement of 2000 nits) that was using quantum-dots technology with blue LED local dimming for energy efficiency, aimed at on-set use. And postproduction technology maker Filmlight’s upcoming version 4.4 of its Baselight color-grading system will support Dolby Vision. (Since Dolby is talking with other such companies, it could be assumed that announcements from color-grading system makers such as SGO and Blackmagic Design could follow.)

Technicolor is also working on an HDR game plan. At NAB, it demoed for the first time an HDR broadcast distribution workflow with several partner manufacturers. Technicolor is also recommending HDR video compression standards that could work in conjunction with proposed 4K standards to enable both HDR and 4K.

Sony made 4K its central message, emphasizing its strategy from production to 4K (Ultra HD) TVs — and highlighting productions such as Tomorrowland and Think Like a Man Too that are using its 4K-capable cameras. Asked about HDR, Sony Electronics president and COO Mike Fasulo told THR, “We are leaving our options open."

Added Sony Professional president Alec Shapiro: “If the creative community wants HDR, I think you can count on Sony.”

Additional manufacturers want to muscle into the 4K camera space. AJA Video surprised many by jumping into the camera business with the unveiling of a 4K camera, Cion, priced at $9,000. Blackmagic Design is extending its 4K camera line, including new Ursa cameras that list for $6,000 for an EF lens mount or $6,500 for PL mount.

JVC previewed a pair of 4K camera prototypes, including a shoulder-mount camera equipped with a Super 35mm sensor and PL lens mount. Panasonic showed the previously-announced 4K version of its Varicam.

Camera maker Arri, however, maintains that it will not move to 4K until it can do so without compromising the dynamic range on its line, including Alexa and newly introduced Amira. "We feel that we have the best dynamic range today on the market," said Arri president Glenn Kennel. "There's interest from the creative community to create better pixels, not just more pixels."

The Alexa is among the most widely-used digital cinematography cameras, tapped by cinematographers including Lubezki and 10-time Academy Award nominee Roger Deakins, who used the Alexa for his Oscar-nominated work on Skyfall and Prisoners, as well as Angelina Jolie's upcoming Unbroken.

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com

Twitter: CGinLA