Digital cinematography has barely been around for 20 years but “it seems to have opened Pandora’s box,” said DP David Stump during an NAB panel that recognized the American Society of Cinematographers’ centennial year on Wednesday. 

“We’re innovating new cameras, new production methods and new ways of telling stories,” he said. “Audiences crave seeing something they have never seen before.”

Stump, who presented with cinematographers Bill Bennett and Sam Nicholson, discussed the potential of volumetric capture. (that is, capturing volumetric pixels, for voxels, for picture information that includes depth and enables more options in areas such as lighting and framing during postproduction). "We are moving from seeing the world as a flat image. This opens up a whole other era of depth imaging,” Stump said.

Nicholson noted that Hollywood is effectively moving to big data for cinematography, saying, "we just used five 8K Red [cameras] on a pilot for HBO." This resolution — which requires four times the amount of data in a 4K image — isn't frequently used at this early stage, but "the data compression and image quality is actually very good," he said.

Bennett reported that cinematographers are also exploring the potential of game engines with real-time rendering, and to that end, the ASC is working with Electronic Arts.

Film remains a tool in the cinematographers' toolbox. "Film is very much alive," reported Bennett. "There's been an upsurge in [celluloid-lensed] production."

Bennett told the audience that over the past century and into the future, one thing shouldn't change: "The cinematographer is the author of the image,” he said, adding that while technology offers more creative options, “It’s important that the cinematographer retains control of the image through the [production and post] process.”

“You don't want people messing with your image,” Nicholson agreed. “You have to understand technology or someone else will be messing with your images.”

Hollywood associations including American Cinema Editors, International Cinematographers Guild and Motion Picture Sound Editors also presented sessions during NAB. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Science and Technology Council hosted a meeting, during which it proposed the next steps in advancing the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES). Spearheaded by the Council, ACES represents an industry-wide effort to develop a method of managing consistent color and image interchange from production through archiving, which has become increasing complex in the digital realm.

A new ACES version is expected in the fall, and its next major update is targeted for September 2020, reported Annie Chang, vp creative technologies at Universal Pictures, who oversees the ACES initiative and led the meeting.