NAB: How New Technologies Will Impact Content Creation

Hollywood studios are actively working to bring high dynamic range and virtual reality to the consumer market.
Virtual reality goggles offer a new platform for Hollywood storytelling.

There could be a consensus within a year on how to incorporate some powerful new technological tools into the making of movies, TV and games that could impact, or even displace, the use of 3D and 4K Ultra HD resolution imaging.

That was the consensus of top studio technology executives during a panel at the National Association of Broadcasters conference that was moderated by Carolyn Giardina, contributing tech editor of The Hollywood Reporter and author of the Behind the Screen blog.

The technologies that are being extensively tested and debated at the major studios, which were the center of the discussion, are HDR (high dynamic range), which can create a wider ranging color palate for filmmakers; and VF (virtual reality), a new viewing platform that can place viewers into a 360-degree environment rather than a flat picture.

Mike DeValue, director of advanced technology for Walt Disney Studios, said it is important to explain the value of HDR to filmmakers and studio executives, and ultimately communicate its appeal to consumers.

“How do you explain HDR to consumers in a way they can understand,” said DeValue, “except seeing is believing.”

Hanno Basse, the chief technology officer of 20th Century Fox, and president of the UHD Alliance, a coalition of the major Hollywood studios and manufacturers, said he expects the first quality standards for HDR to be circulated by the Alliance later this year.

There are still a lot of issues around standards and costs to be determined, said Basse: “The big cost is in theatrical distribution … Almost all the HDR on the [NAB] show floor and elsewhere is for home entertainment use. We need to figure out how to do the same thing in the [movie] theater.”

Dolby and Imax are already starting to roll out HDR supported theater systems, Giardina said.

Jim Mainard, head of digital strategy and new business development at DreamWorks Animation, said filmmakers will also be thinking about how this wider dynamic range impacts areas of filmmaking such as cinematography and production design.

“This is really just a question of being true to the story,” added Basse. “You don’t blow out the colors just because you have the ability. It still needs to look natural ... It’s of the utmost importance that this whole business is about the storytelling.”

JoDee Freck, senior vp mastering and technical services at Lionsgate, said they are involving directors and cinematographers in the tests they are doing. “They do understand we want to keep the creative intent,” said Freck, “so they are involved in the approval process.”

The other discussion was about how to use VR beyond video games, and whether it has a role in narrative storytelling. “The question is how to design an experience that conveys intent,” said Jim Hellman, CTO of MovieLabs, “but still have free ability to interact among characters.”

Bryan Barber, vp digital initiatives at Warner Bros., said they are already using VR in games. The question is whether it is a viable tool for longer-form storytelling. “It’s going to be like any creative tool,” said Barber. “It’s going to have application in certain places but not in others.”