NAB: Moviegoers Won't React to HDR Imagery as They Did to Hyper-Real 'Hobbit,' Proponents Say

The Hobbit 48 Frames - H 2013
Warner Bros.

The Hobbit 48 Frames - H 2013

LAS VEGAS — Proponents of efforts to introduce high dynamic range (HDR) imagery — which expands the range between the darkest and brightest images a display can produce — argued that it will not have the same audience impact as high frame rates did when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was unspooled. The topic was discussed during a Sunday panel at the NAB Show.

Many will remember that HFR detractors asserted that The Hobbit’s look in 48 frames per second was too real, resembling a video. While HDR is unquestionably very different from frame rates, it has been described as a more realistic experience, prompting an audience member to question the consumer reaction during a panel at the Technology Summit on Cinema at NAB.

“I personally am not a big fan of high frame rates,” admitted director of photography Curtis Clark (The Draughtsman’s Contract). “But I’m very much in favor of spatial resolution [which HDR enables]. This is about how to take this new technology to allow audiences to experience things cinematically in a way they have not before — and I emphasize ‘cinematically.’ ”

On potential comparisons with HFRs, Dolby senior colorist Rick Taylor said, “so far everything [in HDR] has been pushed to include the ‘wow’ factor. Nothing has been shot specifically for this medium. I would like to see a deep, dark horror film in HDR. There’s information that can be used as a story point.”

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“For me personally, I process HDR a lot different than HFR,” added Matt Litwiller of production collective Observatory Media, who said that video is his reference for HFRs, but he doesn’t have a reference for HDR. “I have never see screens this bright before.”

Agreed Observatory’s Collin Davis: “I think audiences will get used to seeing this; they just don’t have a reference for it. It will be interesting once audiences start to see it.”

Much of the panel focused on the production of a 10-minute sci-fi short: Telescope — a collaboration between Disney Production Technology (DPT) group and Observatory — which was finished in 4K and HDR (a decision that was made when the film was already in postproduction).

The short was lensed in 2012 with Sony’s F65 4K camera (one of several cameras, including the Arri Alexa, that can record HDR information). In 2013, it was finished using Dolby’s flavor of HDR (which Dolby refers to as Enhanced Dynamic Reproduction, or EDR), and packaged in a new format called Dolby Vision.

The HDR version of Telescope can be viewed at the Dolby booth when the NAB exhibition floor opens on Monday. (Dolby will also be previewing 2,000 Nit EDR display capabilities.)

HDR offers varied creative choices, says Davis, who co-directed and edited Telescope. “It’s hard to imagine what choices we can’t make [with HDR],” he said. “It’s a much broader set of choices that you have and more nuances than you had before. You can influence your audience in a different way. … Had we known we were gong to do an HDR version, some different selections might have been made in editorial.”

Observatory’s Travis La Bella, Telecope’s cinematogapher, agreed: “If we do it again, we should dress the set a little more.”

“EDR makes your color pipeline even more important,” noted Litwiller, who co-directed and produced the short. He reported that for Telescope, the team uses the Academy Color Encoding Specification (ACES), which he believes can help with HDR production.

Twitter: @CGinLA