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Trend Spotting-Rob Hummel

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A very curious situation exists in the industry right now. Over 1,000 people have each put down a $1,000 deposit on a not-yet-manufactured, untested Red 4K camera, sight unseen, but very few have even dared to rent the only existing 4K digital cinematography camera on the market—Dalsa’s Origin.

Company spokesman Patrick Myles reported that Dalsa’s Woodland Hills Digital Cinema Center has seen a steady stream of cinematographers coming in to test the Origin, and it’s been used by ASC member Curtis Clark to shoot a spec spot, along with the independent large-venue film, Postcards from the Future.

But the company still lacks its “Episode 24P”—that one big feature film that they can point to and say, “See? It works in the real world.”

Industry pioneer Rob Hummel, who takes over as president of Dalsa Digital Cinema at the end of November, reported that one of his top priorities is to change that.

“My main goal is to really drive the penetration of the Origin camera in the motion picture industry,” he said. “Hopefully, we can approach it in a sober way to get it adopted on a feature film. My goal is to try to get it on a nice simple drama, where there’s less at stake, rather than a $300-million effects-laden picture. I’d like us to bust our chops on something that appears a little less risky to the producer.”

Hummel was formerly senior VP, production technology for Warner Bros. Studio. Before that he served as senior VP, digital cinema for Sony; executive VP, digital development for Technicolor; head of animation technology for DreamWorks; VP, technology at Disney TV Animation; and director of postproduction for Walt Disney and Touchstone Pictures. Add to this pedigree Hummel’s extensive work on the DCI Spec and his editing of the “Cinematographers’ Bible”—The ASC Manual—and it’s clear that Dalsa was looking for a heavy hitter when they drafted him. But while he has been a big proponent of 4K in theatrical distribution, Hummel has been quite gun-shy when it comes to digital acquisition.”

On the capture side, I’ve been the ‘angry prophet,’ telling people to be careful and not embrace digital technology too quickly, because up until the Origin, all the cameras around were basically just HDTV cameras,” he said. “It saddened me to see that, after 100 years of improving image quality, when technology suddenly comes into play, people want to lower the bar.”

Hummel argues that the Origin is approaching 70mm IMAX film in terms of quality, and he sees that as an ideal niche for the company.

“I think there’s an opportunity there for Origin in special venue and large-format films,” he said. “It’s an area I’m going to explore, because the Origin looks like a camcorder compared to an Imax camera.”

He also sees opportunities to expand to other markets outside of LA. But especially in the risk-adverse world of Hollywood filmmaking, perception is probably the main challenge he will face. Who wants to risk their film (or their career) just be the first to try out a camera?

”Sometimes, it’s better to be second on this stuff,” Hummel admitted. “But I think we can find a motion picture that is looking for the exciting aspects of shooting on a remarkable digital camera like this.”

The biggest challenge of working with uncompressed 4K is the sheer volume of data. The Origin outputs 402 Mbps of RAW 16-bit data (or 1,208 Mbps of reconstructed RGB), making storage and throughput huge issues to be reckoned with. “I think that’s getting resolved with storage getting cheaper and cheaper all the time,” said Hummel. “We used to spend $20,000 to put 200 Mb of RAM in an SGI computer. When the Origin first came out, the disk array looked like a small refrigerator. Now with the Codex box, it looks like a large attaché case, and I think soon you’re going to see the introduction of another device that’s even a third the size of that. And then hopefully, we’ll get to the point soon where we can have an untethered version.”

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