Daryn Okada, ASC, has been keeping busy, not only on feature films (most recently Let’s Be Cops and Dolphin Tale 2), but also on a short film that was designed to test the potential of high-dynamic-range imaging. The short, Emma, was directed by Howard Lukk. The shoot took three days and was carried out with a very small crew.
“Making Emma was a way of figuring out the implications of HDR on set and in post,” says Daryn. “We had no way to preview the image, so I was just going by what I thought would happen. I lit with very simple lighting, knowing that we would have a deeper black and highlights that could stretch even further. I envisioned a sweet spot of exposure for areas of interest that was more like 5 1/2 stops than 3 1/2 stops. If it all works out, it will look just like how your eye sees and your brain perceives. Shadows, without DI correction, will look more natural rather than going muddy really fast. You can have an actor play dialog walking from shadow into bright sun, and it won’t look overexposed — it will just look brighter. There’s a lot we have to work out yet in terms of postproduction and tone mapping.”
Daryn and Lukk met during the Digital Cinema Initiative, when work was being done to quantify digital projection. Their relationship continued through the Stem (Standardized Evaluation Material) tests, and a digital-camera comparison test for the Walt Disney Co. titled “The Other Project.”
On Emma, Daryn used an Arri Alexa, which he chose “because Arri was working on a way to preview HDR out of the camera,” he says. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready by the time we shot.” (That capability was on display at CineGear Expo in June.)
The plan is for Emma to be screened via an HDR projector at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood in October.
“My feeling about HDR is that it is going to be another creative element for filmmakers,” says Daryn. “As with every new technology, people want to show off what it can do. There’s going to be an urge to blind people with the bright stuff, and show them how dark blacks can actually be. But eventually, HDR will be another option in our creative palette. It’s a way of shooting and finishing motion pictures that preserves as much exposure information as possible to be used creatively by the filmmakers.
“That’s important today because images we’re creating now will presumably be repurposed for future delivery and display systems,” Daryn continues. “It might not be HDR, but it might be enhanced dynamic range. To me, HDR is like looking at [Kodak] Vision Premier print stock; it has that much range, and even more. I think it brings an even more filmic [look] to everything.”
“We’re not constrained by what’s available right now,” Daryn continues. “These cameras now have more latitude, so ideally, that latitude can be re-tone-mapped off that. You have more opportunity for exposure in a single frame. That frame doesn’t have to be adjusted. It can look totally natural, as if you’re looking at something through your own eyes. With the limited tone map of the displays and projection we have right now, when an actor goes into the darkness and you want to see him, you’ve got to window him out in color grading or add a little light. HDR is coming fast, I think, and it’s going to be another paintbrush that will help us in that situation. You have wide color gamut, and you’re going to have an incredible viewing situation, with real blacks that are easy to achieve and brighter image areas that feel like they have energy.”
I asked Daryn for his reaction to the recent news that Kodak had reached agreements with Hollywood studios that would allow Kodak to continue manufacturing film. “I think it’s good, of course,” he says. “You may actually get more people wanting to make movies on film, because each studio has committed to an allotment of film stock. I don’t think they’ll get a rush of people, because there are plenty of filmmakers who don’t know how to shoot film — or have forgotten. But they’ll see that it’s important to maintain film as an option.
“The combination of shooting on film and doing digital post remains a very efficient method, especially because film cameras are going to be cheaper to rent,” Daryn adds. “There is also the consideration that film is the only truly archival medium. Even when we shoot digital, we have to do a filmout that’s going to be kept in some kind of archive. If Kodak stops making film, the labs that do processing will stop, and we’ll never get that expertise back. All in all, I think it was very good news for cinematography and for filmmaking.”