This is far from an exhaustive list, but when you’re gathered round the table this Thursday, why not say a word of thanks—depending on the crowd, maybe only in your head—for these recent developments in production and post. Let’s hope more than one is helping you work faster and smarter, but also much more sanely and creatively.
1. Monster Sensors in Smaller Cameras
Sony’s F65, the RED Epix and Scarlet, the Canon C300, even the disproportionately huge sensor in the iPhone4S camera are ushering in an era of tremendous potential for filmmakers at every level. All those pixels on a single sensor may be tied to the unending progression of Moore’s law (see #2, below), but camera manufacturers large and small have been working hard to do it right inside ever more nimble, portable packages. How they’ve done it—melding compression, optics, feature sets and form factor—is of course a matter of taste. But oh, the options—and the images.
Moore’s law has consistently shown computer processing speeds and memory capacity improving at exponential rates. 64-bit computing has been with us for some time, but just about every software application is finally up to the task of harnessing that power. And multicore systems just keep getting better. Apple’s latest 12-core Mac Pro is the fastest Mac Apple has ever released. NVIDIA’s Maximus technology, while already adding performance boosts to Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 running on PCs, could do even more for animation and compositing applications in the near future. Transfer speeds also got a much-needed jolt from USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, which electrified more than a few attendees at NAB and finally arrived in products this summer.
3. Open Standards, Open Source and Open Protocols
Final Cut Pro X’s launch not withstanding, the widening industry adoption of open standards continues to knock down walls. Witness Avid’s recent softening with its open I/O initiative. Open-source projects and tools, while still rare, are helping VFX facilities share data across continents. The death-match fights between proponents of competing standards will never go away (how long will the battle between Flash and HTML-5 drag on?) and new formats may inevitably create future obstacles, but younger developers and filmmakers seem, well, more open to finding and agreeing on a standardized, shared path. Isn’t it finally about time?
4. Stereo 3D as a Means to an End
As 3D equipment and software drop in price and migrate to more applications, more and more filmmakers will get a chance to work in stereo. Some think this means a long, murky period head of trial and error, where 3D will be both greatly abused but also used to magnificent effect. Or, thanks to more seasoned hands giving it a try, perhaps stereo 3D as a stylistic device is finally coming into its own. James Cameron seems to think this way about Hugo
, Martin Scorsese’s upcoming visual Valentine to the history of film. Cameron’s recent endorsement of the film—”it’s like a 16-cylinder Bugatti firing perfectly on every cylinder, and 3D is one of those cylinders”—shows where stereo 3D as a vehicle of storytelling might be headed.
5. Plug-In/App Developers
From the small, but consistently productive long-time developers to the filmmaker or compositing artist with a problem to solve, plug-in makers work hard to do what’s needed most: smooth out the clumsy and time-sumping workarounds or build-from-scratch workflows that vex anyone on deadline. They jumped in when Final Cut Pro X introduced roadblocks with its new version of XML and they were there when most editing software didn’t even talk to each other, let alone play well together. They will lead the way every time a manufacturer introduces a new software paradigm or camera format. And if their app is a game-changer, it will inevitably find its way into your tool of choice.
6. On-Set Digital Labs
Digital dailies, real-time color correction, virtual sets—once left for post to deal with long after production had ceased—are now essential parts of every production. Digital labs have given rise to various workflows, software and hardware configurations, even new job categories, creating new opportunities for filmmakers and manufacturers alike. The huge file sizes of all that raw data, thanks to those monster sensors (#1), will keep most laptops from doing the really heavy lifting, but the digital lab is still much more portable than ever before. Filmmakers can get on set or near set in locations once deemed unaffordable or logistically impossible.
7. The Mobile Workplace
With WiFi, 3G and 4G smartphones, iPads, and other mobile devices, the busy filmmaker can be anywhere, find any place, connect with anyone and do more, thanks to the deep thinkers (#5) who develop the devices and apps and social media to run on them.