Roger Deakins’ Digital Odyssey Not in 4K
The Cinematographer Says 2K Alexa Footage Up-Resed to IMAX Looks 'Superb'; ARRI Says 'No Need for 4K Alexa Right Now'
Saturday afternoon in IBC's Big Screen Theater, celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, took to the stage and spoke about his experience shooting the soon-to-be released James Bond film Skyfall on the ARRI Alexa digital camera. While Alexa is being used more frequently to acquire big-budget Hollywood films, notably this year's box-office crusher The Avengers, the camera is an even larger hit among DPs in episodic television, where it has now surpassed a whopping 85% market share.
What makes Deakins ARRI's new crown prince of Alexa users? Nominated for nine Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and known for his frequent and consistently artful collaborations with the Coen Brothers and Sam Mendes, Deakins was until recently also quietly and defiantly devoted to shooting film despite the accelerating industry-wide migration to digital acquisition. You can understand how ARRI, which sponsored the presentation at IBC, would react when Deakins eventually used and subsequently endorsed the 2K-resolution digital Alexa—especially during a show where 4K resolutions are at the heart of this year's product demos, show-floor discussions and company rivalries.
It is the relative merits of 2K vs. 4K resolutions in both acquisition and digital cinema distribution and projection that gives this debate its context here at IBC. On the opposite side of the ring sit manufacturers like Sony, with its F65 camera and CineAlta 4K digital cinema projector, and RED, with its boundary-pushing 4K and 5K cameras and developing 5K laser projector. Those companies maintain, as many others developing the hardware and software to support 4K workflows in general here at IBC also believe, that images aquired at the highest resolutions possible translate into beautiful, pristine images on the big, and even bigger screen. Add to that equation visionaries like Christopher Nolan, who shoot booth digitally and on film while aiming for the largest and richest resolutions possible to bring his vision, and DP Wally Pfister's beautiful images, to clear, richly saturated life. Proponents of high-resolution images can also now support their argument with yesterday's news that The Dark Knight Rises, shot on film (Panavision and Arriflex) and IMAX, officially became one of the top ten highest grossing films of all time.
ARRI engineers and product managers have heard this all before but see nothing wrong with up-resing Alexa's 2K images onto traditional and 4K and/or IMAX screens. In a press conference on Sunday, ARRI camera system product manager Marc Shipman-Mueller extolled the virtues of Alexa, noting the many DPs on hit shows like Dexter and Mad Men who simply love the images and workflow they get out of the Alexa on set. When asked during a Q+A session when there will be a 4K version of the camera, however, Shipman hardly blinked before delivering his answer to those of us in attendance. "There is just not an urgent need for it," he said. "When you have Roger Deakins, adored for his film work, shooting Skyfall and he is comfortable up-resing to 4K and showing on IMAX, I think it speaks for itself." It didn't hurt that James Cameron and Vince Pace, who are also here at IBC, believe that shooting with Alexa "really feels like you are working with a film-based approach."
ARRI intercut Saturday's presentation and discussion with Deakins with plenty of Skyfall excerpts shown on the 4K Big Screen Theater, itself a kind of über pop-up cinema experience only possible through the contributions of the top-tier directors and film and broadcast companies and executives who partner with IBC. They were indeed gorgeous. It is hard, however, to draw comparisons between up-resed 4K and true 4K resolutions when caught up in the expertly shot, edited, graded and finished clips, further enhanced by a Dolby 7.1 surround sound track. Many practiced eyes here at IBC will tell you they can spot the difference between 2K and 4K immediately, and Deakins himself admitted he feared up-resing ARRI Raw to IMAX would not look good enough. But once he saw the results, he put his fears to rest. "The images I have seen in the IMAX theater are simply superb," he told the audience.
If you didn't make it to IBC or even to the presentation Saturday, ARRI has posted the full presentation in several parts, minus the Skyfall clips for obvious copyright reasions, to its site and to YouTube. Part one is at top; the remaining parts are on ARRI's official YouTube channel. You can also watch cuts of Deakins' images in the official Skyfall trailer, coming to IMAX theaters in November: