Storytelling Becomes Immersive

Celebrated film director Ang Lee will be a keynote speaker during the two-day Future of Cinema Conference, which runs April 16–17. The conference is being produced in partnership with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

Lee, a three-time Oscar winner and recipient of several BAFTA and Golden Globe awards, has directed some of the most honored motion pictures in recent memory, including “Life of Pi,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Brokeback Mountain.”

In an exclusive 90-min. presentation on Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Lee will discuss his vision of the creative opportunities available to current and future filmmakers. Plus, in its first public viewing, Lee’s keynote will include screening portions of the director’s new war drama “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” in its native 4K in 3D — at an eye-popping 120 frames per second via cutting-edge dual laser projection.

Lee will be joined by the feature film’s editor Tim Squyres, production systems supervisor Ben Gervais, stereographer Demetri Portelli and Scot Barbour, production technology vice president at Sony Pictures.

The Future of Cinema Conference sessions cover an ambitious agenda of cinema- centric issues ranging from “High Dynamic Range in Live Action and Visual Effects” (Saturday, 11 a.m.) and “New Technologies in Making Movies Accessible to Everyone” (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.), to “Next Gen Distribution” (Sunday, 9:15 a.m.) and “Building Worlds—Cinema Storytelling in VR and AR” (Sunday, 2:15 p.m.).

“One of the exciting advances in cinema, which is just beginning to be deployed is laser projection,” said Pat Griffis of Dolby Labs and SMPTE’s vice president of education. Griffis will help open the conference Saturday morning with SMPTE President Robert Seidel of CBS Television Network, Barbara Lange, the society’s executive director and Richard Welsh, CEO of Sundog Media Toolkit LTC and program chair for the conference.

“The pinpoint precision of laser light — the larger range of colors and the ability to completely shut off the laser to enable inky blacks — makes a dramatic difference in image quality,” said Griffis.

Howard Lukk, SMPTE’s director of engineering and standards, said, with the advent of laser light engines in cutting-edge projection systems, “We’re seeing many advances that allow us to provide HDR [high dynamic range] and greater light values in stereoscopic projection, allowing for improved stereoscopic separation due to higher contrast ratios with brighter light levels.

There’s also the ability to have multiple synchronized projectors that allow for multiple- screen presentation for a more immersive experience. The capacity to increase the frame rate of the content for HFR [higher frame rate] playback is another advancement.”

Griffis said both Dolby and IMAX are already deploying laser-light technology in some movie theaters, providing about twice the brightness of conventional digital projectors.

“We’ll cover laser projection as part of the [conference], and offer 3D laser projection demos,” said Griffis. He added that another big advancement in cinema is next-generation immersive sound systems using object-based audio encoding, such as Dolby Atmos or expanded multichannel solutions like Auro. Recent advances in both virtual reality and augmented reality on several technological levels will likely generate plenty of buzz at NAB Show this year, none more so than within the “Building Worlds — Cinematic Storytelling in VR and AR” session, Sunday, 2:15 p.m.

Still, Welsh believes AR and VR will be part of the next phase of cinema, but will not replace today’s big-screen experience.

“What we see now are early steps in translating the storytelling process to a far more immersive and interactive experience that augments the existing movie narrative,” Welsh said. “Over time, we may see these experiences merge, but for right now, VR is about adding a new dimension to the story and a richer experience for the audience. For me, the key takeaway about VR’s place in movies is that many filmmakers both young and old are taking it very seriously and exploring the medium as a creative tool alongside the traditional process. That tells me there’s something tangible that enhances the creative palette, and the cinema industry has to pay attention to that,” Welsh said.