Digital films pack in extra fizz

WHEN IT comes to technology, the whole country looks South - Chennai to be precise.

So, it did not come as a surprise to many when the organisers of the Mumbai International Film Festival asked a Chennai-based entertainment technology firm, Real Image Media Technologies for a demo on digital cinema.

Digital Cinema, Electronic Cinema or simply eCinema is a filmless, digital distribution and exhibition system for feature films. Using high quality digital projectors that are brighter and higher- resolution versions of video projectors, feature films can be projected in small to medium sized theatres from disk-based playback equipment. No more big reels, no more carbon burning lights.

Digital Cinema has been experimented with in the United States - Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Bicentennial Man, Mission to Mars, Dinosaur and Toy Story 2 - all were digitised in select theatres. Today, there are just over 30 theatres in the world equipped to show movies digitally on an experimental basis.

This cutting-edge demo is at Star City, Matunga on November 29, for the 3rd International Film Festival organized by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI). ``This will be the first time that Digital Cinema is being seen in South Asia,'' say Real Image technologists.

The equipment for the demo has travelled a long way - from Barco Digital Cinema of Belgium and QuVis of the United States. Barco is showcasing their recently introduced D-Cinestar Digital Cinema Projector along with the QuBit High Definition playback system from QuVis.

The footage being shown is from the Hindi feature film ``Dil Se''. Now the technicalese: the film's footage was transferred from the picture negative into the 1080P High Definition Television format at a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels at 24 frames/sec using a Phillips Spirit Telecine onto uncompressed D6 HD Digital Tape. This transfer was done at Clair, a leading post- production company in France. Then, the picture from the D6 tape and the original soundtrack from a Hi8 tape were synchronized and digitized into the QuBit system for playback in the theatre.

Keith Morris, International Marketing Manager of Barco and Senthil Kumar and P Jayendra, Directors of Real Image Media Technologies will make presentations on various aspects of Digital Cinema.

But then, why e-cinema at all?

First, film costs come down. By avoiding the high cost of prints (10 to 20 percent of a film's production budget), a much wider release would also be possible. That also means faster returns.

Then the handling part : you could literally transport a whole film in a diskette. For those doubting their own films, a movie can be released in a small number of theatres and if it turns popular, the number of ``prints'' - disks here - can literally be mass-produced and copied. The threat of piracy could be reduced, as the media would be highly encrypted.

The film's quality does not deteriorate with age unlike celluloid. Remember the ``scratches'' even in the new movies !

Another feature is the editing part, says Senthil Kumar. ``A film can have multiple versions with or without certain scenes. An edit list can be downloaded remotely to the cinema.

The director can alter the film even after release to accommodate audience reactions,'' he lists the positives.

Well, how far are we from the digital experience ? ``May be a year or a year and half away,'' says Jayendra. ``Although the transition will take many years to complete, by 2005, movies encoded as digital-data files will increasingly replace film prints as the preferred method for distributing movies to theaters,'' he adds.

By R. K. Radhakrishnan