A Hard Balance – Technology vs. Filmmaking

Posted on by Larry

[ This commentary first aired on the Digital Production Buzz podcast on May 3, 2018.  It has been updated for this article. ]

I’ve been thinking…

As I listened to the guests on the Digital Production Buzz since NAB this spring, I realized that they were describing three bigger technology trends that are causing both opportunity and stress for each of us as filmmakers:

EXTENDING OUR GEAR

When it comes to extending our systems, one of the big questions that confronts Apple as they design the upcoming Mac Pro is how do they allow us to extend and configure the hardware to do what we need for our specific tasks. Additionally, even iMac and laptop owners want the ability to expand their hardware outside the confines of the original box. I get emails every day from filmmakers who are still working with Mac Pros from 2012 or earlier. Not all filmmaking requires the latest gear.

External GPUs are an intriguing – if not yet fully developed – way to improve the performance of one of the big bottlenecks in filmmaking: effects rendering. I expect to learn more about Apple’s medium-term plans at next month’s WWDC conference.

THE CLOUD

Another trend is balancing the obvious collaboration that The Cloud makes possible, with the equally obvious limitations of security, limited bandwidth, excessive latency and potential for piracy. In addition to storage, The Cloud now supports running “virtual software” remotely so that all calculations are done on remote servers. The end-user now only needs a simple laptop and a web browser to run exceedingly complex software.

Running software in The Cloud reminds me of the original days of computing, where we had a single large mainframe computer with terminals attached to it. This is, essentially, the model of today’s Cloud. Vast computer resources stored “out there,” while we work with simpler devices connected locally. Increasingly, this also means we are moving from owning software to renting it – which has significant benefits for developers, but raises significant questions about who controls access to our data and applications after the production phase is over, or team members retire, or assets need to be archived for the long-term. And thinking about “long-term,” what assurances do we have that any of the files we create today can even be opened five years from now?

STORAGE AND MEDIA

And the third trend is that everything we do as filmmakers today creates more and more files requiring more and more storage. Even small projects are creating so many clips that it is impossible for any of us to keep them all in mind during an edit. And, shooting 4K, 6K, even 8K images doubles, then doubles again the amount of storage capacity that we need. To say nothing of HDR, which doubles storage requirements again.

It can easily be argued that we have enough resolution. I don’t think anyone watching media on their couch can spot the difference in resolution between 2K and 6K. There are technical reasons which make shooting higher resolution helpful, but improving the viewing experience of “Joe and Mary Beercan” isn’t one of them.

However, issues of finding the media that we shot, handling the bandwidth of ultra-high resolution media and supporting an all-HDR workflow; balancing the collaboration The Cloud makes possible with its lack of privacy and bandwidth; and extending our existing computer system without constantly re-purchasing the same gear are at the technological heart of filmmaking challenges today.

The answers are complex – made more so by the headlong rush for rapid technological change. Developers are tightly focused on the next update and creating the new features to support it. While filmmakers think long-term about creating stories that will last for generations, along with preserving the assets that went into creating them. This conflict between short and long-term thinking will only get worse – until all of us can find a common ground of shared goals that benefits everyone.

Just something I’m thinking about.


One Response to A Hard Balance – Technology vs. Filmmaking

  1. Clayton says:

    Yes the conflict between the creative process and the technology that is ideally designed to serve and enable that creative process seems inevitable.

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