IBC pushes cinema in Phil Rhodes’ The Matrix

Producers deal with recalcitrant subordinates in the usual way, even when it comes to virtual production. By Pexels user Eugene Capon.

According to the organization’s own press releases, IBC 2022 has been something of a giveaway for anyone looking to impress a buzzword-focused search engine. Sure, there have been new versions of lenses, cameras, and lighting, but the whole show in general seems to have been some sort of cure for the hardware acquisition syndrome that so often plagues camera enthusiasts. Most of these buzzwords — things like “cloud,” “metaverse,” and “IP” — are almost exclusively about one very specific concept: taking infrastructure that was once physical hardware and doing its job on computers.

The cloud has been around for a while

It’s an idea the film industry has become accustomed to at least since the 1980s, when people started referring to a Mac II running nonlinear editing software as “the Avid” in much the same way as they used to call “the Steenbeck”. In this way, the transition from custom hardware to generic computer equipment was not always so obvious at first. When some of that infrastructure went from big, expensive hardware to big, expensive software, the attitude came with them, and not too long ago, software like Resolve, even after it stopped to be so expensive, always liked to annex every pixel of the screen as if that was the only reason anyone would buy a workstation.

Resolve, and many other killer apps, have gradually drifted towards the acceptance that by 2022 they’re just apps, albeit apps that do things that required racks of custom hardware the price of a house in the early 2000s. Nobody calls it “The Cinema 4D”, after all. And now they don’t even require a workstation, or at least that’s what the cloud computing folks would prefer. Cloud resource providers sometimes prefer not to mention the fact that “the cloud” is really just a fancy way of referring to someone else’s workstation in a nearby time zone where electricity is cheap, even if the result is the same.

Monochrome image of a hand using a specialized additional keyboard on a computer.
The editor at work. Or the composer. Or the colorist. Or the production designer. It hardly matters anymore. Image by Pexels user Paul D. Zinn

History buffs know that this is actually a throwback to the 1960s approach of placing a simple, inexpensive device at the end of a long cord, as was the case with the first mainframe computers. Our thin clients probably have more computing power in their touchscreen controllers than a decades-old mainframe had in total, but the overall concept isn’t something exciting.

Replace X with tablet, where X is… anything

A much more recent development is the extent to which commodity hardware is beginning to supplant even the most task-specific devices. Take one of Hollyland’s video transceiver sets, for example, and realize that it can stream near-live images to wireless Ethernet devices as well as SDI and HDMI monitors, creating the risk that monitors are eventually being replaced by, well, more or less any single tablet – and single tablets can be had for less than $50.

It doesn’t create the immediacy that a camera operator needs, and it’s no coincidence that real-time performance is often one of the places where custom hardware always wins out. Still, if you’re a hair and makeup artist or a production designer, latency might not be too much of a concern. Major productions will continue to deliver real-time footage on OLED screens because the cost of a PVM-A170 and a Teradek is insignificant compared to any Oscar winner’s daily rate, but, at the risk of s Moving away from the word “democratization”, it’s useful to allow each set to have a handful of radio-linked screens to disperse.

It will also shed light on the ways in which this type of approach doesn’t work. Lighting designers will be painfully aware that trying to use a cell phone as a lighting controller all day tends not to work very well.

Your phone has a high-powered processor, a nice touchscreen, and about four radio modems, making it a much better potential remote than most task-specific remotes. The problem is that cell phones aren’t designed with the expectation that they’ll be active for hours on end. Neither do tablets, to a lesser extent, so anyone considering a fleet of handheld Aliexpress eyePadds as monitors might also want to invest in equally inexpensive Aliexpress power banks and keep a fire extinguisher near the charging area .

Remote focus controller on a pelican case in the middle of a field.
Some things you can’t do online. Image by Pexels user Ben Collins.

Evaporation infrastructure

Most IBC spin-offs, however, are not about relatively small-scale situations like this. This is to avoid having to install the enormous infrastructure of a television studio and replace it with the considerably reduced infrastructure of the IP network. This often means systems like NDI, even using the same Ethernet cabling that everyone has been using to send PDFs to each other for fifteen years. This is what many universities did when the unforeseen need to install many streaming cameras emerged in early 2020. Like the backup carpenter of a show shot entirely on a virtual production stage, the infrastructure requirement has evaporated. It’s even possible to skip the costume department, however, as Ryan Reynolds can attestthis may be something best left for the future.

Probably the production managers’ long-held fantasy is to have the poster drawn, put it into an AI, and have a finished DCP appear on a network share the next day. Disturbingly, there’s nothing formally preventing this from becoming possible, other than computer power, and people have gone bankrupt underestimating this before. In the meantime, there will be a requirement to point cameras at things, so if you’re someone whose gear acquisition syndrome can only be assuaged by tackling the occasional unripped moss of a freshly delivered Pelican case, it is better to acquire equipment while there is equipment remaining to be acquired.

About Florence L. Silvia

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