From scene to screen
A realistic goal for robot technology of the near future is the ability to “understand” four or five basic human emotions. These robots will be able to decipher complex facial expressions of a human, recognise emotional states based on body language and respond appropriately. The first steps towards this goal are currently being taken.
The digital revolution has reached the film industry. The introduction of stereo cinema and streaming of live events should recapture the popularity of a night at the cinema. But to meet the multicultural and multilingual needs of a European audience, the cinemas are going to have to top the standards set by Hollywood.
IP-RACINE is an international research project involving organisations from eight European countries. Their goal is cheaper, simpler, and more reliable equipment for the European film industry – providing the infrastructure for the establishment of digital cinema in Europe.
While the technology becomes cheaper, more studios, even small studios, can afford the professional digital equipment. The use of digital methods in filming is leading to new possibilities for video and sound effects.
One special effect is achieved by using several cameras around an object to provide information about the three dimensional structure of the scene. Using special algorithms to calculate the positioning of the cameras and props in the studio, a virtual 3D space representing the scene can be created in computers.
Stereoscopic cinema, has a high commercial potential in use with digital production. Improvements in the last few years have eliminated the common side-effects of 3D viewing such as headaches or motion sickness. Big Hollywood studios like Disney are investing heavily in 3D cinema films.
3D cinemas use special “silver screens”, which are very expensive. So to be able to experience 3D viewing at home further developments are required. The technology is being developed under the European project ‘3DTV – Network of Excellence’. The basic concept of 3D television is the same as stereoscopic cinema – showing slightly shifted images to the left and right eye. In about a year stereo television sets will be available for purchase. These sets do not require the traditional colourful glasses, but they do have some restrictions. For the images to be able to properly flow out into the lounge room and back into the TV the viewer cannot sit too close nor too far from the set.
The next step in producing truly three dimensional images will be the creation of moving holographic images. Holographic images would be useful not just for entertainment purposes and video games but also for medical imaging and museum exhibitions. Levent Onural, 3DTV project coordinator, envisions the first lab prototypes of fully-functional holographic television sets is be ready within the next 8 to 10 years. They will probably look like coffee tables from which ghost-like images emerge. The viewers will have the freedom of movement, able to watch television from any perspective.
With the digital age arriving in the film industry film roles are being replaced by reusable hard drives. Having digital copies of a film enables the cinema to accommodate a wider audiences with various sound tracks and subtitles available on each digital copy.
The films are compressed for distribution at XDC International, where they are also encoded for security. Digital formats have the disadvantage that they can be easily copied on the way from the studio to a cinema. To combat piracy a military grade encoding is used so that only a digital cinema projector can decrypt the film. Distribution of digital films are also more cost-effective. In the future distribution could be further simplified with direct streaming of films to theatres via satellite or fibre optic cables.
At present there are but 350 theatre screens in Europe capable of projecting digital films. That number is however expected to increase to 8,000 in the next five years. The new technologies should bring the masses back to the cinemas. In the future the use of live digital streaming could further increase the role of cinemas, allowing audiences to experience live concerts or sport events on a high quality big screen and maybe even with special effects.