Film is a blend of art and technology. It can go nowhere without technological advance. As a response to the hi-tech growth in the film industry, the 9th BJIFF International Digital Cinema Technology Forum took place in Beijing last afternoon. This time, the Organizing Committee of the BJIFF is the host, and China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology and Specialized Committee of Film High-Tech, China Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (CSMPTE), are the organizer and co-organizer. Luan Guozhi, Chairman of Specialized Committee of Film High-Tech, CSMPTE, presided over the forum; Zhang Wei, Director of China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology and Head of Film Technology Quality Inspection Office of Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee and Wang Zhi, Deputy Chairman of Beijing Municipal Radio and Television Bureau and Deputy Secretary-General of the Organizing Committee of the BJIFF attended the event and delivered the speeches.
This forum is themed with “High Techs Lead the High-Quality Development of Filmmaking in this Era”. On the occasion, many experts from home and abroad were invited to discuss new trends and characteristics of cinematic high techs and delve into domestic and foreign filming needs. What’s more, they shared with the audience how to apply emerging aural-visual technologies, new-generation IT and smart techs in the film industry. In this way, Chinese film will embrace high-quality growth.
At the Launching Ceremony, Zhang Wei, Director of China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology, Ding Li, Associate Counsel of China Film Administration, Jiao Hongfen, Chairman of China Film Group Corporation, Fu Ruoqing, Chairman of Huaxia Film Distribution Company, Song Zongjun, Vice Mayor of Jimo District, Qingdao and Yu Jie, General Manager of Qingdao Yizhen Huajing Company jointly initiated China Film Cloud Making Service Platform. For the first time, they briefed the film industry on the platform’s development and explained how to achieve distributed remote collaboration in filmmaking base on cloud computing platform and high-speed Internet. The platform will facilitate making many more excellent films and speed on making China a strong power in this regard.
This forum has two parts: keynote speech and interactive session. And six guests made their speeches in succession.
AI and digital technology
Ma Ping, Vice General Manager of State Production Base of China Film Group, Deputy Chairman of Specialized Committee of Film High-Tech, CSMPTE and Supervisor of Chinese Society of Cinematographers made a speech--AI and Film’s Future. In his view, AI will be a brand-new engine of future human society. It will have a far-flung impact on the film and TV industry.
Ma Ping analyzed the influence of AI on film-making from four stages, namely idea, script, production and delivery. In the first two stages, AI starts to try conducting theoretical research and writing a script. In production, some techs like AI-driven film camera motion have been applied in making films and live shows. Besides, AI could help achieve image processing, action capture among other things.
AI is also involved in the process of a film delivered to the audience. It’s big data that lies behind the content delivery of many TV and film platforms. Even project establishment and R&D are based on AI data.
AI is no different from other new techs. It would need a long time to apply the achievement of laboratory R&D. It is especially difficult for the film industry where a stunning diversity of materials are involved. AI could bring us many benefits. For example, it usually takes a veteran one week to retouch an old photo. But the time could be reduced to 5 sec by using AI.
Ma Ping said they are busy doing a project. It is still being lab tested. He used AI to personify Mona Lisa and three game characters. As a result, the characters wore vivid expressions. This system needs no 3D modeling, material binding or suchlike and is very different from conventional action capture. An actor’s expression can be superimposed onto a photo via AI.
To help others understand the tech, Ma Ping took out a site worker’s photo and added a vivid expression to it. The original worker in the photo kept her mouth closed. AI edited an expression of opening mouth and added the teeth because AI thought the teeth would be exposed in that case. Now the technology is far from perfect, but it gives a hint of what the future possibilities may be.
Problems of the digital trend
Andrew Maltz, President of ISO/TC36, Managing Director of Science and Technology Council, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) introduced the influence of high techs on filmmaking and the Academy’s colour coding standard and its advantage in application. In the end, he indicated the main tasks of the Academy Software Foundation (ASF) in open-source software.
Maltz mentioned the latest screening techs and their applications in filmmaking. At present, actors often play in front of the green screen and then the screen is replaced by another backdrop. Rear projection directly adds a backdrop to the scene during the acting process, which can save tremendous effort of cutout.
Preservation of digital films also garnered the attention of the film industry. Andrew Maltz mentioned that open-source software, as its name suggests, is open to use and modification. In terms of data storage, there are quite a few softwares on which the industry depends heavily today. Yet these softwares have drawbacks like instability. To tackle this difficulty, AMPAS developed ASF to boost software development and make the resources available to all.
Senthil Kumar, Co-Founder, CTO and Board Member of India-based Qube Cinema, also focused on the theatre development in this digital era. He started with celluloid filmmaking and elaborated on strategies by which theatres could go smart.
Digital technology facilitates filmmaking and brings theatres new opportunities. Back in the celluloid time, film advertisement was very limited. But digital era comes changing everything. Advertisement is much easier and distribution coverage is much wider. Even the international market could be covered easily. So, advertisement becomes a main source of income for theatres. Yet digital technology has its dark side--pirated copies spreading like wild fire.
Kumar stated that in the future, every film could be provided on the cloud and available to all. However, the rights and interests of a film should be traced to ensure the producer can obtain its earnings; ticket booking and screening systems could be integrated; clearance system could operate efficiently or be transferred without causing any inefficiency or neglect of film declaration. The audience could watch films at any time as they want to. When digital theatre comes available, film-watching will become something better and more vivid. Advertisers could benefit a lot from digital cinema.
Film techs are a safeguard of the film industry
Ding Youdong, Associate Dean, Professor and Doctoral Supervisor of School of Film and TV Art & Technology at Shanghai University, compared The Wandering Earth and Alita: Battle Angel, indicating what kind of pathway would be followed for the development of film techs.
Applying techs is a safeguard of filmmaking. When it comes to film, technology and art go hand in hand with each other. Recently, China’s special effects have developed fairly fast and excellent teams are emerging. In the early period, the special effects making heavily relied on foreign teams. But later on, domestic teams participated in making more and more Chinese blockbusters and improved their expertise. A great number of special effects teams are already famous in China.
Ding Youdong stated, “World-class cinematic techs are required for making China a strong power in this regard. Today China is a large country, as represented by the number of films, rocketing box-office, total of screens. And the state enacted guidelines on boosting the film industry. But China is not yet strong. What does the word strong mean? There are two indexes: constant release of masterpieces; second, sphere of influence.” According to him, The Wandering Earth，released on February 5th, marks the highest level of China’s film industrialization and special effects. Even so, this movie has its shortcomings. “Our country’s films are tremendous, but many of them are low-quality. In China, there is no lack of masters and experts. But, China has not reached a height whatsoever. One of the reasons is the misalignment between filmmaking techs and film development.” So, world-class cinematic techs are indispensable to developing China’s film industry.
Ding Youdong mentioned a Hollywood film to explain what a world-class movie should look like. “In February, Alita: Battle Angel hits cinema screen in China. The movie owes its postproduction to Weta Workshop. To vividify the female lead, Weta made 47 hair types and her single eye used 9 million pixels. Her sweater looks so simple, but actually involves complicated physics. At present, there is no software being able to accomplish such a task. Weta organized a team to develop the required software.”
Making sci-fi movies involves physics, mathematics and computer science. The Wandering Earth marks a leap in this aspect. China must focus on not just those advanced cinematic techs, but even these cutting-edge sciences.
As a professor in film education, Ding Youdong gave his suggestions on developing China’s cinematic techs. First, it entails great patience and long-term accumulation to obtain advance in such techs. Most special effects companies of China were established not long ago. So, they have to amass much experience. On the other hand, they have to be meticulous in every detail and engaged in tech R&D. Second, special effects teams should develop good collaborations with university research teams. At last, the film sector should focus on cultivating talents not only in mainstream software applications, but especially sophisticated algorithms and achievement commercialization.