Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making a DCP, post 2

I was knocking at the door of digital cinema today, but sadly I was not let in.

With gracious assistance from Dave and Dave at our local digitally-enabled theater, and ongoing Linux help from Josiah at Hampshire, I was actually able to plug a properly-formatted USB hard drive into a Doremi DCP-2000. But I clearly don't know enough about making proper Packing Lists because the ingest function on the DCP-2000 did not detect/recognize any of my files. Time to go back to the spec and the forums and see what I missed about those critical packaging steps (If you want to know more about packing lists and other DCP components, you can find the Digital Cinema System Specification at the Digital Cinema Initiatives website).

Curiously, I felt like I was hacking for the first time in years. Sitting in the dark projection area of the theater, we were studying DCPs that were shipped to the theater on hard drives to try and ascertain how they were different from the ones I had made. Even though we didn't figure it out, it was fun to tweak the package and try the disk over and over again while flickering light from the films illuminated our work. I kind of felt like I was in a sub. It was a long, narrow, enclosed space. The low-frequency drone of the many fans and the many spinning 35mm projectors drowned every other noise out. And just through the little window next to the digital projector, you could see the world of Pandora in its kind-of-like-the-bottom-of-the-ocean glory.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Making a DCP, post 1

The next phase in Tower 37's exciting life is its conversion into a Digital Cinema Package (DCP). For those who don't know, DCPs are the distribution formats for digital cinema. You can think of them as the replacements of 35mm prints. Those fancy digital projectors showing all sorts of movies at the multiplexes these days take DCPs as input. The DCPs are shipped on hard drives which can be easily plugged into the projectors for complete digital delivery.

Of course I already have Tower 37 as a lossless HD QuickTime file, complete with 5.1 surround sound. You'd think (hope?) that going from one digital format to another would be as easy as, say, converting AIFF audio files to mp3 (aka "ripping" music tracks). But guess what? It's only easy when someone has written, compiled, tested, and released software for doing so. Although I have known this as long as I've worked on computers, it's easy to forget since I rarely encounter a media file these days that I cannot convert perfectly with one of many free software packages.

There are some commercial DCP-makers out there (easyDCP and Wraptor are two), but they are fairly expensive. And, damn it, if we're really just talking about some fancy conversions to a non-proprietary format, there should be something free and available for everyone to use. So yes, I've grown attached to finding an Open Source solution.

Big props so far to the people behind asdcplib and OpenCinemaTools, and the users on the Red user forums who have published software and instructions that they have used/created while traversing this bumpy path. But it's all still so underdeveloped that I've had to recompile stuff locally, make fixes in build scripts, and code my own little process to encode a brief excerpt of Tower 37 into a DCP. I'm hoping to see the test on Tuesday at a local theater, and then to try it out on the whole film if all looks good.

I promise to post a thorough guide if we succeed!