Category: Picture Quality

10b) What Does It Mean: Scope and Flat? Part 2

Scope or Flat can best be shown with some examples of how it goes wrong. These drawings were made because exactly this problem happened in a local screening room for a movie screening to a room full of experts.

The intention isn’t to make fun of anyone, of course. These things happen by mistake more often than by negligence or bad repair. The screening company representative said that there was a run-through previous to the showing and everything was fine. Since she left the room after her welcome statement, we don’t know if what we saw is what she saw previously. It is possible that she didn’t know what to look or listen for, which is exactly why we need to document this. This Lesson will help you to understand this situation, recognize it right away as you do  your auditorium inspections…and fix it right away. Continue reading “10b) What Does It Mean: Scope and Flat? Part 2”

1) What Does It Mean: DCP

Let’s start with something that we will hear about all the time.

A DCP is a Digital Cinema Package. You will never hear, “Did we get the Digital Cinema Package?”. No one will ever say, “Will you play my independent movie please? I can send you the Digital Cinema Package.” No. Instead, they will say, “We got the DCPs.” Or, “I’ll send you the DCP on a hard disk.”

Yes, it is digital, and it is cinema. Digital simply means that is capable of being used by a computer. In case you are not certain, the projector, and the media player for the projector, and sound system are basically just specialized computers. Cinema, of course, means that it has something to do with motion pictures, usually in an auditorium. (The word “cinema” hasn’t had a long life, only about 100 years. The originators of modern motion pictures, the Lumiere brothers, chose the word from the Greek word from Ancient Greek word kínēma – which means “movement”.)

The reason the DCP is called a package is that it holds all the frames of the movie, plus all the music, dialog, sound effects, all the subtitles and the files for the blind/partially sighted, deaf and hard of hearing, and the security keys. In addition, the package has some extra files that tell the computers which of those files to play, and when. Continue reading “1) What Does It Mean: DCP”

10) What Does It Mean: Scope and Flat?

As usual, the first question for every “What Does It Mean” topic is: Why Do We Care?

Every Answer begins the same: there are many things that can go wrong with the presentation of the moving picture. In this case, we are working with the shape of the picture.

This one is a little tricky. Even if the shape is messed up, at least the image is onscreen. In some cases, the images may look OK if you just glance at the image, or if you don’t know what to look for.

Will the audience care? Many will. They will think that the screen looks too small, or the image looks too small. (Nobody every complains about too big!) They may complain that the people are too thin.

Buzzwords: “Constant Height”. “Constant Width”. Aspect Ratio. Two Three Five. One Eight Five. (2:35 or 1:85). We will show the definition of these terms with examples. Don’t look them up now since they have many meanings and most are more complicated than we need.

The Complication: There are 2 correct forms for an image on the screen. Some auditoriums may be one type, and some auditoriums – even in the same facility – may be the other type!

Masking and Curtains in a Cinema Auditorium

Potential Points of Failure: Screen. Curtains. Motors for Curtains. Cord for Curtains. Masking. Motors for masking. Chains for masking. Automation Electronics. Projector. Automation setting on Playlist. Instructions that tell which setting to put into the playlist.


Don’t let this get too complicated. We are only talking about the size of the rectangle of the movie on the screen.

Movies are created in 2 different shapes. The measurements for both of them is just about 2 times as large in the width, as the dimension from top to bottom, the height. The following picture shows this concept of a rectangle that is 2 times wide and 1 times high.

A pretend cinema screen two times wide and one times high

An simple way to write this is ‘2 to 1’ or ‘2:1’, which means 2 units in one direction compared to 1 unit in another direction.)

The important things to remember is:

There are two formats

One format is slightly smaller than 2 times wide and 1 times tall – that is called Flat.

One format is slightly wider than 2 times wide and 1 times tall – that is called Scope.

Here is a picture of those 2 formats placed with our 2 to 1 picture.

Two to One, with Flat and Scope

The choice for this happens very early in the movie making process – probably during the first hours of conversation between the producer and director, or sometimes the director and the cinematographer. Will we shoot this movie wide or do we shoot this movie tall?

Of course, they don’t use those terms. Art and Science are never that simple – there are always special words, or words with special meanings. They choose between “Scope” or “Flat”.

There is no rule that says a movie should be one way or the other. Sometimes a director will only work in one form, then suprise you by making a movie in another. Or, sometimes people will say that all action movies are in Scope. But a little research will show that isn’t always true.

Anyway, after the director’s decision, every scene of that movie will be shot through a lens that is in that form – or what is called a format. And of course, the last lens of the movie process – the lens that is attached to your projector – will make the movie appeear in that format on your screen.

Here be dragons!Maybe you remember those old maps with the ship at the edge near the sign that says: Warning – Here Be Dragons~! Well…Warning — Here Be Maths~! …and we promised to keep math to a minimum. But there will be drawings too, with arrows and bright colors. So, be brave. Continue reading “10) What Does It Mean: Scope and Flat?”

1a) Where to Judge The Auditorium

There is no perfect answer for “Where should I be to judge the screen and sound system?” Actually, we don’t need to be in a “perfect” place. We just need a consistent place – measure from the same place every time. Still…the question is: Where?

How High Is This Screen? when it falls on you?One group of experts will say that you should judge from so many “Screen Heights” away. A screen height is just like it sounds, but very difficult to evaluate. In the movie theater, if a screen is 64 feet wide, then the height is 27 feet high. 64 feet is pretty big. If your screen is half that size, it will be 32 feet wide and 13½ feet high. If the screen is smaller, for example, a little bigger than 21 feet wide – which is 1/3rd of 64 feet – it will be 9 feet high.
Continue reading “1a) Where to Judge The Auditorium”

Beta Test – New, Online, Managers WalkThrough Form

We are preparing the launch of an exciting new service. Out with the old paper form of the Managers WalkThrough Report Form – In with the Online Forms. Give it a try.

Use the link on the line above, or click on the “Routines” pulldown in the Menu above.  Select Managers WalkThrough Report Form on your phone or tablet or portable computer. Get settled in the auditorium that you want to check  the sound and picture. When ready, have someone start up one of the Cinema Test Tools DCPs …and click away on the online form.

If everything is cool, all stays nice and simple. But if any of the answers requires that you pass information to the tech (for example), the form magically opens up, giving you a place to tell everyone what you saw or heard.

Like the DCPs and lessons, the new Online Form Series is free. We hope you will use it for every theater every week…or more if you want. The Safety and Security Form is just about ready and the Monday CleanUp will also be released soon. Read further to learn about emailing the form and other Q&A. Continue reading “Beta Test – New, Online, Managers WalkThrough Form”

7) Measuring Light

There are many goals and many purposes for this project that you are involved with. There are many things that need to be done.

The top layer has to do with ensuring that the presentations in the auditoriums are the quality that the CEO of the company intends them to be – acknowledging that not every room is a Palace of Perfection. Another layer has to do with ensuring that each patron is satisfied with what the facility and staff have to offer, which also includes an educated staff that is able to communicate intelligently with patron and tech staff.  Fortunately, they don’t all have to be done at the same time. They can be added too and tweaked and made better and more as time goes on.

So, if at first you don’t have the organizational support to download DCPs onto a USB drive, then get the DCPs into the Media Player/Projector system right now – you can still download some audio and light measuring tools, and experiment with them until you can use them easily in a dark room.   Continue reading “7) Measuring Light”

8) What’s It Mean? Contrast…

As usual, the first question for every “What Does It Mean” topic is: Why Do We Care?

Every Answer begins the same: there are many things that can go wrong with the presentation of the moving picture. In this case, we are working with how much dark and how much bright there is on the screen.

This one is a very tricky. The image is onscreen. In most cases, the images may look OK if you just glance at the image, or if you don’t know what to look for.

Will the audience care? Maybe not. They don’t know what “Correct” is.  They will think that the picture lacks “Pop”, or some other quality. But if you don’t know that the black suit is supposed to have fine light blue lines in it, then the black suit might look OK.

Buzzwords: “Black Levels”, “Crushed Black Level”, “No Greys”, “Gamma Problem”. We will show the definition of these terms with examples of how they apply to our situation as someone who is checking the quality of the picture. Don’t look them up now since they have many meanings and most are more complicated than we need.

Complication: Almost all cinema projectors have a problem creating perfect blacks. But there is a range of deep blacks and deep grays that they should give. And white too! There should be a good scale, and not too bright. BUT – We don’t always know what the artist wanted.


Look at these three versions of the same winter scene at Yosemite Falls.

In the first one, you can see the amazing falls against the crisp rocks, and the golden hour sun is beautifully lighting up the mountaintop.

In the 2nd one you can almost taste the frost from the frozen lake. The air is so crisp and clear that you can see several layers through the trunks of the trees.

The 3rd is in between…not as on fire, not as clear through the tree trunks…dark in fact. The falls don’t stand out as sharply against the rocks.

By now you may have guessed, the 3rd one is the one that the artist created. The difference in the three is entirely the level of Contrast

Low Contrast

Potential Points of Failure: Bad setup on the Projector. Wrong Lens. Port Window, if very dirty. Old screen.


So. What is Contrast?

Simply, in the cinema, there is a level of white and a level of black. Contrast is the difference between them. If black is 1 and white is 2,000, then we say the contrast is 2000 to 1. It is written like this – 2000:1

The next section will go into show more examples and give you the basics on how to see good and bad contrast. And, most importantly, how to tell the technician what you see.

 

Take a break, and while you are living life, look in shadows. Notice how there are things to see in the shadows. Notice how there are things to see even in light that is almost too bright to look at.

Photo by Rodrigo Soares on Unsplash

3) A Look at Light, Part 2

There is a rule in technology. Engineering is the Art of Compromise. It applies to sound as well as picture, it applies to the equipment that creates sound and picture, it applies to safety equipment and the carpet that we walk on.

It means that there is almost always a trade to make between speed or size or cost or portability. Maybe you want more light on the screen, but that will give you more scattered light too, and that is not a good thing. Or you think, OK, I won’t let it scatter, I’ll direct the light using curved screens and screens of different materials. But directing light will bring you ‘hot spots’ and that can be worse. We are surrounded by the decisions of designers who have to balance these things everywhere in our daily lives.

There are machines, tools really, that will test light and sound. They are usually expensive, and they require trained people to set them up properly. These people must then take the tests properly and then read the results properly. So, it isn’t only that the equipment costs 15,000 to 30,000 dollars or euros. They also consume expensive technician time. Continue reading “3) A Look at Light, Part 2”

2) A Look At Light

Pictures are complicated. Moving pictures on the screen are more complicated. Seeing pictures on the screen is also complicated. But somehow we have to learn enough about it so that we can help control it.

Pictures are made of colors. For this lesson, we are going to say that even black and white are colors, even though they really the extremes of the range of lightness and darkness of a color. So, for example, inside the deep forest we will see deep greens that are almost black, and we will see bright green moss or leaves that are closer to white. The same is true of brick red and pink cherry ice cream or the deep blue suit of the executive and the light blue scarf that she is wearing. Continue reading “2) A Look At Light”

5) Artistic Intent…Protecting the Dream

Let’s go back to a very basic concept – the very idea behind “Why We Care” about the quality of the picture and sound that our customers experience.

Someone had an idea for a story to tell, and somehow that story met a producer and director who found the money to be able to tell that story as a movie. That is the intention – to tell the story to a bunch of people.

How this story gets told is sometimes called Artistic Intent. Because it is the Director who is hired to carry the vision and purpose forward, often this is called the Director’s Intent.

The Director and Producer hire the Cinematographer team – the people who can cleverly make a camera capture the light reflecting off the scenes and reflecting off the actors into the lenses. Audio people and many others are hired to capture the sounds and make the scenery and perform clever stunts. They hire Post Production teams to manipulate and edit and balance the sound and pictures. After much labor, a distribution group puts the finished movie onto hard disks or satellites, or somehow gets it into the cinema facility.

In another Lesson, we explained how Engineering is the Art of Compromise. It is the same with movie creation. The Art of Compromise is everywhere. There is only so much time and money, the technology can only do so much, and eventually it has to meet a delivery date.

After all that work, there it is. Just in front of that little piece of glass called the Port Window, the final lens. The movie shines through them both, and into the room and onto the screen and through the speakers.

The Director’s Intent wasn’t to spend money for technique and tools at a clever production set or post-production room. It wasn’t to keep a lot of people employed or to make the camera sales people happy. It wasn’t to sell a lot of popcorn, even though all these things may happen and are important to a lot of people.

The Director’s Intent is to create an effect upon your mutual audience.

Which means that your job is to help create that effect. You participate in the Artistic Intent by making certain that your tools are operating at the optimum level possible.

Of course, the bubble of the Art of Compromise also surrounds the cinema sound and picture projection equipment. It surrounds the auditoriums with their screens and seats. Movies want to be shown in a perfectly dark room, but safety requires that there are exit lights and illumination on the stairs and walkways. Movies want the screen and speakers to be perfect, but speaker parts get older and less flexible every day, and screens get a little darker. How often are they changed, or adjusted? Speakers and screens (and seats and air conditioning and, and, and…) all cost money, so they get replaced when they reach some compromise level…not perfect, not horrible.

Nobody ever says, “I think I am going to present ‘Horrible’ today.” The opposite, “I think I will present ‘Perfect’ today,” is not going to happen either. Perhaps the best description might be, “Appropriate Compromise.” I’ll project the best I can with what is available.

Who decides what “Appropriate” is? Some might say, it is the big boss of the cinema who balances the requirements and dreams and ability of the audience to pay. Some might say it is the audience who is the boss, who the big boss has to respond to, but most will agree that the audience can’t define perfect or acceptable. They expect us to be the experts, to know what to look and listen for. The audience just knows what is irritating. If you’re lucky, they may know how to describe a problem.

Either way, it is your responsibility to deliver the best you can with the assets and policies that the big boss has given you. Some might say “Deliver more than you promise”. What you certainly want to do is remember – You are part of the Artistic Intent.


The purpose of all these lessons is to help you find problems before the audience finds irritation. In addition, if an audience member does find a problem, who want to know enough so when they describe it to you, that you can understand it well enough to give good information to the tech who has to repair it.

And that is our job, to give you tools and information so you can do that easily and well. Let us know what we can do for you, so when that magic day arrives when a director or cinematographer or sound editor comes up to you and says, “Thanks, that was just right”, you know that you did something to make it that way.

Now, when someone asks what your job is, what do you say?

I help create a better experience of audience members.

I am the last person in the chain that delivers the Director’s Intent.

Maybe we need a t-shirt contest for this.

Where Artistic Intent Meets Your Life in the Cinema