Category: What We Face

Different things…with an emphasis on ‘different’.

8) What’s It Mean? Contrast…Part 2

In Part 1 of the Contrast Lesson, a simple definition was introduced, with a few examples. Then you were requested to notice details in bright light and shadows while you live life.

Why?

Because there is a difference between what we perceive and what we are aware of. Your job as a professional-in-training is, 1) to learn how to be aware of things that you already perceive, then 2) how to communicate well when things are not as good as they should be.


We don’t think about it, but most of our vision is out of focus and not colored. Take a moment to observe: While you focus on this page, much of everything else is very out of focus, and most everything is greyish. You can still see movement if it happens – even in the out of focus areas. You can even tell the direction of a movement. [Sound is similar; while concentrating on something, non-important sounds get ignored, just part of the background, but an urgent noise will be noticed quickly, and with very precise location.]

We are constantly perceiving, even if we are not paying attention to something.

When our eyes blink, we rarely notice – but part of our vision went black for a while! How can we not notice that? When we see someone sitting at the table, we rarely notice the variations of color on their pants or their socks or their shoes. We glance and see the shoes as red. But if we look closely we actually see that the color might be dozens of shades of bright and dark red. If they are in shadows, that red is mostly dark, and some parts might actually be black.

The same shading is happening on the movie screen when you look at it…or at least it should be. If it isn’t, there probably is a problem. Your customers may not know what is wrong, but they will have a feeling that something is wrong. If it is irritating they may just not come back, even if they can’t describe it.

Sometimes you go in to check the picture only to get sucked into the movie and forget to stare at the dark or bright parts of the scene. These are the parts that will inform you if the equipment is working well. There should be detail in the bright – soft shades of colors – and most importantly, there should be exquisite detail in the dark.

So, trick number one. Don’t forget what you are looking for. Trick number 2…Look. Trick number 3: Become better at being aware of what you see…difficult at first but wonderful when you get used to it.


There is a technical way to measure light. If you promise not to laugh, we’ll tell you that it is based upon the light of one candle. All that stuff in Lesson 1 was true.

The term is candela and the measurement for the reflected light from the screen answers the question of “How many candles of light does it take to make the eyes perceive bright white.

The answer is: 48. 48 what? 48 candela per square meter.

Oh my. What is a square meter?


A meter is one of those obscure things for Americans, but very common every place else in the world. And, a square meter is even more odd. Let’s walk through this.

Put your arms out in front of you with your hands flat, facing down. Now, keeping your hands flat and at shoulder level, bring them toward the front of your neck and place the ends of your middle fingers together. Your arms make almost a straight line now. From elbow to elbow is about a meter. Some people will have a shorter distance, some a longer. Doesn’t matter for this purpose. Imagine that length at the bottom of the movie screen. Imagine the sides of a square going up the screen, but only for the same distance. The box with all those equal sides is about a square meter.

Imagine that only that square meter of screen will reflect light…the rest of the screen is dark and actually eats light.


Now, imagine a candle in a dark room shining on your square meter of screen. Put your imaginary candle one meter away from the screen. The light reflects back to you. That is one candela of light per square meter. And that, friends, is also Luminance. And luminance is what technicians measure off the screen with their fancy equipment.

And, if you want to be really cool, if you want to use the word that directors and cinematographers and colorists use, say ‘nits’. “Yeah; the screen is 48 nits…I saw them shoot it with the meter.”


Back to Contrast

Who cares? The picture is on the screen, the sound is hot, the popcorn didn’t burn this morning…all is good.

And maybe it is.

In a perfect world the contrast is the range or difference between what looks like white and what looks like black on the screen.

In most auditoriums, there is no real white on the screen or real black on the screen. There are many reasons for this, and it will always be this way. Even the most fancy DolbyVision, or Laser IMAX or Sony or Samsung LED wall doesn’t have as much light as a foggy day. But that is a lesson for another time.


There is a range that each room is capable of, and the equipment is in a war to try to make it stable …which it always loses. A bulb gets weaker, electronics get too hot or finds some other reason to fail. The screen material gets darker every week and month and year as it ages – and yellowish instead of whiteish –  and sometimes computers just don’t talk to other equipment correctly.

Since it is your job to ensure quality, it is your job to decide whether contrast has reached a point of concern. So, it is time to learn how to judge it. Here are some examples.

When you see someone’s leg under a table or something in a shadow during a movie, you have an opportunity to “See Into The Dark”. At worst, you won’t even see that a black shoe isn’t part of the shadow. At best, you will see that there are different shades of black and grey in the shoe and sock and the pant cuff and the folds in the pants. Notice these things in real life, notice how there is a constant gradient in dark shadows, and how a colored floor will go off to black in the distance.

The opposite will happen in the brilliant whites and colors. There will be ‘blown out’ white where things are not distinguishable at all…just one flat and too-bright-to-look-at white. The funny thing is, the brightest that the very best projector and screen combination can create is 108 units of light, and most strain themselves to create half that.

[Remember from the lesson above: The standard is 48 candela per square meter, which again, simply means: the amount of light that would be created if you held 48 candles at a distance of one meter (3 feet) in front of the screen, then measured all the light reflecting from one square meter of the screen (which is about nine, almost 10 square feet).]

Outside, 100 units are nearly nothing. The reflection of the sun on a car is thousands and thousands of units. (Perhaps we should stop saying ‘units’ since we know that people in the industry call that unit of light a ‘nit’. Just don’t get confused when a tech uses an older term like Foot-Lamberts. 48 nits…48 candela per square meter is equal to 14 foot-lamberts. And yes, it was named after Mr. and Mrs. Lambert’s son. He was famous for a lot of things.)

On-screen, look at some bright part of the sky or something flat and nearly one color – a refrigerator, for example, or even a close up a white dog. The white should actually be many shades of white. You’ll see that this is true of a real dog, or a real sky, and the same is on screen: One solid, flat color is wrong (except in a cartoon!) A smooth gradient of white to lighter or darker white, or another color is correct. There will be shadows in the hairs of the close up of that white dog as well.

So, that is your task. Learn about Contrast by looking: What looks natural in real life and on screen. At first you will write to the tech and say, “In auditorium 5, it really seems like something is wrong in the shadows, but I don’t know what…it is better in the other rooms.” As your abilities grow you’ll be able to say, “The gradient in the darks is off in auditorium 5, they get muddy too quickly. The blues especially seem wrong…it seems like the yellows go toward the brown instead of toward the greens.” Won’t that be fun?

Do well and enjoy the ride.

 

10) What Does It Mean: Scope and Flat?

The first question: Why Do We Care?

Every Answer begins the same way: 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. Movies evolved from almost square to very wide.

This topic is a little tricky. Even if the shape is wrong – too narrow or too short – at least the image is on the screen. In some cases, the images may look OK if you just glance at the image. But there are things 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 ever complains about too big!) They may complain that the people on screen are too thin, or too fat.

Buzzwords: “Scope” “Flat” “Format” “Constant Height” “Constant Width” “Aspect Ratio” “Two-Three-Five” “One-Eight-Five” (written 2.39 or 1.85 and 2.39:1 or 1.85:1). We will show the definition of these terms with examples. Don’t look them up now – they have too many meanings and most explanations are more complicated than we need to be.

The Complication: There are 2 correct forms for an image on the screen. Even in the same facility, some auditoriums may be one type, and other auditoriums 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 side to side (the width) compared to the dimension from top to bottom (the height). For example, 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

A 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 format is called Flat.

One format is slightly wider than 2 times wide and 1 times tall – that format 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 – 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 appear 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, yes, 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?”

mp4 Samples of Managers Walk Through Series DCPs

Hi.
The following mp4 files are taken from the same sources as the free DCPs available for the non-technical cinema manager, the ones used to check the cinema auditorium. The only difference is that the sub-titles are burned into these QuickTime files. In the DCPs, the sub-titles are a file that the server and projector use to create the sub-titles. Perhaps the higher compression shows bands in the greys as well, but on the big screen they should look and sound fabulous.

This first sample is derived from the xkcd.com/1080 site, to give a bit of interesting “other” after using the Align1 and Faces1 DCPs. Continue reading “mp4 Samples of Managers Walk Through Series DCPs”

7) Measuring Light

For this Quality Assurance Project, there are many goals (I want to learn a bit more about the technology of movies, or, I want to be part of a well trained team that keeps customers happy…) and many purposes (If I can help create happy customers, they come back more often…or, if I have good control of the basic skills, I can use them to get even more important skills.) To accomplish these goals and achieve these purposes, there are many things that need to be done.

The top layer of these goals and purposes is responding to the quality of presentation that the CEO (Cheif Executive Officer of the company) intends them to be. She or he will acknowledge that there is a range of possibilities: Perfect Perfect, Perfect, Kinda Perfect, Mostly Kinda Perfect, OK, Kinda OK…all the way to I’m embarrassed but maybe someone won’t notice and the boss won’t hear about it.

(in the auditoriums  ensuring that the are  – 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 really 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”, “Brightness”.

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 create without problem.

And white too! Perfect white is never shown – it would ruin your eye’s ability to notice differences between things when the picture is too bright.

Which is the problem with Contrast…too bright, you can’t see details in the darks. Too dark – muddy – you can’t see the detail in the bright.

There needs to be a good range – when you look in the dark, in the shadows, there should be richness in the dark reds and and dark blues and and dark greens and and greys. And when there is is bright scene, there should be good pastel colors too.

Another problem is – We don’t always know what the artist wanted – a lot of movies are ‘moody’ and ‘dark’. But even dark movies shouldn’t be mushy.

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


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

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. If you hadn’t already seen the gold in the mountains, the 2nd picture would be OK.

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


So. What is Contrast?

Simply, in the cinema, there is a level of white and a level of black. Outside, on a sunny day, the level of bright can be 30,000 or perhaps up to 120,000 at the brightest day at the brightest time in the brightest place…and reflections on cars…they can be 10’s of thousands of bright too! And, the level of black? Wow, a dark night sky in a forest when you can’t see the hand in front of your face – a single candle will seem very bright indeed. Let’s call a candle at arms length 1. Move the candle away and it becomes .1 and .01 and .001. In theory, our eyes can still see that candle on a perfectly dark and clear night when it is many miles (or kilometers) away.

Move the candle close to you, or put several candles in your hand…or a light that has the power of several hundred candles …well, at some point you get too much light in your eyes and, in protection, they shut. And inside the eyes, in protection, there is a protection mechanism as well.

But let’s not get off the point: Contrast is the difference between the highest level of bright and the lowest level of dark. 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. When it is written like that, it is called the Contrast Ratio.

Why do you need to know that?

You want to have a good feeling about your ability to notice good and bad contrast. And, most importantly, how to tell the technician what you see when there is a problem.

We give a little more detail about these things in Part 2, with more examples.


But first, take a break. The exercise for this lesson is to look in shadows while you are living life.

Notice: there are important details to see in the shadows. Look under tables. Look into the dark and notice how colors shift down to black. You might have to purposely shade your eyes from a bright light.

And: Notice how there are things to see even in light that is almost too bright to look at. The colors will be softer in bright light, even for the same shoe or car or face that was a deep rich color when you saw it in the dark.


When you have experience and a good feeling for these ideas of Contras, click into Contrast – Part 2

Photo by Rodrigo Soares on Unsplash

0a) How to: Manager’s Walk Through

Quality Assurance is a process.

The most difficult thing about this Quality Assurance process is being prepared to write while in the dark. After that it is just paying attention to what is being played and – most importantly – its affect on you.

It may take 10 or 15 evaluations before you get comfortable. After that, every time you will notice something you hadn’t seen or heard or experienced before. It may just be interesting, not something getting worse – but you will start to be more aware of what you are aware of! Continue reading “0a) How to: Manager’s Walk Through”

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 so that we can accomplish our objective: To help keep the picture’s quality up to its potential. Customers come to you expecting you to understand their complaints and report what they saw, or even better, to report and fix problems before they see them!


Pictures are made of colors. For this lesson, we are going to say that even black and white are colors. Why? Because they are really the extremes of the range of darkness and lightness for each color. So, for example, inside the deep forest we will see deep greens that go to almost black, and we will see bright green moss or leaves with moisture 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”

0) Ideas Behind The Checklist

It is amazing. Even after thousands of years of study, sight and sound is not understood completely.

So don’t feel like you are the only one with confusions or questions.

It was only 110 years ago that Einstein proposed what seems to be the best working theory for light, but they were just untested theories. Now, every year, some clever science person makes progress proving another piece of his ideas.

More recently, it was a long and hard 15 year transition from film to digital projection. A lot of lessons have been learned. And now some projectors are changing again, to laser light, and some cinema theaters are converting to Immersive Sound.

All these things beat in one consistent march…to better fulfill the Director’s Intent.

There’s always something to learn.

So, again – the point is: Don’t be feeling like you’re the only one who still has confusion in these areas. We will not only work on the confusions, but we will practice and follow checklists so that we won’t have to worry, “Did I forget something?

Be certain that you let us know if we skip a step in explaining these things. If there is a lingering misunderstanding, make certain that we haven’t left a word not well defined. Use the Comments below, or write to us on the Contact, Please page.

5) Artistic Intent…Protecting the Dream

Let’s go back to a very basic concept – the very idea behind “Why We Care” quality of the picture and quality of the 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. Maybe, actually, to tell the story to a bunch of people in a room with a bunch of other 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. They are 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. And after all that work, the finished product somehow gets it into the equipment of the cinema facility.


In a different 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 the release has to meet a delivery date.

After all that work, there it is, the final lens. Just in front of that little piece of glass in the back wall of the theater – the Port Window. 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. The Director’s Intent wasn’t to keep a lot of people employed or to make the camera sales people happy. The Director’s Intent 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.

It 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