The introduction late last year of Blackmagic Design’s camera capable of shooting 12K begged the question… why? Well, we have the answer(s).
At the time of the URSA Mini Pro 12K’s release the company’s marketing went along the lines of the idea isn’t that everyone should shoot 12K but that you should use 12K for the situations that require it.
Most (all?) digital cine cameras are capable of shooting a higher than 2K cinema projected standard and most productions capture more information about the pixels than is needed for the strict deliverable. Prime use cases include on VFX heavy shows where the final images will have gone through substantial manipulation (and information loss).
At Stargate Digital, for instance, it’s not so much a question of whether they shoot at 12K as it is how many 12K cameras they use on a shoot.
“I think my record is shooting with eight of them at once,” says Sam Nicholson, ASC. “Generally, four of them is a pretty standard lift right now. You have tremendous flexibility to reframe and resize things to fix any operating errors that are made on stage.”
One recent shoot saw four 12K cameras on a stabilized driving rig capturing a 360-degree environment for virtual production. Another project involved a fleet of fifteen 12K and 8K cameras capturing environments from a traveling subway train. Each take was 30 minutes and generated around 150 TB of footage.
Nicholson’s philosophy is to shoot with the most resolution and dynamic range possible so that the footage can be pushed and manipulated aggressively, as needed, in post-production.
But using extreme resolutions doesn’t have to be all about VFX. A show about the history of comedy for Sky Deutschland’s new thematic HD channel Sky Comedy was shot almost entirely in 12K resolution. Shooting with high resolutions helps preserve the image downstream when keying and tracking but the motivation to acquire 12K was as much about speed.
“There were times when I zoomed into the frame 900% and I could still see details in the image — not pixels — it was detail,” says Marius Fischer, the project’s head of postproduction. The show was delivered at HD. “That way we can shoot it all single camera and crop later in post. There’s no need to set up different angles or framing.”
This is similar to the approach of Kevin Garcia, film director with MixOne Sound. He shot “Phoenix Sessions,” a streaming concert series featuring performances by Jimmy Eat World, at 8K with four Ursa Mini Pro 12Ks rolling alongside two Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K G2s. The higher-res footage gave him opportunities to reframe shots or even crop the image to create new angles in the edit. Even just downscaling the image to 4K yields excellent results.
“I didn’t want to set up three cameras, so I set up one 12K camera and punched-in to 4K, and it was still vivid. It didn’t look upscaled or downscaled, and it turned a one-camera shoot into five.”
During lockdown, London-based indie Hangman shot music promos for Bastille and Damon Albarn and a concert performed by singer-songwriter Passenger at London’s Royal Albert Hall all using a mix of RED 8K and BMD 12K cameras.
“Greater resolution gives you greater flexibility in post but even if you shoot 12K and downsample to 4K your image will look better,” says Hangman director James Tonkin. “If you shoot 4K for 4K you have nowhere else to go. We don’t want a resolution or format war. It’s about better pixels and smarter use of pixels.”
“We’re getting to a point where what we shoot now will last for another 15+ years, maybe longer. If you want any longevity then shoot, finish and master at the highest format possible at the time otherwise it will add more cost down the line when you need to revisit it.”
There are issues. For Garcia, the main argument against shooting everything in 12K is the storage requirements. Recording live performances that run for an hour or two without a break at high resolution can fill discs quickly. But even 8K offers compelling advantages for HD and 4K deliveries.
Fischer says, “There’s no tool built yet to verify 12K dailies so I couldn’t see any of the 12K metadata but I could at 6K.”
His doubts about the workflow persisted until he got the media into post. “What will happen if we take 12K into the timeline? I didn’t know. When we got into post we plugged in the RAID, created a new project in Resolve and put the 12K material into the timeline and it worked. No pre-rendering, no caching. It just auto-synced with audio into the timeline. It was crazy.”
Turns out that price was no issue. The URSA camera rental was only about $275 a day — less than the cost of the lenses.
“The industry has a real problem in asking for more money if production is done at any higher resolution than HD,” Fischer says. “I asked the CEO of [post house] Konterfei if we did 12K would he charge more and he said ‘No, it makes no sense.’ We’re using the same storage, the same space, the same tools.”