At this week’s HPA Tech Retreat in Palm Springs, the American Society of Cinematographers premiered its Standard Evaluation Material II (StEM2) project – a 16-minute short film that was made to provide a consistent baseline while evaluating a myriad of different technologies and workflows used to produce and deliver movies and episodic series, with a view to maintaining the filmmakers’ intent.
Test material will be available for free on a CSA website in approximately 25 indoor and home television formats, including 2K, 4K and 8K resolution combinations; standard and high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision); and Dolby Atmos, 7.1, 5.1 and stereo sound. A behind-the-scenes video is also in the works.
The completed short was screened at the HPA event, while project details were discussed during a panel with writer/director/producer Jay Holben, producer Wendy Aylsworth, producer and post-supervisor Joachim “JZ” Zell, and second unit director/cinematographer and stunt coordinator Steven Shaw (who also has a cameo appearance as a scientist in the short).
The mission follows a group of scientists out to thwart a criminal’s plans and is highlighted by a car chase through the desert, which was filmed over five days last summer. This included indoor and outdoor locations at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in Santa Clarita; ARRI Creative Space in Burbank using its LED wall for virtual production and video playback of plates for car chase sequence interiors; and Studio 60 in downtown Los Angeles for additional indoor and nighttime exteriors.
Zell noted that before starting production, the ASC’s Motion Imaging Technology Council created a list of what they hoped to test with the footage. This included high dynamic range scenes, dark scene detail, wide color gamut elements, choppy motion, built-in test patterns, in-camera visual effects, compression, and various shooting conditions. lighting, as well as skin tones.
The test also involved a range of technologies, including various digital cinema cameras and lenses with metadata capabilities and virtual production techniques.
Shaw emphasized safety and “nobody gets hurt on my sets,” adding, “we weren’t going to smash cars, we were just going to do high-speed precision.”
StEM2 represents the same type of large-scale initiative as the 2004 production of the 12-minute short film StEM – a scene from an Italian wedding in various lighting conditions – which was spearheaded by ASC and the consortium of Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) studios, which was used to assess and define the technical specifications of digital cinema in its early days.
The mission was produced with the support (monetary and/or services) of 33 studios, technology companies and other stakeholders, including a seed grant from Epic MegaGrants and support from the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.