Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Third Digital Revolution

Analog Multi-Track Recorder
Victim of The Digital Revolution
During my first undergraduate year in the early 90s, I had some spare time and did a sound engineering course on the weekends. Things were very different then. In the course I learned how to edit music, by actually cutting on the tapes and gluing them together. Back then “Cut and Paste” was more literal.

Every production stage was analogue then. Recording was done to 2” Studder 24 tracker. Mixed using analog mixers, thru analog effects and mastered to analog ½” tape. DAT a two track digital format was starting to get widely used but, purists said it sounded too clean, too clinical, too cold and harsh, so mix masters was still mostly analog.

Then the first digital revolution came. Computing technology that we now take for granted was still maturing then. Unlike Terabytes of today, Hard disks was still counted in Megabytes (still magnitude larger than the 5 Kilobytes cassettes on my first VIC-20 computer, but that’s another story). Products like Alesis ADAT and Fostex D80 and later Pro Tools started to bring in the revolution in digital music recording.

These equipments were not meant for high-end recording studios, but more towards the medium project studios, as the high ends were occupied by the purists, the so-called golden eared experts. These “experts” denounced the digital revolution.

Fostex D80 - An Early Digital Recorder

Some of you old enough to experience cassettes would say that CDs started to became main stream in the late 80s. While CDs are digital, it is a delivery format. The acquisition and creation process were still mostly all analog.

As in any revolution, resistance was futile. The old guards fell, and now all music recording and production are digital. If a producer wanted an “analog sound” it’ll just then be simulated within the digital domain they’re working on. The 2” Multi-Tracker, once the pinnacle of sound recording, is now just a piece of history, victim of the digital revolution.

Analog 35 mm Film
Kids won't recognize it
The second digital revolution came in a different way. Digital photography first became main-stream in the mid 90’s. At the time, digital camera was a novelty, with picture inferior to even lowliest 35mm film camera. Storage was also a factor, with solid memory costing an arm and a leg.

Although quality continuously improved as camera sensors getting better in leaps and bounds, “Professional Photographers” despised digital photography. It was for “commoners”. “Experts” the elite guard with the magical eyes, claimed that will digital photography will never be as good as analog film and that digital photography is not “art”.

Progress waits for no men. Not even the old guards. As digital sensors exceeded the quality of film, the second digital revolution was done, even at professional photography level. Kodak and Fujifilm, maker of most 35mm films, were once blue-chip companies now are just one of the long list of victim of the digital revolution.

We are currently in the middle of the third digital revolution. This time the target is film-making.

Technologically digital film making is a huge challenge. Sensors, Processing, Storage, and Compressions are just some of the key technology required to match the quality of analog film. Visionary products such as Panasonic HVX-200 with a 35mm Lens Adapter and the RED ONE, are ahead of their time, and started the third revolution.

While some blockbusters such as “Star Wars III - Revenge of The Sith”, “Slum dog millionaire” and "Avatar" are starting to go digital, most blockbuster films are still analog. But digital is winning the tug-of-war.

So what’s the major hold-up? Is it the technology? Cameras? Costs? The surprising answer is none of the above. The technology is sufficient, and cost of digital film making is actually cheaper. The major factor holding up digital film making are the film makers, in particular the old-guard elites. They don’t believe film making should be “easy” and “affordable”. If they have to go to years of schooling at IKJ, then no newbie with thousand dollars camera should beat their hundreds of thousands dollar equipments.

Panasonic HVX-200 Digital Movie Camera
with Redrock Adapter
It is a shame really. These “Creative” workers, which by definition are out-of-the-box thinkers, are sometime extremely close minded when it comes to their wares. They forget that equipments are just tools. The film makers make the film, not the camera. Some are so silly to even lobby for Indonesian Film Festival to reject digital movie, as they are not “Film”.

Gentlemen, resistance is futile. Digital film making is disruptive technology. Like the gun in the Japanese Shogun Era where even with years of hard, dedicated sword practice Samurai are beaten by a grunt with a gun.

These old guards have the option to evolve and embrace technology, or die the dinosaurs way, victimized by change to become like the 2” Tape and the 35mm analog Film as part of history.

One should not claim to be “creative” if not able to think out-of-the-box and embrace progress. Perhaps it is time for old-guards to give way to a new breed of film makers and welcome the dawn of the third digital revolution. Change is good.

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