Category Archives: Digital Media

A sting in the Tail

Transcript of podcast below.

Film makers are gradually shifting to digital video because it’s flexible and cheap. I should re-phrase that last comment – it’s certainly flexible but is it cheap?

I was surprised to discover that making a digital film may cost about the same amount as making a conventional film. Now there is a healthy debate about which format costs more and many creative professionals opt for digital formats because of it’s undoubted flexibility, and depending on the director cost of the medium may be a secondary consideration.

But what happens to all this content once it’s been produced, the audience has watched it, enjoyed the popcorn and has left the cinema? Well that’s where there’s a sting in the tail for the film industry.

You see film and television companies know that a film, once made, may have a very long life after it’s initial showing. All the company has to do is to store the original master copy somewhere safe, bringing it out from time to time for a re-release or repeat showing.

And here’s where this story acquires a digital sting – it’s all in the storage. It’s been reported that digital content costs 12 times more to store than conventional film. It gets worse if the production is digital end to end, where it could be up to 200 times more expensive! So why the large difference in cost?

To store old-fashioned celluloid film all that’s needed is a nice cool storage space, some shelving and a label on the tin for identification. Digital film storage involves backup tape, hard drives or a combination of the two. It sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? But there’s a problem, over time digital content needs migration successor generations of storage media because digital media degrades at an alarming rate, compared to celluloid film (or for that matter paper). On top of that there is the danger of digital media becoming unreadable should data storage formats change, which they do more frequently than you’d think.

It’s an ironic thing isn’t it? The cost of making a digital production might be apparently cheap up front but can, in the case of feature films and big budget productions, become quite significant over the years. For example the cost of storing a digital feature film for a decade might be in the region of $2 million, whilst conventional film would cost about $10,000, for the same time period. The price difference is enough to make a feature film, and store it, if shot on conventional film.

If the cost of storing digital media doesn’t come down sharply, and there aren’t many signs of that happening at the moment for film, it’s possible that very large amounts of creative output of the 21st century will simply disappear. We may end up with more extant films from the 1950’s than 2015, and with it the cultural footprint of a generation could disappear like smoke in a breeze.


A Point of Review

Transcript of podcast below.

I get the feeling that YouTube may probably contain a review of almost any product available on the planet. I could, for example, watch reviews featuring someone unboxing a wet toaster, showing off a new pair of jeans or even eating army rations of the world. In each case the reviewer is taking a finished product and passing their judgement about it to their audience. I’ve got the feeling that I could probably spend longer watching reviews of a product that I would actually using the object of the review itself, such is the selection of alternative viewpoints.

But what if the product wasn’t finished? Would you trust a review of a car despite the fact that it had no engine in it? Would you trust the review of a pair of jeans if the pair on display only had one leg? I think we’d exercise a healthy dose of scepticism. We’d want to see the finished product.

Being sceptical about an unfinished physical object is fair enough but what about the digital world? How do we know that anything’s finished, particularly when software companies continue to push out updates for established, and new, software at an ever increasing rate?

Take computer games as a good example. Game developers now release “early access” games, inviting enthusiastic early adopters to pay for an unfinished game. Now there are individuals who don’t think reviewing unfinished products is legitimate but that neatly illustrates the divide between physical and digital objects.

Most people would think it quite odd if someone were to publish a review of a toaster that didn’t actually toast anything because it wasn’t a complete product. On the other hand if we jump into the digital domain it’s pretty evident that reviews of unfinished digital products are commonplace. Human curiosity is such that people want to know as much as possible about digital products, even if they’re not quite finished yet.

Of course multiple changing reviews of digital products can lead to search engines serving up an out of date review, for an earlier version of the digital product that we’re interested in. This adds to the challenge of working out whether review is worth considering, or not.

The changing nature of reviews reflects our change in expectations for digital products. In the physical world I don’t expect my jeans to suddenly sprout a pair of pockets, where none had existed before, but that’s exactly what I expect of my digital products. I expect new features, fixes to known bugs (or problems) and with it a fresh review of that product, produced by the endless army of amateur and professional reviewers on the Internet.

Welcome to the digital age where it’s perfectly reasonable to review a car without an engine or a pair of trousers with only one leg.

Picture This.

Transcript of podcast below.

This year is the 25th anniversary of a software product known and loved by photographers and designers the world over: Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop enables skilled practitioners to perform simple colour corrections or radical alterations to content and composition. Photoshop and other photographic processing software completely changed the way photographers and designers work, to the point where Photoshop has become an almost essential component of most professional photographers toolkits.

But that same ability to digitally manipulate photographs brings with it a Pandora’s box of problems. Fashion models have their bodies digitally sculpted into more attractive forms, causing many to doubt the reality of a lot of fashion pictures. Whilst female fashion models, and stars appear to be digitally manipulated far more often than we’d like, it’s not just fashion models who experience a little creative re-modelling. National Geographic was hoodwinked in 2010, with a faked picture of a dog.

Now it’s true that some digitally faked pictures can be easy to spot but the are an awful lot of pictures out there that may be almost impossible to spot digital manipulation in, unless we were there when the picture was taken. It’s at this point I begin to wonder what all the fuss is about, after all if someone takes a picture of a bunch of daffodils and turns them into a glowing yellow ball of sunshine, why not? If the picture appeals, where’s the harm?

To a point there probably isn’t harm but what about pictures used in news stories? Is there an absolute guarantee that they’re not digitally manipulated? There are rules that news agencies impose on photographers, but rules get broken. A particularly famous example was a shot of president Obama standing on a beach, head down, during the US gulf oil spill. The dramatic picture of a troubled president, standing alone grabbed a lot of attention. The problem was that he wasn’t alone, two companions were edited out of the shot to make it more dramatic, and appealing to the audience.

The difficulty we have is that we live in an image and media hungry world, where web and social media sites post increasing numbers of pictures and may not have the time, or inclination to verify the authenticity of an image. In some cases an enhanced photograph might be no big deal, but in others it may completely change the emotional impact, or sense of a serious news story.

Whilst Photoshop itself is not the bad guy in this story, the temptation for photographers to tweak and change their photograph, to make it more dramatic will always be there. All we can do as consumers is keep a sceptical eye on the big picture: in a digital age anything can be manipulated, including us, the audience.