How New Technology Is Transforming the Look of the Movies

As Hollywood prepares to honor the world’s elite creative talent at the Academy Awards®, the subject of how technology is influencing the art of filmmaking is once again a topic of conversation.

Powerful laser projection, expanded color gamut, and high dynamic range imaging offer filmmakers the tools to reveal their vision in new ways and share that experience with audiences around the world.

Laser illumination now produces light so efficiently that Dolby Cinema images are projected with more than twice the brightness of conventional digital projectors. Expanded color gamut has given filmmakers access to a new palette of colors, allowing audiences to experience a stunning new world of vivid imagery. High dynamic range imaging allows us to see shadow detail like never before. Highlights are brighter and darks are transformed from murky grey to profoundly black.

The history of film has been one long dance between art and technology. With each technical innovation, be it sound, color, or widescreen imagery, filmmakers have embraced the tools introduced and continued to push the art form in new directions. As someone who began his career in post-production, it’s exciting for me to see the different ways filmmakers are using the wide color gamut and high dynamic range that are now available through the combination of powerful laser projectors and Dolby Vision.

Pete Docter, director of Inside Out, used the new range of saturated colors available to make the scenes set in the mind’s subconscious distinct from the rest of the movie. The almost glowing deep green of the broccoli and the bright red nose of the clown illustrate the intensity of this dream world.

In The Revenant, the filmmakers used the greater depth of contrast in novel ways. In a nighttime scene, a group of men search the woods, lighting their way with torches. There are a dozen points of light in the scene, but as the torch light fades, the top of the screen is so dark that in the high dynamic range version of the film it actually disappears, essentially changing the dimensions of the scene.

The new technology also solves an essential problem that’s plagued 3D movies. The technology of 3D significantly reduces the brightness of a scene, meaning that colors can look washed out and the contrast flat. With the greater brightness now available from laser projectors, 3D movies can enjoy vibrant colors and sharp contrast. You see the effect in the 3D version of The Martian, which has rich colors and enough contrast to produce crisp, defined three-dimensional effects against the blackness of space.

The LEGO Batman Movie is remarkable as the first commercially released movie that is available using the Dolby Cinema wide color gamut for the full feature. The saturation is spectacular and the movie delivers colors never seen before on standard digital cinema screens.

Seeing what a great artist can do with the technology being developed at Dolby is incredibly gratifying. I look forward to experiencing the creative ways filmmakers use these tools, and those in development, to enhance their storytelling, as we have only started to scratch the surface with Dolby Vision.