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Technicolor’s Peter Doyle Offers Insight on How HDR Brings New Creative Options for Moviemakers

"HDR enables us to retain the creative intent—the design of a shot—but to bring a more visceral aspect to the experience," says the colorist of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.'

High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology enables movies to be projected — in cinemas and in the home — with a much greater brightness range than with current technologies, but, says Peter Doyle, Supervising Visual Colorist at Technicolor, it can also be a new creative tool for moviemakers. He worked on one of Technicolor’s recent high profile projects,

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–

among the major movies in 2016 to make major use of high dynamic range (HDR). In a recent podcast interview for journalists, he describes how HDR brings a new dimension to the viewing experience, both in cinemas and in the home.

“Filmmakers have come to realize HDR is a tool that can really help the dynamics of a story,” says Doyle. “HDR enables us to retain the creative intent — the design of a shot — but to bring a more visceral aspect to the experience of watching a film, to give it a new level of physicality. In the most basic sense, things like wand zaps, gun-muzzle flares or light flashes can be made as bright as they would be in reality. Those kinds of cues can then be used to reinforce a story.”

HDR, Doyle says, can also be used much more subtly to enhance the experience of watching a movie, intensifying the emotions it is trying to convey.

“When a colorist works on a shot, he or she might adjust the eyelights and the reflections on a lead actor’s face and balance these with the surrounding lights to reinforce the story and the drama,” he explains.

“Quite often I will have a director ask to see the ‘wetness’ of the eyes. In technical terms, they are actually asking to see the specular [reflections], the eyelights and the sparkle in the eyes so the viewer can read what an actor is doing: whether the actor is tearing slightly or trying to show some anger.

“With HDR, we can play with an eyelight so there is a real wetness in the eyes. Then the viewer can really reach in and read the performance, much more than on normal TV where the range of brightness is much less. 

Because the highlights are not clipped and because the blacks are now quite solid and sharp, viewers are really able to access what an actor is doing with the eyes.”

The full potential of this aspect of HDR, Doyle says, is yet to be realized. “The ability to have really solid blacks and really extreme contrasts is somewhat understated at the moment, but I believe it will have real impact on in-home viewing. It brings a greater connection to a performance, a nice counterpoint to what is lost in going from a large theatrical 60-foot screen to a 65-inch TV.”