Digital cinema to overtake celluloid by 2012

November 17th, 2011 - 11:29 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 17 (IANS) The 35 mm celluloid film, used by filmmakers for over a century, is most likely to be overtaken by digital cinema as the preferred mode of film-making by early 2012, and will disappear by 2015.

For 120 years, movies have been distributed on celluloid rolls housed in circular canisters and shown by projectors burning intensely bright carbon arc lamps.

But in early 2012, digital cinema will overtake celluloid globally, with the last celluloid cinemas expected to close shop by 2015.

Many directors still favour the “warm” look of celluloid, which is still preferred by an ace moviemaker like Steven Spielberg.

In Britain, two-thirds of cinemas are already digital. Analyst IHS Screen Digest says celluloid could disappear as early as 2013, the Daily Mail reports.

“‘Avatar’ was the catalyst for the change,” says David Hancock, analyst with IHS Screen Digest. “It drove screens to 3D — and therefore made cinemas upgrade to digital.”

“The digitisation process started 10 years ago — it slowly took off in 2005 and 2006. Distributors are saving money — these days films are moved between cinemas on a hard drive costing 150 pounds, which can be reused,” adds Hancock.

With celluloid, each print of a movie costs around 1,000 pounds each (Rs.850,000). So if a film opened in 1,000 screens, the cost to distributors is huge.

Demand for celluloid peaked in 2008, says IHS, when 13 billion feet of film were used worldwide. By 2012, as little as four billion will be used.

By 2015, film will no longer be used commercially — although libraries storing old celluloid releases will continue to exist, and private projectors will exist to show them.

However, directors may still use celluloid to shoot films. They will be converted to digital to show at the cinema.

Celluloid is derived from cellulose and alcoholised camphor. It was developed by John Wesley Hyatt in 1868 as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls.

By 1900, celluloid was being used as the base for film for still photography and motion pictures.

“There is an emotional attachment to celluloid,” says Hancock.

“It does produce a particular, recognisable effect. Digitally shot films are cleaner and neater, and some film-makers are against that.”

Previously, the opening dates of films in America, Europe and other territories was often dictated by the expense of producing film.

Once a film had finished its run in one territory, the celluloid would be shipped to another.

Ironically, despite the switch to digital, most films are still couriered, rather than sent digitally.

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