DCP Production

Posted on February 7, 2015

When my feature film, Clew, was accepted into Cinequest Film Festival I had been concentrating on just finishing it for about a month. There was a ton of work to be done – fixing coloring issues, finessing the VFX, developing the look of entire sections. A lot had to be done. As I started nearing the finishing line, I started to realize that outputting a DCP (Digital Cinema Package), which I thought would be simple, was actually relatively complicated and fraught with problems.

A little background, a DCP is the digital equivalent of a film print – it’s the best way to currently deliver your movie to be screened on digital projectors. Though I am by no means an expert, I will let you know what I did and how it worked out for me.

First off, DCP’s it seems can only project a few different resolutions, and they basically fall into two big groups – 2k and 4k. I confirmed that Cinequest was able to project at 4k. Now, 4k, as I said, is not just one resolution – there’s Flat (3996×2160) , Full (4096 – 2160), and Scope (4096 x 1716). We were finishing Clew at 2592×1458 which is 16×9 just a bit larger than the standard 1920×1080 HD dimensions. We were delivering at those dimensions because we shot 4k and after we blew up a few scenes, we thought it would only hold up at that res. Plus, we shot on RED and it’s a bit noisy if you use native dimensions.  From what I gathered, for a 16×9 movie, Flat (3996×2160) was the way to go.

So I did a bit of research into DCPs and found that it’s one of the more expensive portions of the post-production process. I’ve worked with some of the top companies in the world and whenever you need a color corrected monitor and perfect audio to QC, it’s always expensive. Expensive to do it correctly is multiple thousands of dollars. Considering that I’m likely still going to be working on this film after the festival, I didn’t want to do a final DCP as if it was going theatrical, so I needed a cheaper solution. What I found was CuteDCP for After Effects.

CuteDCP had a pretty simple pipeline – I took my 23.976 fps movie dropped it into a 24 fps composition and used the CuteDCP plugin to render the DCP. Their manual was super simple and it worked the first time for me.

Now checking a DCP is just about as difficult as making one. I downloaded some free software – EasyDCP Player that allowed me to check 15 seconds to make sure the color was good. The full version was like $1000 or something like that. I was willing to risk that as After Effects is pretty good about letting you know when it messes up. It’s pretty ridiculous that these players are so expensive. I presume someone will try and fix this soon.

Then, another issue came up. These DCP servers require that the filesystem of the drive be NTFS or EXT2/EXT3 formatted. Macs do not do this. So, I downloaded Ubuntu, added it to a USB stick and booted from it, plugged in my CRU DX115 drive and the drive with the DCP and then made the transfer within Ubuntu.

I’ll update when I see it on the big screen.