According to Lance Maurer, CEO and founder of Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Cinnafilm, Inc., the technology illustrates the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” With a background in aerospace, and working as an independent filmmaker shooting 16mm, Maurer saw an opportunity to create image-processing technology that could help bridge the gap “between the pleasant look of film and the unpleasant look of video,” as he puts it. “I love film, and I grew up in the ’70s when movies looked stunning. And when I began using digital cameras, I was appalled at the quality and decided something had to be done.”From 2003 until 2009, Maurer and his team tried to figure out “how to re-photograph imagery,” he says, and cut their teeth on complex format conversions such as 60i to 24p with the ability to model motion blur.
“You need a lot of computational horsepower to do that properly,” Maurer points out, “and being a technical startup with few resources, we decided to experiment on the graphics card.”
That was early 2004, and it turned out to be a smart move as graphics cards rapidly expanded in capability as the HD market took off. “Our first product was the HD1, a film simulation box designed to temporally resample new frames and then model motion blur, and do some amazing film grain simulation, which took a long time to figure out,” reports Maurer.
For simulating film grain, Maurer took a novel approach. Instead of creating a synthetic wall of noise as an overlay, the team modeled film grain and then pushed light through it to change the image.
Flying under the radar, Cinnafilm pursued its research program until 2008 when the company was contacted by the Vancouver-based boutique DI company Digital Film Central. “Right away, we discovered we had a lot in common,” recalls Maurer. “We were very good at software and motion-based predictive and compensated analysis, and they were very good at removing noise and grain from film scans.”