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low budget DCP

Today there are several tools for making a DCP yourself and some of them are even free. I’m not familiar with all the tools that are around (remember i work in a cinema, not in a production studio). Nevertheless i picked up a few things worth knowing.

First of all: there are Plug-ins for video editors (like Wraptor for Adobe Premiere) that pretent to make a DCP from your edit. This is a very bad choice to make your DCP, because at least half of the DCPs i get that are made with these programs do NOT play on cinema equipment.

Second: Checking your DCP with a computer software DCP player like EasyDCPplayer is only good for checking if your picture, subtitles and sound have turned up in the right shape in the DCP. If the software player plays your DCP it does NOT mean it will play on cinema equipment. See rule number one on my DCP page: If you can not test in a cinema do not try to make a DCP yourself. Try to find a reliable DCP studio, ask colleagues for good references. If this is really too expensive for you then you better send a good video file instead (think ProRes422LT and the like), ask the theatre or festival that you will send it to which format they prefer.

DCP-o-matic

Now: Given you can test a DCP in a theatre with standard cinema equipment, it’s possible to make a DCP yourself these days. You will be able to make a screening copy that is perfect to show publicly if you stick to the rules. But be aware it probably will cost you time and efforts to get there. I have had good results with DCP-o-matic. It’s free, Open Source and has a good manual. Read it!

To help you along a little after reading the DCP-o-matic manual here are a few tips and additional remarks when using DCP-o-matic. Pictures will get larger when the mouse is on it. First: Set some preferences. Keep default settings but change only:

Now you are set to start making a DCP. Following my hints we will be jumping back and forth through the DCP-o-matic interface, from Content tab to DCP tab and back. I hope the pictures (from MacOS) will help you.

colour conversion selection

You start a new project choosing New from the File menu. Using the Add file(s)... button you select your edited film file. Wait for DCP-o-matic to analyze your film file. DCP-o-matic usually picks the correct colour conversion. Please check it and change the Colour conversion if necessary. Please read the manual first. If you are unsure it may be wise to first try different settings on one or a few short part(s) of your film and check those in a test screening. You may choose a filter by clicking the Edit... button if you have interlaced video or you need to flip or rotate your picture.

video container selection

Next important part is: choosing the right aspect ratio. First read the aspect ratio page if you didn’t yet. If your film is a HD movie (1920 x 1080 px which is 1.78:1) or Flat (1998 x 1080 px which is 1.85:1) it’s best to put it in a Flat DCP. If it’s Scope (2.39:1 or 2.35:1) it should be in a Scope DCP. If it's something else: read the aspect ratio page. Knowing this go to the DCP tab in DCP-o-matic and at Video Container select 1.85:1 (Flat) or 2.39 (Scope). Only choose Full Frame for content that will look OK when projected both Flat and Scope. Most cinema projectors are not set up to show Full Frame (also known as Full Container) correctly.

video scale selection

Next go back to the Content tab and check if at Scale to the right option is selected, that is: the aspect ratio of your video. If you don’t know what the dimensions of your video are, open it in Quick Time and hit Command+I (or use a similar method) to get this info, most likely it will be the pixel size. Just divide the big number by the small number and you will get the cinema type aspect ratio. For HD video it will be 1920 by 1080 giving 1.77777778. If your video has a non-standard aspect ratio, choose one that comes close. Next use the Crop options to get it right. Find a bright frame in the Preview window to have a good view on what you are doing. Be careful not to stretch or squeeze your picture, best check is on a circle in the picture. Maybe changing the Container option in the DCP tab can help finding the right settings. When you're ready DCP-o-matic will tell what it will do, you ’ll read it under the Colour conversion option. Next go to the preview window on the right and select Outline content. Hit Play to see if everything looks as you want it, press play again to pause and move the dot to skip through the video. Make adjustments to the settings as needed.

6 audio channels

Also make sure the sound settings are right. For this you go to the Audio tab. First check if all your audio channels are mapped correctly. Always 1 = Left, 2 = Right, 3 = Center, 4 = Sub/LFE, 5 = Left surround, 6 = Right Surround.

mid-side selection

Please read the sound page first. If you only have a stereo mix and there is dialogue in it do this: Go to the DCP tab and then Audio. Go to Processor and select Mid-Side decoder. This will add a Center channel. You can use the method described in the manual as well. If you have easy acces to a cinema you can experiment with the other decoders.

gain adjust

Use the Content tab, Audio and use Gain to bring it below -3dB. Next hit Show graph of audio levels. This can take some time! Check all Channels (if you used the Mid Side decoder you should have Left, Right and Center) and see if none peaks over -3dB. You can use Gain to correct and see the result inmmediately.

timing

If the first and or the last frame of your video has image, this is the time to add 3 or 4 frames of a black picture of the right resolution before and or after the video using Add file(s). If your video has more than 3 sec silent black at beginning or end, trim it using the Timing tab. Changes made here only take effect when you click Set. Check your settings in the Preview window!

subtitles

I have little experience on using subtitles other than from DVD-rips. Please read the manual. As far as i can see there are three possibilities:

You can resize and shift the subtitles using Offset and Scale. Remember that things look pretty different on a big screen. And keep away from the very edge of the picture. Read about Title Safe Area on the aspect ratio page. Again, you can check things in the Preview window. Burn subtitles into image does exactly what it says. As a projectionist i advice you to not select this. Seperate subtitles will make it possible to shift subtitles in difficult screening situations. But be sure you use a recent version of DCP-o-matic. In older versions certain subtitles types (like those from DVD rips) did not show in projection unless burned in.

name details

In the DCP tab go to Details and fill in the things that are relevant, like language and subtitle language. Check DCNC language codes for the right codes for the languages. Don’t fill in anything you don’t know or that is not relevant. If you want to fill in something at Studio or Facility, first check the already used codes on DCNC. Click OK. Select the right Content type. Do not check Encrypted except if you know what you are doing. (Read the DCP page) Click Copy as name and correct if necessary.

Now everything is ready for making the DCP. From the menu choose Jobs. If you select Make DCP in batch converter it will allow you to work on a next project in DCP-o-matic, while the batch converter will be busy baking the DCP. Have patience and book a test screening in your cinema. Read on the DCP page what you need for that. If in the test screening your DOP detects quality issues in the picture, you may give it another try with a higher setting of JPEG2000 bandwith at the DCP tab. If you need to make a change to the sound or the subtitles, you will discover that editing the original DCP-o-matic project (not starting a new project) will save a lot of time in rendering because it will re-use the unaltered picture file(s) (MXF) of the original DCP. You may also choose to make a VF (Version File), read the manual.

Finally: put only the DCP on the disk or whatever distribution you use. It is inside the DCP-o-matic film/project folder that you set up on preferences or when you started the project. You will recognise it by the format of its name. Something like FilmForFestival_FTR-1_F-178_EN-FR_51_2K_20170206_SMPTE Do not send the whole film/project folder, only the DCP folder! Best is to use rsync or Grsync for the transfer. If you use Linux you may use dcp_inspect from Digital Cinema Tools to check if the DCP on the disk is OK. Please read the DCP page. Consider donating to the DCP-o-matic project.

Henk Rhebergen, edited januari 2021