DCPs (or Digital Cinema Packages) have long been the gold standard for digital feature film exhibition in theatrical venues. The format was developed in the 1990’s a replacement for 35mm projection, and has since been implemented in virtually every major cinema in North America (and most of the world).
While the format has many upsides – notably image quality and reliable playback – its underlying technology has often been a source of confusion and frustration, leaving many filmmakers to rely on 3rd party sources/specialists to create DCPs for them.
This has always come at a steep price, especially in the early days when large post-houses were charging $20,000 (or more) for a feature length DCP.
As the years went on though, new tools/software platforms hit the market and made DCP creation more accessible. Paid software, plugins, and free/open source technology meant there were more options than ever for creating Digital Cinema Packages. Open DCP, easyDCP, Cute DCP, and the Wraptor plugin for Adobe are just a few of the tools that emerged during this time.
All of this ultimately helped bring the cost of DCPs down dramatically. A package that once cost $20K at a major post facility could now be completed by a small shop for under $2K. This was huge for indie filmmakers who weren’t looking to spend a huge chunk of their budget on a single deliverable. Still, many were eager to find even more cost-effective options, which really could only be accomplished by going the DIY route.
This was easier said than done though, as none of the off the shelf DCP plugins/applications solved the biggest issue – Linux EXT2 hard drive formatting – which is required for all DCP drives. Most of the other technical requirements of DCP creation – creating a JPEG 2000 image sequence, converting colorspace to XYZ, and generating the necessary XML files – can now be fully automated by software. Even filmmakers with little background in post-production or encoding can learn how to generate the files for a DCP relatively easily.
Here’s what a completed DCP looks like on your system –
But in order for a DCP to actually play on a theatrical server, the drive itself needs to be formatted in EXT2 with a 128 inode – something that hasn’t been easy to do for the average editor working on a Mac. Over the past few months though, a couple of new developments in the DCP-world have shaken things up yet again, which have now made DCP creation more accessible and affordable than ever before… Both in terms of generating the DCP files themselves, and ensuring a proper Linux EXT2 format.
Let’s first look at actually creating the DCP package, which has just become unbelievably simple thanks to DaVinci Resolve’s integration of the open source DCP technology by Kakadu.
Although Resolve has had the ability to generate DCPs via easyDCP (a paid license/upgrade) for a while now, it was fairly cost prohibitive for most filmmakers a license would cost over $1000. At that price, most filmmakers would rather have a professional do the job for them.
But now, in addition to easyDCP, Resolve 15 also includes Kakadu – a free DCP encoder that comes bundled with the software. It does virtually everything for you – from the color space conversion to creating the proper MXF files – and can be accessed via the settings tab on the delivery page.
Whether you have edited your film in Resolve or not, you can make use of this feature simply by dropping a master file of your film into a timeline (using a DCI compliant resolution such as 2048 x 1080), and choosing one of the Kakadu export settings –
While exporting, you will see the color space conversion in the preview monitor, so don’t be alarmed if your image looks like this –
Once your DCP is created, you can even view it in resolve as if it were any other video file –
Many of the other DCP software products on the market have either been too cumbersome for filmmakers without much background in post, or too buggy, as was the case with Wraptor. So naturally the integration of Kakadu in Resolve is huge for filmmakers, as it will likely offer the simplest and most reliable off the shelf solution for creating your own DCP.
But what’s even more exciting, is a recently released software by Cinematiq called DCP Transfer, which solves the issue of EXT2 hard drive formatting.
As the name suggests, the software allows users to properly format hard drives to EXT2, without needing to run a Linux machine. Users simply import their DCP file (created by Resolve or any other software) into DCP Transfer, then use the software to validate their DCP file/format an external drive to Linux, before finally transferring the validated DCP file to the EXT2 drive.
And just like that, the DCP is complete.
I’ve personally used DCP Transfer a number of times and have had great results with it. It’s extremely easy to use, highly reliable, and very affordable – it costs only $25/month to rent! At that price, I’ll likely continue to rent it indefinitely, but in theory, if you only need to create a single DCP once, you could simply rent the software for one month and then cancel.
I have to imagine that this is only the tip of the iceberg with regards to simplifying the DCP process. I’m sure we will see more tools in the coming months that will make the process even easier and more accessible. But for now the Resolve/Kaduku/Cinematiq combo is going to be hard to beat.
Always remember though, if you are making your own DCP it’s still best to take it to a theater or post-house to test for you. Especially if you’ve never created one before. There is nothing like doing a full playback of your film in a theatrical setting to give you confidence that your DCP is going to run properly.
Once you do have that master DCP though, you can continue to make unlimited copies using DCP Transfer, and save yourself a lot of time and money in the future when creating more copies for festival screenings or other theatrical exhibitions.
What about you? Have you experimented with making your own DCPs? If so, leave a comment below.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!