How to make a DCP (Digital Cinema Package) on your own computer

When I heard my friend Danny Lacey was figuring out how to make a DCP at home, I asked him to share what he learned! WOW! The DCP is the last technical hurdle to overcome when you want to get your movie into a professional commercial cinema – over to Danny…!

Up until now the words Digital Cinema Package (DCP) had usually been followed by many pound (or other currency) signs. Numbers like £10k, £30k and £50k+ were being used. My initial reaction…? We are all doomed, there’s no way I’m getting my short films shown at high resolution on the big screen.

Enter, OpenDCP and the modern age of Indie distribution. It’s free, it’s open source and it’s is so simple to use. Too good to be true, surely?

In this guest blog I wanted to share my experiences of making a DCP for my short films, in preparation for a premiere screening night.

What is a Digital Cinema Package?
Digital Cinema Initiatives (most of the major studios) coined the expression when looking at ways of packaging Digital Cinema contents. DCP is a collection of digital files used to store and convey Digital Cinema audio, image, and data streams (Wikipedia).

A DCP is usually made up of large MXF (Material Exchange Format) and XML files. I’m not going to get any deeper on the technical expression of the term right now (to get more technical, try Google).

Why do I need a Digital Cinema Package?
If you’re planning on showing your film on a large cinema screen, chances are you’ll need a DCP to get the absolute best digital quality. Most cinemas are now installing 2k and 4k digital cinema projectors, working from DCP servers. It’s becoming common practice and a major player for delivery to the big screen.

I’ll tell you what, this is going to open a lot of doors for Indie film makers too, I believe it’s going to be incredibly helpful for those going down the self distribution route. It’s quite simply chopping down the prices and expense of delivering your movie.

How do I make a DCP?
Watch the video for a more detailed look at the DCP making process. In simple terms, it goes like this:

1. Export your film as a 16-bit TIFF sequence.
2. Use free, open source DCP software to convert the TIFF sequence into JPEG 2000
3. The DCP software then wraps the video (JPEG2000) and audio (WAV) in to MXF files.
4. The final stage is creating the DCP which generates 6 files that will be recognised by a DCP server.

Useful links from the video:
• OpenDCP – http://code.google.com/p/opendcp
• DCP Info (Academy specifications) – http://www.dcpinfo.com
• Matt Cameron DCP Blog post
• Hyde Park Picture House – http://www.hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk
• Useful Digital Cinema Package Wikipedia Page

I really do believe that being able to make our own DCP’s is a real game changer for us low budget indie film lot, cuts out the middle man and all of that expense.

Don’t get me wrong, If I’m working on a bigger budget project, I’d absolutely be paying a facilities house to take care of it.

Hope you find this of some use.

Danny
http://www.dannylaceyfilm.co.uk
http://www.twitter.com/dannylaceyfilm

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Comments

  1. Jodi Nelson says:

    A great article and any openware that enables low budget filmmakers to compete at a higher level is always a game changer

  2. I’m unclear on the concept of the size of the 6 files generated. I get the need for the whole cloud computing aspect of this type of distribution, however, I need to store these files somewhere. I’m envisioning vast arrays of server farms everywhere, just to service this version of The Industry. Ultimately, we’ll be on The Thirteenth Floor, if you’ve ever seen that movie ;)

  3. Richard Purves says:

    The file size is easy to predict. The video is stored at a JPEG2000 stream at an approx max bitrate of 1.3 MBytes per frame at 24 fps. The audio is 48Khz or 96Khz at 24bit broadcast wav format PER CHANNEL. Danny did this on a fairly recent Mac Pro system, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t do this on a laptop.

  4. Emily says:

    Wow, this is great! I will definitely have to try it for some of my short films.

    For anyone looking for a company to create a DCP for a longer film check out Creative DCP they have the BEST prices of any company I’ve seen. I found them through their website creativedcp.com. I always work directly with their Director of Sales, Erica. Contact her at Erica@creativedcp.com

  5. Tara says:

    ^Actually, I used Creative DCP for my last short. The open software is a good alternative if you’re strapped for cash and are willing to take a hit in quality though.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Tried it. Failed at one cinema and looked awful and washed out at another. Then we had a third where the sound failed. In my opinion this software is very hit and miss and this kind of work should be left to professional labs. Some of the top labs in London are:

    http://www.sohodigitalcinema.com
    http://www.motionpicturesolutions.com
    http://www.artsalliancemedia.com

    But be careful. There are a lot of cowboys around just using OpenDCP and charging for it! Make sure the lab has a proper theatre to check stuff in and is using a professional system like Clipster or Doremi to encode with.

  7. Hi there. I just left this same message on Matt Cameron’s blog and thought I’d leave it here as well. Chris, I’m a big fan of yours and have been for a long time. But this tutorial contains bad advice. There is a very strong case for using labs and it’s important to educate yourself about the difference between a homemade hacked DCP and something made by a professional lab.

    I’m a digital cinema encoder and in my opinion your method will produce dreadful results. I could go on forever, but, in short, the JPEG encoder on this software is diabolical. The RGB to XYZ matrix is completely off making the picture look milky. Not to mention when I tested this program I found 6 major errors in the CPL and PKL which will cause issues with many servers. And if that’s not enough, it’s insanely slow! What this method could do in days we could do in about 3 hours.

    If you’re interested in DCPs come to our lab in London and I can show you what real digital cinema mastering involves. It’s skilled work and there are lots of people like myself who work very hard to keep digital cinema content looking good. It’s an entire industry and we have some pretty amazing tools to work with that are getting better all the time. And I think it’s a real shame that people would want to exhibit their hard work like this. It sucks and I can prove it to you if you come here!

    We’re also trying to organise some talks at London film schools to try to educate film students about digital cinema mastering. We’ve even spoken with DVS who might consider supplying some loan equipment for students to check out. So any film students reading this who want to learn more, get in touch with me and maybe we can organise something with your school.

    And please remember that digital cinema mastering is not as expensive as you think. Just make sure you ask your lab:

    1. Do you have a calibrated cinema for testing content? DCPs work in XYZ colour space and only a Xenon lamp projector will show you what you really have. And only a calibrated audio environment will give you an idea how it will sound.
    2. Do you use proper equipment to encode with such as DVS Clipster which encodes the majority of what you see in the cinema today.
    3. What experience have you had? Which major distributors / studios have you worked with and on what titles? This is a serious business and you don’t want beginners.
    4. Do they have a proper KDM system with a TDL database along with 24 hour technical support for cinemas. This is imperative as cinemas (who are firing most of their projectionists nowadays) often need help with DCPs. You need an experienced technical team on call to back them up.

    We’re Soho Digital Cinema on +44 (0)20 7287 6353 if you’d like to chat. Email me as well – david.margolis@sohodigitalcinema.com. Thank you to our client Jonathan above for linking to us. (And MPS and AAM are great labs as well. As are Deluxe and Technicolor. Even though they are our competitors we are all working hard to keep D-Cinema professional.)

    Thanks for reading.
    David

    1. Danny Lacey says:

      Hi David,

      I’m the author of the guest blog post (and the video). I felt the urge to leave a reply having only just seen your comment.

      You’ll notice that at the end of the post I quite clearly mention that for bigger projects (with a budget) I’d absolutely use a facility like yours – no question.

      However, for filmmaker’s like myself working in the very lo/no budget indie film realm (for now), this is a great piece of software that does deliver excellent results. It worked perfectly on THREE of my short films via a 2k projector and none of the experienced cinematographers in the room spotted any issues. Granted, there are bugs with the software which means it wont work for every DCP server (in most cases this has more to do with delivery methods of the files on to the server).

      I have several filmmaker friends that have used this method and it has worked fine.

      Now, when we start working at the higher end of the film tree, then of course there should be no cutting corners. The project needs full colour management, as you quite rightly mentioned, the colour space isn’t quite comparable to that of a professional facility like yours.

      My point was, it allows us ‘the small time indie filmmaker’ to experience (and in turn, learn) the DCP and mastering process in its basic form. More importantly, being able to see our work on the big screen in a very high resolution format.

      The majority of us are unable to afford the professional rates, not even heavily discounted rates. So to get even a little taste of a DCP version of our films, makes it worth while.

      Thanks for leaving your comment and I really do hope to work with one of those incredible London labs one day with one of my film projects. It would be an incredible experience, please do let me know if you are open to offering an incredible deal for my next short film – more details on my website (sorry, couldn’t resist).

      Best wishes,

      Danny
      http://www.dannylaceyfilm.co.uk
      link to twitter.com

      1. Hey Danny. Thanks for your comments. All I will say is that professional digital cinema mastering is not as expensive as people think it is.

        The advantages are better quality (in terms of compression and colour accuracy), better reliability, a QC screening in a digital cinema to check the finished product and full technical support from an experienced team if something goes wrong along the way. And of course if you want to protect your film with encryption you have access to an online KDM manager.

        Drop me a line and we can talk about your short film.

        Many thanks!

        David

  8. Laurie says:

    I haven’t tried it out yet, but I see potential in OpenDCP as a tool for creating dailies and test screenings, without having to finance a clipster workstation during production. Personally, I’d still use the lab for a final master.

    You may have to look around for the ‘right’ server to make OpenDCP work , but even lab-made DCPs fail on some cinema servers.

    Laurie

    1. Hi Laurie. David here from Soho Digital Cinema.

      We are a properly equipped and experienced lab and we are able to make Digital Cinema Packages that are compatible with ALL commercially available digital cinema servers.

      Labs such as ours work tirelessly to ensure compatibility will all servers such as Doremi, Dolby, Sony, Kodak, GDC and more. We work for some of the biggest film distributors and movie studios in the world and believe me, if we could not make content that was universally compatible we would not be in business!

      I’m not sure how you have come to the conclusion that lab-made DCPs fail on some servers. All I can say is that if that has been your experience you are working with the wrong lab!

  9. Fulvio M. Camargo says:

    Great video! But I didn’t understand just one thing. If a 2K master standard is 1080p, why did you set your AE composition to 858? It wouldn’t decrease video quality at the exhibition screen?

  10. Khwaja Faraz says:

    All the comments are from people who have a lot to lose if any nitwit with a computer can make a DCP.
    I personally feel that this output workflow is ancient.
    Far more efficient codecs have appeared since DCP started though i do not recommend the use of commercial codecs for encoding a movie.
    Just a few more years and theaters will vanish after 4k OLED VR glasses appear.

    1. Chris says:

      Hey Khwaja, I disagree about theatres. Wearing glasses cannot replace the communal ritual of going to the cinema. Technology isn’t always the answer. 3D is a great example of something that on paper we should all want, but in practice, it is dying out.

  11. I know of a few festivals that will just take a Quicktime file and play it off their servers. How easy is that? Still, we just had a DCP professionally made for @deathtoprom and I’d say it was totally worth it to not have the time demands and troubleshooting placed on me — I’ve got enough other things to focus on.