Disney Engineers Invented a Groundbreaking Method for Processing HDR Video

Disney HDR Video Tone Mapping
Credit: Dollar Photo Club
The mad scientists at Disney Research -- the ones who gave us an algorithm that automatically edits multicam footage -- are at it again, this time with a brand new way to tone map HDR footage.

Variations of the High Dynamic Range process have been around for ages. Traditionally, HDR images are created by combining two or more images with different exposures in order to produce a single image with a much wider range of luminance values than traditional sensors can capture. However, one of the biggest issues with HDR images and videos is that they can't be displayed properly on most modern displays and projectors, hence the need for a process called tone mapping in which the overly bright and dark tonal values are mapped to ones more easily displayed. Unfortunately, tone mapping in video is tricky business, as it can lead to some interesting motion artifacts and all sorts of other unwanted side effects.

That's where Disney's new tone mapping technique comes into play. Here's the video which details how the process works and shows a few examples.

Ultimately, it's hard to say what impact, if any, Disney's new tone mapping technology will have on filmmakers looking to shoot higher dynamic range footage. I'm of the opinion that until our displays and projectors get to a point where they can natively display HDR images in a naturalistic way -- without the highly exaggerated contrast produced by tone mapping -- HDR will remain a stylized aesthetic that is more distracting than it is engaging. With that said, tone-mapped HDR in its current state can be a viable aesthetic in specific circumstances, and Disney's technology, if it makes it to the public, might have the potential of removing some of the frustrating technical obstacles of producing that aesthetic in video. 

You can read more about Disney Research's HDR tone mapping on their website    

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Your Comment


I agree that HDR is not made to use all the time, but same goes for every single tool at the cinematographer's availability. The scene of exciting the tunnel is a wonderful example of HDR use without a "unrealistic" render, even if your screen doesn't have a huge contrast ration. It is about recreating what your eye and your brain does naturally, ie: adapting to exposure variations naturally. There is a limit to how many stops a photosite can handle and HDR is a great way to cover it. DL;DR: Yes, HDR is bad when overused but use it right and it's a great tool to use.

December 8, 2014 at 6:35PM

Victor Lazaro
Steadicam Operator

Very nice. hopefully this, or software by other manufacturers will be made available to purchas as a plug-in. And hopefully there will be options to make it look more natural looking.

December 8, 2014 at 7:15PM

Vincent Gortho

Cool trick to make video look like CGI.

December 8, 2014 at 8:27PM

Stu Mannion

We used a 'DIY' HDR technique for c300 footage in this commercial:


A mixture of topaz HDR for Photoshop (had to export entire film as frames and apply) then smooth out flicker etc with Neat video and some othe AE plugins, finished grade in resolve.

We were pretty happy with how the look turned out on some of the shots, especially on the portraits at the end of the TVC.

December 9, 2014 at 8:41AM

Dan Prior

The portraits at the end of that really do look fantastic! Definitely a solid use of HDR.

December 9, 2014 at 9:53AM

Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom

December 12, 2014 at 6:22AM


Needless to say, HDR techniques aren't quite ready to be applied to motion picture.

Plus, why trying to surpass the dynamic range of film? Technology should support artistic intents - not the other way around.

I really feel like our industry is becoming dangerously obsessed with technology; meanwhile, original scripts are becoming scarcer and scarcer.

December 12, 2014 at 6:07PM

Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director