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.