The last two Fridays I went to London's National Film Theatre and saw
a lot of examples of hi def from all three relevant camera manufacturers
and various formats - also witnessing 2k and 4k projection (clean, clean,
super clean) –
During the week I also got involved in a couple of shoots one on Varicam
and one on the Panavised Sony. I saw projections of a lot of stuff from
lots of different sources, but one thing stands out: It's so, so, so damn
It's a new standard of viewing: it's like listening to a CD instead of
vinyl. There's no noise of a needle scraping away at plastic...You're
in an operating theatre, an airport lounge, a suburb with lawns and white
fences and no people present. Whatever we saw, be it shot with news or
sports aesthetics, verite documentary, or pseudo 35mm drama - it was clean,
Even when the DP was trying to invoke atmosphere - smoke in the air (which
always seems to show up bad in this medium because we see clearly that
it's smoke), shoot underexposed print normal, desaturate - whatever -
the cleanness of the medium screamed - "don't believe me" !
And then there's the issue of everything actually taking on the semblance
of the 35mm look (minus 35mm artefacts). So the progressive scan actually
delivers "film distance". Now every DP helped by the post process
is inferring high production values - without actually delivering them
- except in rare cases. What happens when it's only your department that's
reaching 35mm values because there isn't the budget for other departments
to match your inherent advantage ?
Oh, and there were clips from star wars as usual and it looked like the
packaging you get round a burger, or plastic wrap on a new toy. (Christopher
Lee still being buried alive - this time in a CGI coffin).
I showed a piece that was period - somehow it didn't buy, I mean it was
great looking, the actors did their stuff, wardrobe, costume etc etc and
the lighting was nice... but, but, but.... A cold chill ran down my back.
For the odd commercial I don't think there's a problem, the doc or drama
series on tv should get away with it too, because when that occasional
shot sticks out saying that it is in fact video then the medium will make
it ok. But for a sustained drama in the cinema... ?
It's like we dive into a pool but the salinity of the water won't let
us dive very deep...Help me here: Are we really going to have to overprint
film scratches to get over this intermediate stage ? That can't be the
way it would be like using valium. I'm convinced that the essential problem
is that the materiality of the medium is somehow prohibiting entry into
the viewing experience. For me cleanness in this medium is a problem.
Is it just that because it's so new we're not being clever enough yet
? Is there someone out there with a bit of alchemy that can melt bytes
Is there's some solution that's just out of vision ? Maybe I just OD'd
on too much of the stuff... It all looked too easy to achieve the semblance
of craft - and that cold chill is still there.
Were the things you viewed projected Digitally or transferred and projected
B. Sean Fairburn
I think you're overreacting a bit, Terry. Surely any improvements in image
quality from a purely technical standpoint are welcome. We can always
find ways of degrading an image if necessary for creative purposes.
If we get beyond the "textural" difference between film and
digital projection for a minute: There have always been two opposing principles
at work in filmmaking. One is the notion that film should be a clear "window"
on reality, and the larger and sharper the image is, the more immersive
the viewing experience, the "you are there" feeling that processes
like Cinerama, Todd-AO,
ShowScan, IMAX, etc. have tried to create.
The opposite principle is that the ways in which film is NOT like human
perception -- like being 2-D, having grain, etc. -- all help the processes
of creating the willing suspension of disbelief because these artefacts
help mask the artificiality of the image (the use of sets, actors in makeup,
2-D special effects like matte paintings, etc.) We rely on a certain amount
of "smoke & mirrors" to sell the image as being real and
not fictional, in order to tell fictional stories.
A typical movie might actually employ both ideologies at various points
– a 3-D-like, immersive, highly detailed "you are there"
feeling at one moment and a 2-D, diffused, flattened, painterly look another
time (just compare one of the super wide-angle shots in a 65mm film like
"Oklahoma!" or "2001" to one of the more traditional
long-lens close-ups in the same movie.)
So while most everyone agrees that the 1280 x 1024 pixel limit of current
DLP projection technology is inadequate to hold detail on a big screen
without being aware of the pixel grid pattern, I'm sure some will think
that a 2K or 4K projected image will seem too clean & sharp.
Personally, I'm all for it, anything that gets closer to the quality of
a first generation 35mm print or even starts to achieve the quality of
a 70mm print. And as for weave, jitter, etc., most IMAX projection, which
is film, is rock-solid -- and certainly I don't miss the jitter when watching
IMAX (in fact, it would be highly annoying.) I personally don't feel that
more artefacts like jitter and dust & dirt flying by are adding to
my emotional immersion in the movie going experience.
I don't have a problem with the notion that movie projection someday might
get sharper, more steady, less dirty, etc. Of course, I also think that
film projection is "warm" while digital projection is "cold",
just as one feels that way with good analogue should versus digital sound.
When I saw "This Is Cinerama" at the New Neon Theatre with 5-track
surround sound coming from a 35mm full coat mag, I was amazed at how could
it sounded, and how less "brittle" is sounded compared to modern
digital recording and playback. It had a certain amount of hiss, but otherwise,
it was technically flawless. I can see someone complaining about digital
projection - ONCE it gets good-enough -- in the same way about digital
sound. But as for the notion that if an image is too sharp, clean, etc.
to make actors standing in WW1 costumes look realistic, that's partly
a problem of conditioning in the viewer plus simply quality-control. "Lawrence
of Arabia" is set in WW1 and is a super-sharp, clear, detailed image
and yet we don't feel that it lacks believability because of that.
However, we might have had the photography, art direction, costumes, and
make-up had not been top-notch enough. But I do agree that shooting such
a period setting in an all-electronic means (digital capture and digital
projection) starts to be so far removed from what we are used to, plus
we our visual ideas of what the early 20th Century looked like are formed
by photographs, that it feels "wrong" to us (or some of us.)
But I wonder if we would have the same reaction to period settings from
a pre-photography era (like the Roman Empire) shot and projected digitally.
Cinematographer / L.A.
>Help me here: Are we really
going to have to overprint film scratches to get over this
>intermediate stage ?
I have many many thoughts and little time today so I'll spare you all.
Meanwhile I hope you'll allow me this observation: When I first heard
CD's one of them was "Abbey Road" and although "super clean"
as you put it, it really did bother me, it didn't sound "right"
in fact sterile (the plastic packaging in your metaphor).
The next I heard was the "Rainy Day" side of Jimi
Hendrix "Electric Ladyland" and I remember thinking
THIS is great because all of his feedback distortions and
noise (relax, Dale were audible *as distinct* from surface
noise one might typically hear on vinyl).
More later, gotta prep to shoot fireworks (a very analog medium
>For me cleanness in this medium
is a problem. Is it just that because it's so new >we're
not being clever enough yet ?
Allow me to use television as an analogy. Strange analogy, but hear me
out. Prior to about 1984, all film television programs were delivered
on film, and those prints were telecined for air. In 1984, Lorimar did
an experiment with "Knots Landing" and posted it completely
on videotape. Other shows followed, and other studios followed. The thing
was, "Knots" had been finished on film for a number of years
prior to that change. The look of the prints was the look of the show.
When the change to video post happened, the show began to be transferred
directly from the camera negative. The look, needless to say, encompassed
much of the "cleanliness" you're now seeing in theatrical projection
of video acquired material - more detail than we were used to, less contrast
in some areas and more contrast in others (i.e. different gamma), different
colorimetry (in many ways closer to the real-life colors), and more clarity
than we had ever seen on film prints.
My first reaction, and that of a lot of other people, was that the video
posted shows looked "cheap," that they lacked the "richness"
of the prints. Over time, two things have happened. One, the approaches
taken in post have improved, and two, most people have simply gotten used
to the "new" film-on-television look, and come to appreciate
some of its advantages.
This is all a rather long winded way of saying that personally, I think
it's inevitable that there will be more and "better" video acquisition,
and that it will eventually become the accepted aesthetic. Hell, it already
is among the video game generation.
IATSE Local 600
In response to Sean Fairburn's question:
"Were the things you viewed projected Digitally or transferred and
projected on Film??
Everything that was projected, was projected digitally - except, ironically,
one thing I brought originated on HD and transferred to 35mm (that had
been scratched). The irony here is - I've been pushing the idea that video
could be lit well for years.
I'm going to think on the other messages - the list gets to the UK
after 12am so my brain is pulp - thanks guys
> Sean - everything that was
projected, was projected digitally -
Terry This might sound like an over simple response but it is absolutely
What you Saw looked like Video because it was Video.
Good HD when done well and transferred to Film Looks like Film because
it is Film. It gets back all the "Dirty" little artefacts that
you associate with Film but it has less dynamic range especially in the
Sounds pretty Basic but it is sometimes just that simple. I have tested
this quite a bit and I am Amazed by it. Like being baptised in the chemical
bath as the images are transformed into a new creation now on Film.
I am also never satisfied with anything I have seen yet that starts and
stays in the Digital world that claims to posses such Qualities they are
never authentic and its easy to see.
B. Sean Fairburn
Well, maybe I over reacted and I take the points that were coming back
to me - thanks guys again. I saw a lot of digitally projected HD and it
was a shock in its intensity and cleanness. I mean I work with the stuff,
and there's a lot that I could respond with, but I'm seriously into mulling
this one over. David you said: "We can always find ways of degrading
an image if necessary for creative purposes".
And there's the rub because I don't want to just gloss it over (or rather
simply degrade it) I want to crack the issue, articulate what's going
on to myself, start to try to find the truth of this one.
To add my two-pence worth to David's excellent reply, I have followed
this HD versus Film debate for a long time and can't help but compare
it to what happened in music making in the beginning of the eighties.
With the advent of the Yamaha DX7, using wave modulation FM technology,
music producers suddenly had the opportunity of reproducing orchestral
sounding music from a simple box.
In fact Alyson Moyet's first album, Alf, was almost entirely DX7 generated.
It had the musician's union in uproar and everyone was counting the days
to the demise of the live band. Yet, 20 years down the line, live musicians
are still out there with their instruments and orchestras are still conductor
led. Of course things have changed, but producers and composers choose
to use a mix of sounds, samples included, to make music and the quality
of that music still depends on the composers and musicians, not the box
Whenever I get asked how I would deal with one format choice or the other,
and lets face it, its very seldom the cinematographer's choice which format
will be used, I always reply "celebrate your medium". With other
words, if the requirement is for video, make it good video, if it is for
film, make it good film.
Don't compare apples and oranges, enjoy each for what they are and can
give. As with the DX7, we are led to believe that this new magic box will
replace film, it won't happen. We just need to find what works to our
advantage in all media and use these benefits to our advantage. I know
what I prefer, but I still think "Festen" was a great movie,
regardless of the way it was shot. I have used every medium available
apart from IMAX and have never thought "if only this were...."
Don't be afraid of over sharpness or different gamma, use it!!!