Day For Night & The Digital Intermediate
Published : 25th May 2005
It's been more than 5 years since my last day for night scene. I have been kind of avoiding it ever since. Something stirs my interest though for my upcoming film. There are these huge night scenes on the beach of North Carolina and once again no proper budget to approach it. My testing period will also be very limited,
So I am begging for some pointers.
Thank You very much.
We carried out a series of tests for a similar type of scene for 'Count of Monte Cristo', Andrew Dunn was the DP (Not sure if he subscribes).
One aspect of the tests we did that jumped out at rushes, was the breaking waves. The white horses of these braking wave in sunlight just jumped off the screen. If Andrew is reading this he may clarify the filters used (it was nearly 4 years ago) but I think we started with Harrison day for night filters, then Andrew had some custom made with South London filter.
Anyway in the end it was decided to shoot @ night. I know this may not be quite what your looking for, but that detail on the waves made it very hard to sell.
James Mc Guire
>There are these huge night scenes on the beach of North Carolina and >once again no proper budget to approach it.
There's a day for night scene in The Beach with the two leads walking along the shoreline that always struck me as pretty effective. There was some discussion of it in the AC magazine at the time. The (Tiffen?) Mono-day for night filter was used; the one that's an olive/brown colour.
It's worth looking at.
The crucial control for day-for-night is Digital Grading. Without this, your options are quite limited which could be summed up by the following.
Finished via Film :
If the sun is out and you use a contrasty stock with no fill, or negative fill AND there are no "practical lights" you have to deal with, then using a Day For Night filter (or just underexposed, no filter), can work BUT if the sky is in shot (which it probably would be on a Beach!) then there is nothing that will fix that. You HAVE TO TEST and must insist in getting agreement from all concerned about the results of your test.
With Digital Grading there are a lot more possibilities. I am sure some of the commercial cinematographers reading this site must have done this, but I assume that if you were to shoot on a blue sky day and get a decent blue exposure via a Pola and pointing the camera somewhere around 90 degrees to the sun, then it would be possible to key the blue to black or very dark blue in post. Then with some control over the contrast of the sun on the actors you might get an interesting image. Highlights on waves could also be solved with some crushing I suspect. On a grey day, you might still be able to turn a white "burned out" sky to black although the key would be harder to achieve.
I have had many a producer "suggest" Day for Night to me, for obvious reasons. Your responsibility is to test with all the tools available, show it to the Director and reach agreement to go one way or the other. Mixing DFN and lit photography is not generally a good idea.
However, as you know, lighting the sea is not an option which is why so many "by the shore" shots at night look pretty bad. A cheap way to get a nice backlight on water (which is enough to sell a "moon") is to take a small battery light out on a boat, or a 5Kw portable genny, and shine it back towards the camera. We did this on Shipping News for the party scene with a lake in the BG. In The Van, we chose a beach with a large jetty that stuck
out into the sea. I was able to put lights on that to make the reflection in the water.
Hope this is helpful. I can't stress enough about reaching agreement about how sequences like this are shot. DFN also has many problems with changing weather... so any more than a small amount of shots may lead to problems that make night shooting seem like the cheap option! "Huge Night Scenes" with "No proper Budget" seems to me to be a Producer Problem, so your task is to share the problem with them. DG does not "fix everything" which is a misconception held by a lot of Producers. The only way to convince them is
to show them TESTS.
Good luck with it.
P.S : I am doing my first DI feature this summer, so I guess I'll know a bit more after that!
>Our process was so blotched that I finally decided to go back to an >optical blow up for theatrical release. Finally I saw my colors again. DI >is good but to be approached with care.
So "Station Agent" was an optical blow-up after all?
David Mullen ASC
Cinematographer / L.A.
>Finally I saw my colours again.
I've been hearing things like that since this whole idea of DI's started.
We at Movielab have been reverting back to the traditional optical blow up's quite frequently.
Movielab & Multivision 235
101, Eton Road,
Ph: 61-2-9416 3499
Fax: 61-2-9416 9843
Hi Oliver, Carey Duffy at South London Filters has a great web site that has comparison shots of all the different manufacturers day for night filters.
Hope this helps,
Product Development Group
>With Digital Grading there are a lot more possibilities.
The challenge there is to get a convincing look at the wrong sun angle. The best looking DFN is shot with back- or 3/4 back light, meaning that you are looking into the hottest part of the sky, which is also unpolarised. The only way the polarizer will darken the sky is when it is pointed at an area that is 90 degrees from the sun, relative to the camera. That would mean high overhead sun angles, noontime, when the horizon all around is about 90 deg. to the sun, a poor lighting angle for DFN, or worse, shooting with front light. This would minimize the strong, dark shadowed areas that help make a DFN shot more convincing.
No one has mentioned grads. Some shots will permit the use of a sharp cutting grad brought down to blend with the horizon. This would seem to be more of a possibility on the beach shots mentioned than in most other scenes. Of course, it requires a locked down camera and selection of angle that prevents actors from crossing the horizon line.
I've even had fair success cutting a ND gel to fit a mountainous horizon line and placing it close to the lens, where it becomes a sharp cutting grad.
Wade K. Ramsey, DP
Dept. of Cinema & Video Production
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC 29614
Following Oliver Bokelberg's comment that he took a film into DI and then took it out again (Day for Night), I would be interested to hear the experiences of other Cinematographers who have used this process. I have read the Deakins discussion in the index, but that was a while back. I am considering it for Casanova which I will be shooting with Lasse Hallstrom in the summer.]
Comments both negative and positive would be extremely useful to me at this planning stage. Names of Cinematographers that I could contact would also be great.
>Regarding Digital intermediates, I can only suggest to except nothing >less but the state of the art equipment and perform constant testing >along the process.
Is it necessary to be making prints throughout the process? Digital intermediate is a possibility for an independent feature that I recently shot on Super 16. Since the film is rather low budget, it will be a stretch to get the D.I. in the first place. A lot of test printing could break the bank.
But the producer/director is pushing for a D.I. Two scenes were horribly scratched by our lab, and since we are going to have those fixed digitally, we started looking more seriously at having the entire film done digitally. I was a bit weary at first, but after getting a tour of EFilms facility in Hollywood and seeing the timing process there, I'm a bit more confident about it, but I don't want the film to end up looking like a bad telecine. I have seen a few scenes of digitally timed films that made me think I was watching video.
When you say "finally I saw my colors again", what exactly do you mean?
Were you not getting enough color out of your D.I.? Or are you saying that the colors you were getting were a little weird? That's the part that I'm worried about.
Also, if we were to only fix the scratched scenes digitally, and time the rest of the film traditionally using an optical blow-up, how difficult will it be to match everything? Will the two digital scenes stand out?
>if we were to only fix the scratched scenes digitally, and time the rest of >the film traditionally using an optical blow-up, how difficult will it be to >match everything?
At last we are getting some recognition of the fact that it's not just the equipment but also the operators (and the rest of the lab or post house operations) that make for a good DI or a bad DI. Just as it is for any other method of finishing your film.
If it's done properly, there's no reason why you shouldn't get a good match between a DI neg and similar material that's been through conventional systems. I'm assuming good lenses and optical duping set-ups, good, well calibrated scanning and recording, and well calibrated monitors for the digital grade. If the budget isn't there for a full DI blow-up, and it is
OK for an optical blow-up, then it's quite reasonable to restrict the DI process to the shots that need it.
(Geoff will probably chime in and say the DI should be priced around the same as the optical blow-up. That may or may not be so where you are.)
Find out who else has been through your process at your choice of facility and ask them how it went.
I guess the comment about "getting your colours back" refers to the fact that film, without digital intervention, is designed to reproduce colours as "realistically" as possible. If you've lit a certain way, that's what you should see. If you just want to keep that, there's no reason for digital grading. If you want a different look (i.e. a non-realistic reproduction of what was in front of the camera) then digital grading can give it to you, but the more you push away from the "original" the harder it is for a colour grader to make it look "right".
Erin Harvey writes :
>Is it necessary to be making prints throughout the process?
Very few facilities doing DI have the process variables totally locked down.
So, the answer is not if you get the right facility.
Bear in mind that this is a fairly new market that a lot of people are jumping into, a lot of people think it's just the same as a HD post job, it isn't.
Get private recommendations, talk to different facilities, find out how many they've done, see them, talk to the colourist, talk to the clients.
It can be wonderful and it can be hell.
I remember a telephone call from the post house to the lab when my first DI came back looking like 5h1t.
"Just read the 'king numbers, don't think, just use a 'king densitometer on the grey scale"
It went on in that vein for a long time, getting more and more expletive deleted as it went, apparently the lab had decided that they should put a grader on the neg and had graded it rather than just reading the grey scale at the start and testing until they got the specified values.
Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
Dominic Case writes :
>(Geoff will probably chime in and say the DI should be priced around >the same as the optical blow-up. That may or may not be so where you >are.)
Nah, I've given up, people expect a DI to be more expensive and require lots of test prints along the way.
OK, I accept that the world is flat as well, that we never got to the Moon, which is made out of green cheese and that the F900 is the pinnacle of picture making equipment.
Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
Geoff Boyle wrote:
>"Just read the 'king numbers, don't think, just use a 'king densitometer >on the grey scale"
In my sleep deprived state, I was about to write back and ask what a "King Densitometer" was...
A proper feedback loop lets one record gray and color patches to film, process and print them, read the print with a densitometer, and enter those values into a program to derive a 3D LUT -- so that the release print reflects what you intend.
But the poor timer/graders -- if they get a roll of neg that they only have to read some head patches on, well, they feel so left out of the process...
Jeff "has known a lot of timers in his time" Kreines
For a longer project, I recommend editing together a one-minute clip reel of some key shots and color-correcting them and having the D.I. facility record it out to film - they shouldn't charge you extra for that test if you're taking a whole job through them. It's a way to check to see if you color-correcting decisions are on track for a one-light print.
And remember that it IS possible to do scene-to-scene color-timing to the final print although it won't be as cheap as it would be if the final digital negative can be printed at one light.
David Mullen ASC
Cinematographer / L.A.
The problems we had with colors during our DI were mostly a loss of color contrast. The whites got polluted and thus it started looking cheap also a loss of saturation occurred that I wasn't happy with. Ultimately all this was due to a post house that promised the world to our producers.
I was cautioning everyone, yet once I got to the grading session, I surprisingly was confronted with only a Macintosh and adobe after effects. My first reaction, was to back out and abort the session. I didn't, but I should have. The post house showed us test of a 2 minute scene. This same scene kept being improved and actually ended up looking really great. Unfortunately the other 86 min. of the feature looked really lousy.
The DI process can work and my experience was very unfortunate. Even with state of the art equipment I urge to constantly test. Still my next film seems to go through the DI process.
I think the "garbage in -- garbage out" rule still applies whether you use a D.I. or not. And we must remember that conventional optical printing processes produce their own set of artefacts like increased grain and contrast, plus some slight loss of color and blacks -- we're just more comfortable with those artefacts than the digital ones, not that we have to accept those (just like we don't have to accept bad optical work.) But obviously if we use digital color-correction to push the image into uncharted territories beyond what photo-chemical work can accomplish on its own, we shouldn't be surprised if the results look non-traditional in terms of artefacts.
However, this notion that "4:4:4 uncompressed HD" isn't as good as 2K is a bit mistaken, since they are close to being the same thing if you do the scanning on a Spirit, right?
Anyway, I also think as we see more D.I.'s we are also starting to see the limitations of doing the work at 2K for 35mm material. We are seeing more "scan at 4K / down-rez to 2K", which is a good idea -- someday we will be able to stay at 4K throughout or even scan at 6K and then work in 4K, for example.
Some of the artefacts we are seeing are from heavy-handed use of both noise reduction and sharpening (sounds contradictory but it's common in HD and even 2K work) as a way of making up for less resolution.
David Mullen ASC
Cinematographer / L.A.