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James Cameron Says The Next Revolution in Cinema Is…


Justin Hayward
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You've been around cameras and round here a while so you probably understand shutter angles, but in case I'll try a plain english approach (as plain as I can get it in 5 mins typing rolleyes.gif)

 

A normal camera exposes film for half the time, the other half of the time its moving the film to the next frame, it does this behind a shutter... If we shoot at 24fps, then the rate that this all happens is one twentyforth of a second....

 

boy..

 

 

ack

 

phew,

 

 

typing is dull

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(if they simply pull out every other frame to create 24 fps from 48 fps, it will just look like they shot at 24 fps with something around a 144 degree shutter angle -- I don't want to do the math right now...)

 

Close -- It's 270/2 = 135 degree equivalent shutter at 24 fps. Exposure would be 1/64 sec.

 

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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The main allure to celluloid film is the condensation/diffuse look it offers to a otherwise harsh reality. Think of smoke, people in the industry use it to "fix" harsh scenes which need to seem less "dressed" , in miniature work to hide give-away detail or for effect in general. Thus, "fix it with smoke".

 

In the same way, film is a diffuser. Well, with the newer stocks, not so much. Vision 3 stock is ultra sharp and thats why I try to stick to vision 2, or vision 1 if I can get my hands on it. You know what I'm referring to. It's smoother on the eye. The whole point here is we can all agree that life just seems more beautiful without harsh detail.

 

Personally I can't stand digital photography. Tried getting on the wagon but its just too ugly. It's too conspicuous. It presents no challenge. Essentially, there's no process. If your hungry, you can cook for yourself, get creative, buy the ingrediants and be part of the process. Or you can order in. Thats sort of like what I attribute film to. It's a work of chemistry genius and those who want to see it dissapear are uneducated fools.

 

Truth is I have not seen anything impressive about digital cinematography. Zilch. It seems like a bunch of civil rights fanatics are shoving it down the industry's throat, making it seem like 35mm is endangered and being manafactured in someone's basement. Meanwhile, every hollywood picture showing up in theatres is a 35mm print. It's like an independant filmmaker "low budget" street drug. Its main attraction is saving production costs and a solution for the whiny kids who dont want to load film from a can. theres no creative benefit whatsoever. getting a little tired of it all it to be honest.

 

You wont see better movies because of it. I haven't. seems like an easy access for hacks. film seperates the serious endeavors from the simple.

 

thats my rant for the day

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The main allure to celluloid film is the condensation/diffuse look it offers to a otherwise harsh reality. Think of smoke, people in the industry use it to "fix" harsh scenes which need to seem less "dressed" , in miniature work to hide give-away detail or for effect in general. Thus, "fix it with smoke".

 

In the same way, film is a diffuser. Well, with the newer stocks, not so much. Vision 3 stock is ultra sharp and thats why I try to stick to vision 2, or vision 1 if I can get my hands on it. You know what I'm referring to. It's smoother on the eye. The whole point here is we can all agree that life just seems more beautiful without harsh detail.

 

Personally I can't stand digital photography. Tried getting on the wagon but its just too ugly. It's too conspicuous. It presents no challenge. Essentially, there's no process. If your hungry, you can cook for yourself, get creative, buy the ingrediants and be part of the process. Or you can order in. Thats sort of like what I attribute film to. It's a work of chemistry genius and those who want to see it dissapear are uneducated fools.

 

Truth is I have not seen anything impressive about digital cinematography. Zilch. It seems like a bunch of civil rights fanatics are shoving it down the industry's throat, making it seem like 35mm is endangered and being manafactured in someone's basement. Meanwhile, every hollywood picture showing up in theatres is a 35mm print. It's like an independant filmmaker "low budget" street drug. Its main attraction is saving production costs and a solution for the whiny kids who dont want to load film from a can. theres no creative benefit whatsoever. getting a little tired of it all it to be honest.

 

You wont see better movies because of it. I haven't. seems like an easy access for hacks. film seperates the serious endeavors from the simple.

 

thats my rant for the day

Digital is still in its infant stages, I think it is still too early to compare it to something that has been in development for over a hundred years. I have all of those Kodak 35mm and 16mm interview DVDs and much of what they say about digital no longer holds true and these DVDs are only a few years old. I also don't think the whiny kids who don't want to load film from a can is the only problem when considering digital. It is also extra time on a production and it adds more variables that can go wrong, especially when the film (that could potentially have a million dollar shot on it) can very easily be dealt with by ACs that don't have a lot of experience or a great skill level. There is the other issues of how much you can shoot, cost of it, the expense to deal with film in post.

 

If you have to fight to shoot film for creative or financial reasons, then that is another story where one does have to compare the pros and cons of formats, but I feel you seem overly hateful towards digital. I'm sure you will eventually see impressive results from digital cinematography.

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I don't know about most DP's working today, I would assume most of them would prefer to work on "film" projects because, truthfully, most of them are technical junkie artists and film offers them sweat and adrenaline. There's more pressure working with film which keeps them on their toes helps them master "the perfect shot". I think many of them have had to familiarize themselves with certain high end digital cameras for the sake of getting work and testing the medium.

 

I find working on projects that are being shot on digital less and less enticing and frankly I don't really like the idea of being on those sets much anymore. As I like being on the camera crew when I'm away from my screenwriting habits, loading film, doing scratch tests etc, and I just feel unmotivated sitting there now. I can't seem to take it seriously because I know what its going to look like when projected. When you point a film camera at your subjects, your pointing a loaded gun. It keeps the actors a little tense, everyone knows the next roll of 400 feet or whatever is going to cost a few hundred bucks. So you have a sense of solidarity.

 

Everything that seems to take away from film is the talk of money and that's the first mistake. But again, this is an independent sector complaint because a lot of Indy warriors try to pay for their films out of their pockets instead of approaching investors. Any well planned production can come up with enough film stock to shoot the thing.

 

Sure, it's the story and the amount of creative genius that goes into the art department and performances that inspires me, but I can't seem to feel like it's all a waste of effort if your not capturing it on a purely fine tuned, time tested, graceful medium that is the industry standard for a reason. I have been asked to sit and watch long digital films at "crew preview screenings" and always find myself grinding in my chair and having difficulty keeping my eye line in sync with the screen. But I guess it's true that people in the industry "never look at films the same again". I really don't spend my time worrying about it, but at times, I have to remind people where they put their efforts, it should be considered with film from the start.

 

People like James Cameron are riding on careers with wonderful movies that were all shot on celluloid. Cameron is a known technical gear head and it seems strange how he snubs film, something that he used during his entire career. I know a lot of directors have had the unfortunate mishaps of losing a "million dollar shot" during a bad lab accident or a "dropped mag". But they dealt with it anyway and made their films. Many times, what they re-shot did actually cut better in the final film. But when I hear this used as a con to film, it just as easy to say a digital camera can short circuit and breakdown. Anyway, issues like that are rare these days if your work with pros.

 

Digital development maybe considered infant compared to film technology, but I can't imagine a tangible medium with a electronic one ever being one and the same. You keep hearing centrists who say it doesn't matter, it's all about the story. I think they're not being honest. But it does matter. Just as a storyteller around a campfire depends on the smooth articulation of his voice to make the story fun and captivating, a story being captured needs to enchant the watcher.

 

3d is not the revolution, it only represents a tiny percentage of movies. Most films wouldn't work well with it. I actually took my glasses off during avatar because I lost the beautiful saturated colors with them on. I found it a little silly. I only like it with Imax films, like roller coasters rides and so on. Avatar was really an experimental film if you think about it.

 

Anyway, as this rant continues, I want to emphasize that when your making movies, your not thinking how great it's going to be to be able to do as many retakes as possible without loading a camera or how great it is that you can rent a camera that imitates film closely. Your just thinking on all the cons and fears of potential film disasters instead of doing what the pros do. You should be thinking, this movie is going to look beautiful, project beautifully and I'm going to budget to get it into the cinema.

 

People don;t have to be intimidated by handling film or treat like a fragile vase. I made a darkroom out of my closet and began processing black and white 35mm film to get comfortable handling the stuff. You know your medium, it ups your confidence. If you mess up your exposure, do it again and again. Go on IMDB and look up your favorite movies. Hit the tech specs and voila. 35mm, super 16mm, 65mm, anamorphic, spherical, etc. Keep your digital camera for your home movies.

 

No I don't work for Kodak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital is still in its infant stages, I think it is still too early to compare it to something that has been in development for over a hundred years. I have all of those Kodak 35mm and 16mm interview DVDs and much of what they say about digital no longer holds true and these DVDs are only a few years old. I also don't think the whiny kids who don't want to load film from a can is the only problem when considering digital. It is also extra time on a production and it adds more variables that can go wrong, especially when the film (that could potentially have a million dollar shot on it) can very easily be dealt with by ACs that don't have a lot of experience or a great skill level. There is the other issues of how much you can shoot, cost of it, the expense to deal with film in post.

 

If you have to fight to shoot film for creative or financial reasons, then that is another story where one does have to compare the pros and cons of formats, but I feel you seem overly hateful towards digital. I'm sure you will eventually see impressive results from digital cinematography.

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Damien, film doesn't have to prove itself...its the benchmark already. Digital needs to match or exceed the quality while keeping a lower price and easier workflow to be considered a "film killer." Why should people adapt to a new way of doing things that is inferior and may not even be that much cheaper when all is said and done?

 

If digital was as good or better than film and was cheaper, I would shoot it any day! It just isnt there and I'm not convinced it ever will be.

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I think that was very well said Matthew and I do agree to an extent, but I do believe digital will continue to make great technological advancements and the benefits will perhaps be too great to pass up on shooting as opposed to film. I don't know, I could be wrong and perhaps digital will simply never emulate or make it to that film benchmark, but I'm sure it will begin to have its own characteristics that make it unique and appealing on its own. Digital projection will also become the standard no matter what we do and I think that will have a great effect on how the average viewer sees the content. Will digital simply be too clean and unnatural? Will they want back the characteristics of film?

 

I think I am more eager to see the new Batman more than anything based on the sheer fact of how much IMAX film they're planning to shoot, I personally think that will be a great viewing in terms of sheer resolution alone.

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Damien, film doesn't have to prove itself...its the benchmark already. Digital needs to match or exceed the quality while keeping a lower price and easier workflow to be considered a "film killer." Why should people adapt to a new way of doing things that is inferior and may not even be that much cheaper when all is said and done?

 

If digital was as good or better than film and was cheaper, I would shoot it any day! It just isnt there and I'm not convinced it ever will be.

no, what im saying is which format was used speaks nothing to the quality of the work. and why does one have to win, why does digital need to be a "film-killer" be viable? both can exist together you know.

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Both do currently exist together but often times with technology, something wins out. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD could have theoretically "existed together" but that didn't happen. But to be honest, the only reason digital is even a player at this point is because of the cost savings and a perceived simplified workflow. It would be deceptive for anyone to say that digital is a player because of some enhanced image quality over film.

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i didnt say it was better. imo they are close to equal in quality, in fact i think the RED Epic may have slightly higher resolution than film. I still feel there is a certain "magic" quality to film, but it has nothing to do with resolving power or color reproduction, which digital has the power to match.

 

but beside all that I really dont think pristine image quality is the end all to cinematography. Assuming it so much superior in quality, what are you really gaining? how does it help you tell a story? how does it create more compelling images?

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As we get closer that that tipping point where the digital cameras "match" 35mm film in various image categories, I also think we have to acknowledge that to some extent there will never be a perfect match and just accept that -- and deal with the fact that the majority of future cinematography will be digital just as the majority of still photography has become digital.

 

We've already got one camera that more or less has the same dynamic range of 35mm - the Alexa -- with the Epic close behind, we already have a camera that surpasses 35mm resolution -- the Epic. We are never going to get a digital camera that has film grain in the image, and I doubt a lot of people are going to want to add film grain in post despite saying how much they prefer film. It sometimes feels like adding a stucco finish to a brick wall, you know what I mean? Or painting a marble statue to look like bronze, i.e. it can be done, but how many people think it's a good idea?

 

There are other image characteristics like "color depth" that are harder to define, but the latest digital cameras seem to see a similar range of tones as does film negative.

 

Anyway, I just feel that you have two technologies on different paths that sometimes run in parallel but are headed ultimately in different directions, so to some extent, someone who wants digital to be exactly like film will never be satisfied, but I don't think they are being entirely fair or realistic about that. To ask if digital will ever be "as good as film" is to really be asking the wrong question -- if what you are really saying is that to be as good as film it has to be exactly like film is basically guaranteeing that digital will never win that argument, never be "good enough" no matter how many technical aspects it matches or surpasses film in.

 

Ignoring the still unresolved archival issues... once digital matches and then surpasses film in the basic categories of resolution, dynamic range, and color depth (which includes fleshtones) while suppressing negative aspects like noise, compression, aliasing, etc. that are unique to digital... well then, film will merely be seen as a different look, not necessarily a "better" look, but certainly a look associated with the past history of film. And hopefully it will stick around long enough to be an option for those that want that look. But I think the general trend is towards cleaner, sharper digital images for most commercial imagemaking.

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Well, kindof hard to argue with David since he is the man around here.

 

I have just observed that most digital shooters I have talked to are not interested in digital having a "great unique look with technical equality or superiorty to film" as David mentions digital does or will have but they are more concerned with "making digital look like film."

 

David is right that digital will most likely never look like film. Therefore, it is pointless to have film envy and allow it to piss you off to where all you can chant is "film is dead...blah blah." I am sure that as a younger generation comes up under the digital age then newer DPs will be less concerned with having the film look but, at least in my lifetime, that film look is always going to be the latent desire of digital filmmakers, even if they don't admit it.

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We are never going to get a digital camera that has film grain in the image, and I doubt a lot of people are going to want to add film grain in post despite saying how much they prefer film.

 

Indeed, the thing to look at is, what does it mean to "look like film"? All too often, the answer seems to be to figure out what's wrong with film, and try to fake that stuff. It's like making your car smell like a horse.

 

So, here's the tough question: What are the virtures, not the defects, that you want to emulate?

 

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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.. we already have a camera that surpasses 35mm resolution -- the Epic.

 

That's still pretty debatable.

 

Speaking with a senior exec from Angenieux recently, he mentioned that their film lenses are designed to surpass the equivalent of 10 to 12K resolution, their estimate of the upper limits of 35mm cine film.

 

Their digital lenses, by contrast, are designed to only resolve about half that. That's partly why they are cheaper.

 

An exact figure for film is difficult to determine - the random grain structure means that when successive frames are superimposed, the perceived resolution is far greater than that of a single frame.

 

But I do agree, there will come a time (probably not far off) when the qualitative differences are negligible, and the choice will simply be a subjective preference. At that point unfortunately I don't think film manufacture will last much longer.

 

What really needs to be addressed in the next few years is the issue of archiving.

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I'm just basing this on my own experience with scans of my 35mm photography versus some of the digital movies I've shot -- I think really well-shot 35mm anamorphic photography on slow film stock might approach 4K if you are feeling generous that day, but your general Super-35 photography on 500T stock is more like 3K. And this is judging things on a cinema screen. 35mm film is nowhere near 10K or 12K -- you're not going to find any scientific tests to back that up. Not that I'm saying that a Red One image is 4K either, between the debayering and the compression, it looks more like 3K, sometimes worse. But I've seen Epic footage converted from 5K RAW to 4K RGB and projected on the big screen and the level of detail exceeds anything I've seen from 35mm photography.

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Fair enough David, I certainly won't question your experiental observations. As I said, the comment came from a lens manufacturer, so I gave it some weight. But I have no idea what tests they did to arrive at that figure, or the circumstances involved (stock, printing, projection etc). Perhaps it is a theoretical upper limit that gives them a standard to work above, but in the real world it never comes close to being reached.

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I get so tired of hearing how digital cameras are advancing at the speed of light but yet it is assumed that lens manufacturers and film stocks stay stagnant. Does anyone really think that 16mm today looks like 16mm back in the 60s, 70s, etc? Vision3 stock on Super8 looks better than 16mm shot 30 years ago. S16 probably can be made to look better than 35mm shot 30-40 years ago. And the same digital technology that is suppose to be a "film killer" is helping the look of film through high detail scans like 4k. David seems to be skeptical of 35mm approaching 4k often, as he worded with thinking 500t stock is more like 3k. This is an opinion and can be nothing other. How can one really say at what point a film scan has ran out of useful information? Unless you log every pixel of resolution and compare the color values to a lower detail scan, it is just perspective and no more scientific than what is being said by the lens manufacturer that Dom mentioned.

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I get so tired of hearing how digital cameras are advancing at the speed of light but yet it is assumed that lens manufacturers and film stocks stay stagnant. Does anyone really think that 16mm today looks like 16mm back in the 60s, 70s, etc? Vision3 stock on Super8 looks better than 16mm shot 30 years ago. S16 probably can be made to look better than 35mm shot 30-40 years ago. And the same digital technology that is suppose to be a "film killer" is helping the look of film through high detail scans like 4k. David seems to be skeptical of 35mm approaching 4k often, as he worded with thinking 500t stock is more like 3k. This is an opinion and can be nothing other. How can one really say at what point a film scan has ran out of useful information? Unless you log every pixel of resolution and compare the color values to a lower detail scan, it is just perspective and no more scientific than what is being said by the lens manufacturer that Dom mentioned.

But I think what David and Dom are saying is that regardless of the technical advancements that could happen with film, the benefits of shooting digital will be far too much for productions to pass up on. By that time, the manufacturing and development of film will be surely dropping. Whether or not digital or film are at the same point, or one is superior to the other, it will always come down to cost and efficiency in filmmaking. Currently the argument to shoot film is of the quality and unique properties of the emulsion, but perhaps we will get to a point where digital will have the quality and its own unique properties that can allow a cinematographer to craft a look to the best of the productions ability for the movie. There will no longer be an excuse cannot achieve the perfect shot, or will be reliable for quality.

 

I an eager see how the Epic does perform with such resolution on a big screen.

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