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Super16 DI vs Photochemical timing and 35 blowup

Gautam Valluri

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Hello Cinematographers,

Ignoring the sound part, are there any advantages to going the full photochemical route with a Super16 project and finishing it on 35mm as opposed to a DI and DCP?

Does anyone else think that digitally colour graded films originating on Super16 look "muddy", in low-light, night shots and under-lit faces. Like Carol, Black Swan and mother! compared to Super16 > 35 optical blowups that are photochemically timed like The Squid and the Whale, Beeswax and Leaving Las Vegas?

I don't know how else to describe it than "muddy". I'm attaching a still from mother! as an example.

I'd appreciate any thoughts.



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There's no reason for a D.I. to look any muddier or lower in contrast, that's all about choices in color-correction.  When people talk about muddy, they mainly mean black level and contrast, or they just have an issue with soft underexposed mood lighting... (and in that case, an optical blow-up isn't going to make a difference.) Certainly a film print in general has better blacks than most digital projection, but that's a separate issue.

Unless you find a place to make a direct blow-up from the S16 neg to 35mm print for projection (and then the problem is that all you have is a 35mm print), it doesn't make much sense to do the blow-up in an optical printer through an IP/IN (usually to a color-timed S16 IP and then an optical blow-up to a 35mm IN) for making prints. Certainly the quality of the final 35mm print won't be higher compared to a D.I., it might actually be lower.  Certainly grainier and softer without the benefits of dust & dirt removal.  On the other hand, a direct optical blow-up would get you a print without the costs of a laser recorder film-out.

But today, most people need a digital master more often than they do the film print, if they need a film print at all.

I think you're objecting more to modern lighting & exposure approaches to shooting in Super-16; back in the days of photochemical blow-ups, because of fear of grain and softness, there was more of an attempt to counteract that by, for example, lighting for 200T instead of 500T, using more contrast in lighting, overexposing the negative, using sharper lenses, etc.  Now that digital is the norm, people embrace the imperfections of S16 and shoot it for what it does naturally rather than try to make it look like 35mm.

A Super-16 blow-up through dupes and an optical printer was not a superior way of getting to a 35mm print.  I did one feature that way and it was tough to post "opticals" that couldn't be done in A-B roll printing, which had to be done in 35mm, cut into the 35mm blow-up IN, and then optically reduced to a S16 IN so that the cut master of the S16 original had the effects in them.



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Regarding "muddy" looking digital finishes from scanned film...

When I scan film for still photographs, I always find it necessary to add some electronic "detailing" to bring the image to life.

In the olden days, when I still shot movies on film, there was a strong reluctance in the post houses to add "detailing" to film scans, and the result was kind of muddy.  This might have had something to do with the 2k scans.  They just felt "dead" looking.  I think a very small amount of digital detailing can really bring these scans to life, and I think nowadays, you might find less resistance to using this technique.

I think if you want to shoot 16mm for a digital finish, you should make a short test and see how you like adding some detail in the color correction.  I think you might just find it to your liking 🙂

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