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How common was push/pull processing?


Brian E. Rutan
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I'm trying to better understand the look of film, and how it evolved. Mainly I'm interested in the second half of the 20th century - what was common in each decade from the 50s through to the 90s? Is it more the film stock or the processing pipeline that give these decades their own look?

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Lots of factors, from stocks, printing, lighting, etc. You can start here and look at what existed at the time:

https://www.kodak.com/gb/en/motion/About/Chronology_Of_Film/1960-1979/default.htm
 

This is a good book that describes the marriage between style and technology by decade:

https://www.amazon.com/Film-Style-Technology-History-Analysis/dp/095090662X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Barry+salt&qid=1575759113&sr=8-1

Push-processing was always an option but early color negative films did not handle being underexposed and then pushed very well, and the studios didn’t want their movies to look grainy. So it took improved stocks combined with changing standards and tastes to make pushing more common. It really took off in maybe the mid-60s and through the 70s before faster film stocks made it less necessary. All of “Barry Lyndon” and “The Godfather” were pushed one-stop for example — both shot on 5254, which took a one-stop push well.

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On 12/9/2019 at 12:00 AM, David Mullen ASC said:

No I overexposed by 1-stop and developed normally, had to print it down. Just to get more saturation and contrast.

Hello David —

Is pushing 200T by one or even two stops in processing totally unwise in such circumstances (given it was overexposed one stop already for density)?  I’m trying to think of how much saturation and contrast can be gotten back during a push.  Or would that just blow out all the highlights completely?  Trying to figure out the best way to manipulate tried and true techniques during processing etc, and wondering if printing an interpositive is necessary to get all that saturation and contrast if I’m still going to use a DI.  Did you also just scan that print back in then?  And grade from that?  Trying to get my head around the weird hybrid use of these technologies and balancing faithfulness to the original artistry and techniques with cost and other qualitative concerns etc.  Mostly curious if pushing the stock here would have yielded similar contrast too.

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Saturation in digital color-correction is a turn of the knob. Same for contrast. You can just expose normally for that but a little overexposure is a protection against accidental underexposure.

Certainly don't make a dupe and transfer from that, there is always some loss in saturation when duping.

We cut the negative and made direct prints for screenings off of the negative.  We had to make an IP for transfer to digital for the DCP but that was just because you don't normally transfer cut negative unless you are doing a restoration and are planning on spending time doing a digital color-correction. Our transfer to digital was more like when you made a home video master from a color-timed IP in the pre-D.I. days.  If you are doing a D.I. from the start, you just need a well-exposed negative -- the color will really come from production design, costume, and lighting.

Yes, pushing the stock will increase the contrast.

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Thanks for explaining that workflow along with the decision-making aspects of it, David.  That helps a lot to characterize the reasons why one would choose between the different strategies in a hybrid digital/analog workflow toward various different ends.  It's obviously very expensive to 'experiment' with optical printing, interpositive prints, etc in a chemical workflow for any project, let alone people like me, who self-finance something.  Obviously the advice is welcome, respected, and helps more than you might know. 

From what you mentioned, I am really curious about your take on the benefits of optical color-timing during that IP versus doing a really high quality scan up-front, editing the DI in the box, grade in the box and output to DCP directly.  Also, is it unheard of and completely insane for me to try to cut my own negative?  I feel like with all the digital tools we have now, it might be kind of interesting to see how much I can get away with....just to see.

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If it's a very short film with few camera rolls to shift through, it may be possible to cut your own negative... but otherwise I don't recommend doing it yourself, it's a real art. You'd have to make sure you edited in a way to generate a key code EDL.  We had dailies transferred on "The Love Witch" with key code and time code burned into the picture.

We had to cut our own original for the first short film we made at CalArts, but that was 16mm b&w reversal, and it was a single 100' roll cut down to a 1 minute short.

If you plan on exhibiting your movie around the country in a 35mm print, it may be worth doing a photochemical timing for something shot in 35mm, but otherwise, it's not worth the bother if you are just going to show it digitally to begin with. You have a lot more control over color-correcting if you do it digitally.

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someone online claimed that Eyes Wide Shut is the first film in the history of cinema to underexpose and push 2 stops the entire film.

 

Is that right?  Can anyone confirm it's accurate or alternately cite an earlier film that did the same?

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I doubt that's accurate -- one doesn't need to cite a counterexample if one has no proof for the assertion in the first place.

So many 1970's movies were pushed entirely by one-stop, and a number of movies then had scenes that were pushed two-stops, that the odds that Kubrick was the first to push everything by two-stops in 1998 is a bit hard to believe. The trouble is that the lab processes used for every feature ever made in the decade of the 1970's isn't available.

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I found this in the May 1971 issue of American Cinematographer (my use of bold type):

When Kline began pre-production preparation and testing in January, 1969, Robert Wise told him that he wanted THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN to have a "documentary look". Color negative film gives beautiful results, but both Wise and Kline felt that eliminating the film's high polish would help create the overall realistic effect they wanted ANDROMEDA to have. Toward this end, Kline began experimentation to give the 5254 color negative a more pronounced grain. In conjunction with Technicolor, he experimented with the addition of grain to the positive print. Results of these experiments were disappointing. Next, he experimented with a process commonly used to increase film sensitivity in poor light—forced development. Tests were shot, pushing the film one, two, and an unusual three and four stops in development—which proved to be too much. A two-stop forced development was just right. It dulled the inherent gloss of the film stock and produced the reality look that ANDROMEDA needed. A beneficial side effect was greater depth-of-field. The entire film was forced two stops. Technically, pushing two stops means that the raw stock is two stops under-exposed in the camera. Then, in the lab, the film is over-developed two stops to compensate. "On location," Kline explains, "the push helped to create the stark, barren, awesome look we wanted, while in the laboratory it contributed to the sterile, blank, icy look the story needed." Kline summed up by saying, "The two-stop push gave us the documentary texture we were after without resorting to a sloppy kind of photography. The film still has a rich professional look, but an appearance which is very different from the ordinary, and one that works well for the picture."

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I agree but I think continuing to reply is just because I'm fascinated by this personality type and what it would take to get him to acknowledge he's wrong. 

The man has literally called me an unhinged psycho multiple times in this conversation, I don't understand certain people on the internet.

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On 12/21/2019 at 4:36 AM, David Mullen ASC said:

Saturation in digital color-correction is a turn of the knob. Same for contrast. You can just expose normally for that but a little overexposure is a protection against accidental underexposure.

Certainly don't make a dupe and transfer from that, there is always some loss in saturation when duping.

We cut the negative and made direct prints for screenings off of the negative.  We had to make an IP for transfer to digital for the DCP but that was just because you don't normally transfer cut negative unless you are doing a restoration and are planning on spending time doing a digital color-correction. Our transfer to digital was more like when you made a home video master from a color-timed IP in the pre-D.I. days.  If you are doing a D.I. from the start, you just need a well-exposed negative -- the color will really come from production design, costume, and lighting.

Yes, pushing the stock will increase the contrast.

I have a question here David, I hope that you don't mind answering it. 

Why is there a loss in saturation when duping? Wouldn't be a duplicate from the original a perfect duplicate with all its values untouched?

Thanks! 😊 

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There is always some generation loss from duping, even if minor. Your blacks get a little weaker so the color has a little less snap. Some of this is due to the dupe going for Kodak’s LAD optimal density, whereas my negatives tend to be denser so the print requires higher printer lights.

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On 12/30/2019 at 11:28 PM, David Mullen ASC said:

There is always some generation loss from duping, even if minor. Your blacks get a little weaker so the color has a little less snap. Some of this is due to the dupe going for Kodak’s LAD optimal density, whereas my negatives tend to be denser so the print requires higher printer lights.

Thanks David. 
 

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