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Alex Birrell

Spectre mixing film and digital

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I've really never understood this tendency to hold other artists' works to one's own artistic ideals rather than to be open to a variety of approaches to art. If anything, it is healthy to be confronted with artistic works that challenge your own notions of what is good or bad.

 

 

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I've really never understood this tendency to hold other artists' works to one's own artistic ideals rather than to be open to a variety of approaches to art. If anything, it is healthy to be confronted with artistic works that challenge your own notions of what is good or bad.

I personally feel the James Bond franchise is as far away from "art" as a filmmaker can get.

 

If this were a P.T. Anderson or Wes Anderson film, I'd be accepting of their artistic decisions and embrace/learn from them. These are two directors who make films specifically for the art genera and likewise, as audiences we relish in every frame. However, the vast majority of the cinema audiences could care less about these two filmmakers, yet there are thousands of them all around the world creating wonderful product that mass audiences will never see.

 

I personally think it's healthy to disagree with a filmmakers decision-making process, especially if their are blatant non-artistic issues. Most of the films problems aren't artistic decisions, but choices probably based on time, budget and the script which was very, very, very poor.

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I personally feel the James Bond franchise is as far away from "art" as a filmmaker can get.

 

I believe David is using the term to refer to the work of the various filmmaking crafts, not some vague notion of the social relevance of the final product.

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I haven't seen the new one.. but Skyfall was a great movie.. Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins.. !!! thats hardly run of the mill journey man territory .. its a tad pretentious that the only films :"worthy " of the cappuccino arty set.. must be shot in s16 on a wind up bolex :)..

 

Its only movies we are talking about here.. its entertainment .. I wouldn't waste my money on any of these super hero flicks.. because i dont find them interesting.. millions of others do obviously.. fine.. I,ll go see the The Big Short.. the new Borne.. Hateful eight .. its doesnt matter.. good films are still being made.. TV is better than its ever been..

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There isn't some hard line where more commercial fare isn't artistic and then suddenly you cross a line where a movie can be considered art. Even look at other Sam Mendes movies, can you judge "Road to Perdition" in artistic terms or is it only commercial fodder? What about movies like "Singin' in the Rain" or "Star Wars" or "Gone with the Wind"? No art nor artists involved there either?

 

Maybe it's merely a personal thing, but while I hold myself and my work to my own high standards, and am very self-critical, I don't spend a lot of effort wagging my finger at fellow filmmakers for failing to follow my own standards. I don't know what they went through to make their movies, I wasn't there, and I recognize that they have other priorities than I do, and different tastes. I certainly wouldn't publicly tell other professional cinematographers that their choices were "very, very poor" (I wouldn't even tell that to them privately!)

 

I can certainly spot technical mistakes in movies, and I will note things that I would have approached differently, I'm not against critical analysis, but on principle I don't like the implication that a certain technical polish or a certain approach to lighting is some sort of universal ideal by which everything should be judged.

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Even look at other Sam Mendes movies, can you judge "Road to Perdition" in artistic terms or is it only commercial fodder? What about movies like "Singin' in the Rain" or "Star Wars" or "Gone with the Wind"? No art nor artists involved there either?

In my opinion, outside of 'Star Wars', the other films actual intent was to be artistic. 'Road to Perdition' was absolutely about the cinematic art form. Not much story, but man was it a joy to watch as a fellow filmmaker. 'Singin' in the Rain' and 'Gone With the Wind', films made by professional artisans, both simply stunning visually. The world of hand painted backdrops, beautiful hand-made sets and no green screen. That is the mere definition of cinematic "art" in my eyes. You can be "creative" with computers and digital technology, but when you paint with light in a physical world, what is the reason to NOT be artistic?

 

I certainly wouldn't publicly tell other professional cinematographers that their choices were "very, very poor" (I wouldn't even tell that to them privately!)

'Spectre' is pretty unanimously unliked around the world. Some reviews I read were so damming, you'd probably blow a fuse reading them. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with critiquing someone's work and expecting more from them due to their previous work. I took the time to explain the issues and why they didn't fit the James Bond franchise.

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What Satsuki is saying is that a focal reducer, while it concentrates the light coming through the lens, also reduces the image circle, so that 35mm format lens would no longer cover the 35mm image circle, making it useless. The only way around this would be to use lenses designed for a larger image circle, such as medium format lenses, but as they tend to be slower than Cine lenses the net gain in exposure would be minimal.

 

This is a solution in search of a problem.

Wouldn't you say that this would be the equivalent to attaching an APS-C lens onto a Full Frame SLR body???

 

 

If you look at this chart:

https://matthewduclos.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/image-circle-database.pdf

 

You can see that going from, let's say, a 50mm to a 100mm, doesn't give you twice the diameter image circle, but using a 2X focal reducer would cut the image circle in half and therefore the lens would no longer fill the standard 35mm frame.

I was having a bit of a hard time understanding that table, however if you say that is the case, then how would one optically and physically design the focal reducer to retain the native image circle???

 

Also, just this Sunday I finally managed to watch SPECTRE at the BFI IMAX (largest screen in the UK), and I can safely say that I absolutely loved it! It is a "Spectrecular" film, a very strong opening and finally blending traditional Bond into the modern era. In my honest opinion, I would say it is better than Skyfall.

 

I can go on about the tech side of things, the cinematography is superb and truly shows that 35mm can still its own, Howeveeerrr...the image quality (projected 2K) looked horrendous (exaggerating)! I took a very close look inspecting certain areas of the film and I can almost be so sure that somesort of DNR process was applied to reduce the grain, because it certainly not looking natural onscreen, it was almost as if it was blending in subtly (not a good job). I could be wrong, but this is where I think things take a bit of a turn, the Arri Alexa 65 footage did actually stick out a bit like a sore thumb, I'm sorry but I was able to notice (despite the low resolution projected) the change in image quality, things just looked a tad bit sharper and to be quite frank didn't really impress me at all. I still argue after watching the film that a Vision3 500T wide open would've done the job! Even with some soft lighting techniques done off-screen would've not been distracting and would probably enhance the visual quality as well.

 

I dont know...I'm not the processional here but the grain in the majority of the film shots simply didn't look as it is was resolved properly during transfer and somesort of DNR applied to hide the resulting artifacts from a 2K scan. At least 4K or 6K the print and downsize it! :(

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In my opinion, outside of 'Star Wars', the other films actual intent was to be artistic. 'Road to Perdition' was absolutely about the cinematic art form. Not much story, but man was it a joy to watch as a fellow filmmaker. 'Singin' in the Rain' and 'Gone With the Wind', films made by professional artisans, both simply stunning visually. The world of hand painted backdrops, beautiful hand-made sets and no green screen. That is the mere definition of cinematic "art" in my eyes. You can be "creative" with computers and digital technology, but when you paint with light in a physical world, what is the reason to NOT be artistic?

 

 

'Spectre' is pretty unanimously unliked around the world. Some reviews I read were so damming, you'd probably blow a fuse reading them. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with critiquing someone's work and expecting more from them due to their previous work. I took the time to explain the issues and why they didn't fit the James Bond franchise.

 

 

 

If only these idiots would have the sense to employ Tyler and his pocket cam.. to direct,shoot,cast,edit and post.. the Bond franchise would not be sinking into a box office and quality mire ..

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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how would one optically and physically design the focal reducer to retain the native image circle???

 

 

You can't. The way these reducers work is by focusing the light coming through the lens into a smaller area, thus increasing its intensity. If you don't reduce the image circle, you don't get the increased exposure. There is no free lunch.

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If only these idiots would have the sense to employ Tyler and his pocket cam.. to direct,shoot,cast,edit and post.. the Bond franchise would not be sinking into a box office and quality mire ..

Box office PLUS quality haven't been the Bond equation since middle of the Connery era. The last Bond movies I unabashedly loved were the Dalton ones, which were disappointments box office wise and suffered under the hardship of a lame director who was too budy directing traffic to take advantage of what he had. All the Moore films had going for them were Ken Adam and Derek Meddings and John Barry, and poor Brosnan got awful material (if he'd gotten to play Bond like he played in TAILOR OF PANAMA, nobody would have been thinking he was just Roger Mooreing his way through.)

 

Folks can wax poetic about the Craig films, but I just don't see how you can rave over films that now act like they are serious, but then default back to 'it is escapism' every time a movie revolves around the idiot plot point, like CASINO ROYALE, in which nearly every clue comes from Bond killing somebody to get their cell phone info. As if a 'pro' (and these guys were supposed to be GOOOOOD) wouldn't keep sensitive info in his head! Plus Bond behaving like a punk, like Bond at age 17 maybe.

 

Honestly, except for a few scenes in QUANTUM in the middle and then at the very end of it, there has been NOTHING in the Craig era that makes me think this is Bond at all - my recent go-to on this has been to say that Craig is actually playing a guessied up version of Edward Woodward's CALLAN from around 1970.

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It was a tongue in cheek to the great critic :)...

 

But since you mention it.. I loved the Connery bonds as a kid.. agree the Moore era a total right off.. all winks and sexual innuendo .. But I think the Craig era has been a real move up in all ways.. making Bond serious again.. back to the roots of a good spy thriller.. instead of pretty boy travel flick..

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Wouldn't you say that this would be the equivalent to attaching an APS-C lens onto a Full Frame SLR body???

 

 

I was having a bit of a hard time understanding that table, however if you say that is the case, then how would one optically and physically design the focal reducer to retain the native image circle???

 

Also, just this Sunday I finally managed to watch SPECTRE at the BFI IMAX (largest screen in the UK), and I can safely say that I absolutely loved it! It is a "Spectrecular" film, a very strong opening and finally blending traditional Bond into the modern era. In my honest opinion, I would say it is better than Skyfall.

 

I can go on about the tech side of things, the cinematography is superb and truly shows that 35mm can still its own, Howeveeerrr...the image quality (projected 2K) looked horrendous (exaggerating)! I took a very close look inspecting certain areas of the film and I can almost be so sure that somesort of DNR process was applied to reduce the grain, because it certainly not looking natural onscreen, it was almost as if it was blending in subtly (not a good job). I could be wrong, but this is where I think things take a bit of a turn, the Arri Alexa 65 footage did actually stick out a bit like a sore thumb, I'm sorry but I was able to notice (despite the low resolution projected) the change in image quality, things just looked a tad bit sharper and to be quite frank didn't really impress me at all. I still argue after watching the film that a Vision3 500T wide open would've done the job! Even with some soft lighting techniques done off-screen would've not been distracting and would probably enhance the visual quality as well.

 

I dont know...I'm not the processional here but the grain in the majority of the film shots simply didn't look as it is was resolved properly during transfer and somesort of DNR applied to hide the resulting artifacts from a 2K scan. At least 4K or 6K the print and downsize it! :(

Hmmm, probably what I said here was a bit too much for people to respond? :D

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Not sure what to respond to... I saw it in Digital IMAX, which is sort of double-2K projection, but from a 4K master that was cleaned-up for larger screen presentation using IMAX's DMR process, which is basically noise reduction plus sharpening, on the theory that on a very large screen, grain is more distracting. So IMAX DMR movies, particularly from 35mm material, have a sort of smoothed-but-sharpened quality. I don't have a problem with that when it is done well, i.e. not overdone. It works better when IMAX can do the scans themselves, like they did for the Dark Knight movies, rather than starting with a finished D.I., particularly if they are handed a 2K D.I. as a starting point. In the case of "Spectre", unlike the last Mission Impossible movie, they were handed a 4K D.I. luckily.

 

I didn't think anything "stood out like a sore thumb", the Super-35 opening wasn't that different in quality from the anamorphic that followed, and even that climax at night on the Thames has a lot of 35mm anamorphic night shots leading up to Alexa 65 footage, including that chase and shoot-out in the streets and tunnels. I did see some changes in grain levels but nothing more than I saw in many older photochemically finished movies like from the 1980's where the day work was shot on 100T and everything else was shot on 500T, with duped opticals mixed in there. And even if you go back to the 1970's movies when they generally only had the 100T stock for everything, even then grain levels changed because of underexposed and push-processed scenes.

 

I mainly noticed the Alexa 65 footage because of the switch back to spherical optics. You don't notice that as much in the opening Super-35 scene because that's a day scene, but at night, the difference between anamorphic and spherical is more obvious if there are a lot of small lights in the background.

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Omar, Stuart has already answered your question about focal reducers. What you're asking for defies the laws of physics.

 

You can't. The way these reducers work is by focusing the light coming through the lens into a smaller area, thus increasing its intensity. If you don't reduce the image circle, you don't get the increased exposure. There is no free lunch.

 

On the topic of critiquing the work of other cinematographers. For myself, I have found that the more experience I acquire the less judgemental I have become. Shooting at a consistently high level is damn hard to do and the results are often not fully under your control, even as the responsibility falls on your shoulders. One is often at the mercy of the script, budget, shooting schedule, weather, opinionated talent, directors and producers with strange ideas, locations, and on and on. Nothing humbles you faster than not living up to your own standards, which is something an armchair cinematographer never has to confront.

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Digital with low-light looks like crap as well, it's not grainy, but the motion blur and highlight clipping make it look bad.

 

Just thought I should point out - motion blur and highlight clipping are not the automatic result of shooting digitally or in low-light. They are the result of the DP choosing to shoot with a slower shutter speed, and choosing a camera with poor dynamic range or just overexposing the highlights. It's the eye behind the camera that "makes it look like crap" not the camera itself. Of course, some cameras are easier to work with than others, but that's a separate issue.

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Ohh I don't take it personally. I just expect a lot more from such a great cinematographer. I'm sure the camera negative looks wonderful, it's depressing in post production they never wanted that to shine through.

 

It's also depressing that the filmmakers said the digital and film mix was unnoticeable, yet in my eyes it stuck out like a sore thumb. Now I'm watching the trailer for 'Sunset Sun' with exteriors shot on 65mm and interiors shot on the Alexa. Again, the filmmakers are saying the two look identical, yet the digital material in the trailer sticks out pretty bad AND worst off it looks like crap compared to the 65mm material. It's flat, lacks any depth, is almost de-saturated and has pretty poor motion blur characteristics.

 

Ohh and I know it's the cinematographer creating that motion blur look. I shoot at 45 degree shutter angle on most of my digital stuff to avoid that look because I simply despise it. Yet, if you shoot with that high of a shutter speed, the low-light potential of the camera is reduced. Since most filmmakers shoot digital in order to underlight, they simply don't mind that horrible motion blur of lower shutter speeds, thinking the audience won't notice it. To me, this is a big no-no. The audience notices everything and just because they can't turn those thoughts into words, doesn't mean they won't react negatively.

 

I'm just frustrated with modern cinema. I rarely go to the cinema for this exact reason. I simply can't watch a movie without being the cinematographer and trying to understand why they did XYZ when it looks bad. Digital in my eyes looks bad MOST of the time, with a few exceptions like "Skyfall" which proved to me that the Alexa CAN look very good. Just watching "Bridge of Spies" a few weeks ago was wonderful, I could just relax and watch the movie for what it was because there was nothing in the film that pulled me away from the story like so many other movies including Spectre.

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I've found that quite a few filmmakers whether it is in American Cinematographer or else, say for example that they tested Alexa next to 35 mm to do comparisons and that the difference is minimal at best, and I find that disturbing. I've no doubt that some DPs will truly believe that, but it doesn't make sense to me when watching that thing they're talking about and going "but the Alexa looks nothing like film, it just doesn't" (although I gotta say that the Triple 9 second trailer shot on Alexa with super 16 grain is a convincing approximation).

 

Now, films like The Lone Ranger or Nightcrawler, or The Hangover that shoot film for day sequences and Alexa for night scenes, I'd argue that the two intercut well as long as you're immersed in the film. It's like Argo where Prieto used the Alexa for the Turkey sequence because of the low light capabilities, but compare those scenes to the rest of the film and you go from a textured image with personality to suddenly a completely clean, flat image. It's really telling how many AC articles I read where the DPs talk of using old glass like Panavision C-series or Cooke Panchro, or uncoated Super Speed (like Hoyte did so wonderfully on Her) to take the "digital edge off", essentially shooting digital but with the intention of degrading the image.

 

But let's not go back into a film vs digital debate, been there, done that. (and yes, that ugly motion blur at night is the dead giveaway of digital ^^)

Edited by Manu Delpech

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I've gone to see many of these tests over the years and often the difference IS minimal at best. The ASC and PGA did a big camera comparison about four years ago, all finished to 4K and projected in 4K on a big screen (Super-35 scanned at 6K and finished at 4K)... and there were not huge differences. And we were talking about lighting set-ups designed to push the limits in terms of dynamic range -- the day interior scene was a white tiled diner with sunlight coming in and big windows looking out at a street in full sun, the night test involved a street with neon signs, a trashcan with a fire, people running around with sparklers, a wet shiny street, and dancing. There were differences, and a few telltale artifacts from some of the cameras, but nothing really stood out badly and the better digital cameras produced results so similar to the Super-35 camera that the absence of grain was the only clue. You may find that depressing... though I found it more reassuring.

 

The differences exist of course, but the matter of degree is obviously open to debate.

 

What I've found is that in a well-shot test, even with challenging subject matter, the professionalism of the production in terms of lighting and design are still going to contribute a lot to the quality of the image.

 

It's when you make a mistake or push an image too far in correction, THAT'S when the inherent nature of the originating material surfaces, and the truth is that the artifacts of film "gone bad" or shot badly are so familiar that we are more comfortable with them, but that's not the same thing as saying that those artifacts are necessarily "better" than digital ones.

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But let's not go back into a film vs digital debate, been there, done that. (and yes, that ugly motion blur at night is the dead giveaway of digital ^^)

 

The absolute worst offender of this is Gangster Squad. I saw it in the theater with a friend who has no knowledge of film making at all and during the final act's night shootout and fist fight she leaned over to me and asked why the movie looked weird like a TV show. It's because the motion blur was so blatantly not film, it was pulling her out of the movie. Most regular audiences can't seem to tell or don't care about the difference between something shot on digital or film, but when your format is pulling a regular audience member out of the film's immersion, you're doing something wrong.

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Oh yeah Dion Beebe overdid it on Gangster Squad. But most regular audiences don't care, what matters is that we do.

 

@David: The thing is, could a film like Interstellar shot digitally look anywhere close to what it does on film? No. I'm sure some will say it's a stupid example, but I stand by it. The way the emulsion on film works, with that fuzziness, that organic grain is so completely different than what a digital sensor does. I can buy that in certain controlled situations (like the ones you wrote down), it could be hard to see the difference, but my favorite movies shot on film would not look the way they do if shot digitally, I am 100 % convinced of that. You see that the absence of grain was the only clue, but that's HUGE for me, that's why many people don't like digital, because of the clean look. And when shooting on film, you do want the grain right? It's part of the construct of the image itself, I mean, seeing that dancing grain for me gets me all fuzzy inside, it lives, it has a soul.

 

But hell, I'm doing it again, going into the old film vs digital conversation, and I don't want to spark another "useless" debate. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Edited by Manu Delpech

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Grain can be added in post .. how can only Skyfall look great but others crap.. unless we can have Roger Deakins shoot every single Alexa film.. sorry but I dont buy the .. it has no soul stuff.. and motion blur? .. 180 degree is 180 degree.. I would question the aesthetic ,s of anyone who shoots most their material at 45 degree shutter.. TBH..

 

If you are being taken out of the film.. its the script or acting or both thats doing it.. take a look at Tangerine..tell me what you think about motion blur and lack of soul..

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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I've never found the motion blur differences between a 180 degree electronic shutter and a film shutter, both cameras at 24 fps, to be all that different. Again, there are differences for the hyper-sensitive, but every day for years people have been watching their favorite TV shows shot digitally with a 180 degree shutter (including big shows like "Game of Thrones") and have not complained.

 

As for night work shot with a shutter angle greater than 240 degrees, it's a look, just like 90 degrees or 45 degrees is a look, and the amount and speed of the motion will affect how perceptible the odd shutter speed is. A talking head in a restaurant... most people are not going to spot a 240 degree shutter angle unless they are watching the waiter crossing in the background. An action scene, particularly with handheld cameras, that's a different story. You have to decide if the increase in ambient exposure is giving you enough visual value to off set all that blur.

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