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Could Digital Kill Film?

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It's a valid question to ask, it doesn't imply that it's the only question.

 

I think his point, along with his demonstration on 4K, is that some people are over-emphasizing or over-selling (as in the case with 4K) the degree of differences, not that these differences don't exist -- and in fact, the differences can be increased for effect if desired -- if you shot a movie that alternated between 16mm color reversal cross-processed versus the Arri Alexa 65, for example... I doubt in that situation you'd be finding ways to process both formats to be interchangeable and indistinguishable.

 

And I think when he says "film look" he is specifically referring to the look of 35mm motion picture color negative, standard or Super-35, normally processed. Otherwise, the term is too vague to be practical when you consider both Super-8 reversal and IMAX negative are film formats and yet both have distinct looks from each other.

 

His perspective is that of a cinematographer of mainstream commercial narrative cinema and I think he is discussing whether these new tools represent a dramatic shift in the nature of this type of cinema, or whether they are part of a continuing tradition of image-making for storytelling purposes. His results tend to suggest that the traditional look of cinema doesn't have to dramatically change if someone doesn't want it to.

 

We all have different degrees of perception and different priorities as artists and consumers of art, so I can't tell someone that they are wrong when they perceive these new technologies as being unable to recreate the same colors or contrast or "life" as the old ones that they cherish, but conversely, I think that person should admit that we have drifted into the subjective realm of personal perception.

 

I still think that the color of the 3-strip Technicolor camera process has never been completely recreated with any other film or digital processes, but on the other hand, it's not like I'm going to not shoot with modern color technologies just because I miss Technicolor. The look of movies has changed over time for lots of reasons, from origination to post to distribution and exhibition, but Yedlin's demonstrations aren't really about that broader issue because if you miss the look of a 50-year-old process, you're probably going to think that digital is a significant change from that and won't be convinced that the differences can be overcome with some post trickery.

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I don't see audiences getting tired of Star Wars, Marvel, and DC any time soon, but some of the other tentpole attempts (Valerian, Geostorm) haven't done well.

 

One day surely the great un washed will have had enough of "The adventures of Darth Vader ,s Aunts poodle".. please say its so..

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C'mon; nothing beats TWO-strip Technicolor! Look at these stills from the 1925 production of Ben Hur!

(Only selected scenes were in colour, and most prints were entirely in black and white. This is not "colorized," this is actual colour cinematography.)

post-14557-0-19940900-1509935522_thumb.jpg
post-14557-0-60019800-1509935549_thumb.jpg

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C'mon; nothing beats TWO-strip Technicolor! Look at these stills from the 1925 production of Ben Hur!

 

1) It looks like Hideki's work with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

 

2) Ayn Rand met her husband Frank O'Connor while both were working as extras on this production.

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And I think when he says "film look" he is specifically referring to the look of 35mm motion picture color negative, standard or Super-35, normally processed. Otherwise, the term is too vague to be practical when you consider both Super-8 reversal and IMAX negative are film formats and yet both have distinct looks from each other.

 

His perspective is that of a cinematographer of mainstream commercial narrative cinema and I think he is discussing whether these new tools represent a dramatic shift in the nature of this type of cinema, or whether they are part of a continuing tradition of image-making for storytelling purposes. His results tend to suggest that the traditional look of cinema doesn't have to dramatically change if someone doesn't want it to.

 

 

Yes, I'd agree that by "film look" Yedlin is referencing normally processed 35mm colour neg. But on the digital side he's arguing against any notion of normal processing, ie. arguing that there is no such thing as a "normal" process, or if there were argued such a thing, he would argue against such a conception, and on that basis he would use a particular process (ie. his particular algorithms and workflow) to obtain the particular look he is pursuing - namely the look of "normally" processed film.

 

This can be read in the following exchange between Carvahal and Yedlin, regarding the test ( http://www.yedlin.net/160105_edit.html ):

 

Carvahal: I'm equally weary of arguments that sound superstitious and find that people in the community frequently obsess more about tools than meaning. That being said I sometimes wonder if our brain is able to discern, even on an unconscious level, the difference between the formats. My point being that the difference is not one of resolution, color or technical artifacts, but one of real vs simulated.

 

Yedlin: This last statement is loaded with quite a few implied premises. First off, it presumes that all of film is one monolithic “format” and all of digital is another single monolithic thing.

But this is contrary to the truth, which is that each of these (film and digital) is a mere substrate for an image and is also one small step in a long chain of processes that make the thing you’re calling “format" (I mean, you’re not even differentiating between scanned film and traditionally-printed film, which would be two entirely different things if the premise itself — that capturing an image digitally is fundamentally different — is true).

 

Here we see Yedlin argues (quite correctly in my opinion) that film and digital are not monolithic formats - that the terms "film" and "digital" refer to only "one small step in a long chain of processes" that make up a "format".

 

But yet, in his comparison test between film and digital, film will be processed "normally" (we might even say it's processed according to a "monolithic" conception of film) whereas digital will be processed in any way that satisfies what he's after (such as emulating normally processed film). To put it another way, the various potential looks that might be achieved in film (by different process chains) will be ignored, whereas the various options available in a digital process chain will not. Indeed Yedlin will champion a particularly idiosyncratic digital process.

The difference between film and digital exists, and despite what Yedlin might hope to argue, such differences can be both exploited as much as they can be suppressed. And of those who exploit the difference, or otherwise appreciate the difference, they are not necessarily "religious" or "superstitious". Creating a work (or a test) in which the differences are minimised doesn't make us (who might otherwise appreciate the difference) any more aware of why we might appreciate the difference. It just makes us feel as if we should consider ourselves stupid.

C

 

 

 

Edited by Carl Looper

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If I resurrected 2-color Technicolor, I'd just be accused of using the orange-teal style color-correction...

It has actually occurred to me that you could probably simulate the palette of 2-strip technicolor by making up some lighting panels out of orange and cyan high-brightness LEDs. Not sure exactly WHY you'd want to do that, but if the need was ever there....

I suppose if you were making a period piece about people shooting a movie in 2-strip technicolor....

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One of his tests is just to show that there is very little difference between the mediums (or maybe that was a by product) and that anything above 2K the human eye cant see.. isnt it..?

His tests show he's very good at manipulating the way things are displayed in order to make them "appear" similar.

 

Also... the moment you make film digital, it's not really film anymore, it's digital. So the only real way to "test" any of this, is to do back to back comparisons and unfortunately, those are hard to do on the internet.

 

So we sit here arguing about film vs video until the cows come home, but 99.95% of the people on this forum, have no way of testing both mediums as they were acquired back to back, one presented analog, one presented digitally, to really make a direct comparison.

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Also... the moment you make film digital, it's not really film anymore, it's digital. So the only real way to "test" any of this, is to do back to back comparisons and unfortunately, those are hard to do on the internet.

Tyler, please, save this talk for producers. I understand it's an argument for saving the photochemical process, but from cinematography POV it's plain wrong. A proper HDR scan holds more properties of the negative than a print (not talking about low contrast prints - one doesn't watch them in theatre anyway). One can argue color information gets lost in scanning, but even a Spirit HD scan of color neg reproduces finer color contrasts better than any Alexa or F35 or F65 out there.

Edited by Michael Rodin

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Tyler should say that to all big time directors who shoot on film, even the masters like Scorsese who only do a DI, gosh, such noobs, I guess they aren't aware. The Yedlin test makes me shake my head, I'd argue the Alexa still looks videoey, I don't know, his tests are interesting, but he keeps touting his digital LUT that closely mimicks a film response or something, he's used it on San Andreas, Danny Collins, and those films just look like regular digital, it's just not working. If there's this little of a difference for him, I wonder why he didn't ask to switch to Alexa for The Last Jedi :D (and yes, there are a handful of Alexa shots in it for specific situations).

 

I think if you cut really quickly from film to digital for example, and you match them well, it "can" be indistinguishable but films such as Argo (film for 90 % of the film, mix of super 16, 2 perf, 4 perf, Alexa for some low light situations, and the whole section in Turkey I think where Affleck meets a contact), The Wolf Of Wall Street, Silence that have a clear separation where low light is strictly digital (or some VFX shots), I find it really sticks out like a sore thumb, not that it looks bad, but Wolf & Silence in particular don't seem to have any grain added to the footage.

 

Comparison tests in bleh conditions, carefully prepared, and the digital footage made to look as close to film is just a test, Carl said it best. It'd be fun to see Yedlin pull a Tommy Wiseau and shoot a film on film and digital at the same time, where they'll end up not looking the same at all. Stuff like LiveGrain does wonders (and it's 5 grand on a low budget project just to install the plugin), but it's still a trick. Why spend hours in the DI suite, and money to make digital look like film? Just shoot the real thing (if possible obviously). Ultimately, it blows my mind when great DPs such as Linus Sandgren, or Rodrigo Prieto keep saying how film is just so different, praising it, and a few others (a minority) insist they see little to no difference. Obviously though, if you sit really far away in the theater, you won't see the texture, it's also shocking to see how compression on TV absolutely annihilates the grain and makes almost everything feel like it's been shot digitally.

Edited by Manu Delpech

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I think its alot simpler..some DP,s dont want to change from what they know.. they have mastered it .. they want to stay with it. if they have the clout then good luck to them.. but that will be becoming a very very small club..other also very competent DP,d who have mastered film for sure.. Deakin's ..McAlpine.. even a long hold out Storaro ..etc ..are a bit more adventurous and have learnt and mastered digital capture too..

 

But for the new DP,s or lesser gods.. who have the dogmatic faith.. unless their parents bank roll your life/films.. they will have a very limited career if they choose to turn their nose up at their first feature/commercial because its shot on Alexa.. or god forbid.. F65.. Venice .. let alone Docs or Corps to cut their teeth..

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This very laissez-faire attitude (from some of you) to the frame on a cinematography forum is mind-boggling to me. The frame in relation to the next frame over time, that's what cinema is, that's all it is, that's all we have.

 

And what I'm keep hearing is that the frame doesn't matter. It's the acting, the script, production design, lighting and on and on. And while it's true that the frame contains all of these aspects, none of it matters if the frame it self, isn't correct.(Now the frame can be either analog or digital, 8mm or 65mm but it has to be correct for it's intended purposes.)

 

If the tilt is too low you see the apple box the lead actor is on, if it's too high you see the light, and the flag blocking it. The illusion is broken. It's like saying to a magician "you know what I can see the trap door but don't worry, the trick will probably work anyway." No -- it simply won't.

 

Why spend millions on VFX if the frame doesn't matter, we could just release the green screen versions and save a lot of pain and money. The counter argument will be don't be ridicules of course it matters, it just doesn't matter if the VFX is on a celluloid or digital or if its 16mm or 35mm ccd or cmos and so on...

 

But it does, the capture medium determines the frame, and the frame is the movie.

 

Movies shot on different mediums feels different, not only because of the actual size, ISO and nature of the imager, and the physical size of the camera. But maybe even more importantly the actual idea for a movie itself is formed by the format you envision it on.

 

Now you can shot a good film on whatever format you choose, but it has to marry to the material.

 

For example: Paranormal activity it's not a pretty frame but it's a correct one. Narnia 1 brings us and the kids to meet Aslan and the second one brings us to the battlefield (in perhaps the most violent kids movie ever.) while Dawn Treader takes us, to some cheap BBC soap set, all the sets, props, VFX and lightning in the world, in this case 150mil worth of it, can't help it. Because the frame is not correct for it's intended purpose, to take us trough a magical journey trough Narnia.

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Tyler, please, save this talk for producers. I understand it's an argument for saving the photochemical process, but from cinematography POV it's plain wrong.

What are you talking about? Standard 3 chip DLP theatrical presentation systems with DCI-P3 color space sources, are not capable of delivering "the look" of a film print.

 

So if you're a cinematographer and you want that look, you absolutely can't get it with today's technology.

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Tyler should say that to all big time directors who shoot on film, even the masters like Scorsese who only do a DI, gosh, such noobs, I guess they aren't aware.

They are aware, the studio's prohibit them from doing anything about it. Why? Because they are owned by cinema chains like AMC and they can't project films anymore at those theaters, with the exception of the Hateful Eight projectors which Warner brothers now owns. Point being, even if you wanted to make a print, doing a wide release would be literally impossible today. So it has NOTHING to do with the filmmakers understanding, it's only down to theaters not wanting to show film because it costs them money. Remember, they don't have projectionists anymore.

 

Film > digital > Film isn't too bad if it's done at 4k for 35mm. Mainly this is because the quality of the intermediate is FAR GREATER than the DCP's released to the theaters. This has always been the case which is why I'm really less concerned about "DI", and far more concerned about DCI-P3 DCP's and DLP projectors then anything else.

 

Comparison tests in bleh conditions, carefully prepared, and the digital footage made to look as close to film is just a test, Carl said it best. It'd be fun to see Yedlin pull a Tommy Wiseau and shoot a film on film and digital at the same time, where they'll end up not looking the same at all. Stuff like LiveGrain does wonders (and it's 5 grand on a low budget project just to install the plugin), but it's still a trick. Why spend hours in the DI suite, and money to make digital look like film? Just shoot the real thing (if possible obviously). Ultimately, it blows my mind when great DPs such as Linus Sandgren, or Rodrigo Prieto keep saying how film is just so different, praising it, and a few others (a minority) insist they see little to no difference. Obviously though, if you sit really far away in the theater, you won't see the texture, it's also shocking to see how compression on TV absolutely annihilates the grain and makes almost everything feel like it's been shot digitally.

The top cinematographers generally like to play with new toys, so that's part of the reason we're seeing such a shift from some top DP's. Plus, being able to see the finished image on set in a black tent as you're shooting, for a lot of people is more critical then what it's shot on/with. If there was a way to do the same thing with a film camera, a 4k video tap for instance, with the same size imager as the film plane and decent enough camera to mimic the look of film, I think things would be different because they could use that image as a "backup" and would know exactly what they're getting. Unfortuntely film camera development died with the 416, long before 4k imagers were cheap enough to put into film cameras as a "bonus".

 

Also, part of the reason they insist there is no difference is because of the projection standards today. They can't see the difference because frankly, it's so minor with our current projection standards it doesn't matter. The only movie I've seen this year shot digitally and projected digitally was Blade Runner. I wait for movies to come out on video because REC709 and P3 color spaces are very similar and with UHD BluRay being 10 bit 4:2:2, what's the point going to the cinema? I got a quiet dark room at home to watch movies in and frankly, it's cheaper today to buy the BluRay, watch it and resell it, then it is to even contemplate going to the cinema.

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Of course the frame matters to the cinematographer thats what they are hired to care about. But we dont work in a vacuum, we dont create the budgets, we dont have unlimited resources. We constantly make judgement calls about what to prioritize and some of our decisions can be overruled by higher-ups.

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David the comment's wasn't meant for you, I have nothing but the highest respect for you as a cinematographer and an educator. And I'm Extremely grateful for all the knowledge you have shared so generously trough the years.

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This very laissez-faire attitude (from some of you) to the frame on a cinematography forum is mind-boggling to me. The frame in relation to the next frame over time, that's what cinema is, that's all it is, that's all we have.

 

And what I'm keep hearing is that the frame doesn't matter. It's the acting, the script, production design, lighting and on and on. And while it's true that the frame contains all of these aspects, none of it matters if the frame it self, isn't correct.(Now the frame can be either analog or digital, 8mm or 65mm but it has to be correct for it's intended purposes.)

 

If the tilt is too low you see the apple box the lead actor is on, if it's too high you see the light, and the flag blocking it. The illusion is broken. It's like saying to a magician "you know what I can see the trap door but don't worry, the trick will probably work anyway." No -- it simply won't.

 

Why spend millions on VFX if the frame doesn't matter, we could just release the green screen versions and save a lot of pain and money. The counter argument will be don't be ridicules of course it matters, it just doesn't matter if the VFX is on a celluloid or digital or if its 16mm or 35mm ccd or cmos and so on...

 

But it does, the capture medium determines the frame, and the frame is the movie.

 

Movies shot on different mediums feels different, not only because of the actual size, ISO and nature of the imager, and the physical size of the camera. But maybe even more importantly the actual idea for a movie itself is formed by the format you envision it on.

 

Now you can shot a good film on whatever format you choose, but it has to marry to the material.

 

For example: Paranormal activity it's not a pretty frame but it's a correct one. Narnia 1 brings us and the kids to meet Aslan and the second one brings us to the battlefield (in perhaps the most violent kids movie ever.) while Dawn Treader takes us, to some cheap BBC soap set, all the sets, props, VFX and lightning in the world, in this case 150mil worth of it, can't help it. Because the frame is not correct for it's intended purpose, to take us trough a magical journey trough Narnia.

 

 

I haven't read anyone say the frame isnt important ...? in this thread or others that I can think off.. its sort of the most fundamental things of camera work no.. ?.. or have I missed something..

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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Framing and composition is, of course, very important, but it's also outside the scope of this discussion about format. Forgetting the relative merits of film and digital, 1.85:1, or 2.40:1 is always the same, regardless of what it is recorded to.

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What I'm trying to say is, we are making a big mistake if we treat the 35mm and Alexa frame, as one and the same. This is where the problem starts if you have a 35mm idea, but then for budget reason you are forced to go digital. And you don't adjust your idea to the digital frame, and just go ahead and pretend we are still shooting 35mm and keeping exactly to the original idea, then the film will fall apart because the captured frame is no longer in support of that original idea.

 

Again two examples The Beguiled (2017) The Witch (2015) both 1.66 period pieces, basically chamber dramas, with similar observatory camera style. With slower paced movies like these, you are the mercy of the mood of the frame you can't hide behind the cut, the frame has to carry you.

 

For me the The Beguiled is an okay movie, a bit much style over substance for my taste, but it stays true to itself and pretty much achieves what it sets out to accomplish.

 

Now the thorny part, I know Jarin Blaschke are on these boards and I mean absolutely no disrespect, so please chime in and rip me a new one, if you feel I'm going off base here.

 

The single biggest problem with, The Witch it's that it doesn't stay true to itself, true to it's idea. The setting, the tempo, the tone, the intended mood, all theses things are telling me that this movie was never intended to be shot on digital. The frame is not helping the story, in fact it's working against the very story the filmmakers are trying to tell.

 

Now if Robert Eggers actually conceived this as a digital movie from the beginning, and it wasn't a necessary budget decision along the way, I'll admit defeat and crawl back under my rock.

 

But to circle back, the frame is the most important part of film making, and at this point in time 35mm film and digital are not interchangeable(they are close though), and should not be treated as such. Choose the right medium for the right story that's all I'm saying.

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What are you talking about? Standard 3 chip DLP theatrical presentation systems with DCI-P3 color space sources, are not capable of delivering "the look" of a film print.

 

So if you're a cinematographer and you want that look, you absolutely can't get it with today's technology.

Obviously I'm talking about DI, scanning in particular, regarding your "the moment you make film digital" comment. DI actually only helps in creating a smooth, painterly image many of us associate with traditional cinematography, thanks to very precise contrast control in grading software.

Digital projection indeed sucks, but less than digital capture.

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The single biggest problem with, The Witch it's that it doesn't stay true to itself, true to it's idea. The setting, the tempo, the tone, the intended mood, all theses things are telling me that this movie was never intended to be shot on digital. The frame is not helping the story, in fact it's working against the very story the filmmakers are trying to tell.

 

What we really need is some sort of machine that we can feed a script into to be analyzed. Then it can spit the script out the other end with a big stamp that says "FILM" or "DIGITAL." Maybe then all these filmmakers will stop making fools of themselves by picking the wrong format for the script they wrote. :P

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Seriously, do you really think it's always a DoP's - or director's - creative decision to shoot film or digital?

Can't say about Hollywood... In ex-USSR, in low- to mid-budget production, I'd say, it's almost invariably a producers' choice. And it has nothing to do with script or aesthetics.

One recent example: a production (moderately big budget, BTW) opted for a particular digital camera because - a pure coincidence - there was a couple full, expensive packages at a rental owned by a producer. Guess what the DoP asked for (some strange numbers - 5219, 5213..).

Edited by Michael Rodin

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Seriously, do you really think it's always a DoP's - or director's - creative decision to shoot film or digital?

 

No. And it's not always the producer's practical decision either. And there's no objective right or wrong to any of this, which is what makes this whole discussion so silly.

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No of course not, film is a business, the one who pays has the final say.

 

I'm not harping on cinematographers here, the shift to digital is clearly a budgetary one (of course there are also times when it's an artistic one) and therefore on the producers table, if the decision is economic.

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The setting, the tempo, the tone, the intended mood, all theses things are telling me that this movie was never intended to be shot on digital.

 

Now if Robert Eggers actually conceived this as a digital movie from the beginning, and it wasn't a necessary budget decision along the way, I'll admit defeat and crawl back under my rock.

 

I'm not sure that any movie is necessarily conceived as being digital or film. Scripts are written, and projects developed, by people who may have no interest in the visual format that it eventually takes. By the time time a director comes to the project, the decision on format may already have been made. I'm sure there are directors who feel strongly that their project should be film, and fight for it, but I'd imagine that those directors inhabit either the very low end of production where they are producing and financing themselves, or the very high end, where the economics of shooting film are less onerous. For the vast majority in the middle, the concern is in getting the project made at all, not some esoteric notions of whether the medium dictates the quality of the finished piece. I find this film fetishism very strange, particularly as none of its advocates ever explain exactly what they mean by film, as if all of the different stocks and formats of the last hundred years can be lumped together. No-one would ever pretend that an Alexa and a Sony PD150 look the same, even though they are both 'Digital', yet some people here seem to hold that shooting on any kind of film is superior to every type of digital, which is ridiculous.

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