Jump to content
Jon O'Brien

If a film person goes to digital ...

Recommended Posts

If you've only ever shot film before, and you get handed a job which, let's say, might be specified to be with a professional digital camera (for instance an Alexa), is it a difficult transition for the maybe set-in-their-ways film person - assuming you know what you're doing with film, and you have a good understanding of lighting, exposure, and with the new camera the frame size and lens choice etc?

 

Does it depend on the camera system eg. Arri/Canon/BM. Provided you have a good understanding of how to set the camera up using the display/buttons, can you program in your familiar shutter length, ISO, and typical 'film' settings? In other words treat it like it's a film camera only you don't need to reload magazines.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This was a situation that used to come up more than it does now. The biggest issue I saw was that people would try to meter for exposure and end up rather overexposing everything. Film likes a generous exposure. Digital likes exactly the opposite. Modern cameras - Alexa, etc - are much, much more forgiving than early digital cameras, but in general the rule of thumb is not to overcook it.

 

Bear in mind that things like Alexa were built precisely to alleviate these sorts of concerns and are designed to behave in a way that makes film people comfortable. In the worst possible case, though, you'll see, say, 1/48 of a second rather than 180 degrees shutter, which means the same thing at 24fps. Many digital cameras now offer ISO settings rather than gain (though be careful about just programming that ISO into a meter and going with it, for the reasons mentioned above.)

 

P

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suspect there aren't too many of those people around.these days. Given how easily film people moved over to using Betacams, there shouldn't be a big deal, just think reversal film instead of negative.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Brian is right, it's more like reversal instead of negative.

 

The big difference with digital for me at least, is making it look good. If you really want lower-end digital cameras to have film-like skin tones, you've gotta use the right lighting, decent makeup and do a lot of work in post. With film, I can shoot anything I want in all sorts of mixed conditions and still get great skin tones.

  • Upvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yep, I will be sticking with film for my own projects (as long as I can). It's just I might be getting a few gigs with a digital camera. That's if it proverbially 'goes through'. I've said this before, and last year I was asked to do some digital camerawork, but someone came in later and was more qualified. I was fine with that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now with log gammas around ..you can get away from the reversal, protecting high lights at all costs.. to actually the other way round ..protecting your shadows ,being more of a worry, from noise.. Arri /Sony and now Canon all have the Cineon curve built in.. a bit ironically ,given its origins ,it has helped the move from film to digital .. most pro camera,s have a menu option of shutter degrees or angle ..ISO I think can be misleading as its actually just gain in a digital camera..the sensor itself has an "ISO" but to change it you would have to change the actual sensor, (Sony Venice) not just the film stock like a film camera.. I guess it would depend on the job , but really I don't think its a big deal these days.. if its big budget you will have assistants (hopefully) knowing the camera inside out.. and DIT,s etc .. lenses are the same..and you can light the same these days.. read up a bit what Roger Deakins has to say on the matter.. he was an early embracer of Digital..and has written a lot about the two .. there is no big mystery.. and all the mid/high level camera,s are capable of knocking out a decent picture these days.. and you can lovely little super light weight monitors even on the camera ! and playback if you want to check !

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you're shooting with an Alexa, just set the ISO to 800, set the color temperature in the ball park, and meter like you were shooting film and all will be ok. This is assuming that you are recording a LOG image or RAW. If you set the camera to REC709 recording, then it's a video camera and you need to watch your exposures very closely, but almost nobody works this way with an Alexa...

 

Needless to say, shooting LOG or RAW requires a color correction session to make a normal looking image :)

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would wholeheartedly agree that the Arri Alexa in any flavor really, has the ability to capture very cinematic images, which are close to film. However, you have to be so very careful with achieving that look. As pointed out above, you need a great AC and DIT who know the camera well. You need proper monitoring on set, with monitors capable of being fully calibrated with proper lut display. Lensing all of a sudden becomes a huge issue because the system is so susceptible to minor variations in coatings, that even a small color shift can have a dramatic effect on the image. This is partially why so many people struggle to get a good consistent look out of lower-end digital cameras, because they can't afford the $50k+ it cost to buy a used set of decent matching glass. Then I already mentioned all the issues with set design, costume design and makeup, all of which play a MUCH larger role on digital production because there is so much more detail and far less noise. Getting skin to look beautiful without major makeup can be difficult. Shane Hurlbut did a 35mm vs C500 test few years ago, where he explains this problem and it's completely self evident how much better film looks with skin tones and highlight detail. Where it's true, digital does a better job with midtones and blacks, you can get really beautiful blacks and midtones out of film using the same under-exposing techniques and keeping your image a bit flatter.

 

I think if every top cinematographer stopped shooting digitally tomorrow and were forced to shoot film again, I think they'd find considerable differences in their on-set workflow which make shooting film faster, more efficient and have a much better initial look without the necessitation of heavy grading. I'm frankly tired of watching modern movies that spend 2 months grading and cleaning up the image, it's just ridiculous. Everyone does it and the result is a very fake looking image, no matter what medium you shoot on. Everyone is looking to alter the image they capture on set and very few people just leave the image alone. Everyone goes to watch a photochemically finished movie like Dunkirk, Phantom Thread and Hateful Eight and they're shocked how entirely different they look. Yet, nobody has the balls to just save that money and let what was shot on set, become the actual look of your film.

 

With film I do a base color during the transfer from film to video, then I do a very basic three stage grade; balance, log adjust, overall adjust. The only time I ever use power windows is if there is a mistake somewhere during production that needs to be cleaned up. With digital, it's nearly impossible to grade without power windows. The image is always so flat, if you do a image wide contrast/luminance fix to bring up the highlights and make the image pop, you'll generally have to deal with some sort of clipping in the shot somewhere. So the trick is to power window all of the highlight areas, bring them down, then make power windows with keys for every face in the shot. With a node tree that looks very complicated, you basically grade each person's face individually then bring the rest of the shot up to match. Grading a single shot digitally the proper way takes around 30 - 60 minutes, each shot. Got a reverse shot? Re grade. Coming back to the same shot later in the movie? Still gotta re-grade. The motion tracked power windows, only work on one shot at a time, you can't re-use them.

  • Upvote 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So the trick is to power window all of the highlight areas, bring them down, then make power windows with keys for every face in the shot. With a node tree that looks very complicated, you basically grade each person's face individually then bring the rest of the shot up to match. Grading a single shot digitally the proper way takes around 30 - 60 minutes, each shot. Got a reverse shot? Re grade. Coming back to the same shot later in the movie? Still gotta re-grade. The motion tracked power windows, only work on one shot at a time, you can't re-use them.

With lower budget movies we generally color time the whole thing in 3 or 4 days. This includes a first pass, then a polish, and then time for dropping in any VFX elements like greenscreen, sign removals or other fixes. On this schedule, the idea that we would spend 30-60 minutes grading ANY shot is ludicrous. There simply isn't time, and it's not necessary anyway. Power windows are used as necessary, but with a good colorist they are not that time consuming. There's no need to track windows on every face, because the actors are properly lit, so they only time we would do this is as a fix for a problem that couldn't be dealt with on set. Once we've established looks for each scene it's very easy to apply those looks across each shot in the scene, and to copy a grade to each instance of a shot in the time line. Takes seconds.

 

I can't speak to the quality of the material that you are color-timing, but I can say that not once in all the features that I've shot have we ever needed to grade our material in the way you describe, regardless of the camera used.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Power windows are primarily a creative tool and I use them about as often whether the image was shot on film or digital, and when they are used to fix something, again, it's just as often on film or digital. They only work when you have information you can play with, so with a cheaper digital camera with less dynamic range, it's not like a Power Window is going to bring back detail in a clipped lampshade or curtain sheer or hot sky.

 

The time budgeted for post color-correction tends to be determined by the overall budget and cinematographers have to work within that time no matter what format they shot. You basically just can't be as fiddly and nitpicky if you only have three days to color-correct a whole feature, which is all the more reason to shoot it as close to the final look as possible and to keep it simple in post.

 

A film D.I. takes a little bit more time than something shot on an Alexa, for example, mainly because the colorist working from a log scan of negative has to do a pass where shots are roughly balanced and matched, there tends to be more variation on film, whether that's due to it actually being better at picking out subtle color or because variations in stock and processing are more pronounced these days. ( Quality control isn't what it used to be.)

 

A film negative and an Alexa log image both have a similar range to play in, around 14.5-stops, though the lack of grain in a digital image can make manipulating shadow detail a little easier. Doing color-correction for an image with this much information requires some discipline -- just because you can fiddle endlessly doesn't mean you should. Just because you can track a tiny object around the frame in a 5 minute long steadicam shot doesn't always mean you should, not for a marginal improvement that will cut into your time to color-correct everything else. You have to prioritize.

  • Upvote 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Probably because I come from a film background, and a low-budget one at that, I've tended to get things right in camera and save things for post color-correction when it's more efficient to do that than spend more time on set fixing something.

 

That's one reason I'm not a fan of the "do all your diffusion in post" because that's one more thing that has to be adjusted shot by shot, taking up more time. I only do that when it makes sense to save it for post, like the type of diffusion is not something a filter can create, or so much of the scenes have vfx elements in them. Or if it's a movie where the intent is to not use diffusion, so you only end up doing it on a few close-ups in post that have some unwanted texture in them.

 

I actually agree with Tyler that sometimes modern movies are a bit too polished in post, it takes some of the human element out of the filmmaking, the wabi-sabi of it all. But I can also understand the argument that technical mistakes and roughness can call attention to themselves and away from the story and performances, so it's a tough call philosophically. I guess it comes down to taste.

  • Upvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The funny thing about metering is that I prefer to do less of it, I like lighting by eye and monitor, I find that if I meter things too much, I get more conservative. Robert Primes often says "your eyes make you brave, your meter makes you scared", something to that effect. I agree.

  • Upvote 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quentin once said "They day i am forced to capture Images with a digital, i will quit film business for good". I wonder if that was just bla bla and he in fact used a digital camera? Does someone know? Those words of his left me with awe.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quentin once said "They day i am forced to capture Images with a digital, i will quit film business for good". I wonder if that was just bla bla and he in fact used a digital camera? Does someone know? Those words of his left me with awe.

 

 

Divorce or tax bill.. Quentin will be running for an fs7..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

 

Divorce or tax bill.. Quentin will be running for an fs7..

 

Are you able to tell the difference between an FS7 and an F55 just from looking at the image?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you know what you're looking for, there are subtle differences in the color reproduction, and the F55 handles highlights much better. Of course, once it's been graded, all the bets are off.

  • Upvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

With lower budget movies we generally color time the whole thing in 3 or 4 days.

This is what my typical digital feature color pass looks like:

 

Day 1) Project build and conform to high res

Day 2) First pass (balance)and temp vfx

Day 3) Fine tune pass first half of the film w/vfx

Day 4) Fine tune pass second half of the film w/vfx

Day 5) Directors notes

Day 6) DP's notes

Day 7) Producer watch and notes

Day 8) Export/transcode and deliver

 

I have yet to grade someone else's feature shot on film. I have graded my own film projects and never needed those fine tune pass days at all. I've also been editing my short form products right in DaVinci which saves a great deal of time.

 

There's no need to track windows on every face, because the actors are properly lit, so they only time we would do this is as a fix for a problem that couldn't be dealt with on set. Once we've established looks for each scene it's very easy to apply those looks across each shot in the scene, and to copy a grade to each instance of a shot in the timeline.

So few things..

 

First off, I've worked with dozens of DP's as an editor and colorist, so this isn't a "me" thing. What I've learned is that the kind of projects I've worked on, it's impossible/impractical to light perfectly on set. You can't afford a G&E team of 15 - 20 guys on a low-budget show. So you've got multiple company moves a day, maybe a dozen setup's per location, it's very challenging and mistakes happen. Also, I have yet to work on a show that has been able to afford a good DIT or rent calibrated monitors on set. So most of the time what I get back from set is completely inconsistent stuff. On one recent show, the A camera was set at 800 ISO for the shoot and the B camera was set to 1250 iso and nobody caught it. You can say that's negligence, but poop like that happens all the time with low budget shows. So yes, we track most faces and do composites on nearly every shot of one kind or another. I've just had to get really good at power windows and making traveling mattes.

 

So yea if your cameras and lenses were spot on consistency wise, this may not be an issue. However, in my experience it's impossible to make them perfect. So everytime you cut from the A camera to the B or C camera there is a distinct shift. Most of the time this shift is color, meaning a lens coating doesn't match or one camera has more light hitting the imager, which makes the image tint towards magenta in certain cases. The ISO issue is very frequent, where the two cameras are locked in ISO, Shutter speed and color wise, but then you're fighting one camera that has some clipping in the highlights the other camera doesn't have. This is most common with the Red cameras, but I've seen it on the Sony's as well as I do A LOT of Sony shows. Funny enough, I've only cut a few Alexa shows, all single camera, so I haven't had the opportunity to check consistency between cameras.

 

With all that said, yes a "look" pass over the entire show, hides 90% of these issues. I personally don't like "look" passes at all. I think they're a cheap way to make stuff look acceptable. I work with a lot of colorists who spend every day they aren't working, developing new looks like zoolander and frankly, I don't care. I want my products to look as natural as possible and that's how I grade them. Sure, sometimes directors and DP's want more, that's fine.

 

Mind you, with film the workflow is very different. I'm heavily involved in my transfers and I make sure what's on the scope is what I need in post. I don't really care what it looks like, as long as it's perfectly balanced and the color temp, brightnest, contrast and black level matches across the board. Then in post, it's a lot easier to make a base lut and apply it to everything. I have yet to power window a single frame of film. No reason to, the highlights never clip and when they do, a quick change to the log areas of the image fixes it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

First off, I've worked with dozens of DP's as an editor and colorist, so this isn't a "me" thing. What I've learned is that the kind of projects I've worked on, it's impossible/impractical to light perfectly on set. You can't afford a G&E team of 15 - 20 guys on a low-budget show. So you've got multiple company moves a day, maybe a dozen setup's per location, it's very challenging and mistakes happen. Also, I have yet to work on a show that has been able to afford a good DIT or rent calibrated monitors on set. So most of the time what I get back from set is completely inconsistent stuff. On one recent show, the A camera was set at 800 ISO for the shoot and the B camera was set to 1250 iso and nobody caught it. You can say that's negligence, but poop like that happens all the time with low budget shows. So yes, we track most faces and do composites on nearly every shot of one kind or another. I've just had to get really good at power windows and making traveling mattes.

 

So yea if your cameras and lenses were spot on consistency wise, this may not be an issue. However, in my experience it's impossible to make them perfect. So everytime you cut from the A camera to the B or C camera there is a distinct shift. Most of the time this shift is color, meaning a lens coating doesn't match or one camera has more light hitting the imager, which makes the image tint towards magenta in certain cases. The ISO issue is very frequent, where the two cameras are locked in ISO, Shutter speed and color wise, but then you're fighting one camera that has some clipping in the highlights the other camera doesn't have.

 

 

I can only say that you must being working with material that is sub-standard. Sure, mistakes happen, but there shouldn't be the kind of problems that you describe with any professionally shot material. Perhaps we have different ideas about what is low budget, but I've involved with movies with budgets in the $500k region, and 15 day schedules, and we've never had those kinds of problems to an extent that requires anything more than occasional fixes.

 

 

With all that said, yes a "look" pass over the entire show, hides 90% of these issues. I personally don't like "look" passes at all. I think they're a cheap way to make stuff look acceptable. I work with a lot of colorists who spend every day they aren't working, developing new looks like zoolander and frankly, I don't care. I want my products to look as natural as possible and that's how I grade them. Sure, sometimes directors and DP's want more, that's fine.

I wasn't talking about applying some off the shelf look to a movie, but setting looks with the colorist for each scene and applying them. That's standard practice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can only say that you must being working with material that is sub-standard. Sure, mistakes happen, but there shouldn't be the kind of problems that you describe with any professionally shot material. Perhaps we have different ideas about what is low budget, but I've involved with movies with budgets in the $500k region, and 15 day schedules, and we've never had those kinds of problems to an extent that requires anything more than occasional fixes.

Yea $350k - $800k in that range. The last film I did was shot by a really top pro on Alexa and it doesn't have many issues, but it was overcast the entire shoot, so there were never issues with sun. They also had a much larger G&E crew then most of the shows I work on, who favor better cast and locations over the camera department. So it's a toss up in that regard.

 

Also... I have noticed with Alexa, the issues are much less present. This current Alexa show I don't think I'm grading sadly, but I've seen the raw files and the A and B cameras are really close to matching, but again they had the money to rent matching lenses and overcast skies help a lot.

 

I wasn't talking about applying some off the shelf look to a movie, but setting looks with the colorist for each scene and applying them. That's standard practice.

Ahh ok yea, that's my workflow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Are you able to tell the difference between an FS7 and an F55 just from looking at the image?

 

 

The sensor and color filter array is different..and native "ISO" but as Stuart says the big difference would be any grading done to the footage I guess.. personally Ive shot with both.. Slog3.cine.. with a decent grader, tv delivery and I couldn't see any difference .. the main one would be F55 has global shutter.. so flash from stills camera.. fast pans etc .. in those shots you would see a big difference..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you know what you're looking for, there are subtle differences in the color reproduction, and the F55 handles highlights much better. Of course, once it's been graded, all the bets are off.

 

So I could shoot something with an Ursa Mini 4K and make it look like it came out of the F55? Thinking of getting some shots to look like "Haters Back Off!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't seen the show you're talking about, but generally you can always 'dumb down' a good camera to look like a less good camera. It's considerably harder to go the other way. I'd be less concerned with what camera that show uses, and more interested what the actual look is. What do the colors and the contrast look like? What angles and focal lengths do they use? There is far more to the look of a show than "what camera did they shoot this on?".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't seen the show you're talking about, but generally you can always 'dumb down' a good camera to look like a less good camera. It's considerably harder to go the other way. I'd be less concerned with what camera that show uses, and more interested what the actual look is. What do the colors and the contrast look like? What angles and focal lengths do they use? There is far more to the look of a show than "what camera did they shoot this on?".

 

Thank you for replying, Stuart. If you have a second, this is the trailer.

 

 

The director created that look to be "as close to NAPOLEON DYNAMITE as possible" but it ended up being its own thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Assuming that you're talking about the main narrative look, rather than the videos she creates, I don't really see anything particularly unusual in terms of lighting, color and contrast. It's a pretty standard high key comedy look. The keys are fairly flat and frontal, and there are backlights from high angles. The only unusual thing is the use of wide angle lenses on her close ups. Honestly, I don't see that their choice of camera has anything to do with how it looks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Assuming that you're talking about the main narrative look, rather than the videos she creates, I don't really see anything particularly unusual in terms of lighting, color and contrast. It's a pretty standard high key comedy look. The keys are fairly flat and frontal, and there are backlights from high angles. The only unusual thing is the use of wide angle lenses on her close ups. Honestly, I don't see that their choice of camera has anything to do with how it looks.

 

Well it's just that there's this weird grey look to it, similar to that Marvista thing called ANABELLE HOOPER which was shot with the FS7. In the Marvista crap it looked bad because it was supposed to be a high energy kids picture, but in HATERS BACK OFF it works because the director's vision was that entire thing is meant to induce a quasi-nightmarish sense of awkwardness, which only starts making sense midway through season one, but once it hits you, it really explains why these choices were made.

 

But yeah, they used wide angles on everything, it seems.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



  • Wooden Camera



    Glidecam



    Tai Audio



    Gamma Ray Digital Inc



    CineLab



    Ritter Battery



    Paralinx LLC



    New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment



    Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS



    Metropolis Post



    Rig Wheels Passport



    Visual Products



    Serious Gear



    Abel Cine



    Broadcast Solutions Inc


×
×
  • Create New...