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Andrei Pacuraru

History of Motion Picture Film Stock

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Since we're all stuck in our houses the possibilities of doing what we love as cinematographers are somewhat limited. Thus I've been watching way more films and getting proficient at grading since I feel it's the one skill I can develop during lookdown that will help me know what I can get away with whenever we get back to work. I ended up playing a lot with luts and film emulation plugins and that kind of got me thinking.

While the look of a lot of films made in the past 10 years is relatively easy to reproduce as I'm more familiar with the tools in use, the further I go back in time the harder it gets to find info on the processes employed.

As someone who went to film school at the tail end of the 2000s in the eastern block, I'm somewhat familiar with older tools and techniques, having shot my fair share of 5205, 5207 and 5222 through a Moviecam SuperAmerica or Arriflex 2C. While watching older and older films one can kind of see when the Vision I/II/III stocks came onto the market but I find anything older than that on made by Fuji a mystery.

Both Fuji and Kodak have some dry documentation available online about their products starting in the mid-90s but it's pretty hard to equate that with a look. The only way I can figure out at the moment is to try to go through the ASC Magazine back catalogue and try to find what stock trickery and specific stocks they were using on something like THX 1138 or The Conformist.

The emulsion had such an important role in how we worked and how films looked that I was wondering if anyone knows of a more centralised resource or if possible a nice coffee table (or more serious) book that chronicles the evolution of film stocks from the first Eddison perforated stock through Technicolour and ECN.

If such a publication or resource exists I would be forever gratefull to whoever points me to it as "the algorithm" has faild me.

I remember doing some side by side tests between 5217 and 5293 and finding that the EXR stock had pretty muddy blacks but would saturate in a really pleasing manner in the upper part of the curve or when pushed. I'm looking for examples like this but more universal and tied to specific films/ approaches.

Thanks.

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It was easier in the days when Kodak had one stock at a time though for the year of the transition, it’s hard to know which movies used the previous versus the new stock, like in 1968 when 5251 50T was replaced in mid year by 5254 100T.

Then there was the messy release of 5247 100T in 1974, along with the switch from ECN to ECN2 processing, so disliked by Hollywood cinematographers that Kodak kept selling 5254 until the summer of 1976 when an improved 5247 came along. But for most U.K. and European movies, they started using 5247 by the end of 1974.

But this means that “Star Wars” was shot on the old 5247 (except for postproduction vfx) but probably “Close Encounters” was partly shot on the new 5247 except for 65mm footage shot on 5254 — because “Star Wars” had a March start date but “Close Encounters” had a May start date.

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FWIW, Ron Garcia shot the Twin Peaks pilot with Fuji stock. He preferred the reds that it gave. (He also used coral filters). I guess these days it's just a dial away in Resolve? He didn't say which stock it was, and there were two to choose from from that time. I have asked some people but I never got an answer. Here's the interview with The ASC:

https://ascmag.com/podcasts/twin-peaks-pilot-1990-ron-garcia-asc

I do like the fact that a lot of DPs preferred to do as much as possible before and during shooting. Even for today, and even for digital, I would prefer this approach.

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Thank you @David Mullen ASC for your thorough reply, this is a bit of a full-circle moment, I think I studied on one of the textbooks you authored in the early 2000s. 

 

The Kodak link helped a lot in clarifying the chronology and milestones that they went through. With this info and a bit of help from shotonwhat.com and IMDB I've managed to get a loose picture of that evolution. I might be overgeneralizing so please correct me if I'm wrong but it seems that a similar process that we've witnessed with the introduction of digital has been going on in the development of colour negative since the mid-30s. The advancements seem to come in pairs of technical proficiency and aesthetic possibility.

 

It seems that they were trying to balance the same challenges of speed, noise, dynamic range, spatial resolution, colour gamut and the somewhat difficult to define "look"

 

Since the lockdown in the UK doesn't seem to be going anywhere I think I'm going to start looking into possible ways of emulating some of the defunct stocks. 

 

I guess ideally we would have a fresh batch or of stock and do a stepped range of exposures and run the developed through a densitometer then correlate the densities to Cineon values and then make a conversion LUT. Almost anything can be accomplished in grading but the means seem somewhat unrigorous. 

 

I've tracked down some software that claim emulation to some degree or another: 

 

  • Film Convert Nitrate
  • Impulz LUTs
  • DXO Film Pack
  • Tiffen Dfx


Unfortunately, most budgets and timelines don't allow for film acquisition while at the same time many of us really enjoy the photochemical "look" so I'm kind of looking to broaden my understanding of the toolbelt we have "in the box".
 

Dfx stands out to me as a plugin made by people from the "old industry" but if anyone here has used any of these or others recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

 

It seems they all have emulators for the current Portra 400 stills stock, which seems to be based on the Vision 3 tech. What would be a somewhat reliable "at home" testing protocol?

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The real milestone in movie color negative was 1950 when the first Eastmancolor negative 5247 was released. Some say it was based on Agfa's invention of color negative during WW2 but Kodak invented the orange color mask that improved color in the prints made from the negative. By 1955, Eastmancolor had killed the Technicolor 3-strip camera process (but not the dye transfer printing process.)

I have a whole book on the invention of color negative at Kodak, given to me as a gift -- John Waner's "Hollywood's Conversion of All Production to Color". 

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The Ron Garcia interview was a great Monday morning breakfast listen @Karim D. Ghantous, thanks.

I think you are very right about the virtues of doing it "in camera", I am eternally grateful for the drilling and grilling that I underwent during my formative years while shooting on film. The cost and somewhat limited manipulation possibilities forced one to prepare more, conceptualise more, to study more and to as strange as it might sound, take it seriously.

It's such a shame that, to my knowledge, maybe a handful of film schools in the world are still using film as a primary didactic tool.

As for Fuji, Superia Reala 100 is one of my favourite stills stocks as it's clean sharp and saturated right out of the box. I really like the separation between red and green it offers, I recall what seems in hindsight to be a somewhat racy anecdote one of my old professors had. He theorised that the higher than "normal" output of the reds was to help out the paler Asian skin tones of its domestic market.

It would be great if there were some kind of repository for all of these stocks paired with projects they've been used on and both their technical and subjective qualities. As much as we like to think that we're all painting with light so much of what we do is tied to playing the strengths of the boxes that record process and reproduce our work.

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Trouble is that unless you can view prints, the colors of these old stocks used have to go through a digital color-correction step -- if they don't clean things up too much, you perhaps could compare graininess and sharpness between movies (of course the lens issues affect this as well, and filters) but you'd have a hard time deciding whether that shade of red or orange or green was a characteristic of the stock or the transfer to digital. Plus then it has to be seen on a monitor with its own settings. And it's all an additive color system not a subtractive color system like with film prints. Same problem goes for contrast and black level.

And even with viewing prints, an old print will have shifted and faded and a new print will be on a new print stock that the old negative was not designed for or color-timed for. Plus the negative itself might have shifted and faded a bit (yellow dye is the least stable in color stocks.)

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Posted (edited)

Don't know if it is all right or not, but looks good Brian!

Always put your name on your work. I downloaded a PDF of it and it had no author. 

The file just said: 

kodak motion stocks history - Sheet1

If you are not making $ on the project you should at least get credit for it Brian unless you don't want to be associated with it.  

 

 

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Posted (edited)

No, have not seen the Kodak chronology before...Thanks!

Kodak came out with Sonochrome in 1921? I thought it was later.

1921  

  • Cine-Positive tinted stocks available in: lavender, red, green, blue, pink, light amber, yellow, orange and dark amber.

Wiki says 1928 if they are talking about the same films.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonochrome

 

I see lots of tinted stock in my cine' film archive. But most of it is amber colored. I'd love to see from purple and greens. 

 

I wrote to the lady that wiki sourced the Sonochrome info from (Barbara Flueckiger). I inquired about some tinted DuPont stock I had acquired. But she never wrote back. 

 

https://filmcolors.org/timeline-entry/1330/#/

 

 

 

 

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Yeah, I think most of the stuff from Wikipedia was sourced directly from that Kodak page. I was mainly focused on color negative and print stocks when making this. Plus it was harder to find consistent info on the older B&W stocks. But since I'm putting it out there I might as well try to add those.

Also, I'm not quite sure when 5247 was discontinued. Not many movies that I know of were shot on it after the EXR line came out, but I found a Kodak document from 1993 on 5247: https://125px.com/docs/motionpicture/kodak/ti0835.pd

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5247 was discontinued some time in 1994. I know that because John Toll shot "Legends of the Fall" (1994) on 5247 but had to use 5248 EXR 100T for "Braveheart" (1995).

I also did a super low-budget 35mm feature in 1995 and remember getting ahold of re-canned 5247 plus 5296 to shoot it on and thinking "well, if they were good enough for John Toll, who am I to complain?"

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19 hours ago, Brian E. Rutan said:

Yeah, I think most of the stuff from Wikipedia was sourced directly from that Kodak page. I was mainly focused on color negative and print stocks when making this. Plus it was harder to find consistent info on the older B&W stocks. But since I'm putting it out there I might as well try to add those.

Also, I'm not quite sure when 5247 was discontinued. Not many movies that I know of were shot on it after the EXR line came out, but I found a Kodak document from 1993 on 5247: https://125px.com/docs/motionpicture/kodak/ti0835.pd

Since my initial post, I've gone down a similar rabbit hole: spreadsheet (though less organised), scratching my head about when things got discontinued, trying to make sense of how the product offering changed and how that affected the creative process. The path seems to brach so much that one looses sight of what their initial goal was.

Even though the historical data of this endeavour has become more clear in the past few weeks, the aesthetic aspect requires copious guesswork. Let's take for instance 1960's "Spartacus" an educated guess based on the data I've come across would put it in the ECN I 5248 era.

Though also looking at the data it suggests that Kodak did not have a daylight-balanced stock out for the better part of the 50s.

I'm starting to think that this sort of endeavour of mapping the stocks to the films they were used on would be much better suited for a crowdsourced database, preferably with data from professionals with first-hand account when possible.

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"Spartacus" started shooting on Jan. 27, 1959. This is from the Jan. 1961 American Cinematographer issue on "Spartacus":

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 2.16.12 PM.jpg

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Now perhaps "Spartacus" started out on 5248 and then switched to 5250 when they got into the stages.

It's a subject I also find fascinating and frustrating, what stock a movie used when it was in production the year the new stock came out. Same goes for 1968 when 5254 came out in mid-year.

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