I looked at a range of old 1950's movies on blu-ray in HD to get a sense of 35mm color grain levels back then -- the truth is that they vary quite a bit, partially due to whatever the quality was of the source but also whether the movie was shot in 3-strip Technicolor or Kodak Eastmancolor negative and whether the Eastmancolor was regular 4-perf 35mm or 8-perf VistaVision. As you can imagine, the regular 4-perf 35mm color negative stuff from the 1950's was the grainiest. The VistaVision movies Hitchcock made like "Vertigo" and "North By Northwest" though are pretty fine-grained compared to "Marnie" or "The Birds".
I also saw a blu-ray of "Bell, Book, and Candle" (shot by James Wong Howe) which was quite grainy but not atypical for regular 4-perf 35mm of the late 1950's.
Here are some frames from the two movies on blu-ray, cropped to 900 pixels rather than reduced from 1920 pixels, just so the grain is easier to see:
"Bell, Book, and Candle" (4-perf 35mm) CROPPED
"Vertigo" (8-perf 35mm) CROPPED
Now I know this is an unscientific comparison because I have no idea of the source materials used ("Bell, Book, and Candle" looks like it was reconstructed from b&w separations, whereas most of "Vertigo" was restored from original negative when possible) but I looked at these movies in HD just to get a sense of what "old" color movies look like, quality-wise.
At the same time, I saw a 4K restoration of the 3-strip Technicolor movie "Tales of Hoffman" digitally projected at CineFamily (Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax) and it was incredibly sharp and fine-grained.
So at first I thought that perhaps 500T stock would get me closer to the graininess of 1950's 35mm Kodak stock, but for the director, it was more important to get closer to the color saturation of these older movies, she wasn't interested in a grainy image.
She also believes that by using slow film and adding a lot of artificial light, you cause colors to stand out more. Now while in theory all of the Kodak Vision 3 stocks from 50D to 500T match in contrast and saturation (for better or worse), and thus if I had used just as much light for Vision 3 500T stock and just stopped down the lens more, I should have gotten the same color saturation as 200T but what's nice about using the slower stocks is that you can't really cheat, you have to use the high light levels. And by using a lot of light, particularly from the front, you sort of obliterate a lot of natural ambience that sort of robs the contrast, and what you get back has more punch to it. So the slow film sort of forces your hand in terms of being more direct with the light.
Because she didn't want grain, my other thought to rate 200T normally at 200 ASA and push one stop for more contrast and 1-stop extra density, then print down, was dropped too -- if 100T stock had existed, this might have been a good idea though. Of course, we would have spent more money push-processing the whole movie. But I have found in the past that pushing Vision 3 stocks does make them a bit more saturated. So the best solution was to overexpose 200T for more density in the negative.
If Fuji still existed with their "Vivid" 250D and 500T stocks, that might have been worth investigating but unfortunately I probably would have needed a 250T Vivid stock, which they never made.
The best stocks probably would have been Kodak EXR 100T 5248 or EXR 200T 5293 -- the EXR stocks in general had a nice snap to them.
Anna and I talked about older lenses, i.e. older than the mid-1970's Zeiss Super Speeds, but for her previous movie made seven years ago, she had looked at older Cooke Pancros and probably B&L Baltars and didn't like the loss of contrast and the yellowness (from the aging of the coatings).
So Zeiss Super-Speeds were about as far back in time as I wanted to go, plus I intended to use lens diffusion and didn't want to be limited by overly old optics where I might be forced to shoot clean just to get a semi-sharp image. The Super-Speeds are pretty sharp, sharper than I remembered actually, though the sharpness drops off quickly below f/2.8. I could have considered shooting most of the movie on a Cooke 20-100mm, which dates back to the early 1970's, but then I'd be limited to an f/3.5 or so, almost an f/4, and I had a hard enough time getting to an f/2.8. Plus many color movies from the beginning of Technicolor were shot at f/2.8 so that type of depth of field seemed ideal in terms of matching that look.
I don't know his JPEG compression level but the original JPEG is 795 KB.
That's fairly harsh. Assuming HD frames, 1920*1080*3/1024 = 6075 KB.
6095/795 = 7.67:1
When MJPEG compression was used for broadcast, compression of no more than 3:1 was considered reasonable. Slightly smarter codecs, such as ProRes and DNxHD, which use broadly similar mathematics, can look good at higher ratios.
Thanks for your thorough postings on this, David. Did you happen to do exposure tests for saturation before production? If so, how extensive?
The nightclub scenes remind me a bit of Geoffrey Unsworth’s work on “Cabaret”. It’s refreshing to see this done in todays age, but also a stark reminder of how much contemporary cinematography has departed from this style.
This past week, after a hiatus of a couple of weeks, we regathered to finish the movie, shooting four days. The main thing we owed was the opening and the closing of the movie -- the opening was a driving sequence with rear-projection on a stage, and the closing was to be shot on our Renaissance Faire set, but due to heavy rain the week we shot, we never got to shoot the ending, which required a horse and it was too muddy on a hillside to safely shoot horses that day. So we had to reconstruct our Faire set in Griffith Park.
Monday was spent in a Victorian home in the historic Angelino Heights district. We had day scenes shot with small HMI's and Mole-Richardson Daylight LED fresnels and then we tented the house and shot night scenes with tungsten units, mostly 1K fresnels:
On Wednesday and Thursday we shot in Griffith Park. We had some close-ups shot on a stage outside in the sun, but when we got to them, the sun was directly overhead -- on a modern film, I'd usually soften it with a light silk, but for this old-school style, I decided to knock out most of the overhead light with a full silk combined with a Double Net scrim, and then light the faces with a M90 (9K) HMI. Diffusion on the lens was a Black Net + 1/4 Classic Soft:
For a flashback scene, I was able to use a heavier Dior net on the lens. It was overcast in the morning, so I had to create sunlight with the M90 and key with an M18 (1.8K) HMI:
The last day we were on a small stage shooting driving scenes with a 15K Lumens LCD projector playing QuickTimes from my laptop of background plates shot with my little Sony NEX6 camera. We had shots in woods, along the coast, on a mountaintop, and in town:
Since the projector was daylight (Xenon source), I used the 250D stock. Even with 15,000 lumens, I only got a f/2.0 at 160 ASA from the screen. I had tested a 3-chip DLP projector at VER, the rental house, the week before we shot, but I got odd banding/flickering with my 24P Sony camera shooting the test (we didn't have to budget to drag in a 35mm movie camera to test the projector that way). I just read Phil on CML saying that this was due to the rolling shutter of my 24P camera, but when I tested an LCD projector, the problem went away and I figured if it worked for my little Sony camera running at 24P, it would work with a 24 fps film camera.
I should mention that we rented a 12'x6' rear projection screen and the projector was about 12 feet behind it.
Most of the plates were shot with a 20mm lens on my Sony NEX6 camera, but I also tried a 35mm lens and a zoom set to 25mm-ish. Ultimately, it seemed that the wider focal lengths were better because our close-ups in the foreground cropped the background plate naturally to a tighter shot as if shot with a longer focal length. The medium shot of her driving (above) was done with a 50mm lens and the close-up with an 85mm lens.
I didn't really attempt to recreate natural light on the car but even if I did, the problem with a Mustang turns out is that the top of the windshield frame leans back only a foot or so from the forehead of the driver, so there is no way to get a high frontal key light without a big shadow from the windshield top + sun visors, if you try to key above that, the light is almost right over the top of the head, so you have to lower the key light way, way down - you can see here that the key light, a 2K daylight Mole LED fresnel, was at the bottom of the baby stand and I barely could clear the shadow of the window off of her eyes.
Again, the word that comes to mind is "lovely!" I look forward to seeing it.
How'd the rear-projection shots come out? That's a big job for a stills camera. Was/is it standard to let the live action camera lens crop the background plate, rather than shoot and project the background plate to match the shot size?
In this case, the background screen was never going to be in-focus (especially not at f/2.0) so I didn't think it was necessary to bother with shooting the plates in 35mm, I didn't need the grain and I didn't need the resolution. But since I hadn't done rear-projection before, the focal length of the plates was a question. The old rule was to use the same focal length as you'd use on the set, but I realized that this assumes that you'll shoot right up to the edges of the screen with no cropping, as soon as you crop within the screen, you've created a tighter view of the background. Plus it probably matters more if the foreground subject has some sort of obvious perspective to it, vanishing lines, etc. I knew that the worst thing would be to shoot the plates with too long of a focal length because the background then might look enlarged compared to the foreground, out of scale, and I think that would be worse than the other direction.
Now that I've done it, I don't think the old movies necessarily used a tighter plate for the close-ups because then they would have to move the projector closer to the screen to fill less of it -- that would have the advantage of being brighter and thus allowing them to stop down more, so it probably depended on how much they needed the extra light from the screen when they went in tighter. If they wanted to shoot at the same stop as the wider shot and the cropped background looked OK in the tighter shot because it was more out-of-focus, then they probably used the same plate as the wide shot.
But if they had to rack-focus to the screen on a close-up then they'd probably use a new plate with a tighter lens on it and the projector closer so that the image was sharper and less grainy.
I didn't see any rolling shutter artifacts. The Sony was set for a low-contrast look so the dynamic range was OK, probably the same as in the old days of projecting prints for rear-projection scenes. I did however expose the plates on the bright side in case the projector was not very bright. But in that example I posted there is no clipping in the plate, the sky is just a little paler in the area near her head. If anything that plate could have been brighter but I didn't have a way of changing exposure in mid-shot, so I just sort of split the difference between the sections of the road that were in shadow versus in the sun.
It's tricky because I could have shot the plates with an even flatter contrast setting but I was worried about some loss of contrast due to being projected onto a screen.
David.. in the shot with the guy crying in the chair.. was the big shadow of the practical light on the wall behind him.. a sort of homage to how lighting was done in those days.. a lot of the in frame light sources actually having their own shadow..
Look amazing of course.. must have been an interesting challenge to light in "an old style".. and do a lot of things that you would never do in the more naturalistic " modern style "..
Thanks for the additional stills. How tight was the blocking on the set? Did you run into issues with actors hitting marks? Also, given that the rear projection scenes were on a different stock, did you take any additional steps to match the other scenes in the film?
It’s interesting that you didn’t need to change shutter angle for the RP shots, I was under the impression that 172.8 was a more suitable shutter angle for this type of work.
As for that lamp shadow, I could have flagged all the light off of the practical and wall, then perhaps put a glow behind the lamp on the wall to suggest the lamp, but I wouldn't have gotten that pattern of the fringe on the wall, unless I hid a bright halogen bulb in the fixture, but being a period lamp owned by the location, I wasn't going to risk that -- plus I decided it was more interesting to have that pattern on that blank piece of wal from the projected 1K fresnel.
Old movies would often rewire lamps with heat-proof porcelain sockets in order to take bright tungsten movie globes or 500w photofloods in them when they really needed them to light something, but in this case, with ordinary practicals in theory not rated above 60w bulbs, I usually could get away with 150w if I were careful, otherwise it was often a 75w bulb.
The whole movie was storyboarded so for simple stuff, there wasn't much blocking needed, it was already planned out. But we had a number of crowd scenes where we needed to block to figure out where everyone would have to be in the room for the action.
David, the rear screen projection setup looks very convincing. I have noticed in older films using this technique that the focal length used on the plate seemed way too long to match, so I guess you just explained that one for me! Did you use stabilizer with the NEX6 when shooting the plates or just hard mount? Any issues with bumpy footage?
Also, when you say you used a black net plus a Classic Soft 1/4, do you mean that you used one of your custom net filter frames, a net stretched over the back of the lens, or a glass filter like the Tiffen Softnet set?
I have a thin black veil material from a fabric store that is glued to a 4x5 frame, it is lighter than any black pantyhose material I can find. It's sort of like a wedding veil weave in nylon or something synthetic, but it doesn't stretch. Fabric stores sell it in white, black, pink, a few other colors. Bill Wages, ASC showed me this stuff back in 2006. I guess a Tiffen Soft Net might be similar.
The roads were bumpy so I basically shot the plates handheld with the camera resting on a rolled up furniture blanket for a little shock absorption. There are some occasional bumps in the footage. I think if I had the time and money, in the future I'd get all the footage stabilized before playback. Sometimes when a bump happened in the plate, I jiggled the 35mm camera shooting the actress so it felt like we had run over a pothole.
If I were attempting a more modern style where the rear projection had to be more convincing, I'd avoid an open-top covertible so that the view out the windows were smaller and you could justify having the background more overexposed.