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Empire Strikes Back


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#1 Steven C. Boone

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 09:57 AM

Possibly the dreamiest integration of cinematography, effects and production design ever. Or at least ever to spring from G. Lucas's head. It looks so gorgeous on the special edition DVD. It's as blue as "Matrix Reloaded" is green.

This and Cronenberg's equally icy "Crash" make Peter Suschitzky one of my favorite of the bigtime Ho'wood DP's. Dumb general question: What, cinematographically, contributed to Empire's cool, refrigerated look?
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#2 fstop

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 11:09 AM

Overcast weather, exclusive use of softlight, coloured gels. The rest is about 80% art direction.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 12:12 PM

Yes, a lot of it is the winter location, art direction, and lightly-colored lighting, combined with a lot of soft but contrasty set lighting. It has a "northern" window light look. The Low-Con filters used add a slightly blue-ish glow to some of the lights, plus there are the blue-ish anamorphic lens flares now & then.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 02:02 PM

Here are some frames to show what I mean about the degrees of cool, soft light used in the film, plus the light LowCon filtration (the best photographed of all the "Star Wars" films in my book):

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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 02:13 PM

Hi,

That's got to be a recent retransfer, and a fairly considerable re-grade - last time I saw that broadcast, it didn't look anything even remotely like that - it looked like a rather typical flat, mushy early-80s movie!

Phil
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 02:31 PM

David: Great frame grab of the Imperial commander in the AT-AT cockpit. I really love that shot. Don't know what it is about it. It's almost subliminally evil. I love the smug look on the guy's face. Empire Strikes Back is also full of very inventive SFX. I recall the SFX crew told Lucas that one couldn't do SFX against white snowy backdrops, but they solved the problem through some creative contrast manipulation in the printing stage.

Regards.
~Karl Borowski
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 03:46 PM

Hi,

Photochemical bluescreen typically produces a thin black line around the matted object. Not too much of a problem for space scenes, but obviously in the snow it's a bit of an issue.

I saw a documentary - concerning the remastering they did on the original effects elements - suggesting that much of the snow stuff actually ended up slightly transparent because they were cheating back the relative exposures of everything to minimise the problem. They showed composites where this was slightly visible as a degree of transparency in the cockpit framing.

Phil
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#8 K Borowski

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 07:03 PM

I saw a documentary - concerning the remastering they did on the original effects elements - suggesting that much of the snow stuff actually ended up slightly transparent because they were cheating back the relative exposures of everything to minimise the problem. They showed composites where this was slightly visible as a degree of transparency in the cockpit framing.


That's where I saw it as well Phil. They were fortunate that they didn't lose the original SFX elements as they did on Episode IV due to the poor longevity of CRI film.
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 07:58 PM

That's where I saw it as well Phil. They were fortunate that they didn't lose the original SFX elements as they did on Episode IV due to the poor longevity of CRI film.


Luckily in the original film, the CRI shots were mainly the wipe transitions and the light saber effects; the wipes were redone optically again by ILM using the original elements for the restoration (it was not done digitally, oddly enough.)
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#10 K Borowski

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 08:41 PM

Luckily in the original film, the CRI shots were mainly the wipe transitions and the light saber effects; the wipes were redone optically again by ILM using the original elements for the restoration (it was not done digitally, oddly enough.)


Very interesting David. I had just assumed that they used CRI for all the special effects in Episode IV because they meant having to go through only one dupe instead of two. Do you have any insight as to why they only used CRI for those effects? Or were those perhaps the only effects where the CRIs weren't salvageable.

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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 08:50 PM

Very interesting David. I had just assumed that they used CRI for all the special effects in Episode IV because they meant having to go through only one dupe instead of two. Do you have any insight as to why they only used CRI for those effects? Or were those perhaps the only effects where the CRIs weren't salvageable.

Regards.
~Karl Borowski


The majority of composite effects used YCM's or color IP/IN -- only a handful of composites were done with CRI's and they were all considered unusable in the restoration, so they were tossed out and redone. Luckily Lucasfilm has a great archive and never throws away any piece of film, so all the original negatives were available (except, for some reason, the Jabba the Hut scene, which only existed as a dupe.)

I don't know why CRI's were used in the 1970's for some effects but not others, but one reason may be that for some types of composites, you need to work with color-timed positive (IP) elements in the projector side of the optical printer, wheras a composite using CRI's must have been an interesting approach since you skip a generation. I assume you put original negative in the projector side of the optical printer and copy onto a CRI to create a dupe negative, so it was probably limited to simple burn-ins and these wipes using hold-out mattes in bipack with the original 35mm anamorphic negative.

With VistaVision being used for the majority of efx shots, it would be harder to go directly from a VistaVision original negative to a 35mm anamorphic dupe negative in one generation, though possible.

The AC article on the restoration (Feb. 1997) mentions that the cut neg had four stocks: 5247 (camera neg), 5253 & 5243 (color intermediate film, older and newer version), and CRI's (5249 I believe.)

Edited by David Mullen, 14 December 2005 - 09:00 PM.

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#12 Steven C. Boone

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 10:19 PM

Hi,

That's got to be a recent retransfer, and a fairly considerable re-grade - last time I saw that broadcast, it didn't look anything even remotely like that - it looked like a rather typical flat, mushy early-80s movie!

Phil


A re-transfer, sure, but even on VHS and cable in the '80s, the cool palette was always there. Design is design. S'like saying the deep focus in Citizen Kane is the result of remastering. Well, you know what I mean...
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#13 fstop

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 10:26 AM

I personally found the softlight to be overkill on Empire, even monotonous. Making it look like a Ingmar Bergman film may have helped the filmmakers formally commit to the content, but where's the fantasy escapism? I dearly missed the often theatrical hardlight of the first film and was very pleased to see what Alan Hume did with part 3.

Speaking of which, Jedi was shot in Joe Dunton's patented JDC-scope, was it not? Definitely anamorphic? I haven't seen the movie in some time, so can't recall what the lens flares were like.

Is JDC-scope just another anamorphic variation? I found this at imdb: CLICK ME
Why is it used so infrequently? How has it survived for so long?
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#14 Max Jacoby

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 10:36 AM

The film is definitely anamorhic.

Joe Dunton's lenses are adapted spherical lenses from both the Cooke S2/S3 and the Zeiss Superspeeds. It is true that his lenses are not used that often (for a rundown of recent projects check www.joedunton.com). Being based on old Cooke lenses, they are not that sharp and certainly don't compare to modern anamorphics like the Primos or Hawks in terms of contrast and color-matching. Still some great films have been shot on them and some Dops like their more vintage look, like Darius Kondhji who used them in 'The Interpreter'
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#15 fstop

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 10:45 AM

Thanks for that Max!

Ah yes, I remember Phil Meheux describing them in the AC that covered the Bond film Goldeneye.

Where it becomes a bit more confusing:

Alan Hume in his autobiography explains that on Lifeforce (shot in JDCscope with lots of anamorphic lens flares) they saved money on film by not using as many perfs. How does that make sense when he's describing clearly anamorphic and not Super35 images???
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#16 Max Jacoby

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 11:20 AM

Yeah, Phil Meheux is one of those who likes the JDC Cookes. He also shot 'Entrapment' on them, although he rented the lenses from Panavision. There they are called Cooke Xtal Express, and although they carry a different name, they are made by JDC as well. Other peple who use them regularly are Michael Seresin and Oliver Stapleton.

I don't understand Alan Hume's comment either, especially since in those days there was no 3 perf yet. Maybe he's referring to another format?
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#17 Steven C. Boone

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 11:20 AM

I personally found the softlight to be overkill on Empire, even monotonous. Making it look like a Ingmar Bergman film may have helped the filmmakers formally commit to the content, but where's the fantasy escapism? I dearly missed the often theatrical hardlight of the first film and was very pleased to see what Alan Hume did with part 3.


Well, with no Bergman point of reference at age 7, I found Empire's soft lighting to be an eye-popping "escape" from hard-lit everyday reality. I wanted to crawl into that cozy ice cave and stay.

But thanks for the Scope info.
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#18 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 02:19 PM

The film is definitely anamorhic.

Joe Dunton's lenses are adapted spherical lenses from both the Cooke S2/S3 and the Zeiss Superspeeds. It is true that his lenses are not used that often (for a rundown of recent projects check www.joedunton.com). Being based on old Cooke lenses, they are not that sharp and certainly don't compare to modern anamorphics like the Primos or Hawks in terms of contrast and color-matching. Still some great films have been shot on them and some Dops like their more vintage look, like Darius Kondhji who used them in 'The Interpreter'


---I think they're basicaly the same as Technovision. They both use the same Shiga anamorphic sections.
'The Interpreter' used lenses from both JDC and Technovision. So it would seem that there simply aren't as many sets of these lenses as there are of Panavision lenses.

---LV
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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 02:40 PM

The nice thing about Panavision is the sheer volume and range of anamorphic lenses. Other places may only have one set of anamorphic lenses and only in one size -- for example, I found out on the CML that CamTec in Burbank now carries Hawk V-Series, which is great, except what do I do when I need a Steadicam shot? Sub-rent a Hawk C-Series from Clairmont? Panavision even has a 90mm slant-focus anamorphic lens, which I don't see in anyone else's catalog, they have old Super-Speeds, etc. Plus generally you can get a better rental price from Panavision for their scope lenses.
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#20 Max Jacoby

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 04:45 PM

The Hawks V-Series are not lightweight, but you can still put them on the Steadicam, on my last two films we've done it for instance.


---I think they're basicaly the same as Technovision. They both use the same Shiga anamorphic sections.
'The Interpreter' used lenses from both JDC and Technovision. So it would seem that there simply aren't as many sets of these lenses as there are of Panavision lenses.

The lenses are very similar. The weight, stop and minimum focus vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. I think there are enough sets around, but the hardest thing is to find matching sets of lenses. The quality varies from lens to lens and not every lens is good. Even on 'The Interpreter' the sharpness and contrast sometimes changed from cut to cut if they switched to another focal length.
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