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Getting the Look of Spaghetti Westerns


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#1 Stuart T

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Posted 18 December 2005 - 01:29 PM

Hi, I'm using some digital compositing tools to try and mimic as best I can the look of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns (A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). Sources say the color is done in Technicolor. I've found a method for getting a technicolor look (based on how they did it for "Aviator"). But this mimics Technicolor of the 30s. All the colors are very saturated.

Leone's films seem to be more desaturated for that dry, dirty western look. But they do not look like bleach bypass or ENR. According to another thread, he would have used Kodak 5251, 50 ASA tungsten.

Can anyone provide me with information as to how to better mimic his look. Whether it be information on the film used? maybe filters used? processing?

Thanks.
Stu
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#2 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 18 December 2005 - 03:16 PM

There is no 'trickery' involved. Most of the spaghetti-westerns were shot on 2-perf Techniscope and then dye transfer printed to anamorphic release prints. When this old printing system went away in the 70's, you couldn't do 2-perf Techniscope any more since they images became excessively grainy. Today, with the advent of DI, 2-perf is looking good again and it's future is bright.

The old Technicolor look of the 30's, 40's and 50's had to do with the fact that they ran 3-strip film in their cameras - it's a completely different look.

As for the 'style' of Leone et consortes, that takes a film scholar years to dissect. Suffice to say that Leone is perhaps one of the most influential visualists ever, perhaps even the most. I've always said that all you need to know about composition can be learned from two people - Leni Riefenstahl and Sergio Leone. Studying their work is like a masters degree in composition, right there. Maybe Gordon Willis can be added to their company, too.

As for lighting, Sergios work was often the standard high key, hard-lit and filled style that was the rage in those days. It's quite easy to emulate that light with just bounced light and reflectors if you're in a sunny environment.

Edited by AdamFrisch, 18 December 2005 - 03:18 PM.

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#3 John Pytlak RIP

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Posted 18 December 2005 - 04:53 PM

A good starting point today might be Super-16 (to simulate 2-perf Techniscope grain and sharpness), perhaps with a 2.39:1 extraction for telecine or DI. IMHO, the quality when using Kodak VISION2 50D or 100T Color Negative films might actually be too good for graininess, even in Super-16.
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#4 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 18 December 2005 - 05:19 PM

I agree with Adam, Leone's visual style has been very influential.

As for lighting, Sergios work was often the standard high key, hard-lit and filled style that was the rage in those days. It's quite easy to emulate that light with just bounced light and reflectors if you're in a sunny environment.


The light in the Spanish desert is very hard and the sun remains up high for 12 hours, thus requiring that kind of fill in order to get some detail on the faces. Plus, Leone was very fond of deep focus compositions and that's why he was constantly forcing his DPs to put A LOT of light on actor's faces just to stop-down his lenses even more. Working in Techniscope with wide-angle lenses allowed him to achieve those shots, though particularly in "Once Upon a Time in the West" the actors have a "burned" look due to the high amount of light over them.

In terms of color, I would say that only "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" was designed with a muted palette in mind, but that fact had more to do with a careful art direction than filters and film stock. As the characters move during the film from the south (brown) to the north (green) there's a gradual (but subtle) change of colors. On the other hand, you can see high saturated colors in both "For a fistful of dollars" and "For a few dollars more".

Edited by Ignacio Aguilar, 18 December 2005 - 05:24 PM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 December 2005 - 09:58 PM

Yes, I think the color palette is more the consequence of art direction design and location in the Leone films, plus the use of hard light, which affects colors to some degree. Leone loved deep focus and was a sharpness freak, so the hard key light was a way of making the image look sharper plus allow shooting at deeper stops (especially necessary with the zoom lenses used.) The warmth of the production design plus the rather brown "tan" make-up used on the actors (sometimes to make people like Eli Wallach look more Mexican...) plus the desert locations all combine to create the brownish look. The images are also color-timed a little on the warm side.

Edited by David Mullen, 18 December 2005 - 10:00 PM.

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#6 Stuart T

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Posted 19 December 2005 - 04:28 PM

Cool. Thanks for all your replies. I've definitely got a starting place now to do some test shots. In the mean time, I'll keep studying Leone's films.
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#7 Dan Goulder

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Posted 24 December 2005 - 01:08 PM

A good starting point today might be Super-16 (to simulate 2-perf Techniscope grain and sharpness), perhaps with a 2.39:1 extraction for telecine or DI. IMHO, the quality when using Kodak VISION2 50D or 100T Color Negative films might actually be too good for graininess, even in Super-16.


With all due respect, the size and characteristics of the Techniscope frame are actually much closer to that of a Super 35mm 2.35/1 frame than a similar aspect ratio cut from Super 16mm, both in terms of grain and the look and depth of field that's unique to a 35mm lens. Using low speed stock, coupled with an optical blow up, as opposed to the usual D.I., would probablly yield the closest results. I believe those movies were shot mainly with Angenieux zooms, which would also be a factor. I don't know if any prime lenses were used, but if so, I'd like to know which.
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#8 Peter Haas

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Posted 24 December 2005 - 04:22 PM

With all due respect, the size and characteristics of the Techniscope frame are actually much closer to that of a Super 35mm 2.35/1 frame than a similar aspect ratio cut from Super 16mm ...


The height of T'scope is 2 perfs, somewhat less than 0.3543".

(I have an official T'Scope plate and movement update kit for my CP XR-35, and it uses Academy centering, so it is a true 2.35:1, whereas S-35, which is Silent centered, is 2.66:1, more or less).

The height of S-16 is 0.2997" on the neg and 0.3000" on the (contact) print.

The good quality of T'Scope release prints, from such an otherwise small neg, was in large part due to Tech using "direct to matrix", which was usually reserved for its large aperture processes (VVLA, TLA).
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#9 Steve Wallace

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Posted 24 December 2005 - 04:26 PM


A good starting point today might be Super-16 (to simulate 2-perf Techniscope grain and sharpness), perhaps with a 2.39:1 extraction for telecine or DI. IMHO, the quality when using Kodak VISION2 50D or 100T Color Negative films might actually be too good for graininess, even in Super-16.


With all due respect, the size and characteristics of the Techniscope frame are actually much closer to that of a Super 35mm 2.35/1 frame than a similar aspect ratio cut from Super 16mm, both in terms of grain and the look and depth of field that's unique to a 35mm lens. Using low speed stock, coupled with an optical blow up, as opposed to the usual D.I., would probablly yield the closest results. I believe those movies were shot mainly with Angenieux zooms, which would also be a factor. I don't know if any prime lenses were used, but if so, I'd like to know which.

The physical characteristics do come closer to the Super 35 than Super 16. However, these new filmstocks / lens combinations retain way more lpm and resolve more latitude . Supposedly the new VISION2 50D is the sharpest film stock out there...This won't retain the coarse look of the Dollars films in my opinion. I do agree optical would be a better way to go in John example.

To achive this look I would suggest somthing different yet. Either use a faster negative filmstock to achive a coarse grain / and or slightly underexpose. And I would take John's advice one step further. I think super 16 with a center extraction will retain too modern a look. I would suggest using a camera like the B&H Filmo with some of those Baltar pre war lenses (or whatever their called) to reduce contrast and to mute the colors. After that, in post I would crush the blacks, and blow out the highlights. And finally, crop for 2.35. Techniscope is after all an Academy frame that has been cut in half.

Besides, my suggestion would force you to loop your audio because of all the camera noise. Thus, giving an even more authentic Speghetti Western look and feel.

hope it works out...
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#10 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 02:26 PM

With all due respect, the size and characteristics of the Techniscope frame are actually much closer to that of a Super 35mm 2.35/1 frame than a similar aspect ratio cut from Super 16mm, both in terms of grain and the look and depth of field that's unique to a 35mm lens. Using low speed stock, coupled with an optical blow up, as opposed to the usual D.I., would probablly yield the closest results. I believe those movies were shot mainly with Angenieux zooms, which would also be a factor. I don't know if any prime lenses were used, but if so, I'd like to know which.

The physical characteristics do come closer to the Super 35 than Super 16. However, these new filmstocks / lens combinations retain way more lpm and resolve more latitude . Supposedly the new VISION2 50D is the sharpest film stock out there...This won't retain the coarse look of the Dollars films in my opinion. I do agree optical would be a better way to go in John example.

To achive this look I would suggest somthing different yet. Either use a faster negative filmstock to achive a coarse grain / and or slightly underexpose. And I would take John's advice one step further. I think super 16 with a center extraction will retain too modern a look. I would suggest using a camera like the B&H Filmo with some of those Baltar pre war lenses (or whatever their called) to reduce contrast and to mute the colors. After that, in post I would crush the blacks, and blow out the highlights. And finally, crop for 2.35. Techniscope is after all an Academy frame that has been cut in half.

Besides, my suggestion would force you to loop your audio because of all the camera noise. Thus, giving an even more authentic Speghetti Western look and feel.

hope it works out...


---Baltars are not pre-war lenses and they are not uncoated. Universal Techniscope movies probably used Baltars on the Mitchell BNC & NC footage.

I'm assuming that you're suggesting using uncoated lenses. Low contrast and muted colors were not necessarily part of the Techniscope look. "Games" which was Wm.Fraker's first feature used lots of fogs which gave that look, but also enhanced the grain.

'american Grafitti' and the Leone movies are hardly desaturated. The deep orange tanned faces.

Cookes on super16 would be better than R16 with uncoated lenses.

Gotta run.

---LV
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#11 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 03:46 PM

---Baltars are not pre-war lenses and they are not uncoated. Universal Techniscope movies probably used Baltars on the Mitchell BNC & NC footage.

I'm assuming that you're suggesting using uncoated lenses. Low contrast and muted colors were not necessarily part of the Techniscope look. "Games" which was Wm.Fraker's first feature used lots of fogs which gave that look, but also enhanced the grain.

'american Grafitti' and the Leone movies are hardly desaturated. The deep orange tanned faces.

Cookes on super16 would be better than R16 with uncoated lenses.

Gotta run.

---LV

---Where was I?
The orange faces are in the Leone movies.
Muted colors in those movies are due to art direction and the sun bleached locations.

One used to constantly read, often in ads, that 1.85/1 S16, looks like 1.85/1 from the 60s, thus 2.35/1 S16 should look like Techniscope.

5254 which replaced 5251 in 1968 had a resolution of 64 l/mm and an RMs granularity of 7.
5251, which was a stop slower, would be the same.
5247 ECNII, which replaced 5254 and the earlier ECN process was 100 l/mm and RMS 5.
5247 made 16mm color neg practical & came out when Techniscope was discontinued, though it would have helped the process.

Uncoated lenses were not part of the Techniscope look. & if one were to use un-coated C-mounts on 16R, the widest lens will be 15mm, & probably a triplet at that. That's the equilvalent of a 33mm in Techniscope, which is long normal.
A big part of the Leone look is the wide angle close-ups. A 10mm on S16 is what is needed for that look.

---LV
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#12 Steve Wallace

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 05:26 PM

Uncoated lenses were not part of the Techniscope look. & if one were to use un-coated C-mounts on 16R, the widest lens will be 15mm, & probably a triplet at that. That's the equilvalent of a 33mm in Techniscope, which is long normal.
A big part of the Leone look is the wide angle close-ups. A 10mm on S16 is what is needed for that look.

---LV

The reason I brought up uncoated lenses was the because the original post wanted a desaturated look. Not because I believe the films have it. I agree the the first two pictures are hyper saturated. Now that I looked it up, I don't know why I thought Filmo's shipped with Baltar lenses. I meant the Taylor Hobson lenses that they shipped with should be used. Sorry about the confusion there.

But you bring up a great point regarding the wide shot close ups on faces. However, with Super 16 and a 10mm lens a lot will be needed to be done in post to achive a similar texture. Still I think the Leone movies had more contrasty / coarse images, juxtaposed between extreme long shots and super close ups.
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#13 Dan Goulder

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 10:08 PM

The height of T'scope is 2 perfs, somewhat less than 0.3543".

(I have an official T'Scope plate and movement update kit for my CP XR-35, and it uses Academy centering, so it is a true 2.35:1, whereas S-35, which is Silent centered, is 2.66:1, more or less).

The height of S-16 is 0.2997" on the neg and 0.3000" on the (contact) print.

The good quality of T'Scope release prints, from such an otherwise small neg, was in large part due to Tech using "direct to matrix", which was usually reserved for its large aperture processes (VVLA, TLA).


You're overlooking the fact that a 2.35:1 extraction taken from super 16mm is only .207" high.
For comparison, when cropped for an anamorphic 35mm blow up, these are the frame sizes:

T-scope frame is .373" high x .866" wide
Super 35mm cropped for anamorphic is .394" high x .945" wide
Super 16mm cropped for anamorphic is .207" high x .488" wide

You can see that T-scope and Super 35 are in the same ballpark. Super 16 cropped for anamorphic isn't even close. Projected on a large screen in 35mm scope, there's a world of difference between super 16 and T-scope. (If you have the opportunity, check out a new optically restored print of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which is making the rounds of the cinemateque circuit. It looks great, even by today's standards.)
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#14 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 27 December 2005 - 03:38 PM

You're overlooking the fact that a 2.35:1 extraction taken from super 16mm is only .207" high.
For comparison, when cropped for an anamorphic 35mm blow up, these are the frame sizes:

T-scope frame is .373" high x .866" wide
Super 35mm cropped for anamorphic is .394" high x .945" wide
Super 16mm cropped for anamorphic is .207" high x .488" wide

You can see that T-scope and Super 35 are in the same ballpark. Super 16 cropped for anamorphic isn't even close. Projected on a large screen in 35mm scope, there's a world of difference between super 16 and T-scope. (If you have the opportunity, check out a new optically restored print of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which is making the rounds of the cinemateque circuit. It looks great, even by today's standards.)


You're ignoring the improvements in film stocks since the 60s.
The grain and sharpness of S16 blowups today is close to that of 35mm from the 60s.
The sharpness has about doubled, graininess halved.

This article about restoring 'the King and I' which was shot on 55mm 5248, a 25asa stock from the mid 50s,
states that the graininess of the 55mm C'Scope frame is about the same as 35mm C'Scope 5279:

http://in70mm.com/ne...emascope/55.htm

The grain of the 5251 of the Leone films has a slight improvement over that 5248 (Kodak recycles stock numbers).
When Kodak brought out the ECNII process in the earlier 70s, ironically when Techniscope was discontinued with the IB process, there was a big advaance in reduced grain and higher resolution. 5247 (same number as the first Eastman color negative in '49) had an RMS of 5, compared to 5254/5251's 7.
Which means that 5247 Techniscope would have the same grain as C'Scope 5254.
There have been even more improvements in grain and sharpness since then.

Indeed a S16 2.35/1 neg today would produce an image closer to a 1965 T'scope original than a S35 OCN would. The S35 would look too good. Not that the old Techniscope looks bad.

So how much better Techniscope look today.
It would be great to see more 'Scope documentaries.


---LV
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 December 2005 - 06:40 PM

Just from a technical level, to match the Techniscope quality of the mid 1960's, I'd either shoot Super-35 using faster film and older lenses, or Super-16 with slow film and the best optics I could get.
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#16 Dan Goulder

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Posted 27 December 2005 - 09:37 PM

You're ignoring the improvements in film stocks since the 60s.
The grain and sharpness of S16 blowups today is close to that of 35mm from the 60s.
The sharpness has about doubled, graininess halved.

Indeed a S16 2.35/1 neg today would produce an image closer to a 1965 T'scope original than a S35 OCN would. The S35 would look too good. Not that the old Techniscope looks bad.

So how much better Techniscope look today.
It would be great to see more 'Scope documentaries.
---LV


Enough speculation. I suggest you try blowing up a 2.35/1 extract from a super 16mm frame to 35mm anamorphic, then project it in a nice size theater. I've seen it done, and the results are not pretty, even by 1965 T'scope standards. (You'll get more grain than Sergio Leone's worst nightmare.) Remember, this thread was started by someone who wanted to emulate the look of a Sergio Leone western. If he can figure out how to light, frame, and compose shots to look like that, then the last thing in the world he needs to worry about is if it looks GRAINY enough. Please.

Edited by dgoulder, 27 December 2005 - 09:46 PM.

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#17 Steve Wallace

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Posted 27 December 2005 - 11:05 PM

If he can figure out how to light, frame, and compose shots to look like that, then the last thing in the world he needs to worry about is if it looks GRAINY enough. Please.

Given the original post, I just wouldn't want to end up with an image that more resembles the externals from Pirates of the Caribbean then the Spaghetti Westerns in question.
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#18 Dan Goulder

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Posted 28 December 2005 - 05:08 AM

Given the original post, I just wouldn't want to end up with an image that more resembles the externals from Pirates of the Caribbean then the Spaghetti Westerns in question.


That's a false dichotomy. You'd be better off using the desert scenes from Kill Bill as a reference point. That's 5245 shot super 35 through a D.I. If an optical transfer was done instead, you'd get even closer to the type of look you're describing, both in terms of grain and gamma. Original prints from the entire Sergio Leone catalogue will be making the rounds of the cinemateque circuit over the next few months. I suggest we all go see them, after which we can have a better informed discussion. I'll spring for the popcorn.
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#19 Steve Wallace

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Posted 28 December 2005 - 10:31 AM

That's a false dichotomy. You'd be better off using the desert scenes from Kill Bill as a reference point. That's 5245 shot super 35 through a D.I.

.
Your right, that is a great example. Both Pirates and Kill Bill were both shot on 5245 Super 35 > DI > Anamorphic print. Do you know if Kill Bill used any post processing techniques? Or was it all achieved in the DI stage?

If an optical transfer was done instead, you'd get even closer to the type of look you're describing, both in terms of grain and gamma. Original prints from the entire Sergio Leone catalogue will be making the rounds of the cinemateque circuit over the next few months. I suggest we all go see them, after which we can have a better informed discussion. I'll spring for the popcorn.

Do you have a link for these exhibitions? I would love to see these on the big screen again. Last time, I saw A Fist Full of Dollars, it looked like someone had unspooled the reel and run over it with a tractor, then when they rewound it back onto the spool, instead of running it through a cleaner, they ran it through sand paper! ;)
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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 December 2005 - 11:16 AM

There are basic physical limits to the quality possible in the mid 1960's with Techniscope -- basically modern film stocks are sharper and so are modern lenses. That's undeniable. A modern Vision or EXR stock is sharper than 5251 was. A modern zoom is sharper than the zooms used by Leone.

However, it's certainly possible that a modern 2K D.I. like was used on "Pirates of the Carribean" (which also used 5245 for its day exteriors, just like "Kill Bill") will counteract some of the sharpness of modern stocks & lenses, and you'd end up with something, sharpness-wise (not grain-wise) closer to 1960's Techniscope.

Leone was a sharpness freak so you have to think of the look of those movies as being the product of somewhat softer emulsions and lenses combined with a ultra-sharp lighting style, rather than the modern look of sharper emulsions and lenses combined with a much softer lighting style.

The lighting, composition, and production design are much more key to replicating the look of Leone than the film stock issue. We can quibble over whether 50D stock on Super-16 is now closer to the quality of 2-perf 5251 versus, let's say, using Vision-2 500T on Super-35. Old Techniscope is probably somewhere inbetween modern Super-16 and modern Super-35, which tends to suggest you'd get closer degrading modern 35mm slightly than trying to make Super-16 look sharper and finer-grained.

One of the advantages of using modern film stocks which are faster is that it would be easier to achieve the deep focus look that Leone liked. I'd probably push-process a SLOW stock to get closer to the contrast & grain of a 1960's stock rather than use something like 5218. If 5248 (EXR 100T) still existed, I'd probably use that pushed by one stop, for example.

The lenses used in Leone's time are still around, basically something like the old 25-250mm Angenieux would be a good choice, shot stopped-down.

But really, if you don't replicate the lighting, you'll end up with something that looks softer than it should.
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