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HD footage in Akeelah


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 02:50 AM

In "Akeelah and the Bee" the director wanted to use some HD footage he shot at the real National Spelling Bee the year before. I suggested that we contain the HD footage into one montage that begins and ends with a shot of someone watching TV, and then shoot new HD footage of our actors. The scene had lots of whip pans and snap zooms too. I pulled some of the HD frames to show you the difference in look with the 35mm anamorphic shots -- just note that the 35mm footage was shot with a GlimmerGlass diffusion filter. The first frame is HD and then the second is 35mm:

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#2 Stephen Williams

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 03:25 AM

David,

I think your images show that film will remain the first choice for some time!

Stephen
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#3 Fredrik Backar FSF

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 04:00 AM

I second that! Skintones are aweful on the vid pics.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 10:13 AM

I second that! Skintones are aweful on the vid pics.


Yes, I guess it is no surprise that HDCAM doesn't compete with 35mm anamorphic, which is why I wanted to limit the HD to one specific montage. It also can be justified because it starts out as an ESPN-type broadcast on a TV, as if this montage was shot by a news cameraman.

I think if the whole movie had been shot in HD (which was discussed at some point because the director really wanted to use all the footage he shot in Washington D.C. the year before of the real National Spelling Bee) you would have gotten used to the HDCAM look since there would have been no direct comparison to 35mm, but I argued for shooting on film because it seemed silly to shoot in HD to just match HD footage that might only end up being five minutes or so out of a feature.

There are some establishing shots of Washington D.C. that are HD, some shot by the director, some stock footage shots. Again, the quality isn't there compared to the 35mm anamorphic footage, but we were a medium-low-budget movie so it's not like we were going to go back to D.C. with a 35mm camera. And even in our four days shooting the final spelling bee, there was no time to shoot a dozen spellers for that montage sequence, plus the real kids from the HD footage look and act, well, so real. It was always a budget problem establishing just how big and complicated the final spelling bee was in terms of set-ups, so it was easier to use the HD footage and shoot our own actors in HD to match that.

I didn't post any frame grabs of the HD footage shot in D.C. but it's even more a little video-ish looking because of the camera settings and lens used on that F900 compared to what I was using. There are more visible edge enhancement artifacts, clipping, and the lens behaves more ENG-ish for some reason. I don't know what package they used; the director said it was from Panavision just like own F900 was, but the lens in the D.C. footage looks more like they used their old Canon HD 5-50mm zoom than a Digital Primo zoom.
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#5 Richard R. Robbins

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 10:52 AM

David,
I can certainly see the difference between the two frames. However, I also see a diiference in the lighting. Could you elaborate on you thoughts regarding the light? Both 35mm frames have softer and more side light keys, with less fill and hotter rim/hair/back light. The difference is subtle. The way I read you posts, you did not light the HD frames. Do you think you could have improved on the image if you did? Could you elaborate on you thoughts regarding the light?
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight.
Rich
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 11:13 AM

David,
I can certainly see the difference between the two frames. However, I also see a diiference in the lighting. Could you elaborate on you thoughts regarding the light? Both 35mm frames have softer and more side light keys, with less fill and hotter rim/hair/back light. The difference is subtle. The way I read you posts, you did not light the HD frames. Do you think you could have improved on the image if you did? Could you elaborate on you thoughts regarding the light?
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight.
Rich


No, the HD frames are in the same lighting set-ups as the 35mm footage -- it's only that for the HD shots, which all had whip-pans, I had to light from farther back, mostly using the stage lighting, whereas if it was a normal 35mm close-up on stage, sometimes I moved in a 10K with a large Chimera on a high stand and basically blocked out the stage lights with the Chimera light. But there are also a lot of 35mm shots where the lighting only comes from the grid. It's an odd issue of realism actually because the faces should be lit "badly" in real life by all of these news and stage lights, but I decided that I could cheat a little and soften the lights on the close-ups as long as it was fairly frontal like the stage lights were.

Now in the HD footage shot in D.C. at the real National Spelling Bee, the stage lighting was even worse and less flattering. So in those shots, that's an additional problem with why they don't look as good. But for my HD shots, I was using the same lighting set-ups as I would for the film shots at that angle, except with less heavy backlighting since the D.C. footage didn't have that effect.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 September 2006 - 11:37 AM

Here is the first shot that begins the montage, shot in 35mm (with the TV image as a burn-in in post):
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Here are some of the HD shots done in D.C. of the real National Spelling Bee:
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Here is part of our low-budget "visiting D.C. montage". We had a shot (2nd Unit) of Akeelah in a limo driving actually around the central L.A. neighborhood, available light:
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Here is a shot made from a moving vehicle in D.C. by the director a year earlier in HD:
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Here is a shot made by me and a small crew on the "West Wing" White House set:
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Which was an interesting experience because the sets were lit for at T/2.8 at 500 ASA with a moody look and I had to quickly get it to a T/4 at 320 ASA and with a sunny look.

I'm sorry the 35mm frame grabs aren't better. The transfer is pretty good (I supervised it) but the DVD seems to have an unusually high compression rate and some frames are occasionally interlaced-scan for no reason.
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#8 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 05 September 2006 - 05:46 PM

I think the HD and 35 mm shots in your first post match great, though the skins are not so good, as mentionned.The depth of field and contrast, the level on the faces match just great ! I noticed about the backlight but I think the process screen tv in the 35 mm shot/HD footage/35 mm footage as you slowly "zoom in" the action works great !

About the last image (president's desk) I think the practical light is a bit over, considering it's the sunny look we see here I guess from the windows, but it must be the 320 at f4 setup I guess...
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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 06 September 2006 - 07:11 PM

Hi,

I have to say, and I'm not just being political here, that I really don't see either of the first pair of comparisons as "better" or "worse". Certainly it looks like the HD has more shadow information in it. If you don't want that, fine, grade it out, and then the skin will have more graduation in it...

Phil
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#10 K Borowski

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Posted 06 September 2006 - 07:32 PM

Hey David, I just wanted to congratulate you on your film. The radio here in Cleveland (a talk show on one of the oldies stations) featured a film critic this morning and he really praised your film as having a beautiful story and imagery. I never caught it in theatres, but it is now making its runs in the college film society circuit, and I'll be sure to catch the showing at Case Western Reserve's Film Club. Anyone in Cleveland who still wants to see it, show up and watch it at CWRU!

Regards,

~Karl
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#11 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 07 September 2006 - 01:29 AM

Certainly it looks like the HD has more shadow information in it.


:blink: From what grab do you see that ?

For what is about the skin, yes it is about graduation and not only - but I don't see why grading would do anything on the caucasian skin, that is quite bright... And it also is about colour graduation, I notice green artefacts in the black skin in the HD grabs and I don't see how you could do anything with grading, here... Also, there is clearly less definition in the HD grabs than in the 35 mm ones (and they were filtered !)... What can you don in post on the HD footage about that ?

But I don't mean one is "worse" or "better" than another, it's just about pointing out the differences... and how to match HD and 35 footage in a editing process...
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#12 Max Jacoby

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Posted 07 September 2006 - 03:23 AM

But I don't mean one is "worse" or "better" than another, it's just about pointing out the differences... and how to match HD and 35 footage in a editing process...

I do think the 35mm footage looks better than the HD footage, even on these stills. And it's not just a difference that can be fixed in the grade either. On top of better skintones, the 35mm looks much more three-dimensional. HD by comparison looks very smeary.
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#13 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 07 September 2006 - 03:38 AM

I actually was replying to Phil's post about "bas or worse ?". I actually think the 35 footage looks better - by the means we all mentionned - than HD, BTW.
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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 07 September 2006 - 02:24 PM

Hi,

I am surprised that the HD looks softer in these circumstances; by the time it's been blown down to SD, MPEG-2 compressed, decompressed, rescaled in a graphics card, YUV to RGB converted, JPEG compressed and put up on an LCD, I'd expect the differences to be evened out. I suspect the HDCAM material may have had a very small amount of sharpening applied - if you set an F900 to none at all, you don't even get aperture correction, and the telecine that did the 35 would certainly have applied that. I mention this because the highlights in the girl's hair are much more visible on the 35, and scream edge-enhancement.

As to the skin tone issues. I don't now understand, and never have, what the objection is. It is lower contrast and saturation. The film skin tones are darker and more orange. I can make the HD darker and more orange if that's what you want. This is happening mainly because the darkest edges of the face are beginning to be influenced by the very sharp falloff in shadow sensitivity of the film; HD is more linear in this regard. I don't find these results surprising in the slightest; it's doing what it does, if you do that with it...

Phil
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#15 Laurent Andrieux

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Posted 07 September 2006 - 03:53 PM

You're right mentionning the fact that examining these grabs has not much to do with looking at these images on a big screen...
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#16 Jonathan Bryant

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 01:44 PM

The HD image looks way softer, was there any detail being applied to the F900? Was there any diffusion on the HD? What HD lens was being used? What lens was being used on the 35mm footage? Primes? Was the projector on in both shots? There is no sign visible in the HD shot at all.
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#17 Stephen Williams

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 01:53 PM

The HD image looks way softer, was there any detail being applied to the F900? Was there any diffusion on the HD? What HD lens was being used? What lens was being used on the 35mm footage? Primes? Was the projector on in both shots? There is no sign visible in the HD shot at all.


Hi,

Remember that 35mm anamorphic photography has far more resoloution than any HD Video camera you can buy today.

Stephen
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#18 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 29 September 2006 - 02:18 PM

David,

Thanks for posting the images. The 35mm frames are far nicer (great highlights.) But very nice work all around.
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#19 Matthew Buick

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 07:40 AM

Video stinks. :D
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