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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 04:48 PM

I went to the Bridge Cinema Delux multiplex and saw about an hour of "Flyboys" before I got bored (about the time the love story kicked in full gear, I guess). After watching Genesis HD-to-35mm scope for an hour, I decided to check out the next door theaters, the first one playing Jet Li's "Fearless" and the next playing "The Black Dahlia".

It was an interesting experience from a technical standpoint. Overall, I liked the look of "Flyboys" other than it was a bit Disney-esque tonally, but generally natural. The widest shots looked a little soft and fine detail like blowing grass had some compression-type artifacts -- I'm not sure how many wide shots were efx composites or matte paintings though since this was a period movie. Medium and close shots looked very sharp and snappy for the most part. Some shots were timed too saturated, with faces going orangey now and then. The blue-ish dusk scenes were not noisy. There were a few shots with a slightly higher noise level and some efx shots were soft & noisy. But overall the movie was very clean and sharp.

The one scene I saw from "Fearless", a simple interior dialogue scene, looked muddier and grainier in comparison, with palid fleshtones, sort of the worst of the 5218 Super-35 (I'm guessing) through 2K out to 35mm anamorphic problems that almost remind you of good Super-16 blow-ups.

"Black Dahlia" (3-perf Super-35 through 4K blow-up to scope) was sharper but still grainy, and was timed somewhat desaturated and brownish from the scenes I saw. But not as sharp-looking as "Flyboys".

So I have to be honest and say that overall, the Genesis photography of "Flyboys" was technically better than "Fearless" and aspects were better than "Black Dahlia" (mainly grain) and sharpness was similar. Of course, anyone who objects to the look of high-quality digital still photography is probably going to have problems with the look of "Flyboys", which is clean, smooth, slightly "plasticy", and oversaturated at times (although that is more of a timing issue.)

I just wanted to post that because after nitpicking the technical problems in "Flyboys" I was somewhat aghast to see the muddy 35mm stuff in "Fearless" immediately afterwards and it struck me how we rarely talk about the problems and artifacts of film as we dissect the (real) problems of digital. So it gave me some perspective. Even if well-shot 35mm still beats HD in most cases, in real world shooting situations and post scenarios, the playing field starts to get levelled, making HD more competitive, quality-wise, especially if we're talking about the highest-end of the digital camera technology, not HDCAM or below.

Not to start another digital versus film argument and hear both camps make their stands again, just to say that if one really looked objectively at these various formats being trotted out in the theaters, the Genesis stuff is very competitive with 35mm.
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#2 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 07:57 PM

Thanks David, for that. I saw Flyboys this week too and actually enjoyed the story. :) I wasn't going with the intention of looking for technical problems so my attention was elsewhere (and elsewhere sometimes, but I won't go into that B) ).

But you've summed up something that I've frequently maintained in that 35mm isn't the holy grail of image acquisition. In the hands of a qualified cameraman, both 35 and HD can look more than acceptable and if done really well, both can look spectacular. The trick to both is learning the parameters and working within them using the limitations instead of fighting them.

I'll admit that I did have a little issue with Flyboys in that some of the composites looked a little "fake," but they didn't detract enough from the story for me. I wasn't even aware that it was shot with Genesis until I was watching the credits. So I wonder that if many of the complaints we hear from the professional realm are present because "we" go out looking for trouble instead of just appreciating what is there?
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 September 2006 - 09:13 PM

Nothing is ever perfect but it is also important for a cinematographer to train their eyes to look for artifacts, as long as they don't lose sight of the "big picture" (metaphorically and literally.)

In this industry we have some great artists with mediocre technical knowledge that they get past, we have some great artists who are also amazing technicians, and we have medicore artists who have great technical skills -- the last category, bad artists with no technical skills, tend not to survive, being fairly useless.

Whenever I look at an image, I try and maintain both a macro and micro perspective, i.e. do I like the image emotionally, does it please me aesthetically, but also what technical artifacts are visible, what mistakes were made versus inherent flaws in the format, etc.?

Maybe because I climbed up the ranks from Super-8 to 16mm to 35mm, with 35mm-quality being the objective when I was younger, technical issues like grain and sharpness were always at the forefront, trying to create an image with enough detail, clarity, and lack of grain. So I don't have a problem with that aspect of digital photography if it has enough resolution, that it looks too clean -- unless I'm doing something that needs some roughness and "soul", like a crime noir, street drama, etc. Most of my beef with digital cameras is the lack of exposure headroom and skintone weirdness, plus digital artifacts like compression, noise. But if those problems can be tamed and there is enough resolution, I don't have a problem with the general digital "look".

But I suppose if I were raised in an era of digital video, maybe the elusive qualities of film, the "soul" of the image, that romanticism, would play more heavily in my thinking. I wouldn't have been struggling my whole early career trying to get fine-grained images because if I were shooting digital video, that's not so much of an issue, so some other aspect of the film image that was denied to me would be more appealing.

Not that I don't recognize that there IS a textural difference between film and digital images, and film-thru-D.I. images -- afterall, I'm a fan of obsolete film technologies like 3-strip Technicolor and dye transfer printing. I guess I like options more than anything, getting to work with a wide variety of formats.

Maybe what I'm getting at is that shooting 35mm all by itself is no guarantee of quality for big screen projection and too often we "abuse" the format not for artistic reasons but out of laziness, we don't feel like giving the negative enough exposure or using good lenses, etc. I'm more talking about shooting for theatrical projection where those little choices matter in terms of quality -- afterall, I'm using older Cooke zooms and 35mm Expression 500T for my current TV series work and everything looks plenty sharp and fine-grained.

On a related note, I remember during the shoot of "Astronaut Farmer" arguing with an efx person about the need for 4K and he kept saying that 2K was good enough, no one can see 4K quality, etc. and now many of his efx shots in the final movie are noticably blurrier than the surrounding 35mm anamorphic photography, which was scanned at 4K and downrezzed to 2K. I mean, it sometimes looks sub-HD to my eyes, which just shows you that efx people don't always know what they are talking about when it comes to how much resolution you need.

I think it's the classic problem I have with a lot of digital efx work: rather than do it well so that it holds up on the big screen, everytime the efx looks unconvincing, they decide that the problem is that it is too sharp, so they blur it to look more "real" -- but instead, it just looks blurry! They don't understand the difference between softening something with enough atmospheric perspective to give it scale versus just throwing it slightly out-of-focus.

And some of them don't understand real-world photographic optics -- on some of the efx shots, the rack-focusing is out of proportion to the distance and size of the objects if they were real. They have this one shot in "sunlight" where a CGI object that is supposedly a hundred feet away and is twenty feet long, for example, is out of focus compared to a farther object another hundred feet away and they rack focus digitally between them... when in real life, there would be plenty of depth of field to cover both of them at that distance. So the odd shallow focus makes the objects look like miniatures.
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#4 David Leugers

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Posted 09 October 2006 - 12:04 AM

I really hoped that I would love this film. While I certainly bow to the working cinematographers on this site when it comes to the business of image acquisition, I dare say I have an edge when it comes to aviation and the aircraft of WWI in particular. Aircraft is the one area of computer graphics that so far seems nearly impossible to get it right, and the results often destroy my suspension of disbelief. By the second half of the film I had to think in terms of watching a cartoon to get through it all. I am probably in a very small minority, but the lack of accuracy and authenticism in the flying sequences made this a very forgettable film for me, and I love WWI aviation films in general. What a shame the makers missed the opportunity to make a true and gutsy film and instead made what looks more like a video game of the film they should have made.
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#5 Bob Hayes

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Posted 09 October 2006 - 11:30 AM

I thought the Genesis looked great with wonderful flesh tones and lots of latitude. The only issues I saw were the highlights just got a little more over exposed then I like.

The film however was a disappointment. The script felt like a reworking of a melodramatic 1930?s tougher then nails aviation film. I can?t figure out how a film with a Zeppelin and Gotha Bombers could be a disappointing aviation film but it was. It would seem to me that digitizing ww1 airplanes would be pretty easy but I guess not. There was no aerodynamic reality to the performance of the planes. They performed like Space ships. This seems to be a common problem.

Also from a reality level, the film was supposed to take place in 1917 and the DR 1 Fokker Tri-plane had just been introduced. Yet all the German airplanes were Tri Planes and they were painted Red like Richthofen's. Most probably they would have been flying planes like the older Albatross?s. It was as if you did a movie about Iraq and every American plane was a Stealth Fighter Dumb. So many of the German planes had great painting designs so to cop out for a ?Red Baron? paint job on every one was just plane stupid. Unless you are really curious about the Genesis do yourself a favor and rent the ?Blue Max?.
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#6 David Leugers

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Posted 09 October 2006 - 10:25 PM

Unless you are really curious about the Genesis do yourself a favor and rent the ?Blue Max?.


Amen. And to see a Zeppelin done right, check out "Hell's Angels" made by Howard Hughes in 1929. That movie is full of real WWI aircraft and excellently done minature special effects work.

One of the silliest scenes (almost all of the flying scenes were) was the night time rescue of the girl friend and her siblings. Unless the pilot had brought back from the future some night vision goggles... totally absurd. The laziness of the CGI is apparent when the CGI "engines" of the Neuports are not accurate and do not rotate with the propellor as the real aircraft had rotary engines which are not like more modern radial engines in that the whole engine rotates with the propellor... etc, etc...
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#7 Bob Hayes

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Posted 10 October 2006 - 12:35 AM

Another amazingly stupid scene was when our hero lands his plane in the bombed out no man's land in front of hundreds of German guns to save his pal. Then he can't lift the wing of an airplane that probably weighed 100 pounds. What were they thinking? Lazy is really the word for it.
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#8 David Leugers

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Posted 17 October 2006 - 11:14 PM

I almost laughed out loud on that one! He could have used just his fist to smash the trailing edge of the wing if he wanted to... naw, I think I'll chop off his hand instead!
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#9 Michel Hafner

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 01:56 PM

Fearless had digital grain reduction artifacts...
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#10 Thom Stitt

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 12:11 AM

From the trailers I was so amazingly uninterested in this film... But then I read the ASC article. Henry Braham was so impressed with the Genesis that the article became the most convincing commercial for the camera I've heard yet.

"I'd say working with HD is like using a quill pen, working with film is like using a typewriter, and working with the Genesis is like moving on to a fabulous word processor."

"I was amazed at the Genesis' dynamic range, which is massive. Whereas the typical range of latitude on the film negative is seven stops, we were seeing a range of close to 10 stops with the Genesis. Suddenly a whole lot of new possibilities opened up, and the prospect of shooting digitally became exciting."

"You can shoot skies that appear to be hot and white, but when you start grading, it's as though the heavens open up with detail. The camera captures all the data..."

Braham found the rating of 640 ASA a safe range - and expects to rate the camera higher in the future.

He also details one of my favorite things to hear about on film sets: Using the sensitivity of the camera, he was able to use "very little film lighting", trusting any dark areas to register in the Genesis' data.

Anyway - Of all the articles I've read regarding the Genesis, this article really stood out due to the level of excitement expressed by the cinematographer. There's no doubt about it, the Genesis is a beast. A hell of a strong tool for any cinematographer who knows how to play to its strengths.
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#11 Max Jacoby

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 02:57 AM

"I was amazed at the Genesis' dynamic range, which is massive. Whereas the typical range of latitude on the film negative is seven stops, we were seeing a range of close to 10 stops with the Genesis.

How they can print such a blatantly wrong statment is beyond me. 7 stops is roughly the latitude of print stock, but the negative has much more, over 10 for sure and as such is better than any digital camera available. On top of that the graceful way highlights blow out on film is something that digital just doesn't match up to.

And don't get me started on the awful skintones of the Genesis...
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#12 Patrizio De Sica

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 08:53 PM

How they can print such a blatantly wrong statment is beyond me. 7 stops is roughly the latitude of print stock, but the negative has much more, over 10 for sure and as such is better than any digital camera available. On top of that the graceful way highlights blow out on film is something that digital just doesn't match up to.

And don't get me started on the awful skintones of the Genesis...


Do you know who is Henry Braham?
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#13 Max Jacoby

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 03:27 AM

Yes I do know who is is and I'm afraid his statement on film only having 7 stop of latitude is just plain wrong, as anyone who's ever shot film can tell you.
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#14 Micah Fernandez

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 04:22 AM

He also details one of my favorite things to hear about on film sets: Using the sensitivity of the camera, he was able to use "very little film lighting", trusting any dark areas to register in the Genesis' data.

I don't know if it was the screen I saw it on, but a lot of the night interiors were terribly murky, and not in a good way. It felt like all they had were 3 600w pars. Am I alone in this opinion?
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#15 Thom Stitt

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 05:28 AM

It was weird to hear Braham mention a 7-stop latitude in film, I've always shot film with a 10-stop range in mind (though the extreme zones have been definite murky areas).

He based his statement on certain specific tests he did (that aren't detailed in the article unfortunately, other than they transferred from the HD data to film, and compared with the same tests shot on film). I'm not sure, but I imagine Braham's figuring that there's more latitude in the low end, maybe his tests were done in low light conditions. I realize this is basically a roundabout way of saying the Genesis is faster than any reasonable film stock, but who knows.

I'll ask him if I happen to see him at the grocery store.
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#16 Emanuel A Guedes

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Posted 24 October 2006 - 12:39 PM

Any info on the 35mm print vs. the digital copy -- if available?
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#17 Jon Kukla

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 06:43 PM

I think this might've already been mentioned on the Golden Compass thread, but I recently talked to someone who worked on the tests for the film, comparing several 35mm and HD cameras. Apparently Braham was REALLY keen to use the Genesis again for it, but the studio felt more secure with film. In any case, I'm certain we'll see him back on this camera sometime soon...
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