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Why Shoot Film?


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#1 Richard Boddington

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Posted 03 January 2007 - 08:14 PM

Again, you just can't do this with video tape. (I will conceed HDs one advantage, you can have a one hour camera roll. That is of course until my new 20,000 foot mag is released) :)

Restored Movie Prints Sharper Than Originals

Ultra Resolution, a digital process used to restore old Technicolor movies, has succeeded in making the newer prints sharper and more realistic than the originals, the Hollywood Reporter observed today (Wednesday). The process, which has been nominated for a Scientific and Technical Academy Award this year, can correct registration glitches that occurred in making the original prints, the trade paper noted. Technicolor used a printing process -- rather than a chemical-developing process -- similar to the one used by magazines and newspapers to produce color prints; three separate rolls of film were exposed in the huge Technicolor cameras to produce the color-separation negatives that were used to make the prints, with one color laid over the other. Ultra Resolution, devised by sisters Keren and Sharon Perlmutter, lines up the images of each frame precisely, something that was not always possible when the original prints were produced.
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#2 Troy Warr

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Posted 03 January 2007 - 08:34 PM

With all due respect, I'm not sure that this has anything to do with an inherent advantage to film - this seems to pertain more to cleaning up a flaw in the old Technicolor process than to providing any more sharpness than was originally there. And though it might be a bit of a stretch - one might also argue that pixel shift technology is essentially doing all of this and more, at the time of shooting - but rather than correcting for any misalignment, it's using that misalignment to its advantage to produce more detail than can be captured with a single imaging chip.

I personally think that film and digital have the same limitations in this arena, in that you can't ever reliably extract any more information than is captured at the time of recording. Though these Technicolor films undoubtedly look better now than they did then, there's no reason - other than the limitations of this 3-color process, which are now being corrected retroactively - that they couldn't have looked as sharp originally.
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#3 Richard Boddington

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Posted 03 January 2007 - 09:12 PM

The point is that any thing shot on video, stays on video, as it was acquired. Shot your project on VHS in 1983? That's where it stays. VS a project shot on film in 1983 that can be scanned into any format you want in 2007 and beyond.

The article points out the "future proof" nature of film. A fact that will hit home hard in 10 years to all of the people currently shooting HD.

R,
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#4 Michael Ryan

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Posted 03 January 2007 - 09:30 PM

Hello Troy,

Troy, you always have to choose your words carefully (don't worry, I've made the same mistake also). You said in your post above, "Though these Technicolor films undoubtedly look better now than they did then,"

I have to ask you what you base this statement on? It may or may not be true, but unless you were sitting in the 14th row of the Bijou in 1939 watching THE WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND I'm not sure how you can make such a statement. If you guess about technology and its effects, what is the point? I could just as easily say, "Technicolor films will never look as good as they did when first projected." Of course I wasn't around in 1939 so I have no way of knowing if that statement is true or not.

Richard makes some very excellent points. Film is a proven archival format. What about all these other formats? In 50 years will you be able to open a jpeg file?


Mike
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#5 Troy Warr

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Posted 03 January 2007 - 11:35 PM

The point is that any thing shot on video, stays on video, as it was acquired. Shot your project on VHS in 1983? That's where it stays. VS a project shot on film in 1983 that can be scanned into any format you want in 2007 and beyond.

The article points out the "future proof" nature of film. A fact that will hit home hard in 10 years to all of the people currently shooting HD.


Hi Richard,

I agree with you there, that you're never going to get appreciably better quality out of a low-grade video format like VHS. But, I think the same also holds true with a low-grade film format like 8mm. Just because you're shooting film, and not digital, you're still not going to be able to push the 8mm format any farther just because of a future technological improvement in telecine (or an as yet unreleased technology).

The main point that I had intended to make is that film and video both have their inherent quality limitations, which are frozen in place the instant that light hits the film or sensor. It's certainly arguable (and very often a subjective issue) whether current digital video technology is comparable to a theatrical film format like 35mm. But, I would argue that a digital format that is, as objectively as possible, equivalent to a given film format in terms of picture quality, is not in any way more limited in an archival sense than film. That's both from a longevity standpoint, and considering future restoration and/or quality improvement. Both have a finite amount of information that can be extracted. If a film shot in HD and scanned to 35mm can't saturate the print film's capacity for storing picture information like a 35mm camera negative can, then yes, you're looking at a superior format in 35mm. But I think this is quickly changing as digital cameras continue to improve at a very fast pace.

Hello Troy,

Troy, you always have to choose your words carefully (don't worry, I've made the same mistake also). You said in your post above, "Though these Technicolor films undoubtedly look better now than they did then,"

I have to ask you what you base this statement on? It may or may not be true, but unless you were sitting in the 14th row of the Bijou in 1939 watching THE WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND I'm not sure how you can make such a statement. If you guess about technology and its effects, what is the point? I could just as easily say, "Technicolor films will never look as good as they did when first projected." Of course I wasn't around in 1939 so I have no way of knowing if that statement is true or not.

Richard makes some very excellent points. Film is a proven archival format. What about all these other formats? In 50 years will you be able to open a jpeg file?
Mike


Hi Mike,

I was basing that statement on the article's conclusion, that the Ultra Resolution process "has succeeded in making the newer prints sharper and more realistic than the originals." Admittedly, I haven't seen the films then and now for comparison's sake, but was just conceding the point of the article. I apologize if that was unclear - but I was only referring to the particular Technicolor film prints that had undergone this Ultra Resolution process.

I'm with you that film has proven to be the archival format of choice for the past century. A 35mm motion picture shot several decades ago still has better resolution, latitude and color saturation than nearly all modern camcorders. But, with digital video technology rapidly catching up, I don't feel that that's going to continue to be the case for much longer.

Film can (and does) suffer from the same potential drawbacks as digital video from an archival standpoint:

- Film equipment can go obsolete just as digital equipment can. For many reasons, not the least of which is the ubiquity of modern computers, film equipment may be even more prone to obsolescence in the future if digital video continues to be embraced at its current rate. I'm not arguing pro-digital here - I'm just trying to illustrate that there is no inherent reason why digital video formats are more prone to obsolescence than film.
- Film costs orders of magnitude more money to duplicate, and even then, with generation loss. A digital film can be duplicated nearly instantaneously for only the price of the storage medium, which is rapidly decreasing.
- Film can be damaged, and degrades slightly during normal use (scratches, warping). Digital information can be damaged as well, but this is unlikely if appropriate backup steps are taken.
- Both formats shoot a finite amount of information onto their respective media, and no real new information can be extracted beyond that point, regardless of future technologies. The best we can hope for is an enhancement technology that can mimic a higher quality format from a given image, and this can be done either optically or electronically.

I don't really agree with the argument that file formats can obsolesce and render the source material useless. Even if .jpeg is no longer in use in 50 years, there is no reason that software manufacturers can't (and wouldn't) allow for the conversion to a new format. All of the popular video formats are in such widespread use that it would be commercial suicide for a given software maker not to provide for conversion as new formats are introduced. Some may argue that it's a pain to convert to each new technology as it's introduced - but the rate of innovation in that area, though fast, doesn't tend to move too fast to make this at all impractical, or any less of a pain (or cost) of archiving film properly. Even fringe formats can almost always be converted to a mainstream format for archiving.

Again, please understand that the basis for my original argument was to dispute any inherent advantage to film as a recording medium. From a practical standpoint, this may continue to be the case, but I'm speaking in theoretical terms here, which may have been the basis for the disagreement. I may have misunderstood Richard's initial post as being theoretically oriented rather than practically oriented.

Still, the way I'm reading the article, I don't think that it testifies to the "future proof" nature of film. The technique that's described seems to be concerned with repairing a technical flaw found in the original version of the Technicolor system that can now be circumvented with modern technology. I don't think that digital video would be any less future proof in this regard, since it doesn't suffer from that particular limitation.

Sorry if this comes off as pedantic - I don't mean it to be, just a difference of opinion.
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#6 Tim J Durham

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Posted 04 January 2007 - 08:22 AM

Oh Boy, it's a... film vs... video thread. I can.. hardly ..wait to..... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
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#7 Thomas Worth

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 06:19 AM

But, I would argue that a digital format that is, as objectively as possible, equivalent to a given film format in terms of picture quality, is not in any way more limited in an archival sense than film.

The digital format would only be "equivalent" to film if we observe the Nyquist-Shannon theorem:

http://en.wikipedia....Nyquist-Shannon

Basically, the original media must be sampled at 200% its original signal. In the case of 35mm film, some would argue it is capable of resolving 4096 lines of horizontal resolution (although I don't think there's that much information there). So, to satisfy the "Nyquist criterion," and therefore be able to recreate the original signal to the satisfaction of the theorem, a scan would have to be made at double that resolution (8192 lines). That's an 8K scan. Now we have to consider the quality of the scanner, the scanner's optics, etc. The quality of the scan could be better in 10 years.

In my opinion, the basic argument of film vs. video should be one of resolving power. That is, which format is capable of acquiring and storing the most information about the original scene? If we look at hard specs, it would appear that motion picture cameras with the help of expensive film scanners are capable of capturing and storing more information than either CMOS or CCD based cameras. This is mostly due to the current state of technology. I am sure that this won't always be the case. But for right now, for any practical purpose, I believe it is.

I do agree with film being no better than video for archival reasons, assuming we are talking about photographic emulsion vs digital data. I think everyone agrees that digital data offers the best archival properties since it can be copied 1:1 infinitely with no generation loss.

I'm just trying to illustrate that there is no inherent reason why digital video formats are more prone to obsolescence than film.

Again, I agree as long as the Nyquist criterion is satisfied. Film has spoiled us simply because it has been, for the past century, the highest quality way to capture an image and store it. If video had been invented over 100 years ago with the ability to resolve 4000 lines, then we'd be talking about how great it's archival properties are. But the fact is that video formats are constantly becoming obsolete because a superior video format is adopted a few years later. This hasn't been the case with film for the simple reason that nothing has been able to match its resolving power.
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#8 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 09:42 AM

Hi Richard,

I agree with you there, that you're never going to get appreciably better quality out of a low-grade video format like VHS. But, I think the same also holds true with a low-grade film format like 8mm. Just because you're shooting film, and not digital, you're still not going to be able to push the 8mm format any farther just because of a future technological improvement in telecine (or an as yet unreleased technology).


The 500T I recently shot looked to me like a 16mm to video transfer from the late 80's that had poor grain reduction or no grain reduction...The grain on the Super-8 was very tight. So even Super-8 has benefited from new technology and filmstock upgrades by Kodak.
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#9 Richard Boddington

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 10:05 AM

"If video had been invented over 100 years ago with the ability to resolve 4000 lines, then we'd be talking about how great it's archival properties are."

With film it's not just a question of resolving power, it's the organic "film look" that is also valuable. Film has that fantasy look that assists the audience in being able to suspend their disbelief.

I'm sorry but the new Superman film looks very "videoy" to me, as do most HD features. Yes I know part of Superman was shot on 35mm, those shots looked ok. :)

R,
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#10 Justin Hayward

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 10:27 AM

I'm sorry but the new Superman film looks very "videoy" to me,


Are you really sorry?
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#11 Richard Boddington

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 03:47 PM

Are you really sorry?


Yes I'm sorry it looks "videoy". They could have achieved a much better look with 35mm and a DI.

R,
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#12 Matthew Buick

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 06:06 PM

That is of course until my new 20,000 foot mag is released


20,000 MAGS!1!!! :blink: :blink: :blink: :blink: :blink:

How much will one of them cost??????
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#13 Evan Winter

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 06:30 PM

Troy, your post was very informative and intelligent. I agree on all points. :)

And Richard, you're arguing that a key factor in film's favor is it's organic quality that allows an audience to suspend disbelief. To support your argument you cite Superman Returns and claim that it looked 'video-y' and that this prevented you from fully suspending your disbelief. I think this is personal opinion and not fact and also not necessarily a point of contention that could be generalized to audiences at large. I will, as you did, use anecdotal evidence to support my point - "I thoroughly enjoyed Superman Returns and was able to completely suspend my disbelief."
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#14 Richard Boddington

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 06:40 PM

In that case Evan they could have shot Superman with a $500.00 single chip Mini DV camera, and you could say, "it looked great to me."

And no, if they had used Super 8 I would not say, "looks great."

Although Super 8 on a 80 million+ movie would have an interesting effect.

R,
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#15 Matthew Buick

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 06:41 PM

I noticed that same look in Star Wars EPIII, not that it wasn't fantasticly shot (the bits of it that WERE ACTUALLY shot) but it just lacked something, flesh tones didn't look right, little things like that, I still enjoyed the movie, though. :D
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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 06:47 PM

In that case Evan they could have shot Superman with a $500.00 single chip Mini DV camera, and you could say, "it looked great to me."

And no, if they had used Super 8 I would not say, "looks great."

Although Super 8 on a 80 million+ movie would have an interesting effect.

R,


You're not really being fair to "Superman Returns" -- quite a few critics felt it was a visually striking movie and certainly most viewers did not notice the Genesis looked very different from the 35mm they are used to seeing. Same goes for "Apocalypto".

Remember my experiment going through a multiplex and comparing the prints of "Flyboys", "Jet Li's Fearless" and "Black Dahlia"? "Flyboys" was the best-looking of the bunch on the big screen.

Personally, I'm looking forward to shooting a feature with the Genesis. I think it can produce beautiful images. Exactly like 35mm? No. More like good digital still photography.

It comes down to the fact whether you can divorce yourself from the notion that a "good" image has to be a film image, or whether it can have good qualities that have nothing to do with being shot on film. As long as you judge all digital photography by whether it matches film, then of course, film will always look better! How could it not? It's film! Even the greatest digital format of all time will fail to match film 100% of the time, both for obvious technical reasons (it's not film) and because of creative reasons (everyone uses what a tool can do and therefore will always do things with a digital camera that a film camera cannot do.)
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#17 Evan Winter

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 07:25 PM

In that case Evan they could have shot Superman with a $500.00 single chip Mini DV camera, and you could say, "it looked great to me."


Hey Richard,

I could say and maybe would say that if I was using your logic. That's what my earlier post was about - using opinion and anecdotal evidence as fact.

You said (and I'm paraphrasing) film has a point in its favor - it's organic and this allows audiences to experience the fantasy of storytelling; it allows for the suspension of disbelief.

Your evidence for this was your own opinion.

I was trying to be a little satiric and counter your claim with my own opinion (and little else). Which is kind of funny because you clearly saw the flaw in my argument:

In that case Evan they could have shot Superman with a $500.00 single chip Mini DV camera, and you could say, "it looked great to me."


but didn't see it in your own...

Anyhow, it's probably the opinions of audiences at large that actually matter. And, I'm inclined to agree with David M. and say that the average audience member is at no disadvantage, suspension of disbelief-wise, when watching the digitally shot Superman Returns (vs. a movie shot on 35mm film) - and that is nothing more nor less than my opinion.
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#18 Hal Smith

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 07:38 PM

Personally, I'm looking forward to shooting a feature with the Genesis. I think it can produce beautiful images. Exactly like 35mm? No. More like good digital still photography....................
It comes down to the fact whether you can divorce yourself from the notion that a "good" image has to be a film image

I sincerely hope you do get a job shooting a feature with a Genesis soon. It will be interesting, and for me educational, to see how your talent for making pretty pictures with film translates into a completely digital system. Would you have done anything differently shooting "Akeelah" if you had used a Genesis? I use "Akeelah" as an example because I saw it at a theatre and it's still pretty fresh in my mind.
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#19 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 07:58 PM

It would have looked different and it would have gone through a digital color-correction, which "Akeelah" didn't have the benefit of and probably would be a greater determining factor in the final look, the ability to change color/contrast digitally. Maybe I would have desaturated the earliest "cold" scenes more... but maybe I wouldn't have been allowed to! I played around a little with that in the early montage since the dissolves were done digitally, so I was able to go in and pull some yellows and reds down in the image.

The movie would have looked different had I shot in Super-35 and done a D.I. or if I had used a different anamorphic lens system. It's just a matter of degree in terms of how the look would have changed.

One aspect that interests me about the Genesis is being able to shoot in low light levels with less grain. If it didn't have that occasional problem with the vertical flaring, for example, it might be interesting in a "Barry Lyndon"-type candlelight situation or in those "Collateral / Miami Vice" urban night landscape projects.

On the flipside, I just had a job interview where the issue of HD came up and I said that there was little motivation for me to use HD if 35mm was affordable, in particular, HD as in the Sony F900 HDCAM kind of HD. Either it had to be a situation where 35mm wasn't in the budget... or something where HD provided some advantages over 35mm, like if the project needed to run very long takes, shoot high ratios, need a high depth of field, use a lot of greenscreen (and I wouldn't recommend the F900 for that), etc. The director asked me "but what if using HD instead of 35mm would get you a week more of shooting days? Wouldn't you prefer that? Wouldn't that make the movie better in the end?"

But I responded that the question implies some sort of equivalency, and if we're talking about the Sony F900 level of HD, it isn't equivalent to 35mm. I mean, if I were told that they were using a Final Cut Pro system rather than an AVID to save money and get me more shooting days, I'd be all for it -- the change has no affect on my work and probably won't affect the quality of the final product. But using HDCAM instead of 35mm just to put more money into shooting days is basically choosing to go for an overall drop in picture quality which is harder to justify unless the HD was adding even more advantages like the ones I mentioned before. Marcel Zyskind can probably elaborate better on this than I can.

But when it comes to the latest generation of HD like the Genesis, I think the issue is much less about overall picture quality (some things it does less well than 35mm, some things are equal, and a few things it does better) and more about the look of the show, i.e. do you want that clean, smooth digital look but being able to work at the equivalent of 640 ASA? For some projects, it might be the right choice.
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#20 Michael Ryan

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 08:58 PM

Hello David and others,

First off I have to say that I'm not against digital video or for film. I enjoy watching the "film look" of real film or the knock off "film look" which can look very good as well.

However, for me, motion picture film is still the champ. And as in the real boxing world, if you want to take the title away from the champ, you not only have to be as good as the champ, you have got to be much better than the champ.

David, I have a lot of respect for you and your work. It's also totally fantastic that a real member of the ASC takes the time to answer our questions and give out excellent information.

However, I have one comment. Over the last several months whenever you answer a question in the area of film vs. video, I don't know if you realize this, but your posts feel very slanted towards digital video. And because you are a member of the ASC to many of the people who post here I believe that those same people would believe that is the general feeling of all the members of the ASC. I know I've read interviews with several other members of the ASC who are very pro film and very anti video.

David, do you have any ASC stats as to how the membership comes down on this film vs. video issue?

Mike
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