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16mm Silent-era effects?


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#1 adam schutzman

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 09:36 AM

hello...
im curious what are some ways to make a 16mm film that looks like it it was made in the 10's or 20's, without the use of digital effects? im going to be working with a basic student bolex model 16mm camera and was curious if there were low budget ways to get this effect...anyways, thanks!
~adam
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 10:18 AM

Well it depends.

If you'd shot and watched some B/W film back in the 20s, it'd have looked fine. The archetypal problems with material of that era is based on the fact that it's now old, rather than the fact that it was crappy to begin with. Well stored stuff that's been looked after can look fine.

I hit this exact issue when shooting some of the filmed inserts for the stage musical Singin' in the Rain - which are supposed to have been shot last week, or something, so there was actually no objective reason for it to be particularly degraded. What we did then was to make an informed judgement that it was probably OK to go for a bit of hyper-reality, it being a stage show, and add flicker, dust, scratches, vignetting - all the things that characterise the way very old stuff looks now. Whether you make that decision or not will depend on the nature of the project you're doing.

Either way that stuff is reasonably easy to do, whether you take a workprint and beat it up physically or do it digitally (we did it digitally because it was shot digitally, but if you're shooting film for a film finish it'll probably be easier to do it physically.) What's less easy to do is to imitate the framing, lighting and production design of the period, which is something you can really only do by looking at reference material. They would have been using very large, hard sources like arc lights a lot, because the film was by any modern standard incredibly low in sensitivity. Beyond that I suggest you look at some material and make a few decisions based on what it looks like.

Phil
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#3 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 10:29 AM

Old silent films were shot at a slower frame rate than today. Of course viewing them today with modern projection equipment or television with their faster frame rates leads to slightly speeded up footage. You could try filming at 16fps to achieve this same affect. Film stocks back then were not as fine grained as today so you could shoot with a fast film or push it a stop or two for extra grain.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 10:41 AM

If you've ever seen some new 35mm prints of old silent movies, you wouldn't think they were soft & grainy -- that tends to be because it's a multi-generational dupe, sometimes through 16mm (because that's the only element that survived). For example, there are those Kemp Niver restorations of the Library of Congress's paper print collection, from paper to 16mm, for material that was originally shot in 35mm.

But if the original negative or a fine-grain copy survived, then a new print will show you that many silent era movies were quite sharp and fine-grained, especially before diffusion became popular.

Besides, he's shooting in 16mm and silent era movies were 35mm, so you've already got enough softness and grain from that.
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#5 timHealy

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 11:19 AM

in terms of frame rate, silent movies have a look that was variable due to the nature of hand cranked cameras of the day. Not only did that change the apparent speed of whatever was being photographed, but also contributed to changes in exposure and density.

John Dowdell, one of the leading colorists in the country for so many years, had made some sort of DVD about film a few years ago. He shot some modern day 35mm film in an fully operating antique hand cranked camera from way back when. While the footage looked great and pristine, it had that old silent era hand cranked quality you may be looking for.

Maybe you can find some info about Zelig where I believe Gordon Willis did some research about emulation silent era films. But it has been a long time since I have seen that film or read about it I forget the details.

Best

Tim

Edited by timHealy, 14 April 2007 - 11:22 AM.

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#6 Hal Smith

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 11:43 AM

Maybe you can find some info about Zelig where I believe Gordon Willis did some research about emulation silent era films. But it has been a long time since I have seen that film or read about it I forget the details.
Tim

Doug Hart was 1st AC on "Zelig". He's pretty accessible on cml-ac and might know some of the research done for the "look".
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#7 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 01:21 PM

But if the original negative or a fine-grain copy survived, then a new print will show you that many silent era movies were quite sharp and fine-grained, especially before diffusion became popular.

Besides, he's shooting in 16mm and silent era movies were 35mm, so you've already got enough softness and grain from that.


The Criterion DVD of DeMille's 'King of Kings' has "out takes" which seem to be set ups used in the movie shot with a hand held Eyemo set up next to the main camera. Go figure.
But it seems these negatives haven't been touched since 1927. The print quality is stunning.

Anyway, use a blue filter since the stocks in the teens were blue sensitive.

Panchromatic stock was not as sharp as blue sensitve. Arc lights are rather noisy, there wasn't a mass switch over to panchromatic until sound took over and the noisy arcs had to be replaced with incandescents.
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#8 Frank Barrera

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 02:26 PM

hello...
im curious what are some ways to make a 16mm film that looks like it it was made in the 10's or 20's, without the use of digital effects? im going to be working with a basic student bolex model 16mm camera and was curious if there were low budget ways to get this effect...anyways, thanks!
~adam

i tried this in film school many years ago and used 7222 ASA 200T. shot everything at 18fps (for 24fps projection). cut the whole thing on a Moviola. i collaborated with our music department and had a screening with a live 8 piece jazz band accompanying the movie. ahhh yes those were the days...

anyway i had shot some tests and thought 16fps was a bit too fast at 24 and 22 a bit too slow.
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#9 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 05:15 PM

Well stored stuff that's been looked after can look fine.


This comment reminds me of the documentary on the Endurance, the footage shot at the time by the ship's photographer looked amazing. I don't know how much it was tweeked for the documentary but it was really impressive.
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#10 Chris Keth

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 06:17 PM

Doug Hart was 1st AC on "Zelig". He's pretty accessible on cml-ac and might know some of the research done for the "look".


Doug talked a bit about that at his AC workshop last summer. Willis got hold of a set of very old Cooke lenses from about the 20s and had Panavision rehouse them to work on their cameras. I think he also mentioned panavision altering the movement of one of the cameras so it could be handcranked. Probably a lot of push processing to get the high contrast look of multi-generation-old prints. I also remember him saying that they beat the hell out of an internegative or print in Gordon's shower (or something like that) to put the scratches and dirt on it.

I would start by getting hold of a K3. They have a very simple movement that is easily handcranked to get the unique look it yields. You might also try finding some B&W reversal. The contrast it has looks very similar to me to an old print.
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#11 Charles MacDonald

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 09:44 PM

I would start by getting hold of a K3. They have a very simple movement that is easily handcranked to get the unique look it yields. You might also try finding some B&W reversal. The contrast it has looks very similar to me to an old print.


I know from playing wioth very old 16mm camera that the old Wolensak (sp) lenes that are not coated will create nice flare, which may be part of the "old time" look.
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#12 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 24 April 2007 - 01:22 PM

in terms of frame rate, silent movies have a look that was variable due to the nature of hand cranked cameras of the day. Not only did that change the apparent speed of whatever was being photographed, but also contributed to changes in exposure and density.


A good cameraman could note only maintain a cosistant cranking speed, but if he changed speed during a shot could change the shutter angle simultaneously to maintain a constant exposure.
Tisse did this speed ramping in the battle on the Ice in "Aleksandr Nevskii".

Anyway here's a Kevin Brownlow piece on handcranking speeds:

http://www.cinemaweb...elf/18_kb_2.htm
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