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Will new digital cameras result in a loss of the cinematographers control over image?


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#1 grant mcphee

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 09:11 AM

I was working on a shoot recently with the Viper which got me thinking.

From doing some digital films a few years ago on Digibeta and HDcam I know that, in order to keep a certain look the dop could set-up the camera through the menus to give that desired look. Due to the lack of power at that time with video post-production, what came out of the camera was pretty much what was seen on screen/tv. Either 'shot straight' or given a 'look'.

Now that post production is so much more powerful it is very easy to give a/alter the look after the shoot. On most TV programmes you now see a 'colo(u)rist' in the credits, where many years ago you would never see a film timer/grader credited (though they are seen far down in the credits of features). I've spoken to a few cameramen who have said they were not happy with the look some footage they shot had been given.

Because of the difficulty of giving a film shot on new cameras such as the viper, d20 etc a 'stamped in look' do you think there is a possibility that the dop's role could be split between whoever is responsible for the post production look? Will it become more of a commitee decision like when video assist became available - client's/execs chipping in with their suggestions on framing? Will the dop still be involved in the final grade as they would if shooting on film?

I find it interesting, I've heard dops on shorts or tv programmes wanting contracts to say they want to be responsible for the complete look of the film. I've also heard that this can lead to problems with producers not wanting this due to fineprint legalities involving entitlement to re-run percentages.

At the moment this only seems to be an issue with shorts and TV etc.

The look of a movie shot on one of the high end digital cameras will have been thoroughly worked out and tested. And as the technology for grading with this footage is still so expensive and mostly still confined to large post-production houses it makes sense to have the dop supervise this. But as technology gets cheaper will this change? If a look can be achieved without paying for the expense of a DP to supervise will it be done cheaper by someone else? Will the director take that role?

Will there be two DPs - A lighting DP and a Postproduction/Look DP?

If there is a DOP who is fantastic at lighting but not so great with technology work with a 'Postproduction DoP' who has a great ability in image manipulation but is not so good with lighting?


What comes out of the Viper is very different to the final image. But so also is what comes out of a film camera. And also, with digital scanning this, if it were to happen with movies could have happened by now.

Does the digital grader have more power than the film grader.


Though things like this have happened before. The Dop role spit when it was decided that a seperate operator could improve the image.

Can it change again?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 12:49 PM

I don't see a real change -- as you say, the film negative has to be "interpreted" just like some uncorrected LOG recording from a Viper. And a colorist has always had more flexibility in altering the image compared to a print timer, but that's been true for over twenty years.

If anything, with these new LOG and RAW cameras, we are getting closer to shooting the equivalent of a digital negative.

What happens after we shoot it, in terms of maintaining control, is the same challenge whether we shot film or digital. I don't see why a digital camera per se would cause a cinematographer to lose control over the image in post, whereas a film negative wouldn't. If anything, you could argue that with the wider dynamic range of film, shooting film allows more manipulation in post.

Plus it is possible, through the use of LUT's, to eliminate the colorist step for dailies (not the final presentation) so that the LOG or RAW image is simply run through the LUT to create a crudely color-corrected dailies copy. So in this case, it may give more control back to the cinematographer compared to shooting film.

However, the problem -- and importance -- of maintaining control over the final color-correction is the same no matter what format you shoot.
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#3 John Sprung

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 01:15 PM

Will there be two DPs - A lighting DP and a Postproduction/Look DP? ....

Does the digital grader have more power than the film grader.


The colorist is basically the post-DP that you envision. But in the established hierarchy, he/she works for the DP just as the operator and gaffer do.

Electronic color correction for TV started back in the early 1980's, and has always had vastly more power than the setting of three lights in conventional film timing. It's only in the last few years with the widespread use of DI's that the same powerful tools have become standard procedure for feature films.

Locking in a "look" in camera was only necessary back in the days of video tape recording. With this inadequacy of tape out of the way, things work as David says, more like film.




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#4 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 02:45 PM

The colorist is basically the post-DP that you envision. But in the established hierarchy, he/she works for the DP just as the operator and gaffer do.


Having not worked with RAW and/ or LOG cameras I can only say this: Every time I deal with colorists I have to fight them to give me what I want in terms of contrast, color balance, etc. Most DO forget that they work FOR the DP and just use their own judgment. So they will dial all this contrast to my carefully lit image, crushing all the blacks and mid-lows and then will want to move on to the next shot right away or whatever. Most also overlook my color chart at the beginning of the roll and just time out whatever I was going for. So it is kind disheartening: the day that I can't attend an important HD transfer and just hope and pray that the colorist does a good job consistent with my and/ or the director's vision, even if I send him/her stills of what I am going for.

However, in the world of commercials, sometimes a DP will be very middle of the road in his approach to the look and just leave it to the director and clients to figure it out themselves in post. That was a bit shocking when I fist encountered, but it does make sense for a short project: THIS WOULD NOT FLY VERY EASILY ON FEATURES, unless it was agreed to from the beginning.

So it is kind of a toss up. I am still trying to figure it out with new technologies. Yet, I would reinforce the notion that a cinematographer, being responsible for the image, should stay as closely involved as possible thoroughout the project to make sure the resulting image represents his vision; which is standard procedure in the industry anyway. Therefore, a cinematographer's role SHOULDN"T change as new technologies and workflows arrive, at least as far as what we are talking about goes.

Edited by saulie rodgar, 04 February 2008 - 02:47 PM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 02:47 PM

Having not worked with RAW and/ or LOG cameras I can only say this: Everytime I deal with colorists I have to fight them to give me what I want in terms of contrast, color balance, etc. Most DO forget that they work FOR the DP and just use their own judgement. So they will dial all this contrast to my carefully lit image, crushing all the blacks and mid-lows and then will want to move on to the next shot right away or whatever.


But that could happen when working with a LOG scan of negative.
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#6 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 02:52 PM

But that could happen when working with a LOG scan of negative.


Yeah, you are right. I am just talking about what I have experienced, and I haven't done a LOG scan of negative yet . . .
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#7 K Borowski

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 03:57 PM

The classic example of how film does NOT always allow the cinematographers to retain control is when they were shooting makeup tests with green makeup for the original Star Trek series. The tests kept coming back with Majel Barrett (who ended up playing Nurse Chapel and marrying Gene Roddenberry) having normal fleshtones instead of greenish ones.

Someone at the lab, seeing the greenish flesh tones, panicked and thought they had screwed up the film processing, and timed the colors back to "normal".

As with all human group endeavours, communication and cooperation remain an imperative part of the process of filmmaking.
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#8 Michael Most

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Posted 05 February 2008 - 02:30 PM

The colorist is basically the post-DP that you envision. But in the established hierarchy, he/she works for the DP just as the operator and gaffer do.


Having been in that chair for many years, I wouldn't put it that way. I would say that in television, the colorist works with the DP, but for the producer - a very different dynamic than that of the production crew. In some cases, the DP is given a lot of access to the colorist with the support of the producer - but that's not always the case. What is always the case is that the producer has the final say, not the DP.

BTW, when I say "producer" I'm actually referring to multiple entities. The producer designated as the "post" producer usually has authority in this area. The associate producer or post supervisor often sits in on the sessions and passes on notes, but does not usually have final say. In some extremely rare cases, an executive producer might give notes, but as I said, that's rare.
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#9 John Sprung

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Posted 05 February 2008 - 03:01 PM

My experience has been that the choice of colorist is usually made by the DP. In some cases, the DP's preference for a particular colorist drives the decision on which video facility to use. On a series, the DP comes in to work with the colorist for two or three shows, and thereafter the colorist knows what the DP wants, and only needs a few notes once in a while. Likewise, the associate producer learns the preferences and taste of the producer.

Ultimately, everybody works for the producers, except that they work for the studio, which works for the network. They hire the director and DP, and discuss the look of the show in pre production. If the producers do their part right, and they almost always do, everybody's on the same page, and we don't have disagreements over color timing. In 22 years, I can remember only one really massive color timing fight, and that was between a director and a network exec.




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#10 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 05 February 2008 - 03:17 PM

The classic example of how film does NOT always allow the cinematographers to retain control is when they were shooting makeup tests with green makeup for the original Star Trek series. The tests kept coming back with Majel Barrett (who ended up playing Nurse Chapel and marrying Gene Roddenberry) having normal fleshtones instead of greenish ones.


That was the Orion slave girl, Susan Oliver. & it was extremely deep green.
The Majel Barret character had quite normal skin tones.
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#11 Michael Most

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Posted 05 February 2008 - 03:19 PM

If the producers do their part right, and they almost always do, everybody's on the same page, and we don't have disagreements over color timing. In 22 years, I can remember only one really massive color timing fight, and that was between a director and a network exec.


In other words - and I've said this to people who haven't worked in post production of network television programs - it's really not that big a deal. I wish others could understand that.
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#12 Thomas James

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Posted 05 February 2008 - 05:39 PM

Cinematographers are losing a lot of control over the image. DOP's do not even have control over the frame rate because as soon as a consumer watches a Blu-Ray movie on a 120 hertz television it will look like a cheesy soap opera.

Cinematographers are also losing control over the resolution of the movie. In the past if footage were to be upconverted it relied on interpolation but this technology is rather limiting. Now a new technology called fractal based upconverting is being employed. Since we know the mathematical properties of all objects any object can be upconverted. The computer or editor identifies the object to be upconverted such as a fern. A mathematical algorithm based on the fractal properties of a fern is employed and bingo the upconversion can be continued into infinity as each leaf breaks off into subleafs. Other objects such as snow can be upconverted endlessly and even individual crystals can be resolved artificially.
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