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Old Film Flicker


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#1 Cougar Keegan

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 05:05 AM

First off, looks like a great community here, kudos.. hope I'm asking this in the right forum.. (this was my best guess, of course :) ).

What causes the flicker effect in old, specifically 1940s-60s motion pictures?

I have heard it's a symptom of deterioration. Maybe that's partly true..

But to me, it has always looked 99% like an exposure issue.

My best guess has always been that these cameras did not have precise motors and occassionally the shutter would stick for a microsecond, thus creating uneven exposure.

(and I'm not even talking about the extreme issues found in crude, early/hand-crank stuff).

I see this happening all the time in films... becoming less common as the films get closer to the era of modern cameras. Seems more noticeable in B&W.

So... here's my REAL questions:

1) am I even right?

2) if so, what brought an end to the previously common flicker in films? like, what technological development? did manufacturing and electronics just perfect film motors enough that it ceased to be an issue?

I am just curious because I would love to know, if I went looking for a working vintage camera, what model/era/type of camera would have this effect and why.
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#2 Stephen Williams

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 08:54 AM

First off, looks like a great community here, kudos.. hope I'm asking this in the right forum.. (this was my best guess, of course :) ).

What causes the flicker effect in old, specifically 1940s-60s motion pictures?

I have heard it's a symptom of deterioration. Maybe that's partly true..

But to me, it has always looked 99% like an exposure issue.

My best guess has always been that these cameras did not have precise motors and occassionally the shutter would stick for a microsecond, thus creating uneven exposure.

(and I'm not even talking about the extreme issues found in crude, early/hand-crank stuff).

I see this happening all the time in films... becoming less common as the films get closer to the era of modern cameras. Seems more noticeable in B&W.

So... here's my REAL questions:

1) am I even right?

2) if so, what brought an end to the previously common flicker in films? like, what technological development? did manufacturing and electronics just perfect film motors enough that it ceased to be an issue?

I am just curious because I would love to know, if I went looking for a working vintage camera, what model/era/type of camera would have this effect and why.


Hi,

I think you need to go to much older films that were developed by hand. I have tried to cause flicker by hand cranking, it really does not work unless you have a very small shutter angle.

Stephen
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#3 Paul Bruening

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 09:02 AM

Can you provide more details about the circumstances under which you've spotted flickering? Was it an old print on a projector? Was it a DVD? Was it on TV? What was the age of the movie? What were some titles? Are you sure what you're asking about? Sometimes people say flicker when they might mean jitter. I'm not implying anything. Just fishing for more information. Folks here can give you some fantastic answers but could use more info to arrive at a good answer.
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#4 John Sprung

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 12:08 PM

I restored an early hand crank camera (Ensign Cinematograph, circa 1895 - 1910). It turns out that you can't get flicker by cranking at erratic speeds. You get abnormal motion long before you get sufficient exposure variation. And the variation you get is spread out over several frames. Flicker requires frame to frame variation, or projection using a single blade shutter. You can make flicker in video post by blacking over every other frame, or blacking two frames out of every three.




-- J.S.
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#5 Cougar Keegan

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 07:23 PM

Can you provide more details about the circumstances under which you've spotted flickering? Was it an old print on a projector? Was it a DVD? Was it on TV? What was the age of the movie? What were some titles? Are you sure what you're asking about? Sometimes people say flicker when they might mean jitter. I'm not implying anything. Just fishing for more information. Folks here can give you some fantastic answers but could use more info to arrive at a good answer.


Thanks.. mostly I see it on DVDs.

After a quick search I found an example... this is from Hiroshima Mon Amour, 1959:

http://www.youtube.c...feature=related

The very first shot has a good, obvious example of what I'm referring to. The way the exposure kind of pulsates a bit from frame to frame.

I see this in a lot of movies from the 40's, 50's, 60's and probably into the 70's and beyond if I looked for it. Sometimes I notice it a slight bit on TV, even, like on some law and order episodes that were shot on 16mm.
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#6 Paul Bruening

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 08:36 PM

Your example shows it clearly. I haven't noticed it before. I'll keep an eye out for it, now.
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#7 John Hoffler

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 08:55 PM

if you are editing in Final Cut I found an effect that simulates that look somewhere online. I used it when I shot a 1920's-style slapstick in B&W on HD. It's a post effect, so it's not as good as the real deal and it compresses your image a little (just overexpose by 1/2 a stop and you'll be fine), but if you can find it, it could give you the look you're going for.

i think the effect on those older films is caused by the shutter.

Edited by John Hoffler, 12 August 2008 - 08:56 PM.

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#8 Stephen Williams

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 03:25 AM

Your example shows it clearly. I haven't noticed it before. I'll keep an eye out for it, now.


Hi,

Probably the adjustable shutter of the camera is worn and gittering. Happens most when the shutter angle is reduced, Mitchells that have not had any attention for a long time do this.

Stephen
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#9 John Sprung

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 12:24 PM

The very first shot has a good, obvious example of what I'm referring to. The way the exposure kind of pulsates a bit from frame to frame....

It looks a little longer than frame to frame, maybe 3-8 frames. Ideally, the thing to do is get this into an editing system where you can go thru it frame by frame. It's most prominent in the mid to high end. It might be a processing issue, or on color film, it might result from storing the reels on edge.



-- J.S.
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#10 Dominic Case

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 10:45 PM

Forget abour camera variation. As pointed out elsewhere, you'd see speed anomalies together with any flicker.

You could be looking at at slight age fading: even in b/w film, fading is possible, though usually minimal.

But don't forget that you are not looking directly at the negative, but at a print (or, strictly, a telecine transfer from a print). So the performance of the printer is up for question.

In a continuous printer, if the running speed of the printer varies, you will get exposure variation (and it's quite pronounced because of the high gamma of print stock.). And of course it won't have any effect on the speed of the action. 24 frames is still 24 frames. Similarly, if the light source in the printer varies at all, then you'll see that in the density of the print - also magnified as a result of the high gamma of the print stock.

And as John points out, processing variablility is also a suspect.

There is quite a lot to attend to in the lab to get it right. :blink:
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#11 John Butler

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 11:27 PM

I think I know what the OP is talking about. I have seen this in a lot of low budget films, sometimes it borders on severe. The beginning scenes of Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom, for example are very flickery.
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#12 Dominic Case

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Posted 14 August 2008 - 03:19 AM

The beginning scenes of Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom, for example are very flickery.

But Strictly Ballroom isn't a 1940s to 60s film that the question is about. Nor was it a particularly low budget film. Baz? Low budget? I don't think so!
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#13 nick lines

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Posted 14 August 2008 - 04:05 AM

in the first shot of that video, you can see the buildings jumping around aswell. It could be due to the film bouncing around and not being perfectly even for each capture. Prob because its made on 1940's equipment. So i would think that if the film is bouncing around the exposure could be slightly different?

I think when you see it in Strickly ballroom its obviously intentional, to give it that old home movie feel.

my two cents.
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#14 Stephen Williams

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Posted 14 August 2008 - 04:22 AM

in the first shot of that video, you can see the buildings jumping around aswell. It could be due to the film bouncing around and not being perfectly even for each capture. Prob because its made on 1940's equipment. So i would think that if the film is bouncing around the exposure could be slightly different?

I think when you see it in Strickly ballroom its obviously intentional, to give it that old home movie feel.

my two cents.


Hi,

Cameras were totally steady in the 1940's the Bell & Howell gate was designed around 1908, the Mitchell movement 10 years later. Panavision cameras made today are based on that Mitchell movement, no one has ever designed a steadier movement since.

Stephen
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#15 Cougar Keegan

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Posted 14 August 2008 - 06:28 AM

Hi,

Probably the adjustable shutter of the camera is worn and gittering. Happens most when the shutter angle is reduced, Mitchells that have not had any attention for a long time do this.

Stephen


Thanks... after pointing me in that direction I have done some more research and to augment your point, I believe the effect is caused by a shutter closed narrow and 'backlash' movement between the fixed and moving shutter blades. (found in Hands-On Manual for Cinematographers by David Samuelson, pg. 142.)
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#16 Hal Smith

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Posted 14 August 2008 - 06:50 AM

I've read that the flicker in old films is often caused by bad prints, the camera originals can be quite good. I'll post a the question over on 35mmforum.com and get some opinions from serious 35mm collectors.
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#17 Dominic Case

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Posted 14 August 2008 - 10:06 PM

I've read that the flicker in old films is often caused by bad prints, the camera originals can be quite good.

With respect Hal, I think that is exactly what I said - about 7 messages up from here.
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#18 Cougar Keegan

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Posted 15 August 2008 - 01:01 AM

I've read that the flicker in old films is often caused by bad prints, the camera originals can be quite good. I'll post a the question over on 35mmforum.com and get some opinions from serious 35mm collectors.



Thanks! Keep me posted. I am especially interested to discern between shutter backlash flicker and flicker from poor and/or aged prints.

With respect Hal, I think that is exactly what I said - about 7 messages up from here.


Yep, thanks!
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#19 David Desio

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Posted 15 August 2008 - 10:10 AM

Have you tried creating it while shooting? Maybe try putting a small fan right in front of the lens, turn it on and shoot through it. May simulate the shutter flicker.
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#20 John Sprung

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Posted 15 August 2008 - 12:49 PM

Have you tried creating it while shooting? Maybe try putting a small fan right in front of the lens, turn it on and shoot through it. May simulate the shutter flicker.

That'll get you a beat frequency between your frame rate and the fan speed. That frequency could be very high or very low, so it would be best to have some way of adjusting the fan speed to get one you like. It's also a lot more steady than what you'd get chemically or from a loose variable shutter blade. It won't quite be the same as what we see in the clip above.

It's also mainly a film thing. With a video camera, you'd get more of a roll bar than flicker.


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