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I Hate Digtial Intermediate Processing!


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#1 Shane Ramirez

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 03:57 AM

I truly feel that this new trend within the film industry is ruining our movies. Over the past few years, I have seen the slow death of all conventional telecine processing techniques like panavision (anamorphic), super 35, and spherical, and as such, am now being subjected to the ugliness that is digital.

For me, the DI diminishes everything that felt cinematic to me about film processing, turning cinematography of most recent movies into a ubiquitous commodity. The elevation of color levels- blues become navy blues, orange become burnt oranges, yellows become mustard yellows, and the reduction of middle tones and flesh tones all amp up the intensity of the lighting, making every DI appear loud and ovetstylized.

There is no softness in the process and because of it, films can no longer try to best mimic how the naked eye sees the world. Everything looks commercial with a DI. Movies are not even allowed to try to capture the color patterns, tones or shades of realistic lighting schemes. For example, the verisimilitude of a period piece is thrown off because the lighting looks obviously contemporary (like Atonement). Or franchises belie continuity because the disparity between telecine and DI is so great (Indiana Jones 4 compared to the other 3, Die Hard 4 compared to the other 3).

I've tried best to describe why I don't like it. It's a little difficult for me becuase my understanding is more observational than technical. Does anyone here share my concern?

Here are some related questions I have if anyone can answer me.
Do the directors and DPs not have a say in this anymore?
Is it that cheap over film that we have to finish movies like this?
If they do have a choice, why have so many switched?
Why isn't there any outrage in the DP community over this?
Does a general DI of a film automatically increase the intensity of the color levels or is there such thing as a basic DI of a film that you can process with and not retouch?
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#2 David Rakoczy

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 07:44 AM

DI is a tool.. like everything else. It depends on how one uses it. To answer your last question.. no, DI can desaturate as well.

DIing a Feature can run well over $100k so it is not about saving money...

I will agree that many of Kodak's modern Stocks have more of a 'video' feel than a 'filmic' feel and certainly this can be enhanced in DI.
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#3 Serge Teulon

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 09:06 AM

I've never done a DI.
The reason being that DI's are quite expensive and the films that I've worked on to date, have not had an indulgent amount of money.
I do however, read alot about other dp's really liking the DI.
R Deakins for one, tends to use it all the time, by his own admission. To my eyes his work looks great!

Could it be that it is so popular as shoot times these days are so compressed. You can always correct something in the DI thus saving more money doing it that way, rather than sorting out any creases on set, which we are suppose to do, but requires more time.
The formula goes: more time = more money.

I suppose I'll only really work it out when I do my 1st DI.

Here's waiting....

Edited by Serge Teulon, 18 October 2008 - 09:08 AM.

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#4 Paul Bruening

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 01:08 PM

DI is the best of both worlds: Film as the originating medium with all the powers of digital to work with.

Everything in the movie making process has compromises. Folks on this forum have argued both sides of every issue. Emotions and flames have entered into the discussion more than a few times. All that added together, you'll run across a general consensus: DI is really convenient, makes even subtle FX readily available, patches stuff that didn't go right during production, makes color timing a relative breeze and is truly, creatively empowering. Sure, it does alter the pure organic look of an all-optical path. But what it gives back is so great that it is just too useful to consider avoiding it over thoughts of optical purity. Remember, the old optical path had a lot of steps and used some clunky and expensive machines to get the job done. I have fond memories of all that. But, I like the new widgets better.

The digital vs film origination argument rages on, however. Digital is convenient. Film still holds out in the looks department. Though, most folks, including myself, are adjusting slowly to the fact that digital is getting really close to film.
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#5 Benson Marks

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 03:42 PM

I feel your pain when it comes to DI, but I don't think that movies are being ruined by this... The movies you just described were just simply terrible. Indiana Jones 4 wasn't bad because it used DI, it's because the sci-fi stuff is too far-fetched for the franchise it's supposed to be. Atonement isn't terrible because it used DI, it's just that it's a movie nobody wants to see even if it was nominated for best picture during oscar season.

In fact, not every movie that uses the DI process is terrible. All three Lord of the Rings movies used DI, and we all know those movies were smashing, and just this year, The Dark Knight used the DI process. Was that movie a disaster?

Personally, I think that a great movie comes from a great story no matter what process is used on it. Most of the movies that come out today have stories that are more mediocre than great, which is why cinema isn't as sparkling as it used to be. Sad.

Edited by Benson Marks, 18 October 2008 - 03:44 PM.

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#6 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 08:03 PM

Or franchises belie continuity because the disparity between telecine and DI is so great (Indiana Jones 4 compared to the other 3, Die Hard 4 compared to the other 3).


I agree with David, DI is a tool, and the look you achieve by running it through it is what and how you do with it.

As to the franchises you refer, the reason why they look different is because everything changed from when the previous installments were made, from lenses and film stock to set design and construction, wardrobe design techniques to the actual aesthetic decisions of the director / producers, special effects etc.

Technically, movies could be made to replicate the look of older movies by choosing same lenses, stock, production techniques, aesthetic decisions, etc. But in some cases the work of cinematographers, production designers of special effects techs cannot be reconstructed because the original ones are dead or retired -or just plain unavailable- so new blood will bring new ideas and the result won't be the same as the work of people no longer involved in the project.

So there is not one culprit as to why movies don't look the same as they used to, but many. And there is nothing people can actually do about some of the causes. It is the passage of time (and technological and aesthetic changes related to) that dictates the difference in the look of movies.

Look at a picture of yourself fifteen years ago, now look at yourself in the mirror. Does your image in the mirror look the same as your image in the picture?
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 09:23 PM

Do you think it's possible that, once he's persuaded a production to pay for a DI, a director of photography feels some obligation to do something noticeable with it?

P
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#8 Benson Marks

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 10:59 PM

Do you think it's possible that, once he's persuaded a production to pay for a DI, a director of photography feels some obligation to do something noticeable with it?

P


I'm sorry, but I'm having an extremely hard time interpreting what you just said. Could you explain to me what you're talking about? 'Cause I lost you somewhere in your sentence.

Edited by Benson Marks, 18 October 2008 - 11:00 PM.

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#9 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 11:18 PM

The look you achieve by running it through it is what and how you do with it.


Wow, what a Palin-like sentence. Translation:

The look of the film run through a DI is largely dependent on how it is handled digitally and to what degree artificial digital elements are introduced -i.e. special effects and color manipulation, etc. A cinematographer overseeing the process helps keep it in check, as sometimes the producers and director will dial too much of something -contrast, brightness, etc. I have had to fight them in the DI room, not successfully every once in a while. :(
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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 18 October 2008 - 11:27 PM

I believe Phil my be referring to a feeling, either overt or not, that once a production has committed to the DI process, the DP is obliged-- in some way-- to utilize its tools; rather akin to getting everyone up at 5 am to shoot a sunset... once you're there, you have to shoot it, even if its not really what you want. So, now you, the DP, has sold production, or been pushed by production, into a DI... you've spent their money and you may feel you need to show something from that. Again, this may be sub-conscience originated, or an overall overt feeling, but I would tend to agree it is partially there. Also, I would argue, that a DI takes discipline. If you're lacking in discipline you can get lackluster results. This being the case, there are some amazing looking DIs done on films by very qualified DPs. Saul touches on a major point of departure from films of old, as does David, that we're comparing what we have presently to that which we had before. Also, as new technicians take up from where the old guard leaves off the form of our work evolves bringing with it new ideas and techniques, and new aesthetics. The films we make now will be the reference films, to some degree, to those who come after us and it stands to reason their methods will be an evolution of our own styles synthesized with the technology of their time much as our films now come from the films of the older-greats realized through the technology we have today.
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#11 Shane Ramirez

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 07:44 PM

I feel your pain when it comes to DI, but I don't think that movies are being ruined by this... The movies you just described were just simply terrible. Indiana Jones 4 wasn't bad because it used DI, it's because the sci-fi stuff is too far-fetched for the franchise it's supposed to be. Atonement isn't terrible because it used DI, it's just that it's a movie nobody wants to see even if it was nominated for best picture during oscar season.

In fact, not every movie that uses the DI process is terrible. All three Lord of the Rings movies used DI, and we all know those movies were smashing, and just this year, The Dark Knight used the DI process. Was that movie a disaster?

Personally, I think that a great movie comes from a great story no matter what process is used on it. Most of the movies that come out today have stories that are more mediocre than great, which is why cinema isn't as sparkling as it used to be. Sad.


With my examples of continuity, from an aesthetic sense, the films were ruined. Yeah, Indy and DH 4 weren't very good. That's beside the point. Not DIing them, no matter the change in DPs or stocks or technology, would have retained some continuity with their filmic predecessors.

Well, the first Lord of the Rings only partially digitally manupulated some segments, it was mostly Super 35. The other two were DI but well before the 2K and 4K formats that started with Spider Man 2 I believe. So they mostly still appear filmic to my eyes and are not wholly saturated. That look does not bug me.

I was disappointed to find that Dark Knight was a DI. I read a quote somewhere from Wally Pfister where he really championed celluloid processing. Now, granted he is such a gifted DP that his talents weren't completely dilluted by the DI, but given his pension for soft, natural lighting, the Panavision process works better for his style at bringing out the details and out of focus backgrounds. If you take a look at all his other films, he really highlights the separation of background colors with foreground colors in selsctive focus shots, something that I feel the DI diminishes.
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#12 Shane Ramirez

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 07:49 PM

Wow, what a Palin-like sentence. Translation:

The look of the film run through a DI is largely dependent on how it is handled digitally and to what degree artificial digital elements are introduced -i.e. special effects and color manipulation, etc. A cinematographer overseeing the process helps keep it in check, as sometimes the producers and director will dial too much of something -contrast, brightness, etc. I have had to fight them in the DI room, not successfully every once in a while. :(


What is curious to me is that any DI I have seen, regardless of how much or how little altered, looks so fundamentally different. Is there a way to digitally process without retouching anything, and have it come out looking just like the film it was shot on, only now just rendered through a computer?

If you have seen deleted scenes on DVDs of late, most of them aren't polished and just look like the film they were shot on. Is it possible to keep the original look with any DI?
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 08:04 PM

What is curious to me is that any DI I have seen, regardless of how much or how little altered, looks so fundamentally different. Is there a way to digitally process without retouching anything, and have it come out looking just like the film it was shot on, only now just rendered through a computer?

If you have seen deleted scenes on DVDs of late, most of them aren't polished and just look like the film they were shot on. Is it possible to keep the original look with any DI?


What difference does that make? If you see something on DVD that didn't go through a D.I. then it did go through a telecine process, which is basically the same thing except at video resolution without a film-out.

Sure, you can put film through a D.I. and make a print that comes close to the look of a straight print off of the original negative. How else do you think they calibrate the whole process?

Most of what you seem to be objecting to are deliberate choices by the creative people involved in the D.I., not the process itself, which can be fairly neutral in what it contributes. Occasionally the D.I. process itself is at fault, mainly when corners are cut to save money. But most of what you are seeing is deliberate, more or less.

Look at a movie like "Children of Men" -- the dailies were printed on film using a silver retention process and then the movie itself went through a D.I. but they tried to come close to the look of the dailies, which were on the desaturated side because of the use of 5229 and the silver process. Look at Lubezsky's recent work on "Burn After Reading" -- it's a pretty straight-forward D.I. that matches the natural look of the 5229 stock used.

The other issue are digital artifacts that arise from the fact that you can fix problematic shots (misexposed, misfocused, misframed, etc.) in the D.I. process but at some cost to technical quality, but the alternative is to have the shots look "wrong" and mismatched rather than attempt to fix them.

There is some technical loss from the 2K D.I. process commonly used, but I think one problem is that the D.I. process makes some formats like 3-perf 35mm or HD more convenient to shoot compared to a more expensive film format like 35mm anamorphic, so it's not so much that the D.I. is lowering quality but it is making it too easy for people to make choices that lower quality elsewhere in the chain.

But it would be wrong to say that a D.I. makes an image look "fundamentally different" -- most D.I. labs can A-B or side-by-side project tests of 35mm footage that was contact-printed versus went through a D.I. and they look pretty close. Hardly a fundamental difference. Any fundamental difference is usually due to a deliberate decision in the color-correction process to push the image in ways that could not be achieved photochemically.

And you can ask yourself, does it make sense to not use a D.I. process to its fullest capabilities? In a D.I. session, you can essentially do what b&w still photographers have done for decades, "dodge & burn" -- so given that in a D.I. session you can darken or brighten part of the frame to make an image look better, would you not do it simply because you couldn't do it in a contact print?
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#14 Benson Marks

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 08:33 PM

With my examples of continuity, from an aesthetic sense, the films were ruined. Yeah, Indy and DH 4 weren't very good. That's beside the point. Not DIing them, no matter the change in DPs or stocks or technology, would have retained some continuity with their filmic predecessors.

Well, the first Lord of the Rings only partially digitally manupulated some segments, it was mostly Super 35. The other two were DI but well before the 2K and 4K formats that started with Spider Man 2 I believe. So they mostly still appear filmic to my eyes and are not wholly saturated. That look does not bug me.

I was disappointed to find that Dark Knight was a DI. I read a quote somewhere from Wally Pfister where he really championed celluloid processing. Now, granted he is such a gifted DP that his talents weren't completely dilluted by the DI, but given his pension for soft, natural lighting, the Panavision process works better for his style at bringing out the details and out of focus backgrounds. If you take a look at all his other films, he really highlights the separation of background colors with foreground colors in selsctive focus shots, something that I feel the DI diminishes.


Does that still mean the DI process is bad? Here's the problem: The Dark Knight was still a great movie even if the DI effected it somewhat! As for your continuity thoughts, sure, they would have retained continuity with their predecessors had they not used the DI process, but here's what you need to think about: THEY SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN MADE IN THE FIRST PLACE! Also, all of those franchises you mentioned had all their movies using the DI process. Just as all three Lord of the Rings movies still used DI and they still were very well made, so all three Spider-Man movies used the 2K DI process (Not just Spider-Man 2) and the third one was terrible anyway.

The DI process should only be used for newer franchises that are experimenting with the process. No matter what you say, Shane, DI is still in its baby years. It still needs to mature and over time, and it should improve as time goes by. Sound film had problems of its own before it later became commonplace, including problems involving synchronization, playback volume, and recording fidelity. DI has its own problems right now. Like you said, the stuff looks overstylized. Over time, the issues you are bringing up eventually won't be issues anymore.
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#15 Benson Marks

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Posted 19 October 2008 - 11:58 PM

Look at a movie like "Children of Men" -- the dailies were printed on film using a silver retention process and then the movie itself went through a D.I. but they tried to come close to the look of the dailies, which were on the desaturated side because of the use of 5229 and the silver process. Look at Lubezsky's recent work on "Burn After Reading" -- it's a pretty straight-forward D.I. that matches the natural look of the 5229 stock used.


Thank you, David. Now Shane, stop being a crybaby when you shouldn't be. If you can get close enough to the dailies, I don't think you should be complaining about how bad DI is in the first place.
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#16 Will Earl

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 06:30 AM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure The Dark Knight didn't use a DI. It did contain digital effects shots which were filmed out at 5.6k and 8k.

As to the topic at hand, I don't have a problem with the DI process. Used well it's good, used badly then it's bad - seems rather obvious.
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#17 Kevin Masuda

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 09:17 AM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure The Dark Knight didn't use a DI. It did contain digital effects shots which were filmed out at 5.6k and 8k.

As to the topic at hand, I don't have a problem with the DI process. Used well it's good, used badly then it's bad - seems rather obvious.


I believe it went through DI for the IMAX prints.

Kev
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#18 Benson Marks

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 02:35 PM

I believe it went through DI for the IMAX prints.

Kev


Just to let you in the know, IMAX said that they were going DI for all their IMAX prints, so yes, you're right, Kevin.
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#19 Dan Goulder

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 03:02 PM

So, exactly how many examples are there of cinematographers who were dragged kicking and screaming though the D.I. process against their will? (not many)
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#20 Chris D Walker

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 06:46 PM

From what I read about The Dark Knight there was a mixture of photochemical and DI.

For the Imax prints all the the anamorphic scenes were scanned from a positive contact printed from the negative at 4K which went through the DMR process; visual effects in Imax were scanned at either 8K or 5.6K while shots without digital effects were contact printed from the negative.

Reversely, the anamorphic prints had all of the native 35mm material go through the IP/IN steps and the Imax segments were recorded onto 35mm at 4K in the IP stage. That's what I read.

As far as DI goes I see a few issues with how they are now: 2K, an IP/IN generational loss, and which people call the final 'look' of the film (I hear producers mentioned a lot). Ideally, every big film should be 4K recorded onto several 'master' or 'original' negatives from which all prints are made (maybe a growing trend). Lastly, the final look should be that of the director and their DP. To smaller features perhaps HD or 2K with a handful of 'original negatives' will be viable and affordable in the foreseeable future. I'm not so sure what to say about independent features, though.
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