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#1 Tom Hepburn

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 07:40 PM

This may be of interest, particularly as it seems to have been shot of an Aaton super 16. I'm not sure where it will air around the country (US), but it will be on Sept 27.... tomorrow where I am on PBS.

I've also seen some posts regarding 16mm and HD, so maybe we can see first hand some results. I would think that those of us that appreciate nature might like it as well.

Tom
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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 03:08 AM

Awesome, looking forward to it! Ken Burns, like NFL Films, is one of the last 16mm holdouts, God love him. Sounds like a perfect combination of subject matter and format. It should be interesting to see how the compression interacts with the Super16 film grain since PBS is definitely one of the cleaner looking HD broadcast channels. Setting my TiVo now...
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#3 John Cummings

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 09:48 PM

Having just watched the first installment of the series, I must say I was very disappointed with the quality of the images.

As masterfully as it was shot by Buddy Squires and crew, it's unfortunate that their images totally fell apart by the time they reached my plasma at home. (via WTTW in Chicago.)
Funky colors (especially the blues in the sky and the snow) gigantic grain, weaving images, and a general softness. At one point, I mistakenly thought some of the footage might have been archival film from the 50's...it looked that bad to me.

The closer I got to the display, the worse it looked.

In my mind, the limitations of super 16 are readily apparent. Especially after it travels the tortured path from PBS master control to my home. So why super 16? Apparently Ken Burns never saw "Planet Earth." (I know...there was some film there, too)

Too bad. It's a great series, with well told stories, great cinematography, and it all fell apart getting to my display.

John Cummings
Chicago
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 11:04 PM

If you are used to watching these new travel shows shot in HD, etc. then the Super-16 looks a bit soft (I'm watching the PBS Los Angeles HD broadcast right now) but it certainly looks pretty, and completely film-ish. I'm not sure Ken Burns was really interested in creating a "Planet Earth" type of experience anyway, there is always a touch of the past in his landscape photography, a poetic timeless feeling, and a bit of visual abstraction. The Jefferson documentary had a lot of b&w shots of Monticello for example. "Planet Earth" is more in that IMAX tradition of hyper-clear immersive experiences.
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#5 Roger Richards

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Posted 27 September 2009 - 11:13 PM

Wow, not sure why yours looked so bad, the picture on my 42" Panasonic plasma looked quite nice. It was definitely more grainy at times but looked very painterly to my eye. The format matched the subject, I think. From the credits I gather it was a 2K DI on an Arriscan.

As for gear, I saw the preview a few months ago and it was shot with an Aaton XTR-Prod with a Canon zoom and a big aluminium Sachtler tripod. I think film stock was primarily 7212 100T, like the last Burns film "The War", which was EXR100T 7248 and Vision 2 7212 100T.


Having just watched the first installment of the series, I must say I was very disappointed with the quality of the images.

As masterfully as it was shot by Buddy Squires and crew, it's unfortunate that their images totally fell apart by the time they reached my plasma at home. (via WTTW in Chicago.)
Funky colors (especially the blues in the sky and the snow) gigantic grain, weaving images, and a general softness. At one point, I mistakenly thought some of the footage might have been archival film from the 50's...it looked that bad to me.

The closer I got to the display, the worse it looked.

In my mind, the limitations of super 16 are readily apparent. Especially after it travels the tortured path from PBS master control to my home. So why super 16? Apparently Ken Burns never saw "Planet Earth." (I know...there was some film there, too)

Too bad. It's a great series, with well told stories, great cinematography, and it all fell apart getting to my display.

John Cummings
Chicago


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#6 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 03:37 AM

I was a bit surprised by how crushed the blacks were in the Super16 footage, in both the interviews and location footage - I usually leave the black control on my plasma display to "dark" but ended up changing it to "light" just for this. Strangely, the still photographs and archival footage were not crushed at all, although there was some weird aliasing going on in the stills. Maybe my eyes have gotten tuned to the "digital look", but I still see the occasional National Geographic 16mm docs in HD which look pretty good to me, despite being shot on much older stocks from the 80's and 90's.

I noticed in the preview for the next episode that the Grand Canyon/Southwest location footage looked a lot better than the Yellowstone/Yosemite stuff - with four cinematographers credited (including Burns himself), I guess it's always possible that there was some inconsistency in the quality of the photography over the course of the film.

I thought the grain+noise artifacts looked pretty normal for Super16 going through broadcast compression - not really natural or film-grain like, but acceptable. The hue of the blue skies really did look a bit odd - they obviously used a polarizer on many shots which can sometimes cause weird color shifts depending on the brand. I've used one brand before that caused blue skies to turn cyan, which resembles what's going on here.

Edited by Satsuki Murashige, 28 September 2009 - 03:42 AM.

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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 04:13 AM

Been kinda watching it in shifts, as I never seem to catch it from the beginning. But from what I saw, a lot of the nature footage looks pretty great. Some of the Yellowstone footage looked alien, but I couldn't say whether it was an artifact of any filterage or just the bizaar landscape and northern US light. I'll have to watch it some more and try to put my finger on it.

The interview footage looked pretty sharp, and surely shot on S16 as well. I'm curious what stock they chose.
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#8 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 06:31 AM

Ken Burns, like NFL Films, is one of the last 16mm holdouts, God love him.


Holdouts? You meant only for TV, I assume.

I just had a Blu-ray burn completed of a bunch of S16-to-1080 footage and on a 46" THX plasma, I bet many might think a good part of it was 35mm. There are certainly a ton of compression issues when it comes to TV HD and they probably vary.

Although shooting wide exteriors on S16 with a zoom lens will add softness too.
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#9 Tom Hepburn

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 09:05 AM

Here is my little review:

I tried not to analyze too much or pick things apart and look for grain in every flat area and only make note of it if it distracted me. The only shot that did distract me what a shot of the Mt. Rushmore that seemed to be out of focus everywhere but on Roosevelt, which I suppose could be the result of the distance between him and Washington (DOF), but it looked liked like something with the camera/lens/film perhaps instead.

So with the goal of not comparing video and film and let the experience wash over me as a consumer, I thought the colors were simply beautiful. I particularly thought the time lapse shots were nothing short of gorgeous. I also enjoyed the movie as a whole as I do with almost all of Ken Burns work, in that there is a sense of history and storytelling. Obviously in that context film really shines. I was in Yosemite a few years back and would say that the colors and reproduction is about as accurate as I remember, given the monumental limitation of being from a camera. The interviews, were also striking in their simplicity and lighting.

I have to say that I did get a lot of artifacts from what I gather is broadcast compression. However that is present in everything I see in this context. I would love to see a blue ray of this so I can be a little more analytical about the technology, but for now I’m just going to enjoy the series.

Tom
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#10 Gus Sacks

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 10:08 AM

I really enjoyed it. I had a feeling the colors had to do with the locations and sometimes the times of day the footage was shot at - it was colored at Goldcrest in NY, in some very, very capable hands. So I feel like it was purposeful, and it looked great to me. I actually enjoyed the grain for the most part :)
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#11 Peter J DeCrescenzo

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 05:53 PM

I enjoy Ken Burns' films, and especially the timelapse footage in the new series. It's looking pretty good on my 42" 1080p LCD HDTV via over-the-air broadcast, although there was an occasional drop-out because it was very windy last evening here.

Question for you "film folks" (I've never shot film): Perhaps one reason Ken Burns uses Super 16mm for a project like this is the days and days worth of footage they shoot together with the numerous "off-road" locations? Generally speaking are the S16 cams KB uses significantly smaller/lighter than "portable" 35mm cams, and also the stock less expensive?

The few S16 films cams I've seen in person certainly seem more compact and infinitely more elegantly designed ergonomically compared the pro ENG-style video cams I'm more familiar with.

Just wondering if maybe KB uses S16 for very-long-form-documentary for reasons aside from its image quality compared to 35mm, HD, etc.?
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#12 Roger Richards

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 06:13 PM

Hi Peter, I cannot speak for Ken Burns but I can offer info from what I read, and also as an Aaton XTRPlus owner (Buddy Squires and the cinematography crew used an XTRProd, the step up over mine). Burns uses film as he prefers the look and feel, and also for long term archival reasons. His films are about American culture and history, so he wishes the material to be available a long time from the present.

The Aaton XTR and LTR cameras were designed to be on the shoulder cameras, and they fit perfectly without any kind of brace or padding. The weight with a zoom lens like they used is about 17-18 pounds. The camera itself with film and magazine is 13lbs, the lens and other pieces add the rest of the weight. Super 16mm rawstock is also cheaper than 35mm, although it is is possible to buy short ends and left overs from large productions from wholesalers and specialty houses.
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#13 Fran Kuhn

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 06:28 PM

Just wondering if maybe KB uses S16 for very-long-form-documentary for reasons aside from its image quality compared to 35mm, HD, etc.?


Peter,

I also recall reading somewhere, possibly in his book, Ken Burns's America, that he vastly prefers an optical viewfinder on his cameras.

-Fran
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#14 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 05:28 PM

If Kodak's new post is accurate, the whole show was shot on 7219. That very specific choice would back up what David said, but I'm confused why someone would push it quite that far. The '01 or '12 stock would have been ideal it seems to me, or even the new '07, for all of the scenic wides. It doesn't seem quite grainy enough to be 500asa film but it's hard to tell how it was handled.
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#15 Tom Jensen

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 05:41 PM

I watched it and I liked it. I was more interested in content than production quality. I thought it looked great.
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#16 K Borowski

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 07:05 PM

Unfortunately, I don't have the PBS channel that shows it in HD, but the slow 16mm stocks I've seen tend to look very very good, certainly good enough at 1080i.

'19 is a surprising choice for the entiretly of a doc. like this. It seems as if Burns bought into the Vision3 hype.
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#17 Tom Hepburn

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 09:23 PM

This is interesting:

Is says that for Day:
Kodak Vision 2 7212

when it got dark:
Kodak Vision 2 7218

Some other bits on the scans as well:

Bob Fisher Article

Tom
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#18 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 30 September 2009 - 01:30 PM

Thanks for the article Tom.

John Dowdell, at Goldcrest, was the colorist. He has served in that role on all Florentine Films from the beginning. Final timing was done in a theater environment with the images projected on a big screen.

"Today's technology allows us to isolate elements of frames, so Ken and Buddy could add painterly touches to the look," Dowdell explains. "There is a sunset scene at Yosemite with a mountain in the background where you can feel as well as see the texture of water in the lake. It's visual poetry in motion.


Hmm, this might explain the slightly surreal look of some of the images. It sounds like they might have been inspired by 19th century western paintings like some of those seen here: http://www.artcyclop...rican_West.html.
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#19 K Borowski

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Posted 30 September 2009 - 05:10 PM

It is interesting that they scanned 16mm film at 3[.2]K. Next time I here about how 2K is adequate for 35mm footage, this will provide me with valuable ammunition ;-)

Also says they exposed 400,000 feet of film (75-3/4 mi./122km) in the making of this documentary series.

And, apparently, one of the big reasons he chose film was its archivability: "This film is history."
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#20 K Borowski

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Posted 30 September 2009 - 07:13 PM

I guess I actually do have the channel in HD.

Looking at this in 1080i, the compression is definitely the problem, not the film grain.

So the SD channel must be compressed EVEN MORE than it used to be during regular analog broadcast.


If you want to blame it on something, John, blame it on greedy TV executives trying to squeeze as much as possible out of the bandwidth and the FTC.

Can anyone recommend a good TV antenna manufacture? I'd really like to catch pick one up before this is done re-running.
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