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How to make digital look unique?


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#1 Matthew Fiorentino

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Posted 09 February 2010 - 02:50 PM

I know this is nearly a retread of the dreaded film vs. digital topic, so let me try to put a different spin on it:

As I look to get back into film making after having dropped out of film school, I've been doing a lot of research on shooting formats, costs, etc. and how to best establish myself. It's obvious to me now that shooting digital is unavoidable (though not necessarily undesirable) for the newcomer. The smartest thing to do seems to be to experiment with digital while making a name (and ideally a bit of pocket money) through festival entries before moving onto film.

I've watched a lot of projects shot on digital, both professional and amateur and time and time again I'm bothered by the way they look. Now, I realize that it's impossible for digital video to look like it was shot on Kodak 5254, but it got me thinking - what is it about all these projects that look the same and why?

Sharpness/clarity of image is an obvious one, and it seems to me that many personal projects end up looking like car commercials. Would it be unfair to say that there's a lack of originality and increasing worship of sterility/uniformity of the image on screen? Even films shot on 35mm tend to have the same look nowadays - as much as I enjoyed the cinematography on 'No Country For Old Men' for example, I can't help but feel I would've liked it more if it could've been shot on a 70s stock. I hate to sound like someone blinded by nostalgia, but I feel that there is a creeping sameness to the look of films nowadays regardless of medium and in spite of the best efforts of cinematographers, however innovative they may be.

It seems that the best way to overcome the uniformity of the 'digital' look would be to bring some originality to the framing, set/location design and color palette, which I don't see enough of.

Does anyone have any good examples of strikingly original works being done on digital? I've often thought about shooting something more tailored to the medium - i.e. abandon realist dramas and do something involving more montage, attention to framing (like adapting this http://www.youtube.c...h?v=AJb150JRqpQ).

Sorry to ramble on, and I don't mean to sound like a philistine, but does anyone else see similar issues?

Edited by Matthew Fiorentino, 09 February 2010 - 02:53 PM.

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#2 Keneu Luca

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 02:04 AM

I know this is nearly a retread of the dreaded film vs. digital topic, so let me try to put a different spin on it:

As I look to get back into film making after having dropped out of film school, I've been doing a lot of research on shooting formats, costs, etc. and how to best establish myself. It's obvious to me now that shooting digital is unavoidable (though not necessarily undesirable) for the newcomer. The smartest thing to do seems to be to experiment with digital while making a name (and ideally a bit of pocket money) through festival entries before moving onto film.

I've watched a lot of projects shot on digital, both professional and amateur and time and time again I'm bothered by the way they look. Now, I realize that it's impossible for digital video to look like it was shot on Kodak 5254, but it got me thinking - what is it about all these projects that look the same and why?

Sharpness/clarity of image is an obvious one, and it seems to me that many personal projects end up looking like car commercials. Would it be unfair to say that there's a lack of originality and increasing worship of sterility/uniformity of the image on screen? Even films shot on 35mm tend to have the same look nowadays - as much as I enjoyed the cinematography on 'No Country For Old Men' for example, I can't help but feel I would've liked it more if it could've been shot on a 70s stock. I hate to sound like someone blinded by nostalgia, but I feel that there is a creeping sameness to the look of films nowadays regardless of medium and in spite of the best efforts of cinematographers, however innovative they may be.

It seems that the best way to overcome the uniformity of the 'digital' look would be to bring some originality to the framing, set/location design and color palette, which I don't see enough of.

Does anyone have any good examples of strikingly original works being done on digital? I've often thought about shooting something more tailored to the medium - i.e. abandon realist dramas and do something involving more montage, attention to framing (like adapting this http://www.youtube.c...h?v=AJb150JRqpQ).

Sorry to ramble on, and I don't mean to sound like a philistine, but does anyone else see similar issues?


I think it was about 2 years ago, maybe more that I posted somewhere on this site that most digital content I see is so homogenized. Homogenized video. I can no longer find this post - did it get removed?

But I was talking about the very same phenomenon you speak of. And yes, you still see it in content that originated on film, but it is still a digital issue. It is because the DI process has become something of a mandate -whether it is necessary or not. It really seems self-conscious and something of an insecurity - using the DI process demonstrates that you have the ability to do so, otherwise, youre not seen as someone who "knows what they're doing".

It's like a disease that comes with the technology - if youre not using the latest gear, you are somehow behind.

I think it may have been in the same post where I wondered if an analogue HD system might be a worthy endeavor. If HD is trying to look like film so bad, maybe it needs to be analogue....like film.

As far as making your digital efforts stand out, well, thats up to you. Thats what will make you a unique artist, the fact that you yourself can come up with a motivated and informed lighting design and then implement and execute it with practicality.
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#3 Rollin Hunt

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 03:08 AM

The most important thing I learned in film school (I dropped out too) is that every shot should have a purpose. Whatever you can do to convey meaningful information is what works. My favorite movies that are shot with digital cameras are ones that completely embrace reality and don't try to gussy everything up and try to compensate with meaningless tricks. I think that perhaps what irks us is the lack of originality in storytelling. I think there is a limit to technical trickery with any camera that's trying to capture a narrative. I think classic cinematography is going the way of the opera and at some point the digital aesthetic will be fully embraced as the norm.
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#4 Matthew Fiorentino

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 10:39 AM

I've always like this piece of wisdom from Ermanno Olmi:

"The first generation filmmakers looked at life, and made films. Second generation of filmmakers watched the films of the first generation, looked at life, and made films. The third generation just watched the films of 1st and 2nd generations, and made films. The fourth generation, which is us, looks neitheir at life, nor watches the films, we merely go trough the (product) catalogues, and base our movies on technical capabilities."
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#5 Claus Harding

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 01:06 PM

I've always like this piece of wisdom from Ermanno Olmi:

"The first generation filmmakers looked at life, and made films. Second generation of filmmakers watched the films of the first generation, looked at life, and made films. The third generation just watched the films of 1st and 2nd generations, and made films. The fourth generation, which is us, looks neitheir at life, nor watches the films, we merely go trough the (product) catalogues, and base our movies on technical capabilities."


That sums it up in so many ways. Beautiful.

I understand the OP's thoughts.
I work in TV production, with photography/film in my background, so from that perspective:

We want something "different" yet I feel that more and more, many things are being shot with fear instead of just with creativity, especially with producers raised on TV and digital camcorders.
You want grungy? Shoot grungy, don't sit in post and high-five the colorist because he came up with the digital approximation of it.

TRUST YOUR SHOOTING. USE YOUR CAMERA and your shooter to get the images, instead of being so afraid it's "not going to work, so just shoot it straight, we can always add it...."
No, you can't always add it. Because it's not the same.
If you can trust neither your storyboard to 'cut right' nor your DoP to execute shots that link without having safety cover shots, that is not a "post" issue or a "production" issue, but a "pre" issue.

I came across a fascinating read regarding the introduction of the video assist, with some philisophical thoughts about how it has influcenced, willingly or not, the decision-making process on set:

http://www.escholars...mp;brand=eschol

Cinematographers and videographers have excellent tools today, but fear seems to be a big element, because in many cases (including TV production) the decision-makers don't know what they need to know; they go only by what they have seen, not to "get stuck". And there goes the feeling of freedom to create.

Claus.

Edited by Claus Harding, 10 February 2010 - 01:09 PM.

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#6 John Brawley

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 10:14 PM

what is it about all these projects that look the same and why?
.... but I feel that there is a creeping sameness to the look of films nowadays regardless of medium and in spite of the best efforts of cinematographers, however innovative they may be.



I think Keneu illuminates a point I've felt for some time. It is homogenised. Take a cameara like the RED for example. It can look fantastic. But it inherently ALWAYS produces the same result. A really clean looking video image. Which is great if that's wehat you want. But what if that's not what you want.

Add it in later I hear you say...fix it in the grade. Well. Sure. It can be graded,. You can push it around and get a totally different look out of it. BUT

It will still look the same as anyone ELSE who's shot with a RED, found they want it to look different and then graded it.

Lets assume we all have access to roughly the same tools in post. The camera has the same inherent look that is defined by it's actual workflow.

What's missing is BAKING a look in....doing a look IN CAMERA.

That's the brilliance of film. Is that you can mess around with it....totally disobey the rules and get a great result, that's not technically correct, but looks great.

Cross processing, flashing, bleach bypassing, cooking the film in an oven for 6 hours at 75deg, using 5 year old stock. Even using Fuji instead of Kodak, all inherently change the look IN CAMERA before it even hits post. And, applying a Bleach bypass look in the grade IS NOT that same as doing it in camera, simply because it AFFECTS the way the film responds to light.

So you're starting from a different position when you eventually get to post. With a camera like RED, you are ALWAYS starting from the same position. You can't mess it up in camera. All that will happen is the camera won't work !!!! Digital imaging doesn't allow for these kind of accidents that with organic, still give a result, but one that is somewhat unexpected and inconsistent and totally at the discretion of what you do in front of the camera.

So now, I look for ways to get the image a little different in camera if I can. Not always easy to do !!!!

jb
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