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Distinct film look during decades - anybody noticed this?


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#1 Liam Howlett

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Posted 25 April 2010 - 01:31 PM

So I had this thought quite a while ago, and only now was compelled to ask or just write about it.

Have you noticed how films in the 90's had a very distinct look (at least to us, cinematography buffs) than let's say films in the 00's?

What gives?

To give you an example. if you watch Entrapment, or The World Is Not Enough - both '99 films...and you then watch a more recent film, like let's say War of the Worlds (05) or Mission Impossible 3.. you can tell that there's something distinct about them.

I don't know whether it's because I remember watching these films back when they came out and now it's some sort of a psychological factor or what not, but it seems to me that there's been a change made. I think the change may have happened somewhere around circa '03 with the film stock?

Or is there something else.

Can anybody answer this question for me, or if not - am I the only one who has spotted this?

I think it may have something to do also with how much color correction has been going on lately, (and I'm not talking about the introduction of HD cams either, let's stick to film)
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#2 Richard Vialet

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Posted 25 April 2010 - 03:57 PM

You gotta change your name name to your real first and last name per the forum rules

Big factors in the difference you notice are probably the change in film stock and lenses.

Probably another huge change is the popularity of the digital intermediates in the 2000's which will definitely be a factor in the change you notice.

Edited by Richard Vialet, 25 April 2010 - 04:00 PM.

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#3 chris descor

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Posted 26 April 2010 - 04:05 AM

Yes I have noticed this, and I thought I Was the only one.
I think the Teal & Orange nonsense has stained most films made these days.
I recently watched a 2007 film made, quite a low-budget, bad acting film, but visually interesting nonetheless as its made in Oregon.
The whole film was ridiculously drenched in those two awful colours. I think the only film that has used the teal & orange well is Zodiac(Fincher), the colour combo both increases the mood of the whole film ,somehow allowing one to feel what it was like to live in late 60s to late 70s san francisco with the killer on the loose. it really does benfit and does it really well. I dislike digital, but I will say in Zodiac Fincher used the digital RED whatever well, really well, it does have its own texture and only FIncher knew how to accentuate it. every single film uses that poop colour combo though, to make their film look more expensive than it actually is. except filmmakers like Gus van Sant who hased used this cheap effect, look at the Chris Doyle cinematography on Paranoid Park! 400T fuji

BAck the your statement/question, yes I personally have noticed this. Hannibal(2001) looks like one of the last films to have that very very nice late 90s look, very soft and pure colours, no colour correction almost. Matchstick men 2003 and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind 2002/03 seem to be some of the first of this decade to have that 2000's look. and yes it seems its because of the stupid stupid stupid digital colour correction, damn you coen brothers! o brother where art thou? is probably the first major film to get carried away with it.

I love to watch films from the 90s just for the look of them. silence of the lambs is beautiful to look at, billy bathgate, thin red line etc
hook is also a really good one. good will hunting as well.

maybe its got to do with the filmstock chemistry changes? EXR was the main stock in the 90s right?
how does it look compared to the vision stocks? - i.e. unchanged/un-coloured corrected ? since every film plays with the colours too much, I wonder how much the vision stocks look like EXR stocks without modification?
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#4 Edgar Dubrovskiy

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 12:16 PM

Age of 'looking cool', I guess...

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#5 Tim Partridge

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 01:23 PM

So I had this thought quite a while ago, and only now was compelled to ask or just write about it.

Have you noticed how films in the 90's had a very distinct look (at least to us, cinematography buffs) than let's say films in the 00's?

What gives?

To give you an example. if you watch Entrapment, or The World Is Not Enough - both '99 films...and you then watch a more recent film, like let's say War of the Worlds (05) or Mission Impossible 3


Entrapment and The World Is Not Enough were both anamorphic action movies (though so is MI:3), which you don't see too many of these days.

I cannot say I hold the same nostalgia for the 1990s. I remember in the late 90s thinking how conservative, safe and TVish most films had become looking, with lots of mid shots, medium focal length lenses and mostly all shot clean with plastic colours.

It also seemed that the monochrome ENR bleaching look was everywhere in the late 90s, with most films looking like they had been shot in a nuclear winter. Darius Khondji's style was very popular as was the monochrome Asian influence, especially with films like the Matrix. I couldn't stand it at the time (I loved the look of a lot of Khondji's work like Se7en and Delicatessen, though) and think it's a fad that's sadly hung over into the DI world..

Just my opinion, but I think a very conservative, safe, clean, soft lit and natural look had come along in the mid 80s and by about 1993 it had well and truly taken over. The influence of home video and panning/scanning I think also had a huge impact on how films were being shot, reserving deadspace for TV on widescreen films. Movies made with the small screen home video version as priority.

At least the 2000s were rammed with a diversity of formats and styles, from the undercranked City of God look to multiple HD formats, Michael Mann mixing media, Wally Pfister's 35mm anamorphic work for Christopher Nolan, the 16mm resurgence, HDV, MiniDV, etc.
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#6 Mei Lewis

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 06:06 PM

A changing look through the years and decades is even more obvious when you look at still photos, family snaps and so on. I always assumed it was down to differences in film stocks, partly a result of progress and partly of fashion.

Now that most things are shot digital I wonder if there'll be the same changes? There are certainly styles that come and go, even faster than before, but when we can always go back to the RAW file and apply whatever look is current now will it seem odd that events 50 years in the past look exactly modern, apart from clothes etc.?
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#7 John King

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Posted 09 May 2010 - 11:49 PM

Posted by Chris Descor:

I think the Teal & Orange nonsense has stained most films made these days.
I recently watched a 2007 film made, quite a low-budget, bad acting film, but visually interesting nonetheless as its made in Oregon.
The whole film was ridiculously drenched in those two awful colours.


By these colours are you talking about some sort of tinting? Are you referring to the coatings used on lenses? I recall reading that lenses manufactured in the USA use an orangey tint to them, whereas lenses manufactured in Europe, used a bluish tinting. This affected a lot of the look of movies from these two continents. It could be this tinting you're talking about??? I'm not sure. Anyway, hope this helps.

God belss!
Mark King
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#8 Prashantt Rai

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 10:20 AM

Posted by Chris Descor:


By these colours are you talking about some sort of tinting? Are you referring to the coatings used on lenses? I recall reading that lenses manufactured in the USA use an orangey tint to them, whereas lenses manufactured in Europe, used a bluish tinting. This affected a lot of the look of movies from these two continents. It could be this tinting you're talking about??? I'm not sure. Anyway, hope this helps.

God belss!
Mark King

John, you are right! Panavision lenses are inherently warm. I have tested and felt that they are warmer by more than 200Kelvin. Zeiss lenses are bluish as you say or neutral without any bias towards any temperature.


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#9 Prashantt Rai

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 10:21 AM

90s films did look beautiful. so did the early 2000s. 

Seven, All the pretty horses, ...


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#10 John Holland

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 12:23 PM

I dont think a 200 kelvin difference in a lens is going to show in a finished film after its been f----- around in the really bad DI's of that period .


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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 05:27 PM

Most of the difference in look from decade to decade was simply the changes in style, people naturally want to drift away from a repeated look, or rebel against it -- personally I think the whole last thirty years has been more stylistically consistent than the previous decades, there was a much larger change in color cinematography from 50's to the 60's and then the 70's.  Now we are still in the generally low-key, naturalistic, single-source approach started in the 1970's by Willis, Storaro, Hall -- the changes are more cosmetic, other than some extreme stylistic exceptions that pop up randomly.

 

Some of this was technology driven -- film stocks doubled in speed each decade and once we got to 100 ASA film in 1968, it was more possible than ever to work in natural light or re-create it more easily.

 

I'd sum up some of the stylistic changes in the past three decades like this:

 

1980's: The first decade of true high-speed stock -- but these early stocks were grainier and the diffusion popular in the mid 1970's just didn't work well with them, and people were getting tired of that look for the most part.  So less diffusion compared to the 1970's, but more grain and contrast.  This was also the decade that HMI lighting became commonplace and reliable, so heavy uncorrected blue become a stylistic thing for night scenes.  Smoked sets, which people like Storaro and Unsworth had already been doing, became much more common thanks to commercial directors like Ridley Scott.  Besides commercials affecting the look of features, so were music videos.

 

1990's:  500 ASA stock becomes commonplace for interiors, and by the end of the decade, the stocks became less grainy.  The return of 35mm anamorphic in popularity thanks to movies like "Dances with Wolves" (1990) and action films like "Die Hard" (1988). The rise of Super-35 thanks to directors like James Cameron.  So 2.40 in general becomes more common again.  Some of the excesses of the 1980's like heavy blue moonlight and smoke become moderated, but fads like skip-bleach become more common (silver retention dates back though to the early 1980's with the ENR process used by Storaro on "Reds" and skip-bleach prints made for "1984".)  The kind of elegant soft-lit period look using silver retention for prints hits its peak in 1999 with films like "Snow Falling on Cedars" and "Sleepy Hollow" -- I don't think that look has been topped that since then.

 

2000's: the decade of the D.I. and also movies experimenting with digital cameras, particularly HD.  Now the look of film stocks and processing mattered much less since the D.I. process could create even more varieties of looks from a stock.  We had the rise of directors who came out of shooting video and the ability to record hours of footage for editing.  Shots become shorter and shorter and the end result is that quantity starts to trump quality in terms of shot design and execution.  Directors start to brag about how many cameras they were able to roll on a scene.  The skip-bleach look still pops up now and then, but now achieved in the D.I.  We all become familiar with a host of new types of artifacts: noise, compression, edge enhancement.  Everything starts to get dumbed-down to 2K and HD resolution.

 

On the other hand, the average TV show has better cinematography than ever...  And with the collapse by the late 2000's of the indie divisions of the studios and the drop in budgets for indie films, a number of mid-level crew people and DP's move into television.

 

2010's:

Soft-light is now king, but some movies are so blandly soft-lit from end-to-end that they look like they were shot in a supermarket.  Movies are now either nearly grainless, especially the ones shot digitally, or are really grainy as a response against digital.  Digital color-correction is better than ever and most D.I.'s are fairly transparent compared to early 2000's, but it hardly matters since a lot of movies are not seen in film prints anymore, and digital projection allows movies to look more pristine than ever, which is great unless you want some grit, dirt, and roughness to the image.  And the poor black levels of some digital projectors augment the blandness of overly soft-lit movies.

 

On a technical level, most movies are more polished-looking than ever from end-to-end and now pixel-peepers complain about minor noise differences that appear in a movie when in the old days, you could have some really soft & grainy stuff come and go, particularly anything that had to be duped.  In the past, you had bad title sequences (dupey), bad reel changes, abused release prints, and half the theaters could not get their scope projection to be sharp from side to side.  You got to know the quirks of each theater across town.  Now it hardly matters, most DCP's look similar in most theaters -- for the most part, that's a good thing -- I remember going out to see "Akeelah and the Bee" projected in New Orleans in 2006 while I was there shooting "Solstice" and being appalled by the release print (purple cast) and the scope projection (soft).

 

There is generally a high-level of gloss to everything, a technical slickness, which in some ways is easier to achieve than ever and it also becomes accepted as the standard for things.  But it can also be a bit of a creative straight-jacket and it can feel a bit soulless. 


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#12 Joseph Konrad

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 07:02 PM

^^What a great post.


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#13 George Ebersole

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Posted 18 August 2013 - 02:58 AM

I think there're fewer master shots and more edit than ever before, but mostly for the big budget films.  I think stylistically films are a little quicker paced in story, but are visually consistent with middle of the road budget films.


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#14 Freya Black

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 04:07 PM

The stuff you are talking about David, reminds me a bit of when I got in trouble a short time back for suggesting that the movies shot digitally recently, are looking more and more like cheap made for TV movies. In fact this is especially becoming more and more the case with anything shot on the Alexa because of the whole Alexa with everything thing (which has now almost become an Arri slogan I notice!). What happened with the Canon 5D is now starting to really slide into the Alexa world. It was obvious this was going to happen for some time but...

 

Everything tends to look a bit bland and samey too, on top of having the Alexa look. I think Phil bought up skyfall, but from what I've seen from screenshots I'm so far not that impressed with that either. It does seem to have a slight thing that looks a touch nicer than the made for TV stuff and I imagine in motion it might have another whole element to it.

 

So far I've not seen a movie shot on digital where the cinematography has made me gasp because it is so amazing. The last movies to do that for me were Black Swan and Anna Karenina both were amazing, but also shot on film. 

 

Possibly manure might have been that movie if I had actually seen it. I was very taken with the clouds and overall look in the stills.

 

It's another reason why I'm looking forward to the dragon sensor because it brings the possibility of new looks as all those people upgrade their cameras. 

 

I'm actually often surprised when I see something shot digitally that looks quite nice. I'm actually liking the overall look of Ridley Scotts new movie which has been a surprise. It's not blowing my mind but I think it looks quite nice, and I wasn't at all impressed by the look of Prometheus, so most unexpected. To clarify, it looks really quite good, as opposed to sort of okay. Sort of okay being the standard on even really huge movies shot digitally these days.

 

I don't know what to say about it all except to say that I think the cameras must be capable of a lot more than we are seeing so far, or maybe it's just too early in the days of digital cinema and people need longer to really get the hang of it all.

 

I don't know.

 

Freya


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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 04:23 PM

I would say the opposite, TV shows and movies look more cinematic than ever.

 

"Hugo" looks quite nice, as does "Skyfall".  I mean, at that level, you're talking more about the skill of the cinematographer and the visual nature of the project and less about the camera creating the look.  

 

We've seen in the past few years that the Oscar nominations for best cinematography have been split between digital and film jobs -- last year, two of the five were digital (both Alexa, "Skyfall" and "Life of Pi") and one of them won ("Life of Pi") and the year before, two out of the five were digital ("Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" on the Epic and "Hugo" on the Alexa) and one of them won ("Hugo".)

 

It's inevitable that some period landscape movie shot digitally that looks gorgeous is going to win someday.


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#16 Freya Black

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Posted 20 August 2013 - 04:59 PM

I would say the opposite, TV shows and movies look more cinematic than ever.

 

 

I think it's that the TV shows look more "cinematic" than ever, and that movies look far less cinematic than they used to. It's more like they are meeting in the middle. To be honest I think a lot about TV and movies is in a state of convergence. It's now basically the same technology, and presently the same tools being used to produce both.

 

 


"Hugo" looks quite nice, as does "Skyfall". I mean, at that level, you're talking more about the skill of the cinematographer and the visual nature of the project and less about the camera creating the look.  

 

I've not actually seen Hugo either, although oddly I seem to remember I was editing the footage from that movie recently, didn't make me gasp but I seem to remember it looked quite nice as I was shuttling across the timeline.

 

I think there are two different things going on, because the camera does have a look just like film stocks do and the Alexa looks quite nice but also very distinctive. When I look at those screenshots and compare them it does seem like the Skyfall stuff has a look that is slightly nicer although that might come from shooting 2.8k raw or whatever but it might also be a bit to do with the skill of the cinematographer. The trouble is that I would say it was a very marginal difference. It seems to me that with movies shot digital, it's perhaps harder for cinematographers to shine.

 

Like I say I posted some very cheap TV drama stills along stills from Alexa movies and they sat together very well and I would say it was hard to notice a big difference between them.

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 20 August 2013 - 05:00 PM.

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