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Why do movies from the 1960's look different than today's films?


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#1 Johnny Whieldon

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Posted 30 April 2012 - 10:11 PM

I was watching Rosemary's Baby the other night and I was struck by the look of the film. Assuming you'd want to achieve that look and feel, is it possible if you were using the exact same lighting, film, and lenses? Were they using different film stock in the 1960's than today's filmmakers? Why don't movies look like that anymore?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 12:49 AM

I was watching Rosemary's Baby the other night and I was struck by the look of the film. Assuming you'd want to achieve that look and feel, is it possible if you were using the exact same lighting, film, and lenses? Were they using different film stock in the 1960's than today's filmmakers? Why don't movies look like that anymore?


You may want to look over Kodak's chronology of film stocks here:
http://motion.kodak....-1979/index.htm

"Rosemary's Baby" came out in 1968, which means that it was probably shot in 1967, which then means that it was shot on Kodak 5251, which was 50 ASA tungsten-balanced. Right off the bat, they would tell you something about the light levels involved back then, which would have an effect on the look -- slow film meant that harder lighting was generally used, or in other words, soft lighting was a lot harder to achieve (though not impossible, it was being done).

Sure, if you matched the lighting, the compositions, the choice of focal length, the hair styles, the wardrobe, the editing style, the coverage, etc. you'd go a long way to creating that look, and then you'd have to factor in the look of the film stock back then, how much the film elements have aged since the movie was made, what elements were used for the transfer to video, how it was color-corrected for video, etc.
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#3 Johnny Whieldon

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 03:30 PM

You may want to look over Kodak's chronology of film stocks here:
http://motion.kodak....-1979/index.htm

"Rosemary's Baby" came out in 1968, which means that it was probably shot in 1967, which then means that it was shot on Kodak 5251, which was 50 ASA tungsten-balanced. Right off the bat, they would tell you something about the light levels involved back then, which would have an effect on the look -- slow film meant that harder lighting was generally used, or in other words, soft lighting was a lot harder to achieve (though not impossible, it was being done).

Sure, if you matched the lighting, the compositions, the choice of focal length, the hair styles, the wardrobe, the editing style, the coverage, etc. you'd go a long way to creating that look, and then you'd have to factor in the look of the film stock back then, how much the film elements have aged since the movie was made, what elements were used for the transfer to video, how it was color-corrected for video, etc.


Thanks David. After going back and reading your responses to similar questions/posts (thanks for your patience on an oft-asked question) it seems like there is really no way to accurately achieve that look without shooting on 5251 ASA 50T. Everything else is just an attempt to replicate that look.

It seems sad that we'll never have the chance to enjoy another movie shot on 5251. While I happen to agree that there is something to the argument that we should be moving forward with technology and not looking backward, I miss having the opportunity to create something new using an obsolete material like 5251.

What if, during the course of a project, you were tasked with creating footage meant to look like it was from the 1960's shot on 5251? Would you be reduced to using S16 or degrading S35 as mentioned in previous posts? Or if it was in the budget, and forgive my naiveté here, I can almost hear the community of distinguished cinematographers laughing and screaming at me as I write this, but could you approach Kodak to remanufacture some 5251?
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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 04:47 PM

I don't know, but I'd imagine that setting up to manufacture a specific historical stock would be prohibitively expensive, if they'd even accept the job.

The most practical solution would probably be to shoot a current stock, scan it, and tweak it to give you the results you want in a DI.

I think production design would be a bigger deal than that, though.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 05:59 PM

This quote by Spock (who turns out had been reading William James) comes to mind: "A difference which makes no difference is no difference."

Sure, we can't exactly replicate the negative stocks of the 1960's but then, there were so many other modifying factors (like lenses of the day, post) plus no one is going to actually know or remember exactly how "x" stock from the 1960's was supposed to look while watching a movie. And I suspect that even if you could build a time machine and get some of that stock, plus the developer (modern ECN2 process wouldn't work properly), etc. and shot with it using a modern camera with modern lenses shooting a modern subject, few people are going to notice much odd about the look. You could just shoot some modern Fuji Vivid 250D or something like that and tell people that it was a 1960's stock and half would probably believe you. 1960's Eastmancolor negative certainly wasn't as distinctive in look as the old 3-strip Technicolor process. In other words, you can get close enough with modern stocks and techniques. The odd artifacts of 3-strip are a lot harder to replicate, like the halation on the blue record that caused bright points of light to have a magenta halo:

Posted Image

Posted Image

Personally, the look of "Rosemary's Baby" has a lot more to do with the style (lighting, production design, etc.) than the film stock.
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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 07:41 PM

The odd artifacts of 3-strip are a lot harder to replicate, like the halation on the blue record that caused bright points of light to have a magenta halo:




But you could, with reasonable accuracy, ape the artifact in After Effects.
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#7 Johnny Whieldon

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Posted 01 May 2012 - 08:36 PM

This quote by Spock (who turns out had been reading William James) comes to mind: "A difference which makes no difference is no difference."

Sure, we can't exactly replicate the negative stocks of the 1960's but then, there were so many other modifying factors (like lenses of the day, post) plus no one is going to actually know or remember exactly how "x" stock from the 1960's was supposed to look while watching a movie. And I suspect that even if you could build a time machine and get some of that stock, plus the developer (modern ECN2 process wouldn't work properly), etc. and shot with it using a modern camera with modern lenses shooting a modern subject, few people are going to notice much odd about the look. You could just shoot some modern Fuji Vivid 250D or something like that and tell people that it was a 1960's stock and half would probably believe you. 1960's Eastmancolor negative certainly wasn't as distinctive in look as the old 3-strip Technicolor process. In other words, you can get close enough with modern stocks and techniques. The odd artifacts of 3-strip are a lot harder to replicate, like the halation on the blue record that caused bright points of light to have a magenta halo:

Posted Image

Posted Image

Personally, the look of "Rosemary's Baby" has a lot more to do with the style (lighting, production design, etc.) than the film stock.

William Fraker: "I only used two lenses, a 25 mm and an 18 mm. We chose the right lens for each shot in the story. I also pre-fogged the film to get a particular look that was right for the story."

David, you mentioned the fact that they hard-lit things back then because the film was slower. Do you know what would be your typical lighting setup in those days? For example: What would setups like these entail? I realize each is very different from the next.
[attachment=7410:Rosemarys-Baby-122.jpg]
[attachment=7408:rosemary2.jpg]
[attachment=7409:rosemarys-baby_mia-farrow_stockingsbmp.jpg]

Edited by Johnny Whieldon, 01 May 2012 - 08:39 PM.

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#8 Mei Lewis

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Posted 02 May 2012 - 04:46 AM

...The odd artifacts of 3-strip are a lot harder to replicate, like the halation on the blue record that caused bright points of light to have a magenta halo:


My Canon 50mm f1.4 lens has a similar look in the highlights wide open. One way to recreate that if you ever wanted to!
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 May 2012 - 10:49 AM

Just like today, the wide shots were lit from above the frame (from a grid on a soundstage probably) and then the lights were lowered for the close-ups. You can see where the lights are coming from by looking at the shadows. The only difference today, if doing a hard-lit show like that, would be the size of the units - they probably used a lot of 5K's and 2K's for small interior sets like that (and a 500w or 250w photoflood in the lamp), whereas today you're more likely to use 650w, 1K's, and smaller.

The background walls generally had their own "key" lights and then the foreground was lit separately, until an actor was so close to the wall that both had to be in the same lights.
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