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What do you see, when you watch "2001?"


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#1 cole t parzenn

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 03:35 PM

I love the cinematography of "2001: A Space Odyssey" but I can't put my finger on why. It's often in deep focus and often lit on the hard side, with lots of practicals, three things I really like but there's something else about it.The brilliant costumes, production design, compositions, and 5251 magic all contribute, I'm sure, but plenty of films have brilliant costumes, production design, and compositions and 5251 was used for, what, a decade? Was there any exposure or optical voodoo used? Was there something special about the contrast ratios? Granted, I don't know a whole lot about deconstructing lighting but I can't, for the life of me, figure out what makes "2001" look so damn good. (Though I have  noticed that light does some weird things, in certain scenes.)

 

 

 

2001-Space-Odyssey-tablet-TV.jpg

 

This looks to me to be two soft lights, one above and one in front of the actors. Is that right? If so, what makes is so... great?

 

BDDefinition-2001-10-1080.jpg?043efc

 

This looks like a big, warm soft light in front of the actors, with the background filled out by practicals. Simple isn't bad but, again, what's making this so special?

 

BDDefinition-2001-11-1080.jpg?043efc

 

This frame, I can kind of say what I like about. The effect of the glowing, colored lights on Dave is lovely and so is the contrast between the glowing lights and the negative space, where they don't reach.

 

BDDefinition-2001-6-1080.jpg?043efc

 

This frame, I can't really figure out. Floyd's lit by a hard source in front of and above him but what's lighting the rest of the booth?

 

3-obstacles-are-obscured.jpg

 

Maybe it's just the nature of a white room but light seems to be doing something weird, here. The whole ceiling's a top light but the actors seem to also be subtly backlit (am I seeing slight shadows on their faces?). By what, though? There are shadows on the floor, behind them, so how much light can be coming from the rear of the set?

 

2001_pic3.jpeg

 

What makes this shot look so interesting? It should just be a single hard light, representing the Sun, right?

 

screenshot-lrg-18.png

 

This may not have been purposeful but here's another shot that has light doing something weird. Judging by the shadow on the Earth, there should be sunlight coming in from the side but instead, it's just bouncing off of the Earth and casting shadows on the Moon. As for the actors, are they only lit by practicals?

 

screenshot-lrg-26.png

 

Last still, another "glowing" frame. Is this all practical? Could there have been a warming filter?

 

 

Thanks, in advance, for any insight you can give.


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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 04:26 PM

Rather interesting how the portrait format computer screens seem more normal now, with all the vertical phone footage.. 


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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 04:57 PM

That space station shot of the two men standing in the room is not backlit, it's just lit from the overheads -- the shot is too wide-angle and the ceiling is too low for it not to be lit by the set itself. While it looks like fluorescent lighting, it was probably strong tungsten lamps shining down through frosted panels in the ceiling, though for the rotating Discovery centrifuge set later in the movie, the lighting that looks like fluorescent had to be built into the set so it could rotate, so was probably photoflood bulbs in light boxes built into the set. Some must have been gelled cooler than others, or maybe they used blue-painted photofloods.

5250, the first 50 ASA Kodak color negative motion picture negative, came out in 1959. 5251 replaced it, in 1962 I believe -- it was still only 50 ASA but was finer-grained. "2001" started shooting in 1966.

The astronauts standing at the top of the ramp to the excavation site weren't lit by the sun yet because that was a story point, sunrise was about to hit the monolith, triggering its radio alarm. So they were still in the shadows and lit by the artificial lamps of the excavation site.

The brain room of HAL was lit by the set, the red-gelled frosted panels and the brighter white panels -- the curved helmet would have reflected any off-camera movie lamps so the set was lit by its internal practical sources. No warming gel was needed.
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#4 cole t parzenn

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 08:02 PM

That space station shot of the two men standing in the room is not backlit, it's just lit from the overheads -- the shot is too wide-angle and the ceiling is too low for it not to be lit by the set itself.

 

I took a closer look - you were right, as usual; the shadows came from above.

 

5250, the first 50 ASA Kodak color negative motion picture negative, came out in 1959. 5251 replaced it, in 1962 I believe -- it was still only 50 ASA but was finer-grained. "2001" started shooting in 1966.

 

Well, how would you characterize the stock?

 

The astronauts standing at the top of the ramp to the excavation site weren't lit by the sun yet because that was a story point, sunrise was about to hit the monolith, triggering its radio alarm. So they were still in the shadows and lit by the artificial lamps of the excavation site.

 

I just re-watched the scene - the monolith, Earth, and Sun are all in the wrong place, then. :D But how was it lit?

 

 

The brain room of HAL was lit by the set, the red-gelled frosted panels and the brighter white panels -- the curved helmet would have reflected any off-camera movie lamps so the set was lit by its internal practical sources. No warming gel was needed.

 

Is that an observation or did you read that, somewhere? (If so, where?)

 

Anyway, does anything about the cinematography strike you as unusual or special?


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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 01:51 AM

The lighting/photography is beautiful, one of my favorites. Shot by one of my favorite DP's, Geoffrey Unsworth, but it is so atypical for him that I'm sure it reflects mostly what Kubrick wanted. And after Unsworth had to leave, the rest was shot by John Alcott (like the ape sequence.)

Again, with the HAL brain room, you see floor to ceiling and side to side, and the actor is wearing a highly reflective helmet with a curved surface, so pretty much it had to be lit by the set itself, not off-camera movie light (though probably movie lights were blasting the frosted glass panels.)

5251 didn't have a special look per se, it was the standard color MP negative stock for 1962-1968, everything from "2001" to "Beach Blanket Bingo" was shot on it. Being shot in 5-perf 65mm though is a contributing factor to its clean, fine-grained look and shallow depth of field.
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#6 Mark Dunn

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 05:58 AM

The monolith scene is a composite. Lunar surface, sky and Earth are a matte painting so the lighting of them bears no relation to the lighting of the set. In any case as David said it is an excavation so would be expected to be in shadow. There's a little top light on the helmets to suggest earthlight.


Edited by Mark Dunn, 26 September 2014 - 06:00 AM.

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#7 Ed Davor

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 08:28 AM

Here is some data on the stock (sensitometric curve and spectral dye density curves). In fact on the same graph you can see a difference between 5250 and 5251.

 

5251.jpg


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#8 Ed Davor

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 08:35 AM

For some reason I couldn't edit my post so I'll make a new one. Just wanted to add that development edge effects seem to play a big role in the "look" of these old stocks.


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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 09:18 AM

I'm sure the behaviour of the film had some interesting effects on that lambent red glow on the HAL terminals.

 

Also, not to thread hijack, but I may soon have to do something set on a space station (woohoo!).

 

Most of it's fairly standard grimy post-Aliens sci fi, but there's a desire to show the rotation of the station by having the sun pass by a window. Rate of rotation is something like once every ninety seconds. This is actually quite a complicated thing to do, if you really figure out how it should look. The light source should be hard and parallel, but the only real way to do that is with a very powerful, very distant source. Such as a star.

 

Tricky.

 

P


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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 09:49 AM

I did a simple poor mans version for a few shots in Extant using a 5K sky pan when I just wanted the hard light but to not see the source, or with a 5K PAR when it had to sweep past the window, flaring the lens. I use the 5K PAR for that sort of thing all the time because the yoke does not stick out too much on the sides and otherwise, all you see is the face of the lens when you look straight into it. There is still a little of the knobs on the yoke sticking out and the base of the yoke, but if you put a little bit of diffusion on the camera lens, usually it all gets lost in the flare.

I moved the lamp on the end of a piece of speed rail, swung around, worked so-so.
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#11 cole t parzenn

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 03:40 PM

5251 didn't have a special look per se, it was the standard color MP negative stock for 1962-1968, everything from "2001" to "Beach Blanket Bingo" was shot on it. Being shot in 5-perf 65mm though is a contributing factor to its clean, fine-grained look and shallow depth of field.

 

Maybe I only think 5251's special, because I only see the good films shot with it. But still, the skin tones in "2001" seem more... nuanced, somehow, than with most. If you take another look at this frame, you can still see all the colors in the actors' faces, even though they're lit with a warm light. Don't a lot of stocks lose that kind of detail, under those lighting conditions? Yet the bold colors of the sets and props remain saturated... The last Fuji stocks seemed to have some similar properties but Vision 3 can't do that, can it?

 

I find it interesting that you describe the depth of field as shallow. While it's not Citizen Kane deep, the only shallow focus shots that I can think of have subjects unusually close to the camera.

 

Here is some data on the stock (sensitometric curve and spectral dye density curves). In fact on the same graph you can see a difference between 5250 and 5251.

 

Thanks!


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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 04:10 PM

The movie only seems deep focus because so much of it was shot with very wide angle lenses, but true deep focus photography means that focus is sharp from close to far, and it's clear whenever anything is close to the lens that most of the movie was shot near wide-open and that the depth of field is shallow. People make the same comment about "The Shining" being a deep focus movie when it really just a wide-angle movie.

You're making judgements about the color of a film stock based on a video transfer that was digitally color-corrected. Believe me, 5251 was not distinct in color compared to the stock that proceeded it and the one that followed it, they were in the same ballpark. You'd have to believe every color movie shot on Kodak 35mm from 1962 to 1968 had the same unique color look.
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#13 Ed Davor

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 04:10 PM

I think the "nuances" you see are due to soft lighting. Soft lighting causes more gradations on the face while hard lighting (which was usual for the period in other movies) gives a more cartoonish look to the actor's face.


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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 04:20 PM

There is a theory that 65mm color film captures more subtleties in color because complex tones have more color grains that build up the particular area of the image compared to the same subject shot on a smaller negative.
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#15 Ed Davor

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 04:55 PM

I'm sure there's that too. All one has to do is look at super8 footage to see the lack of fine gradations. But in this case I think It has a lot to do with lighting. I do some digital painting, and when you want to paint something lit by soft light you'd have to smear the paint a lot to get gradations. Hard light subjects can sometimes be oversimplified by using just 3 or 4 tones in a minimalist approach.


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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 05:26 PM

Is that a modern grade, too? Some of it seems to be leaning rather noticeably toward the teal-and-skintone sort of look that's very popular at the moment. I've never seen it projected, so I don't know what it usually looks like.

 

P


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#17 cole t parzenn

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 06:06 PM

The movie only seems deep focus because so much of it was shot with very wide angle lenses, but true deep focus photography means that focus is sharp from close to far, and it's clear whenever anything is close to the lens that most of the movie was shot near wide-open and that the depth of field is shallow. People make the same comment about "The Shining" being a deep focus movie when it really just a wide-angle movie.

 

I'm not sure I'm following you. Are you saying that backgrounds only appear sharp, because objects are too small for the lack of detail to be apparent? Do you know what focal lengths were used most?

 

You're making judgements about the color of a film stock based on a video transfer that was digitally color-corrected. Believe me, 5251 was not distinct in color compared to the stock that proceeded it and the one that followed it, they were in the same ballpark. You'd have to believe every color movie shot on Kodak 35mm from 1962 to 1968 had the same unique color look.

 

In the absence of the negative, yes, I'm judging a stock by the video transfers available. (What are you judging it by?) As for the uniqueness, we may be miscommunicating. I agree, it can look very similar to 5250 and I think there's something special about the way it looks, here.


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#18 John E Clark

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 07:27 PM

 

I'm not sure I'm following you. Are you saying that backgrounds only appear sharp, because objects are too small for the lack of detail to be apparent? Do you know what focal lengths were used most?

 
 

 

In the absence of the negative, yes, I'm judging a stock by the video transfers available. (What are you judging it by?) As for the uniqueness, we may be miscommunicating. I agree, it can look very similar to 5250 and I think there's something special about the way it looks, here.

 

For one example, if you look at the shot of Dave in front of the computer panel, you can clearly see 'softer focus' as the light slots recede into the back ground.

a deep DoF would not do that.


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#19 John E Clark

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 07:41 PM

One of the problems with looking at current 'stills' is because they came from a BD or a DVD, they may have been processed for 'best look', depending, and so don't actually represent what the negative may or may not have had originally.

On the other hand, the transfer could have been done badly, some DSP futzing with the image to 'make it look better' by someone somewhere... but again not representative of what the neg or projection print would hae been.

 

There are some movies that I distinctly recall 'really liking' when I saw them in theaters in the late 60's and 70's... that when they were transferred to DVD looked like crap.

 

I'll give an example... "Romeo and Juliet"(1968). When I saw that movie in theaters when it was released, I really like the 'pastels'... the DVD... (There has been a Bluray transfer but was only available in Europe Amazon now seems to have it as a UK import...)

anyway... the DVD was totally botched relative to my recollection... same for "Brother Sun, Sister Moon"(1972)...

 

On the other hand "Taming of the Shrew"(1967), wasn't too bad relative to my ancient recollection.

 

In these examples I'm using films from a particular director, Franco Zeffirelli, and though all three have different cinematographers, and different looks, the all had a sort of 'pastelish' look to them. Perhaps less so with "Taming of the Shrew"...

it seems to have a Tuscan 'yellow' sunny look... but then since I've not reviewed the DVD I have in several years... perhaps I've misremembered that as well...

 

The point being, it may be unanswerable for some number of questions that run along the lines of 'what was the original film look supposed to be like'...


Edited by John E Clark, 26 September 2014 - 07:43 PM.

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#20 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 08:12 PM

 

In the absence of the negative, yes, I'm judging a stock by the video transfers available. (What are you judging it by?).

 

 

A lot of people have seen the original distribution prints of this film.  David is probably one of them.  I haven't seen it since in first came to NZ (as a print).  This is the only memory I have of it

apart from the numerous digital exerpts that pop up.  To restate something from another topic,  how can we know what the camera negative actually is,  unless we view a contact print,

or the most direct photochemical print possible?  There are so many cultural layers to untangle if we are seeing an electronic reproduction,  in order to decipher what the camera

negative actually contained.  What colourist could have a big enough ego to insert themselves between Kuberik and his audience?

 

One day one will be able to go to a museum and simply experience on celluloid what Kuberik intended.


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