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Not another film vs Digital debate, however...


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#1 Hrishikesh Jha

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Posted 15 May 2015 - 11:37 PM

I was doing some surfing and came around this comment. I'd like your perspective on this:

 

WARNING! Use of this Test may ruin your enjoyment of movies in a theater for years to come. Once you see what you are missing, you may never be able to watch a digitally projected movie the same way again. You have been WARNED.

 

 Almost all movie theatersicon1.png use a black border (cloth or paint) around their theater screens.

Watch ANY digitally shot and projected movie during a scene that is supposed to be predominatly “Black”
(i.e. Credits with white letters on black background, or the many scenes in GRAVITY with stars against the “blackness” of space). You will not find any all digital movie that can match the true Black of the black border frame within the movie itself.

EVER.

A 35mm (or better yet) a 70mm film print that was shot ON Film can easily match Black for Black.And, a movie shot on film will still have more inky blacks even when it goes through a DI (Digital intermediate) and projected via Digital than a movie that goes entirely through the digital stream.

Shadow detail is another dead giveaway with digital projection. Shadows look milky and highly contrasted. Digital is unable to handle the sharp brightness differences between the brightly lit areas and the darker ones. The brightly lit areas look fine, but the shadows are murky. This is the result of tinkering with the contrast and gamma levels to hide pixellation, moire effects and other digital noise (something that can still be seen in Standard Def broadcasts on Cable & Satellite on a high quality HDTV or on a cheapo public domain type sub-standard DVD).

 

Anybody that says this, has never spent any significant time working with film, or works in post-production and gets excited about things like “bit depth.” Indistinguishable? That is insane. You might like digital better, it might suit your needs more, you might even (god forbid) think it looks better, but there definitely a difference. Most of the time, unless it has been digitally processed all to hell, its quite easy to tell the difference. On the big screen, the small screen and in many cases even on youtube.

With film, so much more can be done in camera, to bake in the desired look organically. With digital everything has been driven towards manipulation in post-production. Yes, you can add grain to your Alexa footage, but guess what, it still doesn’t look like film! And hey, if that is your thing, great! But don’t tell me it’s better. The best things I’ve shot, hands down, have been on film. Everything I’ve shot on digital is just trying to get back to that place.

Digital is here to stay, but our tools as filmmakers are diminished if film goes away.


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#2 Doug Palmer

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Posted 16 May 2015 - 12:50 PM

He/she's  right about the blacks.  I do recall Gravity space not being up to the inky standards of a 35mm or 70mm space film, such as 2001 or the various Imax documentaries.  Also haven't  yet had good experiences with credit titles on normal digital projection, they tend to be unsharp and even at times jumpy.


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#3 cole t parzenn

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Posted 16 May 2015 - 01:49 PM

So why is this?

 

Also haven't  yet had good experiences with credit titles on normal digital projection, they tend to be unsharp and even at times jumpy.

 

The most recent film I saw in theaters was "Ex Machina." The title cards aliased.


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 May 2015 - 11:23 AM

http://www.theverge....laser-projector

This will certainly improve 3D projection -- laser projectors have the potential of finally getting 3D projection above the miserable footlambert levels of today.  And with HDR, the black levels will probably look better to the eye just because of the increased contrast range.

 

Won't arrive in Los Angeles AMC theaters until June 18.


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#5 Simon Wyss

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Posted 17 May 2015 - 12:01 PM

Film prints can be enhanced to easily outperform LASER projection, at least black-and-white ones.

One can have contrast ranges up to 1:log5 on the film for 1:log4 on the screen, that would be 1 for black and 10,000 for white.

 

With photochemical color film it is somewhat more complicated to do so but it’s feasible. Technicolor employed (printing) enhancement in the 1930s.

 

Video will never look like film.


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#6 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 17 May 2015 - 07:11 PM

Nope. Not going to ruin the pleasure I get from the vast superiority of digital projection to film.

I suppose this was always less of a problem in the US, but here in Australia we always got the arse-end of the print run, often used prints shipped down to us after a film had finished showing elsewhere in the world - and those prints sucked. Scratches and dust everywhere, gate weave, horrible.

When I saw my first digitally projected film, Tony Kaye's documentary 'Lake of Fire' (shot in B&W 35mm), it was a revelation. I'd never seen such a clear and pristine image on screen before, and it gave the images a power and clarity that let them burn into your brain without any artifacts to detract from the experience.

The milkier blacks I can live with. For me, digital wins this rounds hands-down.
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#7 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 17 May 2015 - 11:51 PM

When you see the 2nd or 3rd run with a modern 5/70mm print, it blows your mind away. No gate weave, no cigarette burns, no noticeable grain or dirt/scratches. The format is quite amazing and it doesn't cost a big movie ANYTHING to strike a hand-full of those prints for BIG movies in the major cities around the world. Scanners are 6k making the print theoretically higher resolution then any known digital projection OR digital delivery format. So the audience is actually getting a better quality image on film in the long run.

Like all "technology", 4k laser projectors will be in the house for consumer use in a year or two. Christie and Kodak already make smaller versions of the same technology IMAX is using. Once it's available at home, people will again have no reason to visit the theater. Those who invested will get maybe a year or two of "hype" out of it, but in reality it's not the answer.

This has always been my point… 35mm and 70mm projection doesn't exist at home, it never has and it never will. When you see a film at the theater, you are watching something you absolutely can't watch at home. It has nothing to do with quality, it has everything to do with being different and unique to the home-theater experience. In the industries haste to "save money" they've single handedly killed the only thing that made going to the cinemas worth while.
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#8 Simon Wyss

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 12:52 AM

home-theater experience

 

That’s it. One hasn’t a theater at home, by definition. Theaters belong to the public space, the spectators come from all directions.


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#9 Hrishikesh Jha

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 12:53 AM

This has always been my point… 35mm and 70mm projection doesn't exist at home, it never has and it never will. When you see a film at the theater, you are watching something you absolutely can't watch at home. It has nothing to do with quality, it has everything to do with being different and unique to the home-theater experience. In the industries haste to "save money" they've single handedly killed the only thing that made going to the cinemas worth while.

 

But Tyler....I have to ask something. I can notice the film look(even 16mm) on the most basic of platforms. I am going to direct my fist film soon and till date everything I have watched is on a 18' laptop screen(I couldn't afford something bigger and better). And even on that screen the look of film is apparent. A film look is just different than digital on any platform. So basically what I mean is that if a person is endeared to the 16/35/70mm look they can see it in their homes.


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#10 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 07:38 AM

When you see the 2nd or 3rd run with a modern 5/70mm print, it blows your mind away. No gate weave, no cigarette burns, no noticeable grain or dirt/scratches. The format is quite amazing and it doesn't cost a big movie ANYTHING to strike a hand-full of those prints for BIG movies in the major cities around the world.

 

This was my experience when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Lincoln Center Cinemas on a re-release a few years ago.  They physically rolled out the 70mm reel and everyone started applauding.  As the person on stage stated, "This is what digital can't hold a candle to."

 

Now, fast forward to March of 2015, Hollywood, CA...

 

I was there for the ASC Master Class (that post will be coming soon :) .)  I'd planned to see something at the Cinerama dome and I was lucky enough to get tickets to a 35mm showing of Blade Runner.  For those of you who know the theater, I was sitting in the 4th row of the center section - right up front.  The person who introduced the film warned that there might some imperfections since it was a film print and a group of us applauded. 

 

I was totally blown away.  Not only by the width of the screen but the height, as well.  And the projected image looked absolutely amazing.  There was a point where there was a close-up of Harrison Ford and Sean Young on the screen: it had the perfect amount of grain, the perfect amount of softness.  All I could think was, "Why would anyone ever think digital could even come close to this?"


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#11 steve waschka

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 11:23 AM

I have a 12ft wide screen and an older Pioneer Elite Kuro projector. I have no need to go to the theater and see a film I have ACCESS to home. And by access, I mean bluray. I had and have dropped the super highspeed cable. Streaming content was subpar at best blown up. So if its a film I'm excited to see. I still have to goto a theater or wait for bluray. I think careful planning of distribution is the best defense for theaters. I think C.Nolan's early release of Interstellar on film print in theaters was smart. We as the craftsmen always say the content is the most important. And if the story is good I can watch it on a tablet and be engaged in a good story. And I promise you the avg consumer is not as critical about the final format as we are.

 

An interesting other side of the coin: Since experiencing my system two of my family members have installed projection systems in their homes. Both of them have started to become aware of the decisions made by the production crews and how it affects what the product looks like in their home. Tough to learn that watching anything on your phone.

 

edit..... oh and sound, tough to get good chest thumping sound in your home without pissing off he neighbors.


Edited by steve waschka, 18 May 2015 - 11:26 AM.

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#12 John E Clark

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 12:22 PM

Nope. Not going to ruin the pleasure I get from the vast superiority of digital projection to film.

I suppose this was always less of a problem in the US, but here in Australia we always got the arse-end of the print run, often used prints shipped down to us after a film had finished showing elsewhere in the world - and those prints sucked. Scratches and dust everywhere, gate weave, horrible.

 

That encapsulates quite a bit of my Film film experience of my youth, so, no I don't have too many regrets on the digital Film conversion. And... I've lived all my life within 120 miles of Downtown Hollywood...

 

What I'd like to see though... is the return of 50 cent movies... with all the cost cutting that digital distribution should provide... there should be no excuse for not having a couple of 50 cent movie houses in town...


Edited by John E Clark, 18 May 2015 - 12:23 PM.

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#13 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 01:56 PM

But Tyler....I have to ask something. I can notice the film look(even 16mm) on the most basic of platforms. I am going to direct my fist film soon and till date everything I have watched is on a 18' laptop screen(I couldn't afford something bigger and better). And even on that screen the look of film is apparent. A film look is just different than digital on any platform. So basically what I mean is that if a person is endeared to the 16/35/70mm look they can see it in their homes.


Well, for me it's not about the negatives of film; grain, the dots/scratches, gate weave, splices, flicker and print color shifts. These elements could be considered the "look" of film. These are dead giveaway's of film, but for anyone who shoot's film, these are things we don't like. All of us film guys, do our best to make sure the audience never see's these things.

We live in an analog world. Speakers vibrate a specific frequencies to make sound waves which our ears pickup. If you turn that technology around, microphones do the same thing. They take sound waves, turn them into analog signals which can then be recorded. The moment you try to convert analog to digital, you have a whole host of issues. What can the human ear actually hear? If it can't hear certain frequencies, then simply omit those. However, those frequencies bounce off other frequencies to create an entirely different sound when reproduced. The music industry has spent BILLIONS developing digital recorders which mimmic analog and over the last 10 years or so, people have been steadily moving BACK to 24 track analog recorders and vinyl distribution. This technology has been out of date for decades, but if you accept the background noise, it actually DOES sound considerably better then 24bit digital recordings. They're simply more organic/realistic sounding with less potential for peaking.

It's the same with film in a lot of ways, only with visual medium it's much more complex. Digital pixels are square, they actually have define edges, otherwise they wouldn't be digital. Film doesn't have pixels, so there aren't any defined edges within the frame. When you convert film to digital, the film grain is far more apparent because of these pixel blocks. As finishing artists, we run the scanned images through layers of de-noising and de-grain, manually removing dots/scratches and other problems. Then we compress the living shit out of the image, taking the lovely 12 bit 444 uncompressed RGB signal and compressing the crap out of it for 8 bit 4:2:0 Rec709 distribution for BluRay or VOD. These steps soften the image, they reduce the dynamic range substantially and compress color space into the smallest form possible. What comes out is an entirely different looking image then the source. If you were to play them both back to back in a theater, the original film print and the BluRay, you'd swear they were two different movies. Yes DCP's look a lot better then BluRay's, but they're still very flat in their dynamic range, almost milky looking.

So in reality, you aren't seeing "film" at home or in digital cinema's. You're seeing an interpretation of film. We fake the genuine article because it's cheaper and most people could care less. Just look at the crap our industry produces today and that will show you how much they care. :)
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 05:36 PM

I don't have the luxury of being a purist -- if I want to watch a movie at home, I'd rather watch a blu-ray than a DVD or compressed cable quality.  I'm not planning on collecting 35mm prints and setting up a projection room.

 

As for the theaters, I sort of agree with Mark.  With film projection, I had to figure which were the best theaters in Los Angeles to see something, and I had to see it within the opening weeks before the print got beat-up, and I only hoped that I would get to see the rare show print off of the negative and not the typical print made from an IP/IN which is turn was made for a film-out of a 2K D.I., more or less the norm since the early 2000's.

 

So for the most part, IF a movie is going to go through a 2K D.I., then at least the 2K DCP would be close to the quality of the image that was created in the D.I. theater by the colorist and the cinematographer, without the degradation of the film-out and duping and printing, combined with the mediocre 35mm projection at half the theaters around town.  In particular, many theaters own pretty poor anamorphic optics for showing scope prints -- at least with a 2.40 digital projection, the image is likely to be in focus across the width of the screen.

 

Now you can say that the quality of 35mm print projection would surpass digital if we were seeing original contact prints made off the the 35mm negative (so standard 1.85 and anamorphic movies only, no 3-perf Super-35 movies, no D.I.'s) but honestly that would be a pretty rare beast these days.  So given 2K D.I.'s are the norm, I'd generally rather see digital projection.

 

I admit that the contrast range and black level of a print is superior, but not the grain, not the steadiness, and not the cleanliness, and not the flatness of focus across a 2.40 frame.

 

As someone who has actually had 35mm release prints of his movies shown in theaters across the country, I would say that for the most part, the 35mm projection experience was pretty depressing for me and it wasn't until there were digital screenings of the later movies that I wasn't tearing my hair out over some print projection issue.  I remember dragging my crew on "Solstice" to a screening of "Akeelah and the Bee" in New Orleans and seeing a scope print with a purple cast that was only in focus on half the screen.  Digital screenings are a lot more consistent from screen to screen, city to city.

 

I will say that I prefer DLP over the Sony LCOS-type technology, mainly for the black level.  


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#15 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 07:20 PM

 

As someone who has actually had 35mm release prints of his movies shown in theaters across the country, I would say that for the most part, the 35mm projection experience was pretty depressing for me and it wasn't until there were digital screenings of the later movies that I wasn't tearing my hair out over some print projection issue. ..

The prints themselves are only part of the problem.   I was about to point out earlier in the thread that most movie theaters have borderline idiots running the projectors and equipment that's on it's last legs.  This is in my opinion the main reason to stay home.  Not film or digital.

 

I wonder if IATSE and the ASC ever sat down with the owners of theater chains and studios to address this problem.  Seems worth it.  After all, there's a lot of time money and effort spent on a movie that goes into a multiplex.  To have some 16 year old high school kid ruin the work of all those people seems pretty ridiculous and easily avoided.  

 

Maybe this means bringing the projectionist union back.  I remember when I was in high school I had to take a test and get a projectionist license before I was allowed in the booth.  It wasn't a union house either.  This was way back in the 90s.    I had since worked in theaters during college where it was obvious that no one had a license or any certification and barely knew what they were doing.

 

So obviously there's a major gap there in training, education and probably interest in the craft.  With no benchmark for quality or professionalism, how can we expect any level of consistency in the theater experience?


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#16 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 07:39 PM

They could have fixed film projection. IMAX did with their rolling loop projection system, which could have easily been adapted to work with 35mm. The industry continued to use vertical projectors for ease of use and cost savings. To me, that was part of the downfall, nobody bothered making any major changes. In fact, outside of stocks themselves and digital audio, not much has changed with 35mm projection since the Academy format was introduced. Other systems like VistaVision and 70mm came and went, mostly due to cost and improved stocks. In my eyes, there is no reason projectors couldn't have been fixed, the industry simply didn't think it was necessary.
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#17 cole t parzenn

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 07:41 PM

As for the theaters, I sort of agree with Mark.  With film projection, I had to figure which were the best theaters in Los Angeles to see something, and I had to see it within the opening weeks before the print got beat-up, and I only hoped that I would get to see the rare show print off of the negative and not the typical print made from an IP/IN which is turn was made for a film-out of a 2K D.I., more or less the norm since the early 2000's.

 

I live in one of the ten largest cities in the US and I get to choose from the theater with clean screens but noisy projectors, the theaters with dirty screens but ok projectors, and the theaters with ok screens but terrible projectors (noisy and with green and magenta areas around high contrast boundaries - especially problematic, since they get most of the foreign films), so I'm not convinced that video projection has solved any problems, other than the cost of shipping prints. And that's leaving aside any comparisons to idealized film projection, to be clear. When I saw "Interstellar," the first reel was scratched (less than a week in) and the bottom half of the screen was out of focus.


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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 07:46 PM

The reason that the "industry" didn't think it was necessary is that after the courts ruled that vertical integration (studios owning theaters) was a monopoly and broke them up in the 1950's, it became very hard to implement changes in technology because the theater owners had to get behind it and pay for it.  So the switch to digital sound was relatively easy to implement in terms of cost and equipment but a switch to better 35mm projectors, or to larger formats, was very hard for theater owners to get behind.  They've historically been fairly cash-poor and interested in cost-cutting.  The only reason they got behind the switch to digital projection was that the studios subsidized some of it but also because that was the only way to show 3D movies easily -- 3D pushed the changeover to digital projection.  I'm sure there are also some savings for the theater owners in terms of making the time spent in the projection rooms even shorter, more of a turnkey system that fewer people could be hired to do.  Of course, the studios see a lot of savings in not making thousands of 35mm prints and shipping them worldwide.

 

Also keep in mind that digital sound is what killed off 70mm projection -- up until then, a 70mm print was the only way to get multiple tracks of discrete sound on a print, so every big release made some blow-ups to 70mm for the major theaters. The theater owners themselves were only happy if the 70mm screening increased their ticket sales enough to offset the hiring of a competent projectionist to show the movie.  So they were happy to see 70mm die off as a release format; to them it was worth paying for the digital sound equipment if it meant they didn't have to project 70mm.

 

I don't see why anyone should be surprised that quality is not the main thing driving the exhibition industry.


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#19 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 09:08 PM

I live in one of the ten largest cities in the US and I get to choose from the theater with clean screens but noisy projectors, the theaters with dirty screens but ok projectors, and the theaters with ok screens but terrible projectors (noisy and with green and magenta areas around high contrast boundaries - especially problematic, since they get most of the foreign films)


I have similar experiences. We have Arclight Cinema's here in So Cal and they're the best theater chain around. Every time I go, the image and sound are perfect, whether it's film or digital projection. It really shows that BOTH technologies work fine, if the theater owners cared.

I'm not convinced that video projection has solved any problems, other than the cost of shipping prints. And that's leaving aside any comparisons to idealized film projection, to be clear.


It's made things worse because now there are no options. The cost to shoot and project theatrical films hasn't decreased one bit. Theater chain's have spent millions upgrading to now-antique digital projection systems. So there is A LOT of money still being spent, just by different people. Also, studio films spend more money in post production because there are more options, more time is spent cleaning up movies now then ever, down to practically air-brushing actors faces in each shot. With photochemical finish, there wasn't any need for that crap.

:sigh: it's kinda useless talking about this anyway. Nothing is going to change.
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#20 cole t parzenn

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Posted 18 May 2015 - 09:33 PM

I have similar experiences. We have Arclight Cinema's here in So Cal and they're the best theater chain around. Every time I go, the image and sound are perfect, whether it's film or digital projection. It really shows that BOTH technologies work fine, if the theater owners cared.

 

I saw "Interstellar," among other poorly projected and often interrupted films, at an Arclight. They didn't care about anything, really. (But "Psycho works surprisingly well in 2.39, I learned.)

 

Anyway, what causes the prob;em with video projectors' blacks?


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