The audience was eerily quiet as the first anamorphic 65mm footage was show in public since the format disappeared in the 60's. There was gate weave and flicker, showing how un-calibrated the Paramount theater projector was, from decades of not running this format. However, everyone was in awe of what was projected, the contrast, the color, depth of field, lens coatings and flairs, it was like watching an old film shot with modern stocks. The story behind this format being resurrected and how it may usher in a new era of large-format acquisition and distribution is very interesting.
Robert Richardson wanted to do something different for Quentin's new film. It appeared he was tired of the same old look. Whilst at Panavision he brought up this subject and was shown some older lenses for a more unique look. Unfortunately, every single lens that was brought out, still looked too damn good, too "modern" for Robert. As a last ditch effort to supply Robert with something unique, out came the old Camera 65 lenses from the way back of storage. Some may recall this format coming from cinerama when they switched from 3 strip 35mm to single 65mm acquisition. They developed a lens system which would allow them to retain the same ultra wide aspect ratio (2.76:1 with 1.25 squeeze) of their screens and use a single negative. Although the cinema version was short lived, it spawned two future systems; MGM 65 and Ultra Panavision.
Of course, Richardson fell in love with these lenses, mostly with the softness of the image which had a lot to do with the coatings. Our modern cameras and stocks are so good, it's nearly impossible to have good resolution without showing too many imperfections in the actors, sets or backdrops. In some cases, even out of focus areas are overly sharp with modern lenses, making it look unrealistic. These lenses allow the resolution to show through, but deliver a softer image throughout with out resorting to filtration. Plus, they have a much more artistic look in the out of focus areas. Of course, the other thing which was super important was anamorphic lens flairs.
The lenses had sat since the 60's and were completely frozen. Plus, the lenses were designed to be used with 65mm cameras, of which Panavision has very few of. The dynamics of the situation were about to be taxed further when Panavision explained there were zero projection lenses available to unsqueeze in the theaters. However, Richardson wanted to do a test with these lenses and show it to Quentin. So Panavision went ahead and took a few select lenses and started to experiment.
The first big hurtle was freezing the lenses. This was huge because back when they built them, they were using brass and aluminum with lithium grease. So the grease has turned into concrete and corroded the brass. This meant, the lenses had to be stripped down, but the only way of taking them apart is to get them to twist! So they tried everything and the only thing that worked was heat, lots and lots of heat. Eventually they freed the lenses up and could dismantle them. The second hurtle was the fact the elements had dots on them, typical stuff you see with glass that's been sitting for a long time. So the elements themselves needed to be re-worked with new coatings, comparable to the original. Finally, the original camera's weren't reflex, so the glass could protrude further into the camera. This proved to be a huge problem with modern reflex cameras, the glass actually touched the mirror! This forced Panavision to alter the final element and move it away from the mirror.
With lenses in hand, Richardson and a small team went out and shot some test footage in similar locations to where the film was going to be shot. The day of screening the footage was nerve racking for Panavision. They still didn't have a solution for projecting and they only had a few lenses. Of course, when Quentin saw the material, he was overwhelmed and the decision was made right then and there, to shoot his next film; The Hateful Eight, on Ultra Panavision 65.
Panavision spent the next few weeks rebuilding a total of 19 lenses, some of them with the older prism anamorphic element. They made special filters to go along with the lenses, matte boxes to hold those filters, they made a special 2000ft magazine for the sound camera since Quentin wanted long takes and even convinced Kodak to make those longer rolls of film. The final step in the whole process was to figure out the projection aspect. The workflow for spherical 65mm projection is straight forward and has been done on many films over the last few years; The Master, Interstellar and even Inherent Vice, all projected on 65mm Spherical. So projectionists have some experience with this format, but very few people have experience with anamorphic 65mm. The call went out and an expert was hired to come in and not only develop new projection lenses but also service the 50 theaters in the US who signed up for the 70mm release of The Hateful Eight. The projectors will calibrated to eliminate flicker, gate weave and reduce registration issues. Schneider got the contract to make the lenses and it appeared Quentin paid for them out of either the budget for the film or his own pocket.
Outside of a few production hiccups with principal photography related to the freezing cold, the 65mm cameras performed flawlessly in negative degree weather for the entire shoot. Sure, lens fogging was always a concern and needed to be looked after, but according to on-set reports, the camera bodies were perfect. Here in Los Angeles, the production was on freezing sound stages to mimmic the location shooting so everyone had actual condensation coming from their breath. Yet, those old film cameras, originally made for Far and Away in the early 90's, worked flawlessly.
What Robert Richardson and Quentin Tarantino have done is successful resurrect a film format which had long been since forgotten. In doing so, they've paved the way for future filmmakers to use this format since the workflow from production through distribution will be well established. There are already two major hollywood movies signed up for this new format, rumors are one will be PT Anderson's new film. At the same time, Panavision has been flooded with requests for budgets and timeframes/schedules. There has been financial battles as well, studio's battling with money to just get ONE of the 2 sound cameras before someone else get's them. This demand has made Panavsion contemplate building an all new silent 65mm cameras and they may do so if these films wind up being good money for them. They're also adapting the new Arri Alexa 65 to work with the new anamorphic glass, but there aren't any projection lenses being developed for digital projection. So there will be another huge investment to make that a reality. Rumors are that 35mm and digital releases of The Hateful Eight will be standard 2.35 anamorphic with black bars at the top and bottom.
After seeing the test footage, there was a rousing applause. It's apparent, everyone in the audience was stunned by what we had just seen. However, it wasn't over yet. The next thing we saw was a DCP version of the material and it really shows how far away digital projection is to film. The blacks were mushy and undefined, the highlights were clearly peaking and the whole image looked flat. All of that beautiful depth seen in the film projection was lost. It was a sad realization this format developed in the 50's, is still better then all the money we've thrown at conventional digital projection. Sure, laser projection is one step further, but at a huge cost and still lower resolution then 65mm prints struck off the original negative. Quentin's goal is to produce all 50 prints off the negative and deliver an amazing cinematic experience and bring people back to the theater.
Edited by Tyler Purcell, 08 June 2015 - 01:02 PM.