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Chemtone


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#1 fstop

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Posted 12 June 2005 - 08:53 AM

I'd love it if someone could fill me in on the technicals of TVC's Chemtone process from the 1970s, used on movies like TAXI DRIVER and SUPERMAN- I've heard it was a form of sophisticated form of flashing similar in the concept to the Dolby process for sound. Specific examples of shots from films using Chemtone would be very benefitial to us uninformed too! :)

Is Chemtone still used today?

Thanks in advance!
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 June 2005 - 10:32 AM

I was just talking about that in another thread.

TVC Labs no longer exists; they offered ChemTone. It was some form of chemical fogging probably combined with some low-level push-processing - this gave them more open shadows with the increase in density. I don't know the particulars in how you would chemically fog an image.
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#3 fstop

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Posted 12 June 2005 - 10:53 AM

Another thread, eh? Where can I find it?

Thanks for the response! I too am pretty miffed on the chemical thing- perhaps Dominic Case has the answer?
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#4 Sam Wells

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Posted 12 June 2005 - 11:31 AM

I tried it as a test on a film I made (which I never finished !), it was the first thing I shot in 16mm negative (I'd only shot reversal previously). I decided it wasn't for me (maybe I missed the reversal "snap" but also I wanted something more "Godfathery"

I don't think they did any actual flashing, but the effect was similar. Opened up the shadows, softened the contrast. I would say no significant increase in speed BUT as 52/7247 did not reall push so nicely (you could see the blacks go bluish in movies when cutting to push one shots !) it was probably a good option. Certainly it helped Michael Chapman on the NYC night exteriors of "Taxi Driver". (You should see a print if possible; last time I saw "Taxi Driver" on cable the transfer had sort of pumped the contrast up to a straight 5247 look.

Having said that, you should take a look at "The Missouri Breaks" as that was Chemtoned but had bolder color than "Taxi Driver" or "Nashville." I actually worked on a commercial with Michael Butler, but didn't get around to asking him about processing on that film, I really wanted to know what on earth it was like trying to work with Brando on that movie !
(If you've seen it you'll know what I mean !)

TVC told me Chemtone was popular with Central and South American productions, Brazilian etc - shooting in high contrast landscapes/ jungle etc.

But I don't know what was in the Chemtone soup.

-Sam
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 June 2005 - 11:39 AM

There was a pretty good American Cinematographer article on it where they showed degrees of effect in still frames from some Yul Brenner B-movie sci-fi thing. But no explanation of the process itself step-by-step.
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#6 fstop

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Posted 12 June 2005 - 02:41 PM

I remember seeing something similar (perhaps the same article) and was left somewhat baffled- it reminded me of Magicam and how that never has a direct explanations of the process.

Sam-
I have always read/been told that both Nashville and Missouri Breaks were flashed in the traditional manner cut with other shots that were TVC Chemtone- I don't know where to start looking! I always got the impression the stuff on Nashville (which still looks supremely exciting after 30 years) was done out of practical necessity to get that avaialble light as oppose to making a direct visual statement, probably because DP Paul Lohmann's other shows mysteriously never approached this level of goosebump-rising wild innovation- I wonder how much was his decision and how much was Altman's? Same for Michael Butler on MB (is he shooting commercials only now then?).
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 June 2005 - 06:03 PM

There were two articles in "American Cinematographer": one about TVC Labs & Chemtone from Sept. 1975, and the other about Gerald Hirschfeld's processing tests on Fuji film for "The Ultimate Warrior" (August 1975.)

He had a brief description of the process in the first edition of "Image Control" where he called it a "chemical foggent" which increased density in the low regions of the negative, reducing contrast.
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#8 Sam Wells

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Posted 13 June 2005 - 02:42 PM

Hi - you could well be right about Missouri Breaks, I'm not sure what to look for either. I'd have to see it again. Taxi Driver, I think the strategy is pretty obvious - transfer notwithstanding.

I don't know but Altman is no doubt a technically savvy or at least open-minded guy - witness the look of McCabe & Mrs Miller, or even the fact of doing 8 track recording on films years ago...

Michael Butler, I don't know what he's doing - this was a looong time ago.
(He said re Brando "Well..... we just tried to keep him in frame and in focus" :D )

-Sam
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#9 Dominic Case

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Posted 13 June 2005 - 08:45 PM

Chemtone was in use in the days when there was no choice of film speeds: you had the basic 100ASA Tungsten negative and that was it. If you wanted extra speed, you had to find a way.

TVC labs came up with Chemtone and were always guarded about what the chemistry was. However, it seems that the effect was simply to fill in the toe region of the curves (in all colours of course), thereby reducing shadow contrast a little, and therefore lowering the threshhold point (which is the least exposure that will have any effect on the film).

There's nothing magic about this, but it would have taken a fair amount of adjusting to get the additives right. Developer chemistry is a complex mixture of chemicals that either speed up development in one part of the curve or in one layer, or slow it down. The Chemtone process would have had things like bromide and antifog agent reduced, maybe some fogging agent added (there are plenty of chemicals that will do that) etc etc. Secret herbs and spices.

Obviously it was a lot easier to send your exposed neg off labelled "please chemtone" than to mess about with preflashing, or any of the other flashing techniques around. But today, TVC labs are no more, and the wide range of neg stocks available probably nullifies the demand there once was.
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#10 Dan Goulder

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Posted 15 June 2005 - 04:35 PM

I was just talking about that in another thread.

TVC Labs no longer exists; they offered ChemTone. It was some form of chemical fogging probably combined with some low-level push-processing - this gave them more open shadows with the increase in density.  I don't know the particulars in how you would chemically fog an image.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I shot some night footage of a street riot in Athens, Ohio, spring of '76. Used TVC Labs specifically for the ChemTone. Despite being pretty dark, I got some great closeups of cops with raised billy clubs, with one breaking ranks and coming straight for the camera. Thank goodness I was shooting with a Bolex, so was able to get away. An Arri with a battery belt may have made for a tougher escape. Thanks for the memories!
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#11 fstop

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 05:46 AM

Gentlemen, thankyou for the info! :)

Sam-
Thankyou for the Butler anecdote! I'm also gonna have to see a projected print of TAXI DRIVER again (and certainly not the usual moth ridden one in circulation up here).

Dominic-
Very interesting that this had so much to do with making the most of slower filmstocks- we (well certainly I) tend to romanticise the 70s and beforehand with all of those wonderful DPs working such low light levels on such slow film, but I guess if we had a cinematography.com forum back then there'd be equal complaints about Chemtone similar to the DI/techno-cheating gripes we frequently hear today.

dgoulder-
Wow! would love to know more about the riot shooting, the quality of the image on those close ups, especially with lens combinations, etc. Sounds like the closest thing to sticking a video camera over the shoulder!
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#12 Sam Wells

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 10:30 AM

  Thank goodness I was shooting with a Bolex, so was able to get away.  An Arri with a battery belt may have made for a tougher escape.  Thanks for the memories!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Since I have both I'll keep this in mind :o

Wow great story... I dread to think if you'd had an Ikegami HL-35........

-Sam
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#13 Jon Sandberg

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Posted 14 October 2014 - 03:10 PM

Hi all-

My name is Jon Sandberg. Dan Sandberg is my Dad. Love to discuss!

 


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