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-   -   Why does some HD production look great while others look terrible? (http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/open-dv-discussion/119040-why-does-some-hd-production-look-great-while-others-look-terrible.html)

Josef Heks April 10th, 2008 09:21 AM

Why does some HD production look great while others look terrible?
I saw some of a show caled Stargate Atlantis on TV the other day and was quite taken aback by the cheap-ish look of the show (sorry to fans of the show:)). I found out that it was shot on HD. On the other hand, I watched Zodiac the other day (also shot on HD) and was amazed at how good it looked. What is it which seperates these two professional productions...why does Zodiac look soo much more professional and filmic than Stargate? Is it just more advanced cinematography or is there technical differences in the type of HD cameras used?

(btw, is Stargate interlaced? I find the motion to be very video like.)


Josef Heks April 11th, 2008 06:34 AM

anyone? Sorry if Iv unfairly downed Stargate, I just personally don't really like the visual quality of it...I guess terrible is a bit of an overstatemnet. But can anyone shed any light on this?

Greg Boston April 11th, 2008 10:23 AM

Forgive my ignorance, but were you asking about the feature film, "Zodiac?"

If so, there's a huge difference in the budget between the two productions. That makes a big difference in how much goes into set design, lighting, and post production treatment.


Dave Blackhurst April 11th, 2008 02:43 PM

Going to jump out on a limb here and suggest that in addition to different production/budget, there is probably a BIG difference in the desired "look and feel".

SA is set in a water based world, supposed to be at the far reaches of another galaxy, with lots of "alien" technology. Hence, it almost always has a distinct bluish cast... why? Because I guess thats what watery alien worlds are "supposed" to look like.

Contrast the look of Stargate SG1, same production company, same franchise/series more or less, and I'm going to guess similar workflow/technology - both shows are set to have a "reality" vibe to draw the viewer in, but have distinctly different looks and overall feels.

Atlantis had a very "unreal" color cast from the beginning, and I guess when you first see it it would be strange, but it fits the desired "vibe".

MOST productions have a post process to achieve a look and feel, sometimes it's a little "too much"... maybe that's what you're seeing?

Mathieu Ghekiere April 11th, 2008 02:51 PM


Originally Posted by Josef Heks (Post 857605)
I saw some of a show caled Stargate Atlantis on TV the other day and was quite taken aback by the cheap-ish look of the show (sorry to fans of the show:)). I found out that it was shot on HD. On the other hand, I watched Zodiac the other day (also shot on HD) and was amazed at how good it looked. What is it which seperates these two professional productions...why does Zodiac look soo much more professional and filmic than Stargate? Is it just more advanced cinematography or is there technical differences in the type of HD cameras used?

(btw, is Stargate interlaced? I find the motion to be very video like.)


I think that if you would shoot a scene with a couple of different digital HD camera's, and you light it exactly the same, have the same budget, etcetera, it will of course look a bit different, but not by much. The basics will be the same. As others said, you are just comparing two completely different things here: a feature film with a big budget, taking place in the 70's, and a television show with a much lower budget, other cinematographer, that takes place in an alien world...

I'm exagerating when I say this - because you are referring to both professional products - , but to state my point: It's a bit like asking why '28 days later' looks so filmic, and Uncle Joe's birthday party doesn't, it's both mini dv, right? Not.
Like you have "28 days later", "Open Water", "Blair Witch Project", they all are (more or less) shot on the same format (although BWP was Hi-8 if I'm not mistaken), they all are after a different look, that fits their story.

Josef Heks April 12th, 2008 04:26 AM

Yeh thx...im not talking about the obvious differences tho, like the fact that one is scifi and the other is in the 70s, I understand the difference there. Its the actual quality of the photography that Im questioning. What is it actually that makes SA look so much lower budget? Do you think SA uses different cameras and lenses than say Zodiac? Or is the difference entirely in the actual cinematography?

For example, you watch Zodiac, it looks extremely filmic, beautiful and you actually enjoy the cinematography. With SA, it looks cheap because it looks really artificially lit. Is that because the cinemtaography in SA is not as advanced, or because the cameras/lenses used in Zodiac allow for a more filmic image?

sorry...i find this reaally hard to explain..

Josef Heks April 12th, 2008 04:42 AM

compare this rich looking image from Zodiac...


....with that from SA, which looks closer to a student film shot on a handicam (ie it just looks really digital while Zodiac doesnt at all):


Is this difference ALL down to the cinematography and post-processing??

Mathieu Ghekiere April 12th, 2008 06:08 AM

It can be a combination of choice of lightning and cinematography (I think this really is the most important part), lenses maybe, and very much post processing too.
Don't get me wrong: Zodiac WILL be shot at better lenses and better camera then Stargate, but it's clear from your examples (good examples btw!) that they are going for a completely other look.

You are right that Stargate doesn't look so good in that shot, but look at how saturated it is! It screams video a bit because the colors are so bright (also has to do with production design! compare the colours of the clothing in both examples!) and in Zodiac it seems they went for a more timeless, desaturated look.

Still, interesting thread, though :-)

Dale Stoltzfus April 12th, 2008 07:44 AM

I also think that the SA frame looks a bit cheap because of the lighting. Notice the motivated light sources shown - all blue and green. And the walls and door behind the characters are accordingly bluish. Now look at the actors. They are lit with a very strong, very tungsten key and fill, coming from no motivated source. Now, perhaps in the story, there is something out of the frame that is creating that light, but just looking at the frame and not knowing, I would say that the lighting makes it look cheaper.

Also notice how sparse and clean everything is: the tables, the walls, the wardrobe. Now notice the Zodiac frame which is more realistically cluttered - lots of stuff in the background, foreground desk covered with papers, busier wardrobe with little things out of order (the tee-shirt peaking out at the main character's neck, the glasses hanging on the other guys shirt), etc. Now these are to very different looks that the two productions are going for, so what I said about SA isn't necessarily "wrong," but it could be what's giving you the fake vibe.

However, I haven't seen SA and I can't even remember the character's names in Zodiac, so what do I know? ;)

Josef Heks April 12th, 2008 07:24 PM

thx for the interesting responses. I find it strange that SA looks so cheap, when it seems that it wouldnt really be that hard to make it look a lot better and more filmic...I mean they might not want it to look like an actual film, but surely they can't be happy with the look of the show as it is now?

That said, Ive never actually watched an episode, maybe it has great writing...

Brian Standing April 13th, 2008 12:07 AM

I'd say 90% of the difference between these two shots is lighting. In the Zodiac shot, they're obviously going for a naturalistic look (probably on Earth), with soft diffuse key lighting, and minimal hairlights. This has reduced shadows, created molding and natural skin tones.

In Stargate Atlantis, they're going for a more "studio" look, probably to take into account the idea that these people are supposed to be on some kind of space ship (I presume), and not on planet Earth, with its sunshine, clouds, windows and diffuse lighting. This kind of lighting is much more difficult to do well, especially with the prominent hairlight, without having it look like a high school portrait.

This is the difference between using all color-balanced (probably daylight) lights with heavy diffusion (like a softbox) and using direct lighting with colored gels.

Dave Blackhurst April 13th, 2008 03:58 PM

1 Attachment(s)
EDIT - I thought I'd take a look at my sample, and wouldn't you know, what looks pretty close on my monitor in the editing progam looks pretty funky when uploaded... but I guess it makes the point, as it actually goes a bit overboard in another direction... again, please no critques... dang I hate CC... and different displays... and different programs... GRRR so many variables!!!!!

OK - Here's the best way I can think of to illustrate, remember I'm not a colorist, and this was just a quick and dirty "remake", attacking the most obvious "problems" from your original .jpg and sort of trying to match some of the stills from zodiac from your gallery... the four guys around the table as reference, as it's a similar shot.

The unnnatural "blue" was sucked out, there's a "period" yellow cast I couldn't quite seem to nail from the Zondiac shots, but you get the idea - did a little softening on the skin as I notice again the "period" look seemed to be either with makeup or with the shooting choices to make skin tones and features look a certain way. Please no critiques, this is just to illustrate a point <wink>.

Keep in mind this is the SAME frame, just posted in a different way, to get a different look. Does this help you see how many factors (remembering I had no control over light, camera, original "post tinkering", or anything else, just tinkering in a photo program) affect the "final result"?

I remember when Aviator (the Howard Huges movie) came out - there was great article about how the director carefully selected an expert to replicate the color and look characteristics of each specific period film stock (because all film stock is different TOO!!) so as to have each period in the span of the move recreate what a "movie" of that period would have looked like if shot on period film stock. Zodiac IIRC was also shot with a "70's feel", never watched it, but read a bit about it when it came out.

One of the interesting things with digital in general is it can be manipulated to look great, made to look horrid, or even to emulate specific other media (notice I said EMULATE - it obviously cannot DUPLICATE EXACTLY, though it may come close). I prefer the versatility, but it's like anything else, what you choose to do with it may or may not be everyone's cup of tea!

It's not the hammer, it's the carpenter...

Josef Heks April 13th, 2008 07:44 PM

awesome post dave..but even with your CC (and as you said this is only a small part of the difference), I still find a significant difference in the actual quality of the image. The Zodiac shot seems much sharper and the way the image falls into such rich blacks actaully seems very film-like. Thats why I was wondering whether the camera/lenses would have been significantly different..it just seems to me that the camera/lenses in Zodiac are able to actaully capture different photographic data.

Bruce Foreman April 15th, 2008 04:04 PM

Sometimes I think we may get too hung up on adherence to a concept like emulating "filmic" with video, and tend to forget content.

I rented and watched a DVD (Transit) that never made the movie theatre circuit just to see what could be done with a rented camcorder over a few days and made it into a feature length program that got US distribution. Image quality varied from almost OK to downright awful but the content gave me a nitty gritty look at the LA graffiti "tagging" gang culture in a down and dirty way.

But it was appropriate for the content.

I've not seen Zodiac but the scene posted shows a contemporary office scene in a very natural way. The lighting seemed to emulate today's often typical flourescent illuminate office workspace.

Stargate Atlantis I've followed since the first episodes, the imagery portrayal and lighting set a mood appropriate to the content, the telling of stories based in and around a city (Atlantis) built on a somewhat watery world by an ancient culture then abandoned.

The look with it's bold colors and bold contrast underscores the "feel" of that environment.

Sometimes we need to first try to appreciate the content without "fixating" on how the way it was done doesn't fit some "standard".

Dave Blackhurst April 15th, 2008 09:59 PM

I tend to think of color casts and post production as "atmosphere" - I've started to really notice the "tricks" that are used to set mood/change mood in some films - it's a part of the art form, and to say something "looks filmic" is almost an absurdity - there are so many factors which contribute to a "look" that it's difficult to grasp all of them.

When you look at the credit roll, just think about how many people it takes to get "the look", it's not all some magical piece of hardware... or a "setting"... or cheap... mostly not cheap...

Sure, understanding the bits and pieces helps when you're trying to replicate a specific vibe, but there's lots and lots of variables, and yes, sometimes results are more pleasing than others... thus why one film breaks records for sales, and another breaks records for time to release on DVD!

A good script/concept, combined with good talent in all the various disciplines, and you can still end up with a stinker, or you can find an unusual idea that resonates, practically film it with a handycam, and get a hit... no matter how it "looks"!

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