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Old March 3rd, 2007, 10:16 PM   #1
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Motion picture film of the 80ís looks better than today

IMO the image quality of motion pictures started to go down hill in the mid to late 90’s. Now, from what I understand from other directors, the “trend in the art” changed from the high dynamic range, neutral color balance, high color saturation/soft lighting of the 80s/90s to the mute/off color, odd skin tones and the “mtv high contrast look” of today. The 80s stuff kinda reminds me of slide film the way it produces color and saturation.

So is this true, is it “trend in the art” or did they cut corners somehow in the production pipeline. How did the production/post production methods in the mid to late 80's differ from todays.

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Old March 3rd, 2007, 10:23 PM   #2
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So is this true, is it a ďtrend in the artĒ or did they cut corners somehow in the production pipeline. How did the production/post production methods in the mid to late 80's differ from todays.
It's "trend in the art". Filmmakers (as in high budget feature filmmakers) today have more tools at their disposal.

Then: Chemistry manipulation (and not much, at that), and primary color printing manipulation.

Now: Digital intermediates, which then enable sophisticated electronic color correction and manipulation. Directors and directors of photography can pretty much do anything they like, and colorists lead the way with manipulating color in ways that even directors and DPs can hardly understand, much less ask for in the telecine suite.

So if you like the way thigns were done in the past, it's just that you like the way film looks with very little manipulation.
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Old March 4th, 2007, 09:58 AM   #3
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I too thought this about many of the 80's films, particularly the richness of something like "Ghostbusters" or the smoothness of fantasy films like "Krull" and, my favorite, "Big Trouble in Little China".

Television shows as well were much finer in quality, I particularly love the looks of "Murder She Wrote" and "Matlock" which, at times, were even better looking than some of the 80's movies at the time!

Now everything's all about gritty and dark "realism" which always seems to be somewhat depressing really. The only relief I find from this look is in TV shows like "Scrubs" and, surprisingly, "Heroes" which applies a healthy mix of looks verus sticking to just one. Yet if there were any recent show to absolutely nail a look I considered "rich" for today, it would have to be the, now canceled, "Carnivale" series on HBO, amazing stuff there. Movies today are simply different, none of them look like the 80's stuff and nothing looks too drastically different from the other. The stuff I like for today is the direction that fantasy films have been taking with their looks, Lord of the Rings, Spider Man, Pirates of the Carribean, Superman Returns, all of those are doing things with their images that really set the bar for me. Everything is so slick and, in a way, shiny and nothing is ever gritty realistic, which is a good thing, a wonderful thing.

I just wonder how hard or easy it would be to emulate that 80's look yet maintain the strengths of today's film. More than that, how would they emulate that with digital? From what I understand from my Cinematography class so far, it would all come down to the lab and lighting style of the DP.
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Old March 4th, 2007, 10:58 AM   #4
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I have been wondering about this issue for along time so it’s great to finally get some feed back. I agree about some new stuff looking good, but IMO it still looses something when you mess with it digitally. The software can add color saturation and brightness, but it doesn’t have that “organic” look.

Last night I came across some old optical hand prints made by Kodak in the mid 80's (still photography). The quality was unbelievable! From an artistic standpoint (color, saturation, dreamy look, perfect density) it totally blows my D2X and photoshop away. Technically speaking you can get "better" results from the D2X and a photoshop burn and dodge, but nothing I have done to date could match the Kodak hand print in overall quality.
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Old March 4th, 2007, 11:08 AM   #5
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There's no technical reason why a DP can't emulate the look of an 80's production on film, it's purely aesthetic.

Trends come and go, high-key, low-key, grainy, sharp, bright or muted pallets... it's generated by changes in techincal abilities (New filmstocks, new lenses,new formats,new computer programs) AND cultural sensibilities.(What is the current pop trend?What is important to culture NOW? What is funny NOW?)

Take a look at things like SIN CITY a definate reference to both graphic comic books, and film-noir of the forties. That SPECIFIC look would not have been technically possible without some computer manipulation... so that's a new element. But it draws on the cultural reference to noir and comics of the forties. What's the word I'm looking for here... fusion? Synergy?

In the end, everything old is new again. OR, as Marie Antoinette is alleged to have said - "There is nothing new under the sun, except what has been forgotten."
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Old March 4th, 2007, 11:27 AM   #6
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****Take a look at things like SIN CITY a definate reference to both graphic comic books, and film-noir of the forties. That SPECIFIC look would not have been technically possible without some computer manipulation****


Richard-

Correct me if I’m wrong here (I probably am wrong), but in the 1995 movie Seven with brad pitt, I heard they used a very expensive processing method called "bleach silver" that gave a similar look to Sin city but using chemicals instead of software. I agree though, you couldn’t match the look completely without software.
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Old March 4th, 2007, 11:34 AM   #7
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Most will probably disagree, but I think it is overdone. Just as special effects are often used to hide a poor plot and acting, drastic manipulation of color, light and such is used to compensate for a bad story and poor production quality. It just makes it feel gritty and that appeals to some who ask for nothing more.

Content is still king, but effects and other manipulation is replacing it quite often. Give me content then add something to it!

Mike

P.S.: I was going out with a friend to see a movie on Friday night. After looking at what was playing in and around our area, we stayed home. It is indeed a sad state that the movie industry is in!

M
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Old March 4th, 2007, 11:53 AM   #8
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My thoughts lean towards too much CGI in modern movies. The stuff just looks hokey and is glaringy artificial in many instances. In the old days, they had to create that stuff with stunt men and real explosions, not CGI. I prefer the old methods even if they were more costly and dangerous to pull off.

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Old March 4th, 2007, 01:04 PM   #9
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Correct me if Iím wrong here (I probably am wrong), but in the 1995 movie Seven with brad pitt, I heard they used a very expensive processing method called "bleach silver" that gave a similar look to Sin city but using chemicals instead of software. I agree though, you couldnít match the look completely without software.
No, you are right, although it is called "Bleach Bypass" in which a percentage of the silver is retained in developing, delivering a specific look. It is been since refined and is still in use, although it remains a somewhat unpredictable process especially compared to a DI. The most radical use of this process that I can think of was in "Three Kings".

I recently worked with Roger Deakins and asked him about the look of "Jarhead", which he also shot. He told me that it involved a certain percentage of overexposure, a partial bleach bypass and a DI.

As far as 80's films looking "better"--while there is some great work there for sure, I often see the limitations of the film stocks of the day rearing their head, especially the high-speed stocks. We have to remember that nearly all the time we are watching these films on DVD or TV, where they have gone through a high-end telecine (generally to HD master) that has often been tweaked and cleaned up and grain reduced, hopefully supervised by the original DP. If you happen to see a print projected of a film from that era, chances are it will look noticeably different from the DVD, unless it is a newly struck print.

I'm not suggesting that clean always means best; certainly the grit and grain of certain movies from that era (and my favorite, the American films from the early 70's) are intrinsically linked to the content, and are in some ways tough to duplicate today. Kodak has been pushing the envelope in a last-ditch race to stay relevant in the face of digital, and some feel that their stocks are beginning to emulate a hyper-clean digital look!

As far as current TV shows--I don't know if you guys are watching them in HD, but I gotta tell ya, many of them are looking fantastic, far better than the average primetime show 20 years ago. "Carnivale" is an excellent example. I've been working a bit on "Ugly Betty" lately; the office set on that has a beautiful lighting scheme and overall I think that show just pops right off the screen. Again, watching in HD is really the key to being able to judge this--if I toggle over to the same channel in SD, it looks much flatter.
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Old March 4th, 2007, 02:16 PM   #10
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Interesting points. IMO the flaws of the older films gave them character and earthiness that is generally more appropriate for story telling. Sometimes less is more.

It’s funny because I just watched the movie “A guide to recognizing your saints”. The story and directing was fantastic, but I was absolutely convinced it was shot on HD when I was watching it, because of the poor image quality and video like look……right up until I saw the behind the scenes section and was shocked when I saw film cameras. Unbelievable, because it might as well have been shot on HD due to the look they apparently wanted.

Also, have you noticed how upbeat and positive the production music was back then? The music used now literally makes me leave the theater feeling terrible about myself. Lol. The directors and DPs are not as smart as they seem to think they are….

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Old March 4th, 2007, 02:30 PM   #11
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Also, have you noticed how upbeat the production music was back then? The music used now literally makes me leave the theater feeling terrible about myself. Lol. The directors and DPs are not as smart as they seem to think they are….
Woah, what does the DP have to do with the scoring??!!!

Music of course is a matter of taste, and when it comes to films, there's a certain pressure to use a style of music that will sell soundtrack CD's. I'm personally not a fan of the "weepy" male singer/songwriter genre, but obviously it worked out well for "Garden State" and many other films since that have emulated that type of soundtrack. Actually, I remember once on "Scrubs" when Zach told me I had to get the Coldplay disc, that it "changed his life" (this was before he had Natalie Portman use that line in the movie!) and I came back to him a week later and shrugged and said "it's OK but its not really my kind of music". He was stunned. And ultimately, his musical choices in that film sold a zillion CD's/downloads/whatever!

Actually, there are a lot of great films from the 80's that are only dated by the music--can't think of any good examples at the moment, but when those synth drums start up, it can pull you right out of the movie. But again--it's all a matter of taste.
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Old March 4th, 2007, 02:49 PM   #12
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[QUOTE=Charles Papert;635841]Woah, what does the DP have to do with the scoring??!!!


Lol, no offence intended I was generalizing. A lot of newer films can pull the trendy “looks” off and some just can’t (the majority cant). I agree it is a matter of taste for the most part.

Maybe I’m being to critical because I worked in a photo lab for many years color correcting, processing, ect film and digital. I’m sure a lot of people don’t even notice it (as in the general public).
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Old March 4th, 2007, 10:52 PM   #13
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but when those synth drums start up, it can pull you right out of the movie. But again--it's all a matter of taste.
Easy there, Chas. My vintage Alesis HR-16 drum machine is nearby. You don't want to hurt its feelings, do you? (grin)

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Old March 6th, 2007, 02:25 AM   #14
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I can't share the feeling. I like films as much now as I did back in the 80's. One thing that has definitely improved is timing, particularly for action and adventure films. When I watch older films that I remember as being very exciting and fast paced, I can't believe how slow and boring they feel compared to most recent offerings in this genre. I'm also not bothered by sophisticated color correction and post processing technique including CGI at all. Except for some very poor attempts at it ("Ultraviolet" comes to mind), CGI and color correction can add an extra dimension to make a good story really shine. Who wasn't amazed when they saw the Normandy landing in Saving private Ryan for the first time? Or how about the amazing fights in the matrix films? Or the abstract sense of surrealism in Stay? I could just go on and on. But then again I'm one of those people who like going out to the movies. I do so at least 3 times a week, even if I'm not particularly excited about anything playing. The best thing that can happen to me is going into a movie with low expectations and walk out pleasantly surprised. But the only way for that to happen is to be willing to give any movie the benefit of the doubt.
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Old March 6th, 2007, 11:27 AM   #15
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I can agree with the original poster. I hate the fact that every film released these days must have high contrast and be tinted either green, blue or orange. Whatever happened to beautiful rich colours?

I recently watched The Omega Man on DVD which was made in 1971. The opening scene in empty LA looks beautiful. You feel like you are driving around with Chuck. The sky is blue and shadows are long. Great stuff. I hear that the film is being remade (or rather the book), I can just guess what its going to look like, BLEACH BYPASS! (Rolls eyes)
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