Too much digital grading ?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Anthony Neilson, Dec 7, 2004.

  1. Anthony Neilson

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    Is anyone else sick of the way that almost every film made these days seems to have been digitally colour-manipulated ? Whole films are now overlaid with a murky brown veneer or neon blue or whatever. There's no subtlety or gradation to these effects ; it's like watching a whole movie through tinted sunglasses. It's an extension of the ghastly filters that people like Tony Scott were so fond of in the 80s.

    My fear is that it's having an effect on the quality of cinematography. There's no need now to "wait for the light" - you can film whenever you like and sort it out in post. Nothing new in that - but we're losing the organic, hand-crafted warmth of the photochemical process. The beauty of Technicolour seems ever more out of reach.

    Any views ?
     
  2. Ricardo C

    Ricardo C Producer

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    Whatever technique, tool, or technology that helps bring the director's vision to life, is alright with me.
     
  3. Anthony Neilson

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    Agreed, Ricardo, but a little naive. Practices like this - and the overuse of CGI - become routine for budgetary reasons and because the studios are setting increasingly ridiculous release dates.
     
  4. Ricardo C

    Ricardo C Producer

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    Maybe I am being naïve, but what is so dreadful about CGI's dominance of the visual effects arena? The visuals still have to be crafted by an artist. What difference does it make whether he sculpts a creature in clay or digitally models it on a computer? Talent and creativity are as necessary now as they were then.

    As for your issues with digital grading, you mentioned Tony Scott's filter fetish in the 80s. Doesn't that tell you something? The people who abuse digital grading today, are the ones who would have abused filters in the 80s. Different technology, same hackery.
     
  5. Kevin Grey

    Kevin Grey Cinematographer

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    What are some recent examples? I know you said this applies to almost every recent film but other than the high profile use of grading in the LOTR films and a few others (the Se7en re-release on DVD) I can't say I noticed any appreciable change in the look of films.
     
  6. Richard Kim

    Richard Kim Producer

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    In the Return of the King Extended Edition, digital grading was used to alter the time of day of a certain scene.

    Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? extensively used digital grading to artistic effect. There's a featurette of this on the DVD.
     
  7. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    Not to mention Soderbergh's Traffic.
     
  8. Anthony Neilson

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    Kevin, I wouldn't know where to begin. Just off the top of my head, the last two movies I watched - DAWN OF THE DEAD, KING ARTHUR. Yes, it's heavily used in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, in Soderbergh's TRAFFIC, in THE MATRIX trilogy - especially during the freeway sequence.

    Taking that latter example, personally I thought it looked awful - like watching a film through old sellotape - but I appreciate that it was being done for some purpose. The thing is that a lot of that sequence was shot on location, outside. But once you grade everything that yellowy colour, what's the point ? You lose all the reality of the location. You follow that line and you end up with Lucas's Digitopian ideal, where nobody needs to set foot outside the studio. But can't you tell ? Don't you miss the real-life forests and deserts of the first trilogy ? Even when the actors are supposed to be outside in the new films, the light on them is just wrong.

    I'm digressing. Of course, as with all technology, it can be put to good or bad use. Digital projectors are increasingly used in cinemas, and they give a pin-sharp, supernaturally bright image. Well, I'd rather that than out-of-focus projection. But for me, personally, nothing (yet) beats the image cast by light through celluloid. It's a traditionalist view, and if you don't share it - which you don't seem to - then the lazy (and unsubtle) use of digital grading won't annoy you.

    I'm just a bit worried that a lot of the traditional skills of film-making are disappearing. Why have stunt-men when you can do it with CGI (DIE ANOTHER DAY) ? Why have performers who can dance if you're going to chop the sequence up into a thousand tiny edits (MOULIN ROUGE) ? Why film at night when you can film during the day, or outside when you can shoot inside, or with a thousand extras when you can use ten ? Why not just light a set with floodlights and colour it in later ?

    I don't know. I just think the movies I'm seeing are less and less enchanting. I like the fact that Terence Malick will wait until magic hour for a shot. You can't recreate that time of the day digitally - it's called soul.
     
  9. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Have you seen A Very Long Engagement? It's obvious that digital techniques have been used throughout, and it's one of the most enchanting films I've seen in recent years.

    M.
     
  10. Anthony Neilson

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    Good points, Michael. But shouldn't new skills encompass the old ones rather than replace them ? Modern cameras do more efficiently what Sennett's cameras did. Digital grading does NOT do what colour-timing does. It's an inferior effect (for now at least) and it's done more and more for reasons of economics.

    Jeunet uses these techniques artistically. So did Soderbergh, for that matter. Many people do. But many others are using the technology badly ; to give movies a superficial style, to save money, to speed up production. Soon they'll be using these techniques because they don't know how to do anything else. That's what worries me.

    And sorry, I didn't see that earlier thread (although this is not really a thread about filters).
     
  11. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    It would be nice if that were true, but I don't think it's practical. If you were to give modern cinematographers the exact same equipment that Gregg Toland used, I wonder how many of them could successfully reproduce the look of Citizen Kane.

    But I don't think it matters, because I believe that truly creative people always find ways to make what's available serve their needs. I remember Roger Deakins describing how he worked out the B&W photography for The Man Who Wasn't There and discovered that he couldn't use B&W stock, because what was being made today just didn't have the contrast he needed. He ended up using color stock and removing the color in post. The results were worthy of any of the old masters of B&W, even though they were achieved by a completely different route.

    M.
     
  12. Anthony Neilson

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    You see, that almost makes my point. To my eye, the B/W of THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (an excellent film) didn't look quite right. Why ? "because what was being made today . . didn't have the contrast he needed". I'm sure Deakins would rather have used the proper stock and I'm sure the film (as good as it looked) would've looked even better for it.

    Now THAT is about economics, NOT broadening the artistic palette, and this is what always happens. Largely speaking, new technology R and D is only funded if there's some financial gain to be had. Once a cheaper technology is discovered, the older technology is discarded completely.
    All the old Technicolour equipment was sold off to China ; now they're desperately trying to find ways to reproduce the effect digitally, and they just can't do it.

    It's an old story - the loss of skills, of tools, of aesthetics even, to the imperatives of profit - and it's why our food tastes of nothing, and our shoes fall apart.

    Yes, that's always how it's been.But no,it's not ok.
     
  13. Richard Kim

    Richard Kim Producer

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    I disagree. I thought the photography in The Man Who Wasn't There was absolutely gorgeous and one of the best B&W films I've ever seen. Roger Deakins should have won the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
     
  14. Anthony Neilson

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    Sure, that's fine. Again, Deakins is a talented enough man to make it work. It's not an example I'd use, frankly, because the use of digital grading in b/w is a different matter. And ultimately, my issue is an aesthetic one. You would be within your rights to say that you hated Technicolour and wished there was MORE digital grading. To me the b/w looked a bit flat, but not to any serious degree.

    Let me just reiterate : I am not against the use of ANY digital grading. I am against its OVER-use and its MIS-use. That's what this thread is about.
     
  15. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    It's also why we have a film industry to begin with. Unlike other art forms, popular entertainment has always been about profit.

    M.
     
  16. Kevin Grey

    Kevin Grey Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the examples. I agree with Ricardo though- the same people who overused filters before are the ones who are going to abuse digital grading now so I think its a wash.
     
  17. Anthony Neilson

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    OK, well I'm not going to get all socialist on you.

    Profit,in itself, is not a problem. If you give me something of quality, why should you not profit ? This is a mutually beneficial agreement. The problem is when quality becomes secondary to profit. That's greed, and that's the problem with the world today.

    Meanwhile, back at the thread, my point is this : let new technology flourish. But the movie studios - in return for the profits they make - have a duty to the past ; both in the preservation and restoration of their films, and in keeping alive the technologies and skills of the past, in order to offer their artists the widest possible palettes to paint with.

    I'm not suggesting that we build Troy and hire twenty thousand extras. But let's keep a few experts around - people who know about working with film itself - so that we never lose the possibility of painting on canvas.

    BTW, Kevin - the point is well made, but I don't think the use of filters is equivalent. Filters have always been used - it's not even visible most of the time. The use of filters wasn't imposed on economic grounds, except in marginal cases of schedule.
     
  18. David Forbes

    David Forbes Supporting Actor

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    Yes, I'm sure the first people to assemble automobiles were also taught how to hammer horseshoes so that the "old skills" weren't lost. This is called progress.

    Now, I do agree that digital color timing is overused. (See CSI:Miami and CSI: New York for two of the most egregious examples on television.) But the misuse and overuse of it have nothing to do with most of the examples you've given.

    Digital grading has done wonderful things in the LOTR films. Check out the documentary on it that in the appedices of the Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition. They talk about the final battle at Amon Hen, and how the dappled sunlight-and-shadow lighting in the forest was a disaster to film, and which they were able to correct by increasing the brightness level in various areas of the frame.

    And as for technicolor, good riddance. I can understand how some people might prefer it, but as for looking realistic? No way.
     
  19. David Forbes

    David Forbes Supporting Actor

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    Pardon me, but BS. Studios would be irresponsible keeping alive "technologies and skills of the past" if they no longer have any benefit in the making of contemporary movies. If those skills are needed and are used, they will be kept around. If they no longer have a practical use, they won't be. Something newer (and yes, probably cheaper) will be used in it's place. And more often than not, the newer techique is actually better (with the caveat that it is used correctly). But any film technique can be abused, so all this gnashing of teeth as if this is something that's just appeared on the scene with digital technology is rather ridiculous.
     
  20. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

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    I'm curious on what cinematographers think about the process. Certainly they would recognize that the technology enables the director to more carefully choose the look of the film, but do the cinematographers feel slighted in the process?



    Maybe if the Academy members watched the digital grading feature on the FOTR: EE earlier Deakins would have won. TTT and ROTK combined for 17 nominations, but neither film got a nod for its photography.
     

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