Monday, March 7, 2011

HD .. ENEMY OF THE WRINKLE? By Tyson Birmann

I received this via email from a friend and co-worker, my DIT guy on my last 5 films. On our last show, WITHOUT RESERVATION'S, production chose to use the RED CAMERA, ugh, utter nightmare for makeup and hair. Bad monitor images, showed every little flaw and I just didn't know what to make of it and was actually questioning if my work was even good. So he sent me this and I thought I would share it with you guys out there that may be feeling the way I have been about this new lean towards RED CAMERAS. Thanks Tyson!
mykie xix

It seems like every time I am on set I hear a makeup person or actor refer to how “HD is too clear, you can see every wrinkle!”   They are trying to say that HD is more clear than film.  You see more detail and therefore more of the “faults” in the frame.  The truth is that this isn’t really true at all.  Film has the ability to show much more detail than even the best Digital motion picture medium.  Of course this is subjective to conditions, but when shooting side by side, film will win the “resolution” war.
I’m here to clear up so misconceptions in all of this.  Film is king.  More clear, more crisp, more latitude, sensitivity, etc…  But at the end of the day, it ends up looking “softer” to the eye.  This isn’t because of a lack of image, but the process through which the  image gets… well, processed.
Film is photochemical.  For lack of a better term, “organic”.   The detail in the process is down the molecular level and in it’s pure form would choke a super computer with it’s complexities and nuance.   So why does does digital seam more clear?  The answer lies within transfers.  When you shoot film, the first thing you need to do is process it.  Just like sending a roll to the photomat, it goes through a chemical process that draws this information out.  You are now taking an “organic” process and asking another “organic” process to translate it.  From there you have a negative and another photochemical process makes it into a positive print.  So on and so on, until you have the look and the image you wanted.
Digital is, by definition, data.  The image is coded into binary that represent addresses of color on a grid.  OK… so this is super simplified, but it is the basic idea.  As long as you don’t alter the grid the addresses remain constant and the image can be copied, transfered, and transported forever (in theory) and it will never change.  Even the term “copy” is misleading.  ”Replicate” or even “clone” is more apt.  *The 1st to the last, the image is unchanged unless you WANT to change it.
So to clarify, digital only seems more clear because the image remains intact through the process.  Film has a series of chemical steps that cause the image itself to appear “softer”.  The hard edges of those crow’s feet seem to seem to get less harsh each time.    Though if you want to get that “film look” and soften those edges, post can do wonders!
So next time you hear someone say “HD looks TOO detailed” you can send them this link.
Tyson Birmann
(* digital fidelity is based on the use of the same codec through each process.  Transfers between different codecs may result in alterations and compression, therefore altering the image.)

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