I am back on land and ready to tear it up. The January newsletter has been a big success and I thank you all for your comments and suggestions. This is a collaborative effort and we value your input.
I have been getting many comments from people on what is the value of cinema style lenses compared to still lenses. So, this is part one of a two part blog. First we delve into cinema style lenses and what makes them useful. Part II focuses on still lenses and the variety of options. The choice ultimately comes down to the look that you want to achieve as an artist and your budget. When you read a script you have to let the story speak to you and have your lighting and lens choice be character driven.
For example, on “Terminator: Salvation,” what would a world dominated by machines look like? Well, I thought about what machines are made of: steel, iron, titanium; these materials all have the color silver in them. What would a world filled with silver look and feel like? It would be pretty black and white. McG and I did not want to make a black and white movie. With a movie that had silver threaded through its visual language, we then added color in their faces and threw in a little warmth in the Resistance to make it visually interesting. My Elite Team and I set out on a mission to deliver a new look for a post-apocalyptic world that no one had seen before. We used the story and the Terminators characters to drive the look and feel of Skynet proper. It was cold, filled with contrast, uninviting, dark, edgy, and depressing. The only warm color in Skynet was fire for the fear factor and the color red because that was a franchise established color.
In contrast, the Resistance bunker and personnel had color with warm skin tones to give it life. I wanted to use greens and gold’s and warm sunlight to show that our characters were trying to survive in this world of machines where they were not a machine.
The exterior landscapes had little life or hope, so we let our silver color bleed into this world.
These are the colors we chose to use in painting our canvas, and they were driven by the story. I turned to the Panavision Primo Primes for their resolution, contrast range and crisp feel.
When I was asked to lens “ We are Marshall” McG and I had gone through a variety of different looks for a movie in the early seventies. They had been done before and we wanted something unique. There were a slew of period 1970’s movies that had hit the theaters and we were feeling inspired to make it different. The story was such an amazing rise from the ashes story. The characters in the film had lost so much and their town had suffered emotionally and financially for decades. I walked around the town scouting locations and this event literally touched every single person in some way. It was truly profound. I would be in an elevator in Kansas City and some one would notice my Marshall University hat that I was wearing and they would stop me and say. “You know I was one of the first firefighters on the scene. The plane crash was so intense and hot that we could not get near it for hours. “ It was a monumental event that effected generations. How do you translate that into a lens choice or a photographic style? Well, I went back to still photography and to the Kodachrome images of the late 1960’s for my inspiration. The 70’s looks in cinema that had been done recently had been de-staurated and flat. I felt that this would be incredibly depressing and this story was not about the tragedy; it was about the community’s rebirth. So what better format than the most beautiful film stock that has ever graced our printers. KODACHROME!!
Once McG and I strategized, I went out to search for period glass for the image capture. I settled on 1968 Zeiss Panavision Ultra Primes. There were plenty of beautiful still lenses that had been converted by many manufacturers to work on our Panavision cameras but none of them were ready to be tested in a movie making environment or one that required specific focus capabilities. The Ultra primes had been making movies since the 1960’s. The glass had less contrast which was a big advantage. Kodachrome has a very colorful and stark look but it also has this very beautiful chalky effect in the blacks. So in the coloring process, I coined the phrase “chalk and drop,” where we took the lower contrast 1960’s glass and pushed the mid tones to the extreme, then brought the blacks way down This created a halo in the transition area from light to dark. Then with a little added saturation, period art direction and a colorful costume palette, it breathed eternal life into this tragic but uplifting story. So, it is really up to you as an artist to let the story and the characters speak to you.
Transitioning from film to HD has required a whole new level of creativity. One big weakness in the 5D platform is the 8 BIT compressed color space. How do you deal with that? Well, I use it to my advantage by shooting with the sharpest lenses possible. It gives you more range in the color grading process. The minute something was a little soft, the details in different shades of color went away first. The Elite Team and I have done multiple tests and found the Primo Prime resolution is far superior to every still lens out there. They are all hand made Leica glass with state of the art coating. Each lens varies from $18,000.00 to $40,000.00 in the prime lens department. Not $200.00 up $3,500.00. The Primos deliver about 3 more stops of latitude. Because of the lens size it captures more light, so seeing into the shadows was increased by about 1.5 stops. Then with the coating and design of the lens, it holds more detail in the highlights, about 1.5 stops.
Unfortunately, Panavision is currently in a lawsuit against Canon pertaining to Canon copyright infringement of their CMOS Sensor http://image-sensors-world.blogspot.com/2009/10/panavision-sues-omnivision-aptina.html. Until this gets resolved, the Panavision lenses will not be available for rental. Everyone is now on the bandwagon to give you PL mount lenses. So the market is wide open for engineers to take apart the Canon 5D and 7D cameras and carve it out so that the PL mounted rear element does not hit the Canon mirror. This will then enable you to use the Cooke S4 Primes, Arri Ultra Primes, and or the Zeiss Master Primes. Clairmont Camera has started to tear them apart and retool the mount. Illya Freidman at http://www.hotrodcameras.com/ has done a 7D that I saw at Sundance for around $4,000.00 and it looked sweet. He will convert your 5D if you provide it.
Just be aware that if you interfere with the Canon body in any way, it voids all warranties. I know in my heart that at least one lens manufacturer will see the light and build a cinema style lens with a Canon mount in the near future.