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October / 2003

Kodak Seminar Focuses on Super 16
Better Option Than HD for Low-Budget Productions?

By Don Angus

Super 16 Panel: (from left) Thom Best csc; Luc Montpellier csc; Gerald Packer csc; Peter Armstrong, operations director at post house Magnetic North; Michael S. Smith, vice-president of technical services at Film Opticals and moderator Bob Fisher.
Super 16 Panel: (from left) Thom Best csc; Luc Montpellier csc; Gerald Packer csc; Peter Armstrong, operations director at post house Magnetic North; Michael S. Smith, vice-president of technical services at Film Opticals and moderator Bob Fisher.

FILMMAKERS PANEL: (from left) Chad Malbon, digital film producer at Toybox; Douglas Koch csc; freelance post supervisor Gregor Hutchison; Robert Primes asc; Beverly J. Wood, executive vice-president of technical services/client relations for Deluxe Laboratories; and Daryn Okada asc.
FILMMAKERS PANEL: (from left) Chad Malbon, digital film producer at Toybox; Douglas Koch csc; freelance post supervisor Gregor Hutchison; Robert Primes asc; Beverly J. Wood, executive vice-president of technical services/client relations for Deluxe Laboratories; and Daryn Okada asc.


Given the recent advances in film technology, is the Super 16mm format an attractive option to HD video for low-budget productions? The question was put to a panel of three CSC cinematographers and a pair of post-production specialists at a Toronto eatery on Sept. 8 in conjunction with the ReelWorld Festival and Foundation “indie film lounge.”

It was a loaded question, of course, in that the seminar was sponsored by Kodak Entertainment Imaging to promote its new Kodak Vision2 500T 16mm colour negative stock (7218) — and the other heavyweight contender in the film versus video debate was not invited.

The thrust of the event was to demonstrate how the convergence of advances in film and digital post-production technologies are providing new creative and financial flexibility for filmmakers. Kim Snyder, the new vice-president of Kodak Canada Entertainment Imaging, said in her introductory notes that “most people are amazed when they see the image quality of . . . stories produced in Super 16 format with our new generation of film.”

She explained that 7218 is a high-speed emulsion with a fine grain structure, and that combination gives cinematographers the ability to work in the most challenging low-key lighting without making creative compromises. The 500-speed film is optimized for efficient conversion to video files in telecine suites and also during scanning for digital film mastering application.

There was enthusiastic agreement from the panelists: Thom Best csc; Luc Montpellier csc; Gerald Packer csc; Peter Armstrong, operations director at post house Magnetic North; and Michael S. Smith (winner of the CSC’s Kodak New Century Award in 1988), vice-president of technical services at Film Opticals. Bob Fisher, an American journalist who has written hundreds of articles about filmmakers, moderated.

Here is a sampling of the discussion on Super 16 film, which Smith noted has been around and widely used for many, many years:

Best, who shot the 7218 sequences for a Kodak promotional film shown at the start of the seminar, said that he has not shot enough HD video to make a fair comparison with film, but he prefers the look of Super 16. He has shot a lot of Super 16, he said, adding that in addition to the new, improved film stocks, developments in post-production technology have enhanced the end results of 16mm footage.

“As a cinematographer,” he stated, “I care about the artistry of what we do, and I think as cinematographers our quest is to create memorable, maybe even iconic images. And I guess I care about the longevity of those images; I’d like to know that those images will survive past my lifetime.”

Montpellier said he shot the Guy Maddin feature The Saddest Music in the World, a hit at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, on Super 16, and the choice for the Winnipeg-made film was “an entirely creative decision.” On the many music videos and series he has shot, he added, Super 16 has been the preference, and he “will continue to use it both for creative and budgetary reasons.”

The bigger negative area of Super 16, he continued, “is advantageous for framing, since the 16:9 aspect ratio is close to the standard theatrical framing of 1.85.1. To be able to frame two actors in a close-up is a plus creatively.”

In comparing 16mm film with a digital video format, Montpellier said, “Film seems to have a lot more range, a lot more latitude as far as exposures go. With digital video there is a plateau that you reach when it comes to overexposure. Also the colour rendition of film is softer.

“A lot of producers are returning to 16mm from digital video because the transfers are so good now. Just like film stock, post-production has evolved as well.”

Packer said he recently shot a Toronto feature for Jacob Tierney called Twist, which was blown up from Super 16, “and pretty much 80 per cent of what I’ve shot since the late 1980s has been on regular or Super 16 except for a few 35mm features.
PRIZE WINNER: CSC Associate Branimir Ruzic (right) was the draw prize winner at the Kodak-sponsored Super 16 seminar, and is presented with a certificate for three 100-foot reels of 7218 film by David Butler, communications director at Kodak Canada Entertainment Imaging.
PRIZE WINNER: CSC Associate Branimir Ruzic (right) was the draw prize winner at the Kodak-sponsored Super 16 seminar, and is presented with a certificate for three 100-foot reels of 7218 film by David Butler, communications director at Kodak Canada Entertainment Imaging.


“I never wanted to shoot 16mm 500 because it was too grainy, until 7218 came along. It allows you to use a lot fewer lights. We didn’t have a lot of lights on Twist so I was glad to try the 7218. Resolution was better and it was a lot sharper.” Packer also credits the new generation of lenses, such as the Cooke S4s, for improving the sharpness of Super 16 images.

One of his beefs with shooting video, he said, is that “the operator doesn’t have as much control over the subtleties of focus as they do with a film camera, where focus can be used as a creative tool.”

Armstrong said that “about 60 per cent or greater of what we’re transferring at Magnetic North these days is Super 16. I see some really good 16mm or Super 16 footage. We just wrapped the dailies on an MOW for Fox Television, called Redemption, and when we were transferring the dailies we had people walk into the telecine suite and say they weren’t sure whether they were watching Super 16 or 35mm. When it’s well exposed it looks really good.”

Kodak also sponsored a second panel discussion at the same downtown location on Sept. 9, which CSC News was unable to cover. Freelance post supervisor Gregor Hutchison, prominent cinematographers Douglas Koch csc, Robert Primes asc, Daryn Okada asc and Beverly J. Wood, executive vice-president of technical services/client relations for Deluxe Laboratories, focused on their roles in creating images and seeing the process through post-production, including timing of release prints. Again, Bob Fisher moderated.

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