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Cameras in the Movies / TV / Media If you are a photographer, it's difficult not to appreciate movies too. In this forum you can discuss movies, as well as the cameras used in them. What camera used in what film / TV show etc has long been a topic of discussion at RFF. Whether the Exakta and 400mm Kilfitt lens in Hitchcock's Rear Window or the Nikons in Eastwood's Bridges of Madison County, cameras are tools which reflect the time and technology of the film.

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Soderbergh's "The Informant!": lens flare
Old 03-28-2010   #1
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Soderbergh's "The Informant!": lens flare

Anyone seen this movie? I am a big fan of Soderbergh, and I enjoyed it a lot...but the whole thing looks as though it was shot on a Summar with heavy front element damage:





I actually found this kind of distracting, maybe just because I'm a camera nerd. Everything is backlit, everyone is enveloped by "glow." I know Soderbergh is using a Red One, but I can't find anything about optics, save for an article by an anti-digital crusader who speculates that this is the work of a diffusion filter (and, rather unconvincingly I think, accuses Soderbergh of having to do this because the Red can't handle highlights).
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Old 03-28-2010   #2
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Sure it's a diffusion filter. You get the same 'glow' when coming in from the cold and taking a picture while the lens is still fogged.

Using a diffusion filter is an aesthetic decision. I don't think he'd use it solely because 'the Red can't handle the highlights'. He's not forced to use the Red, he can chose whatever tool he wants in order to achieve his aesthetic vision.

IMO, the 'glow' fits the movie quite well. It gives the whole thing a nostalgic look (the movie's set in the 90s) and a very dreamy quality. It makes everything look a bit less clear and less real which, again, fits the plot.
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Old 03-28-2010   #3
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The nineties are old and nostalgic ? Ooops, suddenly I feel ancient. After lunch, more photography needed.
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Old 03-28-2010   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MartinP View Post
The nineties are old and nostalgic ? Ooops, suddenly I feel ancient. After lunch, more photography needed.
Well, almost 20 years have past since the early nineties (which is where/when the movie's set). But don't feel bad, I'm also feeling ancient and I'm 'only' turning 26 next month.
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Old 03-28-2010   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MartinP View Post
The nineties are old and nostalgic ? Ooops, suddenly I feel ancient. After lunch, more photography needed.
Oh, he meant the 1990s? That was just yesterday. You sure it wasn't the Gay Nineties he was talking about? Some interesting lenses then.
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Old 03-28-2010   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jamie123 View Post
Using a diffusion filter is an aesthetic decision. I don't think he'd use it solely because 'the Red can't handle the highlights'. He's not forced to use the Red, he can chose whatever tool he wants in order to achieve his aesthetic vision.
Yes, I absolutely agree. I definitely don't endorse the interpretation I referred to.
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Old 03-28-2010   #7
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For distracting lens flare, try the latest Star Trek movie. I know that in real life, lenses can flare so it wasn't a distraction for me in "The Informant" but in a movie with as much CGI as Star Trek has where I know some one had to add it, the flare quickly became a major distraction for me. If the movie had been better, I might not have noticed I suppose.
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Old 04-04-2010   #8
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Sometimes, the lens used is written at the end of the film.
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Old 04-12-2010   #9
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The flarey lookm goes in and out of style...look at all those movies from then 1970's that are ruined by thick filter packs. Also, using a foggy filter is an old hack's trick for avoiding the harsh, buzzy edges in video. Junk is junk.
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Old 04-12-2010   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rbiemer View Post
For distracting lens flare, try the latest Star Trek movie. I know that in real life, lenses can flare so it wasn't a distraction for me in "The Informant" but in a movie with as much CGI as Star Trek has where I know some one had to add it, the flare quickly became a major distraction for me. If the movie had been better, I might not have noticed I suppose.
Rob
They spent big money to put that lens flare into the Star Trek CGI scenes. A friend of mine developed the algorithm for it. The director liked it so much he put flare into the live action scenes by positioning a grip off camera to shine a flashlight into the lens. My friend fully realizes the irony of spending millions to put flare into scenes that the lens manufacturers have spent millions to get the flare out of.

He also worked on Avatar. You'll notice the fake flare is much more restrained in Avatar, but there is some here and there.
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Old 04-12-2010   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vdonovan View Post
They spent big money to put that lens flare into the Star Trek CGI scenes. A friend of mine developed the algorithm for it. The director liked it so much he put flare into the live action scenes by positioning a grip off camera to shine a flashlight into the lens. My friend fully realizes the irony of spending millions to put flare into scenes that the lens manufacturers have spent millions to get the flare out of.

He also worked on Avatar. You'll notice the fake flare is much more restrained in Avatar, but there is some here and there.
Your friend clearly did their job well! The director seems like he was enjoying a new toy--a bit too enthusiastic maybe?
There was some flare in Avatar but a much more realistic use of it, I agree.
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Old 01-20-2011   #12
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I cannot speak from any firsthand (or otherwise received) knowledge, but The Informant's whole aesthetic is rooted in late sixties-mid seventies trappings. Look at the (absolutely wonderful) score for more info. An interesting choice, to be sure, given that the film is set in the 90s, but there you go. I'm sure that Soderbergh chose the lenses for their flare characteristics, and I'm guessing that in this case it was likely 70s era zooms. On Saving Private Ryan, Janusz Kaminski had the coatings removed from a set of old Zeiss lenses to increase flare (and, apparently to make them behave in a manner that might recall both old 16mm WW2 footage and the Robert Capa photos... this I offer firsthand), and it is possible that Soderbergh did something similar or even got the Saving Private Ryan lenses (they're still around, though I think they are Panavision mount and thus incompatible with Soderbergh's Red cameras). At any rate, nothing about the imagery suggested filtration to me; I saw uncoated lenses and technique designed to cause flare. I agree that the choice was rather questionable, and was my biggest complaint about the otherwise fantastic film.

I can say from experience that the Red needs no such filtration to handle highlights, and can further offer The Social Network (shot on Soderbergh's own Red cameras, most likely the same bodies used on The Informant) as evidence of this. I will admit that for The Social Network, the chips had been upgraded, and that Cronenweth is a much better cinematographer than Soderbergh. At any rate, no filtration is needed to control the (old) Red in this manner, the decision was intentional and meant to convey the 60s-70s aesthetic that dominates the film (consider as well the title sequence), and the choice was a questionable one, regardless.

Soderbergh, by the way, is no slouch as a cinematographer. The photochemical playground that is Traffic is really something to behold...
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Old 01-21-2011   #13
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Thanks for this interesting info! I didn't know Soderbergh spent much time behind the camera himself.
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Old 01-21-2011   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pluton View Post
The flarey lookm goes in and out of style...look at all those movies from then 1970's that are ruined by thick filter packs.
Any examples of the worst offenders from the 1970s? I think I know the look you are describing. Perhaps "Days of Heaven"?
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Old 01-21-2011   #15
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Agree about too much artificial flare in Star Trek.

Interestingly, I was watching a documentary on Bladerunner and they mentioned adding flare effects to night shots of the skyline and flying vehicles as they made the models seem more real.
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Old 01-21-2011   #16
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Isn't it entirely possible it was done in post? The amount of color grading and post work on today's films, especially those shot digitally, is both inspiring and insane.
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Old 01-21-2011   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mabelsound View Post
Thanks for this interesting info! I didn't know Soderbergh spent much time behind the camera himself.
Yeah... Peter Andrews is Soderbergh's cinematographer alias. He started shooting for himself with Traffic, and has ever since.
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Old 01-21-2011   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vdonovan View Post
They spent big money to put that lens flare into the Star Trek CGI scenes. A friend of mine developed the algorithm for it. The director liked it so much he put flare into the live action scenes by positioning a grip off camera to shine a flashlight into the lens. My friend fully realizes the irony of spending millions to put flare into scenes that the lens manufacturers have spent millions to get the flare out of.

He also worked on Avatar. You'll notice the fake flare is much more restrained in Avatar, but there is some here and there.
Does your friend run the Video Copilot Adobe After Effects training site? (Just curious - he developed a plug-in suite for lens flare and did the titles for Star Trek. It's a great site...)

I think God came down and gave an 11th commandment. If thy movie is 3D animation, 1/3 of the scenes must have fake crummy annoying digitally added lens flare. - and your titles must go "wooooosh".

I like genuine optical lens flare - like if I'm watching a groovy 1970 Jess Franco Eurosleaze flick... Now there's a director who had no problem with lens flare, and liked his jarring rapid sometimes out of focus zooms. They only knew how to do lens flare from the mid-60's to the early 70's, just like they knew how to do ascots.

Last edited by NickTrop : 01-21-2011 at 11:50.
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Old 01-22-2011   #19
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Originally Posted by MartinP View Post
The nineties are old and nostalgic ? Ooops, suddenly I feel ancient. After lunch, more photography needed.

Ahem...1990's old and nostalgic? Me thinks the perspective of one thinking that is indeed limited.

Maybe he was thinking 1890's?
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Old 01-22-2011   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mabelsound View Post
Anyone seen this movie? I am a big fan of Soderbergh, and I enjoyed it a lot...but the whole thing looks as though it was shot on a Summar with heavy front element damage:





I actually found this kind of distracting, maybe just because I'm a camera nerd. Everything is backlit, everyone is enveloped by "glow." I know Soderbergh is using a Red One, but I can't find anything about optics, save for an article by an anti-digital crusader who speculates that this is the work of a diffusion filter (and, rather unconvincingly I think, accuses Soderbergh of having to do this because the Red can't handle highlights).
Yeah, to each his own, but I have never seen the movie...probably never will, just not an interest of mine.

I still think it is nice to have different looks to movies. 1990's is hardly a nostalgic period but at least the filmmaker has a different look.
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Old 01-22-2011   #21
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Ahem...1990's old and nostalgic? Me thinks the perspective of one thinking that is indeed limited.

Maybe he was thinking 1890's?
For heaven's sake, 1990 is more than 20 years ago. Just because some of you are thrice as old doesn't mean it's yesterday. Look at how much style and technology has changed since 1990 and you can see how much time has passed.

But sure, some of the people here might still be stuck in the 90s as far as hair style and clothing is concerned so I can understand how they might not think it's outdated
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Old 01-22-2011   #22
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Originally Posted by dave lackey View Post
1990's is hardly a nostalgic period but at least the filmmaker has a different look.
Ah, so it's not the "old" but the "nostalgic" part you take issue with? I agree, few people are probably nostalgic about the 90s but I think "The Informant" shows a kind of bad taste nostalgia .
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Old 01-22-2011   #23
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For heaven's sake, 1990 is more than 20 years ago. Just because some of you are thrice as old doesn't mean it's yesterday. Look at how much style and technology has changed since 1990 and you can see how much time has passed.

But sure, some of the people here might still be stuck in the 90s as far as hair style and clothing is concerned so I can understand how they might not think it's outdated
There seems to be a deliberate choice to make The Informant look older than the '90s; as mentioned above a '70s aesthetic. In fact, the movie reminded me very strongly of The Incredible Shrinking Woman ( but with more "realistic" colors).

So we have a movie set 20 years ago that references a period another 20 years before that, I think. How much nostalgia can one cram into a single movie?

I did enjoy the movie, though.

Rob
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Old 01-22-2011   #24
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With apologies to the OP, I have digressed to, obviously, a poor attempt at humor. I will now exit this thread and hope more meaningful discussion like Rob's will continue. Carry on.
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Old 01-22-2011   #25
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Dave, I suppose I could be nostalgic for the 90s...if I could remember them better
I do get your point, though: there are way too many songs on the local "oldies" radio station that can't be oldies 'cuz they were what I listened too in my youth...
Rob
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