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September 29 2009

Fox's 'Dollhouse' adopts P2 HD. A few thoughts about Dollhouse's new digital look for season 2 and some comments from the new Director of Photography, Lisa Wiegand.

I think "cheaper look" is a weird way to put it, since it doesn't actually look cheaper.

ETA that, yes, I understand what's actually being said. It just looks weird.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-09-29 22:33 ]
Isn't Red One Camera cheaper?
I don't think I'm a big fan of the new style, but if it keeps the show on the air I'm all about it.
I can tell the difference, and can now say that I prefer film to HD -- but the awesomeness of the characters and the writing trumps everything for me.
I'm still not nuts about the shakycam style they seem to have adopted with the transition to video. While it mostly worked in the episode--and I approved of how much of Vows was, in fact, very smooth and steady--there were a couple jarring moments. I'm mainly thinking of that zoom when Paul is talking to engaged-Echo for the first time, as the FBI agent. Just felt really off to me.
I LOVE the new look. Seriously. It's added another layer to the show as a viewing experience, for me.
The article's way too technical for me, but I'm also a fan of the new look. Last season the camera work felt kinda cold (or at least distant and objective); this episode I felt more immersed in events.
To me this sounded like Ron Moore descibing one of his Trek scripts:

Dollhouse has teched the tech with this new tech. Shot on tech, the tech to tech ratio is better than if they had used tech.
Last season the camera work felt kinda cold.

That worked for me - because it makes sense with this show.
I'm of two minds about the camera work and the new look. On the one hand, I think the "let's shoot everything handheld to make it more gritty and real" thing is reaching the end of its shelf life. Plus, if you are going to go this way, you really have to embrace it, the way Firefly or the Bourne movies did. Vows seemed a little half-assed in how they were using it, leading to jarring snap zooms like the one mentioned above. I also don't like the way digital makes the beautiful Dollhouse set look dull and blurry.

On the other hand, though, I adore the way everything around the imprint room and in Topher's lab looked dark and cold and blue (in Vows). Yeah, the blue look is a bit of a sci-fi cliche, but it gave that area of the house a great, creepy feel that it never really had before.
Since the article didn't list any 35mm DOF (depth of field) adapters in the gear they are using, I would expect to see long shots with telephoto when the DP wants DOF. This will contribute to the "different" look from 35mm film, making those particular scenes (foreground in focus, background out of focus, or vice versa) look very flat.
I think bonzob should just speak instead of me from now on, since I pretty much just wish I'd posted his post.
StinkyCats, I believe the HPX3700 supports interchangeable lenses and therefore doesn't require a lens adapter.

Angel TheVampire, the RED is about the same price I'd say, but a lot less easy to work with in a busy post-production environment (aka TV production).
I also don't like the way digital makes the beautiful Dollhouse set look dull and blurry.

These sorts of comments still strike me as weird, like the other one about how parts of "Vows" were too dark. The "Vows" I watched wasn't too dark, and the Dollhouse set in the one I watched look spectacular. It's really very puzzling to me.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-09-30 01:11 ]
worldwidestudios wrote:
the HPX3700 supports interchangeable lenses and therefore doesn't require a lens adapter.

But it has a 2/3 sensor, which is a lot smaller than 35mm, so the DOF effects are very limited. To get that really nice bokeh, they would need a 35mm adapter, like something from Letus. Of course that means using rails for stability and adding more lighting for the stop loss, so it's probably something that would not lend itself easily to a quickly set up, hand held shot.

I am surprised however, that the DP is recording to cards with 4:2:2 color rather than using HD transceivers to a hard drive array. The gamut improvement with 4:4:4 color in the source is noticeable when the final output is viewed in HD. That may be a budget limit though since they are renting everything and all that extra capacity costs money.
True that the sensor is smaller, but how would a 35mm adapter help? It's not adapting the sensor, just the lenses, which can already be done since the 3700 doesn't have a fixed lens.

Going Uncompressed 4:4:4 to an HD array isn't just costly, it's time consuming. I would bet that this, plus the fact that their final distribution format is 4:2:2, is the reason for going to P2 / AVC-I.
The 35mm lens focuses to an internal screen in the adapter and the camera then focuses on that screen. Do a search on "35mm adapter" or "DOF adapter" on vimeo.com to see some nice examples of bokeh using inexpensive digicams with these types of adapters. I think it's fantastic that for under $1K, camera, lens, and adapter the budding filmmaker can get film-like DOF.
Angel TheVampire - The Red is probably about the same cost for the camera body alone, maybe a bit cheaper, but it takes 35mm lenses (vs 2/3" lenses) and those cost more than the lenses they are using. Also, though they advertise the thing as light, once you add on all the bits to make it work, it's one of the heaviest cameras out there. 44lbs for a handheld set-up with a lightweight zoom (though there are major compromises that can be made to make it lighter). For comparison, I bet on Dollhouse their handheld set up is just shy of 30lbs.

StinkyCats - They're using Digizooms (I dunno if they have primes as well, but I'll find out, I wouldn't be surprised if they did or if they didn't. I'm kinda betting on they don't, or maybe just a couple) which they can afford cause of the camera they are using.

Worldwidestudios - StinkyCats isn't talking about using a lens adaptor just to have interchangeable lenses, StinkyCats is talking only about getting shallower depth of field, a more "filmic" look if you will, so things are more out of focus without sacrificing focal length. Also, the post-production with the Red is all too easy, and shows are really taking a liking to it (Sarah Silverman, Southland Tales).

Bonzob - As for that "blurry look" of the dollhouse, you may be noticing the deeper depth of field StinkyCats is discussing. It's one of the things I hate about shooting with smaller formats (35mm vs 2/3") I don't mind a whole scene being in focus at all, I think it looks great (thank you Orson Welles) But with a 2/3" chip (or 16mm even) I find it is quite common for the bacground (or foreground) to be ALMOST in focus, and it's distracting, cause it looks wrong to the human eye. We've grown accustomed to completely out of focus backgrounds, etc... cause there's a separation going on, creating focal points and what not. But when something is just barely out of focus, it looks incorrect. It should be more in focus, or less in focus.

EDIT - cause I forgot to throw in my $.02. I think the show looks surprisingly great. Lisa is doing a wonderful job, and that camera is performing well. This is the first I've seen anything shot with it, and I think it compares quite well to the Sony F23, which shocked me to say the least. I still favor film, but I'm increasingly impressed with the newer HD cameras. Maybe one day they'll stop improving them so they actually become a viable replacement for film financially. It wouldn't hurt if recording media and storage became standardized either, so we didn't have to change every 5 years, but that's a whole 'nother deal.

[ edited by bobw1o on 2009-09-30 04:23 ]
RED post may be easy for some (and it's certainly better in recent builds), but I've heard too many horror stories to make it my primary camera (if I were the producer).
Just so we're clear, I pretty much can't stand that camera, and recommend not ever using it for anything, ever. But the post end is pretty well handled these days.
I'm really enjoying your tech chat ;)
I just like to read about that stuff, but I'm not a professional (yet :P) so I don't know a lot of things about digital cinema, and I'm pretty sure they won't show these things on Season 2 Blu-Ray :P

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