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Transformania / the great shootout

I was at the SMA shootout, and I would also like to thank Dave, Alan, Eli,
Billy, and the rest of the staff on hand from SMA (especially the assistants
who were on the hotseat in unfamiliar territory). I think it must be
incredibly difficult to sit down in the room you call home and let 20 or 30
other colorists and engineers decend on you. The Pizza was a great touch,
and though I forget your name, thanks for the grub!!

I brought some film that I had shot and transferred with me from Chicago
hoping that I could get on the Davinci's and really spend some time with
film that I knew intimately.

Much to my surprise, and the surprise of SMA I think, there were a number of
colorists who brought film, and the numbers were a bit overwhelming for SMA,
though they handled it with style. 

It then became apparent when I was put in group 1 that letting Eli transfer
all the film was the best idea. Same colorist, same habits, same style, etc.
The kind of footage we looked at has been referred to in many posts, but I
will say that I thought it was a great idea to transfer without noise
reduction and do an RGB/ Telecine only correction.
If you are going to compare ANY two telecines for how they make pictures, it
seems to me you'd want as little in the path as possible, so that it's as
close to "apples to apples" as it can be. We were there to compare
telecines; not the best possible image made on a given piece of neg from
either Billy or Eli. No disrespect intended, but I know what I bring to the
process, I don't see a need to add on the layer of how or what a colorist
does to the comparison. We recorded all of our pictures to D1 while watching
a analog composite output (or so I was told). 

In the Spirit room, I think everyone was waiting to be blown away. I'm glad
I was in group 1, because I think that it was a natural progression for me
to start with what I am used to ( URSA imagery, pictures from a tube based
telecine), and then move to a high end CCD machine. As I expected, not
everyone was blown away. Too much has been said about this telecine. It's
sort of like going to see the lastest movie eveyone is raving about and then
being dissappointed. There is no way this machine can live up to the hype it
has been given. Was the resolution better?  --of course. Practically by
definition this would have to be true. Was it apparent and fully useful for
601/ 525
 or 625 recordings? I'm not so sure. I saw a resolution difference, but I
also saw the same thing I have seen every time this machine is demo'd for me
-- the same pictures color corrected by the same colorist in the URSA
moments before LOOKED FLAT. A really nice, high resolution, fairly quiet
flat picture. I asked Eli what he thought; was it based on the way it felt?
did one naturally correct that way because of an inherent ability to see
"into" ( detail, an unfolding of the gamma curve, I don't know, SOMETHING
magical) the image I had heard so much about? No was the answer. As we all
chatted and reacted to the fact that we weren't blown away, John Dowdell
prompted Eli a few times to manipulate the light output. At first, He seemed
to shy away saying he worked differently or something like that, but once he
did change it, the pictures looked much better. It made sense to me that you
would have to adjust how much light from the source is coming through the
film, much in the same way you have to adjust PEC's. Every time this machine
has been demo'd fo me someone makes a comment about the light output.
Usually like "and you can even manipulate the light output if you want to".
It seems to me from comments John D. made (and I think he's been using it
near the longest, save for beta-testers) you HAVE TO manipulate the light
per piece of film. I don't know about anyone else but that makes perfect
sense.... don't jump on the PEC comment, it's the same thing conceptually.
You have to make adjustments based on density. Think back to when people
used enlargers......

The discussion progressed into "How much better is the Spirit really?" and
Eli began to use Davinci and secondaries. At some point someone pointed out
that a small amount of aperture had been on. On my piece of film he used
secondaries to bring back in some blue on a cop's shirt. ( Mine was the
"noire-ish" style lighting I think somebody said). There was more detail in
some wood grain, but I expected the Spirit to handle underexposure better.

We didn't get into extreme blow-ups or gross picture distortion, and this is
something I wish we had time for. I love to bend and stretch (warp) the crap
out of an image on an URSA. It's fair to say I like to beat the hell out of
it. I would have liked to see what kinds of torture the Spirit is capable
of, but we all had our pristine hats on that day.

My summary? The Sprit is a great machine that makes nice pictures. It does
some of the things colorists have been saying they've wanted for years. Less
noise, dirt and scratch concealment ( Can you say "cold head enlarger" ),
more resolution. I did not see a great improvement over the URSA, even if it
is in the shape Mr. Corbitt suggests. Which really
forces me to conclude that I liked it -- yes. I also like URSAS. I also like
my wife. I also hate salesjobs. I also want the Spirit to help me figure out
how to color correct cross- processed 16mm shot at night, or how to make the
film I'm working on look "more like the video assist ". I wish it could make
me feel better about myself or even lull me into a false sense of security.
I wish it could dial out for chinese food and have it delivered to the
session. I wish it could tell the DP just what exactly is "on his film". I
wish it could buy me a beer and tell what stock to buy. I wish it could be
my transfer caddie and suggest what filter to use or what stocking to try
(maybe even reynolds wrap). I wish it could make me laugh or show me old
home movies, but alas, it can't.... and I am forced to be a colorist by
myself ... no matter what machine I work on.

Respectfully submitted for the slaughter,

Craig Leffel

Craig Leffel
Senior Colorist
Optimus, Inc.
Chicago, IL  60611
acleffel at mindspring.com