The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents September 2006 Return to Table of Contents
Black Dahlia
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Sowa adds, “Because Vilmos had never done a DI before, his primary concern was whether what we were looking at would translate to film. That’s a pretty typical fear if a cinematographer hasn’t done a DI, but we took great pains to ensure the quality of the images before Vilmos saw them. We did some little film-out tests to show him, and they were right on.”

The DI was carried out on a Discreet Lustre, and the footage was projected on a 33'x13' screen with a 2K Christie “Black-Chip” (or DLP) Digital Cinema Projector. Sowa says Zsigmond’s mandate for the look was “desaturated sepia.” The cinematographer notes that during production, he “tried to avoid selecting colors that were too garish, and we stayed away from greens during interior scenes because greens are not great against skin tones. We let the wardrobe department do what they needed for the period clothes, but they knew we didn’t want too many colors. We wanted the whole movie to have a desaturated look, with the exception of certain scenes involving Kay, Scarlett’s character. When we showed her in the house she shares with Lee, we tried to make those sequences warmer, lighter and more inviting, because that house is the only place where Bucky truly feels he’s at home. In the rest of the environments, we wanted the atmosphere to be darker and desaturated, with lots of cigarette smoke and other stylistic touches from the Forties.”

Sowa reveals that he and Zsigmond also dialed a bit more color into Johansson’s skin: “Brian felt that her beauty didn’t come through with the desaturated sepia look, so we scaled it back a bit on her.” He adds that scenes involving blood were “toned down” during the DI to make the effect subtler. “We use the Lustre as a data-conform tool and a grading tool all in one. It gives me great latitude to create a lot of the visual effects through rotoscoping, and it gives me all of the basic color-correction tools as well. I really love the box, and once Vilmos saw the kinds of things I could do with it, he became thrilled with the process. I found this project to be a lot of fun, because the movie has quite a few interesting transitions, like window wipes that start in the middle of the shot and work their way to the outer edges of the frame. Those were an interesting challenge, because I had to make the following scene match into the previous scene and track the windows with my color correction.”

Zsigmond, of course, is no stranger to creative image manipulation. In fact, he can be considered a pioneer in that regard. On McCabe & Mrs. Miller, he famously flashed his negative with light to create a desaturated, Old West feel; on Deliverance, for which he used the Technicolor dye-transfer process, he introduced a black-and-white matrix to mute the forest colors and create a more ominous, suspenseful tone. On later projects, he went back to flashing and also experimented with the Technicolor’s ENR process. He maintains that the DI allows a level of creative control that goes well beyond these old-school tricks. “The DI gives us a lot of tools that allow us to do practically anything, and I don’t think I could do another movie without one,” he says. “We can make the look more contrasty, less contrasty, more colorful, less colorful and so on. We have a tool here that really improves the final answer print. Before the DI, we were very limited in what we could do with the timing of a print. In order to control our images and get a good result, we had to be very sharp and very good on the set. Today, we sometimes can let certain things go on set if we don’t have enough time to fine-tune the lighting or if we don’t have the right weather. For example, we can rely on the DI to diminish the difference between sunny footage and overcast footage. That’s a great thing for us. Today we have the problem of never having enough time in the schedule, so a DI helps in that regard as well.”

“Some people say, ‘Today we have faster films, so you don’t even need to light.’ But I say regardless of whether you have slow film or fast film, you still have to create a look! It did help me to have a 500-ASA film on this movie, because I needed a negative that allowed me to control contrast. With black-and-white film, we always had that kind of control — if you needed more contrast, you overdeveloped your negative, and if you needed less contrast, you underdeveloped it. With color, you could not do that to the same degree. But now, with the DI, we can achieve those results much faster.”

Zsigmond’s continued enthusiasm for his profession is obvious, and his love of moviemaking was readily apparent to his crewmembers. Speaking to this point, Getter has the last word: “Vilmos is not only a great craftsman and artist, he’s also an amazing person, and you can feel that straightaway. On the set he’s quite amazing. He’s not young, as we know, but he has an incredible amount of energy, and more than that, he belongs to a generation of working people, which is becoming rarer and rarer, especially when you become a star in your profession. He’s up on his feet from call time to wrap time. Even when we were doing a very, very complicated shot, where it would take an hour or two to reset for the next take, he would not sit down to wait for everything to be ready. He would constantly walk around, look around and find something to improve here or there. He’s extremely willing to adopt whatever ideas you can give him.” 


TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Super 35mm 2.35:1 (3-perf)

Arricam Studios, Lites; Arri 435

Angenieux Optimo 24–290mm
and 17–102mm zooms;
Arriflex Lightweight Zoom;
Zeiss Ultra Primes

Kodak Vision2 500T 5218

Digital Intermediate


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