John Dykstra Asc


[ 00:00:18 ] If you go to film one of the key issues everybody knows the larger the format of the film 35 millimeter being an SLR in the old days. Two quarter square was a roll of flax and then four by five which was a press camera. The bigger the negative the higher resolution of the film and that applied to motion pictures as well. So in the days when we were shooting on for perforation 35 millimeter film if we did an optical composite if we did a visual effect which is defined as are two or more images recorded at separate times combined into a single image to appear as though it were captured in a single pass. Then you suffered what was called a generational loss because you had to duplicate each of the negatives of the photographs of the subject you were combining in the composite. And as a result we went to a much larger format which was eight perforation called this division which is an SLR format that’s the old Nikon format that the press photographers use for years. Now that’s twice the sizes of the conventional four per format as a result. You could duplicate it in an optical printer because that’s how you put the images together essentially a projected one image onto a piece of raw stock and you projected the second image onto a piece of Rostok with some technical mats incorporated and the two images appeared on this new piece of film but it was one generation one generation away from the original. So it was higher contrast. It had more grain structure and it looked somewhat degraded by making the negative larger You could do that duplication end up with a four perfect original that looked closer to the original four for photography that was not a visual effect. If that makes sense.

[ 00:02:15 ] Personal preference. I really enjoyed the days when you had to put a subject in front of a camera and recorded on film. One of the reasons I liked that is it challenged you constantly to figure out how to put cameras into situations where they shouldn’t be or appeared to be impractical for them to be. One of the things that we used to regularly would would be we’d clamp a camera onto the strut of an airplane and fly down a canyon to get a background plate for somebody who was supposedly flying through this environment and put motorcycles and camera cars and helicopters and pretty much you name it we were mounting cameras on it going to environments like the North Pole flying over glaciers 200 feet above glacier at 300 miles an hour and a Learjet that kind of stuff really fun. So lifestyle wise that’s gone. We don’t do that anymore because everybody can make it in the box. You can make the glacier in the marsh and make the canyon in the box you can do all of the stuff in the box. So that’s a fairly generic description of the difference between then and now what happened was there those you spent an awful lot of time engineering things in the days when you had to put a subject in front of the camera. And if you took the aggregate amount of time available to make a shot you spent a larger percentage of it figuring out just how to make it physically work as opposed to what the shot really was. Now it doesn’t mean that that’s bad because it’s sort of like a handwritten letter as opposed to an e-mail or a text. There was some thought process that went into the design of the technique to execute the shot. It made you pare the shot in all of its components its composition the way the camera moved how it began and how it ended down to the essentials. So rather than the sketch you’re going into the execution of a shot with a fairly well-defined concept of what it was going to be.

[ 00:04:21 ] With the advent of digital imaging or the ability of the computer to create a image or an object or an environment that’s indistinguishable from reality and sometimes that’s questionable. You have the ability to do you have an infinitely small camera but it’s a point in space you have the ability to move it at ridiculously fast ridiculously slow. You can tailor with the depth the field you can change the speed of the lens. So all of a sudden you have an embarrassment of riches. You can do anything. And one of the problems is that people do anything and I’m not sure that it’s as well considered as it was when we had to figure out how to make the camera achieve the end result. The visual visual vocabulary of a film now requires a pretty clear dictionary if you want to call it that so that you don’t end up straying into the never never land of a camera that can move into infinitely fast or making you continue a shot that goes through the eye of a needle and then ends up you know looking at the Earth from space. They become G-Wiz but they kick you out of the movie they kick you out of the storytelling. So we spend much more time thinking about how the image influences the telling of the story and how evocative it is in terms of the development of a character as opposed to the gee whiz component which is how the how the hell do they do that because we all know how we do it now.

[ 00:05:59 ] Creativity needs constraint. Well I’m not sure I you know it’s like that’s a pretty broad statement.

[ 00:06:05 ] I think it needs consideration well look at the idea that something is indistinguishable from a real image is kind of got a psychological component and I’ll call it the physiological component. But that’s the best word I can use to define it. Psychological the component is if you take a picture of three people sitting at a table and you’re the one that took the picture when you look at it you never questioned it and it might if you showed it to somebody else it might go. That looks like a painting. But you know because you shot the shot or the audience knows because at the time before digital imaging there was no way to photograph that without taking a picture of it. It’s a real thing. Right so you don’t question the nuances of it. And I’ve seen pictures that were photographed by people that look like a bad painting but they’re real. Right. So it becomes subjective as to what the thing is. But once you’ve lost that baseline component which is that’s real because there no way that that could have been achieved unless it was real.

[ 00:07:18 ] Once you lose that then everything comes to question. So you look at a character and you go wow. These other characters have a real character. You have to be pretty well to two sizes. You have to be pretty astute to really tell the difference between CGI characters and real characters at a certain distance. But we as human beings are keyed into the anomalies of humanity asymmetry of face irregularity of the color or the translucency of skin how hair is at once transparent but also opaque. And those subliminal cues which you’re used to and with all your life are really hard to achieve in the computer because a computer doesn’t do noise very well. And one of the things that happens all the time we’re making the city environment or we’re making a character. We’re making some combination of vehicle and end up having to go and say let’s add world noise to that. Make the lines a little irregular make the definition of the edges somewhat less sharp make there be variation in the corners. So they’re all not exactly individual point right angle turns and it’s that noise that I think is necessary to lull people into a willing suspension of disbelief.

[ 00:09:00 ] So Ghost in the shell. What was the hardest thing about ghost in the shell it was creating what was within what was already designed and conceived to be a surreal environment which is what anime sort of. That’s my interpretation of ennemies interpretation of reality. Terms of color in terms of composition the definition of the architecture everything about it has this slightly over the top or surreal quality to it. We had to go into that environment and add things which also had that surreal quality but differentiated themselves from real. And I’ll speak specifically to a thing called solid ground. If you watch the movie when you’re flying through the city you see buildings you see streets roads people whatever went around but you see these incredibly large advertising elements a Geisha pouring socky somebody lifting weights a giant dog barking at something off screen and these are integrated into the city as if they were billboards but they’re three dimensional and they stand proud of buildings and they’re built 30 stories tall. And the hard part was we had to do those characters or those images both in daytime and nighttime and nighttime is pretty easy because they are luminous and you think of a hologram as something that’s made of light and it’s luminous and illuminates the area around it and that helps it settle into the environment. When you take it during the day time all of a sudden these objects which are made of light it suddenly just become they look like they’re double exposed because they don’t they have the only lift brightness they don’t control brightness or density behind them. So we had to integrate mats to make them have transparency and opacity at the same time. We had to light them so that they look like they were like a product shot of something that was originally photographed turned into a hologram stuck on the side of the building but that hologram along with its original lighting its product lighting had to be influenced by the NBA like by the way the sun is striking it and the shadows it should apparently cast. Now it doesn’t cast shadows. It’s a hologram but it was stuff like that that we had to pay attention to you had to be counter intuitive about a lot of stuff to make these things settle into this environment had to go back and add noise which nobody likes to do and to add raster scan had the digital noise had ADD glitches little breakups and irregularities so that you could distinguish the things that were advertising from the things that were solid corporeal elements in the city.

[ 00:11:55 ] Play it by ear. There’s no there’s no absolute for it.

[ 00:12:00 ] It’s really what looks good. I mean there’s plenty of you can go into the real world and find an incredibly broad range of lighting environments.

[ 00:12:10 ] You know from diffuse overcast gray flat light to incredibly hard sun pristine clear atmosphere five to one key to fill ratio. Kind of hard Chatto stuff. It all exists.

[ 00:12:26 ] It really comes down to figuring out one what it is that the director and the director of photography want to achieve in terms of the look of the movie which was established in Ghost in the shell by the work that Jess and Rupert did just being the DP Rooper being the director in Hong Kong which has got its own ambiance because Hong Kong is overcast and has a lot of humidity so you get a lot of aerial perspective. So those things informed the approach that we had to take to doing set extensions to expanding that city or adding elements to the city as it existed. And it’s just that something you do by tour we use we use photographs all the time. We use lots and lots of scrap just like designers do. They find images that they like elements of and they bring those together and they combine them and look at I’d like to have a reflective quality that’s like this and like I’ve translucency like this I really like the way this refraction reflection is broken up by the heat shimmer from that foreground candle or whatever so there’s you’re constantly looking for reference in the real world to become an exhibit to use as a talking piece for those that you’re doing visual collaboration with. That’s why storyboards are so important. That’s why visual pre-vis is so important. That’s why concept art are so important because it’s something everyone can point to and say OK that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

[ 00:14:11 ] Well here’s the deal Prima’s as a way of making the movie before you make the movie. And it doesn’t mean that it would be right. And one of the things that you do if nothing else is you determine stuff that you don’t want to do. So print is a great way of narrowing the field of things that you want to achieve in your film. It also starts to show up which starts to show visual anomalies but it also starts to show up character and all anomalies especially when you’re doing movies where the characters have unique capabilities. Start comes down to well OK they just jumped off the roof of a building. Do we want them to jump off a roof of a building again here. Or if they become invisible they’re going to remain invisible throughout this entire sequence. So it’s a it’s a way of brainstorming if you will the ideas that are going to best execute the arc of the character and the arc of the story. And when you get on set it gives you something. Should you come to a point where your creative brain has lost its new direction that you can fall back on.

[ 00:15:23 ] So if all else fails we got Plan B.

[ 00:15:26 ] So at best it becomes something that you execute. At worst it becomes something that tells you what you don’t want to execute.

[ 00:15:42 ] Not just that it was fun it was a real challenge and I think it’s a different approach to a broad sort of tentpole movie.

[ 00:15:50 ] It’s less destroying cities and stuff. Herford sure it’s your time.

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Backstage Conversation Season: 2017