Guest Post: Michael Plescia

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Michael Plescia is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer from the San Fransisco Bay Area.  He has 10 years experience as a visual effects compositor in feature film, commercial, television and promo.  His work has been seen in films including JUMPER, THE LEGEND OF ZORRO,, ZODIAC and most recently JACK REACHER, where he was tasked with digitally removing Werner Herzog’s fingers. 

He has worked closely with a roster of high-profile clients including Nike, Audi, AT&T, Hugo Boss, Gatorade and Janet Jackson.  Michael now resides in Los Angeles. A sampling of his visual effects work can be seen on vimeo.

Mourning the loss of celluloid film? Hate tinny skin tones? Don’t necessarily want more pixels, just better ones?

Then get excited. I am.

After having the privilege to participate in a test shoot with a beta model of the Digital Bolex, I can state with full confidence that this camera is the real deal and is the one filmmakers like me have been hoping for. Congratulations to Joe and the Bolex Team.

Why do I make such a claim?

I’ve never before seen images of such a rich, filmic, organic and narrative quality from a digital camera. Especially when imaging human skin. The footage is a dream to work with and grade. It’s like putty. When you lay a hand on it with abusive curves and you think it’s going to break, it doesn’t.

The D16 is certainly an adjustment from shooting with a DSLR. The way it sees light. What it wants to be pointed at.

It’s not all about depth and bokeh and closeups like with DSLR’s. The D16 Bolex is about surfaces, textures, gradients, tonal nuance, skin, performances. It comes alive in traveling masters, and lock-offs don’t feel harshly static. You feel permission to film wider; to let the mise-en-scéne unfold. The image has confidence so you have confidence that the camera will capture the life in front of it- so you have less of an impulse to overcompensate for a lifeless frame by moving the camera and over-cutting. It loves handheld in wider lenses. The grain is pleasing. Lowlights have a soul again. The image feels like story.

I couldn’t be happier that the Bolex team committed to tackling the difficulty of harnessing these analog sensors and their immense data throughput. You don’t see that extra data at first. Then, when you grade, you feel it.

Some pointers I’ve learned when shooting the D16 opposed to DSLRs: The Kodak (TrueSense) sensors give indescribably filmic images if you play by their rules:

It likes more light than less.

Highlight clipping should be avoided religiously. Don’t do it. It ruins the illusion.

Images don’t at first appear to come out of the sensor looking as beautiful as DSLR’s. The D16 Bolex is not an easy bake oven. At first glance, this can feel discouraging. But the data needs good grading–both to neutralize the image of any disproportionate color shifts and then to make it sing. It can look tinted at first, then colours that you thought were all mushed together, suddenly separate and the camera’s magic emerges. This type of grading would break DSLR footage.

After a good grade, I find the images from the D16 Bolex express a very substantial quality to them–they have weight, rather than feeling thin, tinny, pallid.

Note about the downtown LA beta test footage: My grade is an attempt at accentuating the inherent celluloid look of the camera by marrying it with my shimmer-graining processes to give it an early to mid-90’s era Kodak appearance. This process is slightly destructive and introduces flicker, color fluctuation and softness not native to the camera and does not reflect the true sharpness of the Digital Bolex sensor.

In the coming weeks I plan to discuss more about how I get the most out of footage that originates on these sensors.

Lenses \ ZEISS CONTAX 25 mm f/2.8 & 50 mm f/1.4 & CP2 85mm and 21mm
Cinematography \ Kurt Lancaster & Michael Plescia
Edit \ Grade \ Michael Plescia
Music \ Michael Plescia \ soundcloud.com/rinjen
RAW convertor \ Adobe Camera RAW in After Effects

50 thoughts on “Guest Post: Michael Plescia

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  4. I love this clip more with each viewing. The visuals and the music together to give this footage an intense feel, and the flicker/flux added in post really brings it to life. The footage blown up 200% still looks great, and in some ways more even more filmic.

  5. Love the look of the footage – +1 for “shimmer grain” tutorials/plug-ins as soon as possible please. Love the look of this. Definitely a customer when you do release. Easily the most organic footage yet I’ve seen from a digital camera that seems to breathe in the same way film does. Kudos.

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  9. Love the look, would love to see a different grade (since apparently the raw needs it per your report)

    Did you do any work that was also without the grain filter, would love to see the range of this thing before your work.

    You seemed to stay relatively locked off, which goes with your aesthetic, but I would be curious to hear about how this guy handles motion/how it was to actually operate.

  10. This sucks big time. Just kidding, I like the look and feel but wasn´t this a HD camera? Looks more like a 480p or something not 1080p. Fix the resolution and I will buy one or two 🙂

  11. That 200% zoom at the end was extraordinary. Had the optical zoom feel.
    With a final calibration underway this camera should be THE camera to beat.
    The D16 will be in demand and out of stock constantly. DSLR video will become extremely cheaper and go the way of the Fisher Price PIXEL 2000.

  12. That is really amazing. I am pretty sure that 95% of even a proficient audience would believe that to be 16 mm film. And it is so different from the previous test footage; it is almost as if you used different film stocks.

  13. This is some impressive footage. Unlike what we see from most other cameras. Kurt Lancaster, I took a couple classes with you at Fort Lewis. Awesome to see you working with the Bolex team!

  14. We’re starting to gather a more complete picture of what this camera is capable of…it’s like the blind men feeling the elephant and describing its parts…eventually the whole animal will be revealed!

  15. I would be fun to see a more modern look to the grade as well. Could be an interesting exercise in just how much the footage is movable. Like how much you can go from this look to a clean sharp modern look. I would be very interested in seeing that.

  16. love the grade not sure about the color shifts I know it was intentional. I do like the feeing of it being historical footage. It just has that extra something!!!!
    Can’t wait to get both my Bolex’s

    • Thanks for your interest in the grading and grain. I will be expanding on these ideas in detail in the coming weeks. I’ll make sure to announce the post with a link on my twitter @michaelplescia.

  17. Very impressed with the execution of the grading. I read how you wanted it to look before I watched it, and you accomplished exactly that. I love the look personally, but am equally impressed with the seeming ability of the d16 to become whatever the filmmaker asks it to become.

  18. Congrats Michael. Very interesting test. I could feel old film vibe very very well. You succeeded in creating what you set out to do. Well done.
    it would be nice if you could discuss how you created the grade too.

    So highlights have a pretty linear cut off point? No smooth roll off here then?

      • So it’s your goal to try and go Alexa territory and create a roll off like theirs through calibration? Not sure how Alexa does it but I would assume there is more to that than calibration? E.g. would the analog nature of D16 sensor allow for more tweaking than have been able to achieve Red and other CMOS cameras apart from the Alexa? Always have been curious about how Arri did it and wondered if it’s even remotely possible to archive a roll off like that in a much less expensive camera.

        • Arri achieves their highlight rolloff in part by building a permanent low contrast filter into the Alexa’s optical path behind the lens.

          You can do the same with low con filters on many digital cameras as long as you stay within their native dynamic range.

          • I’ve never heard of a low con filter in front of the Alexa sensor. Where did you read this? Link?

            Personally I suspect that their bracketed dual gain read on each receptor is the main reason for the smooth roll off in the highlights.

          • Yeah I’m curious too. I bet there is some in camera haze / roll off control. I am pretty sure they have a pretty powerful computer running inside that thing. Very interested if the new Amira will have the same highlight control. (either way I love what they do)

        • Well we’ll see, our goal is calibrate for the best image possible at all the different ISO settings, if we can’t achieve a nice roll off with calibration maybe we can do it with our post software. Gave Pomfort some notes on that last week hoping to see something new on it soon.

          • The bracketed dual gain read on each receptor basically does an HDR on the fly. They make two simultaneous “exposures”. One of them favors the highlights. These to readings are then combined in to one frame. So they get 14 stops without breaking a sweat. I’m guessing that they are actually capturing more than 14 stops and then down sampling to that figure. The result is a very smooth shoulder like in film.

            For what it is worth that is my guess.

          • Right, but every camera clips, at some point when you’re pointing at the sun or headlights or something, the question is how do they get the roll off to be smooth even when clipping?

          • Very interesting guys. So the highlight rolloff may be achieved via processing power the d16 doesn’t have? Thus we wouldnt be able to recreate the secret sauce even if we had the ingredients?
            Maybe we should move this discussion in the forum.

          • Yeah let’s move to the forum, but our image files are so close to sensor data that any processing power the D16 doesn’t have can be done on the post side through ClipHouse.

          • But it must be prior to recording the frames the Alexa does something to the image information. If the highlights are clipped, they’re clipped. With the Alexa you don’t need to recover the highlights. They’re there…

    • Thanks, Analoggab.

      In the footage we shot there was no hard clipping (given we exposed to protect highlights)… If you see any hard clipping here it would have more to do with my grading choices.

      • No hard clipping that I can see 🙂 I was referring to this part “Highlight clipping should be avoided religiously. Don’t do it. It ruins the illusion.”
        So I assumed if it ruined the illusion it must be because the highlights are clipped (as of now) pretty harshly, breaking the film look illusion.

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