Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Perfectionist's Guide to Super 35

Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Perfectionist's Guide to Super 35

Article excerpt

Cameron and Carpenter discuss how care and rigid procedures can result in optimum images.

While staunch advocates of the anamorphic process commonly deride Super 35 for qualitative reasons, even the harshest critics often temper their remarks with the words "...except for Jim Cameron's films; he somehow manages to use it successfully."

This is not only a left-handed compliment to the director and the cinematographers with whom he has worked, but to Consolidated Film Industries. The Hollywood-based laboratory has provided processing and intermediate work on The Terminator, the Super 35 films Terminator 2: Judgment Day and True lies, the 65mm special-venue production T2 3-D, and now Titanic.

When asked for the secrets to his success with the Super 35 format, Cameron responds with a laugh. "I'm not hiding anything. Super 35 is a very well-thought-out system, but there's a lot of responsibility thrown back on the director and cinematographer to follow it through on every step. You can't just walk away."

Russell Carpenter adds, "I've seen other Super 35 films that have looked pretty good, such as Top Gun. People have come up with some pretty exotic methods of reducing the grain and contrast problems in the format, like double-printing their IPs to cancel out the grain patterns, or using a resilvering process to keep the blacks dark. But that's pretty wild stuff - none of which we do."

Selecting the best possible lab for Super 35 work is a vital first step. Despite his relationship with CFI, Cameron always does some research. "I make a film every two or three years, and in that time the labs might make some kind of adjustment in their procedures," he says. "So on every picture, I do a 'cook off' where I put together a test roll of B-negative - sample shots from the film consisting of a day interior, night exterior, and anything else that is representative of the film. You want to give the lab footage that will potentially show grain, like shots with blank walls that are slightly above midgray scale. I then have each lab take that through their IP, IN and release-print stages, and A/B compare them."

Outlining the rest of his approach to the Super 35 process, Cameron notes, "It's very simple. First, make a beefy, beefy camera negative. It used to be that anything below a 45 [printing] light was a disaster. Now that most of the labs have retrimmed their point system, anything below a 35 light is starting to feel thin.

"Next, you can't make the image too dark when you're doing your answer-print timing. It's better to be a little light at that point. Then, when you're doing your formatting to anamorphic at the IN stage, you've got a nice fat IP to work from."

According to Carpenter, Titanic's IP, like that of True lies, was made at CFI on Kodak's 5244 intermediate stock, utilizing a wetgate direct-contact printer at full aperture, running at 180 feet per minute. A precision ground-glass was used to focus the image through the liquid, while fine-grade filters made overall color compensations. The 2.35:1 anamorphic squeeze was not made at this point, as the IP would also be used to make prints in other aspect ratios.

"Super 35 is only going to look as good as it can due to the lens used in the optical process that reformats the film to anamorphic while making the internegative," Carpenter states. "You're at the mercy of that lens. At CFI, and also at Deluxe, they have excellent optical systems set up for doing this."

Kodak's 5244 was used again while making Titanic's IN, as the flat IP was reformatted to 35mm anamorphic on the lab's equivalent of an optical printer, running at 14 feet per minute. …

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