[ continued from: Soup du Jour ]
A forerunner of the seemingly endless image-enhancement techniques offered today are the various silver-retention processes designed to affect the contrast, color saturation, grain, and level of black density in print images. The use of silver-retention processes has gained great popularity among filmmakers worldwide over the last five years. In fact, scores of labs in both the United States and Europe have developed several competing methods to achieve the subtle or sometimes pronounced effect of retaining silver in the print, or, in some cases, in the intermediates or camera negative itself. However, even though each lab-s methods may differ slightly, the end results of each technique are very similar.
One of the most popular of the silver-retention processes is ENR, which was named for its inventor, Ernesto Novelli Rimo, a former control department operator at Technicolor Rome who designed the technique for Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC to use on Warren Beatty's 1981 film Reds. The cameraman has utilized the process on all of his subsequent films, including Ladyhawke, Tucker, Dick Tracy, The Last Emperor, Little Buddha and Bulworth. Additionally, cinematographers such as Janusz Kaminski, ASC (Amistad and Saving Private Ryan), Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC (Evita), Jack Green, ASC (The Rookie, Bird), Harris Savides (The Game), Chris Menges, BSC (Michael Collins) and Newton Thomas Sigel (Fallen) have each embraced the technique as a way of enhancing their visual palettes.
ENR is a proprietary color-positive developing technique which utilizes an additional black-and-white developing bath inserted at an appropriate stage of a print's processing in order to retain silver. After the film has been bleached, but prior to the silver being fixed out of the film, this extra bath allows for a controlled amount of silver to be redeveloped, adding density in the areas with the most exposure primarily the blacks. Frank Ricotta, senior vice president of worldwide technical and engineering operations at Technicolor Hollywood, elaborates, "By retaining silver density in the image, you will increase the contrast by making the blacks blacker, and, since you have increased contrast in the shadows, you can see more detail. The images will appear slightly sharper because of the increased contrast and, because there is silver in the film physically, it gives you a little bit of an edge-effect around the image. Finally, by virtue of having silver in the print, it will slightly desaturate the colors, depending upon the level of ENR used."
It is a common mistake to refer to all of the various silver-retention processes as bleach-bypassing. Although bypassing the bleaching step may yield a similar result to ENR, the two processes differ radically in their approach to silver retention. "Bleach-bypass will tend to create an effect similar to that achieved with ENR," Ricotta submits, "because when you develop the print stock, you haven-t developed a lot of silver in the highlight areas where you didn-t have a lot of exposure. But as you get into the shadows, where the majority of the exposure density is on the print, you start to develop a lot of silver and dye. So whether you do a bleach-bypass or ENR, when you leave silver in the film, it is retained with less silver in the highlights than in the shadows. The two processes are not too different in that regard.
"However, we feel that ENR is much more finite a process because we can infinitely adjust the intensity of the effect by simply varying the concentration of the chemistry. Bleach-bypass means that you either bypass most or all of the bleaching function, so it's inherently less finite. This is an important factor for those films that want just a touch of ENR to make the blacks blacker. Jade is a perfect example of a film where William Friedkin and director of photography Andrzej Bartkowiak [ASC] wanted just a little bit of ENR to make the blacks nice and firm and rich, without measurably desaturating the colors.
"Conversely," Ricotta expands, "on a film like Saving Private Ryan, Janusz Kaminski and Steven Spielberg were interested in a higher contrast and a very desaturated look, so we employed one of the highest levels of ENR used to date. That especially desaturated the faces, which was something that Janusz was very interested in doing."
Another frequent misconception that occurs in discussions about ENR is the assignment of "percentage" values as a way of labeling the nearly infinite doses of ENR available to filmmakers. In an effort to quantify not to mention establish a method to control the levels of ENR, Technicolor utilizes an infrared (IR) densitometer to measure the level of silver retained in a print. By targeting a specific IR reading for the filmmaker-s desired effect, the laboratory can then set out to produce as many prints as required by the distributor with the exact level of ENR applied to each print.
"Many times, people are interested in knowing what "percentage- of ENR was used on a film," Ricotta relates. "When we read a number off a densitometer say "60 IR- [a .60 density at 1000nm] people who are less familiar with this type of measurement may refer to that as "60 percent ENR."Well, we haven-t necessarily left 60 percent of the silver in the film. It is simply a reading of optical density in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. At Technicolor, when we show a customer an ENR print we say, "This is a 40, this a 60, or this is an 80." Then based on their reaction, we can determine whether they want a little more or a little less effect. We never really talk in terms of what "percentage- of silver is retained, because it is really immaterial to their decision. When we set an ENR value with the client, we then control to that densitometer value of .40, .60, .80 or whatever.
"It's like when people talk about a percentage of flashing," he elaborates. "A client may ask for a 10 percent flash. Well, what does that mean? In the lab, a 10 percent flash is the addition of a .10 density over a simple D-min [or clear reading] in each color. For instance, if you have a D-min reading of .06, .06, .12 [R-G-B], then a "10 percent flash- would result in subsequent readings of .16, .16, .22 respectively."
It should also be noted that since ENR is applied to the positive release print, the shortest increment of film that the process can be applied to is one lab reel. Although ENR is typically utilized on an entire picture, some films have employed the effect only on selected sequences to visually distinguish them from the rest of the movie.
Although mainstream audiences may not be consciously aware of the use of special processes when they watch a film in a theater, they certainly felt the effect while watching David Fincher's horrific thriller Seven (AC Oct. '95), which was photographed by Darius Khondji. A number of the film's release prints were treated with Deluxe's Color Contrast Enhancement (CCE) process to heighten the film's blacks and add a palpable texture and tonality.
Designed by vice president of technical services Beverly Wood and executive vice president of engineering Colin Mossman, CCE is one of three silver-retention processes offered at Deluxe. Shortly after the release of Seven, the laboratory introduced its Adjustable Contrast Enhancement (ACE) process, which shares many of the same features of CCE, but is also scalable, like its Technicolor cousin, ENR. "I can tell you that ENR and ACE are similar processes," Wood submits. "In fact, Alien: Resurrection [AC Nov. '97] had its dailies and answer print done by Technicolor, but the release prints were done by Deluxe because of a contractual situation with the studio. The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, compared our ACE check-print with his ENR answer print and was quite happy with the result. And with the recent advancements in both our chemical and mechanical technology, we were able to meet the film's large print demand on time.
"CCE, however, is something very different from ACE," she notes. "CCE is a proprietary process that produces a much higher contrast and adds more grain. When you have more silver, you have a more grainy look and blacker blacks. However, your blacks can also plug up more. With a bleach-bypass, the tones are much duller and more muted, and you have a lot less detail in the shadows. The blacks are very black, but the nuances in the gray are diminished. We do get some clients who want that look, but most of the time people say, 'I want the blacks to be black, but I still want some shadow detail.' This is why they are usually more interested in [silver-retention] processes such as CCE, ACE or ENR.
"These tools are nothing in hands of those who are not sure of what they're doing," she adds. "I've had a lot of people come in and consider using silver retention as an afterthought. They'll say, 'Take my negative and give me a CCE print because I want the look of Seven.' We will do the print for them of course, but when they say, "It doesn't look the same!' it is because the look of a film is truly a collaborative effort between the director, the cinematographer, the gaffer, the production designer and the costumer. The choices that are made in the art direction, the colors and the lighting really do make a difference. Now, I am by no means an expert on all of the things that the true experts do in order to create a certain look, but I know from working with cinematographers that it's important to shoot tests and actually go through the IP, IN and release-print stages to be sure about the look that they want."
Just as Technicolor controls their ENR process, Deluxe monitors the levels of silver retained by CCE and ACE at 1000nm. Wood notes that when Deluxe monitors the D-max reading on a normally processed 21-step wedge, the print yields an IR number between 58 and 60. "When you skip the bleach completely on a piece of print film and retain 100 percent of the silver in the film," she distinguishes, "that IR number goes up to 240 effectively four times as much silver in the film than there should be.
"When you keep 100 percent of the silver in, the blacks look great in the dark parts of the room, but the faces now also have a lot of silver in them as well, so their contrast is all messed up. The fleshtones may look old and hard; therefore, you may say, "Can I back off on the amount silver in my print and still keep some of the normal nuances of the curve?' What this basically means is that you should try to make only the top part of the curve increase, while you keep the toe area the same. To do that, we back off from skip bleach and go to CCE. When we set up our proprietary set of events in terms of printing and processing, we end up with a D-max IR reading of 180 to 190. We now have about 75 percent silver in the print. What you will then see on the screen is that you now have some nice desaturation in the color; there's still a little bit of grittiness and grain to it, but you'll have more detail in the blacks than if you just skipped the bleach. For a movie like Seven, where the lighting was predominately on the upper part of the curve because the whole movie was so dark, going with CCE was one of the reasons that film looked so good.
"[Director] John Frankenheimer fell in love with the CCE process with the few prints we did for him on George Wallace," she adds. "Now, he just released Ronin with a select number of CCE show prints, while the majority of the release had normal prints. But since Robert Fraisse [AFC] did a fantastic job on the photography, providing a solid, rich negative, you may not notice the difference unless you distinctly know the look of CCE and compare the two types of prints side by side."
Finally, in the hierarchy of silver-retention techniques available at Deluxe, the lab offers its ACE process. "When we're presented with films like Alien: Resurrection or The X-Files where the filmmakers want deep blacks, but still want the colors to look true and have a good level of chroma and texture in the mid-scale regions we'll back off from CCE and give them ACE," Wood explains. "With ACE, we can give them 30, 40 or 60 percent, or whatever level they want. We can make those specific nuances by making chemical changes in the process. We did about 3,000 prints for both Alien: Resurrection and The X-Files, and both were released with about a 50 percent level of ACE."
On the opposite side of the Atlantic, Paris-based LTC Laboratories offers a unique twist to the black-and-white additive system of silver retention. Their process, which is called NEC noir en couleur, the French phrase for "black in color" allows filmmakers to perform the silver-retention function on the interpositive and have the effect match the look of a print that was processed directly. This somewhat baffling feat is, of course, of utmost interest to distributors who would like to avoid the additional costs incurred while performing a special process on each release print and cinematographers, who desire consistency in the presentation of their work regardless of the region or country the film is distributed.
Designed by Jean-Pierre Poggi with the aid of color-timing consultants Yvan Lucas and Georges Roch, NEC was created for Darius Khondji to use on the 1995 film The City of Lost Children. Since the highly-regarded release of that film, the Parisian laboratory has utilized its proprietary technique on such films as Mathieu Kassovitz's Assassins, Un Frére (directed by Sylvie Verheyde and photographed by Antoine Roch) and K (directed by Alexandre Arcady and photographed by Gerry Fisher, BSC).
"We do the NEC treatment on the interpositive, and yet the results will be identical as if we do the treatment directly on the positive [print]," Poggi attests. "We will have a higher density on the interpositive, but since we're using normal processing on the print, the density will be the same [D-max] that the film is capable of. However, we have already created the look on the interpositive, so we don't need a special treatment for the print. The NEC process is less about blacker blacks [than about] affecting the contrast and [tonal reproduction] in the image."
[ continued: Bleach-Bypass ]