Cooke NAB Anamorphic Evening

The annual Cooke NAB Dinner once again unfolded at Del Frisco’s in Las Vegas for Jurassic-sized steaks (in the words of Danys Bruyere), marvelous Malbecs, celebratory champagnes, pronouncements on production, and lectures on lenses. The key to admission seemed to be a sizable inventory of Cooke lenses in the home city of the many international guests. It was a global who’s who of the camera rental world, the largest gathering of Cooke lookers ever, no doubt increased by the staggering number of orders placed for the new anamorphic lenses. Here is a transcript of what was said.

Geoffrey Chappell

Tonight we have many major rental companies in attendance. I’m very pleased and honored to welcome them. And I’d like to recognize Denny Clairmont. Back in the late ’90s, Denny came to the company (then Taylor Hobson) asking for a lens that would compete against the Primos. Several years were spent talking to cinematographers, assistants and other rental houses on what they would like.

Cooke has always listened to the end user, to the DPs, to the rental houses. With a lot of input, we have  been very successful with the S4 lenses. The 5/i lenses came and are also very popular lenses. We’re just slow in delivery of them. The Cooke miniS4 lenses (previously called Panchros) are now everywhere. We’ve sold over 500 miniS4 sets. Now you will have an opportunity—again—to give us your input for our new  anamorphic prime lenses. We have been researching these lenses over the past three years. But, if you have any input into what you like, what you dislike, and how we can go forward, we’d be very interested to hear. It’s important that the product we design and supply is a product that you’d be proud to have and you’d be happy with.

We’d like you to tell us what you would like. It’s not for us to tell you what you can have. If anybody would like to say a few words on what they saw at NAB or do we need to make any alterations–now is the time, because the lenses you saw today were, in fact, being worked on last week. In fact, the demo footage that you at the show was taken with a lens delivered by Robert Howard, our CEO, last Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday night, it was being tested on exterior and night scenes in Las Vegas. We are actually delighted with the results and with the response from everybody. I would like to say, that someone in particular has been in pain in the neck for us–a certain Frenchman who has been pushing us and pushing us for anamorphic lenses. France is probably number three in the world for film production. And he kept asking us why the hell Cooke doesn’t make anamorphic lenses. I’d like to introduce Danys Bruyere of TSF.

Danys Bruyère

I’ve been nagging Les Zellan for years now to get anamorphic lenses. We’re in markets where anamorphic is a popular product. And so we’ve been insisting and insisting. If you remember my speech last year, I was urging anamorphic. The year before I was saying we’ve gotta do anamorphic. It’s the future.

I think it’s the past and it’s the future. We innovate by tradition, which is a rich concept. Recently we had the opportunity to test a new anamorphic set by a German company. We’ve been working with Vantage Hawk anamorphic lenses for the last 14 years. We’ve tested and we’ve purchased. We’ve owned practically every lens that Vantage ever manufactured. We see every film that’s made with a Hawk. We see it and we say, yes, this was made with a Hawk. We recognize those lenses really well.

So when I went to the Cooke NAB booth here on Monday morning around 10:30, I looked into the viewfinder and it just took just three seconds to realize this was good. Anamorphic is a texture. It’s something that we’re trying to seize, to capture, to reproduce, that our clients are trying to find souls in their digital cameras.

I think anamorphics are something with character. Everybody here has been asked where to get a set of 1958 Super Baltars. We just can’t get those lenses anymore. I was complaining to Les. I always complain to Les, you know. He’s like my psychotherapist. I complained to Les before he came out with the miniS4 set. I was really enthusiastic about them. And then, when the miniS4s did come out, I said to Les, “You know, they’re too good. How can you do this? This is not what I wanted.” I wanted aberrations. I wanted flaring. But they were really good.

With the Cooke anamorphics, from what I saw Monday, I saw a lens that had, can you say, soul? Can you say organic? It had that feeling of what anamorphic is, how it softens, how it rounds the image. How, on faces, even in close-ups without any perspectives behind, it gives elements shape and form and destructures the sensors. So we’re absolutely thrilled. I was happy to be nagging for so many years.

Jon Fauer

And now for some additional nagging. It’s a pleasure to be here for the largest Cooke gathering ever. And because we have so many important industry movers and shakers, moguls and titans and tycoons in this room, I would like to nag for three things. All of you can help make this happen.

1. We saw this great anamorphic revolution, evolution at the NAB show this week. But there’s really only one camera right now that can take advantage of the 2x squeeze anamorphic format with a 4×3 Sensor. The ARRI Alexa. This is great for ARRI and it is visionary. But shouldn’t more cameras use this format? I would encourage you to talk to your vendors, the other camera companies — Sony, Canon, RED, Blackmagic, GoPro, Vision Research, and anybody else who will listen — to consider 4×3 Sensors in their cameras.

At the moment they are only considering 16×9. I’m not sure they understand why a 1.5x cropped 4:3 image within their 16:9 sensor becomes equivalent to a longer focal length or may have reduced resolution. So please help illuminate and educate.

2. There is not a single decent projection theater at the entire NAB complex. We have  100,000 highly technical and artistic people here, and there’s not a single good screening room with theater seats and good projection. So please ask NAB to install a real theater  at NAB like they have at IBC in Amsterdam.

3. We’re stuck with a silly DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) specification of projection, which was created by a committee who must have totally forgotten about anamorphic. The DCI 2.39:1 widescreen projection format is actually lower resolution than 1.85:1 format projection.

In 2K:

  • 1.85:1 is 1998 x 1080.
  • 2.39:1 is 2048 x 858.

In 4K:

  • 1.85:1 is 3996 x 2160.
  • 2.39:1 is 4096 x 1714.)

So when you’re shooting anamorphic (or even spherical) 2.39:1, the digital cinema specs wind up just cropping the vertical. What we need is a better projection standard. And here to talk about that is my friend and colleague Dave Stump, ASC, who will also encourage us to have a better projection standard for anamorphic now that we have these great lenses.

Dave Stump

Those who know me, know that I’ve never been afraid to dream out loud. if I can call on the sentiment of what Danys Bruyere was saying earlier, we have a lot of rich history in the cinema. And especially in anamorphic. I think the entire Panavision fortune began with the invention of the Panatar Projection Lens.

So, with that in mind, why are we throwing away 30 percent of the pixels on every projector that shows an anamorphic movie in America and, for that matter, in the world? We show an anamorphic movie 858 pixels high on every 2K DCI projector. So it might be time to reinvent the Panatar. We need anamorphic desqueezing lenses on digital projectors.

Geoffrey Chappell

How do the people in this room go about to make this happen?

Dave Stump

Well, you sit down with Christie. You sit down with NEC. You sit down with Barco and you might have to stand up with Sony. It only takes a small minority. the one thing that I’ve learned in dealing with the manufacturing community in my position at the ASC is that you have only to make articulate demands and let them sink in and somebody will see the sense and the business case for putting an anamorphic lens on a digital projector. This should come from the ASC, the Academy, the Cinematographers.

Jon Fauer

The other thing is to educate the manufacturers that there’s this groundswell. Les, Robert, Geoffrey: judging by the crowds at your booth, you took lots of orders today. Pierre Andurand, I saw your Angénieux booth was equally busy. When the camera and projector manufacturers ask how much interest there is in  anamorphic, you can point to  what I assume are hundreds of orders. When they start using words like ROI, Return On Investment, assure them it is big. They want to get people out of the living rooms and into the theaters. This is a good chance to do that.

Dave Stump

‘Scope is a great way to put butts in seats.

Robert Howard

It appears I’m a real glutton for punishment. As you all know, my big problem is making enough lenses for all of you. As you’ve heard, one of the things we at Cooke really pride ourselves in is listening to customers. One of things I’ve heard from some of you is that maybe the range we have put out for the anamorphics is not quite enough. I’m hearing something about longer lenses. Please, tell us. Do you want longer than 135 mm?

Resounding

Yes.

Robert

Yes. What focal lengths do you want?

Audience

300, 65, 180, 250.

Les Zellan

I would remind people that with the S4 primes, we started with four lenses in the series. We always planned on eight. We now have 18 lenses in the series and the reason is you all came back to us and you said, we need a 21 mm. We need a 27 mm. We want these other focal lengths. So what Geoffrey and Robert are saying is absolutely true. It really is up to you to guide us in what we do. And now that we’re embarking on the anamorphic series, it’s the same thing. We have the original seven. We’ve now been asked for a 65, 180, 250, maybe a 300.

Denny Clairmont

On anamorphic lenses, it’s very appropriate that Angénieux comes out with their series of anamorphic zooms. Anamorphic was invented by Henri Chretien in France in the 1920s. Then, in the 1950s, 20th Century Fox bought the designs and stuff from the French and called it CinemaScope. (The first film was “The Robe” (1953). We call it ‘Scope today.

So, I think it’s very appropriate that the zoom lenses are being made by a French company. I’m really happy about that. I can tell you lots about the history of anamorphic lenses. A very short version is that in those days, many of the movie theaters were owned by the studios. And they would send the anamorphic prints to the theaters, along with the lenses to project them. Panavision started making anamorphic projection lenses.

I think Cooke is going be a very popular choice in anamorphic lenses. If nothing else, based on their competitive price. But we at Clairmont are probably going to have to get them all—Cooke, Zeiss Master Anamorphic, Hawk, Scorpio, Angenieux.

What is happening in North America—they sold 400-million 16×9 TV sets 40-inches or larger. You see a 2.40 movie on them and it’s slightly cropped. Nobody complains. I don’t know.

We’re seeing TV commercials shot anamorphic for TV. They like the look of the anamorphic, with the  aberrations. Technically, as a lens technician, they’re difficult. But the directors and DPs are artists. The things that we think are wrong, they like.

So we have people shooting TV commercials anamorphic. Now you go to the movie theater. You may see the same anamorphic commercial there before the trailer.

Now, at home, one of my favorite ones is a car commercial. The car’s sliding down the highway quite fast. It’s a public highway. But they don’t want to mess the picture up. In that black area outside the anamorphic frame they put text that says, “Don’t drive like this on public roads. This was a closed-circuit course, you know, don’t drive like this.”

 Geoffrey

Our next speaker will be Kevin Scott. He heard a rumor that we were doing anamorphic lenses, and if we were going to show them, he’d buy a ticket  and fly over to see them. So I hope, Kevin, the trip was worthwhile.

Kevin Scott

I’ve got two heads. I’m a cinematographer. And I’m also part-owner of a rental company. I’ve been very interested in the digital technology over the last four or five years. What I’ve found is that all of the manufacturers have managed to deliver very good clean digital systems from a cinematography point-of-view. With very good spherical lenses everything’s looking sharp and clean. Often, when we were shooting film, we had a better choice of tools, in my opinion.

With digital, I’m finding everything is starting to look the same. I’ve seen most cinematographers are looking for something to stand out in terms of the images.

Because the digital image is so sharp, when I look at anamorphic, I look at what’s in the frame and the subject is in focus and how everything else just falls off beautifully. It looks more natural. I think the digital cameras—despite their wide color space and great latitude and resolution, there’s just something missing.

The biggest choice we’re going to have is glass. And the worst thing that could happen at this point in time is have the manufacturer serve up another thing that looks the same. We really want the choices. And, I think, Cooke and this product is giving us a great tool.

Geoffrey

No pressure was put on you.

Heckler

He just moved up on the wait list.

Geoffrey

Anamorphic has been around for a long time. We have lost film. We have been looking for a new look and one way of doing it is certainly by the choice of lenses. I also heard today of a whole new range of filters to give you other choices of look.

Two weeks ago in London at Pinewood Studios, we had the BSC Show and a forum of all the lens manufacturers. One of our lens designers, Professor John Maxwell was on the panel. I took him around the show, showing him all the new lenses and all the remounted vintage Cooke Panchro lenses that are 40 to 60 years old. There was the President of the BSC, John de Borman, who had shot 45 feature films, 40 of them have been with Cooke lenses. But more astonishingly, 30 of them had been shot with the old Cooke Panchro lenses. And then we started talking about personal look. He contributed his success as a cinematographer to the look of the movie that he creates. It’s a very personal look. It’s a look that now is returning. When I came in the industry, everybody was having their filters hand-painted by Doris at Samuelson’s in London.

This venerable lady of about 70 years old used to sit in a little room. The DPs used to come along and specify what type of look they wanted and she used to do some beautiful sunset filters, some unbelievable graduated filters. These were work of art. And the DPs at the time were presented with little black boxes with their bespoke filters inside. And that was their look. That was their passbook to their next movie.

Analog film offered us a choice of different emulsions, different speeds, different processes. We don’t have that any longer. Technicolor laboratory in Pinewood opened three years ago with all the latest state-of-the-art equipment. It’s closing at the end of this month, because there’s insufficient film work.

So we’re now down to just two processing laboratories and they are small ones in London. The world of film, certainly in the UK, is diminishing. Film is alive, but it’s struggling.

We have some distinguished colleagues in this room. Barry Measure’s father was in the business. He was at Samuelson’s, Panavision, Take Two. John Venables was the Managing Director of Panavision and also did his apprenticeship at Samuelson’s. These guys have grown up in the industry and seen a lot of changes and have adapted to today’s industry. Barry and John probably have more knowledge about anamorphics than anybody. John, you said that the anamorphics business in London is 95 percent at Panavision.

So, here is a new strategy and a new opportunity for everybody. Not only for a new format that has come to be reintroduced. It’s available to everybody.

Les Zellan

I know I’ve talked to most of you about this. But I want to tell you what our philosophy has been in designing the anamorphic series. And that is—it’s pretty simple. We wanted to take the best of what I call—this is a highly technical term–anamorphic funkiness. We take anamorphic funkiness and blend it with the Cooke look to give you a unique tool and a different look when you’re making your films.

As somebody said to me the other day, perfection is sometimes over-rated. Not that the lenses that we do aren’t perfect. But they’re perfect in a different way. They give you a certain look and feel and texture. That’s what the Cooke look is really all about. I think this is what we’ve achieved with the anamorphic prime lenses that we’ll be producing for you.

Whatever you need, it is not for us to tell you. You are at the sharp end. You need to tell us what you want. And if it’s in our power and it makes sense economically and every other way we look at things, we will do it. So please tell us what you need and if we can do it, we’ll certainly try to deliver it.

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1 Response:

  1. Simon Rabeder:

    I agree to the statement that projecting anamorphic material in reduced digital resolution is somewhat dumbed down. Has the DCI shown any kind of reaction to this yet?