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May 13, 2009

A Little Mood-Lightener: Classic Trek Gets the JJ Abrams Treatment

Skip down to the clip or read here about anamorphic lenses and "lens flare."

Anamorphic lenses are used to capture widescreen pictures on normal (that is, non-widescreen) camera lenses. I don't know this, but you can check here to make sure: Ordinary lenses are pretty much spherical, whereas anamorphic lenses are deliberately warped in order to to get that widescreen aspect ratio. Either stretched out or compacted at the edges. One or the other.

One consequence of this? Lens flare:

There are artifacts that can occur when using an anamorphic camera lens that do not occur when using an ordinary spherical lens. One is a kind of lens flare that has a long horizontal line usually with a blue tint and is most often visible when there is a bright light, such as from car headlights, in the frame with an otherwise dark scene. This artifact is not always considered to be a problem. It has come to be associated with a certain cinematic look and is in fact sometimes emulated using a special effect filter in scenes that were not shot using an anamorphic lens. Another common aspect of anamorphic lenses is that light reflections in the lens will be elliptical rather than round, as they are in spherical cinematography.

It's not considered a "problem" because most people have come to subconsciously associate lens flare with "Big Budget Monster Hit Action Movie." I have, certainly. I first noticed them front and center in Die Hard, where every single headlight turned into a cold blue line streaking across the screen, and every single light-bulb had a strange blue oval-shaped halo around it.

Video games deliberately put in lens flares -- which are artificial camera artifacts, and therefore are entirely unreal -- into its scenes to make them seem more real. Well, not real, but more like a big budget action movie, which has subconsciously been internalized as "real." So making a scene look less real and more artificial somehow, in the back of our heads, winds up making it look more real and more authentic.

In my all-time favorite movie, the various golden light manifestations associated with the Ark of the Covenant are, deliberately I'm sure and probably artificially, given the lens-flare treatment, which winds up making them look (appropriately enough) like the unfurled wings of an angel. You don't see a lot of lens flare in Raiders, as it's usually much more noticeable in dark/night scenes, but you do see a whole lot of it in nighttime scene with the Nazis filming the opening of the Ark.

Anyway. I like seeing a little lens flare because it reminds me of Die Hard and Raiders of the Lost Ark. On the other hand, throw in too much of it and your movie starts looking... kinda weird. And fake. Like you're less interested in the actual objects the camera is photographing, and more interested in the mere artifacts of the camera lens, how the light gets distorted as it travels through the glass.

Some = good. Lots = stupid.

All this is preamble. Apparently JJ Abrams uses a lot of lens flare in his new version of Star Trek, pretty much hitting the level of "overkill," it seems.

I wondered why the commercials bothered me. Now I realize -- way too much lens flare, to the point where you were seeing the flare just as prominently as the light-sources themselves.

So, anyway, some guy had a bit of fun taking the classic TOS episode "Space Seed" (with Khaaaaan!) and going all crazy with lens-flaring.

And since I was called gay for yesterday's lion post, how about going gayer still with the Awesome Pawsome?

Four tiger cubs raised at an Australian amusement park. The music is schmaltzy, but at around 1:00 in they play with a dog, which is really cute.

Thanks to Jenjhis for the Star Trek clip. The Awesome Pawsome is my own cuteness-overload thing.

For the Hell of It: Did you ever want a map showing on which floor of the Nakatomo Tower each villain in Die Hard had been killed (or at least knocked unconscious)?


But you do now, right?

Thought so.

Joe writes:

Lens flare is not unique to anamorphic lenses, it's just more noticeable because the anamorphic distortion tends to enhance the flares. But nearly all lens flares are intentional since they require a strong light source to be in the frame and pointed towards the camera, and are therefore easily avoidable.

Also, I'd be shocked to learn that Star Trek was shot with anamorphic lenses at all. Virtually anything special-effects-heavy is shot today with spherical lenses on Super35. This is because it's easier to work with optical effects on a "flat" image, and because it makes transfer to home video more painless. This means that all those stylized lens flares in the film were probably optically added later for effect. Audiences seem to associate these intentional "flaws" with documentary or amateur footage, which is why some people have concluded that these effects make a film look more "authentic". How "authentic" applies to Star Trek I'll never know.

I think he's wrong about associating them with low-budget amateur/documentary movies. I think people associate them with big-budget "event" movies. Again, like Die Hard.

Video game developers creating new "realistic" lens flare techniques did so to emulate big budget action movies, not low-budget documentaries. They said so. At least, I have a strong recollection of that.

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posted by Ace at 05:37 PM

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