1984 - Bleach bypassing the PRINT vs NEGATIVE (3 replies and 5 comments)
I was watching a Criterion interview with you about 1984 regarding the bleach bypass process (be.com/watch?v=biSuar8ATAg»).
In the interview, you mention that to achieve the "partial black and white" look that was sought-after, the bleach bath was taken away from making the print, and the print was exposed for 50% of the normal time, and that this gave you essentially a "50% black and white" movie.
You mentioned that, nowadays, when bleach bypass is utilised, it is typically done on the NEGATIVE, but when you apply bleach bypass process to the PRINT, as in the case of 1984, it gives you a different effect. By bleach bypassing the print, you note how striking the blacks are, and that they "almost shine".
I was hoping I could trouble you to elaborate about the differences in look that you typically get between bleach bypassing the negative versus bleach bypassing the print?
Also, did you further desaturate in post to achieve the "partial black and white" look, or was it achieved purely via the photochemical process?
Thank you very much and kind regards
There was only a photo-chemical option in 1984.
The bleach bypass print has increased silver in the emulsion so the projected image will show deeper blacks and there is a depth and liveliness to the image than can't be reproduced with a standard print. It is subtle but noticeable. The closest equivalent today might be Dolby Vision HDR projection, which can achieve a deep black level.
Actually bleach-bypass for the negative was never that common for features for various reasons -- labs charge a $500 set-up fee every time they switch to bleach-bypass, which is fine on an FCP print processing machine for a few answer prints and then a run of release prints, but daily for negative over a feature shot over months, it adds up unless the lab sets aside an ECN2 developing machine for you. For shorts, music videos, and commercials, often you can get all the negative processed at once so you only pay the set-up fee once. If you're lucky, more than one production is doing bleach-bypass and you can split the costs of the set-up fee. Some features did bleach-bypass of the negative for a certain flashback or dream sequence, like the Auschwitz flashback in the original "X-Men" movie. In terms of whole features, there were a few: "Minority Report", "Pitch Black", "Stigmata", large parts I think of "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams", and the first section of "Three Kings" -- this is what comes to mind right now.
Skipping the bleach step leaves in black silver along with the color dye clouds that formed during processing -- so the effect is tied to wherever the film is the most dense, which is in the shadows on a print and in the highlights on the negative. So a skip-bleach print has extra dark shadows and deeper blacks, and a skip-bleach negative has extra hot highlights. Since density and exposure are tied together as well, leaving the silver in the negative acts like overexposure, so some people will underexpose the negative by a stop or more to compensate, unless they want a lot of really hot highlights and burned-out whites. Also, the silver grains in camera negative stock are much larger than in print stock (which has a really low ISO) so leaving the silver in creates a much stronger grainy effect if done to the negative.
Roger did a partial skip-bleach for the negative in "Jarhead" I believe.
Thank you Roger and David, this information is very instructive.
Do you have any thoughts on how well/authentic this bleach bypass look can be achieved for digital capture, through use of LUTS for light metering and then in post through the colour grading process?
I think the desaturation, increase in contrast can be simulated digitally, it’s the silver grain affecting the grain levels that is a bit more complex, depends on how authentic you want it to be, do you want to use a process like Live Grain for example that uses scans of different stocks at different exposure levels (and I assume they have scans of skip-bleach material though in theory you can use their scans of b&w film since that’s silver grain, not color dye clouds.
Thanks David, that's very informative, especially about combining digital simulation together with something like Live Grain to achieve a bleach bypass look.
Yes, it is the grain structure that is hard to replicate. When we did "The Assassination of Jesse James...", and also "Jarhead", we used a partial skip bleach of the camera negative as we felt this was hard to replicate digitally. We finished with a 4K DI on both films and it was essential to see the grain. A 2K scan and DI will not fully resolve grain so it will appear slightly soft.
Yes, silver grain is sharper-edged too than color dye clouds. I once got to play with Live Grain and I took their scan of 16mm b&w reversal grain and put it over a color digital image — it had an interesting look, reminded me of the rare Kodachrome 200 slide film.