Though directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Christopher Nolan champion the use of film for their big-screen dreams, the new retro is digital — just ask director James Gunn. He shot his 2014 Marvel hit Guardians of the Galaxy on the ALEXA XT, but he just announced he’s going bigger for the sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be the first movie shot with the new RED “8K Weapon,” a digital movie camera with a resolution meant to rival 70mm film.
“I cannot even begin to express how proud I am that Marvel and everyone involved in the production has decided to be the first to shoot on our WEAPON 8K,” said Jarred Land, the president of RED Digital Cinema, in a press release. “Given the enormous success of the first movie, we know first-hand how critical their team was in selecting a camera for the second installment. We consider this a huge affirmation that RED’s investment in cutting edge technology continues to be justified.”
The lightweight 8K Weapon camera captures images at 8K resolution at 75 frames per second, and can be used to shoot at lower resolutions and frame-rates if needed — 6K at 100 frames per second, say, or 4K at 150 frames per second. Though there isn’t an easily equal comparison with standard 35mm film, it captures images at below 4k resolution.
Gunn explained the choice in an impassioned post on his Facebook page, which is probably the most eloquent defence of looking to the future of digital filmmaking instead of being obsessed with shooting on film. Gunn wrote:
“I respect many of the filmmakers who continue to shoot on film — and some of the most gorgeous movies of 2015 have been in that format. But I think sometimes that the love of actual film is based in nostalgia more than it is in objective beauty. Many filmmakers remember the films of their youth and want to replicate that magic. For me, I’m interested in being one of the many who help to create a new kind of magic that will usher the cinematic experience into the future. What will the children of today think of fondly with nostalgia?”
Besides trying to make movies with the future in mind, the push towards the RED Weapon also makes sense for a CGI-heavy space blockbuster like Guardians 2. If Gunn captures his footage in 8K, the final movie quality will be maintained through the layers of effects and the post-production process. When it’s projected at a lower res in regular theaters across the country, that relative resolution degradation should make Chris Pratt and all the CGI space stuff whizzing around him look ostensibly photo-real.
It’s just the next generation of an old film processing trick. The visual effects shots of The Empire Strikes Back used 65mm film so effects artists could layer on special effects and degrade the quality down to match the non-effects shots captured on 35mm film. And, per Gunn’s metric, you’d be hard-pressed to find a film that inspires more nostalgia among the adults who saw it as kids.