Dodging and burning effects in 1950s television?
June 2, 2013 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Why do black-and-white shows from the 1960s, especially live ones, have what looks to be a burn (dark shadows) around bright objects (around Walt's signature and around people's heads) and dodging effects (white glowing) around dark objects (around the jet-black suit jackets of the announcer and dancers)? I originally thought it was some beleagured production assistant manually burning the What's My Line signatures so that they'd be more high-contrast and thus more readable, but now I'm seeing it everywhere!
posted by flibbertigibbet to Technology (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This is the distinctive look of a kinescope recording. Videotape hadn't been invented yet, so live television programs were recorded to film by pointing a camera at a video monitor. You end up with all sorts of visual artifacts.
posted by kindall at 8:46 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome!

Does anyone know what exact process caused the halos in particular?
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2013

I am pretty sure it's just how the film used handled the excess contrast (video had wider dynamic range than film). Or it might have had something to do with the developing to ensure no areas were blown out.
posted by kindall at 8:55 AM on June 2, 2013

Dark Halo. It is one of my favorite things about spooky Twilight Zones.
posted by oflinkey at 8:56 AM on June 2, 2013

Best answer: The effect is particular to the Orthicon picture tube, so you'll probably have more luck learning more about it searching for "orthicon halo" .. this book excerpt, for example. (Previously on AskMe)

oflinkey: Only for some of them! For the most part Twilight Zone episodes were shot on 16mm film (which wouldn't have exhibited this effect); however, to save money, six episodes were shot on videotape instead. (Previously on AskMe)
posted by orthicon halo at 9:32 AM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Specifically, reading back over the answers, I want to point out that this was a video camera effect, not a film effect. It just happens that the only copies we have of most early programs are via the kinescope process (where a film camera was pointed at a standard video-display tube). which, as kindall points out, had its own set of visual flaws that it brought to the final image. This isn't one of them, though, and you'd still see it on one of the very rare surviving videotapes from that era.
posted by orthicon halo at 9:56 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agree with oflinkey's dark halo link. Early video cameras were based on analog vacuum tubes and areas of high brightness would do that. It's the video equivalent of analog "warmth". The tubes didn't have enough dynamic range to handle the image being thrown at it, and instead of clipping, they would sort of "sag" like that. You could see it in a lot of live television clips too, especially from things like camera flashes and reflections off of watch crystals.

The same kind of thing would happen on old TVs and computer monitors in bright areas- there would be horizontal artifacts along the same plane as the bright object. I believe it is called bloom in this case. That's why, up until HD tv, it was a bad idea to wear pure white clothing on camera.
posted by gjc at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2013

orthicon halo: I know, those are the spookier ones! /derail
posted by oflinkey at 11:06 AM on June 2, 2013

I remember reading something about the dark inks in old film bleeding over time, making the black halo effect.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2013

Maybe this is the same thing, but I always notice that 60s black and white is so unlike earlier black and white. I suppose it's a video vs. film/lower-quality video, but in many 60s shows, the contrast, and especially the darker shades, seem much more intense than in material from earlier decades. I'm not sure I'm making sense.
posted by Harry at 11:23 PM on June 3, 2013

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