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What's the Skinny on HD Porn?

What's the Skinny on HD Porn?

March 20, 2008
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" High-def is merciless "

Times were different when Norma Desmond uttered the immortal line "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille" in "Sunset Boulevard"; the film, lighting and makeup were kinder, giving actors an ethereal, golden glow. Mainstream film also offers the advantage that clothing allows the human form. It is a luxury not afforded adult performers.

With the advent of high definition equipment, pornography is getting ready for its own close-up and the verdict is in: Even the beautiful people don't stand up well in hi-def, at least not without some help. Flaws are magnified like never before, and in the wrong hands, performers who look fantastic in person can appear devastatingly bad in high-def.

With high definition here to stay, the industry needs to learn how to make the most of the new format. It directly affects everyone involved in the production, from makeup artists and lighting techs to directors and postproduction pros and everyone in between.

"High-def is one of the reasons I like to filter the big movies the way I do," said director Eli Cross, whose recent accomplishments include "Upload" and "Corruption." "We did a lot of manipulating after the fact, and part of that is to mask the horror that is naked genitalia in high-def. Really, it's terrifying. Every pimple, every stretch mark, every blemish, every everything that nobody wants to see."

Cross, who has won more awards in the past two years than most studios will ever take home, said every frame on those titles — as well as the gonzo he has shot in recent years — has been digitally rendered. He also is a big advocate of filters, which he said help enormously.

"They very, very slightly soften details in skin only, so you get a regular sharp image, but a little bit of softening just on skin tones," he said. "You decide how soft to make the image so that it doesn't end up looking like a 1970s Penthouse shoot. It doesn't matter who they are or how young they are or how well-groomed they are, there's a whole lot you just don't want to see."

As the rush to shoot in high-def pushes ahead, not all directors are ready to jump into the fray. Evil Angel director Jonni Darkko is taking a conservative approach: He has purchased the equipment but is going through an intensive "learning mode" before shooting in high-def.

"I'm not 100 percent sold," Darkko said. "It's completely different than what I'm used to. I think it's going to be too sharp, too intense for porn. Close-up shots will be ridiculous. I don't think there's any hurry to be in the race. If I do it, I want to come out with the best product I possibly can. You can't just go in high-def, it has a tendency to look really bad. It's a very easily-flawed delivery mechanism."

Holly Randall is also taking a cautious approach. While she has considered shooting in high definition, she isn't sure the format will lend itself to the high-glam style she prefers.

"High-def is best for sports and nature programs," Randall said. "I don't want to see anyone's genitalia in high-def. Pornography is supposed to be about fantasy, and seeing every wrinkle, hair and zit isn't a fantasy, it's a nightmare."

Even Cross was quick to concede that the technology can be daunting.

"High-def is merciless," Cross said, "and the cameras are advancing a lot faster than the skill level of a lot of the shooters."

While it's true that a high-definition image can turn a beauty into a beast, there are ways to shoot in the format without revealing more than needs to be revealed.

"The lighting and makeup requirements have changed," photographer Chris King said. "You have to realize that most of the girls in the industry are going to work every single day, and they're going to have different makeup artists with different experience and quality levels applying not so good makeup to them on a daily basis. With high-def, you get unbelievable clarity, so for detail it is absolutely lethal in an adult situation, because you're going to see every single pore. If this girl didn't shave her [pubic hair] just before a scene, we're going to know."

As with any other aspect of the adult assembly line, different people bring different skill levels. One of the industry's premier makeup artists, Lee Garland was undaunted. After 11 years making the adult industry look pretty (this following a full career in fashion), he has his kit ready to go.

"All those beautiful iconic actresses that everyone thought were such goddesses, they were normal girls like our girls are," Garland said. "It's just that back in the day when they were using that silver nitrate film it just had that glow and dissipated all of the imperfections if it was lit well. Perfection just takes time and that's the way it goes."

Melanie, who has worked with Digital Playground for more than three years and has been doing makeup for two decades, said that it is a team effort. While there is only so much the makeup artist can do, she likes to work closely with directors so that she has a clear idea ahead of time of the color palette, lighting and other conditions on set.

"You always hear how it picks up everything, and my aim has always been to do really clean makeup," Melanie said. "I've been doing makeup for more than 20 years, and I've worked with grainy film, the tungsten look, black and white, fashion, so there's always been one thing or another that we're working with. In high-def, color is going to pop more than on video. It's brighter, it's cleaner, and it's sharper; so if you know the medium you can work with that."

Miles Long, who directs for New Sensations and other companies, said that shooting in high-def is an inevitability, especially with the February 2009 federal mandate to switch from analog to digital broadcasting and the manufacturers pushing high-def sets and Hollywood in need of a new format with which to market old material.

Despite all the precautions a director may take, problems are inevitable. For that there is post-production. Director Axel Braun, who also owns post-production company Level 5, said he is offering Blu-ray authoring, though there are currently few takers.

"Most companies shoot in high-def, but then they want you to down-convert it to standard definition, which makes it pointless," Braun said. "The market demands that you shoot in high-def, so it doesn't matter. Oddly enough, you're going to shoot in high-def and then apply filters to make it pop out less. But you're going to be able to write on your box that it's shot in high-def. It needs to be done.

"People who shoot complete garbage can still shoot in high-def. They would benefit from shooting with a lesser medium, because you can get away with a lot more." Cross said that doing the proper postproduction work isn't so much a financial decision as it is an unwillingness to take the hours necessary to make a title look as good as it could.

"The costs are irrelevant," he said. "Nobody wants to spend the time and effort."

There are limits to how much companies, most of which are accustomed to slashing budgets and getting a quick turnaround with gonzo and wall-to-wall titles, are going to be willing to spend. As DVD sales dwindle and the industry looks to the Internet to increase profits, some suggest that high def may be reserved for feature movies on DVD. In the end, the format may be less about improving pictures for consumers and more about profit for corporations.

"The smart company will, regardless of whether they are releasing in standard or high-def, they're going to shoot in high-def because if they don't they won't be able to re-release their older product," Long said. "Personally, I don't see any value in upgrading from [standard] DVDs to HD DVD, especially since I have so many DVDs already. And they still look pretty good."


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