I’ve noticed a lot of misconceptions around these techniques and want to teach them properly and analyze different shots on how to achieve them. Many think this is the style of Christopher Doyle, however if you really follow his cinematography, it’s not a common technique he uses outside his works with Wong Kar Wai.
The cinematographer who truly mastered all 3 techniques is Andrew Lau, who was the DOP of As Tears Goes By which is the first movie Wong Kar Wai ever directed. But also worked as a cinematographer on Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express and Ashes of Time.
2 years prior to working with Wong Kar Wai, Andrew Lau did the cinematography of Where’s officer Tuba. Which included step printing for slow motion actions shots that were filmed for normal speed. And the normal speed version is less dramatic compared to the step printed version. They made the shot 3 times slower by duplicating each frame to 3 frames.
Back in 1986 this was all done either manually step by step or via an interval device that holds the master frame for several frames while printing.
Nowadays in editing software all you have to do is slow down your footage to 33% to achieve this effect. As the software will automatically duplicate the frames for you to slow down your footage.
One year after, Andrew Lau did the cinematography of City On Fire, for the end of the movie they used the step printing technique to slow down a slow motion shot of Chow Yun Fat dancing. Also here they used 3 frames for every frame.
Then we get to As Tears Goes By where we see Andrew evolve step printing to the next level with Slow shutter and posterize time. The first slow shutter shot is of ah Wah leaving his home, this differs from normal step printing as it’s not a slow motion shot, as he is going out the door at a normal pace.
Counting the frames we also get 3 of the same frames again. Replicating this shot, my guess is they undercranked the camera to film 8 frames per second with a 180 degrees shutter, as I also tried 360 degrees which is a lot more blur and 180 degrees looks more similar. Then they used the step printing technique to make the 8 fps into 24fps by duplicating every frame single to 3 frames. This way the 8fps footage will play back at a normal speed on a 24 fps timeline. By combining undercranking the camera plus step printing, you get the slow shutter effect.
To undercrank your camera to 8fps is all dependable on the camera as not all camera has this feature, but on Arri Alexa Mini this is possible, while Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro can only go down to 12fps. On Sony mirrorless using S&Q mode it can do 8fps, but it wont record any sound. While Z CAM E2 can easily set to 8fps and record audio at the same time.
In 1992 Andrew Lau worked on Wicked City which has a lot of practical effects, but also makes use of step printing and slow shutter.
Another Cinematographer we need to mention is Mark Lee Ping-Bing who worked on Fallen Angels and A Mood For Love.
In 1992 Mark Lee worked on The Twilight of the Forbidden city, where they used 4 frames step printing pain full scenes.
In 1994 we have Chungking Express where Andrew Lau did the first half of the movie and noticeable use of slow Shutter, while Christopher Doyle did the 2nd half and made use of undercranking only for Timelapse and didn’t made use of any slow shutter.
In 1995 we had Fallen Angels which of course have slow shutter shots, but the most interesting shot is at the very end. As this is not your average step printing as it multiplies the first frame by 4, but removes the 2nd frame and multiplies the next.
I call this the Skip Frame step print. To achieve this in Premiere Pro you have to use the posterize time effect and change it to 12fps which will duplicate the 1 frame and replace the 2nd, then nest the clip before you slow it down 50% to achieve this effect. However I don’t give the credit for this achievement to the cinematographer as this is mostly done in post production and should give credit to the editors William Chang Suk-Ping and Wong Ming-Lam
In 1996 Andrew Lau worked on Young and Dangerous, which has become very popular in Hong Kong and has a lot of sequels and many spin offs. Ofcourse slow shutter if used, but Young and Dangerous 2 we will see step printing implemented in an emotional moment.
In 1997 we get Happy Together. Where are few shots with a new interesting effect which can be either called skip frame or posterize time. Where you duplicate the first frame and remove the 2nd frame and duplicate the next. This way the footage will look choppy without affecting the speed, similar to watching a movie in 12fps. However I feel the implementation of most shots seems out of place as the effect doesn’t feel like it added anything to the shot.
Last movie I want to talk about is Infernal Affairs from 2002 also by Andrew Lau in this movie there are several moment they use a high shutter combined with a 2 frame step print emphasising the emotional moment.
To sum it all Step Printing, Skip frame and posterize time are all post production effects and shoulder credit the Editors for this achievements. While slow shutter effect require in camera undercranking techniques to achieve the Slow shutter effect. Here above is a frames chart to show also the differences in the frames, from left size we have a normal 24fps continues film print. the 2nd column is 3 frame step printinng, 3 colums is 4 frame step printing, 4th column is 2 frame step printing. 5th Column is 12frame rate Posterize time and the last is the Skip frame Step print.