Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Why Zack Snyder's gimmicky camera setup may be causing "dead pixels" in Army Of The Dead

Zack Snyder
Zack Snyder
Photo: Clay Enos/Netflix

Given how much of our lives are spent in front of screens these days, surely most people have encountered a “dead pixel” on their TV or phone or computer. Generally, it’s exactly what it sounds like: A busted little spot on a screen that doesn’t move with the rest of the image, usually stuck as a white dot. In other words, it’s a hardware issue that would be present on any image displayed on that screen. So it’s pretty understandable that a handful of Netflix users were completely baffled when apparent dead pixels started popping up while they watched Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead recently, especially when the “dead pixels” disappeared and reappeared from one shot to another—because that’s not a thing that should be able to happen.

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Variety tried to look into what was going on, citing a bunch of annoyed/confused people on Twitter who shared photos and videos of the distracting white spots on their screens, but it was still not totally clear what was going on. After all, dead pixels are a hardware thing, so unless Snyder made the movie by filming it off of his own busted TV, there would be no reason for “dead pixels” to be appearing. And yet, much like the zombies in some kind of movie about zombies, the “dead pixels” had risen up and formed, like, an army or whatever. It’s weird.

We don’t know what’s going on for sure, and so far Netflix has not responded to our requests for a comment or more information, but one possible explanation is that these “dead pixels” are a weird side effect of Snyder’s decision to shoot Army Of The Dead with an odd and outdated camera lens. Games Radar went deep on this for a totally different reason (more on that in a bit), but the short version is that Snyder—who served as his own cinematographer on Army—used a Canon 50mm f/.0.95 lens (a.k.a. the “Canon Dream Lens”) for the movie, which Games Radar says created “an almost ethereal overlay” due to the way they focus when combined with modern cameras and Snyder’s decision not to put a stop on the lenses (which limits the amount of light being let in). Basically, without signing up for Werner Herzog’s cinematography MasterClass and really getting how all this works, it sounds like this setup created an environment where Snyder’s cameras were taking in a lot more light while creating a trippy unfocused blur on things in the background.

This led to some visual glitches that were freaking people out (mostly involving things being blurry in a way that didn’t make sense), which is what prompted Games Radar to look into the kinds of cameras Snyder used. As it turned out, this already-blurry aesthetic was a crucial part of how Snyder was able to CG Tig Notaro into scenes with the rest of the cast even though her parts were filmed later on a fake set, since he was able to just make her blurry when she was in the background. Rather than looking like Jar Jar Binks, then, she looks like every other thing out of focus in the movie.

So we’ve got an unusual camera setup that is already confusing people for unrelated reasons, but what does that have to do with the “dead pixel” thing? Well, Variety talked to a “graphics expert at a top visual effects company” who explained that the one explanation for the “dead pixels” would be “if auto-processing was not available for the given camera settings or was turned off to keep the workflow as ‘analog’ as possible.” Given what we know about Snyder using old, obscure lenses and doing the cinematography himself, that seems like a pretty likely explanation. That being said, the unnamed expert also notes that it would be “highly unlikely” for something like this to go unnoticed in post-production, so even if that’s what created them, it’s weird that they’re still visible to some people.

We’re left with a weird mystery, on par with “Are they stuck in a time loop?” and “Why the fuck did Zack Snyder put Sean Spicer in this movie?” but it seems like we won’t know what’s up with the white dots until Netflix spills the proverbial beans. One thing’s for certain, though: Snyder potentially now has an excuse to rerelease a new version of Army Of The Dead that fixes these problems… a “Snyder Cut,” if you will, and we are pumped