Army of the Dead: Dead Pixels Fiasco Explained

What's going on with the dead pixels and dreamy blur effect in Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead? Here's what we know.

Army of the Dead Dave Bautista
Photo: Netflix

This Army of the Dead article contains spoilers.

You’ve probably heard by now: Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead is a carnival of horrors. Intelligent zombies known as “alphas” feast on human flesh but also procreate. Las Vegas is overrun by a massive horde of the undead and is walled off, leaving survivors trapped inside. And the heroes might be stuck in a time loop, with the Devil as their master.

But for some viewers, even those scares pale in comparison to the movie’s most terrifying moment: the dead pixels on the screen during select scenes that will make you think your expensive 4K TV is damaged. Indeed, this minor camera flub has become a major talking point among the movie’s biggest fans as well as its detractors. To most audience members (including this writer), the broken pixels scattered like meta easter eggs throughout the film probably won’t be noticeable at all, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments that’ll hardly distract from the zombie tiger ripping people’s faces off. Yet, for others, it bears discussion.

Snyder, who’s known for major blockbuster spectacles like his recent four-hour superhero epic, Justice League, has earned a reputation over the years as a filmmaker who is extremely meticulous about his shots, whether he’s adapting a famous moment from a comic book panel or overtly embedding Christian imagery into a scene. So it’s a little surprising that the dead pixels in Army of the Dead seemed to go unnoticed until viewers saw them for themselves.

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But it’s unlikely this was a result of a lack of attention to detail. Some have blamed the streaming service itself for the weird visual glitch too, but the dead pixels might actually been a side effect of the unconventional camera and lens setup that Snyder chose for his second zombie movie.

While it’s clear that Army of the Dead isn’t boasting quite the same budget as Snyder’s DC superhero movie outings, the director’s highly-stylized camera work is still on full display throughout, especially when it comes to the dreamy depth of field employed for many scenes. Games Radar dug into how Snyder managed to create the out-of-focus “blur” effect you see throughout the movie, and came up with two answers: his use of the Canon 50mm f/.0.95 lens and his decision to not use a “stop” on the lens which caused it to get “overwhelmed by light sources.”

“The lenses were these Canon Dream lenses that were built in the 1960s,” Snyder elaborated in an interview with Cinema Blend. “Consumer lenses. They open to a .95, so a really thin depth of field. That creates that thin, dreamlike, out-of-focus [imagery]. And the cameras were Red Monstros. … They’re from Red camera. Incredible cameras. I’m going to use them again, whenever I can. They’re just really amazing. So yeah, sophisticated, and this weird combination of super-high tech and super-low tech, and that feels like my wheelhouse. Taking the most high-tech thing and getting it dirty.”

Unfortunately, despite the top-of-the-line 8K camera, dead pixels still managed to sneak into a few shots, possibly due to the way light was hitting the much older lens. A Twitter users screen grabbed specific scene where the pixels were the most obvious:

Could these broken pixels have been corrected in post-production? Not necessarily, a VFX expert told Variety: “If auto-processing was not available for the given camera settings or was turned off to keep the workflow as ‘analog’ as possible, it would likely preserve these dead pixels.”

Basically, the damage may have already been done while filming and there was nothing to be done while editing the movie. But worth it for the film’s unique visual style?

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Army of the Dead is streaming now on Netflix.