Technology



THE DIGITAL AGE

A renewed interest in film realism influenced motion picture technology during and after World War II. In order to afford greater versatility and mobility, filmmakers took to using smaller cameras that could shoot on location without tripods or heavy equipment. Shortly after World War II, director Morris Engel (1918–2005), whose low-budget films shot in New York City would later influence John Cassavetes, helped Charlie Woodruff

Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954) was one of the best films to be released in 3-D.
construct a portable 35mm camera that prefigured the Steadicam. By the middle of the 1950s, cinematographer Richard Leacock (b. 1921) and sound recording specialist D. A. Pennebraker (b. 1925) innovated a portable 16mm synchronized-sound camera that rested on the operator's shoulder. These light and highly mobile sync-sound cameras were instrumental in renewing a movement in documentary filmmaking during the 1960s. Filmmakers such as Shirley Clark, Robert Drew, and Frederick Wiseman helped popularize the 16mm cameras, which were famously used in productions such as Primary (1960) and High School (1968). Thanks to new developments in film technology, and inspired by new waves of filmmaking around the world, including Italian neorealism and cinéma vérité, handheld cinematography became not only feasible but also popular in both documentary and narrative movie production.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the Steadicam offered a new means of shooting handheld while maintaining steadiness of image. The Steadicam is a mount that stabilizes the camera by isolating it from all but the cinematographer's largest movements. In addition to absorbing shocks from movement, the mount also continually keeps the camera at its center of gravity. The Steadicam enabled filmmakers to shoot in tight spaces and accomplish difficult shots (such as circulars, extensive pans, and crowd scenes), while providing a degree of steadiness previously attained only by dolly shots or zooms. More recently, Hi-8 cameras, camcorders, and digital cameras have increased personal (and occasionally professional) handheld filmmaking practices. Director Martin Scorsese and his cinematographer Michael Chapman used the Steadicam quite effectively in a famous sequence in Raging Bull (1980), in which the camera follows Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) as he winds through a throng of fans and reporters on his way to the boxing ring.

Computer- and digital-based filmmaking technologies have picked up where the Steadicam left off, allowing for even greater portability and image steadiness. In addition, these new technologies are able to heighten special effects, intermix digital or virtual domains with live action, convey scale, and reduce the labor necessary in setting up difficult shots and constructing complex settings. Indeed, the new age of cinema signals the end of perforated film strips, 35mm cameras, and editing methods that have remained largely the same since motion pictures were born. While many of these changes are yet to be standardized and institutionalized, the technology has been around in some form since the early 1980s.

Disney's Tron (1982) was the first movie to include high-resolution digital imagery, but it did so sparingly. Several years later, in 1989, James Cameron took the technology to a new level, intermixing live action and computer graphics in The Abyss . Cameron proved that computer-generated imagery (CGI) could add complex yet realistic special effects while remaining cost-effective (Cook, p. 955). Cameron's success invited further experimentation with digital technologies. Since the early 1990s, many productions have implemented CGI in some form. Robert Zemeckis, in Forrest Gump (1994), blended virtual history (past US presidents, for instance) with live action. Cameron created digital replicas of Miami as background in True Lies (1994). In Star Wars: Episode 1, The Phantom Menace (1999), George Lucas's crew shot every scene with computer-generated technology, simulating entire battle sequences with digitally designed extras multiplied to fill the screen. These effects are especially suitable for action-adventure films, of course, but they are being increasingly used across genres to reduce costs and save labor time.

Like previous phases of film technology, the digital age of cinema has had to weigh the advantages of spectacle with more practical matters of efficiency, economy, and realism. Digital technology has also resurrected stereoscopic filmmaking. After the success of IMAX 3-D in the 1990s, James Cameron's Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), a documentary on the Titanic, and Steven Spielberg's digitally animated The Polar Express (2004) both played on IMAX's giant screens. Directors Lucas and Cameron have also explored a new 3-D process in which technicians can render flat films stereoscopic using digital means. This conversion process would be applicable not only to newly made films but also to reissues of previously released movies. The technology is in place for both the conversion and projection of digital 3-D, but theaters will need first to make the conversion to digital projection, which will be the next costly—but perhaps inevitable—overhaul.

SEE ALSO Camera ; Camera Movement ; Cinematography ; Color ; Early Cinema ; Exhibition ; Film History ; Pre-cinema ; Silent Cinema ; Sound ; Special Effects ; Theaters

Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 . New York: Columbia University Press,1985.

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film . 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1996.

Dickson, W. K. L., and Anita Dickson. History of theKinetograph, Kinetoscope, and Kineto-Phonograph . New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2000.

Salt, Barry. Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis . 2nd ed. London: Starword, 1992.

Drew Todd



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