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Cinematography: Expanded Cinematography

 

To understand the modern image-making processes requires continuous educational updating.

By Yuri Neyman, ASC
Director of Photography
Founding Partner, Global Cinematography Institute, Los Angeles

During the last few years, the role of imagery in films became much more pronounced and very distinct from the imagery of the end of the 20th century. New technologies and new forms of relationships and interdependence between traditional cinematography, art direction, visual effects, the new “virtual cinematography” and pre-visualization create new kinds of imagery.

Yuri Neyman, ASC teaches students about the lighting for virtual productions involving complex compositing technologies.
Yuri Neyman, ASC teaches students about the lighting for virtual productions involving complex compositing technologies.

The Academy Awards winners for both Cinematography and Visual Effects clearly illustrate the issue. It is not a coincidence that for the last four years the Oscars for both awards were given to the same films – Avatar, Inception, Hugo, and Life of Pi. This trend is a strong confirmation and an acceptance of the new artistic and technical paradigm that has emerged, thanks to developments in technology and appreciation of different forms of traditional artistic and aesthetical values.

This phenomenon is changing not only the role of traditional cinematography but redefines the concepts of cinematography and cinematographer as a whole. Traditionally, since the conception of the film as an art form and the concurrent development of related technologies, cinematography and imagery have been synonymous. While the profession has evolved, the cinematographer has continued to be the acknowledged visual contributor and trusted steward of the artistic style and technical quality of the film image.

Director of Photography?

This is what cinematographers started to call themselves in the 1930’s after the introduction of sound technology, and when the responsibilities of cinematographers became more complex. The DP became the almost monopolistic authority in the realm of all visual aspects and style of the images.

However, today and going forward, images in film will no longer be produced as the result of the traditional tools of cinematography. While cinematic principles regarding aesthetics and principles of creating meaningful images based on composition, light, color, and movement remain the same, the role of the traditional Director of Photography in the creation of the final image is going through many transformations.

The digital revolution, followed by the democratization of tools and the expansion of media, along with the exploding marketplace, continue to cause changes at an exponential rate. This has also led to an increase in the number of visual storytellers who don’t come from a traditional film-based background and education. These new storytellers come with an unbound motivation and energy, and have started and continue to modify, influence, and change the look and the entire aesthetics of modern image-making.

Images today seem to be influenced by video game stylistics and trends in social media, as well as traditional film images, art photography, or painting. As we can see from samples of Best Cinematography and Best VFX Academy Award winning movies, images have become more complex and loaded with a variety of multilayered pictorial, literary, and societal references and connotations. And what is more important, they are not produced only with the tools of traditional cinematography and photography.

Technology has changed

The technological trend of digitization and computerization of traditional film workflow started in the 1980’s with the replacement of linear editing with non-linear editing. This in turn led to the abandonment of print dailies in favor of the telecine transfer. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the industry embraced a non-linear, real-time pipeline for production. Assembly line phases are replaced with the mentality that what happens in any stage of production can directly affect prior or subsequent stages of production. Avatar is a good sample of this approach to film production.

Increased processing power and advances in capture and acquisition, and the continuous progress of sensor and camera technologies has put many talented artists and craftsmen into a difficult position as we transition into the new model of creative and innovative content. With technological advancement, and the numerous, ever-changing social and cultural trends abounding, the profession of cinematographers cannot leave the aesthetics of motion picture imagery intact in the old paradigm.

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC instructs students in “Feature Film Lighting.”
Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC instructs students in “Feature Film Lighting.”

When in 2011, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and I founded the Global Cinematography Institute (GCI), we have had all those considerations in mind. GCI embraces the new and evolving technologies. Our focus is on integrating new technology into the many arts and forms of storytelling and visual careers that exist today. This evolution plays, and will play, a critical role in our further development. It will affect why, how and what we learn, unlearn and relearn as we move forward.

Continuous education is a very characteristic part of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of 21st century – and beyond – society we live and work in today. This trend involves a fundamental reassessment of many previous understandings about art, technology, culture, communication, etc. All those many facts and factors mean we have to talk about the continuous education of cinematographers as a very necessary phenomenon which will help to avoid crises of many other professions and occupations. Education allows the cinematographer’s profession to expand into new areas, those that require visual literacy and an ability to express ideas via talent and technology.

During the next years, a few tendencies will pick up speed and remain to have enormous influences on the entertainment and motion picture industry, including cinematography and the people in those fields. A few key trends are: continuous technological advances, democratization of the access to the image creating tools, and the increased competition between new and old markets of image production, delivery and distribution.

The innovative technologies on the market already impact how work gets done in many areas of image-making – camera technologies, visual effects and post-production. As a result of those innovations, trends and tendencies, the new cinematography – what we call “Expanded Cinematography” – has become the combination of live and virtual cinematography.

Expanded Cinematography is a state of mind which is recasting the production process around creative choice rather than developing and working around barriers created by gaps in the ever evolving technical knowledge. It creates a new unity of art and technology, the conversion of existing crafts and the activities of cinematography, design, art direction, special effects, visual effects, virtual lighting, pre-visualization, as well as emerging visual practices. There must be further development of the cinematographer’s profession, making him or her a Cinematographer-Artist-Designer-Technologist who is able to comprehend and solve any tasks which modern production can put in front of them.

The aim is to unify all cinema image-making arts and crafts, to bring them together in the modern digital and virtual realms. GCI is an interdisciplinary school which already instructs at a very high level, and will continue in its role as the creative lab for visual professionals of different disciplines and specialties, e.g., directors, cinematographers, producers, visual FX artists, digital imaging technicians, Previs Supervisors, Photographers and many others.

We have observed the need for new subjects including career development, art history, the psychology of entertainment, the history of cinematography and special effects, all in order to discover and to explain past and current achievements, and to encourage and help create the path of creative thinking. The target is the awakening of the creative mind, to stimulate enthusiasm in achieving greatness in the visual design of moving images and related fields.

 


March 14, 2014