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August 01, 2006



Digital has transformed the way things happen on the back end too. I work in visual effects, and we're constantly adjusting everything from color and composition to timing, framing and lighting of shots. If the director doesn't get what he or she wants in live shooting, we make it up on our computers and comp it in. We replace actors, backgrounds, everything. The great thing is that a director can keep changing things until he gets what he wants. The bad thing, of course, is that a director can keep changing things until he gets what he wants.

Ronald Wielink

The same (going digital changes everything) is true for amateur still photography. When using analog film, you shot sparingly because you only had 24 or 36 exposures on your film and it would cost effort and money to develop them. You also asked people to pose, in the sense of "everybody please smile and look this way 'cause I'm going to take a picture". Now you just shoot away and delete what you don't like, either immediately after shooting or at home at you PC. Or keep what you don't like as well since storage seems infinite as well. The results (at least in my case): more "natural" pictures, with some true gems, but a lot of garbage as well.


I've always assumed that the move to digital is part of the reason movies have gotten longer over the past decade. Since the editing process has become so digitized (even if it's over film), and thus much more simplier to manipulate, there's much less cost of adding more and more to a film. And that's not even counting the additional takes to be had.

Overall, I think it's been a development for the worse, with very good directors drowning in their own footage and excess. Hopefully that will change.


To Mike's point, I think the initial effect of "going digital" on the film industry will be a dip in mean quality of product; until directors really learn what works and what doesn't, they will naturally over- and under-do certain techniques.

When stereo became available to the recording industry, some (in-retrospect) hideous things were done just because they could be. (Some Beatles tracks are much improved by listening in mono.) Ditto with synthesizsers.

Long term, the advantages of digital will win out as the "best practices" become common knowledge.

And maybe, just maybe, George Lucas and all the wannabes will learn the value of good editors....

Mister Snitch!

To build sets for Batman Begins, they grabbed a bunch of Canon cameras and photographed Chicago buildings within an inch of their lives, virtually 'scanning' a number of blocks. They digitally captured and then reproduced the buildings they wanted (and left out the ones they didn't). I'd never heard of just flooding a set design with authentic detail that way.


My brother has worked on several all-digital films in the art department. It has made their job both easier and harder. Sets have to look better, since some flaws that film tends to obliterate will show up on video. (This has been doubly true for HD TV shows, BTW.) It is easier in that they can touch up goofs and digitally add in period items that are too expensive to rent or fabricate.

As for how the directors use digital - if they were sloppy with how much they shot before it gets worse. One of the directors he works with is famous for fast shooting. He plans out every shot so that he has the fewest set-ups, can place cameras to get the coverage he needs in fewer takes, and then does quick replays to see if what was shot is what he needs. At night, he edits the day's footage so that if reshoots are needed, they know by the next day.

He is able to do films much cheaper than the typical director - in part because he can get expensive stunts in fewer takes and in part because he can negotiate lower fees from expensive actors by requiring less of their time. In effect, he has taken the lessons of doing TV and applied them to features.


Wait ... "He appeared via hologram"?

Are you actually saying they set up a still, pre-recorded white-light hologram on the podium while he narrated?


There one other consequence of digital post production: it's making the "old" film professions (directors, DP's, even makeup) farking LAZY.

Over the last few years, I've noticed that the percentage of work in VFX that is just tedious cleaning up from poorly produced footage is increasing. I know of a company which deliberately overbid a major feature trailer because it had been shot so poorly -- cables all over the place, extras standing around, a few even eating lunch, ALL in frame -- and yet they STILL got the job.

I know of another major feature, still playing in theaters now, where digital artists were doing a ridiculous amount of cosmetic work -- e.g. freckle removal.

The common theme running through all that is "Oh well, we'll just fix it in post."

The irony of all that is that this is just hastening the demise of those professions. If we keep doing it in post -- and doing it better -- we'll just end up replacing them (or at least eating most of their lunch), just like we did the model makers, pyro and stuntmen.


It goes even further. Video Game engines allo9w individuals or teams ot 2-3 people to produce full movies. While the graphics are not there yet, in about 6 years, a Toy Story-type movie will be producable by 3 people with a budget of $500K. This is called Machinima.

A fascinating article about this is here.


What's so wrong-headed about this analysis is that film represents a very small percentage of the costs on most productions. It's a negligible marginal cost, not a "loaded gun" pointed at the profit & loss statement.


This is supposed to convince me digital is about containing costs? ROFL

"For one movie set in the 1970s, one of the panelists said, 'We shot on real streets and then spent a half-million dollars erasing Starbucks from every fucking shot.'"


magic is neither good nor bad, it is simply powerful...

this is what will be learned from going digital, the same way it is learned as still commercial photography goes/went digital. Some people will use the best parts of digital, and others will drown in the overabundance of it. The key is that the discipline will have to come from within the film-maker, rather than from external constraint... now if we can just figure out how to teach discipline to people... [hmmm, the name Lucas just popped into my mind, I wonder why?]



digital can be insanely cheaper than film if utilized correctly. of course, if you just postpone all your fixes to post you'll spend more money there. but if you shoot smart and use the media and vfx intelligently, you can do amazing things for a lot less than film.

btw, do you know if they used this technology for the holograph?


Dexter Westbrook

I suspect those little jars of urine around Robert Downey's chair were for his drug tests, not because the director wouldn't let him go to the bathroom.

Steve Herman

The conundrum of democratization is that, in general, most people want equality of opportunity, but a hierarchy of results. In the "old" system, the problem is that the hierarchy or results (a) created a caste system in many respects re opportunity and (b) didn't seem to be very reliable in terms of actually selecting, generating, producing, etc the "best" stuff. The problem with the "Long Tail", on the other hand, is that while opportunity appears greatly expanded, viz-a-vis basic "success", the opportunity for true "greatness" seems diminished, along with the "universal consciousness" of shared images, characters, etc. - (These and similar issues are addressed in various ways in "Democracy in the Arts" and other pieces on www.gravierhouse.com.) - So, in this context, for example: There are so many performances, so much raw footage, so many films, that isolating, identifying, distributing, consuming, appreciating, etc. that one truly great piece of acting becomes an almost impossible task. (Not only from a practical standpoint, but, perhaps, existentially.) - That's my two cents at least.

Mike Walsh

When sound was introduced to movies, the fluid camera work of the late silents was lost for several years, due to such problems as insensitive microphones and noisy cameras. Things didn't get better until less revolutionary technical developments such as better mics and blimped cameras were invented. Right now we are dealing with unintended fallout from digital "filming", such as overly long takes or murky colors. The upside is that the cost savings, while unimportant in big budget movies, are important in smaller, character driven productions. Just as the painter's choice of medium (ie watercolors vs. oils) change the kind of painting they create, eventually a concensus will be reached on how the new systems are used.

Mike Zeares

"Are you actually saying they set up a still, pre-recorded white-light hologram on the podium while he narrated?"

The podium is a hologram tank. The guy stands in another tank in a studio. He can see the audience, they can see him. All in real-time, and in full color. Texas governor Rick Perry demonstrated this technology with some Texas Instruments guys a few years ago.


Mike Zeares, thanks for the info. I googled, and that system, by Teleportec, is not holography or even 3D in any true sense. It's basically a teleconferencing system with glorified teleprompters. The other system mentioned above by Io2technology is not 3D either, but it seems to project its image onto some sort of condensation layer in thin air, which sounds pretty cool.
True holograpic projection will require capturing, transmitting, and reproducing the optical wavefront in real-time, including phase. We're not quite there yet.


I think it's odd that movie directors are discussing actors freezing up when the film cameras start to roll. As if there weren't, in fact, actors who begin acting on a stage when the curtain goes up. That, my friend, is being put on the spot, wouldn't you say? Maybe it's that particular pressure that produces the finest actors.


Hi Chris...I liked this post so much that I have literally copied the last paragraph and the photo and posted it my blog (https://prakashsayeth.wordpress.com/2006/08/11/wow-has-technology-come-this-far/). I hope it is okay...if it is not, please let me know and I will take them down from my blog.


Charles Scalfani

Digital like any technology is just a tool. As with any tool, it can be misused. Discipline must never be abandon in light of a new tool. The tool, if it is worth anything, will free the craftsman from the mundane aspects of the job freeing them to concentrate on the human, creative element, the thing that no machine can do (yet) for us.

Acting teacher Los Angeles

digital filming has gone a long way but that doesn't mean all the movies that we will see in next five to ten years will be all digital. I know digital is much cheaper than a film but i don't think that will be the end of using a film. It's good to see directors are open for topics like this. I've watched the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and i love the visual effects. A real pioneer.


xmas gifts

Hi thanks for the very nice post. It is simply awesome. I know of a company which deliberately overbid a major feature trailer because it had been shot so poorly -- cables all over the place. Thanks for sharing.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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