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Since cinema was born, it has been redefined lots of times for last 10 decades due to lots of new skills, tools and techniques were introduced and they were accepted to new production of cinema. Nowadays, computer media redefine the very identity of cinema but it also has brought the crisis of cinema’s identity. According to French film artist Christian Metz, most of film shots in 1970s tell a story in one same genre whether they are good or bad, original or not, ‘commercial or not. However, the effect of computerization based on 3-D computer animation and digital compositing on cinema creates its super genre. It is threatening the common feature of cinema which is relied on lens based recording reality.
Cinema usually pursuit recording reality and naturalism what happens to be in front of the camera. So, cinema was called ‘the index of the art’. But, since it was possible to modify films from the stage of the post-production process in nineteenth century, when images were hand painted and animated, to the filmmaking process with digital techniques in the twentieth century, cinema cannot be distinguished from animation anymore. Also, it is no longer called as the index of the art but it is now understood as subgenre of painting.
In the reading of ‘Digital Cinema and the History of a Moving Image’ written by Lev Manovich, he develops the argument in two stages. He first follows the history of developing techniques for creating moving images in nineteenth century to twentieth century cinema and animation. And then, he arrives that a variety of computer software are currently replacing tradition film technologies redefining the definition of digital cinema.
To understand how cinema has been redefined, we have to look at the history of cinema first. According to his reading, cinema which was used to be named as Kinetoscope, cinematograph and moving pictures was understood from its birth as the art of motion, the art that finally succeeded in creating a convincing illusion of dynamic reality. Hand-painted and hand drawn images showed by magic-lantern were used for cinema techniques till 1985s. The real cinema was born when photography met the motor in the last decade of nineteenth century, but the objects on the screen were the same size and moving at the same speed. However, since that time, the moving image techniques such as loops intensified movement of images.
This nineteenth century moving image techniques set the foreground for twentieth century animation. In twentieth century, animation was aligned to the graphic than photographic and it allowed animation to alter motion, detailed background and space constructed from separate image layers. Because of these changes by animation, cinema which had maintained capturing realities on film also has started image alteration as animation using rear-projection and blue screen photography, matt painting and glass shots, mirrors and miniatures, push development, optical effects, and other techniques.
In 1996, Hollywood industry employed computer generated special effect into the commercial film, it was a start of digital filmmaking. A traditional film making is redefined by the role of digital media not only in Hollywood but also the whole filmmaking industry. Digital filmmaking is now creating all images and objects by 3-D computer animation without filming physical reality. Moreover, as long as the live footage is digitized, it is nothing more than raw material for compositing. Therefore, film based media are not essential for a film making now. In this point, the author defines digital cinema is a particular case of animation as well as the moving image also becomes a part of animation.
Twentieth century avant-garde filmmaking also could not avoid the influence of digital revolution on cinema. Because the notion of avant-garde cinema was thought as painting, so it was easy to be combined with animation. Finally, avant-garde became a design technology for digital filmmaking.
The value of cinema is recording documents of reality. However, it is being replaced with developed filmmaking skills and tools such as 3-D animation and special effect techniques by computer. Therefore, the role of cinema is not only capturing and store visible images as a media technology but it is also constructing images in twentieth century and cinema realism is being an option of digital filmmaking among many from the dominant mode.
He also argues that cinema becomes a code in a computer age. New cinematic forms such as the genre of music video and video game have been introduced to commercial cinema, since hardware and software of computer started developing. These new visual languages were tending to emulate traditional cinema. An interface to narrative taking place in 3-D place was cinema language but it is encoded in the interfaces to all forms of computer data and media. Finally, new media now occupy the centre of the cultural forms and language. Because of that, the celluloid form of film is disappearing themselves, distribution culture is changing from off-line to on-line, and the way of filming is being remediated.
I understood the reading of his point as the notion of cinema does not only seem to be redefined but it is also dismissing itself due to cinema realism is merged to digital cinema as an option of animation, and computer generated technologies for filmmaking is now entirely embedded in cinema. This is obvious that digital computer technology on cinema is not only used for the special effect such as the flying leaf in the first shot of ‘Forest Gump’, but it is now a dominant option for contemporary filmmaking. For instance, the actual filming of ‘Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (Lucas.1999)’ took only sixty five days, but post-production which 95% of footage covered by computer construction took more than 2 years. Moreover, the most popular film in 2010 ‘Avatar’, it would be impossible to create character, the virtual places and lots of props, if they did not use digital technologies. In the contemporary film industry, digital technology is unavoidable and it is called a certified check of box-office.
This is sad but true. The contemporary film has got a variety of genre. There is no need to talk about new media technologies are dominant on film genres of science fiction and fantasy. However, even filmmaking for other genres which are commonly popular to audiences are still telling the story of human being and human stories such as romance, comedy, thriller, drama and et cetera employ special effects by computer generating is being used for some part of those films, or it is creating realistic images and backgrounds.
Moreover, digitised film is not only the converted version of celluloid film which makes editing much conveniently and faster, and it costs much cheaper but it is also the way of distribution. Processing of cutting out and paste digitised frames on timeline of the digital editing programme seems to be similar to the traditional film editing process but producers and editors can handle much faster with lots of shortcut key and special function of the editing programmes, and they make easier to modify images, add graphics and paint directly on films. Therefore, the avant-garde cinema even could move to combine digital cinema technology.
Since digitised films started paying on the computer screen and home theatre system, audiences does not want to get bothered to be in a queue to buy and get into the cinema anymore, and we can only pay $2-20 for downloading a film from online website whatever how many times we watch it (Cost helper.com 2011). Moreover, In UK, Digital Screen Network (DSN) supported new facilities for digital cinema system in 211 screens out of a total of just over 3300 screens in the UK across country because digital technology was seen to more cost effective and logistics-light. It is cheaper and much less stressful to send films as computer files across the UK than deliver many tins of films in the back of vans (Sin D. 2004).
However, cinema realism is being displaced from the dominant mode to merely one option among many as he mentioned. But I would say, cinema realism is being eliminated now, not even an option. According to the notion of cinema when it was born, it was art of motion and creating a convincing illusion of dynamic reality which was supposed to be maintained as the cultural form. But this has not been redefined but actually devastated. Colours, dynamic range and image quality on digitised film could not be presented properly as well as which are on traditional celluloid film. Film records and reproduces a broader range of colour such as deep red or reddish orange which it cannot be well presented in digital film because all colours and images encoded as codes so they which could not be converted to codes cannot be presented on the screen. This is important to present a reality of cinema. Moreover, film has an advantage in recording highlight. Film producers take for granted the fact that specular highlights and bright sunsets look the way they do in painting and on film, but digital has a huge problem with this. High Definition technique also has been employed to digital film industry, but it is still not enough to present the reality rather than recording in 35mm celluloid film. As above these examples, digital technique in digital cinema cannot be replaced a traditional film technique, but it is actually devastating the notion of cinema and eliminate cinema realism.
To sum up, digital innovation on cinema seems to be inevitable and lots of techniques have been already used for contemporary filmmaking. Thanks to these, virtual world where we have always dreamt could be presented on the screen and audiences are now able to watch their fantasies with their eyes. Special effects on films intensify the tension of narrative and bring lots of material for the story. However, the identity of cinema is possibly destroyed by technologies of digital cinema and audiences will be confused with the existence of a virtual world due to they will be only watching things created by computer graphics. The projector will be disappeared, and we cannot hear the sound of the projector rolling the film which we definitely will miss it.
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