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Recent cinematic history includes advances in computer graphics and editing, stereoscopic imaging or 3D, motion capture, and sound recording, mixing and design. This chapter will demonstrate that film technology has developed based on a complex intersection of industrial and aesthetic factors, which include global and industrial economics, advances in other fields such as electronics and computing, shifts in audience expectations, and the needs of specific film productions as well as the preferences of filmmakers.
The first section of the chapter will present an overview of the phases of development for recent technology in cinema, and how these have been critically framed by theories of economics and culture. Subsequently, the focus will shift to a close analysis of three specific technological advances that influence film production and distribution today: m The first technology to be considered will be computer graphic imaging systems, which have been used to create innovative special effects sequences and computer animation, and which have influenced all aspects of the visual field from set design to colour.
The science fiction film District 9 , which explores issues of audio- visual as well as human-alien hybridism, serves as the case study for this section. The film Avatar , which serves as the case study in this section, has revitalised interest in 3D and pointed contemporary film in a new direction of imagining cinematic worlds in both depth and dimension.
These technologies have changed how filmgoers experience cinema by shifting expec- tations related to the variety of blockbuster genres, audio and visual design, spectacle and storytelling. These innovations have also contributed to current trends related to global production and distribution. Using a range of theoretical approaches from traditional film studies to scholarship in new media and technology, this chapter aims to provide a technologically informed context for the various critical perspectives presented throughout Introduction to Film Studies.
Anyone with a computer should be familiar with this process. In the digital age, technology companies have begun to respond quickly to user complaints and concerns with updates and redesigned versions of software often numbered 2. Within these broad phases, the path of development for a technology is never uniform. By contrast, in the classical Hollywood period, the film studios were vertically integrated with control of film production, distribution and exhibition.
This control allowed techno- logical advances such as sound, for instance, to be implemented on the set with the assurance that re-recording and playback accommodations would be made through the process of printing the sound on the film reel exhibiting it in the motion picture theatre. The path of implementation assured a sense of quality control within the studio system.
Following the breakup of the studio system, however, the chain of technological For further discussion invention, innovation and diffusion within the film industry broke down. Currently, new film technology makes its way into film production and exhibition through a variety of paths, from tradeshows to corporate collaborations.
Large trade shows such as ShoWest, Cinema Expo International, and CineAsia often feature educa- tional workshops and demonstrations of new products marketed specifically to the film theatre industry. It is at these trade shows that demonstrations of new digital and 3D exhibition technologies made their debut, as well as at film markets such as the Cannes Film Festival. But these are not simply consumer technologies that can be pulled off the shelf and sold; rather, they often involve customised installation and specialised training for filmmakers and operators.
With the development and integration of any technology, economic risks are inherent in the process, which has sometimes slowed the diffusion of new technologies. Over the next several years, when economic trends indicated higher grosses from digital screens, theatres began to convert, though not without substantial underwriting from the studios, which realised substantial cost savings because they no longer had to strike or ship celluloid prints. These projectors offer high contrast ratios, precise delivery resolution and ease of use and maintenance, and fit within the footprint of older film projectors, thus making conversion easier.
It should be noted that such technological development is never conducted in isolation. Behind the scenes, the major studios, theatre chains and global manufacturers work together to make their innovation and integration possible. This collaboration helps to avoid a chaotic marketplace filled with multiple technologies that cannot commu- nicate with one another.
Through forums, summits and meeting of professional groups like the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, various standards and practices have been established in all areas of film technology.
For example, the Digital Cinema Initiatives DCI — a joint venture between Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros — published various position papers and best practices to establish standards for audio and image encoding that addressed not only issues in the theatre, but also those related to broadcast technologies.
These specifica- tions, however, are by no means mandatory, and their integration into the system of exhibition is dependent on manufacturers, marketers and even audiences, who have been drawn into the process through communication forums such as surveys and mobile posts.
Media technophiles have also driven greater demand for new technology that interlinks voice and data, while providing access to media content and services. This process of synergy has become known as convergence, and continues to reshape media creation and delivery beyond the theatrical environment.
Technological development for motion pictures is also fostered by competitive collaborations between studios and high-tech labs and manufacturers, such as Dolby Laboratories, Sony and others. An image of one of the popular brands of digital projectors NEC used in the ongoing conversion of theatres today. The technique harkens back to the first Vitaphone sound-on-disc systems of the s, presenting an excellent example of the cyclical nature of developments in film technology. Ultimately, the Dolby system, with its superior market share and the ability rapidly to integrate its processes into consumer technologies, became the dominant sound encoding and decoding system in the field and its influence will be examined more fully in the section on multichannel sound.
In the early s, Disney invented the multi-plane camera, which utilised staggered platens for cel animation, to create the illusion of depth in animated films like Pinocchio In the s, George Lucas encouraged his special effects company Industrial Light and Magic ILM to develop computer software that allowed the creation of digital characters for the Star Wars prequels — , while filmmaker James Cameron, director of Terminator 2: Judgment Day , Titanic and Avatar , has been personally instrumental in the development of underwater remote filming technologies for both 2D and 3D imaging.
These technologies were first developed to capture the documentary footage used in Titanic and later fostered the production of several IMAX films based on undersea topics, specifically Bismark and Ghosts of the Abyss More recently, computer technology has made its way onto the sets of many films, in part driven by economic factors to lower production costs.
Paradoxically, with the integration of more computer technology into the filmmaking process, the cost of film production has grown greater and greater, in part due to expanding global markets, but also as a result of audience demands and expectations. If the phases of technological development and integration are never uniform, they are also not bound by predetermined rules of use. Manufacturers and studios have been unable to dictate or limit the specific uses of new technology.
For example, the same computer technol- ogies that have made it easier to record, edit and distribute digital films have also made these films more vulnerable to pirating, sampling and remediation. Everyone it seems can be a filmmaker or distributor, if they have the latest consumer editing software on their personal computer.
Despite complex encryption protocols during postproduction, pirated digital versions of films often show up on peer-to-peer networks nearly to the day they are released in theatres, and sometimes well before their premiers as was the case with X-Men Origins: Wolverine In addition, fans engage in mash-ups, parodies and slash versions of their favourite films and post them on YouTube. The consequences of remediation are by no means entirely negative in economic terms.
Remediated content often expands the mythologies and cultural significance of the original property, and provides fans with a sense of agency or control over the story worlds they have come to love. The notion of the singular inventor, however, is challenged by the fact that each was working in a time period that was steeped in developments from other fields, such as chemistry, engineering and physics, all of which contributed to the invention of cinema.
These inventors were therefore not alone. A host of artists, scientists, engineers and craftspeople assisted in the process of creating cameras, film stock, sound and projection systems, and cinema as a mode of production was dependent on producers, directors, writers, technicians and the many individuals listed on film credits. Technological determinism presents a much broader theoretical question: Does the technology itself drive the aesthetic output of a particular period in history and by extension the expectations of society and culture?
This critical approach suggests that technology determines what is possible within an art form and that in some measure personal agency and freedom of the artist is lost in the process of use. Science fiction films such as THX , Terminator 2: Judgment Day and I, Robot present this approach in the extreme as humanity embraces robotic technology as a kind of saviour, only to become enslaved by these mechanised creations.
Popular media outlets, from news programmes to magazines, have co-opted the vocabulary of techno- logical determinism without examining the underlying limitations of the approach.
It is highly problematic to draw direct lines between the use of a technology and its social effect because this would ignore the web of interrelated influences, from economics to cultural context, involved in a technologies use.
It also fails to address the fact that just because a technology exists this does not mean that a filmmaker or consumer will use it. Currently, we see a trend in which some film artists are reverting to older techniques of mechanical special effects, sound recording formats and make-up as a kind of backlash to the use of computer generated images and sounds. For example, filmmaker Christopher Nolan and his crew limited the use of computer generated effects in his film Inception , and instead engaged the use of wiring rigs, rotating sets and slow motion photography for the action set pieces in the film.
A similar backlash is forming around 3D releases as well, particularly around films that are converted to 3D after being conceived and shot for a 2D release.
Finally, technology in cinema can also be considered in terms of economics. Within these models, technology is understood and evaluated in relation to market needs and values. But in many ways, like the notions of determinism, this scope of inquiry can be limiting if not contextualised within cultural and creative contexts.
To their detriment, these approaches often proceed with the underlying assumption that industries and markets move in ways that are self-sustaining and perpetually seeking advancement in regard to their market share. The history of the film industry like many industries , however, is replete with examples of poor business decisions, the embrace of inferior technologies, and simple human self-interest and greed over the basic needs of a company or the marketplace.
For example, economics does not always account for the rejection of superior technology in the marketplace. Unexpected adoption patterns plagued the introduction of DVDs and Blu-ray formats as well. Ultimately, when considering technology within a critical framework, it is perhaps best to consider a multifaceted approach, which reflects a balance of theories of technology, economics and social considerations, as outlined above.
C omputer graphic imaging systems One of the most transformative technologies to be introduced to contemporary cinema is not a single technology at all, but rather a host of convergent technologies related to computer imaging systems.
These emerge in the form of computer hardware, software applications and input devices such as touchpads and pens. Computer graphic imaging systems come in a multiplicity of configurations and platforms, and are often tailored to support the particular needs of a production. Over the past two decades, these systems have transformed the visual field of films, television programmes, commercials and video games through the creation of computer generated images or CGI.
Using these workstations, graphic artists control data to design images and forms in 2D and 3D and to establish simulated environments. For example, Image Engine, a special effects company based in British Columbia, used various computer programs to create the 3D wireframe models of the aliens in District 9 These digital creatures were covered with various textured surfaces based on insects and bugs, and then placed within the context of the live-action footage that was shot on location in South Africa, creating a realistic composite that evokes the futuristic and the uncanny effects of the film.
With pixels and programs that simulate physical phenomena, a dead moon became a planet in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan , and dinosaurs came to life in Jurassic Park Traditional visual effects production involves a host of techniques and technologies to create cinematic trickery. Some of the most common techniques are the use of small and large-scale models, matt paintings, stop- motion modelling, fire and explosive effects, and make-up and prosthetic appliances for creature effects.
The processes to create these effects, however, are often labour intensive — involving long hours of design and manufacture before going in front of the camera. In addition, numerous duplicates must be created for repeated takes, especially when dealing with disaster sequences like those found in Earthquake or Towering Inferno Over the past three decades, special effects houses such as Pacific Data Images, Industrial Light and Magic, Weta and Pixar began to experiment with computer technology as a means of creating effects within virtual environments.
This technology is by no means limited to special effects, but extends to virtual lighting, camera motion effects and even set design and digital make-up. Early examples produced from the technology can be seen in such films as Tron , The Abyss , Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Forrest Gump as well as more recent film such as the Lord of the Ring series —3 , the Star Wars prequels — and Avatar CGI technology has had a profound impact on our understanding of film form.
The visual spectacles created with this technology have become part of the narrative For further discussion on dynamics of the blockbuster. It is Chapter Pixar is perhaps the most familiar studio in this regard, producing feature-length animated films such as Toy Story , Monsters Inc.
Initially, when computer generated images were introduced into films, they often stood out because of their crude design or limited ability to integrate with the live-action footage. In a film like The Last Starfighter , the digitally rendered spacecraft were boxy and geometric, and because of the screen capture methods, they were steeped in a bluish hue that caused them to separate from their backdrops when combined with live-action shots.
The initial integration did not quite fit in the context of the story world. Does the scope for the kind of transmutation of the visual field that might make an effect special even exist once a film begins to be made over in the mode of an animated feature?
Pierson —3 The following case study of District 9 gives an example of this re-imagining of the visual field and the resultant shifts in critical reception.
An Introduction to Film Studies
An Introduction to film studies / edited by Jill Nelmes.
This completely revised and updated fifth edition guides students through the key issues and concepts in film studies, traces the historical development of film and introduces some of the worlds key national cinemas. A range of theories and theorists are presented from Formalism to Feminism, from Eisenstein to Deleuze. Each chapter is written by a subject specialist, including two new authors for the fifth edition. A wide range of films are analysed and discussed. It is lavishly illustrated with film stills and production shots, in full colour throughout. Reviewed widely by teachers in the field and with a foreword by Bill Nichols, it will be essential reading for any introductory student of film and media studies or the visual arts worldwide. Jill Nelmes is a senior lecturer at the University of East London.
Introduction to Film Studies
An Introduction to Film Studies. An Introduction to Film Studies has established itself as the leading textbook for students of cinema. This revised and updated third edition guides students through the key issues and concepts in film studies, and introduces some of the world's key national cinemas including British, Indian, Soviet and French. Written by experienced teachers in the field and lavishly illustrated with over film stills and production shots, it will be essential reading for any student of film.