Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Man Behind the Curtain

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Man Behind the Curtain

Article excerpt

The story of the Wizard of Oz holds a lesson for all of us as we face the awe-inspiring pyrotechnics of the burgeoning Digital Age. When Toto pulls the curtain and reveals the Mighty Oz frantically turning handles and dials, Dorothy and her friends stop shaking with fear, and ultimately everybody gets what they want. If Toto hadn't pulled the curtain, they all might have just walked away. Regarding technology with excessive awe isn't good for anything, except maybe the egos of the 'knob twiddlers.'

I'm not trying to understate the importance of the technical developments. I've been using computers to help make moving images since the nascent stages of digital postproduction in the mid-'80s. I've found the growth of technology incredibly exciting and rewarding. Problems arise, however, when technology starts substituting for ideas.

There's no question that the movie industry will have to confront this dilemma, as have the music, commercial and promotional industries in recent years. An awful lot of digital mediocrity has come out of those industries over the past decade. Then again, some pearls have also been produced, invariably by creative people who have taken the trouble to understand the new technology, and who realize that unless they master the technology, the technology will master them.

The logistical and cost-saving applications of digital imaging forfilm production are seemingly endless. For example, an epic film need not have an epic budget when 100 extras in period costume can be cloned to 100,000; Ancient Rome can be constructed inside a $120,000 computer. Running into overtime waiting for the perfeet sky becomes profligate when the perfect sky can be placed into the shot in postproduction. Placing an actor or even a stunt person close to an explosion becomes irresponsible when seamless matting can produce the same, if not more dramatic, results. And what is the point in amassing a dozen brutes outside a cathedral's windows when the same effects can be achieved in four hours at a workstation?

The manifold ways a film is conceived, produced, budgeted, directed, lit, designed and edited will all be affected by the digital revolution. New movie genres will develop and older, neglected genres like the epic could be revived.

My work involves a wide spectrum of digital imaging applications, from creating a sports crowd of thousands performing coordinated card flips to enhancing the highlight in a child's eye. As with all special effects, one staunch criterion overrules all else: the audience should neither see nor sense the processes by which the images were made. …

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