Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Taming of Technology

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Taming of Technology

Article excerpt

This is the second installment of a new department, "Persistence of Vision. " In it, the most respected and experienced filmmakers of the television commercial field discuss broad artistic issues, impart insight, and reveal the philosophies that drive their success in that specialized and influential area of the industry.

This month's byline is that of Robert M. Greenberg, of R/Greenberg Associates. In the months ahead, watch for columns by Jim Edwards, Henry Sandbank and others.

Cinematographers are visual storytellers. They create images to convey a mood, point of view or sense of place. Above all, they create images to provoke a response. The film technology they employ to meet their creative goals, however, is taken for granted by the people affected by the power of their craft. The focus is not on what is used to communicate but on the idea behind it.

In visual effects, especially in the digital domain, the focus often has been the opposite. When advances in technology lead to new techniques, this tends to redirect creative goals. As with morphing, people search for ways to use the latest technique just for the sheer newness of it. This begs the question of who is in the driver's seat, the idea or the technology?

But digital imaging and attitudes towards it are maturing. There is increasing recognition that even the most sophisticated visual effects techniques are best used to tell a story, not be the story.

In a recent Kodak Olympic commercial produced by R/Greenberg Associates for Young & Rubicam, a multi-cultural stadium crowd lifts up cards to form monumental photographic images of athletes and special family moments. It is a great event - only it never happened. What would have been cost-prohibitive to produce using live action only - imagine the time it would take to rehearse a stadium full of people flipping cards in unison - became possible through the magic of computer animation and digital postproduction.

The concept made this commercial successful and visual effects made it possible. The effects were used as a transparent solution to a creative problem, not to dazzle the audience with technical virtuosity for its own sake.

For the diet Coke campaign that teams present-day superstars with Hollywood's legends - Elton John with Bogie, Cagney, and Satchmo, and Paula Abdul with Gary Grant, Gene Kelly and Groucho Marx - an idea originated by Lintas:New York led to technical innovation. Stars from another era were brought back for an encore by seamlessly merging them with contemporary contexts. …

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