Cinematography vs digital cinematography

SimonKJones ModeratorWebsite User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
NoFilmSchool (an excellent filmmaking resource) posted an interesting debate topic recently:
"Have Computer Generated Images Changed the Definition of Cinematography?"
The general argument is that films such as Gravity and Avatar are presented as ostensibly 'live action' films (ie, they're not marketed or thought of as animated features), yet the majority of their visuals are created using computers. This is in contrast to 'traditional' filmmaking, where a camera is used to capture an image of the 'real world'. The author is wondering whether this means a distinction should be made between the two.
This is complicated further when you consider examples which blend the two approaches (Gravity and Avatar being particularly extreme examples), such that they can't be easily defined. The Avengers and Iron Man 3 are predominantly live action, but both switch to animation for extended action sequences. Even outside of blockbusters, period films set in the 19th century will have a load of entirely CG shots to recreate the world.
Personally I come down on the side that there shouldn't be a distinction. All of filmmaking and cinematography is a trick and a lie, a fabrication using a mixture of lights, set dressing, locations, colour grading (whether chemical timing or digital), costume etc. Using different tools for that fabrication doesn't really matter to me.
What do you guys think?


  • Darren
    Darren Website User Posts: 164
    I agree with you Simon - no distinction in my mind since its all manipulation to create a look or mood.
  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Well, let's hope somebody disagrees with me or this is going to be the shortest offensive of all time 
  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,728 Ambassador
    While I'm watching a movie for the first time, if the intent of the director is to trick me into believing everything I see is real/realistic and he/she pulls it off by drawing me into that universe...whether appearing to be set in the real world (Gravity) or fantasy (Star Wars)....the more I enjoy them. I like elements that look real and not computer generated.
    After barely scratching the surface of understanding all that goes into a blockbuster myself, I see there is a lot to be said for a Yoda muppet over a CG Yoda. The muppet is more interactive and has more charm and character however, a muppet is physically restricted in what it can do. The CG Yoda, while lacking the former attributes, certainly is free to jump around and engage in battle......but he's not really there.
    I am leaning toward the idea that there should be two different catagories, as it seems to me, virtual cinematography requires much more technical skill to get things to look just right. Compositing an inanimate object into a scene is one thing, but producing something living and getting people to believe it's really there is a coup.
    I couldn't find any better example of this scene, unfortunately, but the Predator 'hounds' in the 2010 release, "Predators" captivated me in their every move. From skidding while trying to turn suddenly to getting struck down by a kill shot, they look and react exactly how you would expect a real animal would. I see my cats skid around corners all the time and they do (or reversed) remind me of the Predator hounds.
    Another argument could be that with traditional cinematography there are fewer chances to get something right i.e. the lighting at a certain time of day or having to actually blow up a building or vehicle. In vitual cinematography one has the opportunity to spend the neccessary time to get things pert near perfect.
    So it's a shame when, in a movie such a Elysium, they don't spend the time to composite the shuttles properly into a scene.
    So, I guess I believe there should be two catagories to cinematography as there is not only a destinction in the technical approach, but specific advantages and drawbacks to each path taken. I do think the virtual path is more difficult though, albeit easier on a budget. Why? 'Cause if it don't look at least somewhat real, you've lost me. ;) 
  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    I'm not sure either is necessarily easier than the other. They both have their own challenges.
    Photographing real life has the benefit of it being real, so you don't have to simulate a whole bunch of stuff, but at the same time you have VERY limited control over the environment, especially if you're on location. Even in a studio you're limited to what real lights do to real objects as seen through real glass.
    Digital renderings, on the other hand, provide complete control over every single aspect, but you don't get ANYTHING for free. If you're aiming for realism, then all of that realism has to be built from scratch. It's also worth noting that having complete control over everything doesn't necessarily mean it's 'easier'. When you have that much power it then becomes even more about discipline and knowing what not to do.
    It's a tricky one, as the aesthetic/artistic requirements are largely similar, but the technical/interface elements are massively different.
  • Triem23
    Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,969 Ambassador
    I don't know if I have anything to add to this (Shocking, since I'm long-winded and opinionated), since Simon and Stormy already seemed to hit most of the salient points.
    But I snuck in a "salient."
  • MichaelJames
    MichaelJames Website User Posts: 2,038 Enthusiast
    Here is a interesting documentary about film versus digital.  Its called Side by Side.  Its free if you have Amazon Prime.  You hear from a lot of great directors and cinematographers  their beliefs on film and digital.
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