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« Elsewhere | Main | Dutton on Evo-Crit »

August 12, 2005

More on Digital Tech and Creativity

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

We've often yakked about the impacts the shift to digi-tech is having on the various artforms. Despite how seductive the gadgets are and despite how mind-bending some of the effects can be, the results often seem ... a little artificial, even a little dead.

More evidence comes from a conversation with the cinematographer Mauro Fiore:

"Don't get me wrong, I love to use all the newest technology because it helps make a picture better. However, that said, some of the new technology makes us distance ourselves from creativity as well. Now that we are doing DI [digital intermediates], work print dailies are archaic and I don't know why. Today, everyone gets a DVD or HD of the dailies that are projected in a little trailer. People look at them solo on different monitors that aren't adjusted. Making aesthetic choices based on these versions can be wrong, or at least difficult.

"I miss working with a lab. I would rely [on lab techies] to talk about how the negative looked -- about light and exposure. Now, digital printers make whatever they have look 'best' and we don't know about the exposure or the state of the negative. This makes it difficult to gauge or take a risk. You can't push the photography to interesting places, because you don't really know what you have. One of the things that I don't enjoy is playing it safe. And, sometimes, when you're looking at digital dailies, that's all you can do."

That hollow, soul-less feeling you often get looking at (or listening to) digital media products? There are reasons why you feel that way.

I found the Fiore quote in ICG magazine, published by the International Cinematogaphers Guild.



posted by Michael at August 12, 2005


It just so happens Roger L. Simon has a post up related to the subject.

It's concerned with digital animation, but it can be applied to digital work as a whole.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on August 12, 2005 9:47 PM

Actors have a similar complaint -- having to work in front of the blue screens all the time. It makes there acting a bit "soul-less" also.

Posted by: Neil on August 13, 2005 11:03 AM

Alan -- Thanks, that's a really interesting posting and commentsfest. Great to see people taking note of these kinds of things too.

Neil -- So true. (I did a small posting about this recently.) The digit-tech combo of hyper-vivid in a literal sense (those screaming colors, those amazing details) and yet dullness and remoteness in an emotional/imaginative sense is really all around us these days. I just got an Ipod and I'm finding that it does some of that the music. If music with a capital M is made up of music (the flow of sound) and effects (the various highlights that enhance it), the Ipod seems to underemphasize the music and super-heighten the effects. It's a representation of the tunes I own, instead of the tunes themselves. Or something like a food scientist's work -- an imitation of food, junk food (all salt and crunch) minus the substance of actual food. Not that I'm giving the Ipod up -- it's too cute and handy ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 13, 2005 12:23 PM

"Today, everyone gets a DVD or HD of the dailies that are projected in a little trailer. People look at them solo on different monitors that aren't adjusted. Making aesthetic choices based on these versions can be wrong, or at least difficult."

That reminds me.

A while ago, Michael, you blamed digital editing for today's schizoid films. You said that movies these days are jumpy because editors only saw their work through the tiny window on their computer screens. If they'd viewed the film on a big screen, you said, their cutting style would be much more placid.

I harumphed and recalled Orson Welles, who was making frantic and jumpy films back in the 1940s. Digital fooey, I said.

Imagine my surprise when I read an interview with Welles where he admitted to never watching rushes on the big screen. He saw his rushes for the first time through the tiny window of his Moviola - roughly the size of the tiny window on a computer screen - and never saw them projected until the first screening of the completed film.

So yeah, maybe you were onto something. Harumph withdrawn!

BTW - Remember in Crimes & Misdemeanors when Woody Allen and Mia Farrow watch Singing In The Rain on a Moviola screen? Ah, film geek love...

Posted by: Brian on August 13, 2005 8:46 PM

I think Fiore's comments are dead-on. There's not really an equivalent to a one-light print when the dailies are digitized. Lots of adjustments can be made even with film negatives by the timers at the lab. Requesting a one-light is basically what it sounds like: one standard light setting is used as the negative is passed through to make the work print, so you can really see what you (the DP) have done and how the film responded to your exposure and lighting decisions. A digital colorist can start a roll by correcting to a color chart, but that won't let you know the quality of the negative and how the film will look.

As other people have noted, watching dailies on the big screen also affects editing.

Part of the catch is that DVD and video releases have become a huge part of the film market (sometime grossing more than the theatrical releases), so it's important to the studios to have movies that look good on tv as well. Maybe that, in addition to the extra expense and time needed for projecting film dailies, is why they don't care about viewing video dailies.

Posted by: Claire on August 14, 2005 5:01 PM

Soooo...why don't they look at the movie on the big screen? Why use the new technology for picking the best shot? If everybody knows what the weaknesses are....I mean, somebodies like Spielberg or Scorsese have the clout to do it like they want to.

Posted by: annette on August 15, 2005 10:18 AM

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