ACM - Computers in Entertainment

Film to Digital: The Growth of Cinema

By Carina Daniele

Over time, technology has advanced and thrived to improve in areas such as the film industry. In the current time period, we may over look or not have noticed films true transformation. From analog to digital, many of us only see the end product of a great change in how movies are made and their process from initial producing to distribution.

Digital cinematography is the process of capturing motion pictures as digital video images on CCD based cameras rather than traditional analog film frames. It also means using digital technology from start to finish. Digital cinematography captures motion pictures digitally in a process that can have an end result recorded to videotape, hard disks, flash memory, or other media that can withhold massive amounts of digital data. The word digital replaces much more than just the filming, but also how it is stored at the end. As digital technology has improved and become easier to obtain, this practice has become dominant in the recent years.

Today, cameras come from companies like Sony, Panasonic, JVC, and Canon. Not only do these represent different brands but also a variety of choices for shooting high-definition video. The quality of cameras can vary and as well as the price. Also the size of a camera can vary, from large two people operated cameras to DSLRs. More higher end products also come from brands like Vision Research Phantom, Arri, Silicon Imaging, Panavision, Grass Valley and Red.

Taking us back through the history of digital cinematography, in the late 1980s, Sony began marketing the concept of “electronic cinematography“, utilizing its analog Sony HDVS professional video cameras. While their attempts were indeed recognized, it was not completely successful. Pushing forward, regardless of the attractiveness of the market term “electronic cinematography”, one of the earliest digitally shot feature movies was “Julia and Julia” produced in 1987.

Julia and Julia, directed by Peter Del Monte, was shot on the Sony HDVS using the high definition video technique and then transferred to 35 mm film. High definition video is of higher resolution and quality than standard-definition. Any video image with 480 horizontal scan lines is considered high definition though that actually is the general minimum. If a video image is captured above 480 horizontal lines and is captured at rates faster than 60 frames per second, its picture excels the normal standard for digital capture. This movie shot entirely using high definition based cameras, however was chosen at the end to be converted and edited to appear like film. The technique became so popular after this movie and was then used commonly with television shows to create the “look” of film but still have high quality picture that could only be obtained through using digital based cameras.

In 1998, the introduction of HDCAM recorders and 1920 × 1080 pixel digital professional video cameras were created. It was similar to Sony’s original idea however, renamed and rebranded as “digital cinematography”. We began to see this technology start to gain its popularity. In 1998,The Last Broadcast was believed to be the first “feature-length video” shot entirely with digital equipment, including grip and lighting equipment that was all the most latest and advanced.

The first well-known movie to be shot in 24 frames and high definition quality video was “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” in May 2001. To film the movie, they used a Sony HDW-F900 camera. Partially developed by George Lucas, who at the time showed the director of Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Robert Rodriguez a scene from Star Wars Episode 2 which impressed him so much that he decided to shoot his film digitally as well. This film was seen as one of the first big budget, popular, movies to gain consumers attention using digital film.

In May 2002 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was released having also been shot using a Sony HDW-F900 camera and its reliability began to open more doors for full-length films to be shot on. During this time future technology was furthering in development and Hollywood was effectively moving into the “digital age”. The traditional industry was being revolutionized to an economy based on information computerization and film was greatly impacted by this.

As this was occurring, the spawn of a controversy within digital verse analog film began to upraise. Benefits and disadvantages come with using digital and though these have improved, limitations are still there. To list a few; though digital data may not get scratched or grained; the digital projector pixels can break or degrade over time. Film can be upgraded to higher quality as projectors advance but fixed digital films cannot. For example, if a film is shot in 2k it needs to be projected through a 2k projector verses a 720 because in will not look as good and the projectors data base will not read the pixels correctly. This also means that the technologies can be prone to technological obsolescence. With new improvements being introduced as fast as they have some movies cannot be updated and become outdated or looses its quality. That same 2k movie can be shown on a 4k monitor but it will do nothing to improve its look because it was not shot in 4k. However, that has not stopped the use for digital because its outcome is far greater than its disadvantages. Digital cameras save time and money, two very important key aspects in the business. The debate still runs on to this day, as now it has become a matter of personal preference and a choice to use which technique as a judgment for the “looks” of the films.

Digital film has opened doors for the way we experience movies. Digital cinema can be shown and managed in theaters easier and without much labor; it’s also cost effective because of this reason. Before digital, men were required to work in the back of theaters in the projector rooms managing tins of highly flammable and heavy filmstrips. Now, there is simply one machine that does their job entirely. The movies are usually PC based and simple to handle unlike analog film based cinema, which needs prepping, dismantling and delicate care. Technology has even created a way for us to buy our own projectors and have theater experiences at our homes or even on the go. At the moment 3M has created a new MP410 mobile projector that allows people to project any video from their phone onto any surface. We have also been able to take movies home to the comfort of our own living rooms to create all new movie experiences.

What this means is we no longer need to go to the movies to watch films. It has become as simple as buying a DVD copy for our home system and even now we can download a movie digitally right to our TV hard drives, via internet or satellites. Digital media can be compressed to small amounts of memory that can travel fast among many people. Comfort has become huge part taking in watching movies and nothing is better than siting at home experiences the same films as we would in theaters. Of course, it’s nowhere near the same experience as one another, however its audience as taken a hit. One movie ticket costs on an average of 13 dollars and can range to even higher prices depending on which theater you choose to view that film in. Not to mention that then you can only experience it once, as each ticket is only valid for one viewing. However, regardless of what kind of movie we may watch in the theaters; digital or analog, now most movies are converted to digital in the end process, which means an endless supply of viewing that film. It has made distribution faster, cheaper and created high demand for more frequent films. Supply matching demand in film used to be rare, however now when a film is a booming business, demanding for additional screenings or distribution of copies have become faster and easier than ever.

So where are we today with the film industry and it’s technology? Much of our advancements have happened fast within the last few years. I’m interested to see how we will further grow within the way we chose to make films as well as experience them. Most recently, virtual reality as became an interest of the industry. Music videos, games, short films are all experimenting with this new technology to know film a different way and create a new experience of its audience. Soon enough there will be a first full-length movie shot for VR. As technology grows, the industry will keep up with it and as our audience chosen in favor, and then they will also keep up with their demand. I have to say, there is a great appreciation for movies shot using traditional film. But, there is also an appreciation for movies shot in new ways using digitally based cameras. Technology has not had so much a negative impact on the film industry, however it for sure has changed the game.

Work Cited:

K, Rajesh. “Digital Cinema – Advantages and Limitations.” Excitingip, 2 Oct. 2009. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Piccirillo, Ryan. “The Technological Evolution of Filmmaking and Its Relation to Quality in Cinema.” Student Student Pulse, 8 Nov. 2011. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.