Digital Filmmakers or People who work in film and video are storytellers. And whether you see their work on a movie screen, TV monitor, or your smart phone, it’s the work of a team of writers, producers, directors, camera operators, lighting technicians, video editors, and digital video effects designers who bring the story to life. In our Digital Filmmaking & Video Production program, our talented and experienced instructors will guide your learning as you work with technology including digital video cameras and editing and graphics software. You’ll explore how to create everything from broadcast news to motion pictures as you get ready to enter a profession where you can do what you love, for life.
The term ‘digital filmmaking’ is a lot more problematic; indeed, it could be read as an oxymoron. Arguably we must split the term into two in order to define each separately and adequately. ‘Digital’ technology stores information electronically in discreet binary digits. The quality of the information is determined by many factors, including the resolution and bit rate as well as the compression ratio that the specific technology uses. For this reason, digital video (DV) is different from analogue video, as analogue technologies represent changing values as continuously variable quantities.
Human vision is arguably an analogue experience because we perceive infinitely smooth gradations of shapes and colours. However, analogue video suffers ‘generation loss’ when these continuous electronic signals are re-recorded over, and ‘ghosting’ appears upon pictures. DV reshuffles the binary information upon the tape, so it can be re-used and played back supposedly without a loss in quality. Similarly, the ability to reproduce ‘digital clones’ is a large advantage that digital video has over analogue video. Most importantly for this study, DV is different from film, which is analogue and celluloid based; the information is not stored magnetically but chemically infused permanently upon the negative.
It is also important to note that digital filmmaking has ramifications that are far more significant than the camera alone. Digital editing for example has changed the process of linear editing into a non-linear process, and editing obviously remains an important part of the filmmaking process. For this reason, all the aspects of digitalisation will be explored throughout the production process, as opposed to just the camera.
A visible sign of this shift is the new role which computer generated special effects have come to play in Hollywood industry in the last few years. Many recent blockbusters have been driven by special effects; feeding on their popularity. Hollywood has even created a new-mini genre of “The Making of…” videos and books which reveal how special effects are created.
Principles of digital filmmaking:
1. Rather than filming physical reality it is now possible to generate film-like scenes directly in a computer with the help of 3-D computer animation. Therefore, live action footage is displaced from its role as the only possible material from which the finished film is constructed.
2. Once live action footage is digitized (or directly recorded in a digital format), it loses its privileged indexical relationship to pro-filmic reality. The computer does not distinguish between an image obtained through the photographic lens, an image created in a paint program and an image synthesized in a 3-D graphics package, since they are made from the same material– pixels. And pixels, regardless of their origin, can be easily altered, substituted one for another, and so on. Live action footage is reduced to be just another graphic, no different than images which were created manually.
3. If live action footage was left intact in traditional filmmaking, now it functions as raw material for further compositing, animating and morphing. As a result, while retaining visual realism unique to the photographic process, film obtains the plasticity which was previously only possible in painting or animation. To use the suggestive title of popular morphing software, digital filmmakers work with “elastic reality.”
4. Previously, editing and special effects were strictly separate activities. An editor worked on ordering sequences of images together; any intervention within an image was handled by special effects specialists. The computer collapses this distinction. The manipulation of individual images via a paint program or algorithmic image processing becomes as easy as arranging sequences of images in time. Both simply involve “cut and paste.” As this basic computer command exemplifies, modification of digital images (or other digitized data) is not sensitive to distinctions of time and space or of differences of scale. So, re-ordering sequences of images in time, compositing those together in space, modifying parts of an individual image, and changing individual pixels become the same operation, conceptually and practically.
5. Given the preceding principles, we can define digital film in this way:
Digital film = live action material + painting + image processing +
Compositing + 2-D computer animation + 3-D computer animation
Live action material can either be recorded on film or video or directly in a digital format. Painting, image processing and computer animation refer to the processes of modifying already existent images as well as creating new ones. In fact, the very distinction between creation and modification, so clear in film-based media (shooting versus darkroom processes in photography, production versus post-production in cinema) no longer applies to digital cinema, since each image, regardless of its origin, goes through a number of programs before making it to the final film. Major economic stakeholders in today’s burgeoning media economy are all working hard to shape the outcome in their own interests. And much is at stake for them all, because digital technology challenges the traditional business models that both Indies and media companies have relied on to profit financially from their work.
Digitization doesn’t change everything. The old standbys of good storytelling, the battles over concentrated ownership, and the resistance to change by those with power, and conflicts over public support repeat themselves in the digital age. But digital has changed the ecosystem that Indies live in—an ecosystem where independent voices continue to thrive outside the mainstream of commercial media. Independent filmmakers are success stories of the present environment, and they have both nurtured and been nurtured by the public media ecosystem. The vision that Indies bring is important, as stakeholders thrash out the terms under which we will all use digital code today and tomorrow.