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A Verbatim History of the Aesthetics, Technologies and Techniques of Digital Cinematography

Conversations around the development of High Dedfinition Aesthetics and Technologies and the move toward Digital and Electronic Cinematography - Go direct to interviews - Go to other Research

Between 1895 and 1915 it was not considered an imperative that the voices of early film practitioners were recorded for posterity. Today, film studies are an important element of understanding the way our world is shaped and perhaps it would have been more enriching had we had the foresight to record those early voices. At this moment we are in the latter end of having been innundated by a tsunami of innovation in the way we capture and record data and it is this area that digital cinematography or as some call it, electronic cinematography, can flourish. This current period, between 1990 and 2015, is the mirror period of the development of early film (However, this history will extend back to film scanner development in the 1970's). It is now time to record the voices of the pioneers of HD, Electronic and Digital Cinematography so that researchers can look back and hear those voices speaking in the idiom of this study and the culture of the time.

It is for this reason I have decided to undertake a series of interviews with people from around the world who are working in HD and Electronic Cinematography to try to hear not only what they have got to say, but what they are also saying in those unspoken moments between words where we can reflect on the assumptions of the time were we to look backward from some time ahead when people might study this area. This therefore is a resource for future researchers, but also for those approaching the issues around what I would prefer to call High Resolution imaging as opposed to High Definition, as that term represented a previous horizon when we could only dream of shooting above broadcast quality.


Above, Geoff Boyle, left, who created the Cinematographers Mailing List, an acknowledged leading website in sharing information between professional cinematographers.

It is the broad spread of disciplines interviewed that will give us a global picture of the form, viewed as a group, overall attitudes will be revealed. Another element is the duration of the research - three years is a long time with digital technology and so the issues taken up in the interviews completed at the beginning of the research will be different from those made at the end - and it is this variety too, with the perspective of time, that will unveil other components that will render possible a grasp of what this particlar time means in the development of this special area of technology.

At the bottom of this page you can seem my criteria of 4 distinct points for defining Digital Cinematography.

The resource is a series of video interviews inititally shot on HDV, as it's a cheap format of a reasonable resolution, for publishing on the internet. Above, you can click the picture and go to a list of uncut interviews. For me it was important that we discussed the subject and so allow information that might not have been given in a formal interview to come through. I make no apologies for shooting styles, sound quality - any of that. The selection of people is simply who I think is relevant to the discussion and who I can afford to get to - I began in July 2007 and shall continue for as long as I can. Currently there are interviews with 17 Artists, Cinematographers, HD Data Tecnicians, Games Designers and so on; I hope by the end of 2012 to have camera and post production designers and technicians added, plus more of the roles I've already interviewed. The collection of DVD's will eventually be lodged with various institutions with whom I am curently negotiating. If you are a member of such an institution and wish to archive and make available these interviews. Also, if you feel you would like to contribute an interview in the spirit of the ones you find on this site - contact me.

I'm now an AHRC Senior Research Fellow at Bristol University until I take up a Knowledge Trfansfer Fellowship in September 2010, but I have been a DP shooting dramas, promos, commercials, live shows and so on in both film and video. My first experience of HD was around 1992 with the philips 1250 line system, continuing on into the Raw Data mode of today - but in fact when John Logie Baird lost the contract for providing the BBC with a higher resolution system than he'd previously set up to deal with the threat from EMI (their 405 line system, over his earier 32 line attempts, then 200 lines - all rasta scan), he immediately called for a 2000 line system as the bar for fulfilling human physiological needs. Some would say this is still the bar - others are pushing for higher and higher resolution - a natural impulse as, if we haven't got mountains to climb - we'll invent them.

The Verbatim History is a resource for future researchers, but also a resource for those approaching the issues surrounding Digital Cinematography, which is comprised of these following elements:

a) the optical pathway is 35mm or above, this parameter being derived from technical and industrial limitations possible, at the origination of celluloid film for manufacturing photo-chemical negative).

b) it should generate a progressively based lossless data/image flow, at 10 bit depth or above, based on a specific frame rate as opposed to an interlaced flow of fields: This should not have a GoP structure or Group of Pictures as GoP file structures do not produce coherent frames.

c) Like one of its predecessors, film, it holds the image in a latent state until an act of development (or rendering) is applied - but unlike film is non-destructive of its prior material state

d) its capture mechanism though generating nondestructive, non-compressed data from which an image can be reconstructed, is not its sole intent as a method of capture (being distinguished from digital video, which generates images in a compressed manner from optical pathways commensurate with 16mm)

These latter three qualities are also base characteristics of many developing digital technologies – for instance real-time mapping of environments requires a capture of infra-red imaging sources (cameras used like sonar devices) running at around or above 25 fps. Using this criteria, digital cinematography is about more than just capturing images – it becomes a window onto the digital landscape – distinct form pervasive media - so far unexplored due to its apparent function as an image capture medium.

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