Filmmaking has always moved in step with technological innovations. We tend to forget about the days when films were made from chemically processed photographic strips and projected in theaters for eager audiences. Here are some of the advances that changed film for the better over time.
Table of Contents
- The movie camera (the late 1800s)
- From silent films to ‘talkies’ (the 1920s)
- From black and white to color (the 1930s)
- The green screen (1940)
- Lightweight shoulder-mounted cameras (the 1950s – 1960s)
- Camera rigs: The Dolly and the Steadicam (1907 and 1976)
- DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Cameras (1968) and HD (2009)
- Computer-generated imagery (CGI) 1973
- The internet (1990)
- The future
- To Conclude
The movie camera (the late 1800s)
The late 1800s saw the invention of the movie camera, without which capturing a quick succession of photographs onto film strips wouldn’t have been possible.
In 1885, the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, patented the Cinématographe, which consisted of a motion picture film camera, projector, and developer. In 1895, they held a screening of a film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station and the sight of the moving train literally made the audience run for cover.
From silent films to ‘talkies’ (the 1920s)
The age of silent film was known for rather slapstick acting, accompanied by titles and live music. Some early projectionists even supplied sound effects.
The first major motion picture to introduce synchronized dialogue and add a musical score was The Jazz Singer in 1927. The ‘talkies’ were born, and dialogue became a central element in the film.
From black and white to color (the 1930s)
A black and white film, The Artist, recently won an Oscar and proved that technological innovations and excellence do not always go together.
The introduction of color was welcomed in the 1930s as it provided the means to make films more representative of real life. As David Howe, writer at assignmentgeek.com.au and movie buff says “New technologies can be used to produce mediocre films, but there are always directors who use them to discover interesting new possibilities.”
In 1939 an audience saw this in the way black and white, and the color was used in The Wizard of Oz. Kansas was depicted in black and white, and Oz was brought to life in glorious technicolor.
The green screen (1940)
“Traveling mattes” are used in filmmaking to combine two or more elements into a single, final image.The technique allows actors to appear anywhere during filming, cuts production costs and allows the creation of optical illusions.
Perhaps a director is filming a scene where he wants an actress dangling from a rope over a river – he films the actress against a green screen in the studio and then films the background plate at the river.
The process is time-consuming because a scene is first filmed against a green screen and then re-filmed using a filter attached to the lens to remove all the green areas. Finally, the layers are arranged over each other, frame by frame.
Lightweight shoulder-mounted cameras (the 1950s – 1960s)
In the early days of Hollywood, large studios and huge sets were the norm. As cameras became more lightweight and sound recording equipment more compact, the style and themes of films shifted. More documentary, gritty, visual style films were made as producers, such as French revolutionary movement “The New Wave,” were able to capture life on the fly.
Camera rigs: The Dolly and the Steadicam (1907 and 1976)
A dolly allows a camera to be placed on wheels that slide along a track. The camera moves along smoothly, following actors as they walk and talk.
The Steadicam combines the dolly system with the freedom of handheld shooting. It not only uses the hands of the cameraman to support the camera but the back, shoulders, and chest as well. This has resulted in some famous shots, such as the boy riding a scooter in The Shining.
DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Cameras (1968) and HD (2009)
The transition from film to digital cameras is one of the biggest in film history. Digital cameras reduced time and costs with internal storage and memory cards being used instead of chemicals. Cameras became more compact, so setup time was also reduced.
The first DSLR camera to shoot at 24 frames per second (fps) in HD video was the Nikon D90. Since then, each new DSLR camera has reduced the quality difference between film and digital. In the near future, digital cameras are likely to become the standard.
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) 1973
The sci-fi film Westworld, shot in 1973, was the first to use CGI. This 2-D digital rendition was followed up with sequels introducing 3-D. The very first computer-animated movie of feature length was Toy Story followed by many other blockbusters. Using CGI is a much cheaper option than building giant sets which is why many films make use of CGI in one way or another.
The internet (1990)
The internet has transformed how movies are watched and distributed as well as who is making them and the types being made. With instant access and worldwide distribution, anyone with a Smartphone can create videos.With new formats and new ways of accessing video, such as streaming, the industry is changing irrevocably.
More and more, movies are partially or fully digitally constructed and streamed to a viewer’s screen of choice. Digital technology is transforming everything, from movies shot with digital still cameras to blockbusters full of computer-generated imagery.
Digital can look amazing in the hands of certain directors, but we still tend to see too many digital movies with pixelation, smearing and very sharp outlines. These movies don’t compare with the visual texture and luster offered by film. Rapidly changing technologies often result in a steep learning curve.
From those early days of silent movies, the industry has come a long way.The shift from photomechanical to digital has brought about a major revolution.We are still in the early stages of this revolution, and it’s difficult to predict whether digital movies will take the place of film or whether both will exist side by side.
Mary Whitman is a writer and blogger based in Adelaide, South Australia talking about Sustainable Development and Art.