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Technology in Film

Over the years film has meant many different things to many different types of people. Cultures have been forever changed due to certain films being made. One of the things that has maintained films to stay appealing to audiences are the continuing advances in technology that keep films interesting, as well as challenge filmmakers to constantly develop new ideas. I will show how technology and the use therein contributes to film and the creative aspect that goes into producing a product that appeals to the mass public, as well as the downfalls that technology brings with it. Also how advancements in film stocks and processing techniques have brought us to the use of computer technology in films.

There are a two crucial aspects of film that technology effects, these being, production, and post-production. The easiest way that I can analyze the effect that technology has had on film, is to use an example of a particular film, to do this I will use The Matrix. This film is a great example of what can be accomplished with the advances in technology.

The first and most obvious effect that technology has had on film has been the advances of cameras and film stocks. When film was first introduced in the early 20th century the cameras were very large and awkward in shape. This reason made transporting these cameras extremely difficult as well as making it nearly impossible to manipulate the camera so that creative shots could be produced. For this, films early in the century are usually comprised of still shots with the action unfolding in front of the camera instead of following the action with the camera. Films that were made early in the 20th century were based solely on the action, actions of the actors to tell the story and the camera was used much less as a means to tell a story as it was to show the story that the actors were portraying. Today in film the camera is a large part of how the story is told. It is not only used to help the story along but is now manipulated to create entirely different realms with in a certain film. A good example of this is how cameras were manipulated in The Matrix.

With advances in film stocks as well as ways that film can be processed, it has completely changed what can be shot on film. At first, film stocks were not very sensitive, in that you needed a large amount of light to expose a picture on the celluloid of the film. For this most of the early films were still shot in studios or were shot outside, but only when there was a lot of light on the subject. If there was not a lot of light there would not be an image burned onto the film. With the slow development of film stocks, filmmakers were able to shoot in low lit situations and were finally starting to be able to tell their stories in the way that they wanted to, with out being held back by not having enough light for a particular scene. The advances of processing techniques has given filmmakers a chance to explore their imagination and the luxury of not having to worry about things that earlier filmmakers have had to deal with. Filmmakers are now able to manipulate film stocks and the way that they are processed so that they can create varied visual effects that have never been seen by audiences. With this they are able to provoke varied responses to their audiences and are able to manipulate film in particular ways to have certain effects on the viewer.

With the advances in technology have come advances in the way that films are produced and also the way in which audiences appreciate them. The implication of the computer into the post-production of films added so many more possibilities towards how a story was told. Computers have made it possible to create action sequences, locations, and entire realms that would be way to expensive if not impossible to create with normal means. For this stories have also developed, and especially science fiction stories. In most science fiction stories they take place in exotic and mystical far off planets. With the use of computers and software of today it is now possible to create futuristic lands as well as whole characters.

Technology has influences the production aspect in several ways. First off in how stories are conceived. Now that computers can create almost anything that a director would want to see in the final product it has given directors the freedom to experiment with their ideas as well as manipulate scenes in particular ways to provoke a certain feeling out of their audiences. With a lot of things being done in post-production on computers, green screen techniques have been implicated. Green screen technique is when there is a green screen that is placed behind the action and the actors or prop is manipulated to be a part of the background even though there is no background when the shot is being filmed, instead there is a green screen and then in post-production the green screen is keyed out and the background is put in. This process has changed the way actors must act. As a whole it is more challenging for the actors because they not only have to create a great performance but also have to do it while they are imagining what will be added later. This makes it so much more important for the director to know precisely what will be added later so that he is able to instruct the actors as to what the final product will look like. Even though this is harder for the actors, if it is done correctly it certainly adds so much to the final product.

One thing about technology within film is that a lot of the times it draws from past experimentation and even uses techniques that were used by the first filmmakers. A great example of this is with The Matrix. Throughout this film there was a technique that was exploited where an actor would be jumping in the air or performing a particular act and everything would freeze and the camera would move around the action on a 360-degree axis. This was made possible by a technique that was ironically the first device of filmmaking, multiple-cameras. What is ironic about this technique is that with all of the technological advances in film throughout the years, filmmakers still resort to the oldest most principles of the founders of film. In 1877 Eadweard Muybridge (a vagabond photographer) was hired by Leland Stanford to prove that at some point during a racehorse?s stride, all four hooves leave the ground. ?Muybridge set up 24 cameras in a row along the racing track. He attached a string to each camera shutter and stretched the string across the track. He chalked numerals and lines on a board behind the track to measure the horse?s progress. Stanford?s horse then galloped down the track, tripping the wires?? (Mast/Kawin, 11) eventually proving that in fact at one point the horse?s hooves all left the ground. By the use of multiple cameras Muybridge was able to show sequential action of a particular object, the Wachowski brothers who directed ?The Matrix?, also were able tot create a futuristic realm by combining camera techniques that are over a hundred years old along with advanced green screen methods of today.

In order to create these shots the filmmakers built a 360 degree green screen with cameras placed strategically around the walls, with specially timed cameras, and elaborate pulley systems, they were able to create the effect of the camera circling the actors while the motion remained still. This gave the effect that time was able to stand still while the actors were able to defy the laws of gravity. This is a good example of how technology was used to enhance techniques that have been around for many years, in order to create a certain mood. By manipulating what the audience knows as the reality the directors were able to create something that had never been seen before, because of this it was much easier for the audience to believe in the farfetched reality of ?The Matrix?.

The remarkable thing about ?The Matrix? was that the audience was seeing something that was visually stunning and at the same time it gave the feeling that some of these special effects were completely new to filmmaking. When in fact the creative minds behind this film were using the simplest and oldest techniques of filmmaking, which is showing frames from different cameras to follow action. They just expanded on this premise and added it with today?s technology to create something that was breathtaking. ?The die-hard science fiction fan will discover a plot that mixes and matches both new and old conventions of the genre in a compelling fashion.? (Berardinelli).

The advancements of technology and the use of computer graphics bring one large downfall, the cost. None of these new techniques comes with out a substantial bill. With the rise of pyrotechnics, and the use of computer graphics raises the cost of films substantially. Not only do the production companies have to pay more people to create these awesome effects but also they are paying for the research that goes into developing the software as well as the cost of the equipment that enables them to create these effects. For this the average cost of feature productions has risen substantially over the years. Some people say that this is no big deal, but with this comes bigger obstacles, because with the rising budgets it becomes more difficult to have a studio back a project, they are easily persuaded to produce a film that has minimal effects that will only cost twenty million dollars than one that falls into the hundreds of millions of dollars to produce.

Technology has influenced the way in which audiences appreciate film in many different ways. Now that movies like ?The Matrix? have hit the theaters, audiences are starting to expect more from films. Some of the average movie goers would consider great classics like Citizen Kane boring, mainly due to the fact that there are no computer generated images or large explosions. This is due to the fact that films are increasingly becoming dependant on computer-generated images. On one hand technology has helped the film industry a great deal to create images that were never before possible, but on the negative side of this is that audiences are to easily influenced by what is visually stunning to them and not what is the most important aspect of a film which is the story. For this it has put a lot more pressure on filmmakers to create films that not only have dazzling special effect but also incorporate them into the story in such a way that it adds to the story and is not the entire basis for the film.

Computer generated images are starting to show up in more and more films that are being produced. The reason for this varies from film to film. Sometimes the reasons are obvious, because there is no other way to create the realm that the director wanted, other reasons that are now developing is the creation of extras. This although a painstaking process in post-production, is far cheaper to do than to hire thousands of extras for a particular scene where they only need to make it seem as though there are that many people.

Since computers have been implicated into the process of filmmaking there have been countless numbers of films that have succeeded in adding special effects but at the same time not taking away the concentration on the story. This devise is a powerful tool in creating different stories that can be told and it has been accepted as such. There is no telling where it will go from here, but some predict that computers will take over the need for actors and location filming. This is such a farfetched idea and will never happen, it may change the way in which filmmaking is done but it will not take away the human aspect of filmmaking.

Other effects that technology has had on audiences are the quality of the sound as well as the picture. Over the past ten years filmmakers have realized that audiences want to be blown away, literally. Sound has become an incredibly important aspect of film production, more so than in the past. In the past audio was considered to be something of an added bonus. For many years during the production of film, sound was looked down upon as something that needed to be done, only few directors actually thought about what should be recorded to stimulate certain emotions. For most directors sound was the last thing on their minds and because of this the final product had a cheap feel to it mainly because the audio was so distracting to the audience that it took away from the whole experience. Lately, due to the technology that has gone into sound recording, there has been a large concentration on the audio that is recorded and played in the film. This gives the director more options as to how his audience will feel at a particular time. Theaters have been equipped with elaborate sound systems such as, Dolby Digital Theater Sound, and have strict standards of sound quality such as THX; these new devices help to recreate the audio that the director wants the audience to hear. With this new concentration in sound recreation as well as recording techniques it gives the audience the opportunity to feel as if they are a part of the film instead of just a viewer. Filmmakers have finally realized that a film with great sound lets the viewer escape into the films world more easily and gives them a heightened experience.

With all these advances in film technology, there have been countless numbers of films that have changed the way that audiences view films. This technology has given filmmakers a chance to venture out into worlds that were never thought attainable, as well as given filmmakers freedom over their thoughts. It has shown us that no matter how much technology springs up, that no matter what, it can only be used as a tool to better a film and that the story is still and will always be the most important aspect of a film. These tools help to create a seamless world that the audience is able to escape into, and because of technological advances there will be many more interesting stories, as well as many more techniques that will be created for filmmakers to manipulate and have at their disposal.

1. Berardinelli, James. ?The Matrix?, a Film Review.


2. Mast, G., Kawin, B. A Short History of the Movies, 7th Ed. Massachusetts: Needham Heights, 1986.

3. Douglas, J., Harnden, P. The Art of Technique. Massachusetts: Needham Heights, 1996.

4. Bordwell, David. On The History of Film Style. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1997.

5. Dowdy, Andrew. Movies Are Better Than Ever. William and Morrow & Company, Inc: New York, 1973.

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