Cinema, at its heart, presents a marriage of art and science. The way you capture light, and why you want to, are mostly creative decisions, but the means you’ll use to do so are tangible, technological tools.The emergence of digital video production, and the perception of it as a real threat to celluloid film’s existence, has brought up countless debates. Some see the convenience and similarity to the film aesthetic as reasons for digital to completely replace the old materials and methods.
Others, however, think that the similar aesthetic is simply not close enough. They cite that film look, the natural element to film’s aesthetic, as something that just can’t be imitated. These people don’t see celluloid leaving any time soon.
Whichever side you’re on, there’s no point in denying the debate exists. So, let’s go over some of the major points from each end and, once you’re armed with all this information, you can decide for yourself if film is indeed dying, or if digital technology is simply a new addition to the tool set.
Don’t worry, we’ve been here before.
The truth is, when sound came along, many feared it meant the death of movies as we then knew it and, in some ways, they were right. Filmmaking and the language it spoke changed drastically with the arrival of sound.
Perhaps some part of the old methods faded away, but the art form itself remained alive and well. In fact, the arrival of sound opened up new doors in storytelling and reenergized the industry as a whole.
The filmmakers who saw sound as a worthy new tool to use to help tell their stories weren’t threatened by the new technology. To the contrary, they felt it added to their arsenal and presented a new method to enhance their storytelling abilities.
It’s the same with other technical advancements, like the deep focus innovations in Citizen Kane or the light weight cameras that could be mounted on the shoulder, which opened the doors to the docu-style filmmaking that characterized the French New Wave.
You don’t take anything away from these early pioneers just because they played with some new toys. In fact, we’ve come to see the ingenuity in how they applied these new technological capabilities to their vision for the story.
It’s the same with the digital video production evolution. You can fight it, but it’s here regardless of your stance. The key is to treat either method as a tool set, a means to an end, rather than the determining factor of the end.
Why has digital video production caught fire?
Before we get into the technical differences between film and digital, let’s talk about how the nature of the technology has changed the filmmaker’s behavior, if you can still call them filmmakers.
One of the glaring differences between digital and film stems from the former’s non-destructive ways.
Digital technology allows the artist to shoot away without putting much thought into it, knowing that they won’t be burning through film and money. This is one of the major contributing factors to the digital explosion.
With film, the artist has to take a lot more time to prepare and to ensure they give themselves the best shot at achieving, well, the best shot. They have to go over each step carefully and think the whole process through thoroughly which, you can imagine, often leads to very different results than its digital counterpart.
Now let’s talk about that look, you know, that look.
The aesthetic differences come down to the difference between a chemical process and a digital one. With digital video production, images are captured as pixels and recorded as 0s and 1s. With film, images come about from the celluloid’s chemical reaction when exposed to light.
This may all sound like jargon to some, but you need to understand this fundamental difference to understand the fundamental differences in how the resulting images appear.
Because of its chemical, spontaneous, organic nature, film tends to blend light and color better, as it doesn’t have the clear boundaries that a pixel has. It reacts to natural light in a more pleasing way as well and natural grain is, generally, more pleasing to the eye than digital noise.
Sometimes, though, convenience outweighs aesthetics.
When digital video first arrived, the quality of old home movies and video cameras should have served as an early sign of an upcoming trend. Viewers were, and are, willing to put up with poor quality in the name of convenience.
It’s not just a matter of tolerance either. Some people actually embraced DV’s quality and enjoyed the sometimes blurry colors it produced. Many also championed the intimacy it could achieve so easily.
Again, though, the big attraction was, and is, that with digital, the artist can run the camera continuously for long periods of time with no downside, allowing for a different kind of performance or for as many takes as desired to achieve whatever it is they’re looking for.
“Times they are a changin’.” – Bob Dylan
The truth is, although elements like sound and color were perfected over time, much of the filmmaking process hadn’t changed much throughout its history.
The methods and materials to capture light were largely the same from the earliest, turn-of-the-century pioneers to the modern directors of our time. But now, as Bob Dylan once said, “Times they are a changin.”
Many perceive the emergence of digital video production as a threat to the fundamentals of filmmaking, but isn’t film about the end result more than the means used to achieve it?
In the end, you want to tell a good story. That’s not a question of noise and pixels versus grain and emulsion, but of the level of immersion you can draw from the audience.
A good story needs to compel people to keep watching, no matter what it looks like or how it was recorded and, no matter what you shoot on, it must be considered a tool set more than a piece of the story’s puzzle. The technology shouldn’t define the style; it should enhance it.
KVibe Productions is a full-service video production company. Whether it’s a product video production, a corporate video, or a commercial production, KVibe offers the total package of multimedia services from development through distribution.