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K Borowski

What is "Cinematography," Now That an 80% CG Movie Has Won Its Highest Honor

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Does anyone else feel a slap in the face to our craft?

 

 

The Cinematographer's work, whose name escapes me, aside, this feels as awful to me as if Star Wars Episode I had wone an award for best cinematography ten and a half years ago.

 

 

Clearly, the people voting don't know what the F--- cinematography is. It is photographing, "painting" with light.

 

It really, really ought only apply to the practical parts. Parts that involve blue-screen lighting, computer programming, and CGI, or optical effects too, shouldn't be privy to this award.

 

2nd Unit work ought not be honored with a nod to the cinematographer who had nothing to do with it, except a phone call.

 

MY OPINION

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Guest Jeremy Hunt
Does anyone else feel a slap in the face to our craft?

 

 

The Cinematographer's work, whose name escapes me, aside, this feels as awful to me as if Star Wars Episode I had wone an award for best cinematography ten and a half years ago.

 

 

Clearly, the people voting don't know what the F--- cinematography is. It is photographing, "painting" with light.

 

It really, really ought only apply to the practical parts. Parts that involve blue-screen lighting, computer programming, and CGI, or optical effects too, shouldn't be privy to this award.

 

2nd Unit work ought not be honored with a nod to the cinematographer who had nothing to do with it, except a phone call.

 

MY OPINION

 

I dunno about you, but the film had a strong visual style, and even the cg stuff had to be lit.

 

What was the process in doing it? from my experience, using computers for cg is almost harder than in real life, i cant imagine the how the lightin works in it.

 

i didnt actually like avatar however.

 

-Jeremy

Edited by Jeremy Hunt

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[. . .]and even the cg stuff had to be lit.

 

[. . .]

 

i didnt actually like avatar however.

 

-Jeremy

 

How do you light CG environments? Have you ever written computer code? No, of course not, now someone does it for you and sells you the end result for $700 :unsure:

 

 

I *liked* "Avatar," but its winning best Cinematography is an affront to my life's work, frankly.

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This is definitely one of those gray areas.

 

Someone still has to be "in charge" of the overall "look" of the movie in terms of lighting style, whether it was done practically (which was done on Avatar) or in a computer (which was also done on Avatar). This means making the initial choices of lighting units (real and virtual) as well as color, brightness, quality, etc. and keeping an eye on consistency on every set (practical and virtual).

 

This person also presumably would be integral in lens choices (real and virtual) and camera movement, just like on a traditionally created movie.

 

Whether Avatar deserves to win based on the lighting and camerawork is an entirely different discussion, but it's not entirely out of the question to recognize the Director of Photography in a situation like this because of the overall job that falls under the realm of a DIRECTOR of Photography.

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How do you light CG environments? Have you ever written computer code? No, of course not, now someone does it for you and sells you the end result for $700 :unsure:

 

 

I *liked* "Avatar," but its winning best Cinematography is an affront to my life's work, frankly.

 

 

It just means that the Oscar for Cinematography ,from now on, will start to mean f@&k all.

Edited by Serge Teulon

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Naysayers,

 

Please read the Feb. 2010 issue of AC, and in the course of doing so please check off every step of Mauro Firoe ASC's workflow you've executed successfully.

 

I realize that as artists we're expected to hate on anything commercially successful. I was one of those people and after months of my little sister begging me to see it with her I did. While standing in line at 830am with people who had seen the film multiple times (the woman in front of me had seen it 18 times!) I asked them why they would pay $10 to see a film that relied on a gimmick (3D) to draw an audience. Without missing a beat they were all buzzing about the imagery. Not the special effects, i.e. the CG everyone seems to be complaining about. Matter of fact one woman who had seen it 5 times focused her comments specifically on the lighting!

 

A little note about lighting cg, it isn't done in lines of code. That would be like engineering your own globes.

 

The choice of medium or complexity of story has no effect on the cinematographer's ability to compose awe inspiring images. It takes a world of knowledge to be a good cinematographer, and an additional one to apply everything to a digital workflow and/or cg environment. Not to mention the mathematical accuracy required to create interocular distance that won't distract or confuse the audience!

 

In closing I think we all need to take a step off our pedestals in order award credit where it is due. Keep your mind open and your eyes focused friends.

 

Best,

 

Ari Davidson

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Ari,

 

I've personally read that article a few times over. It makes the point clearly that the majority of the look and feel of the film, including a large amount of the photography, was done before Fiore was even hired for the production. It seemed that more than likely a majority of the camera operation, lighting, framing, and "art direction" was done by the director, James Cameron. If the voters in the Academy (Cinematographers are the only ones voting at a certain point on the winner) felt like the look and feel and technical achievements of the film was the best of last year, then it did win for Visual Effects and Art Direction, for which I suppose it deserved it. Buuuut Cinematography is not in a basket with those two, as it relates to Avatar. The DP shot the live action sequences, which were few and far between, only a small fraction on practical sets. Otherwise it was his Director operating a camera towards Mo-Cap suits on a sound stage. Meh. Pretty unimpressive and the fact that Bob Richardson, Barry Ackroyd, Bruno Delbonnel and Christian Berger lost out to that sends a pretty bad message.

 

Gus

 

Naysayers,

 

Please read the Feb. 2010 issue of AC, and in the course of doing so please check off every step of Mauro Firoe ASC's workflow you've executed successfully.

 

I realize that as artists we're expected to hate on anything commercially successful. I was one of those people and after months of my little sister begging me to see it with her I did. While standing in line at 830am with people who had seen the film multiple times (the woman in front of me had seen it 18 times!) I asked them why they would pay $10 to see a film that relied on a gimmick (3D) to draw an audience. Without missing a beat they were all buzzing about the imagery. Not the special effects, i.e. the CG everyone seems to be complaining about. Matter of fact one woman who had seen it 5 times focused her comments specifically on the lighting!

 

A little note about lighting cg, it isn't done in lines of code. That would be like engineering your own globes.

 

The choice of medium or complexity of story has no effect on the cinematographer's ability to compose awe inspiring images. It takes a world of knowledge to be a good cinematographer, and an additional one to apply everything to a digital workflow and/or cg environment. Not to mention the mathematical accuracy required to create interocular distance that won't distract or confuse the audience!

 

In closing I think we all need to take a step off our pedestals in order award credit where it is due. Keep your mind open and your eyes focused friends.

 

Best,

 

Ari Davidson

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I actually thought the cinematography was great in Avatar! I wouldn't have voted for it as the best, but I don't mind it winning. It's frustrating when people dismiss its cinematography just because it was so heavily computer-generated. Would you also dismiss the cinematography in Ratatouille, Wall•E, and UP, because they're all animated? If you would, I would completely disagree. Cinematography is the use of composition and lighting to tell a story (among other things of course :)), regardless of whether the lighting or composition was computer-generated or achieved with a 535 and a 10K on set.

 

I'm sure that some of my favorite shots in movies in recent years were aided by some sort of computer generated camera move or lighting (Lord of the Rings, Amelie, and Dark Knight anyone?).

 

Now the issue I have with the Oscar win is about who should be included in the award, because even though I'm sure Mauro Fiore played his part, I have seen more than one Avatar EPK naming Vince Pace as the DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, not just 2nd Unit. So the titles are getting a little hazy. Check out this featurette for naming Vince Pace as the DP, with no mention of Mauro whatsoever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZmJ8A1Wl6U

Edited by Richard Vialet

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Ari,

 

Nobody is having a dig at Mauro Fiore or his work. If anything there is an overall feeling of sorrow as he might just be thinking that this award should've gone somewhere else.

Mauro's work is and has been always of top standard.

The comments are based on the fact that the CINEMATOGRAPHY AWARD has been given to a film that comprises 80% of it as animation.

And by giving the award to the film that has 20% of actual filming work in it, what does that say to the other films that are 98% filming work?

What award did the VFX DP get for his 80%?

Zip.

 

At the end of the day the 20% cinematography work is beautiful and complements the 80% of animation. But it does not, in mine and may others opinion, warrant the cinematography award.

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Guest Tim Partridge
It just means that the Oscar for Cinematography ,from now on, will start to mean f@&k all.

 

As oppose to the glory days of the Black Hole being nominated over Alien, The Godfather getting snubbed and Towering Inferno winning over the likes of Chinatown. ;)

 

I have no beef whatsoever with virtual cinematography. My problem with Avatar is that I felt that even if it had been a live action movie, the colour pallettes chosen, lighting and compositions would still have been ugly. I thought most of the live action interiors seemed like they were high key lit like a sitcom (and not at all like the characteristic, contrasty lighting I associate with Mauro Fiore's work).

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Yeah, I have the utmost of respect for Mr. Mauro Fiore, it's just that he got rewarded for work that four times out of five wasn't HIS. . .

 

 

 

And, no a F-in cartoon should never win an award for cinematography, no matter how good its animation is.

 

That is a separate category.

 

No matter how good the CGI is, and regardless of the literal definition of cinematography as "painting with light" cinematography remains the art of PHOTOGRAPHING (film or digital) a movie with a lens, a camera, and a light, or at least a practical lighting source and some kind of bounce if you want it to look good.

 

 

 

This award is an affront to our work, and I am honestly going to write a letter of complaint with "Avatar" winning this award.

 

 

At the same time, I am not biased. I saw "Avatar" five times. I LIKE "Avatar," I really do. But it is totally unqualified for best cinematography. . .

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My problem with Avatar is that I felt that even if it had been a live action movie, the colour pallettes chosen, lighting and compositions would still have been ugly. I thought most of the live action interiors seemed like they were high key lit like a sitcom (and not at all like the characteristic, contrasty lighting I associate with Mauro Fiore's work).

 

Tim, I disagree. I thought "Avatar" was utterly gorgeous in both 2D and 3D. Maybe you saw a poorly-timed (graded) film print or an out-of-calibration DLP projector.

 

The movie was utterly gorgeous, but it was POOR during the live action parts. The colors were flat, the environments were lit defensively. There was nothing award-worthy about the lighting of Sigourney Weaver et al.

 

 

Cue up a trailer of "Alien" and "Avatar" side-by-side, and tell me the live action parts aren't a distant second to Cameron's earlier work.

 

 

 

 

I think the people voting don't know what the fu¢|< they're talking about, just like they had their heads up their a$$es picking a low budget movie (due, in part, to the 2008 recession in picking "Slumdog Millionaire" last year).

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Also, do people consider the Oscar to be the "highest honor" for cinematography? You'd think it should be the ASC Award...

 

 

Its not about the highest honor.

Without wanting to patronise, an award is a symbol of appreciation and congratulatory to one's work. Right?

Its an industry organisation judged by professional members or a panel of judges that say that one's work is of excellence above all others at that event/year.

Mauro Fiore's work on it is VERY GOOD, just like in the other films that he's shot.

 

But yes the ASC award is regarded as the torch of cinematography as it solely concentrates on cinematography and not marketing etc.....

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Ari, I couldn't agree more. This isn't the best 'cinematographer' award, it's rewarding the best cinematography. Obviously, everyone can have their own opinion about the artistic merits of each nominated film, but to disqualify something because it's not physically photographed would be ridiculously unfair to those that crafted its look.

I think there's some misconceptions out there about designing shots and lighting in CG - these are not geeks hammering out lines of code, they're artists using a different set of tools to realize the same goals. They care about the technology to the same extent a DP cares about his camera package; they're tools that are used to achieve their goal and should be studied and understood to get the most out of them, but a cinematographer working with CG images doesn't care about the underpinning lines of code any more than a live action DP would care about the polymerization process of the plastic in a film mag.

At the end of the day, it's about rewarding those responsible for the image that ends up on the screen; just because there might be some ignorance regarding the process and tools that are used to create those images shouldn't mitigate anyone's level of appreciation of the final product.

I'm happy to be challenged on this, but I think the same choices of lighting a character, choosing a lens, framing shots to serve the story apply to both mediums, with the exact same level of importance.

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Tim, I don't disagree that they're artists, but I do disagree on our definition of a "paragraph. . ."

 

 

"Best Cinematography" awards shouldn't be handed out to cel animators anymore than they should be handed out to CGI photographers or SFX guys.

 

 

Even if you are oblivious to CG code, the code still exists. Back a long time ago, I WROTE code for software like this.

 

If you "light" it, then someone wrote a code for that. Then again, I guess someone would argue that God wrote a code for the real world.

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So for you, Karl, a physical camera is required, otherwise the end result is without merit?

If that is your opinion, I'll just respectfully disagree - maybe you'd be happier if they changed it to "Best Live Action Cinematography". I just don't see why the live action DP should be elevated to any higher level than a CG DP, if the end result is the same for the audience - pictures on the screen telling a story set in a world we can relate to (unlike cel animation). I don't think celebrating one has to come at the expense of another, necessarily.

Edited by Tim Sibley

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I think the silly old farts that are members of the "Academy " sitting in their nursing homes watching a DVD of the movie thought its was all live action and hence voted for it !!

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It’s just not a level playing field. James Cameron said one of the best things about CG is he never has to wait for a sunset.

 

What if you’re shooting a scene in a building fifty stories high and you want sunlight streaming through the windows? You may have to compromise. CG movies don’t have that problem.

 

If you don’t include the sweat (literally) involved, then CG movies should win for the rest of time. DP’s on live action films can’t simply use their imagination and get whatever they want. They have to deal with the situation they’re actually in and it no doubt affects the end result.

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They should Frederico.

 

 

Back a LONG time ago, I "SHOT" cel-animated movies. It's a completely different process, having been there, done that.

 

 

Academy needs to get its sh!t together. . .

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...They have to deal with the situation they’re actually in and it no doubt affects the end result.

And not necessarily to the detriment of the final result. I would rather wait for the sunset.

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What's ironic about the real "cinematography" in Avatar is that the environs where purposefully photographed to look drab, ugly, and lifeless. The cinematography was successful in these scenes, but there was certainly nothing special about.

 

What Avatar was awarded for happened in a bank of computers. I, for one, still appreciate artists and cinematographers who know how to get their hands dirty.

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This might be using a rather extreme analogy, but if the the only difference being argued here is of a physical versus artificial nature - then wouldn't it be like only giving the best screenplay to the writer who uses a pencil to write their script versus one who uses a laptop. I mean it's not so much about the physical act of "doing" that gets rewarded but rather the choices and decisions that went into creating the final result.

 

Sure it's a separate skill-set being used to achieve an final result (in this case an image), but the considerations for the lighting, composition and movement are exactly the same.

 

Also keep in mind when dealing with lighting in computer graphics, we are dealing with light - we aren't drawing or painting like one would in traditional cel animation. Even the animation process used is different - it's much more akin to stop-motion animation than it is cel-animation - and I'm sure no one here would argue that stop-motion animation photography is any different from live-action photography.

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I think both sides have raised good points about Avatar's merit in the field of cinematography. On the one hand, there is merit to suggest that cinematography should invovle some real world contribution, real lighting and camerawork, rather than CG. Yet, there was most definitely artistry in the visuals of "Avatar." There is a question here that cannot be answered: "What is cinematography?"

 

So why not compromise? Remember, at one time there were separate awards for black-and-white and colour cinematography, because there was a recognized difference between the two mediums that was deemed worthy of distinction.

 

If indeed Avatar proves to be a trendsetter (as opposed to a one off that only spawns a small group of followers, like 3D), why not have separate awards? You could have one for Cinematography in a film comprised of less than XX percent CG, and for films comprising more than XX percent? This would resolve the debate, and open up new films (like some of Pixars recent efforts) that, while largely generated by computer, are still worthy of consideration for their visual choices and style.

 

Thoughts?

 

BR

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