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K Borowski

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

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i dont feel the virtuality of it is an issue. for me, it the principles are the same, physical or virtual is the same. however there are 2 categories to distinguish films/animation films. if this happens, why not do the same with cinematography? and what about acting? why does not a virtual character qualify for a best actor/actress award? why wasnt the old man in UP nominated together with the other 'real' actors? maybe because there is a difference between something you do on a set, and something you do on a computer... differences on several levels, so if you want to put everything in the same bag, do it. but be consistent...

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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.

 

It’s a bit extreme. The word “the” is “the” whether it’s written in pencil, ink, on a computer, paint, or whatever. It’s always read as “the”.

 

A sunset is not a sunset if it’s overcast.

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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

 

I totally agree with you Brian

there should be 2 categories now for cinematgraphy

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A sunset is not a sunset if it’s overcast.

 

Sure. So what's the difference between a sunset filmed and a sunset rendered?

 

It's always a sunset.

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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:

 

Karl you're wrong.

 

This again shows your utter ignorance of CG lighting process and workflow. When you last put this position across in a similar discussion, I challenged you to widen your perspective and put yourself through a CG lighting process. Clearly you haven't done so and still perpetuate this myth that CG lighting is as easy as a keystroke.

 

It's the same kind of head in the sand and ill informed comments people make about digital cinematography being simple because you get an instant picture when you turn on the camera. Sure some would be happy with what they get, but I'd like to think we've also seen work that can be exceptional once the same processes of lightign and shot construction are applied as well.

 

I'm also agree with you by the way and don't agree with the awarding of Avatar, but for different reasons.

 

I just don't think the DP on this occasion actually did the majority of the work, as indicated by the AC story. If the DP had actually been involved in overseeing the lighting of the CG environments and the designing of the coverage then I'd have less objections (although even then i still think better candidates where available)

 

jb

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I'd be interested to see someone from the art department chime in...

 

Surely the same could be said for the art direction win for Avatar, that is, that most of it was CG. How does that compare?

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The awards issue is less about the tools used -- most of us can agree that photo-realistic CGI / animated films require the artistic input & aesthetic skills that would traditionally come from a cinematographer in terms of the use of light, focal length, composition, etc. -- it's more the issue of whether the work is mainly under the artistic supervision of a single individual, more or less.

 

If some cinematographer went out and shot elements for a digitally-created world and then proceeded to supervise and execute a lot of the CGI elements as well, sort of like how Ray Harryhausen was a one-man efx band, then it seems to me that it is an individual expression of a visual idea, just using a mix of live-action and CGI tools to create it.

 

I think the only point of contention here is whether an award for a heavily post-generated movie should be a shared award or not, if others had a lot of input into decisions regarding light, color, focal length, movement, etc. I'm not going to make guesses in this case because I wasn't involved in the making of "Avatar", I don't know where one person's area of control ended and another person's began.

 

As for art direction, it's the same issue -- it doesn't really matter if the sets were physically-built or only virtually-constructed with CGI, not if they represent the creative work of the production designer.

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a pretty good review of Avatar:

 

 

"It is just another manufactured hype movie that will not be remembered as a classic just a movie that made a lot of $$, just like Titanic which no one talks or cares about unless they are discussing box office #s......

a sh*tty movie anyway but it's sold to everyone as this great f*ckin cultural phenomenon.."

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Let's be realistic here -- these award shows don't want to add more categories. The shows are long enough as is.

 

The other question is whether there will be enough award-worthy movies that are mostly CGI with just a small percentage of live-action, versus the more common example of an efx-heavy movie that still has a lot of traditional cinematography in it (a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie for example) -- enough to have five nominees per year in a separate category.

 

My feeling is that if something truly unique and outstanding like "Avatar" comes along that defy traditional description, they should get special awards or citations for outstanding achievement, which could be awarded to an individual or a team -- basically pull them out of the regular meat-and-potatoes group of nominees of single individuals. That way, everyone wins, the hard-to-categorize unique achievements in a field get awarded in some manner but don't have to compete with more traditional entries.

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"My feeling is that if something truly unique and outstanding like "Avatar" comes along that defy traditional description, they should get special awards or citations for outstanding achievement, which could be awarded to an individual or a team -- basically pull them out of the regular meat-and-potatoes group of nominees of single individuals. That way, everyone wins, the hard-to-categorize unique achievements in a field get awarded in some manner but don't have to compete with more traditional entries."

 

Like the awards FANTASIA got in 1941:

"The film won two Special Academy Awards in 1941:

 

Walt Disney, William E. Garity and J.N.A. Hawkins — For their outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia (certificate).

Leopold Stokowski (and his associates) — For their unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney's production Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form (certificate). "

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Let's be realistic here -- these award shows don't want to add more categories. The shows are long enough as is.

 

The other question is whether there will be enough award-worthy movies that are mostly CGI with just a small percentage of live-action, versus the more common example of an efx-heavy movie that still has a lot of traditional cinematography in it (a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie for example) -- enough to have five nominees per year in a separate category.

 

My feeling is that if something truly unique and outstanding like "Avatar" comes along that defy traditional description, they should get special awards or citations for outstanding achievement, which could be awarded to an individual or a team -- basically pull them out of the regular meat-and-potatoes group of nominees of single individuals. That way, everyone wins, the hard-to-categorize unique achievements in a field get awarded in some manner but don't have to compete with more traditional entries.

 

Dave, you make great points here. I wonder why they don't do more special awards? Like when Technicolor received a special award for its colour work in '39.

 

I still think a separate award might be appropriate, which raises the question if its time to make some tough decisions about which awards get recognized on primetime TV. Maybe it's time for the techincals to get bumped to a different show? As much as I like to see our DPs get their five minutes on TV, I don't think it'd be the worst thing in the world if they and sound folks and editors received their awards at an earlier ceremony. I would have much rather seen Gordon Willis, Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman get their deserved due for their lifetime of contributions.

 

Another time saver: at what point are they gonna call it a night for the short films? I'm sorry, but every passing year mkes them feel increasingly like the relics they are. Jeez, even the Academy featurette painted the short film as a "stepping stone" rather than an ending point or career. At least, I think they could condense them in Best Short Film, rather than those three categories that eat up time.

 

That's my view. Please don't throw too many stones at me! :)

 

BR

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Sure. So what's the difference between a sunset filmed and a sunset rendered?

 

It's always a sunset.

 

 

When you shoot a sunset you are on earth, and you move the camera, actors, grip gear, to get the great shot.

 

When you render a sunset you put the sun wherever the F you want it, you have the light fall however soft of hard you want it to, you can put whatever you want in the background be it a lake, the sun, a burger king, the sun and the actors faces are at the same brightness level.etc. Hell you can have the camera start at the sun and follow the ray of like a few billion miles to the actors sitting on a hill and have it all in one shot.

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When you render a sunset you put the sun wherever the F you want it, you have the light fall however soft of hard you want it to, you can put whatever you want in the background be it a lake, the sun, a burger king, the sun and the actors faces are at the same brightness level.etc. Hell you can have the camera start at the sun and follow the ray of like a few billion miles to the actors sitting on a hill and have it all in one shot.

 

Yeah, that’s what I mean by it’s not a level playing field. I’m not saying Avatar doesn’t look great, it does. But CG movies have no limitations except their own imaginations. Live action movies have endless limitations from something as small as a light not firing to getting blasted with a hail storm. Not to mention, CG movies can create lighting set ups that would require the lights in the shot on a live action set… I hate to sound like a cry baby, but that’s just not fair. How can live action DP’s possible compete?

 

If they keep making CG movies as good or better looking than Avatar, they may not win any acting awards and they may not win the best picture award, but they’re going to smoke the cinematography award every time unless voters decide to start voting for the less polished live action movies just to be different.

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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.

 

I'm on the fence on this issue, but I think I see a big misconception you have about how CGI is created.

 

Cartoons and CGI are different beasts. In cartoons, each frame (or every other frame if you're cheap) is drawn individually.

 

CGI does involve deciding on the type of lens to use, the location and quality of the lighting, and yes, adding bounce lights where needed.

 

Download a copy of Blender (www.blender.org) and experiment with it. Create (or get someone else to create) a basic 3D scene, and try lighting it. I think you'll get a much better appreciation of the craft of cinematography that does go into making a film like Avatar.

 

--

Jim

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And the Academy award for best actor goes to... Shrek..!!!

It could, if James Cameron has anything to say about it Check out the Creative Screenwriting podcast featuring most of the screenwriters for the 10 Academy Award nominees. Cameron talks about "performance capture." They don't capture just the actor's motions, but they capture his entire performance. Cameron sees performance capture as being analogous to prosthetic makeup - the performance is still the actor's, but enhanced using the makeup. In CGI terms, the performance is still the actor's, but enhanced by CGI. So, yeah, in a few years Andy Serkis could get a Best Actor award for his performance of Gollum.

 

I'm unconvinced of Cameron's argument, by the way, I just present it to add more fuel to this fire :-)

 

--

Jim

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And the Academy award for best actor goes to... Shrek..!!!

That about says it, a cartoon charactor is not an actor and CGI is not photography. It is almost exactly like giving Best Actor to the person who voices a cartoon.

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That about says it, a cartoon charactor is not an actor and CGI is not photography. It is almost exactly like giving Best Actor to the person who voices a cartoon.

 

 

I have no problems with a voice actor winning best actor in a cartoon. They actor still created the performance with their voice. But you are right on, the cartoon character is not an actor, and CGI is not photography. There are elements of cinematography used to create CGI, but it is still CGI.

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There are elements of cinematography used to create CGI, but it is still CGI.

 

What if there is a DP in charge of it and overseeing all those those elements ? Leading a team or crew of people with specialisations in their respective fields ? How is that different to overseeing a crew that builds the tracks, sets the lights etc ?

 

jb

 

EDIT.

 

I think that probably wasn't the case with Avatar, but I feel that we as DP's need to CLAIM this ground. Because at the moment, it's going to end up being designers and modellers and animators that will do it. We, as visual story tellers, as visual authors need to take our skills and familiar workflows and adapt them to a new mode of storytelling.

 

Of course it's not the same as live action cinematography, but where do you draw the line ? Bluescreen ? Motion Control ? any 3D element integrated ? A percentage of CG ? What percentage ? What about if you motion capture the camera as well as the actors so then there's no live photography but it's all still driven by real operators and actors and a real camera ?

 

It's very complex. I think the issue has arisen because we as an industry haven't taken charge of the visual authorship of these films. We've seen some token attempts, but until DP's actually ARE directing the photography of films that have a large percentage of CG elements then we'll get situations like this where the winner seems undeserving, something that is also pretty unfair on the winners.

 

In the same way that in a way, we are fighting to assert to have our visual authorship respected in the DI suite because so many more people have a say in how our images end up. It was a different story back in the days of optical only finishes. You got what the DP gave you.

 

jb

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What if there is a DP in charge of it and overseeing all those those elements ? Leading a team or crew of people with specialisations in their respective fields ? How is that different to overseeing a crew that builds the tracks, sets the lights etc ?

 

jb

 

 

 

Is a photographer the same as painter? They may look similar but a photograph is photograph and a painting is painting.

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Just an observation, but it's interesting how people can be selective with semantics.

 

Often, when a debate of the meaning of the word "film" arises, as in the noun and the verb, many people say it is an umbrella term, which includes video as well.

 

But nobody wants "cinematography" to be an umbrella term.

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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.

 

 

Karl, I agree with almost everything you said (except for the part where you said you liked Avatar, I thought it was a complete waste of time and money for a film that had absolutely nothing to say).

 

But if you're going to get technical, 'cinematography' translates to 'writing with motion'. Sure, a cinematographer is also a Director of Photography (which DOES translates to 'writing with light') but the actual award of Best Cinematography doesn't explicitly say anything about photography.

Edited by Dimitri Zaunders

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Yeah, that’s what I mean by it’s not a level playing field.

 

No it's not a level playing field. You get so much for so little effort in the real world - surface shading, bounced light, atmospherics - to name but a few. There also isn't a 'make pretty image' button in the computer much the same as you don't get a pretty image by just plopping a camera down, pointing it in a random direction and hitting record. (of course in both incidences you may get lucky).

 

How can live action DP’s possible compete?

 

How can the writer using a pencil possibly compete with the writer using a laptop?

 

Is it the level of control that bothers you? Sure you have limited control over a real sunset, but you do have control over how it appears on film - exposure, composition, additional lighting, filters, colour, contrast.

 

I'd also point out that the DI process is also a computer graphics (CG) process. That offers you an additional level of control. How can the cinematographer using a photochemical process possibly compete with one using a digital intermediate?

 

Is a photographer the same as painter?

 

No. But we're not comparing photography with painting. We're comparing filmed cinematography versus rendered cinematography.

 

When you render a sunset you put the sun wherever the F you want it... etc...

 

Justin pointed out that 'the' on the page or screen is still read as 'the' despite whether it's written with a pen or a computer. My point was that a sunset is still a sunset despite whether it's filmed or created on a computer or...

 

Case in point, the background sky here is also artificial - the shot itself is (I assume) a collaboration between the cinematography and the art director...

 

http://www.cinematography.com/index.php?sh...mp;#entry239287

 

What if there is a DP in charge of it and overseeing all those those elements ?... etc...

 

I agree with John on this, I believe DPs need to take visual ownership of a film. I would have thought with Avatar that he might have been given some role in the look of the CG sequences, but I imagine it's was mainly driven by the concept artists, the vfx supervisor and the director. Actually a lot of the look was determined in the concept art - not much difference between the look of the art I saw at the beginning to what was in the final film.

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Guest Tim Partridge
As for art direction, it's the same issue -- it doesn't really matter if the sets were physically-built or only virtually-constructed with CGI, not if they represent the creative work of the production designer.

 

Just an observation (and a new can of worms)

 

AVATAR credits two production designers:

 

Rick Carter, longtime production designer for Steven Spielberg

 

and

 

Robert Stromberg, who had never before designed a film or worked in any capacity of the art department. He was an Oscar nominated visual effects supervisor who had previously spent a great deal of his career as a traditional and digital matte artist, i.e. somewhat of a creator of virtual environments.

 

I don't know what the division of the production designer chores were on AVATAR, I had nothing to do with the film, but it makes me wonder, given their experiences, if Stromberg might have had most to do with the virtual sets, having been so established as a digital environments creator previously? I notice that Stromberg is now credited as sole designer for the largely virtual Alice In Wonderland, too.

 

Was crediting Stromberg as codesigner a stride to recognise the virtual craftsmanship in production design? Or was AVATAR a totally collaborative crossover for Carter and Stromberg? Or maybe it was a contractual reason, such as these things sometimes seem to be (and we don't need to know the details). I am just curious, because it seems rather unheard of to me for a vastly experienced matte specialist turned first time production designer with no previous art department credits winning an Oscar straight away in that category (and it's not like Rick Carter hasn't designed big budget visual effects movies by himself before).

 

By the way, Alice looks great and I cannot wait to see it!

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i think we all agree there is craftsmanship in the making of virtual cinematography. ok. my only point is: IF there are differences between a real actor and a animated character, what differences are those? and isnt cinematography constrained by the same differences? is it the same art, or a different one?

 

i completely agree DP's should claim the territory. but things have to be clarified.

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