These days in movie making, technology is king. In films like Beowulf and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, technology virtually created the cast and in Beowulf, made Ray Winstone look very good indeed.
Of course, new machinery is always being invented and as with other industries, in movie making, it’s all in the factory and is generally barely noticeable in the affect it has on the screen.
Like the three times expanded ice cream maker, just invented. Makes soft ice cream smoother than McDonald’s two times expanded version. The movie equivalent might be, the iSlate. the slate for your iPhone. Neat, but like the ice cream, will I notice the difference in the cinema? In fact with the ice cream, I might!
In movies, inventions, like actors, get Oscars, they have their own ceremony, the Scientific and Technical Awards. But do techies walk the red carpet, or is it some kind of retro-reflective, CGI carpet that morphs into a starship that takes them to a land far away and It turns out to be all a dream?
The very first SciTech’s as they’re called, were in 1931 when the winners included RCA Photophone and RKO Radio Pictures for noise reduction sound recording and Du Pont and Kodak for an extra sensitive black and white film. This was the period when sound was the next big thing, and RKO were competing with Warner’s, Jazz Singer, and cinema speaker systems were revealing the poor quality in sound recording. Their work contributed to Photophone becoming a leading sound system for many years and meant audiences could hear the talkies more clearly.
This year there was no Oscar awarded, though other awards went to new lighting equipment, a video assist and a device, the Hylens, to vary the focal plane of a lens – it creates a specific point of focus in an otherwise blurred image and has been used by DOP’s on movies including Atonement, World Trade Centre and Iron Man. It’s subtle. Notice though that current demands are for innovation in imaging, sound is pretty much ok, for the moment. The Hylens works on a Panavision camera and interestingly, Panavision and Kodak, have won the greatest number of SciTech awards since it began, with Kodak on 19 and Panavision on 17. The two most fundamental things in film making – the camera and the film.
Panavision began in 1953 and is now probably the most used camera in the movie business. It’s changed, but has essentially stayed the same, you’d know one if you saw one. Starting small from the Westwood Village camera shop of Robert Gottschalk, cameras weren’t the first thing on their minds, but projection lenses.
The next big thing in the fifties was widescreen, to attract audiences back from competing television, and 20th Century Fox led the way with their CinemaScope system. Panavision started making CinemaScope projection lenses for cinemas and later, lenses for cameras. Panavision became a competing system to CinemaScope, eventually taking all of their business, though they didn’t really get into making their own cameras until 1962.
They went on to make huge developments in camera and lens technology, including the lightweight Panaflex 35 in 1972, Primo,’colour matched’ Lenses in 1990 and their digitlal camera, Genesis in 2004, recently used on The Other Boleyn Girl. They’ve diversified into many other camera associated technologies including lighting and grip across many countries. They’re big! In Hollywood in particular, it has become the familiar sight on film and TV sets including The Dark Knight and 24.
Panavision’s main competitor used to be Arriflex, but now it’s Red. The digital newcomer favoured by directors including Steven Soderbergh who shot his two-parter, Che on Red. Indeed Red shook the 15 year dominance of Panavision as it took over on the last episodes of ER, and has shot most of the recent TV pilots. Red is cheaper to rent and you can buy one for half the price of a week’s rental of a Panaflex. Regular management re-shuffles have lowered confidence in the company, though now, as well as their Genesis camera, they’re developing a competing camera for the digital market. DOP fans hope they’re not too late.
So while the factory remains busy, the machinery is changing, though like three times expanded ice cream, the audience may barely taste the difference.