For those of you that have waded through my summaries of Manovich, this is your final assignment for graduation. Chapter six is it!
The last chapter of ,The New Language of Digital Media, is the final installment of one man’s journey through the land of digital media. I say one man’s journey, because no one would willingly join the intrepid explorer were it not for professors everywhere requiring students to read this malicious attempt to melt people’s brains into a puddle of protoplasmic goo.
That being said, there is joy in this last chapter because it deals with the main thread running through every chapter; cinema. Manovich feels cinema has been the foundation of our representation, exploration,imagination and manipulation of reality for a very long time. He pays homage to cinema, describing its unique history and evolution into the world of digital media.
In this section, Manovich explains the first attempts at movement used drawings and painted images that were manually moved across a static background. Once photographs were introduced into motion machines, a split in cinema occurred. Those wanting to work in recording reality strictly through the lens in real-time veered away from the drawings and symbolic representations of the animated (cartoon) films. Special effects such as mirrors, miniatures and other techniques, were pushed to the side to distance this form of cinema from unrealistic animation.
As Manovich likes to remind us, nothing is ever completely lost or forgotten in the development of technology. In the 1990s, these marginalized techniques would move back to the center. “As traditional film technology is universally being replaced by digital technology, the logic of the filmmaking process is being redefined.” (p. 300)
New cinema embraces principles of digital filmmaking.
- Live action is suddenly displaced as the only possible material for film construction. 3-D computer animation is placed on equal footing.
- Manovich points out that the computer does not delineate real photographs from generated images and “pixels, regardless of their origin, can be easily altered…”
- Life action footage is no longer left intact, but functions as a base for compositing, animating and morphing.
- Editing is no longer a post production specialty. With the computer, creating and editing can become a simultaneous process.
Manovich sums this historical arch up saying
Born from animation, cinema pushed animation to its periphery, only in the end to become one particular case of animation.
This return to special effects turned filming of movies almost upside down. For example, movies like Star Wars; Episode 1-The phantom Menace (Lucas, 1999) had a traditional on-set shooting time of just 65 days but a post production schedule surpassing two years. This was due to the fact that 95 percent of the film was digitally constructed.
Digitally “Painting” over images also returns to the old days of celluloid work in animated cartoons. Each frame must be worked on individually. 3-D Digital techniques, unlike 2-D cinematography, layer images and live footage throughout the virtual layers giving the camera free movement throughout the space.
A new language that emerged was the result of “the techniques of modern cinema and of the 19th century moving-image presentations” merging into a new hybrid called “cinegratography”. Once again, MYST is held up as an example of this integration. Photographs and graphics, long ago divorced, merge once again.
With the CD-ROM (1995) Manovich declares, “…exactly a hundred years after cinema was officially ‘born’, it was reinvented on a computer screen. And while digital media creators have worked tirelessly to turn new media into a simulation of classical film language, they also strive to create new languages that take the medium into a different trajectory.
The LOOP returns
Loops were used in early cinema to create a feeling of authenticity. What photographs were missing was a sense of movement; the wind or sea spray. Through looping, cinema could bring the documentation of movement to life.
From the ashes, arises the Phoenix. The earliest motion machines relied on loops to create a continual illusion of movement due to lack of physical space within the machine Early digital movies also side-stepped some of the storage limitations with loops. An example would be a game character’s basic motions could be stored on a loop and recalled at the appropriate spots within the game.
Cinematic narrative can be represented through loops and the interactivity of the viewer. The game Tamagotchi asks the viewer to “take charge” of a fictional character. When the viewer selects an option for the narrative to unfold, the computer can select loops from a database to create a sense of continuity similar to cut shots in classic cinema. The viewer will be left with a familiar sense of a progressive narrative.
We have previously explored the montage in chapter 3’s review. Ancient art glorified spatial narratives, creating multiple scenes within a singe work of art. Cinema glorified the sequential narrative. In fact, film technology was designed to fill the screen, not compartmentalized it.
Spacial narratives once again return in digital media. Suddenly, viewers are offered a variety of “shots” simultaneously. Embracing multiple windows and splits screens on the computer, this type of digital cinematic experience is supported by the technology rather than hindered by it.
Cinema as an Information Space
“Cinema can be thought of as an interface to events taking place in 3-D space.” In the style of old painting from Dutch and Italians painters, this interface develops the aesthetics of density. Layer upon layer of detail can create a complexity whether in oils or the layers of digital compositing. Our society today is used to a rich and dense display of information. The web pages we visit daily are a prime example of what has become so commonplace.
As life becomes more complex and we are bombarded with layered stimulus at work and play, digital cinema takes on the cultural aspects of society and condenses and molds content into a spatially interactive event. The use of 3-D allows digital cinema to remove the depth of field limitations of photography. Everything, at every point, is in clear focus and easily defined.
Cinema as a Code
At the end of the chapter, the future of new media is considered. Manovich points to the artist, Vuk Cosic, who, instead of hiding code from the viewer of digital cinema ,(such as the Star Wars movie) reveals them.
Manovich points out that “since the 1960’s the operation of media translation has been at the core of our culture.” We move from one form to the next as technology evolves. Similar to the loop of the original motion machines, we see techniques reappear in the timeline of cinematic development. Techniques, effects, and cultural norms are continually shuffled from prominence into obscurity. Manovich leaves us with the thought that the most promising cultural aspect of computerization may well be,
…an opportunity to see the world and the human being anew, in ways that were not available to “a man with a movie camera.”