Expanded Cinematography extends the role of cinematography to digital domains like Virtual Cinematography, VFX, Image making for Gaming and Previs.
Expanded Cinematography – this concept was introduced by eminent Cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Yuri Neyman. They are even running training programs centred on this.
The rules of cinematography totally apply in the virtual world. Computer graphics is just another arm of cinematography. It’s just another set of tool to create imagery. The most essential part of cinematography is to understand that it is visual communication over time Cinematography is art and science. And the art and science of cinematography is continually changing.
To compose a shot, in live cinematography, the first thing we do is to position a camera in the physical sense.And, once the shot is composed and filmed , the shot is considered done. How you have framed your subject, the actor’s eyeline, your lighting, your staging , everything is locked. There might be the colorgrading , in the final stage , after the final edit. Otherwise its mostly a linear workflow.
In the Virtual world , when you compose a shot ,avirtual camera is used. But it’s just only one small step towards the final shot. There will be several more iterations of that shot, inching towards the final composed image. Over several months, typically. And the process is very much non-linear.
Some of the steps which could affect the shot are 3d modelling and rigging of characters , sets and props ; the animation of the wireframe model ; the shade pass in which color , texture and finishes are done; the digital lighting pass where ambient , omni directional and spot lighting tools are used ; and then the final render.
Dozens of artists need to work on a shot, and if the intent of the final image is not communicated clearly, then those artists have the ability to change that intent.
During this whole process , the shot gets refined continuously. Sometimes the lensing is changed along the way , or sometimes the rhythm of the movement is changed ; or the distance of the camera.
For example, an animator can change the eyeline, or they can block out a very broad action requiring a change in framing from a close up to a medium shot, thus changing the language of the scene. A lighting artist can light an area of the frame you had intended to keep in shadow, or out of focus. The job of a cinematographer then is to create the intent and then shepherd that intent through all of these different departments to make sure the integrity of the cinematic vision is not compromised and is maintained.
In the year 2014 , a milestone was achieved , when Pixar’s Sharon Calahan became the first director of photography whose work has been purely on computer-generated movies to be invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers. Calahan has received director of photography credits since 1998’s A Bug’s Life, and she’s still one of the very few working in animation with that title.
The contributions of veteran director of photography Roger Deakins to Pixar’s WALL-E, and DreamWorks’ Dragon franchise should also be noted.
In recent 3D animation films, the DP credit is shared between two : director of photography — camera and director of photography — lighting;
The use of VFX in live action films is a fairly well known domain by now. And also the need for the Cinematographer’s knowledge of the whole process of making a shot with the collaborative efforts of the VFX Supervisors. And how the CG gets integrated with live footage. Scores of notable examples in recent films like, Life of Pi , Gravity or Inception ,where the use of VFX is brilliant.
Image making for Gaming.
There are many new angles in opening up inthe video game arena – for the DOP to understand, adapt and thrive in – virtual lighting, previsualisation, image management, and new areas of modern culture expanding with opportunity.
The video game market is a massive, fast growing and young part of the entertainment market – and one where the need for realism and filmic quality is paramount.The very fundamentals of the mediumis that anything is possible. The Video Game Awards include Best Cinematography – a sign of its value in the gaming world. The Game making world has taken inspiration from films such as Avatar, Life of Pi, Gravity, Ex Machina, the Jungle Book.
The process of using computer-generated animation to explore scenes and sequences before they are shot. Those shots are edited together to demonstrate the potential execution of a scene or sequence. It can significantly impact the cinematographer’s job.
The role of previsualization is expanding beyond the storyboard and into more realms of production to assist the cinematographer, production designer, VFX artist, etc. to see their contribution to the image. It’s iterative and ever-evolving – a process rather than a destination.
Previs is used to tell the story in the rawest possible form. One needs a high level of knowledge of not only CG work, but also creative storytelling.
Previs helps in blocking and coverage. So it also helps in controlling the shoot time and cost expenditure..
In new setups, handheld interfaces that mimic a camera, within a previs environment are accessible; these tools make it possible to physically move around in CG space. Basically, after a CG environment is built, it can be displayed on a portable screen that behaves like a handheld camera within the scene. A director, cinematographer or production designer can then carry the screen around, exploring the space and setting up shots. Once an environment is built, and then the director and cinematographer can have a meeting in that environment.
Filmmaking is a collaborative art form, and it’s very true that there is more than one person at anytime working on a shot. There are people that are lighting, there are people that are doing the camera work, there are people who are creating visual effects, and it all comes together to form a shot. However, there needs to be a certain amount of continuity and consistency across these processes ; which will have to be visualised and maintained by someone.And that could be the Cinematographer , with the Director’s vision of the script being taken into account.
So , the idea is to expand the craft influence of a Cinematographer to all these domains, to have control over the final imagery.
Knowledge of Expanded Cinematography as a concept, helps in this.