How digital technology will shape the future of the film industry

22 February 2013

The Orientation of Future Cinema
'The Orientation of Future Cinema' by Dr Bruce Isaacs.

As Hollywood's award season nears its annual pinnacle a University of Sydney film studies lecturer and author of upcoming book The Orientation of Future Cinema (Bloomsbury), assures movie lovers that the rise of digital film production does not spell the end of the art of making films.

Instead, Dr Bruce Isaacs argues, digital effects are Hollywood's new art form.

Sunday's annual Academy Awards ceremony will demonstrate Hollywood's growing commitment to the digital area, with seven of the nine films nominated for best picture shot using digital technology.

"In some instances - such as Ang Lee's Life of Pi - the technology underpins the film whereas in others, like Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, it is employed subtly," Dr Isaacs says.

The rapid increase in digital production in the last 10-15 years has alarmed audiences and movie makers alike. Big-name directors such as Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg continue to shoot on 35mm celluloid, while others see digitisation as a threat to romanticised views of the art of film making.

In The Orientation of Future Cinema, Dr Isaacs examines the technological and aesthetic history of cinema. The book argues that, instead of fearing that digital technology destroys the past, we should think of it as a revolution akin to the introduction in movies of sound, colour and wide screen technology.

The first feature film shot entirely in digital format was Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Dr Isaacs says this spelled the end of a romantic notion for many moviegoers.

"If you grew up in the '60s and '70s chances you struggle to make peace with what's happening right now. Practitioners are able to do all sorts of deceptive things and use digital effects never used before. My book doesn't see this as a problem."

Researching the evolution of film technology in recent years, Dr Isaacs spoke to special effects technicians at Pixar, sound designers at Warner Brothers and visited one of the sound production facilities of Baz Luhrmann's upcoming film The Great Gatsby. After talking to production experts, he concluded that digital technology offers more artistic opportunities to a greater number of people.

"Digital cinema is more democratic; you can hire a digital film camera for $1000 a week for four weeks to shoot a feature film and edit it on your Mac," he says. "I would argue that people like Nolan and Tarantino are being slightly elitist in some of the comments they have made."

The Orientation of Future Cinema is being launched on 27 March at the University of Sydney's Schaeffer Library. Dr Isaacs describes the book as a scholarly work that will also be of interest to a general readership.

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