It’s becoming harder to hear that “Digital Cinema” is going to replace traditional film. I often make the comparison to what was said about digital photography in its infancy and how it was going to push analog photography to the wayside. Cinema is time-based image making whether it is digital or analog. I don’t think that it is productive to set the two against each other.
During the production process of creating a film, from start to finish you have an opportunity to change the outcome of the final presentation. In the end both ways of capturing images are similar in that they do that they capture images, but the difference lies within the process and how the final images are obtained. It is important to mention that both forms of cinema require intense study and practice of technique and process to get an ultimately realized vision.
Lets put the two forms on a similar plane, but on a different palette and use the analogy to the different types of painting. Where a traditional filmmaker has limited means of modifying images once they are recorded on film, which is a comparison to fresco painting. The switch to oils greatly liberated painters by allowing them to quickly create much larger compositions as well as to modify them as long as necessary, which is the comparison to the abilities of digital cinema. The correlation to paintings to the types of cinema is refreshing because it puts the types of cinema on the same page and does not stack them against each other. This is a more proactive way of creating a history of each.
In an article written over a decade ago called What is Digital Cinema?, Lev Manovich stated, “animation was the bastard relative of cinema,” and now we see that Digital Cinema is the updated likeness to the nineteenth-century techniques with expanded possibilities. Though at the time of this article there have been significant leaps in technology and computer processing power, artists still have to rely on the historical time-based techniques of production. I think we have to hold the techniques of hand painting and animation, old and new, in high regard. The painstaking process and hours spent on making a simple scene is extraordinary and we should all keep this in mind when we watch a known digital piece that is feature length. Through the expansion and adaptation of technology the filmmaker/artist is given new tools and is allowed to express their artistic vision in new ways.
Finally, I also want to comment on how digital cinema is allowing us to experience another level of the Kino-Eye. We are able to experience environments and situations like never before. An investigation to a new reality, virtual or not, we are given a viewscape that has never been seen before. The digital realm of cinema is growing and in some sense is raising the bar for what audiences are coming to expect from their visual experience.