Digital cinemas

Authored by: Sean Cubitt

The Routledge Companion to World Cinema

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138918801
eBook ISBN: 9781315688251
Adobe ISBN:


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All contemporary cinema is digital. Analogue cinema still lives on in archives, specialist theatres and collections showing celluloid or nitrate film, but otherwise we make and view cinema digitally in the twenty-first century. Financing, production management and accounting, sound and image generation, recording and post-production, distribution, marketing, audience intelligence and critical response all use digital tools. In this sense, cinema is digital from conception to delivery. However, in many instances, digital tools make little difference: accountancy software is only a more efficient update of double-entry book-keeping. Meanwhile, some things have not changed at all. There is no such thing, for example, as a digital lens: glass technology and lens housings remain more or less as they have been since the late 1940s. The art and craft of filmmaking still demands real people to do real things in real places. Stunts still require stunt artists; animals still require wranglers; even synthespians (digital actors such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, 2001–2003, New Zealand/USA/Germany, Peter Jackson: see King 2011; Prince 2012: 112–157) rely on specialist performances by live actors. Animations still require voice artists (though the music industry has employed synthetic modulations and overlays as effects since the arrival of analogue electronics in the 1960s, no studio or effects house lays claim to viable voice synthesis, making any claim to “totally digital cinema” to that degree incorrect). A script hammered out on a typewriter is not distinguishable from one crafted in Movie Magic. Props, make up, locations, sets, cranes, dollies, transport, catering, crew and actors remain obdurately physical. The machinery inside edit suites has changed but the architecture remains, as do executive offices and auditoria. Nothing has changed, and yet everything has.

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