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The Digital Future: Are These the Good Old Days?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 24, 2008 at 5:00AM

David Cohen here, while Anne Thompson is away for the week. Had lunch recently with tech legend Ray Feeney to talk about what's going on with visual effects, digital production and 3-D. Ray has been saying for a while now that the industry is undergoing it's biggest transformation since the advent of sound. Bigger than color, certainly. But the question is, what is the industry being transformed into? Ray's argument is that an all-digital pipeline -- everything from cameras to post to digital projectors to mobile video -- isn't just a different way of making movies, it's a new medium. But when every new medium is introduced, people start by doing what they already know how to do. In early movies, they tried filming stage plays. ("The Cocoanuts," anyone?) In early television, they did soaps (borrowed from radio), long-form dramas (like the movies) and variety shows (like vaudeville) until "I Love Lucy" pointed the way to the mega-hit sitcom. That's where we are now with digital moviemaking: using the new tools to make the same kind of thing. We're still waiting for the "I Love Lucy" of the digital age. Ray says:
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IlovelucyDavid Cohen here, while Anne Thompson is away for the week. Had lunch recently with tech legend Ray Feeney to talk about what's going on with visual effects, digital production and 3-D. Ray has been saying for a while now that the industry is undergoing it's biggest transformation since the advent of sound. Bigger than color, certainly.

But the question is, what is the industry being transformed into? Ray's argument is that an all-digital pipeline -- everything from cameras to post to digital projectors to mobile video -- isn't just a different way of making movies, it's a new medium. But when every new medium is introduced, people start by doing what they already know how to do. In early movies, they tried filming stage plays. ("The Cocoanuts," anyone?) In early television, they did soaps (borrowed from radio), long-form dramas (like the movies) and variety shows (like vaudeville) until "I Love Lucy" pointed the way to the mega-hit sitcom. That's where we are now with digital moviemaking: using the new tools to make the same kind of thing. We're still waiting for the "I Love Lucy" of the digital age.

Ray says:

I joke with the people on our group who are working with this stuff that when I started in the industry in the ’70s, it was a time when Technicolor was shutting down three-strip stuff and there was a lot of nostalgic looking back on that era, like, 'Wow, as a technologist it must have been really incredible to be around when they were just getting the color in motion pictures and all that.' So when we came along, we were the young puppies and those were the good-old days we would talk to the old guard about.

I tell the people working on our projects that these are the good old days. This (digital) stuff, nobody knows how this should be done. There are no standards and people are trying anything.

Whatever's coming, though, I think one thing's almost certain: It'll be disorienting to Baby Boomers like me whose tastes were formed in the analog age. Videogames are going to have more influence on storytelling and film grammar. Visual effects will be used in more stylized ways, as in "Sin City" and "300."

Personally, I'm looking forward to it. I think. Even if the only thing that would get me to buy a PS3 is the Blu-Ray player.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

This article is related to: Production , TV, Digital Future, Web/Tech, VFX


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.