Sunday, 19 September 2010

Augmented Reality Part I: Extreme Close-Up

As TVs get bigger, sound quality improves and HD widescreen becomes the standard, it would appear that cinema and television are converging into a single media. Meanwhile, movies intended for the cinema get watched on DVD players, portable games consoles or even mobile phones, and the crossovers, film adaptations and TV spin-offs continue to multiply.

Television and cinema technology developed in parallel. Historically, some TV footage would be filmed and converted for television – watch an old episode of Fawlty Towers and look for the difference between indoor (video) and outdoor (film) scenes.

CGI has become more advanced, increasing the range of things which can be depicted on TV – without throwing the whole series budget away in episode one. Also, watch any episode of the revived Doctor Who (a great example is the episode “42”) and you’ll see constant use of two-tone lighting or reduced colour palettes, and a shallow depth of field, creating a cinematic look which is now found in a lot of the more upmarket TV dramas. Compare to episodes from the old series - the differences are striking. In particular you’ll see much more colourful sets and costumes in older episodes.

Ever since the VCR first reared it’s magnetic head, people have been predicting the demise of the big screen. It hasn’t happened so far. So what are the crucial differences between the two?

One is location: you watch TV in your living room, on your own furniture in your own house. You have the lights on and your familiar life continues around you: a washing machine in the background, family members enter and leave, there’s a squeak from the hamster wheel. Telephones ring. You might eat while you watch, it's a matter of personal preference. The image is small (even now) and you can still see the rest of the room at the edges of your vision. So television is part of your everyday life.

Cinema is a seat in a darkened room far away from home – real life is put on hold, and the noises of the outside world are either blocked by heavy duty soundproofing or drowned out by waves of Dolby Digital. The image is massive - the widescreen cinema format is not arbitrary. It’s exactly the right shape and size to max out your visual cortex and completely engage you in the movie. Everything you see on the screen is larger than life, and the extreme close-up is used to exaggerate this even further: a cutaway to just the actress’s eyes can encompass the whole field of vision for a few seconds.

To be continued…

4 comments:

C.Bosco said...

Interesting point about the construct of cinema; incidentally, this is why if I do watch dvds, etc., it's usually at night.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

There is more to say about the constructs of TV and cinema. Incidentally your comment also reminded me about classical theatre and the way that natural lighting is written into Shakespeare. Not sure where I'm going with this thought...

C.Bosco said...

Don't worry, I'm not that obtuse - or, I like to think so anyway. I've actually got another related post quasi-planned, but need to finish up a different one first.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Look forward to reading both - which I'm sure will be acute as usual.