Saturday, 24 April 2010

REDaesthetics and the Art of RAW

For an assessment of my research, please see the blog entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. Another set of ideas I've been working on, in terms of how colour is represented can be found at: The Concept of Colour Space from the practitioners Standpoint. You can find other papers of mine at:

‘RED aesthetics and the Art of RAW’ is an event to be held at the Barbican on Monday 26th April 2010 and explores how changing technologies are having an impact on the practice and aesthetics of cinema and moving-image arts.
As an event it is intended to get under the skin of what digital is and means, or can mean for artists and filmmakers. The debate was prompted by the arrival of RED camera technology and its impact on the film industry. A central question was: Can it also be a good thing for artists and individual filmmakers, or does throw up new issues and problems?

Here are the series of questions to be asked and my response to them - I hope there's something in this that reveals something about High Definition thinking.

How is it different to film? Are the differences substantial or superficial?

Electronic Cinematography and Photo-Chemical Film are materially different
The real issue is their similarities because their difference is their materiality.
Their similarities lead to confusion.
They both record images with a similar latitude of response, they both have a latent image state and then a way of bringing the image via development and rendering into a material state. There are similarities of post production. They both end up being displayed.
Digitality enables the prior technology of film to distribute across its sister medium, the internet.

What do those differences mean for artists and filmmakers?

If treated in the digital realm - not a lot.

Are the differences just relevant to artists to whom the material is part of the work?

The differences are relevant to cinematographers and adherents to the prior paradigm of film. Film thinking remediates digital thinking - like painting did to photography.
Is the digital image a different thing from the film image? If so, how is it?

Basically yes - but the question itself turns out to be complex:
Depends on where you are asking in the process. In capture, in workflow, in post-production, in display they all differ through their materiality - if at any point you cross-process then each material takes on the qualities of the other. Also the digital image is different from video which can be either analogue or digital. In fact digital imaging takes much from its analogue predecessor. It should also be noted that the first adherents of video art were film avant-guardists who had remediatory concerns and and produced muddy outcomes on analogue and digital video for years.

Do new forms always and automatically mean new options for artists?

Unequivocally - Yes! That’s what modernism brought to the party.
Of course modernism wa the rejection of art as determined by the invention of the printing press and exemplied at its apogee by the Frankfurt Schools ‘reading’ of art as something that requires ‘interpretation’ to reveal it’s point, its truth,, its significance. With the advent of the digital, text based analysis and the requirement for the artist to encode meaning and the audience to decipher that meaning became obsolete. We are currently stuck with this old form until more advanced ideas become articulated with what is actually happening within audience experience which is one of ‘entrainment’ rather than interpretation.

Are artists lead by technological developments? If so, to what extent?

Always and never. Some go their own way, some listen to the way the world is through technological advance. Its within the dominant ideology of this time - the tale end of modernism with late capitalism.
Artists such as Steve McQueen and Issac Julien use professional DoPs for their work. Does this alter its status in terms of authorship? Should these works be thought of as collaborative works?
Walter Benjamin asked in 1936 whether or not whether the replica can have as much aura as the original artwork. In 1987 Illuminations made a programme to start the satellite arts channel called L’Objet D’art dans l’age electronic - Can copies of the object of art have aura. In the digital realm there is neither copy nor original - where does this question lie now?
All artists use craftspeople to accomplish their goal if they are within the modernist ideological, late capitalist state as they reject the need for self competence within the area they feel they are empowered to speak within - which is why there are so many babbling voices. The Italians have a saying: Few are called - but many answer.

What about technical skill? Within the industry DoPs/camera operators will be trained on RED, but this is unlikely to be the case for artists. Does skill level then have an effect on creation?

This question is about whether or not art is conceptual - or that its assessment is based on criteria that relate to skill. Recently, the only skill relevant to the creation of art has been within the arena of ideas with execution being left to craftspeople - and yet, judgements about absolutes within art are determined by questions of skill. The issue of Leonardo or Micaelangelos reputation - or Vermeer or Titan etc is around their ability to execute their ideas within painting or sculpture. It is their art that is undeniably seen as the apogee of human activity and so by default - carft and skill ARE the determining factors about the potency of art in relationship to its shelf-life.
Artists recognise they have to buy in skill to make their work achieve recognition above the bar that art without craft lies beneath.

It has been said that film is ‘truer’ as it has an indexical relationship to reality.
But in fact, is HD ‘purer’ in that it is raw data rather? Does it matter? Is it interesting?
I think there’s a confusion in the asking of this question. Neither medium is more pure than the other. RAW is a state and film information can be encoded in RAW data as much as Electronic information - so I don’t buy one is more pure than the other. They are both materials. Indexicality is a state of mind. If I look at a film or HD image without indexicality as my mode of looking then what is seen could simple be an abstraction. It is only a tendency towards organisation in some minds that create indexicality - and especially those who have inherited aristotleian/enlightenment/victorian cataloguing tendencies that indexicalise the world - i.e. academics. Artists have to develop the opposite kind of mind (unless indexicalisation is their project)

Is technical purity/excellence somehow limiting to what artists can achieve? Does it undermine individuality?

Technical excellence is a practice and some philosophies propose that practice - and especially limiting practice like zen meditation - is a key to unbridled comprehension of the world. Also individuality and that neurotic expression, individual creativity, is a compound of the period from the early medieval to the present. We are placental mammals wit placental mammal imaginations. Certain artists sometimes trigger response from somehow being apposite in such a specific way that they earn the cheers of the mass of the other primates - but the idea that individuality being undermined is non-cogniscant of the fact that out profile as individual creatures is severally limited in the first place.
Does technical purity/excellence detract from identification/storytelling?

I think we should do away with being good technically as being a problem. It’s true that technical excellence comes with a certain set of values, but if the artist or film maker isn’t up to it then nothing they do will be any good anyway.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Spring declaration of the Death of Film

For an assessment of my research, please see the blog entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. Another set of ideas I've been working on, in terms of how colour is represented can be found at: The Concept of Colour Space from the practitioners Standpoint. You can find other papers of mine at:

A few weeks back, with the advent of the Alexa from Arriflex and the new sensor from Red, Marc Weigert an Emmy award winning visual effects designer declared on Friday, March 5, 2010 at 11:03 am in an article on the Film Animation World Network that:

2010 is the year that celluloid Died

For a week or so there was opprobrium expressed in abundance on the Cinematographers Mailing List: “obviously this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about” - others said “let him off the hook, he’s just being enthusiastic” others said - “maybe he’s got a point”.

Well, the cat was out of the bag. A few weeks later an article by Alan Brandon on gizmag (17 the March) asked:

Will the Arri Alexa finally kill film?

The point here is that the conversation’s on. The truth is film will never die or go away - people still chalk images on rock, so by the same token, film is here to stay.

The step-change with the Arri Alexa is that the ideas proposed by many cinematographers concerning getting a full image form a digital camera by shooting two frames one with low exposure one with high exposure - then combining the low lights and the highlights of both so that the final combined frame benefits from both exposures - must mean that the latitude given in the pho-chemical medium of film is surpassed.

However, one rule of electronics is that supposed gains always produced un-supposed drawbacks and we wait to see what the downsides of the new innovation produces.

There’s another issue too: over-exposed film highlights were beautiful whereas over-exposed digital highlights (for various technical reasons) were not. So by cutting out over-exposure digital capture will at least not be ugly in that area. But the hidden loss is the potential absence of one of the colours from the cinematographers palette.

Well - of course until we all get our hands on the cameras and do some work in earnest the jury will have to remain out on this.

One by-product of dealing with so much data is that the Alexa is limited to 2K - therefore notionally good enough to rival the resolution of film’s 6k (I quote the necessary scanning figure for good transfer), baring in mind that by the time you get to a release print with film in the cinema you see what approximates down to 1k (because of the degradation of the various processes film has to go through), and of course HD 1920 or 2k acquisition (2048) screens at 2k - therefore twice the resolution of standard film projection.

The Red shoots at a notional 4k (3.2 if your lenses are good enough) and the unspoken problem in data management is Modular Transfer Function: each bit in the chain of data has a quality level - whatever the lowest quality in the chain is is the MTF of the data. Often, 4k can be below 2k...

The Alexa sensor is running 2 x 2k frames for every red 4k frame - effectively half the amount of data - so if as Panasonic often shout from the rooftops that measuring resolution and anything else come to that, is dependent on the quality of the chain - you better know what the weaknesses of the chain are.

Incidentally - Red can run 120fps at 2k and the Alexa will run 60fps at 2k - that’s the same amount of data.


The point of all of this is that technology is following the aspirations of the DP’s (finally) and we have a good chance in the Alexa of putting out some images comparable to film.

The image below is a description of Modular Transfer Function