If you had to sum up next-gen filmmaking in a couple of sentence, you could do a lot worse than this:
Essentially, what [Robert] Zemeckis has attempted in his last three movies is the division of the complex process of filmmaking into two discrete stages, each more easily manageable in isolation. Rather than trying to deal with the elusive chemistry of performance on a live set increasingly crowded with technicians and technology, he has found a way of recording the actors first and creating the image that will contain them later.
You’ve heard about this technique, of course—motion-capture suits, 3D sets—but I think that’s just an elegant way of talking about it. “Division of the complex process [into] discrete stages, each more easily manageable in isolation.” Break it down. Capture building blocks, not finished frames.
Colin Firth adds some color:
“You go into rooms with lenses on every surface of every wall. They give you a heavy spandex suit covered in dots that are read by some sort of beam that shines across the room you are in. This room is not called the set, but ‘the volume.’ “
The volume! I love it. It’s actually a very telling term. It signals the shift from 2D to 3D capture. The “work product” of a performance isn’t a sequence of images; it’s a moving cloud of points.
We talk a lot about new media encapsulating old media, presenting them, digesting them—and then, finally, moving beyond them. That’s exactly what’s happening with film. (“Film.”) Here’s Zemeckis again:
“If you’ve been looking at my movies over the years,” he said, “you’ll see that I edit less and less and less. And now I don’t have to edit at all! This is the logical extension of where I’ve been going.”
Reading about Zemeckis’s impossible camera movements and incredibly long shots actually made me think of playing Half-Life 2—a game with the dramatic arc and pacing of a movie but, come to think of it, no cuts. Of course not. Does the cinema of the future look at least a little bit like an FPS?
I desperately want to see the indie version of all this, though. How expensive can it be to set up a performance volume in your garage? Let’s get a green-screen cube, a mo-cap suit, and a modded copy of Half-Life and make something!