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Cinematographer Roger Deakins Moving from Film to Digital Cameras

Posted on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 3:20 PM

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Cinematographer Roger Deakins has nine Academy Award nominations for his work in such movies as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and most recently True Grit, among others.

The American Society of Cinematographers has recognized him with nominations for ten movies, two of which garnered him wins for "Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases," and they bestowed him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Pixar even hired him to consult for them when they were making Wall-E and wanted to make it as cinematic as possible (read Journal article).

Needless to say, the man's got some skills!

Those skills have always been used through the lens of a film camera. But on the next movie he's working on, Now, his eye is looking through the glass of a different kind of camera. One that stores his images digitally. The Hollywood Reporter has a story about why he decided to go with a new digital camera instead of the tried-and-true film camera:

Considered one of the pre-eminent directors of photography by his peers, he has remained committed to shooting on film through such movies as No Country for Old Men and True Grit, dismissing many of the images shot in recent years with digital cameras as "rubbish."

Although many independent filmmakers were quick to adopt digital cinematography because it can be cheaper, for a master of the art like Deakins, it's been a question of aesthetics: To his eye, digital has not always captured the richness of film.

But with the rapid advancements in digital cinematography, Deakins is becoming a convert. He shot his most recent film, Andrew Niccol's Now, using the new Arri Alexa digital camera. And as he prepares to shoot the next James Bond movie, which Sam Mendes will direct this year, he tells The Hollywood Reporter, "I'm probably going to use Alexa on my next shoot — it seems very likely."

Click the Read link below to read the full article.

This is big news, as many "artisans" in the industry have not been willing to give up their film cameras, even though others have been drinking the digital juice for quite some time. George Lucas made waves when he used digital cameras to create Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, which was released in 2002. Robert Rodriguez took the plunge around that same time, and even Peter Jackson has taken up digital cameras to create the two movies of The Hobbit story.

All this said, it might be that Deakins has just chosen to use the digital camera on this one movie, and will return to film for a project in the future. His comment that "I did a test on Alexa, and it looked right for the movie." tells me that for this project, that particular camera met his needs. There's no telling what he might do after that, but he does allude to the fact that he is leaning towards the digital camera for the next Bond movie (Bond 23) as well.

Does This Mean Much to Moviegoers?

This doesn't have much direct impact on moviegoers, because whether a movie was created on a digital camera or a film camera, what you see on the big screen could be either projected on film or by a digital projector. The process of making a movie, especially one with visual effects, usually involves converting anything shot on film to a digital file anyway, so it becomes an issue of the capability of the camera and its operator, and then all the steps after that, which determines how much of that source material actually makes it to the screen.

What it does mean to moviegoers is that the people who make movies now have even more choices than they did before when they are deciding how to shoot their movies. Those that wanted better performance from digital cameras are seeing their expectations fulfilled. Digital cameras make it possible to shorten the time it takes to make a movie, and it also is possible that shooting a movie digitally will cost less money. That should translate into more movies released into theaters without waiting as long. That can be a good thing, indeed!

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