Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity might just be one of the most technologically impressive films to ever see the light of day, and it's certainly going to be a shoe-in for all major awards in the categories of cinematography and visual effects (and probably sound as well) come awards season. Last year, Claudio Miranda took home the cinematography oscar for his work on Life of Pi, and many were concerned that a film so heavily dependent on CGI couldn't have proper cinematography in the traditional sense of the craft. However, Emmanuel Lubezki ASC, AMC (better known as Chivo) talked with David Heuring of American Cinematographer recently about the ever-evolving role of the cinematographer in the virtual age. What he had to say might surprise you.
Firstly, for those of you who haven't seen the film yet, here's the official trailer for Gravity, which gives you just a taste of the technical mastery of the film:
At this point, critics are already hailing Gravity as a game-changer, with some even going so far as to say that it's one of the greatest visual achievements in the history of cinema. These accolades are no doubt a direct result of the seamless integration of practical cinematography and special effects.
However, as Chivo points out in the interview, this seamless integration is no small feat, especially considering how difficult it is to effectively marry live action characters with digital backgrounds, and do so to the point of immaculate realism. More often that not it's the lighting (both practical and digital) that makes the difference:
Most of the bad CG in the world doesn’t work because the lighting is bad. When the lighting of the background doesn’t match the lighting of the foreground or the actors, then things collapse. You need someone with an eye, and with a command of the technology. Just because a movie has extensive CG, that doesn’t necessarily mean a diminished role for the cinematographer.
Chivo also talks about how cinematographers, and their unique skill sets, are absolutely crucial to the making of films in the digital age. Even though many of the images are being created in post production, or at least being heavily manipulated, they still require someone with keen knowledge of lighting, camera, and composition to oversee their creation so they can be as effective as possible.
Who is going to decide how these actors are lit at the end? It’s still an extension of cinematography. You still need a craftsman to decide how this actor should look, and then how to marry these actors to the background. (On Gravity) I was able to do all the lighting for the movie, and to collaborate on the framing and design of the shots. Who better than a cinematographer to understand what light should be doing in a scene?
For anyone who is familiar with Chivo's previous live action work, especially Children of Men and Tree of Life (on both of which he was nominated and snubbed for the cinematography Oscar), it is apparent that much of his unique styling has been transferred over into Gravity, despite the fact that the film leans so heavily on its effects.
It seems safe to say at this point that the role of the cinematographer hasn't been diminished in the digital age, so much as it has simply changed and morphed alongside our technological advances. In the end, cinematography is all about composition, lighting, and camera, all of which are inherent aspects of every film, not just the live-action ones. Since these images still need to be treated with immense care in order to be cinematically effective, who better than the cinematographer to oversee the process?
What do you guys think? Has the role of the cinematographer been degraded in the digital age, or is it more important than ever? How do you see the role changing in the future? Let us know in the comments!