Exploring Digital Light with Stephen Prince

Prince begins his article, titled “Painting with Visual Light” by discussing the evolution of cinema and the prediction of modern cinema by cinematographer Leon Shamroy. As new technology emerged,visual effects seemed to be a lot less special to the viewer.

Cinematographer Marvin Rush was set on expanding creative opportunities by taking digital out of the bubble of visual effects and making it more of a concept than anything. He advocated separating visual effects from “fantasy effects”, as he believed they were much more than that. Digital effects can be seamless and reminiscent of real-life as well. They don’t have to be crazy fight scenes, explosions, or evil creatures. The film Forrest Gump is a great example, where visual effects are primarily used to enhance reality, such as the ping pong match or Lieutenant Dan’s missing legs. Which is easier? Recreating reality or developing a fantasy world?

Prince also discusses composting, where two effects in film are layered to create a final image. Before the digital explosion, composting was done with an optical printer. According to Prince, Citizen Kane, on of the feature films, had over 50% optical composting. It can also be seen in Star Wars films such as The Empire Strikes Back, which I have linked a Vimeo clip of here: https://vimeo.com/78956520. Digital composting, on the other hand, allows for finer detail and more precise manipulation of the shot. It is a process that now requires many members of a film’s team and goes into postproduction as well.

The picture in the article from King Kong in 2005 demonstrates how digital composting uses matte paintings, mini models, the digitally created gorilla, and lighting on the actress to create a more realistic visual image.

Digital lighting is achieved through local or global illumination methods. Local uses key light, back light, fill and rim lighting, etc. Global, on the other hand, does not require individual light sources. Digital lighting can be performed on anything, such as the food in Ratatouille, to make it stand out or appear more real. In addition to realism, digital lighting can also help tell a narrative.

Is it possible that the digital image goes too far in terms of manipulation? Does this threaten the integrity of film?







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