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Let’s retrace some steps of this revolution. At the end of the Eighties the use of digital in cinema was essentially linked to the creation of special effects in the post-production phase in the first decade of the new century it is evident that the ever-increasing use of this technology has significantly influenced the creation of some of the most important cinematographic works that have appeared on the market in recent years and the entire distribution market.
The revolution did not occur only in the field of creation, production and authorship but also in the field of distribution by virtue of the considerable reduction in costs relating to digital storage media and their transport. An entire cultural and productive tradition has therefore had to deal with these innovations. Significant examples of the changes that have occurred are films such as The polar express (2004) and The Legend of Beowulf (2007) by Robert Zemeckis, Sin city 2005) by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009) by Zack Snyder but also the new frontiers of animation cinema marked in particular by the revolutionary action of Pixar In many cases, the choice of digital appears to be a fundamental component of one of the most significant features of postmodern cinema
Toy Story 1995
Animated film, the first fully developed in computer graphics, directed by John Lasseter, made by Pixar.
Sin City 2005
The film is completely digitally shot and has an almost completely virtual setting. The actors interpreted the scenes in front of the green screen, using the Chroma Key technique.
Successful experiments such as Baz Luhrmann’s musical Moulin Rouge! (2001), but also operations aimed at merging adventure and sci-fi (science fiction) as in the case of Sky captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004) by Kerry Conran. The film was built entirely in post-production, with the exception of the acting phase of the actors, after being shot on blue screen. With this term or with that of green screen (the choice of color is subjective or technical) we indicate the screen on which the special effects are applied.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 2004
The film was shot entirely on a blue background and, apart from the actors, everything is added in computer graphics in post-production.
Among the performers there is also the great actor who passed away Laurence Olivier, “resurrected” thanks to the use of the virtual actor and modern special effects technologies. This screen forms the basis of the chroma-key technique.
Among the directors who use this technology for authorial purposes we can mention Michael Mann Collateral (2004), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The fabulous world of Amélie 2001) and (A long Sunday of passions 2004) and Tim Burton, The demon barber of Fleet Street (2007; Sweeney Todd The Evil Barber of Fleet Street).
The interaction between foreground, or plane of moving figures and background is precisely the front on which digital is measuring its potential resorting to increasingly advanced technological solutions that allow for timely control reality of the different scenic planes.
The possibility of proposing increasingly sophisticated forms thanks to new technologies has also led to an interesting recovery of classic genres by the same ‘pure’ animation cinema.
Exemplary is the case of the Pixar film Ratatouille (2007) by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava, which takes up the frenetic rhythms of the Hollywood comedy and those of the musical by transferring them to an exotic Paris and re-proposing them in an animated version, but addressed to the same audience as the comedy.
Chroma Key and Motion Capture
The technique, in its basic model, was used for the creation of the character of Gollum from the trilogy of “The Lord of the Rings” by Peter Jackson and also for the creatures of Harry Potter. However, it had already been used also in Terminator 2 Judgment day by James Cameron, where the actor who played the cyborg T-1000 assumed the metallic forms continuing the movement of the human character.
Using sensors that measure displacement, speed and acceleration, motion capture allows you to obtain the movement of an avatar starting from the real one of an actor This allows both not to have to generate the frames of the movement, thus determining an undeniable saving, and, with appropriate precautions, to reproduce anatomically impossible movements.
The Lord of the Rings 2002-2004 Trilogy
This series of films is famous among other things for the extreme realism of the special effects, created by the New Zealand company Weta, founded by Peter Jackson himself and Richard Taylor. While in a work such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit the viewer was confronted with a hybrid world admittedly half real and half virtual, the new formal solutions as in the case of Avatar a film by James Cameron coexist in a single universe, mainly artificial from the point of view of construction, but real from the point of view of the perceived space.
In this way, a total mix is made between live action and virtual characters shot in motion capture as regards the moving figures, and a combination of traditional sets and artificially created scenographies.
The film is made up of 60% virtual elements created on the computer and the remaining 40% of live-action elements. In Avatar the plane of the actors and that of the background are reworked through rendering techniques and superimposed in real time, as components of a single green screen, in which the movements of the real characters are synchronized with the virtual movements of the camera.
The solutions experimented by Cameron place him right at the forefront of the digital process making him the director most involved in the use of new technologies, both with the aim of developing original aesthetic solutions, and with that of launching new narrative formulas.