Where we are today
Zoom lenses aren't used to their full potential because there isn't a way to program them. Or a way to make them zoom slowly. There is no way for the director or cinematographer to easily set up a zoom shot. There is no repeatability, which would make it easy to do rehearsals and then make multiple takes. After 60 years, the lack of programming tools has kept the zoom lens an unevolved cinematography tool.
The same holds true for things like pan heads. They're pretty much the same as they were sixty years ago. They can't be programmed, so they're needlessly difficult to use.
This is what I'm working to change. It's an opportunity to expand the vocabulary of cinematography.
Imagine having programmable zoom lenses along with fully programmable pan, tilt, and focus, all synchronized together, with multiple moves running seamlessly together. All programmed directly by the director or cinematographer.
Sounds great, but is it worth doing?
Since this equipment doesn't exist, there's no way to test it in the real world. So I'm going to need some sort of cinematography simulating software that runs on the computer. Bad news: While there are cinematography simulator programs that can model movie sets and some actors movement, there are none that can actually simulate a series of programmable moves.
So I'm building a simulator. It will use realistic field of view/focal length, distances, and timing. Measurements will be accurate.
Characters will be simplified 2D, for ease of setup, with 3D characters when necessary. It will be able to model multiple characters moving around while programmable moves are executed.
The simulator will output video files so that others can see the effects of different moves and timing.
One of the advantages of using a simulator is that you can test different variations of a move in advance.
More about the simulator in a later post. This is about the samples generated by the simulator.
This is a Pan-Zoom
One of the advantages of using a simulator to try out different moves is that you can see in advance what works and what doesn't, what looks good and what doesn't. This can save time and money down the road, and it can let you try out all sorts of ideas.
In this case, we're going to try combining a pan with a zoom, using a programmed zoom, pan, and tilt, all working together. In this setup, we're using 3D figures, as one of the actors has to make a turn to face the camera.
We're going to start with a character at the side of the frame, then pan and zoom until he is dead center. During the zoom, the actor will turn to face the camera. We will pan about 30 degrees and zoom 10X at the same time. The move will take about 10 seconds. Should be interesting.
Hmmm. Unfortunately, this didn't work. It looked good on paper, but...
Let's take a look
On the cutting room floor -- First try -- Pan-zoom as a single move
Even though it has a pan and a 10X zoom, it's hard to see what's happening. No drama. It was worth a try.
Pan-zoom as a two-part move
Now we're going to break the move into two parts. In the first part, we do the full pan move, along with a 3X zoom, putting the actor in the center. Then a straight 3X zoom and a tilt up to capture the actor's face in the center of the frame, while the actor turns to face the camera. The move still takes 10 seconds, but appears faster. Using the simulator, we can vary the settings until we're happy.
This is what a two-part pan-zoom looks like
Now we've got something a little more interesting.
Even though both moves take exactly the same time, have the same amount of pan and zoom, they are completely different.
This may seem like a fairly straightforward shot, but how would you do it with today's cinematography equipment?
The programmable cinematography equipment of the future
These scenes were shot with a programmable Angenieux 25-250mm zoom lens. The full zoom range, 25mm to 250mm, was used. The programmable focus was handled by information generated by the simulator, with the areas to be in focus selected by the director.
During the zoom, a Discovery Technology DiscoPan programmable panhead was used to pan and tilt the camera to keep the framing exactly as it was set up by the director.Important note
The programmable PT-ZIF equipment I've described here is not meant to replace any existing cine equipment or technique. The goal is to expand the vocabulary of cinematography by adding new possibilities for storytelling.
Why I called this meeting
Fifty years ago, I designed and built the programmable zoom controller that was used to shoot the opening scene of The Godfather. At the time, building it seemed like an impossible task, but somehow I found the answers. It gave the guys who shot the Godfather a new tool that made the opening scene possible.
Now, fifty years later, it turns out that this was the only programmable zoom controller ever built. In spite of all of the technological advances since then, that's it. So I guess that this makes me the world's foremost authority. By default.
Today, this is an opportunity to build something new. It's an opportunity to add new camera moves and storytelling tools.
I'm 83 years old, and I've long since hung up my soldering iron. But I still have all of the knowledge that it took to build the original, and lots of plans for the future.
Surely, there must be folks in the cinematography equipment industry who are looking to build something new. A new set of tools that will extend the vocabulary of cinematography.
Arri, are you listening?
Angenieux, are you listening?
Sony, are you listening?
Copyright 1957-2023 Tony & Marilyn Karp