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.
Here's an example from a storyboard
The shot begins with the actor's full face and zooms in to just the eyes.
This move is timed at 30 seconds to match the actor's speech in the script.
There will be a soft start and stop.
Using a programmable zoom:
Crew sets up camera in the approximate position
Cinematographer/director sets the framing for the start of the zoom
Cinematographer/director sets the framing for the finish of the zoom
Toggle back and forth to check framing
Adjust the camera position if necessary
Set the time for the zoom (in seconds) to match the storyboard
Add soft start and stop
Run the zoom several times to get a feel for it
Rehearsal - run the zoom during the actor's speech
Adjust timing, if necessary, to match the speech
Make the shot, with retakes if necessary.
This is what it looks like
This scene was shot with an Angenieux 25-250mm zoom lens. The zoom was from 25mm wide angle to 125mm telephoto. A programmable pan/tilt head was used to keep the eyes centered in the frame.
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