Using the Cine-Simulator for special effects
After all that work building the simulator and trying out various moves, it's time to have some fun. So I called on Discovery Technology's special effects department to see what they could do.
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: There are no cinematography simulator programs 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.
Here's what I found out by playing with the simulator
It's a great learning tool. I am not a cinematographer, just a builder of tools for cinematographers. Playing with the simulator, I was able to try all sorts of setups and all sorts of programmable moves using zooms combined with panning and tilting. Fully synchronized and working together.
I was able to move actors around, position them, set up moves for them to make. I was able to try different camera positions and different zooms and pans and tilts. I learned a lot from playing, and didn't have to hire actors or rent equipment or hire a camera crew. A simulator like this would be a great benefit in teaching a cinematography course.
After playing with the simulator, I began to realize that the combination of pan and zoom would be a signature move for this type of programmable equipment. By combining the two, you can create a feeling of movement without moving the camera.
I call this move a "Pazoom."
Most viewers are familiar with zoom moves, and with pans and tilts. The pan-zoom programmable move is something new. In some ways, it can look like a trucking move or a dolly move, but with a totally different vibe. The advantage here is that the pan-zoom moves are done from a fixed camera position. Simpler to set up and easily repeatable.
Let's get real
I'm still not a cinematographer, but I now have hours and hours of simulator experience. I'm beginning to get a feel for programmable moves. So I decided to try simulating real world equipment. The pan/tilt head must be remotely controllable and the zoom lens as well, both zoom and focus.
I've located all of the components, and a dolly to support this setup. All the equipment can be controlled remotely, but there's just one thing missing. Like the Scarecrow in The wizard of Oz, it really needs a brain. That's where the simulator comes in. It's where I built the brain.
In the original simulations, I used a 10X zoom lens. In this new setup, with real equipment, I only have a 5X zoom lens. However, the new lens has a wider angle. I experiment with the simulator, changing the camera position and moving the actors around.
The result is very interesting.
This is what a pan-zoom with special effects Auras looks like
This was shot with a Sony ILME-FR7 with the 28-135mm kit lens, along with a Discovery Technology Cine-Brain control system.
This scene was shot in a single take, from a fixed position. It may be difficult to duplicate this move with currently available equipment.
Although there was a lot of action, only two people actually moved -- the actress who walked in front of the crowd, and the actress who walked towards the camera. Setting up for another take was easy. Just two people had to return to their marks.
Here's why I called this meeting
Fifty years ago, I designed and built the programmable zoom controller used to shoot the opening scene of The Godfather. At the time, it seemed like an impossible task, but somehow things worked out.
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 my days are free.
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