As you know "Gravity" walked away with the Oscar last night for best cinematography. The brilliant movie was helmed by the masterful Emmanuel Lubezki. Last year "Life of Pi" brought home the Oscar for best cinematography. What do both of these movies have in common? Both are very heavy in CGI. Now a lot of cinematographers and DP's out there were very upset by this fact claiming that real cinematography is capturing it in camera without all the heavy post effects. Lets have a look at what the ASC classifies cinematography as shall we?
The ASC defines cinematography as:
a creative and interpretive process that culminates in the authorship of an original work of art rather than the simple recording of a physical event. Cinematography is not a subcategory of photography. Rather, photography is but one craft that the cinematographer uses in addition to other physical, organizational, managerial, interpretive and image-manipulating techniques to effect one coherent process.
Now with this, there is no mention that it has to be captured in reality or added in post, but my understanding is that anything you choose to do all aids in getting an image on screen and helping to tell a story with those images.
Here is the Behind the scenes of how "Gravity" mixed practical and post effects to create its elaborate visuals.
This is where it gets fuzzy for me. If all the crazy post effects are acceptable forms of cinematography, then why aren't animated films ever nominated? It seems there is a fine line but the only hard point seeming to be that there must be a real person in the movie.
I was on the camp of the realist side of cinematography last year after "Life of Pi" won. I couldn't process why that won over such a well shot movie like "Skyfall" by Roger Deakins. After this year though, I'm taking my time to evaluate things. "Gravity" is a feat of cinematic pioneering. They used tactics never before done and I think it worked wonderfully. But how is it any different than "Life of PI"? Well, it's not. But this year I felt very ok with it winning and thought it was well deserved. I Examined deeper and this is kind of where I sit.....
Even if we practically shoot something in camera in reality, is it not touched by several hands before it makes it to the screen? People rotoscoping things out that are unpleasing, taking out reflections, doing color grades and manipulating the original image. By this process, even what we shoot in reality is artificial by the time it hits the screen. So if its artificial anyways, is it not that big of stretch to something like "Gravity" that is artificial as well? Both are trying to portray a reality in a fictitious environment. Another thing to note is that you, as a cinematographer, must have a more clear vision when you are shooting for a movie heavy in post. You can't monitor and see your final outcome while you are shooting so the degree of precision and knowledge of what you are shooting becomes a monumental task. "Gravity" was an experience like none I have ever had in a movie theatre and I think a big part of that was due to the cinematography and how they chose to shoot it and put moving images on screen.
I think the trend of Hollywood is heading in that direction now that more tools are available to tell more fantastical stories. I Believe it's wise to study these practices as a cinematographer to make your abilities more well rounded. Holding back from learning is only going to hold you back from telling the stories you see in your head.
I thank pioneers like Lubezki and Cauron for spending the time to provide me with an experience I will remember the rest of my life. In the future I will be taking the time to appreciate all forms of cinematography whether it be real, heavy in CG, documentary, etc.