There are typically three stages to the automation
of a field. The first is when automation replaces current activity.
During this stage, people are replaced on a one-by-one basis. Productivity
is rarely changed. The next stage is when these activities are enhanced.
This results in replacement of people, and increases productivity.
The final stage is when new functionality is performed. This stage
doesn,t replace any people but creates new products. This pattern
of automation is apparent in film-making.
Film-making has many dimensions to it. Particularly, animation has had major changes since computer automation. From hand drawn images to computer generated environments, the results of automation on animation are astounding. Still, other areas of film-making have also been affected by automation. Film-making is a technically proficient industry. Effects houses like Pixar, Industrial Light and Magic, and Pacific Data Images are currently in the third stage of automation. Production studios like DreamWorks are also at this stage.
The first stage of automation is the stage
when computers are used to do something that is currently done in a different
way. People are only replaced on an individual basis. Productivity
generally has little change during this stage. The film industry
has gone through this stage. Most companies in the film industry
have already begun using computers to do camera movement, modeling and
backgrounds. When they began this change to automation, these techniques
replaced artists and cameramen. The films were produced at approximately
the same rate and quality as the previous methods.
Artists lost their jobs in some cases and changed their job descriptions in many others. Modeling, in its traditional sense, was done with clay and other physical materials. Godzilla was, after all, just a man in a rubber suit. Computers offered an alternative. Programmers created programs that would allow models to be made on a computer screen. Since this technology was new, it didn,t necessarily increase productivity. This is because modelers were proficient with their old techniques while computer techniques were still new and unexplored. Modelers had to adjust and learn to use these new technologies.
In addition to modeling, artists also had to adjust to changes in backgrounds. Before automation, backdrops were hand painted pieces of canvas. Computers allowed filming to take place in front of a blue screen. Backgrounds could be added later by replacing the blue with the desired picture. (See Figure 1.1) Thus, artists who hand painted these canvases were affected. For those who could make computer backgrounds, it was just a change in job description. Unfortunately, many artists who were masterful painters, but didn,t use computers, lost their jobs. The productivity at this point wasn,t improved drastically because artists still had to design the backgrounds and the process of inserting the backgrounds was not fully automated.
Figure 1.1 Blue-screening for "Armageddon":
(a) is the foreground with blue background
(b) is the desired background
(c) is the completed image
Image from http://www.bluescreen.com/project7.htm
Finally, cameramen were affected by early automation. Many scenes that required specific camerawork were done on computers. At first, the automation supplemented cameramen. When a scene needed to be zoomed in more, computers allow the director to do this without re-shooting the scene. Before automation, this would require re-filming and gave the cameramen added work. The editing room started doing more of the work associated with cameramen. Cameramen are still necessary for the initial filming of a scene, but weren,t needed exclusively for minor changes in the camerawork.
The second stage of automation is when activities
are enhanced by computers. More workers are replaced and productivity
is increased. This stage is marked by an increased impact of these
automation applications. In film making, this is demonstrated by
new and easier to produce models, backdrops and camerawork. The term
"computer effects" was coined during this stage.
Computer effects was the term given to a new brand of computer generated effects that replaced other effects methods. This is when effect artists replaced people who worked on the previous methods. Some stunt men were no longer needed since explosions could be simulated with computers. Pyrotechnic and other specialists were also replaced by computer animators. The computer animations are often easier to put together and cheaper than actual effects. They also support quicker production because other aspects of the film don,t have to wait on the animations; they can be fit to the action. Pyrotechnics required setting the scene with explosives. This meant that the scene couldn,t be shot until the pyrotechnics were set up. Also, stunt men and others had to be brought in to film these scenes. This is less efficient than filming the "safe" scene with the star actors and adding the effects afterwards.
Modelers were also replaced. Some modeling remains today, but it is strongly integrated with computer animation. Many computer models are used in place of traditional models. Computers are capable of generating three-dimensional models that are easier to change and manipulate than traditional models. Traditional models are hand made and minor changes took considerable time. Changes that affected the structure of the model took even longer. With computers, changes can be made frequently, with little time or effort. This increases the productivity of modeling. This increase in productivity led to the replacement of many physical models with computer generated models. This was evident in "Jurassic Park" where many of the dinosaurs were created using computers.
Matte Artists who worked on backgrounds were also affected by computers. When filming couldn,t be done in front of the desired background, mattes are used. The technique of using mattes blocks out a portion of the film from light. This allows part of the film frame to remain unexposed. This is later exposed to the desired background. This fits the background to the desired area of the film. Other methods called optical printing were used before computers. These techniques used layers of film to result in the desired image. Computers took this one step further. Computers made blue screen easier and more powerful than traditional backdrops. Digital composting is the technique of changing the film into digital images, which can be edited, and then put back onto film. Artists could modify computer images better than backdrops. Also, the computer backgrounds are considerably cheaper for similar effort. As a result, backdrop artists and optical print workers were regularly replaced with computer specialists. These specialists created and fitted the new backgrounds to the blue screen footage. This process is more efficient than hand painted backdrops. With hand painted backdrops, scenes couldn,t be filmed until the background was finished. This means that if the artist finished a background and it turned out to be inappropriate, artists would have to finish a new one before filming could advance. With blue screens, the artist doesn,t have to finish the background before the filming. Under this system, if a background design in not suitable, then the artist isn,t holding up other aspects of filming while creating a better background.
Camerawork was also affected in stage two of automation. Before computer automation, all camerawork had to be done with the camera at the time of filming. This can be very cumbersome when difficult maneuvers need to be performed. These camera techniques can be done using computers. The advantage to this method is that the scene only needs to be done correctly by the actors once. With non-computerized techniques, the actors would have to do the scene until they and the cameramen got it right. With computers, the effect can be done with the existing footage, instead of filming more. This can save producers large amounts of money on actors and other staff. It is also much more efficient to do the camerawork this way. Finally, zooms and camera movement are more precise with computers than with cameramen. Computer camerawork allows a better product with less of a time investment.
The third stage of automation is when computer resources are used to perform new functions. This doesn,t replace any workers but improves quality and creates new products. The film industry has achieved this level of automation. There are now completely computer animated movies like "A Bug,s Life" and "Antz". These movies contain characters, scenery and landscapes that are generated using computers. (See figure 3.1) Some things done on these films can,t be done without using computers.
Figure 3.1 "A Bug's Life"
Image from http://www.pixar.com
One of the new features brought about was computer
shading. This resource was necessitated by the use of other automated
features. Computer generated characters didn,t fit in because the
shadows produced by landmarks weren,t present on them. Shading works
on both the models and the backgrounds designed by computers. The
models need shading to fit in with the lighting in the background.
Computer shading allows computer models to move, in an environment, and
allow the lights and shadows to move with them. When blue screens
are used, shading must take place on the backdrop. This wasn,t possible
on hand painted backdrops. It would have been far too much work to
do even the simplest of scenes. With computer generated backgrounds,
however, it is much easier to make the lighting that is present on the
actors affect the background. More importantly, objects must have
proper shading on themselves. Companies like Pixar have made great
advances in self-shading. This is the ability for animated objects
and characters to make shadows on themselves. Further efforts have
been made to simulate textures including cloth and even skin. These
are some examples of how automation added a new technique in film making:
Camerawork also gained new features with computer automation. Before automation, every aspect of camerawork had to be done by the cameraman with the camera. Now, things like reverse imaging are possible. Computer programs make this as simple as the click of a button. Also, things like a "bug,s eye view" are possible. This is when the screen has hundreds of iterations of the same image, like a bug would see.
The film industry is a very proficient industry
when it comes to automation. The effects of computers on the end
product are startling. Blockbuster effects films like "Independence
Day" and "Jurassic Park" rely on computer modeling and graphics.
Still, one must look at the effect automation has made on the people working
in the industry. Before automation, the industry was filled with
artists working with producers. Today, while the film industry is
in the third stage of automation, the mix has changed. Strong artistic
background is still important, but increasing in importance is technical
skills. Artists must have the fundamentals of design and be able
to adapt to new technology to be successful. This has cost some artists
their careers due to their lack of computer savvy. These artists
are forced to work on less high-profile projects due to the "crudeness"
of their work. Still, the profession has been strengthened by the
high credentials necessary to compete. In short, the benefits of
the automation have outweighed the cost.
Automation typically takes over in three stages. This is evident in film-making. The first stage involved the supplementation of work with automation. Backdrops, camera movement, and modeling all made the transition through this first stage. The next stage, these activities were replaced by automation, to some extent due to the increased efficiency from computers. This stage is typified by increased productivity and the replacement of previous methods. The final stage involves the creation of new functions. In film making, this translates to new effects, camera work and images. Film-making still uses many of the methods used before automation. Still because productivity and accuracy are important, the industry continues to look in the direction of computer automation.
Last updated 99/03/24
© Frank Schmitt, 1999.