On Cinegratography

Manovich's term 'cinegratography', which describes the use of computer graphics in cinema and computer games, overlaps with the term 'animatography', which describes the language of computer animation and digital effects. Manovich's perspective is cinematic as he introduces the term cinegratography at the beginning of his chapter 'The New Language of Cinema' [1], and he sketches a view of cinematic change relating to the language of new media. These take the form of ''invisible effects'' [2] and apart from hinting at this language of computer generated effects - '...a flock of birds is added to the landscape, a city street is filled with crowds of simulated extras...' [3], Manovich doesn't describe how this is achieved, or why this new language is used to replace old fashioned techniques in film making. His main point is that these effects are considered embarrassing in Hollywood, which is why they are called 'invisible effects'. Perhaps it is the computer's habit of making skill redundant, by simulating these requirements in programmed terms, and it is ironic that industrially, the computer animation industry requires new skills. Perhaps it is that some animatographers are keen on the idea of virtual actors, and look forward to the day when this is a reality.

Manovich points out 'Commercial narrative cinema continues to hold on to the classical realist style ...' [4], which is why animatography for cinematic effects is very much a question of dovetailing with the language of film in this regard. He also questions this use of realism in cinema, in terms of the animatography composited into films, of 'aliens, mutants and robots' [5] appearing believable in this realist context. Jean Cocteau thought that fantasy should be realist in style, precisely to convince the audience of a film. Considering films like Metropolis, Bladerunner and the more recent Fifth Element, which chart a history in American terms, of technnological power, there is a tradition of representing science fictional scenarios in this way, in America at least. The interesting overlap between scientific invention and the technologies involved in film production are not new, and continue to evolve in parallel. This is the case with films like Twister, and A Perfect Storm, where animatography is literally used to 'control' nature, and turn its extremes into entertainment designed to captivate the viewer, is another aspect of the American Dream.

Manovich contrasts this realism with the music video and the CD-ROM computer game. Effects for music videos exploit animatography's capacity to portray fantasy scenarios, using techniques representative of this medium. These include such programmed effects as particle systems, behavioural animation, generative effects and amorphous objects and creatures. Manovich is very concerned to move beyond cinematic realism - 'just as music videos often incorporate narratives within them but are not linear from start to finish, they rely on film (or video) images but change them beyond the norms of cinematic realism.' [6] He appreciates the music video for bringing 'into the open' [7] techniques which remain hidden in realist cinema. That this creative genre has part of its history in abstract cinema is never mentioned. That animated effects are considered aesthetically pleasing, relates to such phenomena as light organs and Personal Cinema. As such, animatography enables mathematically and geometrically calculated computer generated effects to be incorporated into mass entertainment and pop culture.

The CD-ROM based game, has other qualities, and for Manovich it is another example of non linear narrative. He writes about games designers in the 1980's, inventing a new kind of cinematic language, '... in which a range of strategies, such as discrete motion, loops and superimposition - previously used in nineteenth-century moving-image presentations, twentieth century animation, and the avant-garde tradition of graphic cinema - were applied to photographic or synthetic images.' [8] This was due though, to insufficient computer memory, and not an aesthetic choice. He goes on to mention their increasing use of the more traditional fully rendered simulated cinematic image.

It seems unlikely that Manovich's view that cinema will change into a medium primarily using his 'spatial montage' as a technique. If so, it would probably only be the case if the film or database could be interacted with by the user, much like a computer game.

Importantly for cinegratography, 'The photographic and the graphic, divorced when cinema and animation went their separate ways, met again on the computer screen. The graphic also met the cinematic.' [9] This merging of languages is what gives Manovich his term 'cinegratography'. His interest is in the changes in the cinematic tradition, while animatography is about the computing language itself.

Manovich then writes about the computer game Myst, in terms of its use of both techniques from 'magic-lantern shows' [10] and cinematography. He writes about the virtual camera movements in Myst and another game, 7th Guest. These comparatively early techniques, involving combining histories of moving image generation, seem to support the view that 'cinema' will change. Although perhaps only if we consider Manovich's use of the word cinema, to include programs interacted with on a computer screen. 'CD-ROM designers have been able to go from a slide-show format to the superimposition of small moving elements over static backgrounds and finally to full-frame moving images.' [11]

It is the notion of realism, and the computer graphics industry's drive towards greater and deeper realism in the form of simulation of reality, which preoccupies Manovich in his writing about computer animation. This isn't the complete picture in terms of animatography, where the use of mathematics and animation curves, create animations which have their own intense logic. In terms of music videos, there are many abstract animations, especially screened at live events, which, as I have said, owe a lot to the history of abstract cinema. In terms of animation, John Lasseter's early animated films demonstrated that it was possible to do something new with this technology, by taking stop-frame animation a stage further with Luxo Jr.


Sarah Thompson 21.09.09

[1] Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001, p309

[2] ibid p309

[3] ibid p309

[4] ibid p309

[5] ibid p310

[6] ibid p310

[7] ibid p311

[8] ibid p311

[9] ibid pp311, 312

[10] ibid p312

[11] ibid p313