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.
This is a Pan-Zoom crowd shot
One of the advantages of using a simulator to try out different moves is that you can see in advance what works and what doesn't, what looks good and what doesn't. This can save time and money down the road, and it can let you try out all sorts of ideas.
In this case, we're going to try combining a pan with a zoom, using a programmed zoom, pan, and tilt, all working together.
Note: For all of these moves, the camera remains in a fixed position. This makes it easier to use programmed cine equipment.
Note: even though there are several moves involved, the whole scene is shot in one continuous take.
First, let's see what a two-part pan-zoom looks like
Normally, a shot like this would be done with a dolly on rails, or with some sort of a Steadicam setup. I leave it to the dolly pushers and the focus pullers to figure out the mechanics of doing it this way.
With programmable equipment (zoom, pan, tilt, focus), this becomes a lot easier. The camera remains in a fixed position and, once set up, remains there for rehearsals, and as many takes as you need. An added benefit is that you only have to rehearse the actors, and not a mobile camera crew as well.
The whole field in front of the camera is open. Without dolly tracks or wandering Steadicam operators or focus pullers, there's room for actors to move about without obstacles.
So let's look at the move. We start with a wide shot of the crowd, with people moving around and things happening. The first move is a pan to the right combined with a 3X zoom. But, as we move, it's not immediately apparent that we're zooming in.
At first, it looks like we're following the woman in black, but as she exits to the right, the camera reverses its pan, now moving to the left, tilting up, while still zooming. We end with a close-up of the main subject, now framed with a full 10X zoom.
We can break the move down into keyframes. The first keyframe is a wide shot of the crowd. The second keyframe is the end of the rightward pan. The third keyframe is the close-up of the subject's face.
But wait, there's more!
We previously used the simulator to lay out a move where the actor walks towards the camera while we zoom back to keep her about the same size, right up to the end, with two people meeting in a tight close-up. I called it a T-Zoom.
Since they were both shot from the same fixed camera position, we can just blend the two together for a more interesting and complex scene. All we have to do is add one more keyframe to represent the ending of the shot.
This is a three-part pan-zoom
Note: This scene was shot from a fixed camera position.
Note: The three moves in this scene were shot as one continuous take. Using programmable equipment, it's easy to set up.
This would be a difficult scene to set up and shoot using current cinematography equipment.
Let's talk about precision
Discovery Technology's Cine-Simulator is quite precise. It can generate an overhead view showing the camera position as well as marks for each actor. If an actor moves during the scene, the starting and ending marks, along with the time, will be shown.
The keyframes and focus-tracking info can be transferred directly from the simulator to the programmable equipment on the set, where the director and cinematographer can adjust it to a final version.
The programmable cinematography equipment of the future
These scenes were shot with a programmable Angenieux 25-250mm zoom lens. The full zoom range, 25mm to 250mm, was used. The programmable focus was handled by information generated by the simulator, with the areas to be in focus selected by the director.
During the zoom, a Discovery Technology DiscoPan programmable panhead was used to pan and tilt the camera to keep the framing exactly as it was set up by the director.
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?
A question for cinematographers:
If you had the same sort of tools that they used to shoot the opening scene of The Godfather, what sort of shots would you make?
Copyright 1957-2023 Tony & Marilyn Karp