Non-Photographic Director of Photography

Steve Hulett / December 23, 2014

Uncategorized / one comment

I’m sorry, but I find this a bit odd.

The key live-action title has gaining traction in the animation business after years of being seen as a largely live-action only task.

This year the field of computer animation passed a milestone when Pixar’s Sharon Calahan became the first director of photography whose work has been purely on computer-generated movies to be invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers. Calahan has received director of photography credits since 1998’s A Bug’s Life, and she’s still one of very few working in animation with that title.

“It’s weird that it’s not widely recognized,” says Pixar President Jim Morris, who championed Calahan to the ASC. “Because the fact is — to use the stop-motion analogy, where you’re lighting puppets and miniature sets — in CG, you’re doing the same thing in virtual space. Over time, we found people who were like-minded, and believed that computer graphics was just another arm of cinematography. It’s just another set of tools to create imagery.” …

I mean it’s fine and all that. You’ve got your computer-generated light sources, your computer-generated compositions, your computer-generated people, objects, and landscapes.

But none of the objects or light sources are real. Any more than the objects, landscapes and lighting of this 77-year-old chunk of movie-making are real:

So I need to ask: Where’s the Director of Photography on The Old Mill?

Same deal, isn’t it? Artificial images made to imitate the illusion of realness on the silver screen? Slightly different, but not by much. And there was a good sixty years (or more) where nobody asked of Snow White, Pinocchio, Lady and the Tramp or Sleeping Beauty: “Hey! Where’s the director of photography?!”

It was taken for granted with these cartoon features that the images people were watching were created by people not wielding a camera, that to be a director of photography you had to be out in the real world, capturing real images and putting them on film. Like for instance:

Ben Hur’s chariot race was shot on a set with flesh-and-blood actors over six months. Which the clip below, despite strong similarities to the scene above, definitely was not:

The pod race is built in a computer (mostly) with non-real elements (mostly). And the director of cinematography? In this instance, bent over a computer constructing shots.

But technology rolls on, upending much of what’s gone before. And if studios want to call artists in front of computer screens cinematographers, I guess there’s no harm in it. Everything changes. Nobody is following D. W. Griffith and John Ford around anymore, setting up the hand-cranked Bell and Howell on the wooden tripod for the latest shot.

But it ain’t the same.

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  • Steve Kaplan

    Interesting. I see this more as another result of technological advance. As CG takes over most/all of entertainment, there will be many job categories that get merged with others, or just fall away as they’re no longer needed.

    DPs don’t exist in the VFX world. They don’t exist in the Animation world. But, it’s not like Live Action entertainment is going away ..