So we don’t know about you, but despite LOOKING like we’re probably renegade, gun slinger/heart breakers we’re actually really, really nerdy. We all spend hours in our bedrooms thinking about which superhero we’d be when Marvell call or what exact lenses they used to get those anamorphic flares in Alien, or why no one we meet in bars ever calls us back.
In the spirit of this and as a celebration of spoddyness in an industry populated by complete dorks, we thought we’d give you our top five film-spod moments. They aren’t necessarily all huge leaps for mankind, more the stuff that make us feel a bit tingly in our nerd-centers and ignites our inner-dweeb candles. Film is one of the few places where technology and aesthetics can make sweet love to one another and the movies where this union works are generally amongst the best. For every wild-eyed, tousle-haired visionary barking about the emotion of their scene, there is a guy or girl with high-waisted cameo shorts and a star wars t-shirt, on hand to turn visions into reality. We are here to chart the technological leaps engineered by these warrior-dorks, and revel in the geekdom, so let’s go coo at the beautiful test-tube babies of cinema.
- VERTIGO (1958) -Mmmmm Contra Zoom.
This absolute treat of a camera technique was first designed by DOP Irmin (Irmin!) Roberts for Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The contra-zoom is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a camera puking…or turning inside out. It involves dollying the camera towards the subject whilst zooming out (or the reverse of that) at the exact same rate so the subject always remains the same size within the frame as the background slams into focus. Are you still with us? You need one hell of a focus puller to get there, but by gosh it looks cool and it makes our stomach go a bit weird, like when we had to climb the rope in gym class…
- IN COLD BLOOD- Mmmmm Rain tears.
This subtle little lighting trick blends so well into this beautifully shot black and white thriller that it’s easy to miss out on, but nerds pay heed and check it out!
Just before he is to be executed killer Perry Smith reflects on where it all went wrong for him as he gazes out of the rainy window of his cell. The shadows of the rain on his face make it look like endless tears are spilling down his cheeks. Argh! The mastery! This was achieved by DOP Conrad Hall by happy accident. Lucky.
- THE SHINING (1980)- Stedicam
Whilst this wasn’t strictly the absolute first outing for stedicam, (it was maybe its third) it was by far the best at the time, as it had never before been used to anywhere near its full potential. Those long drifting shots down the corridors of the Overlook hotel are some of the most iconic in cinema. Thank uber-spod Garret Brown for inventing a camera rig that could glide smoothly over even the most uneven and haunted of terrains.
- THE MATRIX (1999)- ooooOOoo time slice
Ok, so we KNOW that The Matrix is the pinnacle of geekdom, and we all remember those dudes who hung around in shopping precincts wearing floor length leather coats and black sunglasses, looking like ill-hewn versions of Neo. We know, we know. But, dude; TIME SLICE! DOP Bill Hope rigged up 100 stills cameras around the actors to take 100 simultaneous pictures, allowing us to spin around the actor in frozen motion! GNARLEY! Nowadays this could probably be done to better effect with a Phantom camera and a robotic arm, but still, an innovation’s an innovation.
- GRAVITY (2013)
How do you light actors in fake-space, and give them visual references to planets, space stations and debris, if they are in fact suspended on strings in a studio in London? How does one light that shit? Here’s how; you get a 20ft white cube made out of LED video walls, string Sandra Bullock up inside of it and play out your pre-mapped 3D space environment around her. Director Alfonso Cuaron, DOP Emmanuel Lubezki and the fine people at Framestore spent 3 years planning and pre-visualizing the film to create a moving real time inter-planetary lighting environment. Kick-ass. So there is always a point of reference for the greeny blue light bouncing off the earth, a white reflected light coming off the space station and a warm yellowy light coming off mother sun.
Unleash your inner dateless techno freak and frolic in the dorkyness, it really impresses strangers and elderly family members when you’re forced to talk to them at mandatory social functions. Also, come on, it’s kind of cool. Dork out with your spork out.