Vladimir Ondejcik
Architecture and design
Bonsai Art

Film and Architecture - Camera

TU Delft, Vladimir Ondejcik, 2011
" Download full version with illustrations at bottom of the page "

After typing camera into the Google, person will get any kind of result, but not that one which is purpose of this essay. The main results are about any kind cheap picturing devices up to dslr. For further definition the film camera will get the Wikipedia page saying that film camera uses film compare to video digital camera. Though a step closer to the topic, all results are showing the camera machines. Though for beginning of this essay I would redefine the camera in film to that what comes out from those machines. Of course the final result is very much connected to person, a cameraman, who is operating the device, director and as well as the quality and type of device. Technical innovation has also a huge impact in this field and new devices have introduced new techniques, trick and overall appearance of camera in films and movies. I will try to redefine and examine camera appearance and especially how camera movement and angle is presented in scenes and how it is perceived by film viewer. My research in this topic is ordered chronologically to see how these aspects were developed and also how progress in technology is influencing camera techniques.

“Motion pictures become possible because of peculiar characteristics of the human eye known as “the persistence of vision,”or retention of image.”1 The first example of was mutoscope, constructed by Kasler in 1985. The series of drawn or photographed pictures was shown to spectator. The film camera in this sense is made by hand of an artist who draws the pictures. He decides the effects and appearance of short animation. Though the view is usually still and animation is captures from its side view. Mutoscope in this sense is more to be comparing today as TV or cinema. From this early example we can see that there is difference between camera and camera and appearance of camera in animation can be made fully without having an actual camera device.

„With the introduction of photographic emulsion coated on transparent film support the progress towards modern cinematograph cameras and projectors became rapid. Two major improvements became immediately available, firstly a infinite number of picture could be take on rolls of film and secondly such films could be easily wound to spools and stored. „ 1 The first cinematographs was made by Gaumont, Lumiere and Ernemann. Here the journey of film camera starts. „The first movie cameras were fastened directly to the head of their tripod or other support, with only the crudest kind of leveling devices provided, in the manner of the still-camera tripod heads of the period. The earliest movie cameras were thus effectively fixed during the course of the shot. “(2) This has result that all movie is played in front of the camera and movie is composed with several very long shots as in this example pic 1 form the A Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage dans la lune – 1902. The actors are coming to play in from of the camera and new shots are changes by fade in into new scene, it is very similar experience to viewer as to sit in theatre. The moment of these cameras was possible only on vehicle. Car, trains, or what is in today called dolly. These were first dynamic effects used in films and mostly used to follow something or somebody. Compare to todays, when it is also used for abstract introduction scenes and others. The moment of these cameras was possible only on vehicle. Car, trains, or what is in today called dolly. These were first dynamic effects used in films and mostly used to follow something or somebody. Compare to todays, when it is also used for abstract introduction scenes and others. „The first known of these was a film shot by a Lumi?re cameraman from the back platform of a train leaving Jerusalem in 1896, and by 1898 there were a number of films shot from moving trains. Although listed under the general heading of “panoramas” in the sales catalogues of the time, those films shot straight forward from in front of a railway engine were usually specifically referred to as “phantom rides”.“2 „In 1897, Robert W. Paul had the first real rotating camera head made to put on a tripod, so that he could follow the passing processions of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in one uninterrupted shot. This device had the camera mounted on a vertical axis that could be rotated by a worm gear driven by turning a crank handle, and Paul put it on general sale the next year. Shots taken using such a "panning" head were also referred to as ‘panoramas’ in the film catalogues of the first decade of the cinema.2 This was used mostly in documentaries such as sidewalk at Paris expo 1900 or panorama of Eiffel tower made by Edison. After first period of cinematography comes the first golden age of Hollywood, today called as classical Hollywood cinema. The beginning had at the end of era of silent films in 1920s and ends with new wave movement in 1960s.

The movies are made by many small Hollywood studios, which have kind of permanent “collection „of stars, actors and directors, working for them. The most important studios are Warner bros, MGM, First national, Twentieth century fox, paramount and Disney. All together have great collections of stars including: Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, John Barrymore and directors as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Orsin Welles. As all studios has mostly permanent cast, they all have very different attitude mostly by specializing into genres. The Classical Hollywood cinema was style based on writings of David Bordwell and influence by thoughts of renaissance. “time in classical Hollywood cinema is continuous, since nonlinearity calls attention to the illusory work of the medium. The only permissible manipulation of time in this format is the flashback. It is mostly used to introduce memory sequence of a character.”(4) The main camera techniques as: wide shot, long shot, close-ups, over the shoulder shot, pan shot, point of view shot are slowly developed over the golden period also in the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. “In Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, techniques such as camera distance, camera movement and editing all contribute to the visual structure, suspense and narrative of the film. The camera distance and movement present the viewer with a sense of compositional space while the editing emphasizes dramatic focus, establishes a certain tempo and allows the viewer to follow the story in a logical manner. In one particular scene early in the film, the camera views Roger Thornhill, the protagonist, entering the building through an extreme long shot. Although Thornhill cannot be clearly identified, the viewer assumes that Thornhill has entered the building. In another scene, Hitchcock uses a montage sequence to emphasize the dramatic focus of the event. “5

The move out of camera effect used on pic 2 after murder moves away to show the immediate reaction of neighborhood is kind of similar to famous vertigo effect, though different in the essence. „The camera quickly cuts first to show the reactions of a group of people sitting at a table and then cuts to the reactions of the three secretaries as they stand up to bear witness to the ghastly event. Hitchcock uses this montage sequence to emphasize the drama of the murder and show the facial expressions of the horrified witnesses. Alfred Hitchcock's camera work and editing techniques provide the viewer with a clear visual and narrative structure as well as a sense of the mood of the scene while creating drama and suspense of the action.“5 Each move of camera is planned to evoke particularly feeling with the scene and even though the viewer can notice this he is well manipulated. Reaction to expensive movies was movement called new wave. „The New Wave was a technological and theoretical revolution in filmmaking that took form in France from approximately 1958 to 1964. Founders of the New Wave include François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and, of course, Eric Rohmer. These were the leaders of the French New Wave in both practice and theory. “6 „They took advantage of new technology. Lightweight, hand held cameras, faster film stocks requiring less light and lightweight sound and lighting equipment meant that films could be shot quickly and cheaply for the first time. This flexible equipment encouraged experimentation, improvisation, and spontaneity, which led to greater artistic freedom. “6 „The camera in New Wave films is often very mobile and used in inventive ways, for example, following characters down streets, peering into bars and cafes, and observing the passers-by.“6 Breathless is one of the movies made in New wave stile by Jean-Luc Godard in 1960. The camera work is typical example of new wave. In many situations camera movement and shaking show that it is hand held. Though it fits to some scene for example streets scenes with newspapers at beginning of the movie, on other side it also cause much as a distractive element when place in the car. Basically it is very hard to see what is in the black and white scene. Compare to Hitchcock’s movies it feels cheap. Though as I will discuss later at dogma section, the cheapness in this case, doesn’t look artistic. Experimenting with camera movement and angles can be spotted all over movie. Many scenes are shot from under. So cinema visitor cannot depict himself as observer in the movie as for example in later discussed star wars. The breathless movie also have another artistic approach, many scenes are starting by abstract introduction of surrounding, though not by classic long shot but by moving camera around important details.

New wave has also its response in Hollywood called New Hollywood era. Filmmakers though were not independent like those in France but were working under studios. But they tried to introduce new style that was not part of original studio style. „Because of breakthroughs in film technology, the New Hollywood filmmakers could shoot 35mm camera film in exteriors with relative ease. Since location shooting was cheaper no sets need be built New Hollywood filmmakers rapidly developed the taste for location shooting, which had the effect of heightening the realism and immersion of their films, especially when compared to the artificiality of previous musicals and spectacles. The use of editing to artistic effect was also an important factor in New Hollywood cinema“8 The Godfather directed by F. Coppola has this creative approach in its camera. During dancing scene pic 3 the camera do moves so it looks like a cameraman is dancing also, or during walking scene camera is „walking“as well. The new angles are introduced; the murder on godfather is made from pure top view. However compared to French new wave and breathless all camera work is precisely planned.

The new wave movement and specially its version of new Hollywood were ended by two films: star wars released in 1977 and jaws 1975. The great success of these new blockbusters movies showed to the major film companies’ huge possibility for earning money which was hidden in film industry. The Hollywood studio was bought by large corporation and this influenced squeezing film making into one narrow street. New changes and new genres had appeared supported by upgrading technology. The use of camera was redefined as well. George Lucas in his star wars was a making a great jump with special effects supporting his science fiction. Nevertheless the special effect was not only tool to make scale model of starship looking trustworthy. He was supporting this by motion control camera systems. This technology allows a precise control of camera and therefore also repetition of its movements. In film this appears this as active camera movement. Thought the story the small scenes with big battleships are spread. The precise camera moment is made next to them. This evokes the feelings that the models are actually really huge and real starships. The illusion is also supported by very gentle camera movements towards them. This movement though the time evokes great space distances. Towards the end scene of movie the camera is starting to be more dynamic. Longer movement and follows ups are made to increase emotional effect on viewer. The last scene of Star Wars is a real groundbreaker in camera works pic 4. The similar camera moves and appearance can be traced in any action Hollywood made ever since then. The scene is a great battle with small xfighters trying to manipulate though channels on the surface of death star to his its weak spot and guarding themselves from similar small enemy tie fighters at the same time. As I mention the camera work is heroic. Whole time the camera has only dynamic characteristics supporting graduating tension. The viewer is pulled into the fight by camera itself. Dynamic follow ups of models and changing from more static cockpit scene to fast outer ones. The camera movement is not limited to simple tilting and panning but uses all 7 movements of Dkystraflex system. The result is a very complex movements which copy all maneuver made by models. Though the scene with the people are these movement introduced as well. But more important role has a camera angle. The scenes With Darth Vader are always filmed from bottom side to show who the boss in the scene is.

As blockbuster movies was corporate reaction to new wave, then dogma movies are bottom up reaction to blockbusters. Manifesto Dogme 95 written by two Danish directors Lars von Thiers and Thomas Vinterberg. The second rule is saying:”The camera must be hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where action takes place.”3 This offers the viewer totally new range of feelings and emotion emerging from the movie. The hand held camera is precise opposite of super precise Dkystraflex. Where in Star Wars is need for heroic scenes and smooth movement together with model to make viewer feel small, hand held camera has a different scale to offer. The scale is much smaller. In the “dogma like” movie Fish tank the spectator is confront with this kind of camera. The British movie took place in outskirts of city and society in Britain. The camera angle is though most of the movie held in height of men’s head and this is pulling in the viewer as a personal visitor in the movie. The camera movement differs over the scenes based on story coming there. From the dogma rules the cameras has to follow a story. For example during the dancing scenes the camera is shaking up and down slowly and turn left and right to see the dancing character. Since the main character is alone in the room these movements and the natural height and angle of camera creates an illusion that we, the viewers are an invisible visitors in the room, like standing under invisible cloak in Harry Potter. This also continues though the still character scenes. All characters are shot from small height which keeps the feeling that they are equal, or at least they thought that they are equal. Depicting the edge of society, this pull s viewer in, to be one of them. To think as one of them and to see the thing as they see.

Interesting moment is when a cameraman has to run with the characters. The noticeable movement of screen might be a bit disturbing. This is and evokes a very cheap effect, though it keeps the movie, story and camera unified. To comparison to Star Wars final scene, where the camera is as much dynamic, the viewer is a part of story as a here saving the lives of thousands of people, in Fish tank he is not a hero, nor an ordinary person, he has to run away as a character to save his poor life and he has to run because there is no other and more sophisticated option. As we have seen the technology of camera device was influencing much also a shooting with camera. And there is one great technology improvement in cameras in recent days. It is called 3d. In 1930s the massive growth of television was happening, and this of course has affect on Hollywood movie producers. The following year’s number of people visiting cinema reduced of 40%. Hollywood come up with two possible solutions 3d and widening the screen so viewer will have panoramatic experience. The first mention couldn’t manage to reach succeed until recent time. And basically it had rewritten history when Cameron’s Avatar was finished and published.

During the 80s and 90s the major genre of 3d movies was documentary. The documentaries movies are mostly perceived as boring, and the upcoming technology could saved this. The use of camera though was not very artistic and focus was manly how to efficiently scare a cinema visitor. In combination with 3d effects was flying object, animals put to the centre of camera and blown to the face. The rest of camera work was off course to prepare viewer that he will not expect this and at the same time to expect this but in other time. This was made by following object or animal when it was moving sideways or has disappeared behind corner or other obstacle, which hide it for a short moment. The same effect could be finding in detective stories to hides something for a moment until the time will come later in the movie. Camera slowly pans over column, wall or person while villain or victim has time to do or not do the crime. Hard to find better examples before the mentioned Avatar. The great risk that prove that people like 3d when it is treated in artistic way as a film. Cameron used and developed new techniques how to treat shoot such a movie. The shooting could be divided between real like movie with an actors and animation like where camera is just virtual. „Yet live-action 3D was hardly the biggest technical challenge. Only about 25 percent of the movie was created using traditional live performances on sets. The rest takes place in an entirely computergenerated world—combining performance capture with virtual environments that have never before been realized“7

For the classical film there are also set new technologies that behave much different form the old filming approach. Different kind of playing for actors is engage as well. „For actors, the process of performing within an imaginary world, squeezed into a leotard while pretending to inhabit an alien body, is a challenge. Motion-capture technology is capable of recording a 360-degree view of performances, so actors must play scenes with no idea where the "camera" will eventually be. Weaver found the experience liberating. "It's simpler," she says. "You just act. There's no hair or makeup, nothing. It's just you and the material. You forget everything but the story you're telling."“7

With this also the directing a camera is changed, in classical 3D the director chooses the angle after in postproduction stage, though some key aspects can be lost by this approach. „Cameron wanted to be able to see his actors moving within the virtual environments while still on the motion-capture stage called the volume. So he challenged his virtual-production supervisor Glenn Derry to come up with a virtual camera that could show him a low-resolution view of Pandora as he shot the performances. The resulting swing camera so called because its screen could swing to any angle to give Cameron greater freedom of movement is another of Avatar's breakthrough technologies. The swing camera has no lens at all, only an LCD screen and markers that record its position and orientation within the volume relative to the actors. That position information is then run through an effects switcher, which feeds back low-resolution CG versions of both the actors and the environment of Pandora to the swing cam's screen in real time.“7
This allowed Cameron to reshoot any scene, change camera angle, by moving though volume. Also recapture scene when the performance was replayed and actor were not on stage anymore. The result is astonishing and pulls the viewer in the movie, in this case literary. The 3d environment have new role, and so to be around viewer. The upcoming part of 3d is appearing in corners of camera viewport, or falling ash thought the scene and around viewer. The movement of camera finally chosen has though many similarities to blockbusters movies. Long and short shots are use in movie and camera angle is marking the situation. The POV is also used in shot moment to let view feel perspective form wheel chair and also higher angle, because Navi are so tall.

In the situation between the tress and height the Cameron creates new movements which are not related to physical camera and take advantage that camera is just virtual square inside the computer screen. Also he is mapping camera to movement of characters, as on scene on pic 5. The camera movement copy movement of characters „jumping“from the rocks. This movement is rather complex curve and hardly could be done with physical camera. After this movie at least every second realest Hollywood movie is in 3D. Though all are filmed from 3rd perspective and starring great stars as main actors.
I could see that filmmakers could easily inspire by computer games and usage of camera there and use 1st person view all the time though the movie. The camera would be the cinema visitor’s eye in the film, and main hero would be visitor himself. In this case the camera would have to follow the natural movement of human body in real situations to keep movie perceived in all depth. Language of using camera in films and movies is very broad. Over the years it went though great progress both in technology and use. It is possible to see some periodic preferences over time in Hollywood. From mounted in classical Hollywood to hand held in new Hollywood and the again precision with blockbusters movies and hand held with dogma movies in Europe up to precise digital manipulation of virtual camera in latest movies. These tendencies was partly depended on technical innovations and hand held camera had to wait until camera “devices” was light enough. However as a time moved forward, the choice was made by director. This means that camera is not just a technical device, but a way how to communicate to viewer. To communicate, underline a story, prepare viewer for what is next. Good camera work can save bad story and destroy great one, just like bad brush can destroy perfect painting by leaving hair over it. We cannot se camera in the movie, because it is all the time in front of scene, there where we later sitting, therefore the appearance of camera is projected from our head. And only the greatest artist can make his “painting” smile on you no matter where are you standing.


1-Wheeler, L.J., Principles of cinematography, Fountain press, London, 1953
2-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_film, 5.4.2011
3-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogme_95, 5.4.2011
4-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_Hollywood_cinema, 5.4.2011
5- http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/119763/examining_camera_techniques_in_hitchcocks.html, 5.4.2011
6- Vonderheide, L., Literatiness in the films of Eric Rohmer, University of Canterbury, Canterbury 2008
7-http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/digital/visual-effects/4339455, 5.4.2011
8-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hollywood, 5.4.2011

Download (RMB/save target as)
Full Thesis with illustrations- Pdf - 674KB

choose your color

design: Vladimir Ondejcik (c)Vladimir Ondecik 2011
JavaScript is not allowed in your browser.