Tuesday, March 16, 2021

That Amazing Drone Video and The New York Times

An absolutely beautiful piece of video went viral - the stunning drone footage of Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater shot by Jay Christensen is wonderful and has been showered with praise on social media.

In visual effects, we constantly bump up against an uncanny valley of sorts when it comes to camera moves. Over the decades, audiences have become completely aware of dolly camera moves, tracking shots, steadicam, hand-held, big booming crane shots, and have integrated these moves (either consciously or unconsciously) into their cinematic vocabulary. These types of camera moves "make sense" to audiences, and therefore "feel honest". Sometimes, artists and directors who create live-action scenes rendered entirely in computer graphics go too far with their camera moves (twisting, twirling, speeding up and slowing down with magical precision), creating camera paths that are literally unachievable in the real world, forcing audiences to consciously or unconsciously reject them as "dishonest". We sometimes refer to unrealistic synthetic camera moves as "cameras of God", as in God is the only camera operator who could achieve this kind of move.

When new camera techniques become ubiquitous, audiences will accept them as "honest" and consider it part of the vocabulary.


That's what I was trying to get across in my hastily written tweet - that this drone shot, captured in-camera, could signify the addition of these types of authentic live-action camera moves into our cinematic vernacular.

I was very surprised to see The New York Times' writeup of the drone shot and its reaction from Hollywood filmmakers.

Wait - "adds to the language and vocabulary of cinema"? That sounds familiar. Sure enough, after quoting praise from Lee Unkrich, Elijah Wood and James Gunn, they quoted my tweet.

I'm thrilled that the video is getting such praise, and am humbled that The New York Times thought my comment was of any interest.

New York Times: "A Drone Went Bowling. Hollywood Noticed." by Mike Ives