Producer muses on ASC, digital, SFX, etc.

The members of the ASC hold a special place in the professional/creative universe of, director/producer/technological visionary George Lucas. “They’re dedicated to maintaining the highest quality in the area of cinematography and setting the standards and promoting the standards of high quality, which is something that I care about a great deal,” says Lucas. And for good reason.

“I started out as a cinematographer,” Lucas points out. “I taught cinematography when I was a graduate student. I was a teaching assistant, and I taught a couple classes. I also was working on the side as a cinematographer … I still get to shoot stuff once ina while.”

Lucas is known not only for the creation of films like the “Star Wars” trilogy, but also for the development of the THX theater sound systems and Lucas Arts interactive projects. Not surprisingly, he’s very sensitive to the technological hurdles facing cinematographers today. Lucas says, “As the new technologies come along, I think there’s going to be a lot of challenges in converting the knowledge base of photography and the chemical-based photographic systems into the digital realm, which is more the video/electronic cinematography.

“I think that’s going to be a big challenge, because there is a very high art in the film side of cinematography in terms of the look and feel of the visual images, and that needs to get translated into the electronic side. The same care and talent and sophistication needs to go into interpreting that medium.

“The biggest issue is going to be the whole progression of digital photography, and I think the biggest challenge they’re going to face is how do they adjust to that new medium. They’re going to have to learn a lot of their craft all over again.”

As for the part the cinematographer should play in this area of changing technology, Lucas notes, “I think they’re going to have to play a leading role in it. They’re the creative talent that really is responsible for the visual look of things. They’re going to have to work very, very hard to retrain and push the state of the art of electronic cinema, especially when the technology begins to become digital.

Changing roles

“As the technology changes and the methodology of making movies changes, I think the role of cinematographers will also change,” he continues. “I think they will have to have a broader base of technical information available to them and be probably more involved in the overall workings of the project.”

Acknowledging that the current digital environment of special effects creates a need to achieve a uniformity of look, Lucas says, “We have a lot of special-effects supervisors who are cinematographers at ILM, and they work very hard. One of the biggest challenges of doing special effects is to match the style and visual look that the cinematographer on the live action part of the film is trying to achieve.”

In Lucas’ view, cinematographers are working more closely with directors these days. “It’s been my experience that the cinematographer is working more in collaboration with the director than the other people in the group.” And in keeping with these tech-driven times, Lucas says that “post-production people and the cinematographer are having a much closer relationship than in the past.”

Lucas predicts that “special effects and production are going to merge at some point,” and special effects will be part of the actual production unit. “It’s not going to be separate little groups the way we have now,” he says.

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