If you love the movies, then you’re probably very well aware of the impact that advances in technology down the ages have had on how the industry works. Looking back over time, it’s amazing how far we’ve come, from black and white silent films to synchronous sound, the introduction of color, and all the improvements that the newest technology has brought and continues to bring to our screens.

Camera technology

Cameras in particular have experienced revolutionary change as technology has developed. Ever since it became possible to produce a series of images in quick succession on a transparent filmstrip in the 1880s, new ways of capturing and sequencing them have been introduced and supplanted down the centuries.

Among film connoisseurs, there are arguments about precisely which movie camera came first, though it seems likely that Frenchman Louis Le Prince who was working in Leeds, England in 1888 should have that honor. He had earlier worked in the US and returned to France from time to time to visit with family members, where he subsequently disappeared without trace in September 1890.

The silent world

Once cinematography had been established as a means of entertainment, along came some of the best, most inventive movies of the silent era. Plots involving dastardly villains, innocent young victims, and hapless heroes abounded, as did slapstick and comedy. Though these were silent movies, technology developments allowed filmmakers to introduce text screens ortitles in between the action to better explain the narrative. Movie theaters also made good use of real people, with musicians providing live music as an accompaniment to screenings, and projectionists in the early years instructed to produce live sound effects when necessary.

Talkies

Perhaps the most famous movie to synchronize sound and music with moving images was The Jazz Singer, a major motion picture released in 1927. Sound synchronization was first achieved about 13 years earlier,and when the talkies began, the dynamics of making movies changed dramatically as actors and screenwriters took on new roles to suit the changing technology. This was not good news for everyone, however; some actors lost out because the studios claimed that their voices were unsuitable for pictures with sound, though often among Hollywood producers this was a ploy due to contractual disagreements.

Color

Color changed movies in a big way and, sadly, early examples said to date from 1917 have been lost. However,Dorothy’s adventures in The Wizard of Oz (1939) segueing from black and white to color when she left Kansas and found herself in Oz is a great example of the impact that the new technology had at that time.

What’s in a screen?

More advanced processes began to take over when digital compositions first impacted film making during the 1940s. Actors were filmed against colored screens so that later, different images could be superimposed to change the backdrop. The layering process was painstaking and extremely time-consuming in order to achieve the desired effect. Check out the British film The Thief of Bagdad (1940) for a great example of the technology.

Computer-generated imagery

So, we arrive at computer-generated imagery (CGI) in present times – except we don’t. That’s right, as far back as 1973, the science fiction movie Westworld was the first to use CGI. It was originally employed to create a two-dimensional interpretation of a robot-cowboy’s field of vision. In later years, three-dimensional technology provided effects for films Futureworld (1976) and Tron (1982).

Distribution

Today, films are made and distributed very differently from the first images captured by Louis Le Prince in 1888. The internet has irrevocably changed, and continues to change, the manner in which movies are distributed and viewed, not to mention the kinds of films that you watch and who makes them.

As a result of immediate access and worldwide distribution,nowadays you need only a cellphone to watch a movie;we have web shows, podcasts, streaming, and downloading, so consumers have more power than industry moguls.

Future tech developments

There’s no doubt that the movie industry has to realize that, as with other art forms, the medium is moving into an age of digitally made plus digitally distributed movies. Now, more than ever, Ryan Kavanaugh and other keen movie financiers must find new ways of making the most of digital consumption; in this way, legal access to films will become more appealing than piracy.

In fact, it could be said that technology is perhaps having its most profound and pronounced effect on the film industry right now. The digital era is undoubtedly set to be one of the most exciting in the history of film.

Tom Parillo

Tom Parillo

I am interested in all things technology, especially automation, robotics and tech that helps change how society will live in the future.