Important Firsts in Digital Filmmaking  

Ann Casano
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In 1987, Italian director Peter del Monte’s Julia and Julia became the very first movie shot with a high definition video system. The movie looked grainy, the resolution unclear. Over the next decade, digital filmmaking rapidly developed. Yet even a novice could detect the difference between a movie shot with a digital camera and one shot on film. In 2016, digital technology is so advanced, such detection is nearly impossible. Here are the 14 most important firsts in digital cinema.

Shooting with digital cameras is less expensive, easier to edit, and more accessible to filmmakers outside of Hollywood than shooting on film. Yes, of course, there are directors like Quentin Tarantino who swear by celluloid and feel that the look of a motion picture should not be comprised. However, veteran directors like Martin Scorsese and James Cameron have made blockbusters that represent important moments for digital films.

George Lucas’s Attack of the Clones is also on this list of digital filmmaking firsts. He filmed the entire movie using digital cameras. Esteemed directors Robert Rodriguez, Danny Boyle, and Michael Mann also have important firsts in digital movies. The controversy and debate of celluloid versus digital may rage for a while longer, but in the meantime, more and more acclaimed filmmakers are abandoning the old methods in favor of new technology.

First Blockbuster Shot Entirely on Digital - Attack of the Clones
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George Lucas has always been willing to experiment with new technology. In the first chapter of his Star Wars prequel trilogy, The Phantom Menace, Lucas seamlessly combined scenes shot on film with those shot with digital cameras. For the second installment, Attack of the Clones, Lucas exclusively used the Sony HDW-F900 digital camera. This was a big deal because no franchise in film history is bigger than Star Wars; for it to go entirely digital truly meant that digital filmmaking was moving to the forefront of cinema.

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In 2016, nearly every animated movie is made digitally and in 3D. It all started with Chicken Little in 2005. Although not a hit with critics, Disney's non-Pixar CGI movie certainly looked the part. Chicken Little was the first animated movie to get a wide 3D release, although in 2005 that meant the movie could only properly be shown on about 100 screens. Some theaters charged more than double for the opportunity to see Chicken Little in 3D, and despite the limited number of screens, the film made nearly as much money in 3D as it did in 2D. Ultimately, Chicken Little made Hollywood producers take note; 3D was the future, and consumers were willing to pay a lot extra for it.

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Pixar is responsible for making so many great films. In 1995, they introduced the world to Toy Story, the first feature-length animated movie to be completed entirely using CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). The three Toy Story films have grossed more than $2 billion worldwide, and we can expect to see a fourth installment in 2018. Now, almost every animated movie is made using CGI.

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Don't think you can make a picture that brings in millions at the box office on your standard digital camera? Think again. Lance Weiler and Stefan Avalos shot and edited their horror movie The Last Broadcast (1998) on consumer-grade digital equipment. The movie cost a mere $900 to produce, and took in $4 million at the international box office.

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