I grew up holding a place in my heart for many films. Films like Jaws, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fog, Die Hard, Predator…it’s a long list. Amongst many things, one of the reasons I’m drawn to these movies is their aesthetic. For a while it was a strange, mythical ingredient that made up this aesthetic but when I got into a career in filmaking / VFX I realised that these ingredients aren’t mythical but practical. The allure of a shot is a combination of set design, lighting, direction and cameras.
Within that though, there was still a quality about the films I held dear. The difference is an anamorphic lens.
What is an anamorphic lens?
Back in the day when films were still all shot on 35mm, film-makers wanted to maximise the space on a cel of film. When shooting with spherical lenses, the image captured left plenty of un-used area on the film cel. Using an anamorphic lens captured more information using more of the film cel. The image was then expanded in post-production to reveal a more “proper” aspect ratio.
The upshot of this was that anamorphic footage had certain artifacts that just looked cool and more cinematic;
- More visual information
- Less grain
- Shallower Depth of Field
- Lends flares
- Rainbow glares
When I read up on anamorphic lenses I discovered that this was one major elements that all of my beloved movies shared (apart from Carpenter or Spielberg ;P).
With the dominance of digital, using a lens that makes the most of film cels isn’t exactly a major concern these days. But the appeal of the aesthetic of anamorphic lenses is strong. JJ Abrams drives some people nuts with the use of lens flares but you can’t deny there’s a major epic feel to the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars, while Super 8 felt like it was a Spielberg special made in 1982.
With that said I suppose that’s what’s so special to me about the anamorphic look; it has the feel of a grand 80’s movie. It has many visual elements that evoke a sense of nostalgia, visual cues that I associate with what I’d call magical films from my earlier days – films that crafted fantastic tales and amazing locations.
So in VR…
I’ve seen a lot of cinematic / narrative VR and a lot of it is great (most recently Miyubi from Felix & Paul). But I haven’t felt like I was placed into one of those films I love. I think sometimes VR content is too pre-occupied with trying to make things real. I’d love to feel like I’m in a Spielberg movie – to feel like I’m in Doc Brown’s lab and not a realistically presented version of it.