The Birth of Creative Editing and Post Production
Post production and editing has its origins in the early days of film. Before editing movies were often just long continuous shots of whatever interested the camera man and the only real post production process was in the development of the film. George Melies was the first film maker to experiment with editing to create a story. His technique can be seen in the 1902 film A Trip to the Moon. The editing in this picture is very basic and only really exists to cut from one scene to the other. There are no close ups, mid shots or point of views. Such processes had not yet been invented, it was strictly a wide shot of the stage:
"A trip to the moon is no more than a series of amusing shots, each a scene unto itself. The shots tell a story, but not in the manner to which we are accustomed. It was not until the work of Edwin S. Porter that editing became more purposeful" (Dancyger, 2002, p.3)
According to author Ken Dancyger, Edwin S Porter was the real pioneer of dynamic editing. Inspired by the work of George Melies, he showed people how visual continuity in editing can be used to make films more dynamic. This can be seen in two of his first films Life of an American Fireman (1903) and The Great Train Robbery (1903). These two films represent the break through point for post production and what I would call the birth of modern editing. All the technology for creating these edits were there, it just needed someone to put it into to practice:
"Life of an American Fireman is a landmark film as much because of its role in film historiography as because of its remarkable manifestation of early cinema's representational practices" (Musser, 1992, p.212)
The 2004 documentary The Cutting Edge talks about the early days of editing. Film was physically cut with a splicer and cemented together a small vile of liquid cement. After the edit had been completed the next step was the projection room. The edit would have been run through the projector to make sure the appropriate cut had been made. This was a very lengthy process and often edits were run back and forward several times before they were cleared for projection.
These problems were soon rectified with the invention of the Moviola in 1924. This machine made it easier for an editor to review his or her edit easily without the use of a projector, thus saving hours and hours of editing time. According to Moviola's website the Moviola was originally conceived as a home projector. However after a meeting with an editor at Douglas Fairbanks studio, it was soon adapted to be suitable for use on the editors table. This adaptation meant the loss of its expensive casing for cost efficiency and the motor being replaced with an easy crank system which allowed the editor to easily check back the edits.
"Overnight, the editing community embraced the Moviola. Early customers included Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, Charles Chaplin Studios, Buster Keaton Productions, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, and MGM" (What is the Moviola story?, www.moviola.com)
The Moviola meant that editors had more time to physically make the edits and therefore the technology gave them more creative freedom to make the edits they wanted. This is an example of technology directly changing the post-production process and driving the editors to become more creative.
Although editing was given some new found freedom it was soon taken away. The Cutting Edge reveals the editing process was originally not thought of as being creative and therefore it was give an almost factory line way of production. Editors were seen as simply 'hands for hire'. This was because the studios had the equipment to edit and it was up to them to over see the post production process. A room full of editors, interestingly the majority of them female, would sit and cut the film together. This was done because there was such demand for new material; directors were called in to oversee and help produce even more content, although they would rarely enter into the cutting room its self. Due to the high demand for new films, they were almost churned out like a production line.
"I don't want it good. I want it Tuesday".
Jack L. Warner (Jack L. Warner Biography, us.imdb.com)
The role of the editor soon changed in the late 1920's with sound becoming a more prominent feature of films. According to Bill Nichols, a professor of cinema at San Francisco State University, sound had been a possibility long before it became the industry standard. Thomas Edison had experimented with the synchronisation of film and audio in the late 1800's. The Phonograph was the catalyst for Edison's experiments; this invention used a stylus attached to a diaphragm to record indentations onto the surface of wax or tinfoil cylinders. This could then be played back using the same system.
"It is already possible by ingenious optical contrivances to throw stereoscopic photographs of people on screens in full view of an audience. Add the talking phonograph to counterfeit their voices, and it would be difficult to carry the illusion of real presence much further." (Scientific AmericanDecember 22, 1877.)
Using belts he connected a phonograph to the film which caused the audio to be played back roughly at the same time as the film. Although this system worked to a degree, it was not without its issues. The audio would often drift out of synchronisation due to changes in frame rate or brakes in the film. It was not until film frame rate was standardised at 24 frames per seconds that the process was improved. Developments in technology further improved upon Edison's inventions and wax disks, not that dissimilar to vinyl records. However in1926 the Vitaphonone process was developed by Bell Labs for Warner Brothers studios This was based upon Edison's technology but was adapted so that the phonograph was incorporated into the same mechanism as the projector. This meant that the visuals and audio were nearly always played back In sync.
"It was the Vitaphone touch on the 1927 The Jazz Singer that created a worldwide demand for film sound"
(Western Electric/Bell Labs Vitaphone Film Sound, www.tecfoundation.com)
Although the Vitaphone and phonograph were used as the industry standard for many years, they were still quite unreliable. They often skipped out of sync, or the audio disks would degrade. This was because the needles that played the audio back needed to be quite heavy, for amplification reasons and because of this, these disks became unreadable after 10 plays and would have to be replaced. Sound disks also lacked the ability to be edited. Soundtracks were recorded in just one take WHY?? which meant they were often limited to just sound effects and music.
Sound development provides one example of the progression of technology stifling the creative freedom of editors. EXPAND ON THIS???Sound clearly changed the post production process. Multiple cameras had to be used to give the editors a chance to make cuts which doubled the amount of film used .Editors needed a new technology that allowed them to edit the sound whilst keeping it in sync with the pictures. Sound on film systems provided a solution.
Douglas Gomerys, author of The Coming of Sound:A History, states that sound film was actually developed as early as 1919 by the American inventor Lee Dee Forest. Although his technology did not work at first, the phonofilm system was the basis of nearly all of the sound on film technologies, such as fox's Movietone. The technology was eventually developed by RCA WHAT DOES THAT STAND FOR? to become the Photofilm system. This system became the industry standard for sound films up until the introduction of magnetic tape.
According to the Encyclopaedia of Britannica Films the sound on film process can work in two different ways. It can use a variable-area soundtrack or a variable-density soundtrack. The variable-area sound track works by using a line of transparency recorded next to the pictures. The width of the line varies depending on the frequency of the sound. Light is passed through this track, on to an optical sensor, which converts the signal into an electrical current. As the width gets wider, more light can hit the sensor, causing an increase in current. This gives an audio signal which can be amplified for play back.
Variable-density soundtracks work on the same principle but instead of varying the width, the opacity of the film is changed. This optical sound technique was originally used in the Phonofilm system but it lacked the clarity and Hi fidelity of the RCA developed Photofilm system. Photofilm uses variable-width soundtracks in its system.
"By 1930, a sound and picture editing machine, the Moviola, was introduced. In 1932 "edge numbering" allowed sound and picture to be edited in synchronisation." (Dancyger, 2002, p.41)
The next step for sound came in multi-track recording. Walt Disney collaborated with conductor Leopold Stokowski to produce one of Disney's greatest films, Fantasia. DATE IT??
Larry Blake author of Re-recording and post production of Disney's Fantasia states that during the production of Fantasia, several new technologies and techniques were created. Nearly all of these technologies and techniques are in use or have been adapted into modern day film making and sound recording. Pan pots were invented by Disney's chief engineer William Garity, after he was given the task of making sound appear to move from the left side of the screen to the right.
The Fantasound system was also developed for the film which allowed for 6 optical film tracks to be played back simultaneously, the techniques used in this process eventually lead Dolby on to produce their "Dolby Stereo" system.
This research shows that although the technological development of sound was originally conceived to be creative, opening a new experience for the audience, technological constraints too often got in the way of creativeness. The addition of sound to film originally meant that film had to be cut differently with less cuts and therefore this affected the creative freedom of the editor.
The technology had to progress further before editors had the creative freedom to cut quickly and freely whenever they wanted. Magnetic tape was next step. Editors were given the creative freedom to cut audio and rearrange it to their will. This is an example of technology promoting creative freedom.
Sound forged the progression of post production technology and with the development of magnetic tape recording, but it was not until 1956 that things began to really change. The first videotape format "the 2-inch quadruplex" and Video recorder "The VR-1000" were introduced by Ampex. Magnetic tape offered an easy solution to pre recording television shows for broadcast. Before magnetic tape was invented shows we recorded from a television monitor, onto film using a technique called telecine. This was a very time consuming process and often lead to a degrade in the picture quality. Magnetic tape on the other hand had the ability to be played back as soon as it was recorded and therefore it was far more suitable for television broadcast than film.
Although the system gave instantaneous accessibility, it still lacked an edit system. The tape had to be physically cut using a razor blade, and stuck together using a piece of mylar tape1. This was an extremely hard process and cuts we often made in the wrong place. The tapes had to be wound on to roughly the right edit point and then removed from the machine and placed on the cutters table, a small amount of developers fluid was then applied to the edit point on the tape. This fluid made it possible for the small iron particles to be seen under a micro scope. To perform an edit, an editor needed to cut the tape along the sync pulse, an almost impossible task. They would then need to stick the tapes together. If the cut wasn't precise enough, the image would drop out or cause the frames to move.
This technology obviously got in the way of the editors creativity. The process of physically cutting video tape was very time consuming, unreliable, and often produced inaccurate results. This meant that more time was spent on the technical side of things rather than making the cuts themselves.
This was clearly an inefficient method of editing. Editors needed a new process, something that could allow them the ability to make more accurate cuts and therefore more creative. Ampex released the VR-2000 WHEN?DATE?. This machine allowed on the fly assemble editing, a great improvement upon the old technique of manually cutting the tape. The VR-2000 did not however, allow and editor to record audio or video independently, and they did not offer any sort of time code based editing with in and out points; it was still pretty much guess work.
Things stayed this way until the late 1960's when the first automated edit machines appeared. These machines allowed for some degree of precision, giving the editor the choice of where he or she wanted to put an edit point and then performing this edit automatically. These machines, although more accurate than older machines, still lacked the ability to scan through the video frame by frame. This made it almost impossible to perform a frame accurate edit.
Another break through for tape editing occurred in 1967 with the invention of time code by EECO. According to "Video maker" writer Mike Loehr, this design was based on NASA's own "Time tag" system which recorded the hour minute and second along with video. EECO adapted it so that it every frame was recorded as well.Time code became a necessity for every editor. It allowed creative freedom and precision with a cut, and by 1969 the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, released their own industry standard. This system is still used today.
We can see that technology has improved the editors' creative freedom and shaped the post production process over the past one hundred years.
New technologies often initially stifle creativity, LIKE...PUT IN ONE OF THEM AS AN EG.... However as they are developed, technologies generally appear to have allowed editors greater creative freedom and scope.
Editing and the post production process stayed relatively static for many years after this with most films being cut on the Moviola. Colour added a new facet to the film production but, it the post production process remained unaffected - colour was strictly down to the chemical processing of the film. It was not until the development of non-linear systems in the 1990's that there was any significant change. Film editing stuck to true film editing methods because of a number of different reasons. Firstly the speed and quick turn around of television is not needed in film. The image quality of film is far superior to that of analogue tape and therefore when projected onto a big screen. The difference is highly noticeable. It is also important to note that a lot of film directors used the same editors over and over again. The majority of these editor stuck to what they knew using Moviolas' or Steenbecks.