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Automavision

noun [uncountable]

a film-making technique in which a camera is placed in a fixed position and controlled by a computer

'It turns out … that the film was made using a new principle called Automavision, in which a computer runs a programme to determine particular variables: tilt, pan, focal length, aperture et al.'

The Independent 2nd March 2008

The 2008 Cannes Film Festival is currently in full swing, ending on Sunday 25th May. Originally proposed in 1939, but delayed until 1946 because of World War Two, Cannes is one of the world's most prestigious and influential film festivals, attracting movie stars and film-makers from across the globe. Although the festival does feature high-profile movies such as this year's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it generally has a reputation for favouring more obscure, 'highbrow' films, films which often deal with more serious topics and feature a multinational cast and crew.

Films featured at Cannes are often beautiful to look at, chosen for their skilled and careful cinematography. But what if all that 'zooming', 'panning' and 'tilting' wasn't carefully controlled by an experienced cameraman, but left to a computer? This is the principle behind Automavision, a new film-making technique in which a computer, rather than a human, is behind the camera.

proponents of the technique argue that Automavision gives the viewer the opportunity to choose which … elements of a scene he wants to focus his attention on

Automavision is based on the principle that human control of the film-making process should be restricted, and an element of chance thrown in. The intention is to give the film a fresh, unique appeal which is not constrained by aesthetics or the habits of a particular cameraman. This is achieved by fixing the camera on a special rig which is pointed in the general direction of the actors, and then allowing the camera to run through a series of randomly generated manoeuvres. The results can be weird, such as actors' heads being partially or fully 'chopped off', or a view of the ceiling above two people having a conversation. Sometimes the intended subject of the shot isn't in view at all!

Proponents of the technique argue that Automavision gives the viewer the opportunity to choose which particular elements of a scene he wants to focus his attention on, taking the control away from the film-maker. In reality however, the cinematography isn't fully automated. Though the shots might be computer-controlled, the director still has the opportunity to decide what will be seen and heard during the editing phase.

Background – Automavision

The noun Automavision was coined by Lars Von Trier, a Danish film director. Von Trier has regularly premiered his films at Cannes and in 2000 won the prestigious Palme D'Or for best film (Dancer in the Dark, featuring the renowned Icelandic musician Björk).

Von Trier invented the technique of Automavision in 2006 for the making of his Danish comedy film The Boss of it All (Directøren for det hele). The film tells the story of a Danish businessman who hires an actor to play the absentee boss of his IT company in order to sell it to an Icelandic firm.

Automavision is of course a blend of the words automatic and vision. Other blends involving the word vision which are associated with the film industry include stereovision (a synonym for three dimensional or 3-D film) and smellovision (a system of releasing odours during a film so that viewers can 'smell' what's happening).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 19th May 2008.

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