So technology is constantly changing and that’s a good thing. 15 years ago I was making my very first website on Geocities and it was a very simple affair of photos in line with text. After I discovered dreamweaver my sites began getting increasingly better and more complicated. Then I got into Content management systems such as greymatter & wordpress. When I started Rogues Hollow in 2002 I jumped head first into Flash and became the first in the industry to offer full on Flash websites and Flash introductions. Each year we were able to push what Flash could do and it was pretty great! Immersive sites where video and information can live in harmony to present a awesome experience!
Then everyone started going to smartphones and Steve Jobs declared war on Adobe, the maker of Flash. Jobs declared that Flash was buggy and not secure enough to be on ipads and iphones and so Flash has been slowly dying out in lieu of HTML 5. With more and more people going to mobile devices, its become very important to have “mobile” versions of sites which is a good thing. In the last couple years I’ve seen traffic for mobile devices rise as high as 30% for some markets and I expect that to be even higher in 2012.
This has made me realize that there are a lot of people in younger generations that are experiencing the web through a tiny 4 inch screen and that’s sad. In many ways it feels like we’re going backwards. Yes, the technology is getting better but the presentation seems to be getting smaller and worse all the time. For the longest time the screens were getting better, as a designer I was able to expand and bust out of the square screens we started the decade with in 2000. I realize it may sound like I’m whining about the technology passing me by but that’s not what this is about. I’m looking at this entirely on an aesthetic level and you can NOT get a true experience from a tiny 4 inch screen with a tinny speaker.
The new boy in town is HTML 5 which I have been forced to dive into. It works for stuff like animated banners, video, headers, etc but I still don’t feel like I have as much control with it as I can with flash. I like seeing how flash can incorporate video and animation as well as sound in a way that gives the viewer a experience and not just another web site. As of today I don’t see HTML 5 being as good as that nor do I see a great program like Adobe’s Flash that allows artists to create and programmers to code. There is Adobe Edge which is the HTML 5 creator from Adobe and it is showing some promise. As it stands today HTML 5 just isn’t as versatile as Flash But Apple has backed HTML 5 and, at least for now, it is the future whether I like it or not.
Its not just web either. In the last 5 years I’ve watched 3D films go from marketing gimmick to a format that’s become fairly standard for any larger budgeted movie. For me 3D is a joke that movies like My Bloody Valentine used just as it was intended. To make silly movements at the screen and scare people. Sitting down and watching a 3D movie for 2 hours is a fucking chore and one I try to avoid if at all possible. I hate wearing the glasses and I find myself getting a headache for anything in shaky cam. But the 3D phase appears to have plateaued and we’re seeing the films released in both 2D and 3D more often than not. More recently there has been a big debate over a new 48 frames per second format that is being used for the new Hobbit movie instead of the long standard 24fps. Many were describing it as looking like bad BBC dramas from the 1970’s because the higher frame rate just makes it all look cheap. Watch a video shot with a consumer video camera or a phone and you’ll see that it looks different and not polished compared to a movie. The higher frame rate shows details better making the sets look cheap.
Devin Faraci of Badass Digest recently got a lot of press for his great article on what’s wrong with this new format. Its a format that is being used solely for technical reasons. James Cameron is pushing it because it makes 3D brighter and more realistic and while people who watched the preview footage for the Hobbit all agreed that the nature shots of green valleys and mountains all looked amazing, as soon as a character walked onto the screen it looked cheap and weird. Its a technical decision that does nothing to improve how a story is told and for many viewers its going to hurt that viewing experience. This is something that gamers might see as an improvement since their used to viewing video games at much higher frame rates than movies. But these people probably aren’t the market for most movies. 24 frames per second just has a magic about it that you can’t quite put your finger on but you know its different.
So apparently the path we’re on is one where technology trumps aesthetics, where story and vision isn’t as important as the technology driving it. If its the newest format then it must be better. So we stream videos and movies through tiny 4 inch screens and listen to music on a crappy speaker on the back of the phone. We watch 3D movies where the technology and special effects are more important than the story while tweeting friends about how bad films are today. Quality isn’t much of a concern anymore. Where does it go from here? Does it get Better or worse?
I’m guilty of streaming movies and tv shows and its a wonderful convenience. However I only do it on my TV or 27 inch monitor so I’m getting a fairly high quality viewing. But if its a film or show that’s really important to me I still go out and buy the blu-ray. I want to see the highest quality image I can and see the special features and commentaries. I like streaming but its still an inferior quality product. I love movies and picture quality and presentation is very important to me. For the longest time home video has been improving and it still is but I know a lot of people using phones and laptops to consume media and getting a shoddy presentation in the compromise. The problem with mobile video is it can only improve so much. It can go to HD and even the sound could improve with better headphones and speakers but the screen won’t get much bigger and people will still be watching in less that ideal conditions while texting their friends or video chatting in a hangout.
Recently I finished a short film called “compulsion” and that I edited on a 27 inch screen in my office with headphones to get the sound mix together. I later viewed it on a 32 inch screen before I took it too the “premiere” where all the actors that were in the movie watched it for the first time. The screen at the premiere was a 50 inch Plasma with a great sound system. I was shocked at how different the film was when viewed on a large screen with room filling sound and it made me realize that the medium you view a film or video clip in can have a big impact on how you feel and interpret it. It also made me realize I need to upgrade my home theater but that’s for another post.
If your a independent film maker your probably making films that will likely only appear on vimeo or youtube in less than ideal surround sound conditions. Again its a compromise. Its great to be able to get your message out to a larger audience but that audience will only see it in less than Ideal conditions.
Its hard to know what will become of technology in the future. While I have no doubt home theater’s will only improve, I worry about the younger generations that are content with inferior presentations. The home PC is fast being replaced with laptops & tablets with 10-17 inch screens. Web and video are being watered down to cater to smaller devices and as a designer I once again find myself hindered by the technology of the day.