Practice as Research Portfolio 4: The Verbatim History of the Aesthetics, Technologies and Techniques of Digital Cinematography

TR Flaxton

Research output: Non-textual formArtefact


‘The Verbatim History of the Aesthetics, Technologies and Techniques of Digital Cinematography collection’ was the fourth ‘Practice As Research Portfolio’ (PARP), produced as part of an AHRC Creative Research Fellowship awarded to cinematographer Terry Flaxton entitled ‘High Definition Imaging: An Investigation into the Actual, the Virtual and the Hyper Real’.

This PARP contains interviews with over 25 people significant in the inception of digital cinematography who discuss the effect of emerging digital moving Image capabilities and what their effect might have on the audience. These involve the development of Higher Frame Rates, Higher Resolution and Higher Dynamic Range. There are interviews with prominent academics, people who are involved in the design of the new capture and display media, artists and professionals working in the new medium. It also includes a peer-reviewed article, ‘HD Aesthetics’ Convergence, Sage, June 2011, Pages 113 – 123

Whilst setting about creating the artefacts and the methodologies for investigating my research question which I will go in to after my description of this PARP, I had begun to look at the historical context for the creation of new imaging technologies and in looking at the very beginnings of photochemical film, I had realised that between 1895 and 1915 it was not considered an imperative that the voices of early film practitioners were recorded for posterity (in text or any other form).

In the current period, mirroring the development of film but 100 years later, I decided that I would in fact record the voices of the pioneers of High Definition, or more precisely, Digital Cinematography, so that researchers could look back and hear those voices speaking in the idiom of this study and the culture of the time. To allow proper access to the resources I shot interviews with neither camera movement nor editing, so that future researchers can access the raw data and also pay attention to both what is said and not said in the silences so that the cultural attitudes of the time may reveal our attitude to our subject. There are currently some 20 hours of interviews with this as it is an ongoing resource where more will be added.

To further develop this portfolio I wrote a contextualising article laying out the issues which face researchers and also attempt to describe the landscape that new ideas have to be expressed within. For instance Moving Image training has to engage with Art Schools as well as Film Schools – these two alone have an entirely different pedagogical ethos from eachother. Also Professional expertise derived from developing and higher resolution technologies has challeneged academic convention by seeking to re-inscribe digital image making as a material process. In this article I identify key subject areas to enable an inquiry into those aesthetics that might derive from the technical imperatives within the medium. I then proceed to look at the consequent artistic and cultural implications and conclude by challenging the current academic position of the digital as being inherently immaterial. In this I state that readers should also become listeners and viewers and access the Verbatim History to underpin the points made in the article I wrote to look at the various developing ideas and emerging technologies.

This was discussed in the following peer-reviewed article: HD Aesthetics, Convergence Magazine, Volume 17, Number 2, (pp113-123) 2011.

(There is also a reference article on my overall research: ‘Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making’, The Journal of Media Practice, 10.2 & 10.3, (pp. 123-147), 2009.)

I then developed a website with many other resources for students and academics interested in this new subject area:

I also wrote a document which discussed new pathways to production and available to students and academics here:

Plus edited and gathered many text based resources for students and academics to access:

This then lead to an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship and one exchange developed with Prof Tom Troscianko (Experimental Psychology, Bristol) and Prof Dave Bull (Engineering, Bristol) which then resulted in further collaboration with BBC Research and Development, to test propositions of immersion as being quantum and not incremental. In November 2012 we created the first tests worldwide, of the combination of Higher Resolution, Higher Frame Rate and Higher Resolutions to investigate how to calibrate these factors to deliver the greatest level of immersion in the audience.

In December 2012 /January 2013 an immersion test centre will be built to examine the immersivity of these enhanced images. Throughout 2013 we are partnering with Aardman, Quantel, Dolby and Arriflex GMBH who recognise the impact this research will have on the way moving image capture and display develops. The EPSRC has also highlighted this area for calls for funding.

This is a PARP in the sense that the material has been generated from practical acts, but also involves the process of critical reflection through journal articles and presentation to conferences.

This research has prompted partnerships between Faculty of Engineering & Experimental Psychology at Bristol plus collaboration with BBC R&D to explore advanced properties of digital image-making in relation to immersion and has lead to EPSRC funding.

This was the first practitioner-lead investigation of High Definition Imagining worldwide. The aim of the research was to investigate how increases in image resolution is affecting the nature of art and entertainment from the point of view of both practitioners and audiences. The core research question to be investigated was:

‘In what ways will the advent of high resolution imaging change the work produced in the convergence of art and visual technologies and consequently, our experience of that work?’

To address this a series of 4 PARP’s was created comprised of this methodology:

i) one or more ‘artefacts’ were created to respond to some aspect of the research question, (in many cases an installation)
ii) these were exhibited to audiences, where engagement time was monitored to evaluate if they increased as resolution increases in succeeding exhibitions
iii) peer reviewed articles critically reflected on the process
iv) research was presented at conferences

It was proposed from the beginning that each new artefact would be a building block in the research as a whole, so each work was developed with an additive proposition.

PARP 1 (‘High Definition Video and Experiences of Immediacy and the Environment’) which examined how images of our immediate environment when projected back on to the objects photographed at differing resolutions increased audience engagement, whereas the 2nd PARP looked at the external world revisiting iconic places to see how if resolution deepened engagement when reproduced in high resolutions and built upon the research undertaken. In this third PARP I tried to explore the complex issues of why the human face fascinates us so and why the human form within the environment excites interest. I decided to shoot life-size portraits at the highest possible resolution, and then project all the images life-size. This meant constructing a 20 foot x 10 foot screen for exhibition. The 3rd PARP looked at the traditional area of Portraiture with an emphasis on the exhibition of life-sized portraiture with screens regularly 20 feet wide by 10 feet high. There have been 9 projects and 237 portraiture subjects obtained on three different continents.

PARP 4 (The Verbatim History of the Aesthetics, Technologies, and Techniques of Digital Cinematography) differs from but acts to substantiate the propositions in the above and is intended as a research resource of online verbatim interviews accompanied by online text based resources.

It is important however that this is not viewed as scientific research (though this research has been developed within Engineering and Experimental Psychology). The original research was concerned with the aesthetics of images that might be produced. This meant creating a series of artefacts where the results were encoded in each new artefact. This empirical knowledge does not detract from the art produced, but emphasises that the clarity of an image was a key immersion point.

This is not a complete but an open-ended process. Its ramifications feed through to other PARP’s plus other initiatives that I am now working on for future research. Though presented in a linear fashion, the research work is in fact a continuum of behavior which is intended to lead toward answering my core research question so the emerging and developing ideas for calibrating exposure of future work for higher immersion and impact were further discussed in the following Internet Publications:

'High Definition and High Resolution Motion Imaging', Blog 75,000 words,

'Understanding Digital Cinematography', Online resource around 75,000 words & I further refined my thinking and presented more emerging ideas in the following invited talks to Research Communities: 'Myth and Meaning in the Digital Age', Invited paper to research community ETH Zurich, 2010. 'High Definition Technologies and Aesthetics', Bergen Institute of Fine Art (Invited Paper to Research Community), 2009.

References to the research

1. Research Grants: Knowledge Transfer Partnership between University of Bristol, Watershed and South West Screen (now Creative England) funded by the AHRC (AH/H038116/1). Total project cost £288.000. The project lasted for two years and finished in November 2012. Terry Flaxton (UoB) was the Lead Academic and Marc Cosgrove was the lead for the Watershed.

2. invited paper to research community to Bergen Elektronisk Kunst Senter plus Bergen Academy of Arts, Norway, 2009

3. invited paper to research community, November 2010 Die Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich

4. Flaxton, TR. 'Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making', The Journal of Media Practice, 10.2 & 10.3, (pp. 123-147), 2009.

Sources to corroborate the impact:

Invited Talk to Milan University: Professor Sandra Lischi

Xi’an Exhibition and presentation, Art Clay:

Invited Research talk to Bergen Elektronisk Kunst Senter plus Bergen Academy of Arts, Norway, 2009, Trond Lossius Professor Jeremy Welsh

Invited Research talk to Die Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich, Professor Juerg Gutknecht, Professor of Computer Science at ETH Zurich:

Translated title of the contributionPractice as Research Portfolio 4: The Verbatim History of the Aesthetics, Technologies and Techniques of Digital Cinematography collection
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

Medium: Digital Video Online Oral History, Online text resources, Contextualising Peer Reviewed Article, Conference Paper, other online video resources


  • Practice as Research Portfolio

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