The unconstrained anicamera

November 4, 2012

Before I start talking about some of the things that the anicamera takes from real cameras I want to expand on a point that SeHNNG made at Altair & Vega, namely that the anicamera is unconstrained by physical reality. Specifically it is unconstrained by reality when it 'photographs' a scene, whereas when you film or photograph a scene how you do so is often imposed on you by physical constraints. There is a continuum of these constraints; the anicamera is at the unconstrained end and generally still photographers are at the most constrained end with cinematographers in the middle. This is not because film cameras are better or more flexible than still cameras but because cinematographers generally have more money. To show what I mean, here's two examples.

First, if a still photographer wants to take a picture of a group of people in a relatively small room they will almost always have to use a wide angle lens, which introduces perspective distortions from what we consider a 'normal' view. Cinematographers just build a soundstage where the room doesn't have one wall, allowing them to back up enough so that they get a normal perspective. Second, still photographers who take pictures of buildings often spend a great deal of money on special lenses in large part to compensate for the fact that they can't feasible take their pictures from ten or twenty feet (or more) up on a ladder. Camera booms are standard equipment on film sets; filming a broad overview of a building from thirty or forty feet up is almost trivial for a cinematographer.

The anicamera takes this further by enabling shots that would not be possible even in cinematography; at best film could fake them with special effects. One example comes from the first battle in Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, where the end of the battle has a dramatic continuous pull-back that starts from a closeup on a character in the battle and pulls all the way back to overlooking another character who is at least a mile or two away. You could not possibly film this in real life; there is no lens that could zoom in and out that much and no camera platform that could physically cover the distance fast enough. And the pull-back is necessary for the impact of the shot, because it involves Shirou turning to look towards Archer; only the continuous pullback lets us clearly understand what it means that Shirou turned and looked in the direction he did.

(Another way that the anicamera is unconstrained is that it takes up no physical space. You can thus have anime shots taken from spots in a setting that would be very difficult to get equipment into in real life. To some extent this could be faked on a soundstage but even that has limitations.)

Apart from enabling otherwise impossible shots, this matters because it means that how things look in anime is almost entirely an aesthetic choice. The look of a scene or a shot is never forced by physical constraints in the way it can be in still photography and cinematography. The corollary to this is that whenever the anicamera takes from real cameras it does so for aesthetics, admittedly sometimes because a lot of cinematography has established that those aesthetics work or at least trained audiences to expect them.

(The clearest, most striking case of this is lens flare. But that's another entry.)

Written on 04 November 2012.
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Last modified: Sun Nov 4 01:44:05 2012
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