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2-1-2 Cinema and Zuse’s Machine

The germ of the idea of “Cinema and the Digital Media” penned by Lev Manovich comes from the idea that “the modern digital computers were born of cinema”, and it aims to compare cinema to Konrad Zuse’s machine to make us more familiar with this idea. According to Manovich, if cinematography is defined as the art of writing motions, its nature involves the recording and storage of the visible data in the material form similar to a movie camera. The recorded data is processed in the laboratory through various steps and it is read and displayed on the screen using a projector. In the digital machine, the program is written on an external medium where it can be controlled (the films are punched in Zuse’s machine whereas they are stored on a hard disk in the modern computers). Hence, the storage medium (the punched film and hard disk) and an encoding method (chemo-optical storage, punched binary holes, and magnetic binary data) are considered to be the important components of the digital machine and cinema. However, given Konrad Zuse’s avid interest in the visual arts, their influence on the invention of digital machines, and the comparison between the performances of Zuse’s digital machine and cinema, the technological interpretation of Oedipus complex by Manovich, based on which the child (digital machine) murders his father (cinema), sounds acceptable. In a non-tragic twist, it forms the basis for the integration of the media.

Today, fifty years after Zuse’s invention, the state-of-the-art media not only allow for the storage of photos, graphical images, motion pictures, sounds, and texts in a different and dynamic material for but also provide for the creation and production of sounds, realistic three-dimensional images, and interactive virtual spaces. It can be, therefore, deemed a different dimension and a step forward as compared to Manovich’s analogy. This different material form can be defined as the conversion of the numerical codes to the basis for storage in the digital machines. These codes can be processed and interpreted. This new material form involves a substantial change. For instance, in media such as photos, films, and texts, the original work can be referred to due to their physical essence. However, when these works are turned into numerical codes, their substantial essence becomes inaccessible and we can only gaze at the numerical codes.

“Neo: Do you always look at it encoded?
Cypher: Well, you have to. The image translators work for the construct program. But there’s way too much information to decode the Matrix. You get used to it. I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead.” (The Matrix, 1999)

The reasons for stressing the role of cinema in this text are Manovich’s idea about this fundamental role in the history of the computer as well as the characteristics and features that have helped cinema become the most influential medium of the 20th and partly 21st centuries. Over a century, cinema has gradually prepared its global audience for accepting the transformation of the media and has helped us understand the subsequent features of the digital media. Hence, it is believed that many people experienced the digital revolution as a gradual evolution. Cinema gradually made the advocates of the unity of time and space of photos (Vanvolsem, 2011, 154) accept the modification of photos. It reduced the accepted reality to the reality shown by the motion pictures and developed it. It even replaced the original photos with the motion pictures in some cases. Cinema improved the vision of its audience and enabled them to look at the world not solely through their mechanical eyes.

“I am cinema-the eye. I a mechanical eye and I show you a world that only I can see. Free from the limits of time and space, I adapt myself to any or all parts of the word and I can also record them. My mission is to create a new image of the world, and thus I can discover the unknown world by taking a new approach.” (Zabeti Jahromi, 2009)

In his article, Manovich refers to the substantial role of cinema in introducing a number of digital concepts such as sampling, random access, and simulation to us. For example, through a movie camera or a video camera records the images of the reality shown to the camera through sampling. The number of these samples is limited by the minimum duration of the presence of these images on human’s retina. On a 35mm roll film, 24 frames form one second of the film. Therefore, the continuous timeline can be recorded through discrete sampling and recording 1/24 second film frames. In a similar approach, the digital machine uses the sampling technique to convert and store the analog data (image and sound) (Fig. 2-3) (Manovich, 1995). In a digital image, the number of the pixels along the horizontal and vertical directions on a two-dimensional plane determines the precision of the sampling process, whereas, in a digital sound, it is determined by the level of voltage at certain intervals. In the case of analog films, the linear sequence of the images is maintained. In other words, the frames can be displayed sequentially over time. Moreover, in order to access a given part of the films, the frames must be skipped at the speed determined by the video player to be able to access the desired segment of the film. However, the animated or still digital images provide for the immediate or random access, and the person can access the desired part of the sequence or an image in a collection of images.

Cinema and Zuse’s Machine Article - Analogue to Digital Concept

Figure (2-3): The conceptual method of sampling during the conversion of images or sounds to numerical codes (the sound diagram is adapted to the image type) (Oja and Parsons, 2008: 198)