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October 15
2020

ISSUE

Fall 2020

Final Frame: Bitzer and Griffith – An Early Dynamic Duo

The latest advancements in film production are creating even newer alliances in what is already a highly collaborative art form – such as the one between the visual effects artist and the cinematographer. A recent example of that is Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Legato, ASC and Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel, ASC, who worked hand in hand on virtually every shot of The Lion King. (See story in this issue.) Such close collaboration is the result of a trend towards virtual production techniques and tools. One of the earliest film production ‘dynamic duos’ was director D.W. Griffith and cinematographer Billy Bitzer. This pair began collaborating in 1908 and worked together until 1929. Bitzer was able to work so closely with Griffith that he was able to channel Griffith’s vision with pioneering camera innovations. Bitzer’s achievements include being the first to film completely under artificial light in contrast to outside, and he was also the first to use split-screen photography and backlight. He was arguably the inventor of the close-up as well as long shots, and an innovator in advancing matte photography. Bitzer’s leading-edge techniques included the fade out and iris shot to end a scene and soft-focus photography with the aid of a diffuser. Some of the duo’s best-known works are Broken Blossoms, Way Down East, The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Griffith, of course, is remembered for developing the language of film with certain kinds of camera shots and lighting to give a narrative more mood and tension, which is what he and Bitzer worked together to develop.


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