Film Scene

Motion picture technology made in Germany

Cinema 4D with
 IOSONO Soundsystem

Over the past decade, German companies have been awarded a striking number of "technology Oscars", prompting the film industry to focus its attention once again on the inventive talent of German film technicians.

Ever since the dawn of cinema, German motion picture technology has exerted great influence on this youngest of all art forms. Alongside the Skladanowsky brothers and their film-making equipment from 1894, one of the first German movie pioneers was Oskar Messter. Messter invented the Maltese cross back in 1886 – the key component in a projector which stops and advances film 24 times every second. Cameraman Karl Freund also worked hard to improve motion picture technology. For Murnau's film The Last Laugh (1924) he devised the "unchained camera" which was suspended from ropes and featured remote control; he also ran a film laboratory and was involved in German experiments with film sound. These precursors to modern-day sound technologies were the Blattnerophone for magnetic sound recording, and the Tri-Ergon, an early method of optical sound recording. In the year 1923, painter and cameraman Eugen Schüfftan, together with Ernst Kunstmann, invented the Schüfftan process, a method which uses mirrors to allow actors to be filmed in front of painted or photographed backdrops – a forerunner of the front projection effect. The Schüfftan process was first used in Fritz Lang's The Nibelungen (1924) and then again in his utopian film Metropolis (1927).

Film scene in Wales
When the Nazis came to power, Lang, Freund and Schüfftan emigrated to Hollywood. Indeed, more than 1,500 film-makers left Germany after 1933. Motion picture technicians and directors tended to find it easier than actors to continue working in exile in France, England or the USA and put their skills to good use there. As a result, artistic concepts such as expressionism in film and technical innovations were brought to Hollywood.

Arri: a sure-fire Oscar winner

Arriflex 416
The most successful German motion picture technology company is without doubt Arri. The Arriflex 35, for instance, which was developed in 1937, was the first industrially-produced single-lens reflex motion picture camera, and for many years was part of a cameraman's standard equipment. In 1982, the designers and company founders August Arnold and Robert Richter were presented with an Oscar in recognition of their life's work. In 1996, the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences paid tribute to the Munich-based company once again for its Arriflex 535, the first fully computer-controlled camera. For Arri, this was already its seventh Oscar since the company's founding in 1917, making Arri one of the most successful technology developers in the industry.

Together with researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute, Arri was once again awarded an Oscar in 2002, this time for the Arri Laser, which greatly simplifies and accelerates the digitalization and digital editing of film. The Munich Fraunhofer Society for the Promotion of Applied Research has long been a specialist in the field of digital cinema, where many experts believe the true future of the medium lies: a cinema experience without lines or stripes, stored on and played from microchips. The researchers have also come up with a particularly high resolution camera, a special memory capable of storing the gigantic mountains of data involved in digital cinema, and a new type of sound technology for the theatres in which the new films will be shown. Arri was honoured once again in Los Angeles in 2003, together with its US rival Panavision, for its commitment to permanently improving and further developing camera technology.

German technology features in virtually every Hollywood film

Film crane
However, it is not only Arri's achievements which are recognized in Hollywood. The Berlin company Mental Images received a technology certificate from the Academy – also in 2003 – for developing a digital image synthesis system which can simulate light effects, while Kreuznach-based company Schneider won the coveted trophy in 2006 for a high-precision projector lens.

Even when German firms and institutions aren't winning Oscars, however, the role they play on the world market is significant. Their forte is generally their degree of specialization. The two Munich-based companies Movietech and Panther, for instance, make cranes, dollies and other technology available worldwide to allow cameras to be moved smoothly without any vibration. Chrosziel, based in the Bavarian village of Heimstetten, is one of the market leaders in camera accessories and camera control and test equipment. Airstar from Hanover is a leading manufacturer of lighting balloons for special set lighting requirements, while Marlin from Heilbronn specializes in the development, production and sale of underwater cameras, lighting systems and transport cases. Cinec, the international trade fair for motion picture technology, postproduction and event engineering, which will be staged for the sixth time in Munich in September 2006, offers insights every two years into the current status quo with regard to the variety of film technology available from Germany and the rest of the world.

Oliver Rahayel
is a freelance cultural journalist

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

Any questions about this article? Please write!
July 2006

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