Digital and Analog: A Tale of Two Mediums

I watched Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight, recently. The big hype about this picture – apart from it being a Tarantino western, a surefire classic if ever there was one – is that he chose to film it in Ultra Panavision 70. This is a format that hasn’t been used in mainstream cinema since the 60s. In fact, Hatful Eight was filmed with the same lens used in classics like Ben Hur.

Tarantino is one of the most prolific proponents of shooting on film. He believes that this traditional method is something that should be preserved, and that it adds an ineffable quality to the cinematic experience that is surely lacking from modern digital cinema.

This argument – film vs. digital – is an age-old debate. It’s not unique to the realm of cinema, in fact. As a young architect, I have already faced this debate, first encountering it in my undergraduate years. Architecture is a field that is constantly facing the challenges of technological progress. On either end of the spectrum (construction and design) technological development poses fundamental issues that deeply affect the very core of the practice.

The argument for an analog approach to creativity is that it brings one closer to the work. There is no denying that the connection between brain and hand is inextricably strong. So yes, when introducing a new stream of knowledge (in this case, the many aspects of architectural education) beginning with analog methods is critical. Most importantly, it gives the student a better sense of proportion, geometry and scale. These are aspects that are oft distorted if one were to begin in a virtual sphere.

However, the paradox ensues when we face the fact that most architectural students are educated by teachers who were themselves taught in the older craft of analog production. This method, when one gets to the higher level, is anachronistic in a highly digital world. Digitally produced work is thus frowned upon; a seemingly easy-way-out approach to the creation of architecture. Yet in the “real world”, a digital production environment is critical to the bottom line – to staying relevant in a fast-paced and rapidly developing economy.

Here’s the thing: the virtual world is just another type of canvas. In many cases, digital form making brings forth accelerated creativity as complex geometries are made possible. Proponents of the analog method will argue that digital work lacks the je ne sais qua of hand-produced work. I would rebut by saying that digital work can be just as expressive as its analog counterparts – it all comes down to the practitioner, to how the creator wields the tools available to him.

At the end of watching Hateful Eight, it didn’t really matter to me that the movie was filmed in the Ultra Panavision 70 format. Yes, it looked beautiful. And the cinematography accented an already entertaining and gripping story. But what mattered most was the experience: I cared less for how it was made, and more about how entertained I was – the final goal of any cinema. Likewise, it matters not how the piece of architecture was conceptualised. What matters is that it conveys the right information, it describes the idea in the best way possible, and it ultimately enriches the viewer or occupant.

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