Roger Deakins on Avatar’s 2009 Oscar for Best Cinematography

So Avatar won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Cinematography. It was a beautiful film; no doubt about that. However, I feel as a film that was mostly digital it isn’t really fair to pit it against a bunch of live action films. Both of them take skill to make, but you can make images in a computer that you just can’t make in real life. You can put lights places you can’t put them in real life. You can place the camera anywhere and have it move anywhere at any speed; have the focal length change to whatever you want it to be at the touch of a button. You can do virtually anything with digitally created lights and cameras without costing the production any more money. One light in a digital scene won’t cost any more than an array of 10,000 lights. Again, I’m not knocking the cinematography in this film. But I feel like the deck is stacked against live action since they have the constraints of space, money, camera size and weight, etc. to contend with.

I asked 8 time Academy Award Nominee and Cinematographer Roger Deakins what he thought about the matter. This is what he said:

I think that to make any kind of judgment between such a diverse group of films is rather impossible. 'Cinematography' is changing and the purists are in a minority. Even the seemingly classically shot "White Ribbon' was shot on colour stock and manipulated digitally to create the look of the picture you see. That is a long way from how Greg Toland created images for 'Citizen Kane' or Subrata Mitra for 'The World of Apu'. Would it be possible to judge the cinematography in those three films in competition? It is not being dismissive to say that it is the work that counts and you are your own judge.

Thanks Roger!

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