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THESIS

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PERCEPTION, AESTHETICS, AND CULTURE IN NEW MEDIA
VIEWER PERCEPTION OF THE FILM LOOK IN LIGHT OF HDTV OR,

FILM VS. VIDEO

by

B.A., Film/Video Production
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington
1985

Submitted to Media Arts and Sciences Section
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science in Visual Studies at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

June 1988

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1988
All rights reserved


ABSTRACT

 

The goal of this research is to determine if viewers (mass audience and media professionals) perceive differences between film-originated and video-originated television programming. A secondary goal is to produce a video clip in what is traditionally considered film style, paying the same attention to detail that is normally reserved for a film production. The "Kraus and..." dance company was selected to provide appropriate material for the research. A parallel film-based and video-based dance performance was produced and then shown on side-by-side screens to 250 subjects. Fifty of those viewers (selected to achieve an "expert" and a "mass audience" sample) were also asked to view a series of film and video clips and participate in a depth interview. "Dance in Parallel", the film and video program, is submitted as part of this thesis.

These studies demonstrate that viewers can see a difference between the film-originated and video-originated materials when viewed side by side, and can usually tell which is which. There are consistent patterns that have more to do with cultural fashions than with direct observation and hence the interaction of content and format is much more subtle than we had imagined.

Although there is much that remains to be done in this area of research, the results from these first studies should be taken into account when considering a new television standard, i.e.high definition television.

 

Thesis Supervisor: Richard Leacock
Title: Professor of Cinema


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

For some deeds it just isn't possible to give enough thanks. This thesis is dedicated to my daughter Sumi, who has grown up in my workplace, wherever it happened to be, sleeping many nights in the studio and on the cutting room floor and, hopefully learning an adaptability to life as opposed to a neurosis from it all.

Immeasurable thanks are in order as the scale of production in this thesis project demanded a sizable crew. The nature of the media requires collaboration –I could never have done this without the support from all of the people in the "Parallel Shoot" and "Form Follows Format" crews. Rather than have a chapter of acknowledgements, I have included a "Form Follows Format" program beginning on page 31, listing everyone whom contributed to the parallel shoot and performance.

Significant contributions to the project came from several sources. I wish to give abundant thanks to Nicholas Negroponte, Russ Neuman, and the Movies of the Future Project. Also I want to thank Tod Machover for his encouragement and support.

To Dorothy Shamonsky, my friend and collaborator, "when do we start the next one?" The performance would not have happened without her.

Many thanks go to Lee McKnight who read piles of unorganized pages, and gave support when I thought I was going to disappear underneath it all; Steve Schneider without whom I would not have had my precious charts; Jean-Pierre Schott for his technical expertise and counsel; Adina Sabghir for special access to the darkroom; Eero Simoncelli for help with my photos; Sylvain Morgaine and Russell Greenlee for their Mac insight; Jolene Kilbasa for helping with equipment needs for Study II; Sarah Dickinson whose recruitment skills are renowned; Suzanne Neil, who enthusiastically proofed several chapters; and to Carmen, Phil and Sara for keeping Sumi at the end- saving for me, a remnant of sanity.

Special thanks go to the Audience Research Group for their guidance and my initiation into social science research. Also, I want to express my appreciation to the Advanced Television Research Project (ATRP) for use of the Autokon.

To all of those who participated in my studies, thank you for taking the time.

Last, but not least, I thank Ricky Leacock and Glorianna Davenport, for giving me reign to depart from the norm.

 

PLATE 1- 156KB, SUMI ASLEEP ON THE FLOOR OF "THE CUBE"

 


APPENDIX B INTERVIEW CODING SCHEME

 

Individual I.D. Status Identification of Film and Video Preference for Film or Video
1 to 57 P Production
E Engineer
* Others
M Mass
C Correct
X Incorrect
F Film
V Video
N No preference

Appendix B consists of selected transcripts from the Study II interviews. Excerpts from these are used throughout the thesis. To make the reading flow more smoothly, I have devised a coding scheme so that the quotes can be referenced in the appendix. In the body of the thesis, interview quotes appear withh a subscript number. That number is the I.D. number of an interviewee appearing in Appendix B.


INTRODUCTION

 

"What the audience wants is not logic, but emotion."

-BillyWilder

The project presented herein had several goals. The first was to see if viewers could tell the difference between film-originated and video-originated programming. Another was to see if they had aesthetic preferences for film or video. The last goal was to find out if video, when shot "film style", had greater aesthetic appeal than usual. To answer these questions, we first produced a parallel dance program, shooting 35mm film and broadcast quality video in a traditional film style approach, and then conducted two studies with the edited material. The results clarify differences in viewer response to film and video. Thus, they have direct bearing on any endeavor where aesthetics is a consideration, especially upon the impending selection of a new television standard.

A new form of television is imminent, and the decision to adopt this new standard will be based primarily on economics. In light of this, the results from this investigation are put forth so that we do not lose sight of other significant issues, those related to production, transmission, aesthetics and the impact on consumers. This essay focuses primarily on the aesthetics issue raised by the possible transition to exclusively video-based production. In two pioneering studies, viewers were first asked to distinguish film from video while viewing parallel content. They were then asked which image they preferred.

These studies set out to better understand the viewing public's perceptions of the "film look" and the "video look". Study One took place within the context of a multimedia art performance. The participants were unaware that they were going to be part of a study. Study II was set up to simulate the home television viewing experience and was conducted in a small viewing room at M.I.T.'s Media Laboratory.

There are two motivations for this research. The first has to do with my own interest regarding people's perceptions of media. In 1983, I was producing work in both film and video. In several experiments I mixed film-to-tape transferred footage with video generated footage. The significant difference between the look of the film-originated and the video-originated materials was intriguing. To better articulate what the visual differences were, I produced a series of multi-format shoots and intercut the two sources. This generated some discussion but left many questions unanswered.

The other motivation has to do with more global issues. Given that the next television standard will be determined primarily by economics, I as a media-maker am concerned that the aesthetics issue not be buried. Many decisions will affect the consumer and little is known about whether viewers can differentiate between high and low resolution, or to what degree they care about the quality of the image that stares out at them from the little box in their living room.

My hypothesis was that when shown side-by-side identical content originated in film and video, viewers may not be able to tell which is which but would be drawn to the film for aesthetic reasons.

For this study it was necessary to produce the stimuli. Identical content was needed to eliminate content-based biases. A parallel shoot was arranged to obtain identical programming. In Study I, viewers watched the parallel program side-by-side on two large video projection screens and were asked to complete a questionnaire asking which screen was film and which was video. They were also asked which screen they liked best, if either. Study II consisted of two parts. First subjects viewed a series of program clips and were asked to write down whether each clip was film or video originated. Then they were shown the same parallel program that was seen by the viewers in Study I, but this time it was seen side by side on television monitors. Subjects participated one or two at a time and completed the same questionnaire as in Study I with the addition of a page pertaining to the series of clips.

Chapter One places the studies within the broader context of current media developments. Chapter Two describes the production processes for the parallel shoot and the performance. In Chapter Three, the studies and the results are described in detail. Chapter Four concludes with a summary of the research and suggestions for future studies.


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