Neuroscientists Are Developing an Entirely New Way of Shooting Movies

One of the delights of watching Gravity is director Alfonso Cuorón's habit of shooting important scenes in one, long take with no cuts. Now, a scientist believes that we can create an entire cinema of no cuts, using radically new methods borrowed from neuroscience.

Over at Scientific American, Jennifer Oullette delves into the work of Salk Institute neuroscientist Sergei Gepshtein, who wants to create "a cinematic vocabulary that has no need for cuts at all, using new tools based on an improved understanding of how the brain organizes perceptual elements."

Continues Oullette:

When we view a series of images in sufficiently rapid succession, those pictures appear to move, like the flip books we played with as children. It is a remarkably robust illusion: despite inevitable variations in how different people perceive the world around them, the continuous effect created by film is universal ...

Gepshtein is taking a ground-up approach. He wants to expand the filmmaker's arsenal of tricks by devising new cinematic methods from first principles, rather than by trial and error. Ultimately, this would enable filmmakers to build a scene from the ground up and perhaps even design tailored experiences for the viewer.

We tend to think of visual perception as a series of snapshots progressing frame by frame. In film, this translates into a sequence of episodes divided by abrupt transitions (cuts).

But Gepshtein argues that, instead, there are multiple threads or elements that coexist in the mind, occasionally being brought to the foreground of conscious perception. "In conventional cinema, the story shifts from one object to another using sequences of shots, separated by cuts, each shot emphasizing different objects," he says. He believes it is possible to create the same shifts without cuts, "by smart organization of the visual scene."

Already, Gepshtein is working with filmmakers to create new kinds of visual displays that exploit the "window of visibility," or things that our brains can and can't see due to processing speed limitations. Instead of focusing on the "flip book" illusion of film, he wants to play around with the way our brains perceive things at a distance versus close up. It's a fascinating new direction for film — and for the way we perceive the world around us.

Read more via Scientific American, or read Oullette's feature on the same topic at Pacific Standard