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Cinema and Digital Media


Let us reverse a well-known wisdom: that a modern digital computer is a typical war time technology developed for the purposes of calculation and real-time control and that its current use to create moving images is a rather specialized and recent application. Not only were computers used to create moving images within a few years of their "birth" but, in fact, the modern digital computer was born from cinema.

What is cinema? If we believe the word itself (cinematograph means "writing movement"), its essence is recording and storing visible data in a material form. A film camera records data on film; a film projector reads it off. This cinematic apparatus is similar to a computer in one key respect: a computer is controlled by a program stored externally in some medium. Therefore, it is not accidental that a diagram of the Universal Turing Machine looks suspiciously like a film projector. In fact, the development of a suitable storage medium and a method for coding data represent important parts of both cinema and computer pre-histories. As we know, the former eventually settled on discrete images recorded on a strip of celluloid; the latter - which needed much greater speed of access as well as the ability to quickly read and write data - on storing it electronically in a binary code.

So why was the digital computer born from cinema?

Article  1995