Research Into The Past, Present and Future of Multi-Camera Video Production

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge

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Multi-camera video production has its roots in the stills era before motion-picture cameras were invented – innovators in the photography field used it to cover different angles of an event at the same time, rather than simply chancing their arm with only one viewpoint and missing something on the other side.  It was not until the work of Eadweard Muybridge, an English pioneer of motion photography in the early twentieth century (Britannica, 2007), who came up with the notion of running several of the newer, motion-picture simultaneously and then editing the footage together – known today as a Multiple Camera Setup.  According to Faden (2001, pp. 95-96) it was “ perhaps the earliest form of continuity editing” and that “chronophotographers such Muybridge as carefully sequenced individual photographs to create an endless image loop”.

The filming of the Queen's Messenger.

The filming of the Queen’s Messenger.

Multi-Camera setups as we know them today (i.e. filmed and mixed live rather than edited together) evolved at the same time as the invention of television, where electronic video signals were used in the stead of physical film, the earliest of which were used for a live broadcast of The Queen’s Messenger in 1928 (McVoy, 1999), the first time a radio drama was broadcast through television.  This major success caused the fledgling BBC to adopt the live Multi-Camera technique as its main source of output for both its factual and fictional programmes, the latter of which bucked the international trend of filming fictional programmes with the more traditional single-camera setup (Restelli, 2004).

The invention of broadcast-quality video tape in 1956, introduced by electronics company Ampex at the National Association of Broadcasters in Chicago (Hammar, 1994, pp 84), added the ability to record footage and intersplice it into live multi-camera productions quickly and easily.  It also gave broadcasters the ability to record and distribute footage much more quickly than they had before (practically instantly in comparison to using film stock).  The removal of the inconvenience of film stock paved the way for a huge expansion in this industry, making far easier and cheaper to produce multi-camera productions.

Videotape made production cheaper and quicker.

Videotape made production cheaper and quicker.

The practice continues to this day on many programmes based in a studio set, such as sitcoms, gameshows and live events, but the advance of technology has seen a decline in multi-camera setups in other television areas in favour of the single-camera side of things.  The medium is by no means dying out, far from it; it has simply moved from a “catch-all” thing to a more specific type of programme.  Several modern examples buck the trend, however – special dramas such as the restage of 1953 multi-camera drama The Quatermass Experiment in 2005 and a the anniversary edition of Eastenders in 2010 go to show that it is still possible to shoot a live drama using the multi-camera setup.

Websites like LiveStream provide free and easy-to-use tools so anyone can put on a full blown multi-camera production.

Websites like LiveStream provide free and easy-to-use tools so anyone can put on a full blown multi-camera production.

From the evolution of the World Wide Web from the late eighties, the introduction of DV tape in the mid-nineties and the great advancement of computer technology in the first decade of the twenty-first century, it has become even easier to set up a multi-camera setup.  It is no longer limited to large production companies or broadcasters – with easily obtainable consumer camera equipment, it is possible for anyone to set up a live, multi-camera production, whether it be a small start-up company or individual.  With the evolution of the “webcast”, it is even possible to broadcast the production live to anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection (Titus, 2011), completely bypassing the need to go through a complicated and expensive transmission system, as well as subscriber fees, broadcast contracts or television licences.  The Internet has now starting seeing world firsts, live and before broadcast television: in 2012, Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking freefall was streamed live on YouTube, attracting over eight million people (BBC, 2012).

Multi-Camera has come a very long way in it’s history, as is still very much relevant and used today.  The only difference is, that with the advance of technology, it’s not just the production companies that can do it.

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