In fact, something else occurred: the development of digital computer-generated imagery (CGI). Bazin had imagined cinema as the objective “recreation of the world.” Yet digital image-making precludes the necessity of having the world, or even a really existing subject, before the camera—let alone the need for a camera. Photography had been superseded, if not the desire to produce images that moved. Chaplin was perhaps but a footnote to Mickey Mouse; what were The Birth of a Nation and Battleship Potemkin compared to Toy Story 3?
The history of motion pictures was now, in effect, the history of animation. The process began in the early 1980s with two expensive and much-publicized Hollywood features. One From the Heart (1982), Francis Ford Coppola’s experiment in electronic image-making, returned but $1 million on a $26-million investment and effectively destroyed his studio, while Disney’s Tron (1982) the first sustained exercise in computer-generated imagery, was a movie whose costly special effects and mediocre box-office returns would be credited with (or blamed for) delaying CGI-based cinema for a decade.
J. Hoberman on cinema and the digital. [via New York Review of Books]