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What game cameras learned from movie cameras

And what movie cameras are learning from games

Clayton Ashley , senior video editor, has been producing and editing videos for Polygon since 2016. He is the lead producer of the tabletop gaming series Overboard.

When Super Mario 64 introduced the idea of a third person camera, it had to explain it in the only way players could understand: by literally showing Lakitu carrying around the “camera” they’d be controlling. Ever since then, video games cameras have attempted to analogize themselves with the real life cameras used in movies and television. They take direct inspiration from their movements, framing, and lenses.

While they might feel the same, video game cameras don’t work the same way real cameras do. They require special programming and techniques in order to recreate that feel, from camera shake to depth of field. Most importantly, they have to adapt to something movies and television don’t: a player who’s in control of the camera. Despite the challenges players present, developers have found innovative techniques and technologies that allow them to add immersive, cinematic flourishes to their cameras. This has allowed video games cameras to do things movie directors can only dream of (with a generous CGI budget).

While we’ve had decades of movies and television influencing the way we think cameras should work in games, things are starting to change. Game cameras are starting to influence the ways television and movie cameras work. Much of The Mandalorian was shot on a set that functions like a giant video game level, and not just because the technology was made using Epic’s Unreal Engine. Even the style of game cameras is starting to influence movie cinematography, including Academy Award winners like Sam Mendes’ 1917.

You can learn about all the ways video game cameras have been influenced by real life cameras (and vice versa) in the video above. If you want to learn more about The Mandalorian’s innovative virtual production, check out Vox’s in depth video on how it works. We also have lots more videos on the intersection of games and movies on our YouTube channel.