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View Full Version : what happens on computer screens in the movies??



dehro
2011-10-15, 10:51 AM
specificially, when a movie/tv-show displays the resident geek/protagonist/evil hacker/computer savvy friend.. and they show him happily "writing code", analyzing signals or otherwise being all misteriously expert and helpful.. what do they actually show on his monitor?
for instance, in NCIS they make heavy use of 2 of the main characters to hack into computers, or decrypt stuff, or use computer programmes to do some forensic stuff..
same happens in CSI of course..
now..some of these moments where they display the computer screens look, on the whole, like uninteresting screens full of nondescript writing which the computer wizard then translates for the happless main character and the even further lost at sea public.
But sometimes you see the director has gone to an extra mile and what is shown on the computer is actually pretty impressive and "cool looking" for those of us who are only moderately computer literate (like myself, yes)..if only from the pov of visual gratification.
when that happens, are they using existing programmes that really do look that cool and happen to more or less do what the movie characters claim to be doing, or do they have someone who creates a plausible simulation of a program, with the express purpose of making the computer screens look awesome and super advanced while "the tech" is working on it??
(on a sidenote..why is it that computers and laptop in the movies never seem to need any initializing time, unless the character is about to be shot?)

The Glyphstone
2011-10-15, 11:23 AM
Welcome to the world of the Viewer-Friendly Interface (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ViewerFriendlyInterface).

mootoall
2011-10-15, 11:59 AM
Tron 2 strikes the perfect balance of realistic computer screens (for us grognards) and interesting visual effects, if you ask me.

Manga Shoggoth
2011-10-15, 12:03 PM
I remember that one of the old (Christopher Reeve) Superman movies showed a "Computer Genius" who had - totally by accident - managed to make his computer process something in parallel!!! The instructor looked at the screen in shock as the words scrolled up the screen!!!

If I had known that running cat on the source code to a BASIC program was so effective I'd have done it years ago.

dehro
2011-10-15, 12:12 PM
oooh..an entire trope dedicated to it..well...there you go.

now I only have to find myself a screensaver that simulates it, plug little brother's keyboard and mouse out and look at his face when he tries to make sense of it.

Dr.Epic
2011-10-15, 12:20 PM
The Matrix answered this question perfectly:

Squiggly lines and characters descending downwards.:smallwink:

Eldan
2011-10-15, 12:53 PM
I just noticed that in the last Dexter episode, what they showed did actually look like the result of more or less genuine biochemical methods for identifying DNA.

Jimor
2011-10-15, 04:37 PM
What I like is how the simple act of typing makes computers do their stuff faster. And if you have 2 people typing at once on the same keyboard, it's even better!

A friend of mine's job is basically putting images on screens for television and movies. When it's not added in post, it's timed and cued so that when the actor does something, the video operator switches the screen. I believe it's Hawaii 5-0 where Microsoft provided their "Surface" engine and equipment with the stipulation that what appeared on screen had to actually be manipulated by the actors.

Lord Seth
2011-10-15, 07:43 PM
What I like is how the simple act of typing makes computers do their stuff faster. And if you have 2 people typing at once on the same keyboard, it's even better!

A friend of mine's job is basically putting images on screens for television and movies. When it's not added in post, it's timed and cued so that when the actor does something, the video operator switches the screen. I believe it's Hawaii 5-0 where Microsoft provided their "Surface" engine and equipment with the stipulation that what appeared on screen had to actually be manipulated by the actors.Can you ask him to confirm or deny what I've heard, which is that the more goofy tech depictions (such as the "typing on the same keyboard") are due to the behind-the-scenes people trying to see how ridiculous they can make it and still have it air?

Seonor
2011-10-16, 02:34 PM
But sometimes you see the director has gone to an extra mile and what is shown on the computer is actually pretty impressive and "cool looking" for those of us who are only moderately computer literate (like myself, yes)..if only from the pov of visual gratification.
when that happens, are they using existing programmes that really do look that cool and happen to more or less do what the movie characters claim to be doing, or do they have someone who creates a plausible simulation of a program, with the express purpose of making the computer screens look awesome and super advanced while "the tech" is working on it??


There are several experts you can hire to create UIs for movies, one of the better known ones is Mark Coleran (Video (http://vimeo.com/1563485) with some of his stuff).
Important aspects of creating an UI are, in no particular order:
- Readability. A computer screen has to show the information the director wants to give the audience. This is complicated by the need to keep the actors on the screen, the use of not-so-perfect camera angles and resolution problems on TV screens (less impotant now because people who spend a lot on movies have hd screens at home). Thus the huge letters.
- Visual style. Has the movie a particular style? (colour filter (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ColorWash), "Retro," "sleek," "futuristic" or whatever). The computer screen should match that style.
- Intended user for the system. The evil coorperation looks different from the heroic group of space adventourers, this extends to their computers.
- Coolness.

If you have all this you can try to include some real code to make it look somewhat authentic, but unless you expext an audience that knows the difference it isn't that important.