Lens flares light up across pop culture
From games to modern, epic sci-fi beauty
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 03:02
The lens flare camera technique is like the pieces of flare in Office Space, and sci-fi director J.J. Abrams is like Jennifer Aniston’s annoying boss.
But instead of Abrams and other creators being forced into such visuals, they are voluntarily incorporating the overabundance of visual pizzazz into mainstream art.
Like too many pieces of flare, lens flares can come off as being a tacky when overused. Lens flare is scattered light in a picture or video caused by an internal reflection in a camera lens. On the way to the optical receiver, the light source causes a glare off every piece of glass it passes through.
For the last 18 years of Adobe Photoshop software versions, the graphics editing program hasn’t changed its lens flare stock effect. In fact, it is almost certainly this feature that has given every sci-fi video game since the 90s its futuristic, shiny edge. Currently, movies are using this technique with much more frequency than in the past when it was not only ignored artistically, but avoided technically.
This shift to an embracing of the flare can easily be attributed to director J.J. Abrams. “I know there are certain shots where even I watch and think, ‘Oh that’s ridiculous, that was too many [lens flares]’,” said Abrams at a Star Trek press conference in 2009. Abrams used this technique less frequently in Super 8, but the damage of his fad creation had been done, since there has already been an influx in lens flare usage by recent big budget sci-fi films.
The 2012 remake of Total Recall has more than enough lens flare. Just like in Star Trek, there doesn’t even need to be objects with light in the shot for there to be a lens flare—they’re just kind of there. And it is painfully apparent that these are computer generated.
There were also plenty of flares in Looper last year, but at least director Rian Johnson was more conservative, waiting for something shinny to show up in the frame before adding lens flares. In the movie poster and trailer for the upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel, it is all too apparent that director Zach Snyder wants to beat the audience over the head with lens flares, too.
Lens flares have a long history with video games, like with the cover of Tomb Raider in 1996 and in games like The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time in 1998. Vectorman in 1995 on the Sega Genesis is one of the first to use lens flare within a game itself. And with newer games like Mass Effect, it is just about anywhere and everywhere in video game universes.
Overabundant lens flare has even found its way into recent music videos. Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie” video in 2010 tried to convey a gritty narrative about an abusive relationship that ends up being weirdly beautiful, using plenty of lens flare to achieve the effect. After Micheal Jackson’s death, the video for his duet with Troy Akon, “Hold My Hand,” overused lens flares to make the world feel like a beautiful place.
This new usage has even spawned a slew of YouTube videos poking fun at J.J. Abrams, after movie watchers branded it as a technique as annoying as the infamous shaky cam.
In our age of digital technology and the constant questioning of art, it was bound to happen that technical flaws of the past would evolve into mass aesthetic pleasure—it’s just too bad that it has to be so annoying.